20.5.15

Teatime in Paris by Jill Colonna (+ Giveaway!)

Teatime in Paris by Jill Colonna

If you've been following this site for any length of time, you might already be familiar with today's guest contributor. Jill Colonna, author of "Mad About Macarons" and one of my earliest Franco File Friday features, has just released her second book "Teatime in Paris", in which she shares the best and easiest ways to make French pâtisserie classics at home, from madeleines to éclairs. While some desserts may appear hard to make, Jill breaks down each recipe with a simple step-by-step, making them more than suitable to prepare for your own teatime, wherever you may be.

Here, she offers a few additional tips on preparing French pastry at home, sans stresse! See her five tips below and don't miss the giveaway at the bottom for a chance to win your own copy of Jill's latest book! 

-- 5 tips for no-stress French pastry baking at home --

1// Give yourself time with no distractions - or as little as you can. This should be a pleasure to make and ultimately a pleasure to share and taste.
From experience, multi-tasking can result in missing out an important ingredient or weighing out the wrong measurement due to lack of concentration. The only plus on this is that I’ve occasionally produced a new creation this way but could I remember what I did in order to make it again?  No wonder, as I was trying to make dinner and was possibly on that long phone call to Mum in Scotland or trying to talk about a homework assignment at the same time! Put on some French music to set the ambience, close the door and get cracking the eggs! (I love the sound-track to the film, Amelie Poulain, Edith Piaf or some French accordion music - everything my French husband, Antoine, or my girls run away from, so that’s yet another distraction gone!) 

2// Focus on reading the recipe first then prepare all your ingredients in advance before you start. 
It sounds obvious but I didn’t do this at first and I can tell you, it makes such a difference.

3// Tidy up as you go along.  
My Mum always said this when I was little and it has stuck with me and now my girls. If dirty dishes are gradually cluttering up valuable kitchen surface space, I become crabby.  (Ideally find someone to do this for the ultimate no-stress kitchen experience but I’m hopeless at delegating so I’m still the head dish-washer.)

4// Make some recipes, or parts of recipes, in advance.  
For example, choux (éclair) pastry is wonderful since it can keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Macarons even benefit from being kept in the fridge for at least a day before enjoying them and can also keep deliciously well for a few days - even frozen. Pastry cream can be made the day before or earlier in the day and if you have guests and are looking for that easy wow-factor dessert finale, prepare crumble topping (craquelin) in a big batch and freeze the discs.  Just take them out of the freezer and top just before baking your choux puffs and I can guarantee some oh-la las - and there’s not much to it!  Don’t worry, I mention this in much more detail in the book.

5 // Follow an easy recipe.  
I love a baking challenge as long as it’s not difficult.  Complex recipes with many different stages and that require sugar/candy thermometers usually have me running to the nearest pâtisserie!  I love recipes that are straight-forward with step-by-step instructions and the result is not only less expensive, but the height of pleasure is in the taste and taking pride in that you’ve made it yourself.

A note about Jill's favorite pastries and pastry shops: 
The book is primarily a recipe book but the underlying theme is based around my favourite French treats and pâtisseries in Paris. I’m obsessed with street signs and so couldn’t resist photographing them as much as the pastries for the book and mentioning where to find some of the best pastries in different areas of Paris. What’s wonderful is that this city is so full of high-end pastry boutiques, there’s no end of inspiration to try out tasty ideas at home and to mix and match pastries like fashion accessories.  What’s more, the boutiques are multiplying - and so are the cakes at home!

Where on earth can I start? One of my favourite hot chocolates is at Un Dimanche à Paris in the area of Saint Germain-des-Prés, where I conduct occasional pastry and chocolate walks. Their pastries, all around a chocolate theme, are also divine and above all, light: the perfect teatime treat. If it’s the ultimate vanilla experience I’m after, I’ll head to Pierre Hermé for his Infinitely Vanilla Tarlet; if it’s for macarons, Gérard Mulot satisfies a 4 o’clock sweet fruity craving, Pierre Marcolini for his bean-to-bar chocolate macarons and Acide Macaron, which is just as brilliant with their pastries.

