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Cookbook review: Cowgirl Chef by Ellise Pierce

A homesick Texan finds home in Paris by recreating Tex-Mex favorites with Parisian ingredients.

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The success and friendship from those classes opened her heart and then her eyes to the possibilities found in neighborhood markets and restaurants. Soon she began to meld Southwest and French traditions into one – the raucous and large-portioned with the petite and refined. Think: cornbread madeleines and buckwheat crepes.

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Kendra Nordin is a staff editor and writer for the weekly print edition of the Monitor. She also produces Stir It Up!, a recipe blog for CSMonitor.com.

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Pierce has plenty of traditional French recipes, too, but she always manages to stir in just a little bit of home. Her efforts come at an interesting time in Paris, when Parisians are delicately embracing American food trucks, hamburgers, and even American-chef-run restaurants.

Somehow a Texas girl in cowboy boots, plaid shirt, and a carefully draped silk scarf cooking up a storm in a tiny French apartment works. If anything, you’ll feel like a good gal-pal has told you to pull up a chair and eat. You’ll be glad you did.

I decided to try Pierce’s recipe for Salmon and Lentils. She says they are good anytime, even though in France, lentils “are mostly a winter thing.” I loved this dish with its hearty lentils, creamy goat cheese, topped with poached salmon, roasted pine nuts, and cherry tomatoes. If you’ve prepared your lentils ahead of time, it’s the perfect quick, one-dish meal.

Can I say it? Bon appétit, y’all!

From “Cowgirl Chef” by Ellise Pierce
(Running Press, 2012)
Reprinted with permission

Salmon and Lentils

Makes 2 servings

I love this dish best in the summer, served at room temperature, but you may also eat this warm.

1/2 cup/120 ml of dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay [editor's note: substitute cooking wine]

2 5-ounce/150 gram salmon fillets

2 pieces of lemon zest, each about 3 inches/7.5 cm long

1 teaspoon of peppercorns

a sprig of fresh basil, plus a few leaves for serving

sea salt

2 cups/ 470 grams of cooked French Lentils (recipe follows)

a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

2 tablespoons of fresh goat cheese

a small handful of pine nuts, toasted

balsamic vinegar, for serving (optional)

1. Put your wine, 1/2 cup/115 ml of water, salmon, lemon zest, peppercorns, and basil sprig in a shallow skillet with a big pinch of sea salt. Turn the heat to medium and when it starts to simmer, cover and set the timer for 5 minutes. Check for doneness and if you need it to go a little bit more, just reset your timer for another couple of minutes—this really doesn’t take long. When the salmon’s cooked, remove it from the liquid then pop it in the fridge, let cool, until you’re ready to eat.

2. To serve, get out a couple of soup bowls, and put about a cupful of cold or room temperature lentils in each one. Flake your salmon over the lentils, add the cherry tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of goat cheese to each bowl, tear up a few basil leaves, and sprinkle on the pine nuts. I usually add a little splash of balsamic vinegar too—it goes really nicely with the lentils.

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