Category Archives: Dine

The Perks of Keeping a Dinner Diary

March 14, 2017

The Perks of Keeping a Dinner Diary | Modern French Blog

There’s nothing I love more than wining and dining. Oh wait, I love documenting things in obsessive detail!

As a teen, I wrote pages and pages about boys and best friends. In my twenties, I filled travel journals with adventures in far off places. There was a brief phase where I weirdly kept inventory of my closet in Excel. And now, as a woman in her thirties, I present you with the dinner diary.

A dinner diary is not an entirely new concept.

For many years, hostess books were all the rage. High-society women used them to plan dinner parties keeping details on seating arrangements, shopping lists, decorating notes, and guest preferences. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who keep it simple like Jenny from Dinner: A Love Story who finishes every evening by writing a line about what she just ate.

My dinner diary lies somewhere in the middle serving as part documentation and part soul.

How to Keep a Dinner Diary

First, you’ll need a blank book. I prefer a classic Moleskine journal because I’m an aesthetic snob and a hipster. But seriously, the small version fits perfectly in my purse and the hard-cover keeps it from getting beat up. Ultra minimalists may opt for a digital space to document like the DayOne app, Evernote, or Google Keep.

Each page will detail the who, what, where, and when, plus a few notes about your dining experience. Start with the date at top (aka the when) and a list of who was there. Then, write down where you were dining and what you ate. Finally, finish the page with a few notes about the evening.

Your notes can be functional. For instance, noting dishes that went over well, a cooking tip picked up from a friend, or inspiration from a restaurant menu. You may also choose to write details about the dinner party like funny stories, heated conversations, or tender moments.

It’s best to document everything while it’s still fresh. This usually means the evening of or the day after. Although, sometimes life gets in they way and I don’t update my dinner diary until a week or so later.

Why You Should Keep a Dinner Diary

If you are like me (aka an uber planner and constant chronicler), then keeping a dinner diary will satisfy the deepest part of your OCD soul. For all the normal people out there, keeping track of these details will help you take the guesswork out of entertaining.

You’ll quickly realize which dishes are crowd pleasers and who brings the best bottles of wine. Invite someone over regularly? Now you can remember what you served them last time and a) make it again if they loved it or b) cook something new to switch it up.

If you keep track of when you eat out, the dinner diary is like your very own Yelp. You’ll easily remember your favorite places and the dishes that a restaurant does best.

Hands down, the very best part about a dinner diary is that it’s a reminder of the deliciousness of life.

Things happens at the dinner table, people! There are big moments, small moments, funny moments, and all those in-between. In the last month alone we celebrated my parent’s anniversary, discussed a friend’s potential move across country, watched in awe as my tiny niece spoke full sentences for the first time, and toasted the announcement of a friend’s pregnancy. Not to mention lots of jokes, laughs, and tasty meals, of course.

La vie est belle, non? And flipping through a dinner diary is like taking a trip down memory lane and getting a chance to relive it all.

Best Modern Cheese Domes

February 28, 2017

Best Modern Cheese Domes | Modern French Blog

To be French, one must love cheese. And to enjoy your cheese in the best way possible, you need a cheese dome in which to store it. This is something I feel very passionate about and, in fact, I’ve already sung the praises of the mighty cheese dome in this post.

Already convinced? Then, here is a bunch of modern cheese domes that would look right at home in your fridge. In order from top to bottom: 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

P.S. Some cheese to put in your cheese dome and some French-inspired food to put in your fridge.

British-Inspired Dinner Party Menu

February 7, 2017

British-Inspired Dinner Party Menu | modernfrenchblog.com

Sometimes all you need in winter is a warm hug. An embrace is a great way to greet your dinner party guests but you can also extend a hug by serving a dish that almost seems to give you a hug from the inside. The Brit’s certainly know a thing or two about bone-chilling winters so it’s no surprise that their world-famous Sheperd’s Pie is the perfect antidote for a dreary evening.

