Introduction to French Cooking
The French have a way with food, there’s no doubt. French chefs plan menus based on the availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables. Cooking with the seasonal foods means you are using the freshest ingredients available and you’ll taste more of the natural goodness of the food and get the most nutritional value too.
Typical French summer menus include a great variety fresh produce – greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, zucchini, green beans, peaches, pears, berries and plums, plus whole grains and protein. Shop your local farm markets and create your meals around what is in season in your area.
Styles of cooking in France range from elaborate and time-consuming recipes to fresh, easy-to-prepare dishes. The Nouvelle Cuisine style of French cooking emphasizes fresh ingredients and simple recipes using seasonings that include fresh herbs, lemon juice, vinegars and butter. This style of cuisine is perfect for family-friendly summer dining.
Food presentation is important in French cooking. It fact it almost an art form. Food is plated with great care and you will often see a sprig of fresh herbs, thinly sliced fruit or edible flowers added to plates giving them a splash of color and added touch of culinary artistry.
Guide To Herbs in French Cooking
Herbs play a big role in French cooking. They offer flavor and aroma to food that can help develop both senses of taste and smell for your kids. Choose fresh or dried herbs depending on what is available in your area. If you would like to try growing your own, herbs grow well in indoor containers or outdoor gardens. They are quite easy-to-grow and are fun.
Commonly used herbs in French cooking include:
• Fennel – Fennel’s refreshing licorice flavor enhances poultry and vegetable dishes. Fennel is also a great source of Vitamin C. Use dry fennel seeds in soups or stews or roast the bulbs and serve as a vegetable.
• Lavender – This herb is commonly found in perfume or aromatherapy, but some varieties are edible. Use fresh or dried lavender flowers in baked goods and as a seasoning for vegetables.
• Marjoram – Marjoram tastes a bit like oregano with a delicate citrus twist. It is a great all-around herb and can be used to season meats, eggs and vegetables.
• Mint – Fresh mint’s refreshing flavor makes is the perfect ingredient for a great summer meal. It is served with fruit (in a salad or punch) or paired with a vegetable.
• Rosemary – Rosemary’s contains anti-oxidants and a full flavor, which makes it both a tasty and healthy addition to roasted potatoes and grilled or roasted meats (especially lamb).
• Sage – Sage is best known as the seasoning to use in your Thanksgiving stuffing, but don’t save it for just that purpose. Use fresh or dried sage on pork, chicken, rice and vegetable dishes.
• Tarragon – Adding a small amount of fresh or dried Tarragon to vinegars and oils is a great way to add flavor to meat, seafood and vegetable dishes.
• Thyme – Thyme is a culinary favorite for many chefs. Use thyme to season soups, salads, meats and vegetables. It brings a sweet, lemony flavor to food.
Herbs de Provence
Herbs de Provence is a robust mixture of dried herbs made popular in the southeastern region of France. It is often used to flavor grilled meats, fish, eggs and vegetables. It is added before or during cooking. There are many variations to this herb mixture but most recipes use rosemary, savory, marjoram, and thyme. Lavender is a new addition to the mixture and adds wonderful aroma.
Make Herbs de Provence at home:
In a small mixing bowl, combine:
• 5 Tbsp. Dried thyme
• 3 Tbsp. Dried savory
• 2 Tbsp. Dried marjoram or oregano
• 5 Tbsp. Dried rosemary
• 1 Tbsp. Dried lavender flowers (optional)
Store in an air-tight container in a dark place. Use as a seasoning for grilled meats, fish, eggs and vegetables. For best results, add before or during cooking.
LE PETIT GOURMET – RATATOUILLE
Ratatouille is a traditional French vegetable dish. The French word “touille” means to toss food. Toss, sauté, and blend the ingredients below to delight your tiniest gourmet’s taste buds.
• 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
• 1/2 large Onion, diced
• 2 cloves Garlic minced
• 1 can (14oz.) Diced tomatoes
• 1 medium Eggplant, diced
• 2 small Zucchini, diced
• 2 tsp. Herbs d’ Provence
• 1 tsp. Salt
Set a 12-inch deep sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, Herbs d’ Provence, and salt to the pan and continue to cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This dish can be served for the whole family to enjoy and some of it can be pureed for your little gourmet!
To make pureed baby food:
Pour the Ratatouille into a blender or food processor and puree to a smooth texture. Pour Ratatouille into So Easy Storage Trays, Cover and Freeze.
