Is Mom a francophile? Well, even if she’s not, who doesn’t love beautiful things? Here are a few I’ve spotted recently that are available in the U.S.:
1. Soaps and Sachets from Saveur du Jour
So pretty, and very reasonably priced. In fact, Saveur du Jour has all kinds of lovely gifts that are under $20—from beautiful tins containing Sablés (French butter cookies) to cute mini-milk tins filled with Brittany caramels. The soaps, below, are $21.90 and the sachets are $11.90 each.
Forgive me for blowing my own horn, but if Maman doesn’t yet have the Bonne Femme Cookbook, wouldn’t she just love one? And here’s a fun idea. Treat her to brunch from my book and when she raves about the food, hand her a copy as a gift.
And be sure to start brunch with my fresh take on a Mimosa. Even if you do serve a traditional Mimosa, remember that a true French Mimosa would add a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier to the mix, an indispensable ingredient that adds so much depth to the flavor.
Asparagus Crêpes—a beautiful way with “The Deal of the Day.”
“The French really don’t like to talk about how they economize on groceries. But of course, we all do,” said my French friend (who, in this case, prefers to remain anonymous!). She went on to say that her number-one strategy was to go to the market and look for the “Deal of the Day” (ce qui est en promo) and then cook something with that.
The question is: What, then, do you do with the “deal of the day”? So you buy a bunch of [whatever]. How do you know what else to pick up if you don’t have a recipe for it at the top of your mind?
One great answer: Always have crêpes at the top of your mind. So many “deals of the day” can be folded into a crêpe, but especially shellfish and wonderful vegetables (for main-dish or first-course crêpes) or fruit (for dessert crêpes).
This aged goat cheese from Norway was also “en promo,” so I used it. You can use any cheese that grates well, but I love an aged goat cheese with asparagus. PS: Just don’t use fresh goat cheese. It simply won’t melt very nicely.
Here’s a great example of something I made with some beautiful fresh asparagus. So simple, yet so beautiful and fresh and seasonal and French.
Crêpes with Roasted Asparagus and Aged Goat Cheese
Makes 8 crêpes
Serve two crêpes per person with a salad for a light lunch or brunch. Or, serve one crêpe per person, with a very small puff of vinaigrette-dressed salad, for a sit-down first course. You can also roll up the crêpes, slice them into one-inch spirals, and serve as appetizers or amuse-bouches.
Crêpe batter (see my recipe)*
1 pound asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated aged goat cheese
1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place the asparagus spears in a large, shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with the olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roll the asparagus around to coat each spear in oil. Spread the asparagus into a single layer. Roast until tender and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the crêpes: Brush the bottom of a 6- to 7-inch nonstick skillet with butter to coat it lightly. Heat over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and pour a scant 1/4 cup batter into hot pan quickly swirling pan to coat the bottom of the pan with batter. Return to heat and cook until nicely browned on bottom; flip and cook until somewhat crisp (you want to cook these crêpes longer than you would for dessert crêpes). Cool on individual plates, then stack once cooled.
3. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Place one crêpe on a lightly greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the top half with about 1 1/2 tablespoons goat cheese. Arrange asparagus spears in the crêpe, cutting as needed to fit. Fold the crêpe over. Repeat with remaining crêpes.
4. Bake in a 350°F oven about 10 minutes or until the crêpes are warm and the cheese has mostly melted.
* Note that the recipe makes 12 crêpes. You only need 8 for this recipe, so refrigerate the remaining four, covered with plastic wrap. They’ll keep for 2 days in the fridge. Reheat them in a pan for about 30 seconds each before serving as a lovely dessert. See my serving suggestions.
Good heavens. Even the French generally keep their dogs under the table. Photo by Ruben Swieringa via Flickr.
I once wrote a newspaper article on common faux-pas people make when entertaining. When it was posted online, someone wrote: “Jeeze! I’d just be happy to be invited to someone’s house! I’d never complain!”
Certainly, most guests—including myself—are not that critical. We’re simply thrilled to be included in the fun.
Unless, of course, you do something that drives us crazy. And sadly, hosts often do, without even knowing they’re doing so.
Yet making guests feel comfortable in your home is part of the guest-host contract that you signed when you invited people over. Here are a few ways to avoid violations:
1. Mind the Dog
I am so tired of being pawed at, nosed, growled at, jumped on, and slobbered on by my hosts’s dogs that I often think twice before accepting a dinner invite at the home of someone who can’t control their pet. Or if I do go to an offending dog-owners house, I am now sure to wear my “dog pants”—trousers I don’t care much about, in case they get pawed at and slobbered on.
