This Year's Crop of Gifts for France-Lovers

Five new gifts for France-lovers, plus five of my enduring favorites. Enjoy this little shopping spree!

This year’s roundup of great gifts for cooks and lovers of France. Wustoff Spatula, France Calendar, Jaquard Tablecloth.

Greetings, friends. Each year, I unveil my list of the best French gift ideas—gifts for lovers of France (and food). Take a look! And always remember that any purchase you make through one of the links on my site will help support the work I do on this blog. So, if I’ve ever led you to a great recipe, a favorite wine, or a lovely French town, please consider making a purchase through one of my links. Doing so won’t add to your costs in any way!

PS: Even if you don’t buy exactly what I’m selling, if you get to Amazon through one of my links, I’ll still get some credit. So go shop!

 

My Top 10 French Gifts of the Year

1. The Wüsthof Fish Spatula 

Bracket the word “fish”—you’ll use this for everything from lifting delicate cookies off sheets, to gliding under that fried egg for the perfect flip. The ultra-thin, slightly sharp beveled edge lets you smoothly slip beneath the food, and those long, narrow slots work two ways: They allow fats and oils to drip away, while distributing the tension of the load, preventing even the most delicate food (like fish) from breaking apart.  And don’t worry if you think the recipient might have two of these. I’m always wishing I had an extra one when one’s at the bottom of the sink or in the

Every year, I get my husband one of these.

dishwasher and I need to turn something quick. As of this posting, it’s currently $58.95 on Amazon.)

2. The 365 Days of France Calendar

I love love love this calendar, and I have given one to my husband, Mr. Sportcoat, every single year since we’ve been going to France nearly every summer. Each month features a region (e.g., Savoie) or a city (e.g. Marseilles), with representative photos of the month’s highlighted region for every single day.

Better yet, the copy is written by Patricia Wells, the famed French-cooking expert and cookbook author. It’s a lovely gift for anyone who loves France, dreams of going to France, or goes to France often. (We love it because we often recognize minutiae of places we’ve been, from little shops and cafes to little-known churches.)

As of this posting, the calendar is currently $10.99 on Amazon.

Jacquard Tablecloth. Rich, elegant, sumptuous colors.

3. French Jacquard Tablecloth from Occitan Imports

For the food-lover, France-lover, and anyone who loves to entertain, give them a beautiful Jacquard tablecloth. What is “Jacquard”? It means the design is woven right into the cloth (rather than printed on). Made in France, imported from Provence, the warm colors are just so rich and sumptuous.

Right now on Amazon, the prices range from $109-149, depending on the size. If that’s a little pricey, check out some other designs of lovely French-designed (though made elsewhere) tablecloths.

And if you like something a little more whimsical than elegant, take a look at the rooster design of this tablecloth — I appreciate that it’s available in lots of sizes.

Jacquard Tablecloth

4. French Jacquard Tea Towels from Garnier Thiebaut

Speaking of roosters, another great option for French Jacquard would be a beautiful tea towel (or two or three) from Garnier Thiebaut. These richly colored towels are not only beautiful to display (they’re unmistakably French!), but incredibly useful, because they’re absorbent. As of today, they’re $28 on Amazon. You’ll find some lovely designs (rabbit, goose, seafood), but I definitely love the rooster — the enduring symbol of La Belle France.

Another fine option for modest gift-giving would be a set of French napkins.

5. Serrated French Dining Knives

Serrated table knives. I won't call these "steak knives," because you'll use them for everything from chicken to pot roast to pizza. It's the French way.

Serrated table knives. If you’ve ever dined in France, you know: The French use serrated knives at the table for just about everything except fish.

For heaven’s sake, if you don’t already own some elegant French dining knives, get yourself a set. And, while you’re at it, give someone on your list a set, too. Everything from chicken breasts to pot roasts to pizza cuts better with a serrated knife, and that’s why the French use serrated knives at the table for just about everything except fish. So while these might be classified as “steak knives,” once you start using them for everything else, you’ll wonder why you’ve been using flat-edged table-knives for so long. As of right now, they’re $47.99 on Amazon.

Oh–and make no mistake. These knifes are truly from France. There are some imitations out there, but these are the real deal.

