30 June 2014

Meatless Monday: Cubed Cold Beets with Sour Cream, Dill and Chives

I love borscht. I've never made it, you understand, but I will some winter day when I am seeking comfort. It has provided comfort for me from the start, and has never disappointed me, even though our interactions have been few and far between.

29 June 2014

Kitchen Tools: Roll-Out Your Bottom Drawers

My Revere Ware is now within reach.

We live in an 1896 Victorian cross-gable house with numerous quirks, including a pint-sized powder room and an upstairs hallway shaped like the Big Dipper. There are many lovely features, too, including stained glass bay window insets and a beautiful carved front door.

My kitchen is not fancy, nor has in been renovated in years. That's the way I like it, having loved antiques since my teen years. Still, sometimes I yearn for a few "modern conveniences."

28 June 2014

Bread of the Month: Strawberry-Cream Cheese Braid

Strawberry-Cream Cheese Braid from Bay Bakers

In celebration of summer, this month's bread choice is soft and chewy and laced with strawberries. It needs no further embellishment save for perhaps some fresh, unsalted butter.

I didn't make it, but if you want to try your hand, here's one approach.

27 June 2014

Three-Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin

Three-Cheese Potatoes Au Gratin

It looks like a coolish summer ahead for those of us in northern Wisconsin. It was chilly enough to bake apple crisp the other day. We haven't taken quilts off the beds yet. We still have legions of mosquitos, of course, and July will surely bring a few sweltering days, but so far, it's been pleasantly temperate with good sleeping weather.

So there's no reason not to make scalloped potatoes. After flavoring my mashed potatoes with Boursin a while back, I started thinking about other ways to pair creamy cheese with spuds.

How to Make Store-Bought Croutons Taste Freshly Made

Store-bought croutons get a flavor boost from butter, garlic and herbs.

In a perfect world, nearly everything we consume would be fresh and homemade: Just-from-the-oven rolls at dinnertime, newly-caught fish in the frying pan, sun-ripened tomatoes still warm in your salad.

Most of us are lucky to enjoy one or two of these at a meal. More often than not, busy lives force us to rely on more than one purchased item at most mealtimes.

My eating habits have changed drastically since I began blogging eight years ago. I make much more from scratch. I have yet to make salad croutons from scratch; there is, however, a loaf of bread in my freezer awaiting this project experiment.

Following a late afternoon meeting this week, I scrambled together a supper salad of fresh broccoli and the remnants of a bag of farm-market mixed greens, plus some grated cheese and bacon bits. I scrounged around and found a half-bag of croutons in the cupboard.

(Pre-made croutons are a secondary staple in my kitchen. I can do without them, but when I remember, I buy a bag or two because I find a touch of carb adds staying power to a salad meal.)

Giving pre-made croutons a flavor boost is simple. You will need:

  • 1-2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic or onion powder, or 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped or sliced onion
  • 3/4 cup pre-made croutons
  • dash herbes de Provence or parsley

Melt butter in a small-to-medium frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and brown slightly. Toss in croutons, turning them over with a spatula or wooden spoon to coat all sides. Lower the heat and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes before adding them to your salad.

Voila! The result is delicious croutons that taste freshly made and are a bit chewier and denser than straight-from-the-bag croutons. You can even refresh stale croutons using this method, or by roasting them in a low-temp oven as you would walnuts.

26 June 2014

An Eighth Blogging Anniversary Slips Under the Radar

Nothing beats buying local at a farm market.

Where did June go?  We've been so busy with home improvement projects and yard sale preparation that one third of what we think of as summer has passed already, including this blog's eighth anniversary on June 11.

How could I not have noticed?

I was writing tomorrow's post when it hit me. It was the summer of 2006, my last really quiet summer, that I tentatively tested the waters with this post.

My blog had a different name then, one I began to regret about five years ago. It took another four years to come up with a name that better described my kitchen and my culinary efforts. I'm not a really fancy cook, although I love making French country dishes.

