Friday, June 26, 2015

Crêpe Factory

It all started simply enough.  A friend who is a baker messaged me “Do you know anyone who can make 600 crêpes?”  Sure, so-and-so in San Diego or the crêpe truck…..”No,” she said, crepes only, no filling.  “I think you should do it.”  This was just after she had been to my French Food Camp Brunch and I showed everyone how to make fancy crêpes filled with lemon curd and topped with blackberry compote.  Soon I was making a sample batch and had a meeting with the best caterer in the area.  He asked for a larger size and the classic “white” crêpe as opposed to the buckwheat “Brittany style” crêpe I make.  I love crêpes in Brittany at the local market, where they are 100% buckwheat and I take them home and fill them for our car ride home.  I also love a Gruyère crêpe for breakfast at the market in Paris 16eme where I used to live.  I used to love the crêpe guy by the Louvre, a butter and sugar crêpe and a coffee was often a great snack.  Oui, me and Real French Crêpes go way back….


After another meeting and tasting the two versions, he called back to say that they loved the original version, crispy and lacy on the edges, soft in the center, not too sweet except at the center, where I had sprinkled the sugar between the crêpes to keep them from sticking.  Soon, I had an order of 800 crêpes.  I had never made 800 crêpes, but it was a deal, and so….I was a one-woman crêpe factory for two days.  Needless to say, my compost pile was happy to receive the shells of hundreds of eggs.


Now, if you want to make a small batch of fancy crêpes, here is the basic recipe, which is adapted from Pierre Hermé (Paris of course):

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or rum
2 teaspoons orange juice
Zest of 3/4 of an orange (organic please)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use grapeseed oil)
3 tablespoons browned butter"
3/4 cup sifted flour
2 heaping tablespoons buckwheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill is great)
Extra sugar on hand

Makes about ten eight inch crêpes.

For a large quantity, I use the above proportions, but only use the milk, sugar, eggs, egg yolk, oil, butter, flour and buckwheat flour.  Remember that buckwheat flour is not a grain, so it’s also gluten free and a great addition even though this recipe also uses regular flour; there is something very settling to the stomach and satisfying (it’s very savory so good to use this crepe with sweet fillings).  I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract too to give more flavor but not be “boozy” and not expensive.  I make the batter the night before I will make the crêpes; it’s very important to give the batter time to rest.

Break your eggs and egg yolk in to a bowl and mix them well.  


Brown the butter by melting it over medium heat, then watch it slowly burn a little and turn brown (that was redundant, I know).  After a little while it will start to foam and bubble up.  This is when you need to watch it and be sure it does not bubble over the pan (remove the pan from the heat if you think it will bubble over, but mostly, use a generous sized pan.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Add the milk, sugar and vanilla, (if you are using the classic recipe add the orange zest and juice and the rum or Grand Marnier) then the oil and browned butter, including any burned bits; it’s all great flavor.  Then add the sifted flour and mix with a whisk.  The batter will seem a little lumpy but don’t worry, give the gluten in the flour time to relax.   Set in the refrigerator or a cool location overnight; I use three huge copper faitout or stockpots; stir in the morning and the batter should be smooth; otherwise just stir a little more.  Notice the buckwheat has a tendency to settle, so whisk to the bottom of the pan.  


And now, to the crêpe making!  I use two very large non-stick pans with sloped sides.  Use a paper towel and rub the warm pans with a little oil or butter before the first crepe.  Set your batter out close by, and choose a ladle that will be the right size….the amount of batter you need will vary depending on which pan you use.


Heat the pan on medium-high, and pour the batter in in one quick motion into the center of the pan, then pick the pan up and swirl it so that the batter covers the entire pan.  I prefer to cook crepes on a higher heat, which browns them a little more, but gives a crispy edge.  Can you see the lacy edge here?    Tips: the first crepe is to test: if the batter is too thick you can thin it with a little milk.  The oil will tend to rise to the top of the batter, so stir well for the first few crepes if your first crepe looks oily.  It’s really very straightforward once you have made them, and I hate to add too many explanations, but play a little with the heat and the batter to get the taste and texture that you like.  In Laguna I make smaller crepes on an electric range and I love them; the gas is hotter but easier to control.  You can do it, trust me.