6. The Wüsthoff Set: The Ultimate Gift for Artisanal Cheese Fans

Enjoy a little German craftsmanship with your French cheeses with the Wusthof Gourmet 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set with Cheese Board. I especially adore the soft-cheese knife—it’s the one with the holes in in the blade. Use it for washed-rind and bloomy rind cheeses (like Camembert, Epoisse, et al.); the cheese won’t stick to the knife. The offset knife is stellar for cutting firm and semi-firm cheeses, while the cheese plane lets you cut those ultra-thin slices from favorites like Comté and Gruyère. Currently $114.95 on Amazon.

PS: If you want, you can just purchase the Soft Cheese Knife (currently priced at $79.95), my favorite of the three.

7. The Splurge Gift for a Lifetime of Great French Meals: The Le Creuset Braiser

The Le Creuset Braiser. Available in a multitude of legendary colors.

I don’t know how I ever lived without my enamel cast-iron braising pans from Le Creuset. Braising is a “low and slow” cooking method for transforming less-expensive cuts of meat into rich, succulent meals. Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguigon, Blanquette of Pork, Osso Bucco are all braises, as are a slew of great everyday recipes, like pot roast and beef stew. With its tight-fitting lid, wide base, and shallower-than-a-Dutch-oven sides, the braising pan is simply the best choice for this cooking method.

As I write this (12/2018), they’re currently priced around $265 for the 3 3/4-quart braiser, or $339 for the 5-quart braiser. Which one should you buy? If you usually cook for four to six people, get the 3 3/4-quart braiser. If you generally cook for six to eight, go for the 5-quart braiser.

8. A Less-Expensive Alternative to the Le Creuset Braiser: The Lodge Braiser

The Lodge Color Enameled Cast Iron 3-Quart Covered Casserole is another great braiser—I’ve tested one and give it a hearty thumbs up.

So, if you don’t want to splurge for French pedigree with the Le Creuset, I can recommend this braiser. It’s made of enamel cast-iron, just like the French pans; see my review for more information. It’s designed by an well-respected American company and made in China. PS: While there aren’t as many colors as there are for Le Creuset, both the Blue braiser the red braiser  are lovely. Both cost $59.90 as of this writing.

9. The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day

I know. I’m blowing my own horn here. But if you have a food and France lover on your list, please consider giving them a copy of my book, The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day. Now in its third printing, the book continues to be a guiding light for those who want to bring French joie-de-vivre to the table, but don’t have all day to do so. It showcases a fresh, simple, modern approach to French cooking—an approach I discovered through many summers living and cooking in France. I’m especially honored that Publisher’s Weekly called it “a good read”—there are a lot of vignettes about how I discovered everyday French cooking. But don’t take my word for it! Check out the reviews on Amazon.com.

You do not need a “crêpe pan” to make crêpes. A nonstick skillet with flared sides will do just fine.

10. A Bundle of Crêpe-Making Essentials

I love my T-Fal skillet; in fact, I am on my third skillet (they last a long time but one finally wore out after 15 years, and I misplaced the other one when doing a crêpe demo off-site recently). These non-stick skillets with flared sides are perfect for making crêpes and French omelets (and many other French and non-French things). I also highly recommend a small Le Creuset silicone spatula for flipping the crêpes. And if your recipient needs a crêpe book, I’ve purveyed a very popular one. (Of course, the Bonne Femme Cookbook has plenty of crêpe recipes in it as well!). Finally, why not throw in a bottle of high-quality chocolate sauce for topping the crêpes?


Happy Holidays to everyone, and thanks for reading Chez Bonne Femme.

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Should I Buy a Braiser or a Dutch Oven?

I would never say “no” to a Le Creuset Dutch Oven (aka French Oven), but…

The Braiser versus Dutch Oven Question Answered.

Recently, a comment came in on my ever-trafficked “What Is a Braiser” post. A reader asked which is more important to own: A braiser or a Dutch oven.

When it comes to the Dutch oven versus braiser question, the short answer is that most cooks should have both a Dutch oven and a braiser.

The medium answer is that if you absolutely cannot have both, alas, get a Dutch oven.

But a third and perhaps most useful answer is this: If you can’t afford to have both a high-end braiser and a high-end Dutch oven, I recommend splurging on the braiser, and getting good-quality but affordable Dutch oven. 

…but I cannot live (or at least, I could not cook well) without my Le Creuset braiser.

Here’s Why: The things you cook in a Dutch oven — such as soups, chili, stocks, spaghetti sauces, and other dishes with a significant amount of liquid (more liquid than meat, in fact) — can, quite honestly, be cooked in just about any good vessel that’s stovetop safe and has a lid.

