Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week-end Simple: Whip up crème Chantilly

This weekend, indulge in the simplest, inexpensive French experience available: crème Chantilly, Leave it to the French to turn an 85¢ carton of whipping cream into a culinary delight that is beautiful to look at and heaven to taste.

All you need to create crème Chantilly is a half pint of heavy whipping cream, a balloon whisk, and a bit of patience. If you've never whipped cream, check out these expert step-by-step directions and you'll have a bowl of delcious crème Chantilly in minutes.

Crème Chantilly is the perfect finishing touch for summer's freshest fruit--peaches, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe. A spoonful of freshly whipped crème dresses up a bowl of berries or sliced peaches to create a perfect summer dessert.

Bon week-end!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cooking for one: Chatting with the butcher

I am very, very fortunate to live in an area that offers so many choices for grocery shopping. A bakery, a farmers market, a butcher, a fishmonger, are all within a few minutes of where I work and where I live. This makes it easy to shop daily, and to buy small.

But even without these choices, buying high quality and the right quanity is possible, especially if you make friends with the butcher. All the major grocery stores have a butcher on site, and it pays to chat. At first, it might seem strange to strike up a conversation with the butcher. After all, the goods are already packaged and in the case, so what's to talk about?

Well, ask the butcher about his best quality product, or the best cuts, or ask for recommendations. I've never met a butcher who didn't like to share his expertise! You can also ask him to halve larger cuts or repackage items. Get to know the butcher well enough and soon you might be asking "Can I order two of your best lamb chops for tomorrow?"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cooking for One: 1 eggplant, 2 ways

When buyng fruits and vegetables for one. it makes sense to look for the smallest produce available. Most fresh fruits and vegetable are not uniform in size; even grapes on the same vine vary in color, size, and ripeness.

Consider the eggplant. Eggplants are not uniform in shape or size, and it's just as easy to find a small one as it is a large one. On Saturday I bought an eggplant at the farmers market, along with a tiny zucchini and several tomatoes. About the size of my open hand, the eggplant was perfect for one.

At home, I cut the eggplant in half; with the first half I prepared a gratin d’aubergines, adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume II. I sliced the eggplant and layered it in my gratin dish with tomato and fresh mozarella to create a single serving eggplant gratin.

I cubed the second half of the eggplant, and along with the zucchini, another tomato, and an onion from my pantry, I slowly roasted them to create a classic Provençal ratatouille, also adapted from Julia Child's cookbook. Coupled with a protein, or atop couscous or rice, this fragrant stew is a perfect weeknight meal.

As you can see, with the right pantry staples and a little planning, one eggplant = two meals. But it doesn't have to be eggplant. It can be a bunch of asparagus, a small squash, or petit cauliflower. The idea is to think of your vegetables as more than one meal.

So, think of your favorite vegetable; what are two ways you can prepare it to create two delicious and distinctly different meals for one?

Next post: Chatting with the butcher

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cooking for One: Pots and pans

Cooking for one is not so different than cooking for two, or three, or more--all you need are the right ingredients, and the right equipment.

Because you are preparing single portions, it's important that your cookware is the right size. For example, if you are pan frying a single chop in an 11 inch cast iron skillet, the juices will be too dispersed; a smaller skillet insures the juices and bits don't cook away before you have a chance to make your sauce.

A small saucepan is also essential for everything from boiling an egg to steaming rice (and if your saucepan is heavy duty, it can double as dutch oven for braising a few short ribs or roasting a chicken breast).

In a small, shallow gratin dish, you can easily make savory dishes for one, like, well, gratins! The dish is also perfect for a variety of egg dishes and fruit desserts. I have several Emile Henry gratin dishes and find no end of use for them.

With your favorite ingredients and the right equipment, cooking for one can be a cinch. Tomorrow I'll share some recipes and a plan for cooking that might help keep you out of the prepared and frozen food section!

Next post: One eggplant, two ways

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cooking for One: How would a Frenchwoman shop?

A question posed by one of the women of the French Chic group asked, when shopping and cooking for one, what would the chic Frenchwoman do? Of course, I am not a French woman, but I am a sensible, practical woman, and, French women are sensible and practical, n'est ce pas? So, the question remains, how does one shop and cook for one?

