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French Food Gift Ideas – Earlier this week, I returned from a trip to France loaded down with a variety of unique ingredients required to prepare some of my favorite recipes. I’m a native of Picardie and we definitely have our share of regional specialties!
I’ve spent many years adapting said recipes to make use of available ingredients with great success but, in my head and on my taste buds, something is always missing.
It’s a flavor unique to special spices and ingredients – many of which are not readily available in the United States. Even today.
By no means am I implying that a few French specialty food items cannot be found locally. Many products are available. Believe me, I’ve looked in many high end markets for special cheeses and unique ingredients.
What I am looking for a specific authentic regional products.
As a home chef, I am now determined to find those elusive ingredients. Parent companies are being contacted directly to ask them where these products can be purchased in the USA – if at all. I’m happy to say that several have already responded 🙂
A Tarte au Maroilles is a specialty of Picardy. It makes the perfect appetizer as bite size portions of biscuit type dough oozing with great tasting cheese. A strong, pungent cheese, Maroilles is also used in cooking. It is the ideal cheese to prepare my Skillet Chicken recipe.
French supermarkets carry both the small size tart and a full size 10 inch pie pan ready to heat and serve. The best substitute for Maroilles is the more familiar Pont L’Evêque or an equally pungent Reblochon. But…they are not Maroilles!
Yes, we love our Maroilles so much that we even dip it in coffee.
But I digress…
Who does not love gooey melted cheese on crackers or slices of crispy baguette?
It is the perfect centerpiece when setting an authentic apéritif table!
Brie and Camenbert are available in nearly all markets although not all brands come close to being authentic in flavor – perhaps because not everyone loves stinky cheese but the trick to selecting Brie or Camenbert is to recognize the various levels of what I call “doneness” as in how ripe they are.
At Wegmans®, cave-ripened brie is labeled as mild, triple crème, medium and intense.
Pick a cheese wheel to fit the crock. Unwrap the cheese and cut a thin layer off the top rind your Brie or Camenbert, leaving a small edge to hold the melted cheese. Place in the crock.
Top with chopped walnuts, cranberry chutney and a drizzle of honey for cheese then add a sprig or two of fresh thyme – or stud with whole garlic cloves and fresh rosemary. Place the lid on the crock.
Bake at 350 degrees until melted and bubbly – about 30 to 45 minutes.
I often get strange looks but store personnel in the Cheese Shop will recognize exactly what you are doing. Especially in France.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not poking my fingers into the cheese but here is how I select either type of cheese according to the way in which I like to eat it.
A brand new fresh wheel of cheese should be hard to the touch.
Intense flavor should not and does equate with stinky cheese. Intense means the cream content of the cheese has reached the maximum amount- The entire cheese is soft and creamy. In other words, perfect for spreading and intense in flavor. Eat it quickly because at this point, it will not last long before it is considered spoiled.
We all use bouillon cubes for soups, stocks and gravies.
Although I also use soup bases, an entire shelf in one of my kitchen cabinets is devoted to a variety of bouillon cubes for everything from chicken to beef, pork to lamb, shrimp to fish, and vegetable to onion and garlic flavors.
And then there’s the Maggi® all purpose seasoning bouillon cube pictured below.
Which is probably the closest product we have to a Kub® Or from Maggi®.
However… the flavor imparted by the Kub® Or is like no other bouillon cube (but you can order it directly from France).
I’m not sure how I can duplicate the flavor of Emeline’s potimarron winter squash soup without the addition of one of those little cubes of intense flavor.
One might be tempted to say that salt tastes like salt (sel). It’s all salty. Not!
Just once, treat yourself to a pound of butter (beurre) with sea salt crystals. Bring it to room temperature and spread it fresh crusty baguette.
Forget the jambon (ham) or the fromage (cheese) on the first slice of bread. It’s that good!
I currently use this salt but the coarse salt is great when preparing roasts and whole chicken. Or turkey!
You’re making a typical stock, a heartwarming soup or rich flavorful stew.
The recipe calls for “Bouquet Garni” herbs (a basic bouquet consists of fresh bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and parsley) to flavor the stock.
Bouquet Garni is available in high end markets such as Wegmans® as a bundle of fresh herbs you can toss into the pot as you start the cooking process.
Want a clear stock? Unless you add individual fresh herbs to a cotton organic muslin sachet bags such as these, you are left to skim or strain the broth in order to remove the tiny leaves.
Or…you can buy the sachets and refills. Voilà!
Among the top unique gourmet gifts for any home chef is a Le Creuset® cocotte.
You need one in your kitchen. Buy a large, 5.5 quart round cocotte although they come in a 7 1/4 quart size. Warning!
You’ll need help to pick it up once the food is added!
The oval cocotte is great for larger roasts and they come in a rainbow of colors to match your kitchen!
Our home kitchen in France is equipped with a collection of well worn flame colored Le Creuset® cocottes, soup pots and skillets. My cousin Eric put the largest one to good use preparing a delicious Potée!
This is pure comfort food. Lots of shallots sautéed in butter, then carrots coins added to the pot until they take on a beautiful color, layers of curly cabbage leaves, topped with whole Montbéliard sausages (failing those use Saucisses de Toulouse), covered with chunks of potatoes.
Add some water and white wine to taste. Cook over low heat until the potatoes are tender. Top with thick slices of saucisson à l’ail.
Make sure to have a pot of Maille Originale handy. What can I say? It’s cuisine à la mode de chez nous. Home style.
We’re always adding to our entire collection of French Country Cuisine recipes. My version of a potée will be available as soon as possible. Right now, it’s turkey time.
1 Cook, 2 Countries & A Taste For World Cuisines: Cooking A La Mode De Chez Nous - Cuisine d'Hier Et d'Aujourd'hui! For the love of home style cooking and great food. Memories are made of this!