After the edges of the batter start to brown, you are ready to flip the crêpe. I use a large spatula.  Slip it under the crêpe and… over!


The second side is faster to cook, but it’s the first side which is the “pretty” side, the one you will have on the outside once you fill the crêpe (you can roll them or quarter them for filling).  Flip the finished crêpes into a pile, with the pretty side down, and add a tablespoon of sugar on top, between each crêpe.  This way the crêpes are ready to fill.  The sugar will melt in the warm stack.

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The edges will be crispy and delicious; if you refrigerate these now, they will lose the crisp but they can be frozen or refrigerated for several weeks with no problem.

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I made piles of 25, and I counted each one as I flipped it in the pan; note my advanced counting system.


I made 350 crêpes the first day, then more batter late that night, and 450 the next day.  The XXL faitout was looking much like I felt, as I finished the second day at 2am.  Two hours sleep and I delivered the still-warm crêpes on schedule, all 800 of them, perfectly packaged.


Since those two days, I have made several more batches, though smaller.  They have been called “amazing” and other great comments….so a success.  Today I was asked to make 100 so that they had some on hand while I am in France.  I decided crêpes are tough work.  Thank goodness for a big lemon water and green juice.  It’s hot in there!


I’ve now made a total of 1,350 crêpes in the last month for the caterer.  And whenever I doubt myself, I will just say, Girl, you made 800 crêpes in two days; if you can do that, you can do just about anything!  Hope you will try the crêpes.  There is a reason why the French love this sweet or savory treat; it’s delicious~

Friday, May 29, 2015

Macaron Food Camp

It has taken me some time to recover from the Bubblypalooza French Food Camp.  We started at noon and the last guests left again around 9pm, not counting the house guests who sat up later drinking Krug and Ruinart with me….a most memorable day that I was unfortunately unable to photograph because I was hosting.  But we had thirty guests, and it was crazy fun.  When the guests were seated, all at one long table under the loggia, it looked like this….with incredible peonies and lots of silver and crystal and generously oversized napkins at each place setting.

It was luxe. It was divine.  It was sumptuous and organic and local.  It was outstanding, if I do say so myself.  After our eight Champagnes and eight organic chickens, homemade pasta and duck fat croutons made from the magnificent Bread Artisan Bakery miche, we had dessert.   I kept it “simple” with flourless chocolate cakes in various sizes, organic cherries dipped in chocolate, a trio of lemon verbena, rose geranium and peach-champagne sorbets, and 150 Paris-style macarons.  The week before I made 900 twelve inch crepes, which I have yet to blog about, but  the thought of making 150 macarons wasn’t all that daunting.  They were slightly irregular as I wanted some to be bite-sized. 

I made Pierre Hermé chocolate macarons, and filled them quite generously with coffee buttercream, and when the buttercream ran out I added chocolate ganache to the pastry bag and made coffee-chocolate swirl.  These were a bit chewey, but also delicious~

There were passion fruit and lemon and a raspberry buttercream; various flavors to suit every taste….and at the end of the day, every single macaron was gone….eaten or taken home.   The tray by the way is from Mary of QStreetQvale….made for eggs, but don’t they work for macarons as well???

France, and Paris especially, loves color.

 For macarons, colors and flavors, nature inspires~

Though I’d also say, in France and Paris in particular, interior decor inspires.  Pink and pistachio Empire chaise…

Pillow…macaron…?  Oui.

or pistachio…make mine the real deal ones from Sicily, raw like this and true green. Note the price of the best…around $38 per pound....

Each French Food Camp is a logical progression from the last, and for one last month we will delve into the world of macarons.  Don’t call it a cookie, it’s not a cookie.  It’s a pure Parisian confection, and it can be finicky.
For our next event, Saturday June 20th, we will focus solely on the beloved Macaron.  I’ll show you all the secrets of how to mix the batter, how to get the coveted foot, and how to dress, fill and store them.  What to look for and what to avoid…you will learn it all.