Perhaps most important are the perishable and nonperishable staples in your fridge and pantry. Everyone's list will be different; here's mine. With your staples on hand at home you can sure that anything you buy at the market can made into a delcious meal for one (or two, or more!)

What next?

First, make a list of all the fresh foods that can be purchased individually. Produce is easy--artichoke, avocado, peach, plum, apple, potato, mushroom, courgette, tomato--because most fruit and vegetables are sold individually. Protein is also easy--chops, chicken breast, petit filet, seafood--can be purchased individually as well. And don't forget foods like eggs and cheese that are perfect for individual servings. The foods on your list should be the ones you enjoy, the one you like to prepare.

Next, find a grocer, butcher, farmers market, or chain grocery store where you can buy that one lamp chop or a handful of broccoli florets. Remember, even if food is already packaged (two steaks), bagged (a pound of grapes), or bundled (a bunch of asparagus), if it's sold by the pound, you can buy only what you need. I shop at Whole Foods and the weekly farmers market, but you can just as easily shop at the neighborhood Safeway or green grocer.

Finally, promise yourself that you will buy the best quality and freshest ingredients you can afford. If you are buying one pear, make sure it is the most fragrant perfect pear you can find. If you are going to put in the effort to cook for yourself, you deserve to buy the best.

Next post: Pots and pans

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cooking for one

A recent thread on the French Chic boards has been daily shopping, and, cooking for one. I have long been a fan of daily shopping; I believe it yields the freshest food and the least waste. But I have never shopped for one, and have seldom cooked just for me.

In her book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, author and editor Judith Jones recalls that after her husband died, she wasn't sure she would ever enjoy preparing a meal for herself and eating it alone. This is not an uncommon thought; many of us--women and men--live on our own, and the thought of cooking for just one feels more like a chore than a pleasure. When my son leaves for college in a few weeks, I will join the ranks of those who shop and cook for one, and I'm not sure what to expect.

When it comes to cooking, you might think that being solo has its disadvantages; everything in the grocery store seems to be geared toward families. But, if you think it through, there are no disadvantages: you cook what you want, when you want, how you want. The only person you need to please is yourself.

Inspired by the questions and comments of the French Chic group, I decided to take on the topic. This week on My French Corner, I'd like to explore the possibilities that exist when you are simply cooking for one.

Next post: How would a Frenchwoman shop?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Week-end Simple: Enjoy some basil

Here in the DC area it's the height of summer and everything is rich and ripe and ready to be picked. Tomorrow at the farmers market I'm sure to find beautiful tomatoes which I plan to serve with the basil from my petit potager.

Basil is the summer herb. Chopped in a bruschetta, made into pistou, or served atop a slice of mozarella and tomato, basil tastes of summer. You can even cut a bunch of basil to put in vase for a the perfect summer centerpiece.

This fragrant herb can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, so treat yourself this weekend to the simple pleasure of basil.

Bon week-end!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Something to make you swoon (and smile!)

Eileen Fisher is one of my favorite clothing lines for wardrobe basics. And since they've reframed their brand to include a younger, more hip demographic, the choices have increased; the capsule wardrobe concept is a foundation of the line.

Eileen Fisher's advertising has also become more playful and fun. You have to check out this video of their new fall collection--more than 100 inspired combinations for work and play that will make you swoon. But what's the French connection here? Why it's the music for the video,"Petit Chaton," by the UK band The Swings.

"Petit Chaton" is a catchy Frenchy tune, and if you really want to smile watch this animated music video--it had me singing and smiling all afternoon.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Veyrier kitchen

This bright, comfortable kitchen is one of my favorites. Although it's one of the smallest French kitchens I've ever cooked in, its location on the southern facing side of the house means that it is filled with natural light and it feels open and airy.

Located in a house in the village of Veyrier, I have to say that this kitchen does feel very French, though I'm not sure I can say why. Maybe it's the smaller size of everything, from the appliances to the cookware. Perhaps it's the kitchen linens, or maybe the tile floor? How about the big window that swings open wide and the windowbox filled with herbs?