Dishes that need to be braised (that is, cooked tightly covered in a small amount of liquid) — will greatly benefit from the braiser’s specific design:

• The braiser’s wide base allows the meat to gain maximum contact with the heat source, making it easier to get it all nicely browned before it simmers. If you use a Dutch oven for browning, you have less base space, so you have to brown in batches.

• The braiser’s shallow sides are key: Because braising requires less liquid than stewing, the sides of these pans are shallower that those of a Dutch oven. The liquid spreads out for a true braise (cooking with moist steam heat) rather than a stew (simmering covered in liquids). When you braise, you want don’t want the meat to be fully submerged in the liquid, which can happen when you use a Dutch oven instead of a braiser.

And so it might surprise you that I recommend getting a Farberware pot like this, instead of a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. That way, you’ll save loads on the Dutch oven so you can buy a braiser.

That’s why I always use my braiser for all braised meats, including pot roasts, osso bucco, short ribs, beef stews, chicken fricassee, coq au vin, beef bourguignon, lamb shanks, pork shoulder  …. the list goes on and on.

Q: What’s the best braiser? 
A: The Le Creuset Braiser is the gold-standard for braisers. But I also adore the Staub braiser. I own both, and use both all the time. Between the two, simply choose which color you like best, and go from there.

Q: What’s the best Dutch Oven?
A: While purists may say the best Dutch oven is the Le Creuset Dutch oven*, if you’re following my advice to splurge on the braiser and save on the Dutch Oven, I suggest that you get a stockpot instead of a Dutch oven.

Say what? A stockpot is like a Dutch oven, except most Dutch ovens are made of cast iron, and most stockpots are made of steel.

Certainly, I’d never say “no” to a Le Creuset Dutch Oven. However, there are two drawbacks: One, they’re expensive. Two, a cast-iron Dutch oven, when full, is extremely heavy. A stock pot can do almost anything a cast-iron Dutch oven can do, but it’s a lot easier to manage. And it’s generally a lot less expensive.

That’s why I recommend the Farberware Classic Stainless Steel 6-Quart Covered Stockpot. I use this for everything from boiling pasta to making a big batch of soups or chili. I have had mine for over 20 years, and it’s wearing incredibly well. Like new, in fact.

Confused? Let me boil it down for you:

>>>>>>>>>>>>LE CREUSET DUTCH OVEN*         FARBERWARE STOCK POT>>>>>>>>>>

Best Options:

• If you can afford both a Le Creuset Dutch Oven and a Le Creuset Braiser, get them both, but keep in mind that the Le Creuset Dutch oven is heavy, so make sure you’re fine with lifting 12+ pounds.

• If you can’t afford both a Le Creuset Dutch Oven and a Le Creuset Braiser, buy a Farberware Dutch Oven; that way, you’ll save  $300, which you can spend on a Le Creuset braiser.

• If, for some reason I’ll never understand, you simply do not want to own both a braiser and a Dutch oven, then, alas (and it kills me to say this), buy the Dutch oven. You can certainly braise in a Dutch oven, but it’s not nearly as ideal as a braiser (for reasons I mention above). Whether or not you go for Farberware or Le Creuset depends simply on how much you want to spend.

* Actually the Le Creuset Dutch Oven is officially called a “French” oven, because the French aren’t going to call their vessels Dutch, now are they? But because most American cooks call these vessels “Dutch” ovens (not “French” ovens), I’m going to generically refer to these pots at Dutch ovens. Okay?

More questions:
Q: Gimme a break. The Le Creuset Braiser costs nearly $300, and the Staub Braiser costs that and more. Seriously? For a pan?
A: You will use this pan the rest of your life. After you go, your descendants will fight over it. You see, not only is it a durable pan that wears like iron (because it is iron), but it will also be an enduring symbol of the wonderful times they had around the table with you. It’s a workhorse. It’s an heirloom.

But….if that price is simply out of reach, the Lodge Braiser will do. (It’s officially called a covered casserole, but take my word for it, it’s a braiser). I tested one and it’s absolutely fine. Made in China, but designed by an American company, the Lodge Braiser works well, though doesn’t have the French pedigree or gravitas of the Le Creuset or Staub, which are both made in La Belle France.

Q: My adult children all live separately on their own. They don’t cook a lot, they have tiny apartments, and they’ll probably move a lot before they truly get settled. What should I buy them?
A: Get them The Farberware Stock Pot, for now. But when they get married, get them the Le Creuset Braiser and the Le Creuset Dutch Oven.

