1) Switch to salted butter.
Although for most baking projects, unsalted butter lets you control how much salt you’re using in a recipe, salted butter tastes much better on toast and in certain recipes, such as salted butter caramel and even chocolate sauce! I buy butter with crystals of sea salt kneaded in. You can copy it by working a very generous teaspoon or so of crunchy sea salt into a pound of softened butter.
2) Keep a jar of Dijon mustard on hand at all times.
No French kitchen is without a pot of Dijon mustard in the refrigerator, which is used as a condiment for steaks, for adding to sauces (like the one in this mustard rabbit), and as a base for a simple vinaigrette. Use it quickly; once opened, mustard loses its zingy flavor after a few weeks.
3) Green lentils are your meilleur ami.
Keeping a box of French green lentils on hand means you can make a quick salad or side dish in less than 30 minutes, whenever you want. Simply boil them up (but don’t overcook them!), then toss the warm lentils in vinaigrette or dress them with hazelnut oil. You can cook some diced carrots and onions with the lentils, or add some crisp-cooked bacon when it’s finished. Other additions could include toasted hazelnuts and a handful of herbs. Green lentils are terrific served warm as a side dish, or at room temperature for a full-course salad, with crumbled goat or blue cheese tossed in just before serving.
4) Invest in “finishing salt,” such as fleur de sel.
You might not be used to paying so much for a small container of salt, but a sprinkle of these crunchy crystals over some steamed vegetables or a chocolate tart right before serving takes the flavor to a whole new level. A small container should last you at least a year. (If not, you’re eating too much salt!) I prefer the French fleur de sel de Guérande, although interestingly, Parisians have taken to Maldon salt from the U.K.
5) Switch to cloth napkins.
In addition to being more écologique, cloth napkins make any meal feel a little more special. Even your petit déjeuner (which literally means “break the fast” in French) can be improved with a nice swatch of linen next to your bowl of café au lait; or, use it to wipe up baguette crumbs when you’re all finished.
Photos by James Ransom