What do you think? Does this kitchen 'feel' French to you?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rue du vy élevé kitchen

If any kitchen goes against my stereotypical French kitchen, this would be the one. The house, a former boathouse, is located in Annecy le Vieux near Petit Port, just two blocks from Lake Annecy.

What I love about this kitchen is living, dining, and kitchen are one big room, which makes for lots of great gathering for family and friends. And while you can't tell from the photo, this kitchen also opens directly onto a small deck and backyard.

Several elements make this kitchen unique--no wall cabinets, poured concrete countertop, and, everything from bread to dishes is stored in drawers. But, I don't know that these choices make the kitchen uniquely French. What I do know is with its streamlined efficiency and polished concrete floor, this kitchen was fabulous to cook in and a cinch to clean!

Next post: Veyrier kitchen

Monday, July 19, 2010

Menthon Saint-Bernard kitchen

Are there elements that make interior spaces, such as kitchens, uniquely French? In my experience, kitchens in France seem as varied as American kitchens; there are small kitchens in Paris and large kitchens in Provence. As in the US, I think French kitchen design is probably dictated by space, taste, and budget.

This kitchen is in a 1901 limestone guest house where we stayed during the summer of 2005. The house is on the grounds of Palace de Menthon in Menthon Saint-Bernard, one of the small villages that circle Lac d'Annecy in Annecy, France. You can click on the pic for a larger view.

This kitchen, located in the rear of the house, doesn't receive a lot of natural light. But the design choices go a long way to addressing that problem: light colored, highly reflective countertops and wall tile do a wonderful job of reflecting light from the oversized light fixtures and undercounter lights, as did the gleaming dark wood and polished metal fixutres. What I loved about this kitchen was the how cool the temperature was, and yet it never felt "cold" because of the all the wood.

Is there anything that makes this kitchen particularly French? Perhaps the smaller appliances--cooktop, in-wall oven, narrow refrigerator--and the lack of a dishwasher?

What do you think?

Next post: Rue du vy élevé kitchen

Sunday, July 18, 2010

French kitchens

A recent post on The Kitchn invited readers to see if they could determine whether a kitchen was French or American just by looking at a photo. "French or American? Guess the Country of These Kitchens" the post tempts. Can you guess? Take the quiz and see for yourself.

This post made me think of the French kitchens I've cooked in over the years--kitchens in country houses, kitchens in Paris apartments, kitchens belonging to friends.

I thought it might be fun to revisit those kitchens and to recall my thoughts about what made a kitchen distinctly French, or not. For this series, I'm going to go through my France photos to see how many kitchen pics I can find and share them with you.

By the way, how did you do on the quiz?

Next post: Menthon Saint-Bernard kitchen

Friday, July 16, 2010

Week-end Simple: Have lunch with a friend

Yesterday, I invited my friend over for lunch. For me, lunch is usually a solo affair, so having someone join me was delightful. I prepared the meal as thoughtfully as I would have prepared a special dinner, and served it in courses--a dressed salad of mâche and fresh tomatoes sprinkled with fleur de sel, chicken salad with grapes and pecans, and fresh raspberries for dessert.

An unhurried lunch with a friend is so civilized, so European, so French, n'est ce pas? Sitting with Leigh on the patio yesterday afternoon, I was reminded of summers in France and the leisurely lunches I share with my sister, talking, laughing, sipping, catching up on each other's lives.

I encourage you to do the same: have lunch with a friend. Whether it's at home or a cafè, leave time enough to linger, to savor the moment, to celebrate friendship.

Bon week-end!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

And the winner is . . .

Kalee, author of the blog Une Vie Chic! You can also follow Kalee on her other blog, Making a House a Chic Home, and see what's up to as she and her husband transform their house into a maison chic! Kalee, you can email me your mailing info and I will post your package tomorrow.

Thank you to everyone who entered; I enjoyed reading your creative entries, and wish I had a French house number for each of you. Maybe there will be another one in the future, n'est ce pas?

I'm off to celebrate Bastille Day!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Veuve Cliquot

The Tour de France continues, Wednesday is Bastille Day, and both of these make me think of celebrations, and celebrations make me think of champagne.

