Simply Savor: "Go French" for the New Year

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Instead of trying out a new fad diet or a brutal boot camp regiment this New Year's, why not try something new, something savory?
Savoring each moment and enjoying a delicious life is the motto of Mireille Guiliano's best-selling book French Women Don't Get Fat. In her memoir laden with anecdotes and delicious recipes, Guiliano reveals the ultimate secret of how French women stay slim without sacrificing some of their favorite foods including chocolate, cheese and fresh pastries. How is it that French women can eat two three-course meals with wine daily but still manage to maintain a healthy body weight?
According to Guiliano, French women aren't work out maniacs. They don't spend their time trying to compensate for yesterday's overeating. French women aren't calorie counters either. If you go to a restaurant in France, you won't find Weight Watcher points next to each entrée.
French women don't eat salads as meals. In fact, French food often is wonderful because it is so rich. How sad would French cuisine be if you removed all of the delicious and rich foods they so enjoy? No buerre blanc, no cafe au lait, no creme brulee?

The difference between French women and American women, the secret that Guiliano shares with her readers is simple -- enjoyed moderation. This may sound like an oxymoron, but that's becuase her definition of moderation is different than most. Moderation isn't skipping out on dessert because you had an enormous cheeseburger for dinner. No, according to Guiliano, "Less is more...a single piece of fine dark chocolate can be as enjoyable as a dozen Snickers bars."

The portions that the French eat are much smaller than those enjoyed by Americans. In fact, I would say that a serving of salmon at Chez Clement in Paris was about 1/3 the size of that served in American restaurants. This certainly didn't make it taste any less delicious; in fact, the feeling of being comfortably full rather than stuffed after eating out in Paris was refreshing. 

How else do French women abide by this "less is more" motto? How can you be more French this new year?

French women don't eat fast food. They don't eat in their cars or in front of the TV. They eat in open-air cafes and enjoy the sights and smells around them without distraction. 

Go French: Take Guiliano's advice when she says, "Think about what you are eating, smelling and savoring every bite. Describe to yourself the flavors and textures in your mouth."

The French don't grocery shop at BJ's or Wal-Mart. French women go to the market for their food, and they only purchase what they need for meals for that day and possibly the next. They don't keep large quantities of food around that could be tempting for snacking or overeating.

Go French: Visit your local farmer's market and purchase some fresh fruits and veggies. Don't stock up on food that you don't need, and don't be afraid to try new things! My recommendation for healthy, well-priced food? Trader Joe's

Check out Guiliano's site for excerpts from her book, delicious recipes and cooking videos. She also offers a Web-based French Women Don't Get Fat program where you can take a "How French are your eating habits quiz?" and subscribe to a weekly newsletter, receive daily meal plans, healthy recipes and grocery lists.

Here is one of her recipes for your dining pleasure. I wish you a safe, happy and savory New Year! 
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Serves 8

I always prefer this cake the next day. It’s a perfect, rich dessert for cool weather. There is no need to refrigerate it -- just cover loosely with waxed paper and keep it in a cool place. If refrigerated, make sure to take it out at least 2 hours before serving.

8 ounces dark chocolate
8 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for buttering pan
4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
¼ cup Grand Marnier or orange-flavored liqueur
6 tablespoons cornstarch

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Brush a 4-cup ring mold or a 9-inch springform pan with butter.

3. Chop the chocolate and melt it in a bowl set above a simmering pan of water. Remove and let cool. While the chocolate is cooling, cream the butter in a mixing bowl.

4. Pour the cooled, melted chocolate into the mixing bowl with the butter and beat for 2 minutes. The mixture should be thick. Set aside.

5. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Start adding the sugar, beating at high speed, until the eggs are thick and very pale yellow (6 to 8 minutes). Both the egg-sugar and chocolate butter mixtures should have a similar consistency.

6. Beat the chocolate-butter mixture into the egg-sugar mixture and add the Grand Marnier. Beat another minute to mix. Sift the cornstarch into the batter and gently fold in.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared mold. Tap the mold on the counter to level and cover with buttered waxed paper. Put the mold in a baking dish and fill the dish with near-boiling water, almost up to the top of the mold. Put the baking dish with the mold in the preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool. Turn upside down on a serving platter, but wait 30 minutes to remove the mold.

8. Serve with unsugared whipped cream.

A Paris Perfect Engagement

Sunday, December 21, 2008

As a little girl, I spent a great deal of time daydreaming about my wedding.  I'd try to imagine who I would marry, if he'd have a funny last name and importantly, how he'd ask me for my hand in marriage. 

