When I was invited recently to teach at a cooking school in Orleans, France, I began dreaming of all sorts of wonderful dishes I might make. However, Laurence Herve, owner of Atelier-Cuisine de Laurence, adamantly insisted that whatever I choose "must be American!"
After polling my culinary students, I sent her a long list of typically American foods. She responded by selecting five: Maryland crab cakes with remoulade sauce, Southern fried chicken, pan gravy, creamy mashed potatoes and blackberry cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream.
Once I arrived at Laurence's cooking school, our first task was converting standard American ingredients into metric, which was not difficult with a combination standard-metric scale. Translating an English recipe into French came easily for Laurence, who speaks English fluently.
Perhaps the most interesting part was shopping for our class. For the freshest fruits and vegetables, we visited an open market in Orleans. What a treat for the senses — freshly picked vegetables and aromatic fruits, beautifully arranged in vast displays. Then we headed to the closed market for cheeses and other items not available in the open market.
Still with items on the list to be purchased, we headed for the Metro, a warehouse store much like our Sam's, for staples such as flour and butter. Next, we stopped by a supermarket to pick up a couple of small items. We could have purchased our chicken and crab there, but instead headed to a meat market for the freshest selection.
We purchased chicken parts rather than whole chickens; whole chickens still had head and feet intact as well as some inside parts that would need to be removed. It was a little more than I wanted to deal with, so I convinced Laurence that chicken parts were very American.
We still had one item to purchase that seemed to puzzle Laurence — what were green onions, she inquired? She showed me some young onions about the size of golf balls with overgrown yellowing tops. I explained that we were on the right track, but needed younger onions sometimes called scallions.
Her face lit up — she had seen them in an Asian market. Once there, we found young, tender green onions just right for our crab cakes. It amazed me that green onions were not readily available. Instead, the French tend to use leeks, shallots and onions in their cuisine.
Now that we had all of our groceries purchased, we meandered along narrow streets where bake shops, or patisseries, capturing my attention. In every window were beautiful fruit-studded tarts and tartlets, meringues and ubiquitous madeleines — small shell-shaped cakes. There were plain ones, chocolate ones, orange and lemon-scented ones.
Back in Laurence's kitchen, she stirred up a batch to show me how they were made. Madeleines are baked in molds available in cookware stores. What a treat to serve with ice cream or gelato, or to enjoy with a cup of tea or glass of milk. Of course, I simply had to sample them while they were still warm from the oven. The next day, I enjoyed one with my morning coffee, a perfect way to start a new day in Orleans.
My trip there was the first part of a cultural exchange involving Wichita Area Sister Cities. The second half will occur next April when Laurence will visit Wichita to teach French home cooking at my store, Cooking at Bonnie's Place. I look forward to sharing that experience with you.
For now, try this recipe I've adapted for madeleines. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.