My French Heaven

FOOD, PHOTOGRAPHY & JOIE DE VIVRE IN BORDEAUX, FRANCE

3 simple steps a great host should always follow

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I think the secret to being a great host is quite simple. One principe; three easy steps. Maya Angelou got the principle down for us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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That’s really all there is to it. If you want people to remember a party you hosted, whether it’s a simple gathering in the yard or an elaborate wedding at the Ritz, you have to find ways to make them feel the love ;0) Once you own that principle, you just have to follow the 3 steps I learned from my time working at the Ritz. I have always treated (I think) everyone like this; It is in my nature. But the sequence is important for us all to remember. It takes a little extra effort sometimes just to stay on top of one’s game ;0) Here are the steps:

  1. Provide a warm and sincere welcome: Always welcome people yourself. If the queen of England can do it, so can we all. Use people’s names too. Introduce them to someone you know they’ll have fun talking to, and offer them a drink right away.
  2. Anticipate individual needs: Use what you know about each guest and their preferences. If you don’t know enough about them, ask a person who is close to them. Your goal is to create positive surprise. Admins, life partners, family, friends are ideal CIs! Facebook is a personal favorite of mine! When my now dear friend Melanie and I first met, she was coming to spend two weeks with me in Saint-Emilion. Although she was staying in a very high end hotel, all hotel rooms tend to be quite impersonal. Since I knew how much she loved her little dog Annie, I printed and framed a picture of Annie from an e-mail addressed to me months before. I placed it on her night stand in her hotel room. Of course Melanie loved it. That made her feel more than welcome and I think quite special indeed. She felt and understood right from the beginning how much her wellbeing mattered to me. Of course, the very least we can do, in terms of anticipating needs, is to know what the person is allergic to. I am not just talking about food allergies; Magie may very well be allergic to John and his political views. One should never talk about politics or religion at a dinner party, but you never know. Sitting is always important!
  3. Give a fond farewell: This is where people can feel how genuine your friendship/respect is towards them. This is how people can really tell if you’re all for show or someone who truly cares about them. I was graciously invited to a dinner party last Thursday. It was my nephew Geoffrey’s best friend’s birthday party. Geoffrey now lives almost three hours away from Bordeaux, but of course he drove down to surprise Nicolas. There were many guests present that evening. All of them extremely close to Geoffrey. So of course I was able to spend a few minutes catching up with him, after months apart, but I had to share him with all the other guests. The party went on and it was quite a success. As I was leaving around 1am, I said goodby to everyone. Catherine (we call her bangs because her hairdo resembles one you’d see on a Playmobil action figure), the gracious hostess, escorted me to the door and I was on my way. After just a few steps on the sidewalk outside their home, I heard the door open again and a voice: “Steph, let me walk you to your car. I didn’t get to spend any real time with you!” Yes, it was Geoffrey. He wanted to get at least two minutes of real time together. That small gesture made me feel so damn special!

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Whether I am with my friends or with guests I have never met before, making people feel important and heard and seen is what gives me joy. That’s probably why several of my guests have become life long friends… A good indication that what I do is what I am I guess…

And the beauty of it is that it works quite well the other way around too: it is Jurina’s 40th birthday on Saturday. I can’t stand Jurina. Jurina is allergic to nuts.  Guess what I’ll be serving :0)

Just kidding, I love my beautiful Jurina. She’s the lady with the checkers pants holding her wine glass in the air. Geoffrey is the guy above, with the big stupid hair :0)

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I have beds, I have breakfast and… I have the wine!

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With close to 11000 châteaux and more than 20000 wines around the B&B, you could stay with me for years and never have the same wine for dinner twice :0) Saint-Emilion alone is the size of Burgundy!

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So, as I was saying, I have rooms, and breakfast is waiting for you by the pool! When are you coming to visit?

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What I love about this part of the country is how the old and the new work so well together. There are fantastic new restaurants in the vineyard and great shopping everywhere, but also properties that have been making wine for over 2000 years… There are beautiful people and gorgeous Farmers’ markets, there are…

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OK, I’ll give you a few days to figure out your travel arrangements!

But seriously, I am so looking forward to welcoming you here someday. My work is my passion and my passion, well, is my work. There is nothing that I love more than sharing my love for Bordeaux with fellow bloggers and foodies who I know will appreciate every bit of it at least as much as I do!

See you soon!

