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.

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

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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~

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

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

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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. 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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??~

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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~

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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.

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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~

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

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

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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???

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

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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~

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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 frenchbasketeer.com

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!! 

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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!

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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…

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…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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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~

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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. 

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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. 

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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 FrenchBasketeer.com

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Art of Tidying Up

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal this week about a best selling book by Japanese author Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.   It’s a very interesting article, and I must say, a topic that always resonates with me.  I positively love to have everything organized and clean.  Our home is not small, but it’s not tidy either.   We have lots of stuff, and I’m constantly arranging and rearranging all the stuff for the three of us.  Unlike my brother (whom I love dearly) and a handful of others in my life who are Clean Surfaces kind of people, my parents and I can’t bear to part with let alone say no to any {new} stuff.  I have mentioned that our basement contains anything you might ever want; it’s a little Alibaba’s Cave full of sawed-off broom handles (the used broom end having been tossed) and cleaned and stored jars, and all kinds of interesting things.  Not exactly hoarder-quantity, but enough.   I thought I was doing well this week to get rid of a car-full of R’s books, which had been sitting in the garage, but there were certain ones I simply could not part with.  I mean, how can you say No to Shakespeare, Proust, Tolstoy and Twain? 

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And after last week’s Paris Bistro lunch affair, I decided I had to have the 1900’s Dutch lustreware bowl my friend brought; it is the perfect size and color for Céleri Rémoulade, which I make often.   And being me, I liked it so much, I found a second one on ebay that I will bring to Beaune.  Like my china cupboard needs any more dishes…but it’s ok, it’s been Tidied recently and I made room.  

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This past week, Jill and I did quite a bit of filming for French Food Camp and it was really lovely to pretend that the rest of my kitchen was as tidy as the screen shots.

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Looks pretty good, right?

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Clean and tidy, oui.

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Until you open the top drawer below the stove.  Yikes~  Now, I swear I clean out this drawer every few 2-3 months.  The problem is that the kitchen is heavily used, and my Mom has the habit of throwing any small clean utensil in this drawer since she has no idea where else it might go.  As such, the drawer ends up being an I-Spy when I ask someone to open the drawer and find me an apple corer or herb scissors. Can you find those~?

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Inspired by Marie, I took everything out of the drawer and began to organize.  Thankfully I have a second kitchen, and certain utensils can go there, and I did the major overhaul-clean-out-every-drawer-and-cabinet thing a while ago.  For the kitchen as well as the rest of the house, I pretty much know, if it comes into the house,  know I will be using it.  My friend Peggy in Connecticut has a rule that no new thing can come into the house unless something else goes out; I have used that as a guideline for a long time, hearing her voice say those words; it works sometimes for me but not always.

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I know what I need and use, but for some reason I now have ten vegetable peelers in the drawer.  Some of these are from France, and some are from Williams Sonoma.  I got a two free peelers last week but they are made in {another country} and they can’t peel a potato worth anything.  Time to pare down the peeler collection….

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There are a few other things that are non-negotiable.  My niece Lauren made this little pipecleaner frog for me, and it’s always in this drawer.  It does not peel or core or chop anything, but it’s there because I think of her every time I open the drawer and it makes me smile. Non-negotiable no to declutter.  Marie’s mantra is “does it give you joy?”  Yes, I feel joy every time I see this frog and every other thing in my house.

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I keep a stash of rubber bands and ties (which I use all the time to reseal foods), pastry cutters, various tools, Eiffel Tower scissors and vintage porcelain dish-towel markers in the drawer; one is for towels to dry your hands, and the other indicates a towel for glasses.  I have never used these tags, but they are always in the drawer.  Can someone use them??  $20 the pair.  I tied up the pile of rubber bands with a twistie, in the effort to be tidy.

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Various serving pieces were removed and relocated to their proper locations.

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The end result was a drawer that looks positively organized and contains all that I need that is not within arm’s reach on the countertop.  Everything here is important to me personally, or necessary to cook with.  I thought it looked quite good! For the time that it lasts, upon which time I will reorganize it yet again.

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Not stopping there, Jill and I tidied up the silverware.  Or part of it.  The knives look great all in a row, but this will last for all of about a week.  Still, tidy is nice.  Cheese and butter spreaders are next, handy and organized.

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I feel like I’m on a roll and will keep going with all the tidying.  I will not be buying Marie’s book, though I’m sure it’s great, but will take it as great inspiration as a wanna-be-tidy person. 

Today we were busy with market shopping, lunch, a few phone calls to old friends and spending time together.  No time for tidy, it was time for food and flour and rolling pasta.  That is, it was time to make a mess.  And what pasta we had: hand-cut homemade papardelle with a pesto of basil and spinach from the market with garlic and lemon and the last of the winter walnuts.  All local; goodness it was good; I’m making this for friend again soon.  Making this pasta, I was happy to not be tidy.

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Have a lovely weekend and hope you are eating and living well, whether you are making a mess or cleaning one up~