Q: Which size of braiser should I get?
A: If you generally cook for four to six people, a 3.75- to 4-quart braiser is the way to go. If, however, you often cook for eight or more — or, if you will mostly use your braiser for entertaining 8 or more, then get the 5-quart braiser. I own both sizes, and my 3 1/2-quart definitely gets more use.

Q: How do you know so much about braisers?
A: When I was writing my e-cookbook book on braising, I tested just about every braiser available. Any more questions? Post them below.

Yes! This post provides affiliate links to Amazon.com. That means that I earn a small commission from anything you purchase through one of these links. It does not add to your costs in any way. Thank you for your consideration. 

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Yes, You Can Make Turkey Divan Without Canned Soup

After decades of sliding into disfavor (thanks to the likes of condensed soup and processed cheese), it’s time to give Turkey Divan back its good name! Made with a great cheese and a true Mornay sauce, my Turkey Divan Recipe reclaims the dish’s status as one of the best recipes ever for leftover turkey. 

This is a turkey divan recipe without canned soup — and yes, it’s the one you’re looking for. Below, I give a little history of the recipe, but if you just want the recipe itself, skip to the bottom of the page.

Authentic and Easy Recipe for Turkey Divan

Authentic and Easy Recipe for Turkey Divan

The Late, Great Younker's Department Store. Click here for my ode to working in the famous tea room.

The Late, Great Younker’s Department Store. Read my ode to working in the famous tea room.

I first came across Turkey Divan when I was working in one of the long-gone restaurants of Younker’s Department Store  in Amerique profonde. Made by layering steamed broccoli with sliced cooked turkey breast, with a rich cheese sauce amidst the layers, it was one of those wonderful American classics that were the mainstays of department store tearooms and old-school hotel dining rooms. 

American, you ask? Divan sounds kind of French.

Indeed, according to what research I could find, the recipe was the specialty of the Divan Parisien, a French restaurant in a New York Hotel (the long-gone Hotel Chatham, near Grand Central Station).

Wait–is it Divine or Divan? Is it turkey or is it chicken?

It’s Divan. And the original recipe was for chicken, but someone along the line discovered that it worked beautifully with turkey, too.

What does Divan mean, anyway?

According to my Oxford French-English Dictionary, divan means divan. Yes, as in a davenport. But it’s a Parisian davenport, mind you. I can only guess that the restaurant’s name, “Divan Parisien,” was supposed to bring to mind an elegant place to sit yourself down. And, looking at a vintage postcard, it looks like the place was all about divan-style seating.

Divan Parisien

And yet, Turkey Divan is not elegant in a complicated, rococo way. In fact, the term “polished simplicity” comes to mind whenever I taste a great version. (I always say no one does polished simplicity quite like the French–and this dish is definitely French-inspired).

Turkey Divan begins with one of the most simple-elegant things in the culinary world: a white sauce (a béchamel). When was the last time you stopped and really tasted a white sauce? I did, the other day when I was testing this recipe, and I was thrilled once again by the magic that happens when a warm paste made of melted butter and flour turns milk something so rich and wonderful.

For this recipe, you add a great cheese (and nearly any great cheese that melts well will do); the white sauce becomes a cheese sauce. Or, in French cooking terms, a béchamel becomes a Mornay.

Seriously? It’s as good as all that? Whenever I’ve tasted Turkey Divan, it’s been kind of…..ordinary.

Well, here’s what happened: Over the years, our mothers and grandmothers started substituting cream of mushroom or chicken soup instead of making a white sauce. Condensed soup is to béchamel what Velveeta is to a Vermont Cheddar.

Process cheese (aka Velveeta)? Condensed soup? Let's not judge....but we can do better!

From my mother’s BH&G Casserole Cookbook. Process cheese (aka Velveeta)? Condensed soup? Let’s not judge….but we can do better! (PS: Let the record show that the book also offered a classic, scratch-made version.)

Still, I’m not judging here: If I’d grown up cutting heads off chickens, sweeping Dust Bowl dirt from my floorboards three times a day, and scratching every bit of food I could from the grit of a substinance farm in the anything-but-Martha-Stewart 30s and 40s, by the 1950s, I would have looked at condensed soup as a beacon of salvation from the drudgery of all that work. I would have been first in line for an electric can opener.

And if buying cheap process cheese meant that you’d be able to save enough money to finally afford that beautiful readymade dress in the Younkers window after years of sewing your own clothes, well, pass me the Velveeta.

