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My Favorite French Recipes

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The architectural splendor of "la belle époque," the ostentatious grandeur of the royal palaces, the celebration of the arts in countless museums, and the glory of the Arc de Triomphe, all set amidst tiny sidewalk cafés on tree-lined cobblestone streets, the air thick with the scent of freshly-baked "le bon pain"... aaaahhhh, Paris... a delight to all the senses.

My nightly bedtime ritual includes allowing myself about thirty minutes of reading time, just to wind down and forget the goings on of the day. Right now on my nightstand, rests Julia Child's My Life in France. In Julia's own words, with the help of her grandnephew, Alex Prud'homme, she tells the story of her years in France and the beginning of her life-long love affair with French food. Every night, I go to sleep with visions of profiteroles dancing in my head.

Early in the narrative, Julia describes the first time she tasted sole meuniere while passing through the town of Rouen in Normandy as a "morsel of perfection." A flawless sole meuniere, in my opinion, is a masterpiece in traditional French cooking.

I remember my first sole meuniere just as vividly as Julia's recount. I had planned a surprise vacation to Paris for my then future-husband's birthday. I carefully researched all of the restaurants we should try, wanting everything to be just right. A friend proposed Le Dome, a restaurant specializing in seafood. I reserved a table for lunch, hoping it would be a good choice. Little did I know, it would wind up on the itinerary of every Paris trip for years to come.

We entered the Art Nouveau-decorated restaurant in Montparnasse, instantly met with the fresh smell of the sea, towers of huitres and bowls of bouillabaisse on every table - I knew we were in the right place. My husband ordered the sole meunière and I followed his lead. The delicate white flesh, perfectly seared and kissed with brown butter sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley - the beauty of this fish was in its simplicity. Paired with a white wine, salade verte, and a side of haricots verts, life really couldn't get any better. On every return trip to Le Dome, I order exactly the same thing. I suppose I could try something else, but why bother?

Inspired by Julia, I decided the other night to recreate our Le Dome experiences. I turned on some Edith Piaf and prepared our beloved meal. I closed my eyes and with one bite -- bienvenue à Paris!

Bistro Salad

1 head of Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces, with a handful of chopped mixed fresh herbs such as chives, tarragon, and parsley (about 1/4 cup)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons minced shallots

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the lettuce and herbs in a medium bowl. In a glass jar or plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, combine the olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallots, salt, and pepper. Shake to combine. Pour over the salad and toss. Serve immediately.

Sole Meunière

*Traditionally, sole meuniere is made with Dover sole, but it is difficult to find in the U.S. and quite expensive. I usually use grey sole as a substitute.

4 sole fillets (about 4 ounces each)

1/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 stick unsalted butter

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 Tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, minced

Combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge each fish fillet in flour mixture.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add fish and brown about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter and cover with foil. Add butter to pan and turn up the heat to medium-high. When the butter starts to brown (about 3 minutes), add lemon juice and parsley. Pour butter over the fish and serve immediately.

Haricots Verts (Green Beans)

3/4 pound French green beans, trimmed

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 shallot, minced

1/2 cup grape tomatoes

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Prepare an ice water bath. Heat a large pot of water to a boil. Add green beans and cook two minutes. Drain beans and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking.

In a large skillet, heat butter of medium heat. Add shallots and sauté about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook 2 minutes. Add beans, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Cook until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes.

Godiva Royale

1 ounce Godiva Original Chocolate Liqueur

3 ounces champagne

1 chocolate-covered strawberries

Pour Chocolate Liqueur into a champagne glass and top with champagne. Do not stir. Garnish with chocolate covered strawberry.

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