The rising stars, however, are éclairs and cream puffs, and so it’s fun trying out the latest tasty choux shops. I can’t possibly mention them all but Christophe Adam of L’Eclair de Génie fame" is spreading his genius around the city but other gems can be tasted at Fauchon, Des Gâteaux et du Pain of Claire Damon, Sébastien Gaudard and for a more original looking éclair, Philippe Conticini makes his own artistic take at La Pâtisserie des Rêves, where dreams are made, indeed!

If it’s history you’re after, head to the sumptuous offerings at Stohrer in Rue Montorgeuil or sit down to enjoy them at the Jaquemart André museum.  

-- GIVEAWAY -- 
Win your own copy of Jill's new recipe-filled book! Just follow the steps in the Rafflecopter plugin below to enter (and if reading this in your email, click HERE to enter in a web browser). 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Order Teatime in Paris on Amazon now; Available in the US at Barnes & Noble on June 30. Follow Jill on Instagram and Facebook for sweet updates from pastry shops in Paris! 

14.5.15

Franco File Friday: Cakeboy Paris (Frank Barron)


I met Frank Barron (aka CakeBoy) the way I seem to meet most new friends and acquaintances in Paris these days: at one of the city's many coffee shops. In fact, it was at the coffee shop seen above, Boot Café. I strolled in with my in-laws post-brunch in an attempt to school them on the merits of specialty coffee. Given how tiny the café is (barely a sliver!), I couldn't help but feel the eyes of three lovely men on us: Frank, his partner and Parker, his loyal Boston Terrier. We exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way. For weeks after this encounter, Frank and I crossed paths constantly - at other coffee shops, on our way to coffee shops, on the return walk home from coffee shops. Finally, it only made sense to intentionally plan a date around our shared passion and the rest was, well, a history of caffeine and cake.

As I've gotten to know Californian Frank, I've learned about his fondness for French fashions, French baked goods and French design and discovered many overlaps in our preferences. I also discovered his unassuming talents in the world of cake making, a skill that may lead him toward an exclusive cake catering company. Until then, I'm more than willing to play guinea pig.

Expat, cake lover, bon vivant. Meet Frank!


Describe what you love about France in three words. 
slightly. salted. butter.

The first thing you grab upon returning to Paris after a trip away?
I often joke with friends that the first thing I grab upon returning to Paris after a trip away is the much-celebrated Ispahan croissant from patisserie Pierre Herme on Rue Bonaparte in the 6th.  It's true...;-)

Something you learned about life as a result of this experience? 
I have become something of a flaneur here in Paris. A term that Honore de Balzac once described as, "the gastronomy of the eye." The art of strolling and looking and devouring every single bit is what will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

Favorite neighborhood to do it all: eat, drink, shop, stroll? 
I happen to be lucky enough to call Le Marais home which happens to also be home to some of the citys best coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants. Leisurely strolls down Rue Vielle du Temple to the banks of the ile Saint-Louis are best done in the company of a Boston Terrier.

Most amusing or frustrating interaction with the French?
The most amusing interaction with the French happened when I first arrived here three years ago. I would ask all the employees of my local grocery stores and bread shops how they were doing( Bonjour! Comment Ca va?)and was met with looks of disdain and confusion. I was discouraged until I came to understand that you don't generally ask perfect strangers how they are doing especially while they are ringing you up for laundry detergent! 



Thanks, Frank ! Get a preview of Cakeboy’s confections by following him on Instagram: @CakeBoyParis. Website coming soon. 

