The French Girl’s Guide to Life: Preparing for Bastille Day!

If I love anything more in the summer time than the Fourth of July feasts and festivities, its that of the excitement and food of le Qartorze Juillet! A quick 10 days after our own American celebrations, July 14th marks the 225th anniversary of the “storming of the bastille” and the start of the French Revolution. Just as the Americans, the French fought for their freedom from the ruling monarchy and over a relatively short time, earned it. While we celebrate the day our freedom was signed and earned in America, the French celebrate the day they began their fight, honoring military and civilians alike that fought and fell for freedom. After the why of celebrations, comes the how and with what menu, because any French celebration is not a celebration at all without food and wine.

SAMSUNG CSCFor those of you planning your parties (and I’m sure so many of you are), there is nothing like a slew of finger foods and snacks to adorn the table for a French festivity. Feel free to find recipes to make these dishes by hand, but the best thing about most of these items is that most store bought versions are the best.  Start with a rillette or pate with a very fresh loaf of bread, primarily a baguette, sliced and served for spreading. A blend of Mediterranean olives (pitted or not) adorns the table with a cute toothpick within proximity. Flavored and varying shapes of saucisson, or salame, are sliced and left on the cutting board to enjoy in what once may have been the shape of the dried sausage.SAMSUNG CSCJardinere mix or a fresh picked combo of cauliflower, carrots, pepperocini, and small onions offer a fresher alternative to the American pickle, while adding crunch in addition to the salty potato chips of the salt & vinegar variety. Cheeses NEVER come within proximity of the “apero” as it is saved for the after meal, yet before dessert moment.

Without question, my most favorite summer time savory dish is the spicy lamb “merguez” sausage. Inspired by Moroccan cuisine, this south of France staple is the epitome of street food. Skewer chopped up pieces or leave them whole for guests to enjoy and throw them on a hot grill until cooked through. A great, refreshing dipping sauce blends plain Greek yogurt, lime juice, and coriander, if the spice from the sausage gets too hot. Another amazing staple is the Pissaladiere, a simple southern France pizza slathered with onions, peppers, and anchovies. While that last ingredient may put most of you off (myself included), consider changing it up with another fish you favor, such as cod or salmon. For those of you still intrigued, check out my recipe on YouTube for a classic Pissaladiere:

While you assemble your food, don’t forget to take out the wine! This time of year just loves the Rose from Provence (no white zin people, that is not the same!). For all you men out there, a rose is by far not just a girly drink, but a full bodied, refreshing wine, lending many characteristics of an otherwise red wine with the fresh and light characters of a chardonnay or other white wine. I dare you to try it! If red is your poison, stick to a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon variety, or perhaps a beaujolais nouveau. For whites, keep it cool with a sauvignon blanc. If you must serve beer, offer guests a Panache, which includes a splash of Sprite in a light, pilsner, hefewizen, or other smoother light brew.  For the kids, fruit flavored waters all around! The French love their “sirop,” where just a splash offers a ton of flavor and a little sweetness to the boring water taste.
IMG_1358For desserts, ask guests to bring a treat they love. When you are invited anywhere in France, its customary to bring bread or a dessert, which is usually a delightful fruit tart or an assortment of choux (profiteroles) or macarons. Cakes, no matter what the size and shape, are reserved mostly for birthdays, and even then make a rare appearance.

So with your simple menu in place, your wine chilling, and the big screen ready to play the parade and fireworks down the Champs de Lysee and Tour Eiffel, toast to the French and their freedom!  À votre santé!

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Recipe of the Week: Lasagne Bake for Two

lasagnebake2Who doesn’t love lasagne? Its the dish so many of us call comfort food, slathered with sauce, cheese, and the ever tempting pasta we just can’t leave out of our lives. My consumption of pasta is virtually daily, as the classic buttered and parmesan version means only comfort and deliciousness for me. My go to as a child, it continues to be my go to as an adult. It has such a bad rep of being an “unhealthy” ingredient, but the reality is all the extra “stuff” that gets tossed in with it. Those cheesy alfredo sauces or heavy buttery restaurant versions that kill your waistline. Its not the pasta, its the stuff you mix with it! Keep it simple like with this bake for two recipe.

If you must adopt the gluten free lifestyle, there are so many delicious versions out there, so fear not this recipe as a gluten free alternative can be a more than acceptable substitution. For those of you not allergic to gluten, but do want to remain relatively healthy, opt for the whole wheat version, adding a healthy dose of fiber and whole grains to your diet. Don’t be gluten free just because you think its healthy, flour is flour and the end result will be the same. Leave the gluten free products for the folks that really need them. (Check out these top 10 Gluten free super foods for Celiacs!)

