Sunday, April 27, 2008

L'Hotel Moret

My paternal grandmother, who we fondly refer to as Mamie in my family, is a retired hotel restaurant cafe owner. Mamie is now in her 80s and still lives in the same house where the hotel used to be. The place was called Hotel Moret (Moret is Mamie's maiden name).

You can still see the large inscription Hotel Moret, on the entrance side (see picture above, circa 1900). The house is located on the village square, by the bakery and the little city hall (as well as one of the lavoir or wash house of the village).

It is a three-story building. The backyard is lovely and peaceful.
Back when the hotel opened at the beginning of the 20th century, there was also a horse stable for guests to leave their horse and carriage. There is also a long boule ground (a French game like petanque played with metal balls and a jack), with stone benches and lots of trees and bushes around, a long patch of grass with apple trees and a large vegetable garden. Mamie has a green thumb, so the backyard during Spring and Summer time has beautiful flowers all over. My favorite part is the old big Linden tree, or Tilleul, whose shade makes it a perfect spot for an afternoon siesta. And not to mention the delicious tea infusion you get from collecting and drying the Linden tree flowers!

I was a little girl when Mamie retired so I still remember the layout of the cafe. The counter was long and brown, with glass shelves behind, on which all the liquor bottles were displayed, along with some soccer trophies (the cafe was the headquarter for my village's soccer club back then). I remember the slamming sound the cabinets doors would make, in which the glasses were stored. I particularly remember the display of French syrup bottles (I think the brand Mamie used was
Monin). My favorite flavor, back then, was strawberry flavor. In french, syrup is sirop, and it is a very typical drink for children to have along with adults at an aperitif or anytime (usually about one tablespoon of syrup + water): But that's not the only use of sirops. You can enjoy it as a:

  • demi-fraise: beer with a little bit of strawberry syrup.
  • blanc cassis: white wine and blackcurrant syrup.
  • diabolo menthe: mint syrup with French limonade (not to be confused with American type lemonade. Limonade is sweet sparkling drink made of a combination of water, sugar and a little lemon). A French classic!
  • Monaco: grenadine (pomegranate) syrup, beer and limonade
And the list is longer, and so are the flavors of syrup you can find!

The few memories I keep of the cafe being open have filled my heart with great pride. I love to sit with Mamie and listen to her stories, while we share her ritual 4 o'clock tea time. I can't wait to share more with you!

Thank you to my brother David for refreshing my memory. Indeed the syrup brand (
sirop in French) our Grandmother used was Bigallet, not Monin. Merci David!:) I owe you an aperitif!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bacon & White Bean Soup

This dish is so easy to make! I love its rusticity. I came up with it one evening when I did not really know what to cook, nor did I want to spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen. Now I always make sure that I have a couple of cans of white beans in reserve.

The ingredients are so versatile. You can completely leave out the garlic/herbs infused oil and even the bacon. Or you can substitute bacon for sausage or pancetta.

 I like to puree parts of my beans but if you prefer a chunky soup, then just leave the beans as is.

This recipe yields 4 servings (1 cup per serving)

1 tbsp Olive Oil
4 slices of thick bacon
1/2 tsp lime juice (too much can make the soup too tart)
2 cans of good quality Cannellini beans
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt pepper

Cut the bacon into approximately 1 inch squares and cook. Drain on a paper towel.

Put the oil, the garlic, the thyme and the rosemary in a small saucepan and let it warm up for one minute maximum. Just time for the olive oil to infuse with the flavors of the garlic and the herbs. Your nose is your best friend here. Make sure you don't burn the garlic.

Strain 1 can of beans and puree in a blender. Make sure you save some liquid for the process though. (A potato masher works just fine too).

Pour the other can in a saucepan, liquid included. Add the pureed beans, the infused olive oil, the red pepper flakes and heat on low until it comes to a simmer.  Add the lemon and the bacon. Salt and pepper to taste but go easy on the salt, since you're using bacon!  Let stand, covered and off the heat for about 10 or 15 minutes before serving. I love it reheated the day after.

Drizzle with olive oil in the bowl.

 You can add some chopped parsley in at the end for extra freshness. Serve it with country-style bread like pain de campagne for example. 

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bread and chocolate trauma

I have been craving a good light crunchy baguette lately. It's hard to find a baguette as close to the ones sold in France here in Austin. Most of the time, they're too soft.

Even more than baguette, I love a couronne, which is a ring shaped bread. You can buy it small, petite, or big, grosse. Well, I remember the grosse couronne my grandparents would buy from their baker. It was crunchy beyond what you can imagine and bien cuite, or well baked. Brownish / black on top. That's a personal preference though. This couronne was very messy to cut. I mean crumbs would fly all over. So much that when you'd be on "bread cutting duty", we would sometimes go outside to cut it, to avoid a complete mess. But otherwise you don't care, because it's the best bread ever, and you'd rather sweep the floor again than not have it. 

A joke in my family about good bread and good cheese (how French can you get?), is that when you have just a little bit of cheese left in your plate with a big piece of bread, you MUST (yes that's right you must) help yourself to some more cheese. Why waste the bread, right? Might as well finish it! And of course when you have a lot of cheese left in your plate, with just a little piece of bread, you MUST get some more bread to finish the cheese. That's just a lame excuse to eat more. Don't find any logic to it! 

Well I was reminded today of a memory from when I was in maternelle (preschool). Please don't laugh at me! My Mom used to pack me a piece of baguette and milk chocolate for my morning snack. And she'd do that almost every day. Now, that's a pretty common childhood snack in France, only all the kids around me at my school were having "cool" store-bought cookies ("chocoswere a classic). And I grew to be ashamed of my chocolate baguette sandwich snacks because I thought I wasn't "as cool"! I would not eat them! Yes, it's true!