Lost In Cheeseland | Franco File Friday posts

11.5.15

An Afternoon at The Parisian Kitchen

The Parisian Kitchen

One of the biggest changes I've felt in my encounters with Parisians over the last several years is their budding need to follow their passions, even if that means eschewing the stable trajectory and semblance of security that corporate jobs have traditionally offered. Bénédicte Mesny, a young mother of two, left her career in the jewelry industry to pursue a much more personal vocation -- offering French cooking classes from her home in the 17th arrondissement.

Aptly called The Parisian Kitchen, Mesny's concept emerged from a genuine affection for cooking and entertaining. Turning her home into an open space for locals and visitors who are curious about French cooking, but who wish to learn in a more intimate space, allows her to do both several times a week.

The Parisian Kitchen The Parisian Kitchen
The Parisian Kitchen

She offers three different lunch menus - poultry, fish or meat (vegetarian is on the horizon!) - but each cooking experience begins with a visit to her local market street to pick up provisions. Bryan Pirolli and I opted for the poultry menu and found ourselves getting schooled by the butcher on which cuts were best for the dish we were to prepare (we needed the lesson!). Further along, the cheesemonger guided us toward a fresh goat cheese, an aged Swiss cheese and a big wedge of bleu. Regardless of how well our meal turned out, there would be cheese. That's all we needed to know.

A few more stops and we had enough to feed Bénédicte's entire family (leftovers are certainly another benefit of her new career path).

The Parisian Kitchen
The Parisian Kitchen

We cut, peeled, sliced, squeezed, piped and stirred, following Bénédicte's lead and learning helpful tricks and techniques along the way (that I have, I should add, since applied in my own kitchen). The more we talked about food and cooking, the more the layers of first-encounter timidness faded and reaffirmed the notion that food is the social glue in shared meals. While mealtime in France has traditionally been characterized by coming together with friends or family and investing the time to prepare a home-cooked meal, no matter how simple, the well-established culture of convenience from England and the United States has infiltrated French habits. 

The Parisian Kitchen

Which is partly why I found Bénédicte's approach to cooking so refreshing. By sharing her passion for cooking and showing her guests who easy the process can be, Bénédicte does her part to reverse the trend. It isn't about holding ourselves to unrealistic culinary expectations (the Top Chef effect), it's about sourcing locally and thinking simply. And that attitude went a long way in reviving my own desire to carve out more time in my week to cook.

The Parisian Kitchen The Parisian Kitchen The Parisian Kitchen
The Parisian Kitchen

Four hours later and we tucked into a meal that both tasted and felt good. There was no haute-cuisine affectation, just a reminder of how precious the uncomplicated can be. 

// Get updates from Bénédicte's Parisian kitchen by following along on Instagram: @TheParisianKitchen
Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts

7.5.15

Wish List: Better in French


Everything sounds better in French, doesn't it? Well, it does if we are to believe an entire set of the foreign population who have incorporated t-shirts and accessories splashed with French expressions and phrases into their wardrobes, with greater frequency. 

These items are primarily produced by mass market brands like Forever 21, Asos or Urban Outfitters who evidently lack a native French speaker on staff to vet the expressions which err on the side of nonsensical. So frivolous in fact that Buzzfeed recently published an article decoding 21 different t-shirts with amusing commentary from a Franco-Belgian French-speaking duo. Still, they were poking fun at what appears to be a universally acknowledged truth - putting text, any text apparently, in French elevates it to a more elegant register. It doesn't have to make sense, it just is. 

Sensing a market opportunity, creative duo at Obvious State (Nichole and Evan Robertson) tapped into the insight for a clever new collection of totes, prints and mugs called Better in French which speaks to our collective fascination with the language by featuring amusing French wordplay. Case in point: the tote above. Each item includes the literal translation in English in small print but these truly can be worn confidently with the knowledge that most people won't have any clue what is written anyway. Those whose do will appreciate the humor.  The collection is not targeted to the same Forever21-sporting audience, to be sure, but is a smart response to the unabated Francophilia that evidently lives in all of us. Who else is guilty of being drawn to objects en français?