Dinner Party Menu

Apéritif
Toast with Lemony Pea Mash
Gin and Tonic

Main Dishes
Vegan Sheperd’s Pie
Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc

Dessert
Earl Grey Panna Cotta

Dinner Party Tips and Tricks

Start your British-inspired night off with two UK classics: 1) pea mash with a kick thanks to lemon and hit of red pepper flakes and 2) gin and tonics garnished with sliced lime or cucumber rounds.

Though Sheperd’s Pie is traditionally made with lamb or ground beef, lentils are a healthy option for those still keeping their new year’s resolutions. It’s also nice and hearty, which will satisfy the appetite of meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. As usual, I like to combine heavier dishes with a lighter salad like an arugula lettuce dressed in a crisp balsamic vinaigrette.

For those who are drinking, the main course pairs well with an easy drinking red like the Lazy Bones Cabernet Franc or your favorite pinot noir.

Finish off the meal with a creamy panna cotta infused with Earl Grey tea. Make your life easier by making this dessert a day ahead and storing in the fridge. Don’t have time to make dessert? Make life even easier by subbing the panna cotta for a some tea and a packet or two of Walker’s Shortbread Cookies at Cost Plus World Market.

P.S. If you are more of a Francophile than an Anglophile, you’ll love this French Winter Dinner Party Menu or a menu of Vegan French Classics.

French Winter Dinner Party Menu

December 6, 2016

French Winter Dinner Party Menu | modernfrenchblog.com

There is a time for casual get-togethers and a time for a fancy fête, and the holidays are the perfect time to bust out Fancy with a capital F. This is a meal that we usually make a for a small dinner party with French friends on Christmas Eve. It would work equally well for a NYE shindig.

Dinner Party Menu

Apéritif
Potato Chips with Crème Fraiche and Caviar
Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne

Main Dishes
Coq au Riesling
Mashed Potatoes
Butter Lettuce with Classic French Vinaigrette
Blue Fin Rieseling

Dessert
Camembert Cheese
No Knead Bread
Ravenswood Zinfandel

Dinner Party Tips and Tricks

Nothing says fancy like champagne and caviar, so why not start your meal with them? I love easy appetizers like this one where you basically spoon a little caviar and crème fraiche on a potato chip and call it a day.

As you may have already figured out, a slowly cooked stew or braise is my dinner party secret (see the Moroccan stew and vegan beet bourguignon from prior dinner party menus). These types of dishes are the best because you can cook it the day before and reheat the next evening, which leaves you with time to focus on the rest of the menu the day of the dinner party.

I started making this take on coq au vin with Riesling after watching Juliette Binoche cook it in Elles, a French film on Netflix that is worth your while if you find some extra time this winter break. The coq au Riesling is as deliciously decadent as the mashed potatoes, so bringing in a fresh salad with bright dressing is a nice complement to all that creamy goodness.

Unsurprisingly, the best wine to pair with this dinner party menu is a Riesling; I like the Blue Fin Riesling at Trader Joe’s. Once you get to the cheese hour, I highly suggest you turn to a Californian Zin. The heartiness of a wine like the Ravenswood Zinfandel (also available at ole Trader Joe’s) cuts through the creaminess of the Camembert and helps highlight the cheese’s herbal notes.

Of course, homemade bread is an ideal companion for wine and cheese. It’s also a great thing to pop into the oven right before the dinner party so that your guests are welcomed with the wonderful smell of fresh-baked bread and you get awarded 100 hostess points. No knead bread takes about two days to make because it needs to rest for long periods of time so plan accordingly.

Almost everything for this dinner party can be purchased from Trader Joe’s with the exception of the caviar, purple potato chips (unless you sub for regular potato chips), and yeast for the no-knead bread (unless you forego homemade bread and pick up a loaf of Pain Rustique).

Trader Joe’s offers a superb Camembert cheese in a circular wooden package from mid-November through the end of December. They also have another Camembert cheese that is sold as a triangular wedge wrapped in plastic almost year-round.