My approach is pretty frugal; I try to eat well and healthily without wasting anything; it fits in best with the idea of Frenchtown, the sections of Upper Midwest and New England area communities that drew French Canadian immigrants in the latter decades of the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries. Close-knit and working-class, residents of those neighborhoods often shared food and produce from their gardens. That's the neighborhood in which I (very proudly) grew up.

I've learned so much from blogging. Here is just a smattering:

  • Food bloggers are generous and helpful. You make friends when you blog.
  • Fresh really does taste best.
  • Eating locally is important. It really is good to know where your food is grown or produced.
  • Once you start making your own soup, you will never buy canned soup again.
  • Sea salt is incredible.
  • Less is more. Keep it simple.
  • Be you on your blog. Find your voice. That's not as easy as it sounds.

There's much more, and after I post this it will come to me. That's how it works. Another thing I've learned.

Happy Anniversary to A Frenchtown Kitchen!

Fast and Frugal: Roasted Cauliflower with Gruyere and Cheddar Cheese

Roasted Cauliflower with Gruyere and Cheddar Cheese

It takes a while for most of us to acknowledge the fact that comfort food - food that feels soft on the palate and tummy - need not be bad for you.

Pasta, mashed potatoes, white rice, ice cream and other soft, creamy foods may certainly be enjoyed in small quantities, but when the need for comfort food aries, there are many other vegetables that fill the bill, including roasted cauliflower. 

I'd be lying if I said I didn't require something comforting at least three times a week. Crunchy foods have their place as a stress reliever, but true comfort requires foods that, well, that melt in your mouth and sooth your stomach.

Cauliflower does it for me. Especially roasted cauliflower.

Because it is white, cauliflower suggests pairing with a green vegetable, too, so it a way it encourages additional vegetable consumption. There is something visually wrong about pairing a white meat like chicken or fish with a white vegetable, without something to break up the pale plate. I like it with green beans. Or carrots.

The other night, I had a salmon filet with leftover green beans amandine and Roasted Cauliflower with Gruyere and Cheddar Cheese.

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 cup grated, low-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • dash sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease a shallow casserole dish. Place cauliflower pieces in dish and drizzle with olive oil. Grate cheeses and toss with cauliflower. Add nutmeg. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Season before serving.

And that's it. Makes two large or four small servings.

Granted gruyere cheese is not cheap, but you use so little that there is enough left over for more recipes. 

Roasted cauliflower, like chicken and potatoes, is a "blank canvas" dish that can be prepared is endless ways. The addition of roasted red pepper or black olives really takes it over the top.

25 June 2014

Kitchen Tools: Nutmeg Graters

My traditional nutmeg grinder, and my new one, a little blue puff fish.

The year we rented an apartment in Paris was the year I learned that one does not need cabinets and drawers full of gadgets to cook delicious meals. The kitchen in our apartment was half the size of my own and was stocked with only the basics. Still we ate well, thanks to the availability of fresh produce at the markets on Rue Cler.

Our Paris kitchen was stocked with a nutmeg grinder and a small jar of whole nutmegs, and when I made apple crisp, I made it with freshly ground nutmeg. It was wonderfully layered in flavor, but I'm not sure it that was a function of the nutmeg, or because my husband and I were eating it in Paris. Both, I suspect.

At any rate, when we came home I dug up an old-fashioned nutmeg grater at a flea market, cleaned it, which took a great deal of patience, and have been using it ever since. But recently I found this cunning little little puffer-fish-shaped nutmeg grater at Tellus Mater on State Street in Madison, Wis., the city I think of as my second hometown. It reminds me of this tool, which is attractive as well as useful.

I like this nutmeg plane and this charming little video, which makes it look so easy: no knuckle grazing.

Nutmeg pairs well with apple, pumpkin and squash dishes as well as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage dishes. (However tasty nutmeg is, apparently it has a somewhat dark history.)