In this recipe, I use a classic white pasta of the “no boil” variety. It is such a great alternative when you don’t have much time and just want to get dinner on the table. It makes lasagne a question of assembly, rather than a long stint in the kitchen preparing each ingredient before you even think about assembling. Plus, if you’re cooking for one or two, this recipe is just for you. Those of you with 3 or more, make the recipe by doubling your ingredients and using a larger dish. Consider a longer cook time, as well, since you have more in your dish. Just make sure to watch and test the lasagne to not over or under cook.

Lasagne Bake for Two

Ingredients

  • Lasagne noodles, about 6 full sheets (precook if using whole wheat or regular noodles. This recipe uses no boil versions which do not need to be precooked)
  • 2 cups of Your favorite Tomato sauce – I prefer to make my own sauce from scratch, but use your favorite version to keep you happy and healthy
  • 2 cups Part skim Ricotta cheese – Many versions of lasagne use béchamel sauce instead, find a recipe for that here.
  • 2 bocconcini size or 1 larger Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
  • 1-2 tbsp Oregano or Basil – quantity is dependent on how flavorful you would like your ricotta to be.
  • 1 tsp Salt & Pepper blend

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, oregano, and salt & pepper blend and set aside. If you decide to use the béchamel sauce, omit this step and follow the instructions for making the béchamel. You can sprinkle some oregano over each layer of sauce, if you would like.

Use a glass or metal loaf pan that will fit each lasagne noodle. Line the bottom of the dish with 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Top with a noodle, top with 1/4 cup ricotta or béchamel, top with tomato sauce, then another noodle. Repeat this flow until you have used all of your ingredients or you have reached the top. Make sure the last layer is a noodle, on which you top with fresh mozzarella. Fill in any additional gaps with any remaining tomato sauce along the edges of your dish. This last step is particularly important if you use a no bake lasagne noodle, as the noodles need to be covered with moisture to cook properly. Otherwise, you’ll be left with a burned, crunchy noodle. Sprinkle the very top of the finished lasagne with a pinch of salt & pepper blend (to season the fresh mozzarella) and pop into your oven for about 20 minutes or until the noodles are set.

Make sure you check the package instructions for a no bake noodle to make sure you achieve the correct cooking time for that specific brand. If you use a pre cooked classic lasagne noodle, stick to 20 minutes, regardless of the size and quantity of the dish as you are only aiming to melt the cheese and set the ingredients in place, not actually cook the dish.

For a visual how to on assembly, check out the video on eHow.com!  À votre santé!

French Of the Week: À Votre Santé

SAMSUNG CSCAll this talk of French food, family, and upbringing, but so few of the words and phrases that make the French culture simply beautiful. So this is an inspired, weekly series on words and phrases to get you by should you travel, or at the very least, impress your boss at your next office gathering or dinner party. Never fear, I won’t be giving out quizzes or exams (unless we have a major giveaway!); this series is just for fun! I’d love to hear your comments and requests for future posts, so don’t be shy and ask away!

What better to kick off our series with the little phrase I say after each video, blog post, and general sign off: À Votre Santé!

A phrase spoken minimally among the French, it is primarily offered while clinking cocktails or “l’ápero” to wish each other good health and a promising tomorrow. Literally, the phrase is translated “To Your Health,” and has been known to be shortened to simply “Santé” in lieu of cheers or similar sentiment upon glass clinking.

According to my favorite French dictionary source, Larousse, the textbook definition is as follows

  • À votre santé !, (latin sanitas, -atis, de sanus, sain)

    • Feminine
    • État de bon fonctionnement de l’organisme. (State of a well functioning organism)
    • Vœu exprimé avant de boire à la santé de quelqu’un.  (an expression stated before drinking to the health of someone)

Thus, my final catch phrase concluding each post, video, and the like wishes each of you good health, and with that well wishes for your day and future beyond!

So with fitting conclusion, À Votre Santé!

 

A Little Taste of Old Montreal

SAMSUNG CSCMontreal is not quite known for its farmers markets, but the Marche Jean-Troudeu is the city’s most visited. Open all year around, this market braves the long and cold winters featuring seasonal fruits and vegetables, grow your own herbes, and varying delicacies in meats, cheeses, and seafood. Living in southern California, I have my fair share of markets, and when it comes to produce, all of these outdoor markets are one in the same. My true favorites are the local items impossible to find anywhere else. If for any reason, you can find it somewhere else, the taste and quality still seems to be different, yet still delicious either way.  We picked up some amazing saucisson (otherwise known as a dry salame) and pate, and while you can find them both in France (perhaps even in San Diego), the flavors give you something new to experience.