If you are wondering how and where to buy caviar, I found this article to be helpful. Brace yourself for the price though, caviar ain’t cheap and the appetizer recipe requires three tins (or upwards of 90 grams of caviar). You can probably skate by with two tins for a smaller dinner party group.

This is probably a good time to point out that this is not a cheap dinner party menu at all. Fancy with a capital F can lead to lots of dollar signs! If you want to keep your costs down, I suggest keeping the guest list small (4-6 people being ideal) and asking your guests to bring the champagne and wine should also help save a few bucks.

P.S. A French dinner party menu for vegans or you could just go out for dinner in Long Beach at one of the restaurants on this list.

Introducing The Unofficial Guide to Long Beach

November 15, 2016

The Long Beach Restaurant Guide

Drum roll please! Today I’m introducing The Unofficial Guide to Long Beach. A list of all the best places to wine and dine in this fair city that we call home.

Even though I was born and raised in Long Beach, moving back here a few years ago was admittedly tough. It didn’t take long to figure out that my high school hang outs weren’t suitable date night spots. Although sometimes I wish I would have made the monsieur hang out in the Jack in the Box parking lot just for old time’s sake.

After a lot of (tasty) research, we’ve landed on a pretty lengthy list of favorites. While the fare ranges from re-invented Latin American to modern Vietnamese and classic Italian, they all have one thing in common: good food and good wine that you can enjoy with your loved ones. Enjoy zee guide and bon appétit!

How to Organize Your Recipes with Gmail

August 30, 2016

How to Organize Your Recipes with Gmail | modernfrenchblog.com

Once I started getting into cooking, I quickly amassed a collection of recipes ripped from magazine pages, scrolled on pieces of scratch paper, and hastily bookmarked online.

At one point, I got tired of trying to hunt down my favorite recipes and decided I needed a place where I could easily access all of them. After some trial and error, I finally settled on a recipe saving system using Gmail.

Why You Should Organize Your Recipes with Gmail

Gmail is an easy, digital way to save your favorite recipes.

You don’t have to install a new app on your phone, which means you don’t have to keep track of yet another username and password. It’s also pretty accessible, especially if you are like me and are always logged into your email with your phone (almost permanently) attached to your hand.

Another plus is that it’s super easy to share recipes. If someone asks, just find the requested recipe and forward it along to your friend. Boom, done.

How to Organize Your Recipes with Gmail

The basic premise is that you email recipes to yourself and save them in a special folder in Gmail. Though fairly straightforward, here’s a detailed description of how to go about it.

1. Scroll down the left sidebar of Gmail and click on “Create a New Label.” Type “Recipes” into the box under “Please enter a new label name” and then click on “Create” to create the digital folder where you can gather your emailed recipes.

2. Start a new email and enter the recipe you want to save. If it’s online, simply cut and paste it into the body of the email. If it’s an old family recipe, then take the time to type it out or snap a photo of the handwritten recipe.

3. Now it’s time to organize your recipe within the email. Warning, it’s about to get a little OCD! First, put the recipe title in the subject line of the email. Then, organize the recipe in the body of the email using the following format: Ingredients, Preparation, Tags, Source, and Link.

Tags are like hashtags or keywords that will help you find a recipe and can be as detailed as you want them to be. You might tag a recipe with the meal (breakfast, lunch, or dinner) or recipe type (like starter, main dish, side dish, or dessert). You could even include key ingredients.

Since this is all a little esoteric, here’s an example of what a recipe looks like. Bonus! This is a Guamanian recipe from my mom’s side of the family that’s pretty darn tasty.

Chicken Kelaguen

Ingredients
6-8 pieces of chicken (legs and thighs preferred)
1 small yellow onion
2-4 lemons
Small bunch of green onions
1 fresh coconut (optional)
1 serrano pepper (optional)

Preparation
Salt and pepper chicken to taste. BBQ chicken on grill until just barely cooked through (don’t worry, the lemon juice will cook it the rest of the way). Take chicken off grill and let cool. Separate meat from the bone and chop into fine pieces.