But don't you see what's happening? That's karma my friend! I'm paying for this now! Thank goodness, our supermarket Central Market has a lot of other types of bread that are worth a try. Thank you CM! 

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Green salad with eggs, bacon and croutons

Already the end of the weekend and I feel like it went by so fast! Juan and I went to our friends' party on Saturday. My cranberries, blue cheese and roasted pecans hearts were a success. So soft, and so sweet, yet crunchy and a little strong from the blue cheese..... Hmmmmm, all that spread on crackers. Oh what a treat! I'll have to tell you more about it another time.

Well anyway today we met N. for lunch at the Steeping Room. It was really nice. I had a cup of white tea with a roast beef sandwich (on warm, soft and crunchy ciabatta bread). They put some aioli on the bread ( "aioli" is a mayonnaise seasoned with garlic, typical from the South of France. It can also be a dish all on its own.... hmmm, that makes me think... I'd like to try to make that one day!) as well as roasted bell peppers. What I enjoyed _and what I respect in cooking anywhere_ was the good quality of the ingredients. Now I'm curious to go back and try some other items on their menu!

Since the Steeping Room is close to Sur La Table (an awesome store that has lots of kitchen products), we went in to buy a Brioche mould. Brioche is very rich buttery bread in France and we typically eat it for breakfast, at least that's how I've always done it! I love it toasted with some fruit jam on it or even better: with Nutella! I am on version #2 of brioche-making and I seriously needed a mould. I just think it's prettier than a loaf shape.

I was so excited about my new purchase that I decided I would try out the mould right away! The dough is in its raising process now and I must admit, I feel pretty good about it so far. Patience, patience is all I have to say... I will let you know how it turns out!

And then for dinner tonight I was craving a hearty salad so I mixed some baby oak leaves with bacon, hard boiled eggs, croutons and a very garlicky vinaigrette. My oh my! I always remember my Meme (that's another word for "Nana" in French) making it. Most of the time she wouldn't even use bacon (in France, we use lardons, which is basically salt pork, cubed). But what I loved the most was the garlic flavor. She'd usually let the crushed garlic sit in the vinaigrette, at the bottom of the salad bowl.

For two persons:
  • Hard boil 2 eggs for exactly 10 minutes. I usually throw my eggs in a bowl of ice water to cool off. It also ensures that the yolk will stay very yellow. We don't want the blackish/greenish edges, now do we?
  • crush 2 garlic cloves (let the garlic sit for 5 minutes max. in the vinaigrette. It will cut the strong taste a little).
  • for the vinaigrette I mixed 1 teaspoon of French mustard, 3 teaspoons of white wine vinegar, 4 teaspoons of olive oil. Salt and Pepper. Make sure you put the salt with the vinegar and the mustard. It will dissolve better. THEN, add the oil, slowly.
  • I made some croutons by cubing some bread and drizzled it with olive oil. I broiled it for about 2 to 3 minutes, until brown. I only had freshly baked seven grain bread and did not want to go back to the store to buy a baguette. It worked very well!
  • I cooked some thick cut bacon that I cut to 3/4 inch cubes. I let it drain and cool off on paper towel.
  • To assemble, I cut the cooled eggs in halves, then in fourths. I drop then in the vinaigrette/garlic mixture. I add the salad, the bacon and the croutons on top. Stir and make sure you get everything bits at the bottom! You don't want to have all the croutons hang out on their own at the bottom of the bowl!
  • Bon Appetit!
(My grandma often used dandelion leaves for the salad. It is bitter but it makes for a nice contrast with the soft taste of the eggs, the bacon and the croutons. )

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Bienvenue everybody! Wow, I'm pretty excited: this is my first post on my blog!

I hope to be able to share with you my passion for cooking as well as my love for my native country, France. Yes indeed I am French and for once, no one is here to hear my accent and ask "so you mean, you lived in France for a little bit", or "so you have French descendants in your family?". I have been such a lover of English since I was 11 that I have done anything possible to mimic THE perfect English accent. First it was British, and now it's American English, or should I say Texan. Apparently I am starting to get a bit of a drawl here and there. But I digress...

I am 29 and my name is Laetitia. I live in Austin, Texas with my Texan/Dallasite husband, Juan. In France, my family is from the Rhone-Alpes region, which is close to Lyon and Grenoble. My hometown is a little village no one would know about (come on, do you know Bouvesse?). But I have lots and lots of fond cherished memories there, and I certainly am going to share a lot of them with you here!

Going to the University of Texas in Austin in 2001 was a turning point in my life:
  • I finally realized my dream of living in the United-States, even if it was just for a year, to finish my college degree at UT.
  • I met THE coolest guy ever and we fell in love with each other (everyone was teasing me before I left France: "tu vas bien te trouver un beau cowboy la-bas" or "I'm sure you'll end up meeting a hot cowboy there". "Texas" calls to mind "cowboys" in France, of course). He has been my best friend and loving husband since 2003.
  • I came to realize how much I love to share French food culture, more than anything. That all the saucissons and pates making with my grandfather, the memories of my Mamie's cafe (grandma), the wine harvest of my grandfather's little vineyard were like little seeds planted inside me, waiting to bloom into a passion.
I treasure French homestyle cooking and hold in the highest esteem my mother and grandmothers' cooking.

You know how sometimes taking a step back can help you realize certain things in life? That's what happened to me when America became my adopting country; a whole new light was shed on my life and my everblooming passion for French cooking.

So welcome to my kitchen and to my Franco-American lifestyle!