As I write, my great aunt asks if its time for l’apero, l’apperitif, or the pre-dinner drinks and snacks that precede every meal. Its never too early, I answer her. And so out comes the treats we bought today at the market! This is a tradition I love, stemmed completely from today’s trip to the market with so much more than just bags of groceries. It seems the markets of SoCal are just beginning to adopt this tradition but its more of a vendor “hey you, buy my stuff” attraction than I’m-here-to-buy-something-delicious-to-feature-at-my-dinner-party mentality. The idea of a farmers market could be so much more popular if we were to begin this tradition. The market would host a slew of booths that would give us more of the good stuff, not just a multitude of produce or extra items in our homes, like bags, decor, or more things we don’t really need. Nevertheless, the market is a great place to start the day. Depending on what you find, it sets the tone for the rest of the day…and your dinner party.

Lunch was a perfect mix of simple sandwiches and local cuisine. A massive crepe stole the show, filled with béchamel, sautéed mushrooms, ham, and a little cheese. The crepe itself is gluten free! Which I have yet to make of my own, but it was perfectly crispy and gave a little bout of nutrition to an otherwise fatty meal. Lunch also featured a variety of grilled sausages, piled on a stick. You never knew what kind of taste you were going to get, including one of my absolute favorites, merguez, a spicy lamb sausage. Followed by a little espresso, we were ready to tackle the next sightseeing adventure.

SAMSUNG CSCOn to Old Montreal, the “old” town looks much like the eastern seaboard of New England, yet slathered in French words. Not much older, the 300 some year old spot still dons the cobblestone streets and stone built buildings. The narrow Rue __  literally takes you back to more colonial times, although keeps your reality in check with the modern restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops. Make sure to keep those high heels at home if you’re walking through these streets! The cobblestones are literally as they may have been centuries ago, and those heels will, no doubt, make you fall over. Needless to say, our stroll was quite lethargic as we observed as much of the local culture as possible, while peering into shops and taking in the sights. This is the exact idea of this spot, perhaps stopping for a drink or coffee and bite to eat depending on the time of day, but this area is far from excitement in the day time for those looking for adventure, so keep this stop as a more relaxing part of your day.

In efforts to avoid the Monday evening traffic, we piled into our transportation in the middle of the afternoon and headed for home base. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some of the saucisson we purchased earlier at the market, and in very little time we had drinks poured and l’apero out. I find the best way to learn and enjoy a culture you may not know well is to start through your stomach. Follow your senses to the best places to dine, shop, and drink, and you’ll have yourself a perfect experience in no time.

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What’s for Dinner? Recipe of the Week

IMG_1573I was always so excited when mom started making crepes.  Not only did it mean a sweet dessert at the end of the meal, but I also knew that dinner would be even more amazing. I loved how, even on a weeknight, we had a 4 course meal with crepes.  We started with a egg crepe, filled with a cracked raw egg, slowly cooked in the crepe and folded along the edges. The second course consisted of a béchamel and mushroom laden crepe, occasionally topped with gruyere cheese. The final savory course wrapped a protein of some kind, mostly chicken, with onions just simply sautéed and seasoned. And the final course dredged in Grand Marnier and Nutella, with an added strawberry or two and homemade whipped cream. We were not only full but our tastebuds completely satisfied. Each crepe was filled modestly, so there was no overindulgence with these meals, but pure happiness.

A little bit of everything in life goes a long way. These amazing meals were only in our presence once or twice a year; once for sure on February 2, La Fête de la Chandeleur, or Candlemas as some may know it. The novelty of the dinner was even more celebrated since we didn’t have it all too often. That is the key for many of these kinds of dishes, to indulge when you can and enjoy without counting or feeling guilty. You can do it!!

Here is my favorite of the 4 courses, the “Cream of Mushroom” or Champignon Béchamel Crepe. An easy sauce to make, béchamel is a French cooking staple; the base of most white sauces (including my favorite homemade mac and cheese!). Mastering this dish, you are one step closer to being a great cook. Looking forward to your comments and questions!!

A votre santé!

What is Healthy Eating?

nohfcsWhen it comes to eating right, it seems that everyone has the “right way” of doing it.  The next secret fab in dieting seems to be the be all end all of food as we know it. The hot dog diet? Really? How is that a thing?