Finely chop onion and mix with the chopped chicken. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. If you have access to a fresh coconut, halve the coconut and grate it with a hand grater. Add the grated coconut into the mixture. You may also add in finely chopped peppers if you want a little heat.

Cover and allow to rest in fridge for a few hours. Garnish with sliced green onions before serving.

Tags: LUNCH, DINNER, BBQ, CHICKEN, GUAMANIAN
Source: Family Recipe
Link: N/A

4. Finally, email the recipe to yourself and drag it to the “Recipes” label in your Gmail sidebar.

Et voilà! That’s how you get your first recipe into Gmail. Continue and repeat until you have all your favorites saved via email.

Once your done, you’ll always have your favorite recipes at your fingertips whether you are cooking at a friend’s house, whipping up a meal on vacation, or in the middle of Trader Joe’s trying to remember what you need for your favorite dish.

Do you have a method to organize your recipes? If so, do you store them online or prefer an analog style?

Why You Need a Cheese Dome

August 16, 2016

Why You Need a Cheese Dome | modernfrenchblog.com

In the United States, storing cheese is not that big of a deal.

Here you can re-wrap that cheddar in the packaging it came in or throw a hunk of cheese into a Tupperware. Heck, you can even get cheese in a can and it will probably keep for…well…eternity.

However, in a country like France where there are more than 350 types of cheeses, you can imagine they take their cheese storage seriously. Hours of research revealed a super fancy (and super expensive) wrapping paper, some very strong opinions about plastic wrap, and one tip to leave it on a windowsill as long as you live in a colder climate. In a word, cheese storage can be very complique.

Why You Need a Cheese Dome

Enter the cheese dome aka the laidback, low maintenance queen of the cheese storage world. It’s sturdy, reusable, and looks just as nice in your fridge as it does on your table.

A cheese dome also creates the perfect climate for your favorite fromage. The bell-shaped curve of the glass top allows some humidity to form within the air of the cheese dome. This atmosphere mimics the cold, slight dampness of a cheese cave.

Most importantly, a cheese dome allows your cheese to breathe. See, there are million bacteria that work hard to make your cheese tasty. Suffocating those little guys can cause bad mold to grow quickly or, worse, can lead to an ammonia -like smell. Quelle horror!

How to Use a Cheese Dome

Cheese domes are best for soft, semi-soft, and washed rind cheese. This includes cheese like Brie, Camembert, Havarti, Basque cheese, Gouda, and others.

For the record, we’ve kept all different types of cheese in our cheese dome from fresh goat cheese to Parmesan and it always seems to work well. The only cheese I would avoid are ones packed in liquid like fresh mozzarella or feta.

Keep your cheese dome on a shelf in fridge. Before serving, take it out of the fridge and leave it on a counter for 1-2 hours. This allows your cheese to come to room temperature, which inevitably enhances the taste. It also allows softer cheeses to get back to their original texture (i.e. helllllo creamy goodness).

Where to Buy a Cheese Dome

Currently, we own this marble beauty from Crate and Barrel. The white marble is on trend and really does look pretty against our wood table. My only complaint is that the marble is a bit heavy.

You could also go for a cheese dome with a wooden base like this one, this modern one, or this traditional one. However, moisture can pool on the base and eventually crack the wood.

Complaining and slightly dissatisfied with all types of available cheese domes…c’est très français, non? Since this post is quickly turning into the worst praise of the cheese dome ever, let me turn a corner here.

The Conclusion about Cheese Domes

While the initial outlay of $60-70 may seem steep, a cheese dome can last many years. This makes the cost-per-use dirt cheap. And as we already covered, they are easy to take care of and do double duty as both storage vessel and serving platter.

That said, the most exciting thing about owning a cheese dome is that you can fill it with wedge upon wedge of glorious cheese. From strong blue cheese to a mellow gouda and satisfying triple cream brie, they’ll be waiting for you in the fridge stored at the perfect temp and humidity.

