Valentine’s Day the French Way Monday, Feb 14 2011 

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Today in Paris, stunning boxes of chocolates, beautiful heart-shaped cakes and gorgeous bouquets of flowers have been whizzing out the doors of shops all over town in celebration of la Saint-Valentin. I thought I’d send a couple of ideas to make your Valentine’s Day a little more French if you are so inclined:

- Send a French Valentine’s Day e-card to your loved ones. Click here to see the variety of virtual French Valentine’s greeting cards available. (And there’s even an ‘Anti Saint Valentin’ option for those not wishing to oversentimentalize February 14!)

- Make the ‘Coeur au Chocolate’ cake featured by the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris for Valentine’s Day this year. They have the recipe for the Chocolate Heart Cake in English with the US measuring system to make it even easier. Treat your loved ones to this French sweet treat by clicking here.

Wishing all French Affaires readers a little “Love” the Paris Ladurée way – and Joyeuse Saint-Valentin!   ~Elizabeth

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The Best Soufflés in the Universe Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

In the popular film Something’s Gotta Give starring Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Keaton categorically declares that the Paris bistrot Le Grand Colbert has the “best roast chicken in the universe.” That got me thinking recently about Paris restaurants and French culinary classics–who has the best île flottante (floating island)? who has the best mousse au chocolat? the best soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup)? the best boeuf bourguignon? the best cassoulet? the best steak-frites? and then a really good one because they’re hard to make–the best soufflés?

Well, you can find soufflés on the menu of many a nice restaurant in Pah-ree. But to go to the French source, one must pay a visit to the soufflé heaven of the universe–the Paris restaurant Le Soufflé. In business since 1961, it has inspired diners for decades and also has sparked imitation restaurants the world over.

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I recently lunched again at Le Soufflé and was absolutely ravie  (delighted) at what a delicious, civilized, and thoroughly French experience it was.

Le Soufflé is supremely located a stone’s throw from the Louvre, the Tuileries gardens, the Place de la Madeleine and the Place Vendôme. You walk up to the facade painted in a lovely French blue lacquer accented with small fluted awnings. As soon as you enter the hushed and casually elegant atmosphere, the very professional staff welcomes you and whisks you to your reserved table.

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The word soufflé comes from the French verb “souffler,” meaning “to blow” or “to puff.” This gourmet treat gets its ‘lift’ from beaten egg whites. As Julia Child notes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “the glory and lightness of French soufflés are largely a matter of how voluminously stiff the egg whites have been beaten and how nicely they have been incorporated into the soufflé base.” Without getting too technical, it is clear the chefs at Le Soufflé have mastered the ‘art of the puff’ and turn out divine soufflés time after time.

While the menu does have regular dishes–the French onion soup is quite nice, the restaurant’s signature lunch experience is a savory soufflé  followed by a sweet soufflé. On this particular day, I chose the classic ham and cheese soufflé and my dining companions ordered a variety of other savory soufflés. You could tell the kitchen had the rolling stream of soufflé orders under control as our golden, puffed delights arrived at the table about 20 minutes later.

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I couldn’t wait to take that first dive with a spoon into this steaming hot soufflé. The sides of the towering egg edifice then started to come down making it easier and easier to eat as I went along. The ham, cheese and eggs are a natural combination–think the classic taste of quiche lorraine in soufflé form!

Of course you have to order your dessert soufflé at the start of the meal to allow for real-time preparation. So all while I was enjoying the ham and cheese version, my chocolate soufflé was in progress. But prior to enjoying dessert, our table decided to share a bountiful salade verte (green salad). It was the perfect palate cleanser before our glorious dessert finish to the Le Soufflé meal. (The secret to very French salads is great greens and a great viniagrette–check out the photos from the recent French Affaires Vinaigrette workshop below.)

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Once we had finished our savory dishes, our table’s array of dessert  soufflés arrived in their full blown glory. The winner was the chocolate version served with liquid chocolate sauce which is poured into the center. Does it get any better than this?

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Our lunch was a thoroughly French and a thoroughly fulfilling dining experience. The next time you are in Paris, reserve a table at Le Soufflé and wait for the soufflé experts of the universe to make their magic. You won’t be disappointed.