But now that we have the time and (if we’re blessed) the resources to get back to scratch cooking, it’s time to get back to making the Mornay sauce. And making Turkey Divan in the legendary way.

Here are some step-by-steps to this great dish; just skip below if you want the recipe.

1. Gather up your ingredients (see recipe listing below). You can use broccoli, which is classic, but I love broccolini (pictured in the center).

Ingredients for Turkey Divan.

Ingredients for Turkey Divan.

2. Make a White Sauce (a Béchamel), and then turn it into a cheese sauce (a Mornay) with your favorite flavorful melting cheese.

What cheese to use in Turkey Divan or Chicken Divan: Both Comté and Cheddar work beautifully here. You can also use Gruyère, Asiago, Fontina, Gouda (though not hard-aged Gouda), Muenster, Havarti, and Monterey Jack. I would not use blue cheese for this. You could use Brie or Camembert if you cut off the rind.

A white sauce becomes a cheese sauce (that is, a Béchamel becomes a Mornay). And it's a wonderful thing. You've simply forgotten.

A white sauce becomes a cheese sauce (that is, a Béchamel becomes a Mornay). And it’s a wonderful thing. You’ve simply forgotten.

3. Layer Your Ingredients: The broccoli or broccolini should be cooked until just tender; the turkey should be warm (heat it gently in the microwave). The sauce should still be warm. This is key, because you only run it under the broiler for just a few minutes. PS: I like using Individual Gratin Dishes for these, but a larger gratin dish will work too. Just be sure whatever dish you use is broiler safe.

1. A layer of broccoli 2. A little white sauce 3. A layer of turkey 4. More white sauce

1. A layer of broccoli
2. A little white sauce
3. A layer of turkey…

 

4. More White Sauce 5. A layer of cheese and a little paprika.

4. More White Sauce
5. A layer of cheese and a little paprika.

 4. Broil until nicely bubbly and a little bit brown.

Voilà.

Voilà.

Here’s the recipe, friends!

The Best Turkey Divan Recipe: A Classic Made the Way It Should Be
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
 
If you don't have individual gratin dishes, you can use an 8x8 or 9x9 casserole, or even a round baking dish. Just make sure it can stand the heat of your broiler. You may need to broil the larger casserole longer, but do watch constantly.
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1½ cups 2% or whole milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup grated Gruyère, Comté, Vermont Cheddar, or another great semi-firm cheese you love that melts well
  • 1 1-pound head broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets, cooked and drained* or 1 8-ounce bunch broccolini, cooked and drained.*
  • ¾ pound sliced leftover sliced turkey
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or other great grating cheese of your choice. Or, you can simply add more of the cheese you used in the sauce.
Instructions
  1. Melt butter. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture bubbles. Remove from heat; gradually blend in milk and cream. Add cayenne and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and begins to boil. Add Gruyère and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted.
  2. Warm the broccoli or broccolini and the turkey in the microwave. Divide broccoli or broccolini amongst 4 individual broiler safe gratin dishes (or use a broiler-safe 8x8 gratin dish) spreading out into 1 layer. Pour about ¼ cup sauce over each dish. Layer turkey atop the broccoli; cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  3. Broil about 4 inches from heat for about 5 minutes or until cheese is browned, watching constantly. Serves 4.
  4. • To cook broccoli florets: Cook in about 1 inch of boiling salted water for about 6 to 8 minutes or until just crisp-tender. To cook broccolini: Trim ends. Cook in 1 inch boiling salted water for about 4 minutes or until just crisp-tender.

PS: If you’ve found this post helpful, please consider supporting my work on this site. It’s so easy–and costs you nothing: Next time you want to buy something from Amazon, simply go to Amazon.com through one of my links or ads (such as the ones, below). No matter what you buy, I’ll get a small commission from your purchase–even if it’s not the item I’m advertising. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Links you might enjoy:

• Five French ways with leftover turkey: A great casserole, crêpes, vol-au-vents, and more.
• Five French ways with leftover ham: Croque monsieur, soufflé, French pizza, and other ideas.
• Great Gift Ideas for the Cook: Help support this site by checking out some of these epic gifts.
• Three good, inexpensive sparkling wines: These would be my choice for serving with Turkey Divan.
• Swiss Chard Salad: Looking to go light + healthful with your leftovers? Make this great winter salad, which is great with turkey.

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