P.S. Get the best cheeses from Trader Joe’s for to store in your cheese dome and devour later on.

Best Music for Your Dinner Party

July 19, 2016

Best Music for Your Dinner Party | modernfrenchblog.com

The table is set, dinner is made, and guests are arriving when it hits you: You forgot the music. If you are like me, then you have the best intentions to make a playlist that matches the musical tastes of your guests AND the cuisine you’re cooking. But if you are also like me, a lot of other dinner party things get in the way of that.

Good news is that you don’t have to worry about le musique at your dinner parties anymore thanks to apps, streaming, and the wonderful world of the internet. Here are four easy ways to set the mood with some music.

FIP App

Short for France Inter Paris, everything they play is laidback enough to give your dinner party conversation priority, but unique enough that people notice. What’s more, they have a knack for mixing genres and can easily switch from rock to French pop and then opera (yes, opera). We typically play the live stream, but you can choose one of the playlists like reggae for your next bbq or jazz for a fancier affair.

Delicieuse Musique App

Kind of like FIP’s cooler and younger sibling, this French-based music app offers up the best electronic music out there including house, disco, lounge, and more. You can stream direct or choose from one of their playlists. We have the best luck by clicking into the jukebox section and playing Happy or Excited.

KCRW Radio App

As a diehard KCRW fan, I am totally biased when I say that they are one of the best public radio stations in the nation. Why not find out for yourself? Download their app and tap on over to Eclectic24 for a mix of indie rock, laidback electronica, and other tunes.

Django Reinhardt Playlist

Django Reinhardt was a Belgian-born French guitar player who rocked the world with his hot jazz style back in the 40s and 50s. Download “Douce Ambiance” and “Django in Rome” to play on a continuous loop. Alternatively, you can stream his albums from Spotify or find a Django playlist on YouTube. His music is fun and upbeat but also appropriate for all ages, which makes it great for meals with older friends and family.

P.S. Some tips for last-minute entertaining and a dinner party menu with a French vegan theme.

21 Best French Products at Trader Joe’s

July 12, 2016

21 French Products at Trader Joe's | modernfrenchblog.com

For a Frenchie living stateside, there’s no place like home when it comes to food. But Trader Joe’s comes pretty darn close! Here are twenty-one French products that we stock up on our weekly grocery trips.

1. Pain Rustique: The perfect everyday bread. When the French family comes to town, we go through a loaf in less than two days.

2. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter: Creamy, salty, and so wonderfully buttery. It’s also $1-2 cheaper at Trader Joe’s than other grocery stores.

3. Haricots Vert: Small, skinny, tender green beans. When steamed, they make an easy (and healthy!) side dish.

4. Crème Fraîche: France’s lighter and more delicate answer to sour cream. A dollop goes a long way in soups and sauces.

5. Potatoes: Steamed, fried, baked, or mashed, the potato is a staple in the French kitchen and an easy side dish in any meal.

6. Dijon Mustard and Whole Grain Mustard: Just like Americans love our ketchup, the French love their mustard. The Dijon packs a punch while the whole grain is a bit mellower.

7. Cheese: Hard rind, ooey gooey, mild, and stinky…the selection of cheese at Trader Joe’s is solid and affordable. You can check out a list of the five best cheeses here.

8. Truffle Mousse Pate: “Tastes like meat butter,” said our cheating vegetarian friend. She’s right, it’s buttery, creamy, and meaty. Sounds gross but it’s glorious, I promise.

9. Salame Secchi: Though actually Italian, this salami is a close cousin to a French saucisson sec and it’s always the first thing to go on the appetizer plate when we entertain.

10. Cornichons: Sour and crunchy pickles in a miniature size. They go well with charcuterie or pâté and a nice glass of red wine, bien sûr.

11. Belgian Endives: Part of the chicory family, this veggie has a bitter-yet-sweet flavor. Healthy folks will chop, dress lightly, and serve as a salad. Unhealthy? Google endive and ham gratin.

12. Trimmed Leeks: Famously used in soups and stews, leeks are a sweeter and milder version of an onion. I also like them roasted with olive oil or topped with sauce gribiche.

13. Handsome Cut Potato Fries: Trying hard to avoid any references to Freedom Fries, but whoops, it just happened. These frites go particularly well with steak or a big pot of mussels cooked in white wine.

14. Red Wine Vinegar: In a country full of wine, apparently life sometimes gives you vinegar. This vinegar is a great as a vinaigrette base or as way to add umami to braised meats or stews.

15. Shallots: The refined and sophisticated cousin to the trusty onion. Many French recipes opt for the delicate taste of the shallot rather than the intensity of a yellow or red onion.

16. Fresh Herbs: French cuisine may be based in butter, cream, and carbs, but fresh herbs are its culinary exclamation point. Thyme is especially popular in French recipes.

17. European Style Plain Whole Milk Yogurt: A daily staple for most French folks. It’s typically eaten at breakfast, as a snack at goûter, or at the end of the meal as a substitute for dessert.

18. Dark Chocolate: Though the French have included chocolate in famous desserts like chocolate mousse and chocolate éclairs, many prefer to savor dark chocolate one square at a time.

19. Raspberry Tarte: Simple, straightforward, and delicious. Keep this one or the pear tarte in the freezer for an easy dessert at your next dinner party.

20. Dark Coffee: A strong, rich coffee that’s perfect for your café au lait. At only $4.99, it’s a great value for the high quality.

21. Macarons à la Parisienne: Made of meringue, almond flour, and magic, macarons are as tasty as they are photogenic. These satisfy a craving or make a sweet finale to a heavy meal.

P.S. Trader Joe’s is a great place to pick up wine and some books about French cookery.

Dinner Party Menu: French Moroccan Meal

April 26, 2016

True to textbook definition, I am a non-confrontational person. So when presented with the tangled complication of French-Moroccan relations, I choose to take the easier route: a dinner party menu that melds Moroccan cuisine with French beverages.

The Menu

Apéritif
Pistachios
Pernod Ricard

Main Dishes
Lamb Tagine with Chickpeas and Apricots
Cous Cous with Fresh Herbs
Moroccan-Style Carrots

Wine
Famille Perrin Côtes du Rhône

Dessert
Pomegranate Sorbet

Dinner Party Menu: French Moroccan Meal | modernfrenchblog.com

It’s not very Moroccan to drink alcohol, so I chose a French aperitif for this dinner party menu. Pernod Ricard is pastis, which is an anise-flavored liquor that mildly tastes like black licorice. You typically pour a finger or two into a glass and add water until it’s a light yellow color. Ice is optional. The semi-sweet taste goes perfectly with the salty, roasted pistachios.

Dinner Party Menu: French Moroccan Meal | modernfrenchblog.com

Just like the beet bourguignon from the last dinner party menu, making the tagine a day ahead improves the flavor and also frees up time the day of your dinner party. The combination of sweet and savory in this recipe will blow your mind. If you’re not crazy about lamb, you can swap it out for chuck roast beef or chicken thighs.

Dinner Party Menu: French Moroccan Meal | modernfrenchblog.com

Pair the tagine with a simple cous cous. Just cook the cous cous according to the instructions on the box and add freshly chopped parsley, cilantro, and mint. The Moroccan-Style Carrots are a breeze to make and its bright, clean flavor really pops against the complicated, depth of the tagine.

To wash it all down, we choose a good cheap French Côtes du Rhône wine that is $7.99 at Trader Joe’s. It’s red, full-bodied, and is a nice easy-going sidekick to the spicy flavors of Moroccan food. If you can’t find a good Côtes, you could drink a Rioja, and if you make the chicken tagine, a Sauvignon Blanc or a French rosé would be a great choice.

And finally, dessert! Ask your guests to bring a small tub of pomegranate sorbet (or whatever the store has in stock) and you’ll have the perfect ending to this French-Moroccan meal.

Bon appétit!