Saturday, November 28, 2009

The World's Most Famous Brandy - Cognac

Cognac is not just a drink, it's a city in southwest France that's filled with cobblestone streets, museums and shopping. And, of course, there's also cognac. The town of Cognac sits on the banks of the Charente River, about a three-hour TGV train ride southwest of Paris. The region may be known for its brandy, but you don't have to look far for its other charms.

The pace is enjoyably slow, the climate pleasantly mild. The river winds through the countryside, its tranquil waters reflecting images of vine-covered hillsides, small towns, well-tended farms and weathered châteaux framed by geraniums, pink roses and oleander bushes.

Tours of one of the great Cognac houses: Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin or Courvoisier range from about $10 to $25 --
including tasting... The region's Cognac houses play host to
about 200,000 visitors a year, many of them Americans.

All cognac is brandy, but not all brandy is cognac. Like champagne, cognac has to come from a designated area of France by law —the Charente region near Bordeaux. It is also made according to strict, legal guidelines. Once blended, cognac has to be matured in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The spirit’s quality is measured by the average age of maturation—VS is usually aged 2 years and is perfect for mixing with soda, ginger ale or as part of a cocktail. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) is aged around 4 years and can be enjoyed mixed or neat. The highest grade, XO (Extra Old), is aged a minimum of about 10 years and should be savoured on its own.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Le Soufflé Paris

There are few things more quintessentially French than the soufflé. So, when in Paris…eat lots of them! Many seasoned travelers to Paris know the 1st arrondissement as the district where the Louvre, one of the most famous museums in the world, is located. Yet a fine dining experience awaits you at a small restaurant that is only a ten-minute walk away from the museum.

Named Le Soufflé, the restaurant serves the world-renowned French specialty called the soufflé. This delicate dish is often served as a warm dessert, with chocolate or Grand Marnier as the dominant flavor. But soufflés may also be served as a savory main dish, prepared with meats, vegetables, fish and cheese.

This is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach; one gets the sense that the waiters enjoy parading past carrying soufflé after puffy soufflé, incorporating an element of performance into grandly delivering and preparing the dishes at the table.

Strawberry Soufflé with Sliced Strawberries
Recipe from Epicurious


Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 12-ounce baskets strawberries, hulled
7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
4 large egg whites


Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray 6-cup soufflé dish with vegetable oil spray. Coarsely puree half of berries, 3 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch in processor. Transfer to small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until mixture boils and thickens, about 3 minutes. Whisk in peel. Cool completely.
Slice remaining berries. Transfer to medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar; toss to blend. Beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 3 tablespoons sugar; beat until stiff but not dry. Fold puree into whites in 3 additions. Transfer to prepared dish. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden, about 18 minutes. Serve immediately with sliced berries.