Check out Obvious State books and other collections HERE
Follow Obvious State on Instagram for product updates and sales: @ObviousState 


1.5.15

Franco File Friday: Our French Oasis (Susan Hays)


Here’s something you don’t read everyday: English family of seven lays down roots in the Charente Maritime. Since 2008 (minus a brief interlude in the United States for work) Susan Hays and her family have been discovering the simple, everyday pleasures of living on the Southwestern coast of France. With four school-age children navigating the French educational system and a more laid-back lifestyle, Susan created the site Our French Oasis as a way to keep friends and family updated (and entertained). As the story goes, the site has grown beyond the confines of Susan’s tight-knit network of friends and amassed a readership of Francophiles all over the world who are enchanted by her stories of life in the sun-drenched southwest. Here, she shares tidbits about the region, raising a (large) family in France and learning la bise. Meet Susan!

Describe what you love about France in three words.

Lifestyle.  Architecture.  Food.

Something people might be surprised to know about the region you live in?
It is considered by many to be the oyster capital of France.  The Marennes-Oléron oyster beds are renowned for their oyster production and their great quality is linked to the mixture of fresh and salt water.  The oysters are bred in beds 5km out to sea and then matured in shallow ponds called 'claires'.  A small algae, known as the blue navicula is present in these ponds and is the reason for the green colour of the Claire oyster. On Sundays locals can be seen selling oysters in all the area's villages and towns here.

It is also the second sunniest area in France after Provence and the Mediterranean coastline, averaging around 2400 hours of sunshine a year.  This certainly helped influence our decision to live in this area as we are in a little microclimate enabling us to grow olives, grapes, figs, peaches and lemons.

The greatest challenge to raising a family in France?
Undoubtedly the greatest challenge has been the language.  Had the children been born here or moved here when they were tiny it would not have been the case, but moving here when they were of school age meant they all had to learn a new language; they are educated at French speaking schools and it has been hard work for them.  However, with the help of incredibly enthusiastic teachers and encouragement from friends they have thrived, and what started out as a huge challenge has turned into my greatest joy; watching my bi-lingual children integrate with their French friends and the ease with which they flit between two languages is totally fascinating.  However, I can't just stop at that - there is truly so much JOY in raising a family in France and without being boring I have to tell you just briefly, that I love that the children can all live a slightly simpler life, they are able to walk to the baker in the village on their own, cycle to friends houses and enjoy planting vegetables and raising chickens.  At the same time they love eating in French restaurants, late into the evening with adults, joining in the conversation; it's all very civilised and yet very relaxed, in a way formal and yet so much fun, it's amazing how the two go hand in hand!


Your favorite outing in the region? 
Oh, there are so many!  My favourite has to be a day on the Île de Ré.  We rent bikes, because everyone cycles there, and it is by far the best way to get around. We cycle for miles and miles, stop at a restaurant for lunch, and have a drink by the sea and a swim.  Our entire family love discovering the little harbour villages and the endless cycle-paths that adorn this little Island on the Atlantic coast which is linked to La Rochelle by a toll-bridge.  The oh-so-chic capital of Saint-Martin-de-Ré is incredibly busy but still manages to retain it's charm and low-key, laid back atmosphere.  

Most frustrating or amusing interaction with the French?
Without a shadow of doubt, "the bisous", the traditional French greeting of kissing.  Always two, sometimes four, dependent on where they are from.  But when to kiss, and how often each day? It is a subject that has been written about endlessly but it really is worthy of all the attention!  As a general rule, it’s a handshake with a stranger, two kisses (in our region) for friends, but when you see them for a second time the same day there is no need to kiss again.  The children all kiss each other hello, the boys kiss each other hello… it melts my heart when little 8 year olds rush up to me at the school gate and give me a bisous, even though I don't know their name, but they know who I am!  Of course, there is always room for error, and it's incredibly frustrating to us when we get it wrong and terribly amusing to the French!