Despite dreaming up dozens up scenarios over the years, I don't think that I ever could have truly imagined what getting engaged would really be like.  I would never in a million years would have guessed it would have happened in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in full view!  

May 31, 2008

It was one of our last days in Paris, and so Kris and I decided to venture outside of the city for the first time since our arrival. We took a train to Versailles to tour the palace and the magnificently manicured gardens. My favorite part of our visits was watching stone-carved fountains come to life as a part of the afternoon's Grandes Eaux Musicales. The show was simply stunning, and I could almost picture Marie Antoinette walking among the garden trails in her rich flowing gowns. Her orangerie was my favorite; with more than 1,000 trees, Marie Antoinette had extensive citrus gardens full of lemons, oranges and pomegranates, none of which were native to France.

After spending the day chasing the footsteps of one of history's most incorrigible figures, we hopped the train back to our hotel in Montmarte. We dressed for dinner and took the metro to the Latin Quarter where we dined at Le Coupe Chou, a fabulously romantic restaurant decorated as original 17th century appearance. 

The atmosphere of Le Coupe Chou was intimate and authentic (our waiter couldn't speak a word of English) with a touch of elegance. A large oaken grandfather clock guarded the entrance, flanking the stony spiral staircase to the cellar and the bar and restaurant, which appeared to be 
a small space, but actually wound into countless hallways and offshoots filled with rich antiques and the smell of freshly baked bread.

We had the most perfect table for two next to a cozy fireplace and adjacent to the windows where we were able to watch passerbys while savoring our three-course meals of salmon, duck, and our new love, crème brulee.  

After dinner, we took a stroll along the banks of the Seine. We talked and talked as we passed Notre Dame and Pont Neuf. And, after stopping to watch the fully lit dinner boats pass below us on Pont des Arts, he popped the question. After my emphatic "YES!", we could see the Eiffel Tower's lights winking and dancing in approval behind us. 

It was a Paris-perfect engagement and a new chapter that marked the beginning of our almost-married life. I don't know that there are words to fully capture the feeling you get when you realize you're going to spend the rest of your life with the man of your dreams, but it's certainly the stuff that fairy tales are made of. 

Hot Ingredient: Sage

Once used as an ancient remedy to treat anything from snakebites to seizures and just about everything in between, sage was a prized spice that was thought to have special healing powers. In fact, the Latin name for sage, salvia, means “to heal”. 

While you won’t find your doctor prescribing sage anytime soon, some studies have shown this member of the mint family to be a memory booster, and sage may also fight rheumatoid arthritis and aid digestion.

Regardless of the health benefits sage may offer, the spice can add a splash of flavor and color to your kitchen table. Slightly bitter and highly aromatic, either fresh or dried sage can be paired with rich fatty meats or used in soups, casseroles and stuffings. Sage also can be used to make a delicious brown butter sauce that is very tasty when coupled with pasta.

Be sure to use this spice sparingly as not much is needed to achieve a palatable, rather than overpowering flavor. Bon appetit!

Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Shallots 

3  cups  (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash
1  tablespoon  dark brown sugar
1 1/2  tablespoons  olive oil, divided
1  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
8  shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise (about 1/2 pound)
1  tablespoon  chopped fresh or 1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
4  ounces  uncooked pappardelle 
1/4  cup  (1 oz) Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 475°.
Combine the squash, sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons oil, salt, pepper, and shallots in a jelly roll pan; toss well. Bake at 475° for 20 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in sage.

While the squash mixture bakes, cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place cooked pasta in a bowl. Add 2 teaspoons oil; toss well. Serve the squash mixture over pasta. Sprinkle with grated cheese.

More Sage Recipes:

Christmas at the Biltmore

If you're looking for a new holiday tradition, a trip to Asheville to visit the Biltmore during the holiday season may be just what you're looking for. Whether you choose to tour America's largest home during the day or in the evening on one of the more intimate candlelight tours, you'll be fascinated to see how beautiful the home is filled with vintage, Victorian-style holiday décor. From dozens of towering trees to the hundreds of wreaths and the sounds of Christmas spilling from the organ in the Banquet Hall, Christmas at the Biltmore isn't something to be missed.
Biltmore by the numbers
175,000 number of square feet covered by the Biltmore home
10,000 number of volumes in the library
1895 year of the first Christmas celebration at the Biltmore
250 number of rooms in the home
65 number of fireplaces in the home
56-ft. height of the Christmas tree on the front lawn
5 dollars you'll save if you pre-order tickets online
Take a tour of the estate's winery after exploring the house for a history lesson on America's most visited vineyard and, my personal favorite, a free guided wine tasting. If you're able to time it just right, a free cooking or tasting class is included in your ticket price. When my fiance and I visited the Biltmore last Christmas, our ticket included a wonderful red wine and chocolate seminar in the winery cellar that was well worth the extra bit of planning.

Be sure to check out the winery gift store, as well as the shops in the stables to find some great last-minute Christmas shopping finds. A Christmas Past, the quaint old-timey Christmas shop in the stables, features many Biltmore ornaments and decorations so that you can bring a bit of the Biltmore home to your own home for the holidays.

Visit for more information on planning your visit to the Biltmore including information on holiday accommodation packages.

Interested in visiting the Biltmore but don't think you can fit it in all of your busy holiday plans? The Christmas celebration will last until January 4, but the estate is open year-round for visits including the Festival of Flowers in the spring and a summer evening concerts including past performers such as Bruce Springsteen, Steven Curtis Chapman and KC & the Sunshine Band.

Getting into the Holiday "Spirit"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are cookie trading parties a bit too tame for you? Why not try your mixing skills at a few of this delectable holiday drinks?
The Sweetest: Godiva Peppermint Martini
Meet your mate under the mistletoe after sipping on this minty treat!
1 1/2 oz. Godiva chocolate liqueur
1/2 oz. Peppermint liqueur
Stir over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.
The Most Festive: Gingerbread Margaritas
Decide whether you'll be naughty or nice this Christmas while sipping on this drink is full of sugar and spice.
9 oz. Tequila
6 oz. Ginger liqueur
6 oz. Fresh lime juice
6 oz. Coconut cream
3 oz. Triple sec
6 oz. Sour mix
6 Maraschino cherries
Combine first six ingredients in a blender for one minute at medium speed. Pour into margarita glasses and garnish with a stemmed maraschino cherry. This recipe makes six drinks.
Source: "Holiday Cocktails" by Minka Gantenbein

Most Likely to Make You Melt: The Jack Frost
You won't tell this drink to "Hit the Road Jack".
12 oz. Whiskey
6 oz. Peppermint schnapps
1 1/2 oz. Sweet vermouth
6 Small candy canes or peppermint sticks
Combine first three ingredients in a large pitcher and mix well. Pour into cocktail glasses filled with ice and garnish with a small candy cane or peppermint stick. This recipe makes six drinks.
Source: "Holiday Cocktails" by Minka Gantenbein 

The Holiday Favorite: Eggnog
Love it or hate it, this holiday staple is here to stay.
Eggnog can be made a number of different ways but it has several key ingredients including  milk or cream, eggs, sugar, nutmeg and  a type of liquor, typically either rum or whiskey. has almost a dozen different variations, but best of all is their tip for serving eggnog at parties.
"To keep the eggnog cold, place a pint of vanilla ice cream in the punch bowl. It will melt slowly and we haven't heard anyone complain about the flavor."
Most Unique: The Grinch
Now here's a drink that gives even the Grinch something to smile about.
2 oz. Midori
1/2 oz. Fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Sugar syrup
Mix all ingredients with ice in a shaker. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a red cherry.

Simply Shananigans

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shenanigans are a quintessential part of our daily lives. It's inevitable that in all of our busyness, despite sometimes meticulous planning, something seems to take us off of our planned course and into uncharted territory. While this may be a perfectionist's worst nightmare, I'll argue (as only a part-time perfectionist) that these mishaps and misadventures are what adds color to our lives and makes sure we're still on our toes and not just going through the motions each day.
Shenanigans aren't just surprises; they're also semantics and spontaneity. They are taking the road lesser traveled when you don't have a map and are in the middle of a snowstorm. They are a leap of faith, dancing simply because you can and celebrating every moment. They are adventure, serendipity and spice.
Shenanigans don't have to be radical. In fact, they can be as small as adding a new ingredient to a favorite dish, traveling to place you've never been before or trying a new drink out on the town. These are just a few of the topics I'll be writing about in "Shananigans", a blog based on my own experiences and shenanigans. 
Well enough with formalities. I wish you happy reading and writing (if that's your cup of tea). If not, just sing out loud or dance in the rain. Life simply is too short not to savor every minute of it.

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