One of the things I inevitably miss about France the minute I leave is French food. When I'm home in the United States, I try to stock my kitchen with the tools and ingredients that help me evoke or recreate all the delicious appetizers, main courses, desserts, and snacks I discovered while living in Paris, Cannes, and that tiny little village just outside of St. Tropez.
Looking to bring a little bit of La Belle France into your own cuisine? Here are a few simple items to help get you started:
I've mentioned on this blog before that I love At Home with the French Classics, by Richard Grausman, and Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten. You can also go for the old standby, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and if you want to focus on desserts (and who doesn't?), a quick search of "French dessert cookbook," turned up plenty of options on Amazon.com. I also try to come home with at least one cookbook whenever I go to France. Just watch out for that pesky metric system, which they of course use for their recipes.
A Crêpe Pan
Sure, you can try to make crêpes using a standard, non-stick frying pan, but why? A flat, French crêpe pan, like the one I have from T-Fal, works so much better and looks cool in your kitchen. Once you taste the first crêpe au Nutella that glides so easily onto your plate you'll be sold.
Cast Iron Cookery
If you get any other piece of cookware for your French kitchen after (or before) the crêpe pan, make it a large cast iron pot. Le Creuset is the obvious choice here, but also probably the most expensive. I've seen this brand on sale at stores like Marshall's,and even Macy's, or you could go with a comparable brand like Martha Stewart (what doesn't she make for your kitchen?). A lot of French dishes, such as the famous boeuf bourguignon, call for such cookery, and you can even use it to melt and serve fondue.
If you're going to engage in French cooking, you're going to need olive oil, plain and simple. I use it for everything from making my own vinaigrette to prepping rice for a risotto. You always hear that quality makes a difference here, and while I agree with that, I've also been very happy with my Whole Foods 365 brand. If you're lucky enough to be traveling through the south of France, try to find a local producer who will ship some back home for you. When I was there, I couldn't get enough of the huile d'olive from Domaine de Souviou. Definitely better than 365.
Herbes de Provence
Another ubiquitous French ingredient. You can add this mix of dried herbs (generally some combination of thyme, rosemary, marjoram, tarragon, basil, lavender, savory, and/or others) to just about anything. It's the perfect seasoning for poultry, fish, salads, and pasta, but my favorite use is as a seasoning in the sauce of my homemade pizzas.
Bottles of French Wine
You'll use these for cooking and for drinking. Need I say more?
A Raclette Grill
This contraption, which features a heat source and little dishes used for melting cheese, will help you throw fabulous French-themed dinner parties. Guests have fun melting their own cheese and pouring it over such accompaniments as cooked potatoes, ham, and small pickles, and all you have to do is plug it in.
What would you add to this list of French kitchen necessities?