Follow Susan's adventures from the Charentes Maritime: 
Our French Oasis blog 
Susan on Instagram 
Susan on Facebook 
Lost In Cheeseland | Franco File Friday posts

29.4.15

How to Create the Perfect Wine & Cheese Party

If taken in earnest, the name of my site might lead some to believe that I am an impassioned cheese lover who knows more than the casual consumer. And while there is some truth to that, I admit that I defer to experts like Tenaya Darlington (aka Madame Fromage), the cheese-whispering author of Di Bruno Bros: House of Cheese, for serious cheese matters. Case in point: offering the right combination of cheeses and wines for a memorable gathering with friends. Pas de problème! Below, Tenaya shares a few foolproof tips for a successful pairing. 


What is lovelier than enjoying some wine and cheese on a spring or summer evening with friends? The only trick is planning out the pairings in advance so that flavors don’t clash (big reds, for instance, crush delicate goat cheeses -- and delicate wines will disappear against a board full of stinkers). A few simple tricks will make everything easy and create synergy. Ready?

Tip 1: Pick a wine theme, and make a pairing party.
Announce to everyone that you are hosting a cheese and rosé party. Or a cheese and Champagne party. Or a cheese and white Port party. People love bringing wine, and they love being told exactly what kind. Plus, your job at the cheese shop will be very easy. You can simply tell the monger behind the counter what kind of wine you’re serving, and he or she can help you select 4 or 5 cheeses that will meld. Rosé loves goat cheese, especially French goat cheese rolled in ash. Champagne is ideal for triple crèmes and anything with truffle. White port likes a salty jubilee, from goat blue to Pecorino.

Tip 2: If you want one wine that will pair with everything, go for Gewürtztraminer.
Gewürtztraminer and Chenin Blanc are both terrific all-purpose cheese wines. Anyone who complains that these wines are too sweet, needs to be served a glass alongside a slab of beefy Epoisses. If you’re planning to serve several wines, here are some useful considerations:
-bubbly is great; effervescence refreshes the palate
-whites pair better with cheeses than reds, except for very light reds
-if you want to go big red, serve rustic sheep’s milk cheeses, like Manchego or Petit Basque

Tip 3: Cocktails pair well with cheese, so does beer.
Cocktails, like the French 75, can be marvelous with cheese. The herbaceous notes in gin and the acidity of lemon juice are a marvelous foil for creamy goat cheeses and triple crèmes. You might also consider offering a variety of craft beers, hard ciders, and even non-alcoholic sparkling drinks. Sparkling water with a few drops of bitters can be a lovely accompaniment, and bitters settle the stomach. For non-drinkers, you can also serve hot or iced green tea -- pick a high quality green tea with lots of grassy notes. (Green tea is especially good with goat cheese.)

Tip 4: Always let your cheese relax.
Set out your cheeses an hour or so before guests arrive. Cold cheese tastes flat; at room temperature, the full range of flavors emerges. If you don’t want your cheeses to dry out before guests arrive, drape them with a layer of damp cheese cloth and unveil them theatrically after you’ve poured a few drinks.

Tip 5: Accompaniments are everything.
All cheeses love a little something on the side. Here are some of my favorite  pairings alongside cheese and wine:

-thinly sliced green apples or pears
-whole honeycomb set out on a little plate with an espresso spoon
-a basket of blackberries and a dish of pistachios
-a skillet full of lightly toasted nuts, sprinkled with sea salt and fresh thyme
-a plate of halved cherry tomatoes and roughly torn basil, drizzled in olive oil
-charcuterie with loosely strewn olives and caper berries
-groupings of dried fruit: dates, figs, apricots, and cherries
-a trio of preserves, like cherry jam, mostarda, and chutney
-baguettes, never crackers, unless you are serving spreads


For more cheese pairing advice, visit www.MadameFromage.com, or check out The Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese:A Guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings, by Tenaya Darlington (a.k.a. Madame Fromage). 

What other tips would you include? 
                          
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