Really. Do you want to be the kind of host whose guests put on their dog pants before they come to your house?
Well, maybe you do, if your goal is to drive your guests crazy.
2. Stop Apologizing About the Food
I love eggs in a salad to be soft-cooked to velvety-luscious richness. Yes, I overcooked them here. No, I didn’t make a fuss about it.
So, something you made didn’t turn out the way you really wanted it to. Make light of it and move on. Chances are, your guests won’t really notice (and again, they’re just happy to be part of the fun).
This vintage napkin shows an age-old problem. Of course, you don’t think your guests will arrive on time, but many do.
You will, however, drive them crazy if you keep harping on about how you overcooked the lamb and undercooked the artichokes and the meringue isn’t as set as you’d wished. Really, guests do not want to spend the evening assuring you that everything is just fine. It’s tedious, and we run out of ways to say, “Really, it was great. Really!”
3. Be (Mostly) Ready When We Arrive
Look—we’re all busy. It’s not uncommon for the hosts to start cooking after the guests arrive, and sometimes it’s part of the fun. I, personally, enjoy pitching in when asked. Loosey-goosey is good with me.
But please. When we show up, it would be nice if you have at least purchased the groceries and made it look like you had some kind of general plan in place. It would be nice if you were pretty much dressed for the evening. I would much rather you’d called and said, “Hey, we’re running late! Can you give us another hour?” than to sit in your living room while one harried co-host rushes home with the groceries and the other frantically roots around the fridge to find us something to drink.
Entertaining should look effortless; you simply don’t want your guests to think we are putting you out. Unless, of course, your goal is to drive us crazy.
PS: Guests—don’t complicate things by arriving too early…that’s a sin, too!
If this doesn’t look familiar, find a quick-read on food safety on the FSIS Website.
4. Don’t (Food) Poison Your Guests
This should go without saying: Keep the food you serve safe to eat. However, I’m often surprised at how many hosts don’t understand some basic food-safety rules.
For example, I once went to a friends house for an afternoon backyard picnic. When we arrived at noon, we were told that a particular out-of-town couple wouldn’t be arriving until around 3 p.m., so we’d nosh on appetizers before we ate the main meal. That’s okay! I’m flexible.
Except, what drove me crazy was that for three hours, some good- looking pork chile verde and other perishable foods sat in a warm kitchen at room temperature. (And frankly, who knew how long it had been sitting before we even got there?).
I know, I know. Food safety is one of the most un-sexy things to talk about. But the truth is, you need to keep hot food hot (140° or higher) and cold food cold (at 40° or below). Otherwise, you risk not only driving us crazy, but making us sick.
Food at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F are at risk of developing harmful bacteria. Do not let it sit in this “danger zone” longer than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is 80°F or higher).
5. Stop Bickering, for Heaven’s Sake
Have you ever been invited to the Bickersons? We have and it’s excruciating.
These are the people who argue at everything both large and small. And it’s the small details that especially drive us crazy.
Above: An extreme version of The Bickersons: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” You don’t want to be this couple, now do you?
Typical conversation between Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson:
“In 1997, when we went to Taos….”
“Honey, we didn’t go to Taos in 1997–that was 1998″
“Yes we did. It was the year we discovered that amazing posole.”
“We didn’t have Posole in Taos, that was Santa Fe.”
“Yes, I know it was Santa Fe, but it was on the 1997 trip.”
“But you just said we had Posole on our trip to Taos.”
“It was the same trip that we went to Taos that we discovered that great Posole in Santa Fe.
“Well, that’s not what you said….”
And, Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson, you wonder why everyone always drinks so much at your place….
Here’s one of my favorite ways to keep it simple.
But What About the Food?
Notice how the things that drive guest crazy are rarely about the food itself?
Really. Don’t knock yourself out. It’s been said before: When planning a menu for guests, stay in your comfort zone—make a few recipes that you truly love, and your guests will likely enjoy them, too.
I’ve been a food writer, restaurant reviewer, cookbook author and editor, and recipe developer for almost 20 years and I can’t give you one example of being invited to someone’s house where I had been even remotely disappointed by the food. Sure, there might have been a something gone awry here or there, but the point is, I don’t remember them at all. Not a one comes to mind.
So take my word for it: Perceptive hosting skills can make up for a lot of culinary misfires. No one will remember the overcooked lamb, the slightly grainy crème anglaise, the too-brown meringue. They’ll remember what a fun and meaningful time they had around your table.