If you love Macarons and make them at home, bless you…if you buy them for $3 each and want to know how to make them yourselves, this class is for you.  We will have a simple lunch of salmon caesar salad, and tea with all the trimmings, but we will spend a solid three+ hours on how to make, fill {and eat} macarons.  The class is $65 and you can sign up HERE

Have a lovely weekend, and be sure to indulge in something sweet!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

French Food Camp Bubblypalooza

It’s a kind of a compulsion of mine, wanting to have a dinner party or friends over or some kind of activity going on, all the time.  It’s like an itch that never gets scratched, perpetually wanting to shop for food, cook it, eat and share it with friends…setting a marvellous scene.  Opening my home and welcome new friends, gathering old friends, connecting the dots and finding common ground and inspire each other.  I am constantly amazed at the conversations that take place each month between guests who have just met each other at French Food Camp….it’s like a classic Parisian salon, everyone learns something from me about our food, but everyone is exchanging information and has something to contribute to the conversation…about their lives and their experiences.  Often times everyone is talking in small groups in the kitchen or on the patio about something going on in their lives or their kids’ lives; always lots to talk about and share.   There is one more chance to join us for a French Food Camp this spring, and I am so excited about it I can hardly wait to type these words~

Saturday May 16th I am hosting the French Food Camp Bubbly Party.


I am calling it Bubblypalooza….a celebration of our French bubbly~


We are going to have a classic French lunch of home-made pasta dressed in French style, organic roast chickens from a local farm, salad….something like this, but who knows, it will be decided the week-of depending on what is seasonal and what I love at the markets~


There will be a large dessert spread, of course, which will certainly include a boatload of creme puffs…


But the star of the day will be Champagne…magnificent bubbles…


On this afternoon you will be able to sample 8 Champagnes I have chosen for you….my favorites, my most-favorite organic Champagne, the tried-and-trues, and we will end with a taste of Dom Perignon.  Have you ever wondered what it tastes like?  It’s not my favorite, but it’s historically important and the one by which many other Champagnes are judged. 


We will not be going trendy and high-end, no Ace of Spades, no Cristal, sorry…too rich for me!


You will sample many cuvees that you might find at Costco, high-end wine shops, or in France.  And they will all be delicious, but different.   You will come away from our tasting with opinions, which pretty much means what you like and what you like better and what you like most.  It’s hard for most people to line up eight high-end bottles to taste at the same time (of which your favorite yellow-label classic might be considered at the low end of the range), but it’s an amazing way to define what you like for Champagne.


Now, the Details:  This event is the afternoon of Saturday, May 16th 2015, from noon until whenever the last guest leaves, which was 9 or so pm last time...  We begin with our Champagne tasting and appetizers.


We will eat outside under the loggia, and the tables will be set with the ceramics of Astier de Villatte from Paris.  I can’t reveal the details of which flowers and how the table will look yet, because we are still working them out, but let me tell you it will be a magical setting…a collaboration between me and Mary Qvale. 

The chickens will be roasting while we have our degustation.  And after a little bubbly, we sit down to our sumptuous meal.


The Cost: $75 per person for the meal, and $25 per person for the Champagne tasting.  Seating is limited; you can reserve online HERE to guarantee your seat.


Thank you to the blog readers who came to the Food Camp last weekend; it was such a treat to meet you and honored that you travelled so far to join us for the afternoon.  I will be in Beaune in July and August, so this Bubblypalooza may be the last of our events until fall, but it will be a special event indeed.  I am working out the tasting lineup and decor details already!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Le Brunch at French Food Camp

Every month I love coming up with a new menu and theme for the French Food Camp event that I hold at home for my friends and guests.  This month I wanted to focus on Brunch, with French inspiration, because I think that it’s important to have a few good brunch tricks up your sleeve if you entertain.  For friends or for family, brunch can be a very satisfying meal, and not break the bank.  I mean really, at about 60-70 cents for a pastured egg, it is a no-brainer….though in our case we had 130 eggs on hand for the day~IMG_0781

The amazing Mary Qvale styled the tabletop for seating for 20 under the loggia.  The crates and pine table were there; Mary brought the little vintage terra cotta pots, which I had to have, and will use for luminarias this summer.  I brought my dollie Vivienne down from my bedroom so a doll-collecting friend could see her; and then I brought out three baskets full of pastured eggs that I had bought from my three favorite farmers at the farmers markets.  Now, do you see the zinc pieces in the bottom left of this photo??~