And then there’s me. Advocate of the anti diet. Preacher of eat what you want (in moderation!) and exercise to find success for your fitness and weight loss goals. But what do I know? Better yet, don’t listen to me, because then you’ll have to stop counting calories and start finding ways to move daily. Then, of course, you’ll see the small changes taking hold and you’ll want to stop drinking all the time and you’ll feel better about yourself let alone your health. Nah, not worth it…

Or….Opt to make a change.  Just a small one, and see where that takes you. There is no big secret that is kept hidden from you. Its staring you right in the face. So what is the right thing to do? Which diet is the right one to follow? In the slew of Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers, and myriad of books, doctors, fads, pills, drinks, and so forth that you have to choose from, the answer to me is quite simple:  Do NOTHING. Stop counting, starving, pill popping, and what have you and instead, start listening to your body and make better choices every single day. Don’t tell me you don’t know how, because I am willing to bet you know what foods are good and bad for you. Not sure? Ask. Go to your trusted search engine online and type in the question or, better yet, leave me a comment, tweet me, or get in touch with the French Girl! I’ll give you the low down on what you are eating.

Getting started on living your life can be a little intimidating, so start by removing all the nasty, negative, and unwanted junk in your fridge, cabinets, and life. It’s a whole new kind of spring cleaning. Purge everything in your life that seems painful or toxic and start fresh. I don’t just mean food either. That job you hate? Start looking for what you really want to do and do it; make sure you have a cushion underneath you before you up and quit!  That person in your life says they’re your friend but they aren’t really? Let them go. Regardless of the negativity, find a way to let it go. Let the past become the past and focus more on right now, since it’s all we really have anyway. While you’re at it, tackle the fridge and pantry. Get all the unhealthy, high fructose corn syrup leaden ingredients out of there and try replacing with more natural versions and alternatives.

It is much easier than you think and if the paragraph above feels intimidating, then take small steps. Work towards a realistic goal that you choose. There is no miracle cure, there is no one way of doing things other than the best way that works for you. My suggestions are mere suggestions but realistic, nonetheless. Give it a shot and we will take the next step together.

A votre santé!

The French Girl’s 100th Post! A Fitting Guide to Life

SAMSUNG CSCOver the last several months, I have learned so much about exercising gratitude.  Harder than choosing what to eat or wear every day, remembering to be thankful for what I have has been such a challenge. Incredibly, as if a switch were turned on, it seemed to take over just in the last few weeks. Every reflection of negativity or otherwise unpleasant situation has been followed by a phrase of gratitude and thus, discovery of the silver lining. So in the end, nothing ever really seems so bad. Annoying, frustrating, unpleasant, perhaps. But no longer earth shattering or so devastating that crawling into a minor depression is even necessary anymore. How did I do it?

I have this thing about obsessing over things. I know I said “thing” twice, but hear me out. My thoughts on negative situations always stayed negative because I worried and became overly stressed about them. The worry would compound on itself and I would fester and wallow in self pity. Uh, who wants to live like that? I got sick of it really. I’m almost certain that any of you out there reading this might know the feeling. While reading up on how to change it all, I found an incredible number of research on how simply exercising gratitude on a daily basis could alleviate symptoms of depression. I thought, ok, lets give this a shot. Of course, always wanting instant gratification, it didn’t do much for me right away, but I stuck with it. Any time I could, I would try to remember to put things into perspective and just be thankful that I am well nourished, have a roof over my head, and the opportunity to do great things. More and more, it just became easier, I cared less about insignificant details and more about following what makes me happy the most.

And so, here we are. My 100th WordPress post only 4 very short years after beginning this blog; almost to the day actually. To think of where this blog started, my intentions, my goals, my life as it was and now… well lets just say I never thought I would be here. All the while, call it soul searching, but I was looking for myself in a place that I knew of all along. Learning to be grateful has, without a doubt, brought me here. To a place in which I feel so confident that I will find success and happiness. So whether you are trying to lose weight, looking to start your own business, or achieving another goal that you’ve been struggling to accomplish, start by being grateful for what you have. Always strive for something great, but never forget what you have and what has brought you to this very moment.

Congratulations to me for making it this far!! And I absolutely can not wait for the new people I am about to meet, the new adventures I am sure to embark on, and the thrill ride of life that begins right now.  Thank you to all of you who follow and support me in everything I have done and will soon get to do.

A votre santé!