A French Dinner Party

Here I am, practically two weeks later, sitting at the same table where our French Dinner Party took place. Still reminiscing and still doing a terrible job of posting more than a week apart in time. However, I would truly be remiss not to post about this evening of fun and memory-making with some of our very favorite friends.

My sister and my mom traveled to France earlier this summer and I suppose that is where a portion of the impetus came from, but there are so many things about French cuisine that lend themselves so easily to entertaining and enjoying your company and food while still being able to prepare the meal. Since we have had our own place and it is very possible that entertaining will be one of my very favorite things to do. Period. I asked Shane if we could throw a French themed dinner party. He acquiesced without much effort on my part, a dinner party means good food that he gets to eat and enjoy, too.

So I started planning… pretty much immediately. Having events like this to look forward to add so much life to my demeanor and really act as an incredible creative outlet, thank goodness Shane is so supportive of my kind of expensive, but always delicious passions.

Searching online for traditional French coursed meals, traditional French dinner, traditional French dinner party, and any variation in between believe it or not, turn up not a lot of information and drastically varying results. So I picked and chose things I liked the most, orders that made sense, a meal that would allow me to plan ahead and end up enjoying the majority of my evening talking and enjoying my time with our friends.

Le Menu
Le Menu

We began with the L’Aperitif (before dinner drink), a lovely, dry Prosecco to toast the evening.

This was accompanied by two kinds of Hors-d’oeuvres; Mushroom puff-pastry wheels & Toasted Goat cheese Crostini with Basil and Red Onion Jam.

Both were delightful, both were insanely easy… If you’re going to make one the puff-pastry wheels are sure to be a crowd pleaser, IF your crowd likes mushrooms. I actually preferred the crostini, I thought the jam had a distinct sweet and savory flavor that lent itself nicely to complementing the tang and saltiness of the goat cheese, and the basil added that final bright, fresh finish. Oh. I would just like to have these again.

The thought of an Onion Jam weirded me out a bit too to start, but really this is a brilliant topping for any crostini/cheese/herb pairing. It would be delightful with a slice of pear and blue cheese if you are into that. It would also be incredible with a hard cheddar and some bright mint. So, so many options with this little guy AND (as with many things I made for our dinner party) it can be made ahead!

From my new favorite online recipe site: Food52

                                       

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For the red onion jam
  • medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup red wine
  • tablespoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
For the crostini

  • baguette
  • log fresh goat cheese (depending on how much you like you may want either a 4oz. log or an 8 oz. log)
  • 30-40 small basil leaves, rinsed and dried (some how I did not need this much basil… then again, I did not have a full-sized baguette. Basically the moral here is that you should have as many leaves as you need for however many pieces of bread you slice/crostini you want to make.
  1. To make the jam, cook the onions, butter, sugar, salt and pepper in a covered saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 30 minutes. Add the wine and vinegar and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature before using. The jam may be prepared as much as two weeks in advance and refrigerated. (Makes about 2 cups jam.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the baguette thinly on the diagonal and arrange on a baking sheet. Cut the goat cheese into 1/4-inch slices (unwaxed dental floss works well for this) and top each baguette slice with a basil leaf, followed by a slice of cheese. Bake the crostini for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown lightly. Top each toast with a small dollop of red onion jam and serve warm.

For the Pinwheels

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The pinwheels I made the night before rolled them, wrapped them, and froze them. Ultimately, it made slicing them into their little pinwheels so much easier on the day of our party. I let them defrost for about 20 minutes, sliced, placed on a baking sheet in the oven, and boy were those little morsels delightful. Everyone raved. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself, can you tell?

This does not make many…so if you are attempting heavy appetizers, I would be sure to double the filling and make both pastry sheets.

  • 12 ounces mushrooms (your choice, I used Portobello), diced finely
  • tablespoons butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • sheet puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package)
  • egg beaten with 3 tablespoons water
  1. In a large sauté pan, melt the butter and add the diced mushrooms, thyme, salt, and pepper. Sauté until the liquid from the mushrooms evaporates and they become a little brown and caramelized. Set aside to cool.
  2. Take the puff pastry sheet and roll it into a uniform rectangle about 10 by 12 inches.
  3. Spread the mushroom filling over the surface of the pastry and then roll it jelly roll-style starting with the long side.
  4. Refrigerate the roll for about 20 minutes before slicing into 1/4-inch rounds. (Or wrap and freeze the roll for later use.)
  5. Place the little pinwheels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and dab each with a little of the egg wash.
  6. Bake at 425° F for 12 to 15 minutes and serve warm.