Le Soufflé is located at 36, rue du Mont Thabor in the 1st arrondissement. (Don’t let the restaurant’s pretty basic web site fool you–the establishment is the epitomy of French understated elegance and charm.)

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

You may have noticed the classic porcelain ramekins that hold the savory and sweet soufflés above. They are made by Apilco, the well-known French porcelain manufacturer, and their straight sides make for successful soufflés time after time. Williams-Sonoma in the U.S. carries a nice variety of Apilco porcelain ramekins for American chefs. Click here to see their selection.

Scenes from the French Vinaigrette Workshop! Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

A few hardy souls ventured out the Dallas snow and ice last weekend for the French Cuisine & Culture workshop on French vinaigrettes. Here are some photos of our hands-on culinary adventure using dijon mustards, vinegars and oils to create outstanding French salad dressings. And then we enjoyed our various salad creations with homemade quiche lorraine  followed by scrumptious gâteau aux pommes caramelisées (caramelized apple cake). By the end of our class and sit-down lunch, I think everyone agreed that there was no need to purchase bottled salad dressing ever again!!

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The French Scarf Thing Wednesday, Feb 2 2011 

The French do many things well, and we have seen a lot of them in these pages. So since it’s winter and downright frigid this week in France and in North America, let’s take a look at yet another French talent—the art of tying scarves.

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A well-tied scarf in France is both a fashion statement and a meteorological necessity. Without une écharpe (long, rectangular wool scarf often with fringe on the short end) around one’s neck in the winter, walking around Paris streets would be chilly indeed. The kicker of course is that the French make something as practical as wearing a scarf a visually compelling event.  

How do they do it? Well, for one, they have a gift for tying a variety of knots and twists. They execute the various scarf positions with a sort of ’swish’ that many non-French find enviable. The French also have a flair for making each scarf ‘look’ appear elegant and comfortable at the same time. And this goes for women and men, young and old, well off and not so well off. I think it must be something in the French gene pool that ensures great scarf tying ability. Or perhaps there’s a secret school of scarf tying that only the French get to attend?!

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To sport a good scarf look, we also have to have some nice scarves to choose from in our closets. When in Paris, you can find an excellent collection of scarves at any large department store. You can find les écharpes, les foulards or les carrés (silk square scarves), and even les châles (triangular knit shawls typically worn by grandmothers in times past). Galeries Lafayette and Printemps on the Right Bank are good places to stop. On the Left Bank, Le Bon Marché is where you want to go. You also can find wonderful scarves in many small clothing boutiques around town. This is a great reason to start off walking in Paris and see where your feet take you in search of that next great scarf.

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These days, you can also find a fun scarf vendor or two at many outdoor Paris food markets. This vendor at the Boulevard Raspail market a few weeks ago was doing very good business selling wool scarves and hats. And why not? His offerings were 100% wool or silk or a combination thereof, and they were très bon marché (very well priced). In addition, the more you bought, the more he’d make you a deal. At this scarf venue, you could add a lot of scarf color to your wardrobe for a very small investment!

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But back to the real issue—what IS the French secret to their art of tying scarves? Consensus seems to indicate that a French person masters two to three scarf styles that look good on her, given her height, her hair style, her personality, and her fashion preferences. Then she decides which one to wear on a particular day with a particular scarf. And last but not least, she ties that scarf that day without trying too hard. It’s that aura of nonchalance in the tying and in the wearing which looks so French and so fabulous.

So cheers to not trying too hard in tying scarves—and enjoy these chilly times as a grand opportunity to fashion your own French scarf moments!

French Take-Out™ ~ La France à emporter

If you’ve been neglecting your scarf tying opportunities this winter, take this peer pressure challenge from the French and give your scarves some new twists. French Affaires is offering a special “French Scarf Tying Workshop” in Dallas in March. In this hands-on class, we’ll master a host of scarf looks from a French scarf expert par excellence and celebrate our scarf accomplishments over French champagne. You can even bring your favorite scarf from home and practice on it to make sure you love the way you tie it. Check our web site in a couple of weeks for complete details on this special French scarf and champagne event.