I love to remind my 25-year-old daughter, Avalon, of the day about 19 years ago when I heard kitchen cabinet doors opening, closing, slamming, and then this -- “MOM! MaaaaaaaM! Where are the Carr’s table water crackers for my Brie?!” Between that sort of food snobbery and her requests for sushi, my then-six year old was well on her way to becoming the professional cook she is now or at least a discerning eater. In honor of Bastille Day on July 14, here are some French foods and dishes we’ve really embraced in the US, including Avalon’s very important Brie cheese.

Brie is very common, of course, a soft cow’s-milk cheese named for the region in France from wence it originated, about 30 miles east of Paris. In the US, we’ve embraced Brie cheese and now offer up filo dough encased and baked versions, the cheese hot and oozing out to be scooped up and spread on a slice of baguette or indeed, a Carr’s table water cracker. Many American cheesemakers have a version of Brie.

There’s plenty more French food we’ve adapted as our very own.

How about charcuterie? From “chair” (meat) and “cuit” (cooked), it covers all sorts of prepared meat items like terrines, pâté, rilettes and confit. In the US, many New American restaurants have meat and cheese plates with influences from not only France, but Italy and many local restaurants make their own.

Macaron has made a big splash recently. These little pastry “sandwiches” are made with a light and slightly chewy meringue with a creamy filling made with buttercream, jam or ganache. While they originated in Venice, Catherine de Medici brought them with her to France when she married Henry II in 1533. The French macaron became what we know it today in the early 1800s and it wasn’t until very recently that US shops took them and did what we Americans love to do — go crazy with flavors. While French macaron are subdued, with the flavor choices like vanilla and lemon with herbs like blueberry, lavender and pistachio but nothing over-the-top, thank goodness, now we have sriracha, Cheetos flavored and wasabi. Slow down, American pastry chefs.

French toast has barely anything to do with France so I’m just going to skip that but how about the croissant? Legends abound about the crescent-shaped pastry. The Oxford Companion to Food mentions that before the early 20th Century they found no recipes for it in any French recipe book. After that, there have been a few references and the origins might date back to 13th century Austria and has evolved to what we know today. In this century we use them for breakfast sandwiches and how can we ever avoid the “cronut”, a donut/croissant hybrid invented by Dominique Ansel that people are nutty enough to stand in line for.

Let’s go on to more savory French culinary pursuits. The Cubano sandwich is all the rage right now, but the Croque Monsieur needs to have its jour au soleil (day in the sun). “Mister crunch” is a sort of opposite world grilled cheese with ham inside bread, usually pain de mie. The top is sprinkled or layered with cheese, like Gruyere, then the whole is baked or fried so the cheese creates a crust. Top it with a fried egg and it’s a Croque Madame if you please.

The origin of French fries is also in dispute, part of a big argument between the Belgians and the French. I associate them more with Belgium and paper cups filled with hot, crisp fries served with mayo. For the French, they’re the pommes frites served alone as a snack or with steak frites so you can dip your fries into the beef juices and back in the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson mentions serving “potatoes served in the French manner” at the White House. In the US, they’re a part of our culinary culture like few other foods have become and of course in New England, we get the French-Canadian poutine which American chefs have doused with everything from foie gras gravy, hot dogs, brisket and pizza ingredients like marinara, mozzarella and pepperoni.

Meat stock, onions, croutons, cheese -- that’s French onion soup and the version we know today did come from France back in the 1700s. Made with beef broth, sweet caramelized onions and a layer of croutons made from a baguette or similar, then Comte cheese all melted under a broiler. That lead to French onion dip somehow, made by an American chef in LA back in the 50s. I guess the cook just wanted it to sound fancy.

More classic French dishes include Coquille St. Jacques, escargot and Coq au Vin. Coq au Vin is quite hearty, braised in red wine with mushrooms, carrots, celery and pearl onions, quite classic for a dish that goes back to ancient Gaul and made popular in the US by the great Julia Child. And you’ll find escargot very infrequently on American menus-- “new American” chefs have yet to embrace the dish and do the crazy, inventive stuff they like to do with a dish but you’ll see it once in awhile. In France, chefs and home cooks will cook them like a clam, really, by taking them out of the shell, then cooking in a broth of garlic, wine and butter. You can bake them with garlic butter, too. They’re then put back into the shell and topped with an herb butter. There are special dishes and tongs for the purpose.

And of course you’re going to drink Champagne, Cognac and Armagnac, but I recommend diving into some Absinthe for a little trip with the green fairy.

I’ll leave you with a great summer recipe for salade niçoise, which originated in Nice, France. Rip tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, tart little niçoise olives, salty anchovies and a touch of olive oil make it perfect for the season. Tuna is also used instead of or in addition to the anchovies. I like to add artichoke hearts and haricot verte as well as sliced radishes or whatever is in season and little potatoes so the whole becomes a summer dinner platter.

Salade Niçoise

Serves 4-6

For the dressing. Drizzle the salad with a nice French olive oil with some lemon, pepper and a touch of salt or try this recipe:

1 clove garlic

Kosher salt, to taste

1⁄3 c. olive oil

2 T.. fresh lemon juice

1 T.. Dijon mustard

1 shallot, minced

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mince garlic and sprinkle heavily with salt. Create a paste with a knife by mixing. Place paste in a bowl and whisk in oil, juice, mustard, shallot, and salt and pepper.

For the salad:

1 lb. tiny new potatoes, boiled until just tender

8 oz. haricot verts, blanched to just tender

12 oz. halved cherry tomatoes or chunks of ripe red tomato.

1⁄2 cup black Niçoise olives

8 small radishes, thinly sliced

8 salt-packed anchovies, rinsed and drained

4 hard-boiled eggs, quartered lengthwise

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

3 (4-oz.) cans quality oil-packed tuna, drained

1⁄2 c. chopped fresh herbs of choice for a garnish


Arrange all ingredients in individual rows on a large serving platter and drizzle the dressing over all. Season with salt and pepper and then sprinkle fresh chopped herbs on top.