Like mace, nutmeg is a product of the nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans), a large evergreen which grows in the Spice Islands, also known as the Moluccas, in Indonesia. Nutmeg is the kernel of the seed, while mace is the leathery flesh of surrounding it (its composition compares to the apricot). Mace is milder and more expensive.

Read more about nutmeg here and here.

There are many different nutmeg grinders on the market, from this updated classic to this more elaborate model.

Then there is this one, which is almost a work of art.

Wordless Wednesday: At the Menominee County Farm & Food Exchange

24 June 2014

Light and Lower-Carb: Graham Flour Muffins (Raisins Optional)

Graham Flour Muffins

My paternal grandmother, Laura LaBrie Diamond, was the antithesis of Grandma Annie.

While Annie wore plaid or checked house dresses at home, Laura sported capri pants and sleeveless blouses. Annie wore sensible brogans around the house; Laura slipped her feet into ballet flats. Annie wore pearls and navy blue with a demure cloth coat, while Laura wore diamonds and furs. Annie read women's magazines that focused on housekeeping while Laura subscribed to movie mags.

They were a fascinating contrast. I adored them both.

Both women were children of French Canadian immigrants, and both loved to bake. We remember Annie for her Lady Baltimore cakes and Laura for her raisin-graham bread.

23 June 2014

Meatless Monday: Cucumber Salad with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese

Cucumber Salad with Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Cheese

I read "Gone with the Wind" when I was 11 years old, renaming my recently-cast-off Barbie doll Scarlett, and constructing elaborate dresses using embroidery hoops in the skirts. I read and reread the book all that year, and once forced myself into sleep by mentally naming all the characters, major and minor.

A bookish, somewhat solitary child, I memorized entire passages, and lived the book as much as a young girl can in the second half of the 20th century. I recall asking my father (who read everything) to name his favorite part of the book, and I recall his reply verbatim, "When they were grubbing for food at Tara - that was my favorite."

Ever my father's daughter, I have to admit: I love that part of the book, too. I love being forced to do a lot with a little. I am always up for a challenge.

These days I grub for food in my own larder, and I am rarely disappointed in the outcome of my food pairings.

21 June 2014

Herbed Mashed Potatoes with Boursin

Herbed Mashed Potatoes with Boursin
It feels strange not to be planning a trip this year.

Instead of traveling, we are sticking close to home and working on our own turf. We have a 118-year-old carriage barn that needs some major attention. It's not a big barn - about the size of a garage - and it's rather charming, but it's old. I'd like to build a greenhouse on the back of it, but that might have to wait for another year. We'll see.

We're also involved in some inexpensive but time-consuming projects around the kitchen and other parts of the house. We're about a quarter through our to-do list: The book room is done, the new shower head is installed upstairs and the powder room has a new faucet. But when you have a house, especially a old house, the work is never done.

Traveling has made me extremely frugal around the house, especially in the kitchen. I keep thinking of the conversation I heard on Boulevard St. Michel two years ago. Two American women were talking about another family, when one said, "They live simply so they can travel more often."

That's become my credo. So when I splurged on but did not finish a small package of Boursin, and then noticed I had some redskin potatoes to use up, I tried something new. New for us, that is.

20 June 2014

What to Do with Eggshells: Feed Your Garden

Eggshells soaking in water.
Life has gotten in the way of blogging lately. I have new admiration for those who manage to post something daily, even weekly.

Life is not allowed to get in the way of eating, however. I just haven't had time to eat anything blogworthy.

What I have been eating: Eggs. I've been eating baked, over easy and sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast about four times a week.

And they have been delicious. For the most part, I buy them organic from a jovial and friendly farmer named Jeff and his wife, Jo. I can taste the difference.

I can't bear to waste eggshells, however, so I follow Grandma Annie's practice of soaking the eggshells in water that I can use to keep my indoor plants moist and give them a dose of calcium. After a few days, the water begins to smell a bit eggy, if you know what I mean. And you do.