Mary brought five of these vintage French zinc egg trays and had planned on using them on the tables down the center, but they were a little wide for the table, and so she set them aside thinking she would put them back in her car.  As soon as I saw them I was almost afraid to say it….are those…EGG RACKS?  Yes, they are.  So instead of having a basket of eggs for each of the three egg farms, I was able to lay out (lay out, that’s funny!…no pun intended) all of the eggs from the three farms so that everyone could appreciate their nuances of color and size and shape.  We had Araucana eggs in various shades of blue and green, and every tone between pale cream and dark brown.  As we were making three-egg classic French omlettes, this was an ideal display….I sent everyone out one by one to choose three eggs of their choice and then come back to the kitchen to learn how to make their omlette.  Everyone absolutely loved the idea of picking out their eggs.  There was plenty of fine excelsior to give a little hint of a henhouse, and a white cake filled with lemon creme and covered in roses, which was inspired by the Fabulous Contessa of Vintage Contessa/Vintage Henhouse; check out her Instagram hat and feed HERE.   But mostly, all eyes were on the organic beauty of the eggs~


The single long table was set with white French linen cloths, vintage linen napkins and French sterling, and Astier de Villatte dishes.  The guests picked up their crystal glasses in the dining room, so they were not on the table here.


There were a few pieces of Limoges mixed in, since we were so numerous; but this is part of the beauty of Astier ceramics…mix them with the old porcelain and they work perfectly.  Mary’s gorgeous florals of freshly-cut grape vines and iceberg and old damask roses paired with vintage glass and zinc were lovely~


Soon after these photos were taken, the guests arrived then got to eating.  There were omlettes made to order, French toast, crepes filled with lemon creme or rose ice cream or blackberry compote or fresh heirloom strawberries….it was delicious…..IMG_1408

We finished the day with crepes Suzette (great pyrotechnic show) and hot chocolate Paris style.  I’ll see if I can find some more food photos, but you will see them on Instagram too with hashtag #frenchbasketeer or #frenchfoodcamp

Guests arrived at noon and the last guest left at 9pm! A very good day indeed!!  There will be one or maybe two food camps before I leave for Beaune this summer; if you are interested in coming next month you can sign up on my website HERE and if anyone is interested, I think Mary has one or two zinc egg trays left….so email me or comment here if you are interested in those and I’ll put you in touch with Mary.  The Astier ceramics are also to order through Mary; I’ll post on those again soon.

Have a wonderful week~

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It’s Now Private

Today is the first day that I am officially having a private culinary class in Laguna.  While we have been meeting monthly for the French Food Camp (I like to say it’s book club for food), my private classes will be a chance for you to learn very specific skills and how to execute the menu of your choice in a focused environment.  Entertaining and cooking need not be complicated, once you know what you are doing.  And it can and should be a thoroughly luxurious experience.  You just need to know what you are doing.  And that’s what I will show you.


You can select the menu from a long list of dishes I will give you.  Recently we learned a few tricks about how to cook with herbs.  We could spend the whole day talking about how to use Chervil and Chive in your menu.


If you have always wanted to know how to make a perfect chocolate cherry tarte, start to finish, I can show you.  We will make the crust from scratch, and you will learn exactly how to do this.  In summer I make minis, and drop one pitted cherry into each tarte.  It’s fantastic!

choc cherry

Or if pasta is your love, let’s make fettuccine from scratch, with lobster mushrooms and asparagus.

pasta fresca1

Today, we are focused on lemons, Meyer and Ponderosa.   It’s your class, you decide what we will cook~


Everyone likes to get in the act.  The mirror is 1920’s and framed.  An alley find, but it’s nice sitting in my basket at the kitchen door.  How much is that doggie in the mirror???


One of today’s menu items is lemon curd, so we have a large basket of pastured eggs on hand.