In true French dinner form, we sat in the ‘lounge’ for an hour or so before we even moved to the dining room.

I dressed up the table a bit with chalk paper adorned with names and place settings from PaperSource, some fresh flowers, and fresh French bread from the bakery.

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Our first course was a light mixed field greens salad with a traditional french vinaigrette.

I love this recipe for vinaigrette. Then again, I love shallot, mustard, olive oil, salt, and vinegar, but I truly cannot express to you just how deeply I love this recipe. Courtesy of David Lebovitz, this dressing will change your life, and so will his post.

But here it is:

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The key here is to use good ingredients.

  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar (we used sherry vinegar because we planned to have sherry as an after dinner drink)
  • 1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon) …I used a bit more
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (this is key; you must find good Dijon) Taste your dressing, you may want more mustard than this. I did!
  • 3 T to 4 T GOOD olive oil

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

2. Mix in the Dijon mustard, then add 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary.

I chopped up some chives and mixed them in with the greens, then tossed with the dressing. This salad was delightful, light, fresh, tangy. Just really good.

Our Plat Principal, the main course, was a traditional Sole Muniere.

Normally I would be skeptical, because I am not an avid lover of fish. I like it, but not fishy fish. I had never had sole, but it was traditional so we were having it… I probably should have thought that one through. BUT it actually turned out quite well. For those of you who are not aware, Sole is a relative of Halibut, so it is also a very light and flaky white fish. In fact, Sole is even more mild and is served in a filet style, where Halibut is much larger and resembles a fish steak. Long story short, this is a very very safe fish to cook with.

This recipe was courtesy of Saveur Cooks Authentic French (borrowed from my mother’s recipe library).

For Clarified Butter:

  • 1 lb. unsalted butter

For Sole:

  • 4 – 14 oz. whole dover sole (I doubled this recipe as there were 8 of us)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour
  • 1 C. clarified butter; see step 1
  • 1 lg russet potato, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 16 tbsp. (2 sticks) utter
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  1. For clarified butter, put butter in a small heavy saucepan over very low heat. Do not stir or allow to come to a boil. When butter has melted, completely skim off foam and carefully pour yellow fat into a clean container, discarding milky sediment on the bottom of the pan. Keep refrigerated. (AGAIN – you can do this ahead!)

I purchased Sole fillets that were ‘pan-ready’ so I did not have to worry about whatever it is you have to do to clean fish.

The cooking goes fast, so do this just as you are ready to serve.

  1. Wipe fish thoroughly and pat dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, shake off any excess.
  2. Pour 1/2 C. clarified butter in each of 2 large skillets set over med-high heat. When butter is just smoking, about 3 mins, place 2 fish into each pan. Quickly place a slice of raw potato under the tail of each fish to raise the thin end up from the heat/prevent overcooking. Brown the fish 3-4 mins on each side, pressing down with a spatula and basting constantly. Add 2 T. of regular butter to each pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and baste for 1 more minute. Transfer to a serving platter to keep warm. Repeat with remaining filets.
  3. Melt remaining 12 T. butter in small skillet over high heat, swirl pan over heat until butter foams and turns light golden. Whisk in lemon juice and pour over sole, coating them completely. Serve fish on a platter garnished with lemon and fresh herbs.

Oops. No pictures. We ate it right up!

Next came Fromage, the cheese course.

Traditionally the French cheese course is served with candied walnuts and honey. I selected a honeyed Chèvre (goat cheese), a Brie de Meaux, and a Roquefort Bleu.

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Now it’s time for dessert! Apple Tartine with Lavender and honey infused crème fraiche.

For the Tartine:

For Pastry:

  • 2 C. flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 9 T. butter, cut into small pieces

For Filling:

  • 3-4 granny smith apples
  • 1/4 C. sugar
  1. For pastry sift flour, salt, and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add butter, I used my fingers, blend butter into flour mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. This takes a few minutes, but you will recognize when it is thoroughly blended. Add up to 6 T. ice water, 1 T. at a time mixing with a fork until dough just holds together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 mins.
  2. