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Archive for the ‘Valerie's corner: News from France’

Leek Soup: Easy and Tasty

January 21, 2009 By: jgrandchamps Category: Food and Recipe, Valerie's corner: News from France No Comments →

group-table            From Valerie,
          our chef on our
     French Escapade Tours 

Leek is not regarded as the king of vegetables in the US. I have often heard this question from the cashier when I put my bundle of leeks on the conveyor: “What do you do with that? Are these onions?”

Leeks are used a lot in French cooking. It is one of the main ingredients in “Pot au feu” , in many sauces and in our vegetable soups. They are also eaten boiled and served cold with a vinaigrette as a starter. But since we are in winter, in the northern hemisphere anyway (but our Australian friends can serve the following recipe as a “cold vichyssoise“) , here is the recipe for Leek soup.

Leek Soup recipe


1 cup of chopped leeks (some people only use the white part; I personally use some green too for color purposes).
1 cup of milk
2/3 cup of water
¼ cup of cream.
3 tablespoons of butter .
1 teaspoon of chicken stock.
1 boiled potato.
Chopped chives or parsley and cream to garnish.

In a large pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
Put the leeks in the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat.
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Stir in the milk and cream.
Add the potato and use a blender at low speed to crush the pieces.

Pour the soup in plates and garnish with cream and chives or parsley.

Bon appetit!!

No more Dijon mustard in Dijon?

December 19, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe, Valerie's corner: News from France 1 Comment →


Dijon is world famous for one thing: its mustard. But the last jars are about to be made in this town located  150 miles southeast of Paris, in the heart of Burgundy.

Amora-Maille mustard, the biggest brand in France, has been making mustard since 1900, but has announced the closure of 3 of its Dijon factories by the end of the year.

Even though Dijon was already known for its mustard in the 14th century, it became really famous  when in 1856, Jean Naigeon  started to make the celebrated yellow paste   using vinegar instead of the usual verjuice from grapes. It then became  easier to preserve.

In the late 19th century, Maurice Grey and  later Pierre Poupon (Grey Poupon! Got it!) initiated the first industrialization of the product, which had been family made until then. In1937, an edict established  that Dijon mustard had to be made a certain way and  to follow a very strict process. Unfortunately it never received a A.O.C. label which would have prevented this product to be make anywhere else but in Dijon.

In the last decade, mustards seeds started to be  imported from Canada and the prices for this staple ingredient have recently increased tremendously, up to 144%. Since it was bought by Unilever in 2000, the Amora-Maille Dijon factory has not been very prosperous.

The board of the company has consequently decided to concentrate its production in its Chevigny factory, in a Dijon suburb. However, the employees are now fearing that the board of directors  should decide to take another step, and move  its production to Turkey or Poland as it has previously happened for other brands.

A facebook group  has been created to campaign against the closures at the following address (it is in French, sorry, but you can still check it)                                             

So let’s keep our fingers crossed so that we could enjoy  Maille mustard for years and years. You know it is my favourite one! (See previous post from August 4, 2008.)

Here are some useful links:

  • how to make a simple vinaigrette with Dijon mustard:

  • The  complete history of Dijon Mustard :

Can traditional French cuisine be light?

December 16, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: Customs and Traditions, Food and Recipe, Valerie's corner: News from France 2 Comments →

fried goat cheese  valcv 02-Food-buffet-BR

From Valerie’s corner

If you think of a typical French menu, you may picture creamy dishes, heavy cream pastries, butter sauce and cheese-flavored gratin all over your plate.

So can French cuisine be light?

Yes, it can because there is not one French way to cook, but different ways. The main difference is based on a geographical divide which can be drawn from the Northwest part of France to the Southeast.

In the North, the main fat used to cook is butter. Normandy is famous for its grazing cows under apple trees in picturesque fields. Therefore, cows mean butter , and to some extend high fat cheese such as Camembert or Livarot. As a result,  the local cuisine uses butter as the staple fat.  And it is the same for the whole Northern/Esatern areas.

The delicious crêpes from Brittany proudly are famous for their butter content. Parisians love adding a small piece of raw butter on top of their steak (already broiled in butter) and the sweet song of butter frying in their pans is their favourite tune.

In the South, oil is preferred to butter; in salads, people love rape seed oil, walnut oil or olive oil but sunflower oil remains the most common oil for frying.

Besides butter and oil, the  weather conditions also tend to favor the southern regions for healthy eating habits. When it is cold and  rainy, people in the North tend to rely on comfort food. They also maintain a social life by entertaining each other rather than by doing outside activities: having people over mean eating a lot of cakes, pastries and cookies.

In the East (Alsace) or in the Alps and Jura, snowy winter dinners often mean a Sauerkraut dish (cabbage nut always with potatoes and a lot of sausages) or raclette (cheese-based meal) and fondue .

In the South and the West, the weather being much milder, typical menus are composed of more salads, more fruit and more fish than in the Northern regions. Even when eating meat, the traditonal duck and goose meat from Gers  is supposed to be healthier for the heart than other types of meat. Cheeses are often made with goat or ewe milk (Roquefort, Cabecou, Picodon), much lighter in fat.

However, French cuisine is more and more cosmopolitan and these traditional trends are not as defined as in the past. Fashion governs food trends and ingredients and dishes are not attached to one single territory as before.

By the way, I am from the South of France. Can you tell? If you want to taste my cooking, I am the chef on some fo the tours to France organized by French Escapade (the one called la Belle France, taking place in the Alps).

We also organize cooking tours to Provence with several professional chefs.

Our favorite Provence olive oil comes from Le clos des Jeannons in Provence, check their website at and the best walnut oil in France, made like in the 19th century is made in Savoie,

We visit both these places on our tours to France with French Escapade.

Pictures taken on our French Escapade tours and the chef is me.

On Nov. 4th, we were all Americans ! (From Valerie)

November 11, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: Valerie's corner: News from France No Comments →

‘Hello everybody!

I just wanted to share some emotions from France after Barrack Obama’s election.

As Jac said, it was crazy to see people’s reaction: you could feel a huge wind of hope blowing in the air. Tears were in people’s eyes and everybody was sooooo impressed that the Americans had chosen Obama. Just like when Kennedy had said “Ich bin ein Berliner” to  empathize with the German people, you could read people’s mind which said: “I am American”, in the sense that they felt proud of them. And let me tell you that emotion had long been gone in France. Too long!

I cried and cried, and could cry again today. It is so good to feel proud of you, guys !!!!!

Thank you, thank you !

PS: I have learnt the American Anthem on my sax since then, and it has been my daily tune for the last  days !

5 tips from Valerie on how to feel French when living in America

August 04, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: "How to" Tips, Customs and Traditions, Valerie's corner: News from France No Comments →

Of course, if you have attended Feel French 101 by going on one of our tours, you know that first, you should eat cheese after dinner and not before, slice cheese according to its shape and most of all, drink your cafe in a bowl for breakfast and not in a cup or a mug.
Here are 5 tips to make you feel French when living America.
1. Throw away that Grey Poupon mustard that is everything but French and switch to Maille, which is available at any supermarket.
2. If you want to keep up on what is going on in France and if you know some French, watch the daily French news report that everybody watches in france at 8pm. Of course, you can watch it at any time on the web at
3. When you think cookies, think Le Petit Ecolier by LU, and even better, get Petit Beurre cookies, also by LU, and dip them in your cup of coffee. Divine!
4. All French people have a picnic knife, often including a bottle opener. Their favorite brands: Opinel, made in the French Alps, or Laguiole, made in Aveyron. This brand is more upscale.
5. I know you are not going to like this one: do not drink wine outside meals !!!! One glass right before a meal is acceptable, as an aperitif … and ony if you add half an inch of Creme de cassis in it, to make a Kir!

laguiole.jpg Here is the famous Laguiole knife!

The Tour de France in my Hometown

July 12, 2008 By: jgrandchamps Category: Sports, Valerie's corner: News from France No Comments →

Today is the 8th day of the Tour de France!

I’ve just got back from France and I can tell you the attraction for the Tour is still great in the country. Even though I love the event because it brings back memories of hours spent in the heat with my parents or friends, frying in the July sun after a picnic of cantaloupe, saucisson, cheese and bread, I personally cannot understand how people can spend a whole afternoon watching cyclists racing on TV. But I must admit it: it is addictive.

I joined my father for a while and after the second day, I couldn’t wait to know who was wearing the yellow jersey, the polka dot one or the green one. I felt I was accepted in this weird cult where only a few know the meaning of all the different colored jerseys, the names of all the teams and the nationality of any racer (all the little flags next to their names helped a lot). My father allowed me (I had to promise to put it back where “it belonged every day” ) to look up in his precious guide pulled from a local newspaper , I which I could be initiated to the keys of the race.

I’ll let you know more about it soon, but today I must tell you that the day stage of the Tour will end in Toulouse, where I was a few days ago. And you could already see road sign about parking restrictions, cleaning trucks were working their best to turn the “Route d’ Albi” into a kind of Elysian Fields for Saturday’s event.

But more than the race itself, people are mainly looking forward to seeing the Tour de France Trailer: it lasts for a good couple of hours before the race arrives . Big companies such as Michelin, Perrier, Orangina, etc … have floats that drive by with people sending samples and gifts (tee-shirts, hats,…).

That’s the main reason why my nieces Lea and Lucie will be standing there, safely behind the fence, hoping to grab some of the precious Tour de France souvenirs! The race itself will only be a secondary joy for all the kids on the side of the road!



map  from

France bans smoking in cafés, bars and restaurants

February 06, 2008 By: Valerie Sans Category: Valerie's corner: News from France 3 Comments →


I had never seen that before!

Yesterday night, as I was walking to the bakery in my town in the French Alps, I was flabbergasted (one of my favorite English words). It was dark and the temperature was only 5 degrees Celsius, but people were sitting outside my favorite café, sipping their drink! But of course … they were out … to be able to smoke ! Ah…The French and their cigarettes! Even though they were probably smoking an Amercian brand and not the typical French Gauloises or Gitanes, they looked so French … and so cold ! It was very weird, like a summer scene in a cheap movie: not enough light, wrong clothes and  fake actors.

As of January 1st, 2008 , France has extended its smoking ban in public places to bars and restaurants, a year after the law was implemented in most public places ( airports, hospital, schools…) . And yes, it works. There was no long strike, no street protest … it was merely implemented. Can you believe it? I am French so I know what I am talking about: we never accept anything without at least one strike!

Well, it only took one extra year to have it accepted by the restaurants’ and bars’ owners but now … my dear non-smoking American friends, you can come to France and be able to enjoy your croissant and your baguette in one your favorite cafés without smoke coming your way! No more cigar smell to bear while you enjoy a delicious  Blanquette de veau with a superb Château-Neuf-Du-Pape

Well … are you ready ? So come and breathe genuine French air: only available at your favorite dealer (French Escapade) from January 1st until … you never know!