There are a lot of things I do do keep my love of France alive while in the U.S. Buying French decorative items for my apartment, watching French films and reading books about traveling or living in France are just a few examples of how far I'll go to enjoy la belle vie at home. One of the more satisfying ways to keep France alive is through cooking. Anyone who has traveled to France knows that the local cuisine is simply divine. Sinfully rich sauces, perfectly crispy frites, delectable desserts: why not bring some of it back with you? While there's no place like France to engage in French cooking, all it takes is a few simple ingredients to make cooking à la française possible anywhere.
First, you have to get a good cookbook. I use At Home with the French Classics, by Richard Grausman and Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten. Both have taken the best French recipes and make them simple enough for us mere mortals to accomplish. Next, you need the proper tools. If you're in Paris, take a trip to E. Dehillerin. They have every tool, pot and pan you can imagine, and many famous Parisian chefs are known to stock their kitchens from its wares. Lastly, you might need to hunt down the ingredients that are staples in French cooking but are difficult to find in the U.S. Crème fraiche is a perfect example of this. No French home goes without it, and buying a small carton is a relatively inexpensive proposition. It's used in sauces, risottos and as toppings for soups and desserts. Most U.S. grocery stores don't carry it, but specialty stores might, and if all else fails you can make you're own. Oh, and don't forget the wine. Nothing makes French cooking more enjoyable than sipping a vin rouge while you're at it.
Last night I tried yet another dish from At Home with the French Classics. Pâtes fraîches aux petits pois (translated by the author as noodles with cream, peas, and parmesean) sounded like a sure winner, seeing as how I love anything having to do with pasta in creamy, cheesy sauces. Even though I didn't use fresh pasta like the recipe called for, in my tastebuds' opinion the result was a perfect success. Nothing can compare to a good 3-course meal at a traditional Parisian bistro, but with a little effort you can turn chez vous into a respectable substitute.