And herbs, lots of herbs.  We will talk about the range of herbs; this is Lemon Balm, also known as Melissa.  You need this herb if you have a little garden space or a pot by the kitchen door~


You can reserve a class for two, four or six, HERE.  For chefs not local to Southern California, there is the possibility that you can spend the weekend with me in my guest quarters.  Please email me andrea at

Enjoy your weekend, now, back to my guests~

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Morning-After Stew

Yesterday we had our monthly French Food Camp in Laguna, with a focus on Spring Herbs & foods.  What a day, what a day!!  We had cooks young and old in the kitchen, including my friend C and her little granddaughter, who volunteered to help make the chocolate tarte.  A short time later, this little four year old happened to lock herself in the powder room.  But while most kids would have had a meltdown, she figured it out and unlocked the door.  Good Girl!! 

ffc charlotte

The last guests left after five, and I stayed up with my houseguests chatting by candlelight until ten.  This morning, it was time to do a last pass to clean up the kitchen, they survey the scene again.  The day before, we had the most gorgeous vases of spring branches and flowers courtesy of my friend the most talented Mary Qvale.  Here the ladies were getting ready to be seated for the starter, a grapefruit and shrimp salad that transports me to Paris.

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This morning, all but my own vase and magnolia brances were gone.   Sniff, sigh….I miss those branches!


I still have one of Mary’s amazing orchids to appreciate too.  I could be spoiled if I have this in my home~


The bar was sort of cleaned up; I say sort of because it looked a bit of a mess.  Sign of a nice culinary class/party.


The herb table is still there, waiting for me to put the potted herbs and other discussion props away.


We discussed a large roster of herbs, the fine and the sturdy.  It was a good afternoon to learn what to do with lemon verbena.


And what the heck is this plant thing called Chervil?  Believe me, you need this in your garden!


A few hours of clean up ahead, I think a coffee on the divan might be in order.


But oh, yes, I have guests.  And food to put away still.  The day after a party one has to deal with all the leftovers.  And while the rib eye steaks were awesome yesterday, with a pat of herbed butter…

food camp steaks

…this morning at six am the remnants were not looking so appetizing.  I had sliced the large steaks into smaller portions, for a family-style three-tray-pass, but there was still a fair bit left, and none of it dog-scraps.  I could make this into chilli for Dad, or cold sandwiches, but he rarely likes to eat anything too “leftover.”


But that’s fine with me, and I know what my family will and will not eat.  After many a large family dinner, if there is any meat such as a prime rib bone or extra steak, I can still use those bones and meat to make another meal.  The concept of French food thrift is a great one, and often lost here as people throw it all away.  Not necessary, if you get right at it the next morning.  I cleaned out the fridge for some flaccid week-old celery, a piece of lemon, a parsnip, a few tired carrots and a half bottle of red wine left over from yesterday.  Time to transform the leftover steak.


I pulled a few shallots, bay leaves, dried thyme, fresh oregano snipped from the herb table and a clove of garlic. 


In winter, I would use this meat and bones if any and leftover veggies and wine to make a stew.  Today I decided to do the same, but in Spring fashion.  I’ll show you my latest French copper this week, but for now I’ll just say I used my Mom’s 1950’s Danish enamel cookware.  Personal attachment to these pieces, and they work just fine, though a French daubiere or Staub cocotte would also be grand.


So in layers, I added the celery, the steak pieces, the herbs, the vegetables to the pot.  Finished off with the last of the fresh herbs and a few pinches of the dried herbes de Provence that we talked about yesterday.  The bottle of red wine was poured on top and the pot filled with water, enough to cover the contents. No need for stock, this makes its own beef stock.


Oh wait, there was one more addition.  The rosemary that finished the little bar towel gift that D gave me.  Into the pot the rosemary went.  To bake at 300 degrees, for about three hours.


As my guests rose around 9am and came to the table for breakfast, the kitchen and much of the house smelled of roasting herbs, red wine and home cooking.  Or you can call it lunch in the making.  After breakfast, I took the stew pot out of the oven to cool and pulled the last of the little spring veggies from the kitchen door baskets.  Little tiny tasty veggies~


As we came to lunchtime, I gently boiled then lightly broiled the veggies.  The very tender chunks of meat went onto the bed of vegetables, and a quick scissor of fresh herbs on top. 


In winter we usually want something hearty and stew-like, but in spring, stews need a lighter treatment.  The veggies here are barely cooked, slightly crunchy but not raw.  The cooking liquid was boiled down to a reduction, then thickened with a roux, and served boated on the side. 


Not at all a bad way to use what is in your fridge for one more meal.  Enjoy your Sunday…if you are interested in coming to next month’s French Food Camp on April 18 we will be brunching is style.  You can see details HERE or email me andrea at