To serve: defrost cubes and warm slightly. This is a delicious vegetable dish that goes well with cooked brown rice, mashed pasta or chicken.
Toddler Treat: Omelettes aux fines herbes (Omelet with fresh herbs)
The French omelet has been a culinary delight since the 16th century and it’s an easy toddler breakfast, lunch or dinner. This high protein dish makes an energizing meal for on the go toddlers. Our recipe is for a 1 egg omelet – the perfect size for a small child.
• 1 large Egg
• 1 tsp. Butter
• ½-1 tsp. Fresh chives, chopped
• Small pinch of kosher salt
• 1 Tbsp. Gruyére or Swiss cheese, shredded
Crack the egg large into a small bowl and add the chives and sea salt. Using a fork beat the egg mixture well. In a 6-inch non-stick pan, over medium heat, melt butter. Swirl the butter in the pan to coat the bottom. Add the egg mixture. With your fork, stir the eggs quickly to form small curds.
When the egg mixture begins to set (after about 1-2 minutes) press gently on the egg with the fork or a flat rubber spatula to flatten it. Angle the pan downward, and using the fork or flat rubber spatula, fold the top part of the omelet inward. Sprinkle the cheese across the center. Fold in the bottom part inward. Cook for 30 more seconds and slide it on a plate.
Serve with toast and fresh fruit – Voila!
French Summer Family Meal
Crusty French Bread
Julia Child made the Nicoise Salad famous on her TV cooking show, “The French Chef”. This salad has wonderful refreshing flavors and is a perfect summer one-dish meal!
Ingredients (serve 4-6):
• 1 head of Boston lettuce
• 2 cups cooked French-style green beans
• 2 cups of cooked Potatoes, diced
• 1 medium Tomato, diced
• 2 Hard-cooked Eggs, quartered
• 1 cup of drained and flaked Canned Tuna
• Fresh Chives, chopped (optional garnish)
• Classic French Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Wash and dry the lettuce, tear into small pieces and put in a salad bowl. Sprinkle a few tablespoons of the French Vinaigrette over the top and toss gently. This salad looks best when plated individually for each person.
To plate the salad: Place ½ -1 cup of salad greens on a dinner plate. Arrange the green beans, potatoes, tomatoes, tuna and eggs on the plate. Spoon French Vinaigrette over the top and sprinkle with fresh chopped chives. Serve with French Bread.
Classic French Vinaigrette
• ½ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. fresh ground pepper
• ¼ cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
• ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
• ¾ cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients in jar with a tight fitting lid (or plastic container). Shake well. This dressing keeps fresh in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
Healthy Habits: Introducing Your Family to BLUE Foods
Blue foods are a great source of cancer preventing anti-oxidants and phytonutrients. The main phytonutrient, anthocyanidin, helps to decrease inflammation in the body’s cells and may protect against heart disease. Blue foods also contain minerals including copper and iron, vitamins C, K, B-6, B-12, and fiber. Purple and black fruits and vegetables are also members of the blue food group.
Healthy blue food menu options include:
1. Blueberries: Considered one of nature’s best “super foods”, blueberries give your body and brain a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Be sure to include these delicious berries in your breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Blueberries freeze well and are great added to smoothies, baked goods and jams. (Food Guide: Blueberries)
2. Purple Potatoes: Blue potatoes provide carotenoids and flavonoids anti-oxidants, which can prevent cancer. Add color to your potato and vegetable dishes by using blue potatoes instead of white ones in recipes. (Food Guide: Potatoes)
3. Blackberries: A tasty way to add fiber and vitamin C to your diet, blackberries are delicious in salads, sauces and backed goods. Pick blackberries in season and freeze for an off-season treat.
4. Eggplant: Purple skinned eggplant adds fiber and flavor to meals. Cut eggplant in circles, brush olive oil, sprinkle with salt, then grill the circles. Grilled eggplant makes a nice side dish that is loaded with fiber and anti-oxidants.
5. Purple Cabbage: Purple cabbage supplies the body with fiber, potassium and Vitamin C. Toss shredded cabbage into green salads or make crunchy coleslaw for your summer picnic table.
Plums & Prunes: Plums and prunes (dried plums) are loaded with anti-oxidants and vitamins that help keep eyes, skin and organs healthy. Plums and prunes make a nutritious, low calorie snack on their own, or combine them with yogurt and cereal for a nutritious meal.