Mireille Guiliano loves the mood champagne creates, "the feeling no other wine can come close to: celebration, life-affirming joy." I couldn't agree more; there's nothing like a glass of champagne to make any occasion a small celebration.

The French love their champagne, and one of the best is Veuve Cliquot. If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy the Veuve Cliquot website. Like other French sites such as Roger Vivier, Hermes, and Anne Fontaine site, Veuve Cliquot's site is delightful and the animation and graphics are fabulous.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Week-end Simple: Watch Le Tour de France

When I started this week-end series back in March, I didn't realize how much I would enjoy writing it. My aim is to post about doing something simple and deliberate to slow down our life on the weekend. And, because this is My French Corner, those posts usually have a French inspiration or a French twist.

This weekend is no exception. The Tour de France got underway last Saturday, but the excitement over our own 4th of July celebration kept me from paying close attention to Le Tour.

But not this weekend! Here in the US you can follow the Tour on the cable network Versus; great footage and interesting commentary. Or, you can view regular updates, as well as this year's route and the history of the race, on the official Tour de France website.

Bon week-end!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

French House Number Giveaway

Today's post is the 224th post on My French Corner. There is nothing special about the number, but I wanted to tie this post to a special giveaway.

A few months ago I purchased several of these French enameled house number plaques; if you've visited France you'll immediately recognize the distinct white numbers and dark blue enamel background. The plaques are authentic--and used--as witnessed by their gentle wear (you can click on the pic for a closer look). I plan on using them in my new house, perhaps as a kitchen backsplash, or over the doorways? Ah, je ne sais pas!

I love these plaques and wanted to share them with you. So to celebrate my 224th post, I am giving away house number 224. To enter, all you have to do is write about how you would use this fun decorative piece. I'll randomly select a winner and announce it next Wednesday, July 14, Bastille Day!

Bonne chance!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pillivuyt

I'm replacing my dishes.

After nearly 17 years, I'm ready for something new. And, it's part of the process of moving to a new house, and the change my life.

For years I've been eyeing Pillyvuyt's "Sancerre" dinnerware. Sancerre is their most popular all-white collection and is used by restaurants and hotels around the world. If you've dined out in France, chances are you've eaten from a Pillyvuyt plate. Founded by the Pillyvuyt family in 1818, Pillivuyt has been producing fine culinary porcelain in the heart of France for nearly two centuries.

The problem is, I discovered these "Sancerre" knock-offs at Crate and Barrel, where a dinner plate is one-third the price of Pillyvuyt. So, I need to decide whether to be thrifty, or, accept the price difference and buy the genuine French article.

What to do? How do you consider major purchases?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Salade Niçoise

One of the things I will miss about not going to France this summer is the lunches that we would have. Unless my sister invites guests, our lunches in Annecy are not events, but we always take time to set the table, prepare something enjoyable, and gather for the meal.

So, this summer, here at home, I am earnest about having the same experience: setting aside the time to prepare and enjoy le déjeuner. Last week, I enjoyed lunch on my patio, under the umbrella. Yesterday it was on the dock, after swimming in the lake. And today, it was salade niçoise at the dining room table.

Originating from the Côte d'Azur region of France, the Niçoise salad was made famous here in the US by Julia Child. There are several variations: some with anchovies, some without. Some include fresh peppers, other recipes don't. Then there is the canned tuna variation v. Alice Waters' fresh, seared tuna version.

I've prepared this tasty salad a variety of ways, and my opinion is that if the ingredients are fresh, any version of this salade is delicious!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Week-end Simple: Go out for ice cream

Ice cream featured prominently in a recent thread on the French Chic group. Members confessed their indulgence in portions large and small, and the perils of having ice cream in the freezer.

But what would summer be without ice cream? As a child, "going out for ice cream" was the summer treat, and I continue that tradition with my son when we walk over to our local ice creamery. During the summers in Annecy, the ice cream shop is a destination with my nephews: we take the boat across the lake and wind our way up the quai to Glacier Perrière where half the fun is choosing the flavor.

This weekend, go out for ice cream. So what if it's not Berthillon? Baskin-Robbins will do just fine! My week-end treat will be a boule of fresh strawberry. How about you?

Bon week-end!