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An absolute favorite of mine from the archives of My French Heaven

Stuffed mushrooms

I am soooooooo cheating today. I had already posted this stuffed mushrooms recipe about two years ago. I just didn’t have much time to write something completely new today. Please don’t hate me! ;0)

Stuffed mushrooms are ideal for an aperitif or as a starter and they look really stunning in a plate… The recipe is quite simple and, as such, it is great to introduce younger kids to cooking…

For 8 pieces – 2 to 4 people:

  1. Remove the stems of 8 large Paris (button) mushrooms and keep them (the stems) aside
  2. Peel/clean the hats and boil them in water for about 10 minutes. Take them out and dry them carefully with a paper towel
  3. Sauté the chopped stems with 2 large shallots in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil. Then sear 200g of sausage meat to a nice golden brown. Merge the two preparations together and add a whole egg, a handful of chopped parsley, a clove of garlic (chopped), a handful of grated cheese (comté is best), black pepper, salt and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg.
  4. Fill each cap with the stuffing and place them in a baking dish with a little bit of water and oil at the bottom (not too much). The stuffed side faces up of course. Coat each mushroom with grated cheese.
  5. Place everything in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400°F.

I promise your guests will LOVE this!

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Serve your stuffed mushrooms with a chilled rosé. Or beer, or white wine, or red wine, or bourbon, or milk, or juice, or… ;) Whatever makes you feel good works for me! No food snobs here :0)

OK, we’ll just have to draw the line at foie gras with cheese or sausages dipped in cheap chocolate sauce; but other than that, whatever rocks your boat! Have fun! Enjoy!

Oh, and here are a few flowers to brighten up your day!

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Crème caramel and other old things worth fighting for

Creme caramel

You see, I love my old things, and this morning when Charlotte (my thirty year old VW Golf for those of you who are new to the blog) broke down, I had to decide if she was worth the money and effort to fix her.

The thing about old objects I have owned for so long, is that they constantly bring back memories and special moments like nothing else. Their presence makes me feel safe. Somehow I belong with them and they belong with me. I belong!!! The same goes with people of course. And so it does take a bit of work to keep these things and these special relationships going of course, but I will gladly put up a fight when I need to!

And so yes, my house is more than a century old and its 25 windows and 48 wooden shutters will have to be replaced soon. I’ll just sell a kidney! The stained glass windows are chipped, but I refuse to replace them with just plain glass. The master bedroom took several months to renovate on my own. My friend Ségolène helped me refinish the wooden floors by hand, and so I will keep that old thing too (Ségolène that is). And what about food?! YES I WILL put in the extra effort to prepare my home made crème caramel. It’s tradition! YES, I WILL stand above the stove to color onions in real butter for an hour when my nephews insist that we have onion soup in the middle of Summer when it’s 95° outside. That’s legacy!

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We live in a society where everything and frankly everyone seems to be disposable. If it’s not easy, it’s out…

What’s wrong with making the effort for once to repair grandma’s leather chairs or reproduce one of her old fashioned recipes that takes forever to make? Why not keep the story going for a little while longer?!

Below is my aunt Nicole, who is 73 today, in one of the leather chairs I just mentioned. The next photo is the poor leather chair today.

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And this is my uncle Jean behind old Charlotte’s wheel. The umbrella you say? Don’t ask! We’ll keep uncle Jean a little longer too. He makes me laugh…

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Oh, and I forgot Sirus the cat, who’s soon to be twenty. How many times has my dad asked me why I fought so hard to keep him alive. That cat cost me more in vet bills over the years than it did keeping Charlotte on the road.

My dear Charlotte, here is to your next 300 000 miles!

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By the way, it is a little too hot for onion soup these days, but here is Manée’s recipe for crème caramel. Still though, the soup recipe is here for our Australian friends who are in the middle of Winter ;0): French Onion Soup

Ingredients for crème caramel:

  • 1 pound of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 sticks of vanilla (or vanilla extract, but it’s really nice to have the little black dots inside the finished product. Looks and feels home-made)
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of milk (2% or whole)

Steps:

1. Batter eggs and 5 table-spoons of sugar until mixture gets whiter

2. Make caramel with sugar left (caramel is the easiest thing to make. Just add 4 table-spoons of water to a pound of sugar; but be super careful: first it gets extremely hot, second it turns really dark really fast so keep an eye on it at all times. Your caramel should be the exact color as in my pictures. Too light and it won’t taste like caramel. Too dark and it gets really bitter)

3. Cover the floor of a cake pan with the caramel while it is still in its liquid form. Be careful as caramel hardens really really fast. Make sure the cake pan is made of a glass or glass like material that will withstand extreme heat. Caramel is around 180°C!!

 

4. Boil milk with vanilla and salt

5. Add milk to egg batter while stirring constantly. You don’t want the hot milk to cook the eggs

 

6. Pour mixture into pan

7. Put in bain-marie in the oven at 180°C (360°F) for 30mn (center should not be liquid anymore and jiggle a little). Water of bain-marie should come two third up the pan. You can also use a pressure cooker. In that case, cover the pan with foil and put a plate on top so the steam does not get into the pan. Reduce the flame and cook 9 to 10 minutes after steam comes out off the valve ).

Serve ice-cold!!

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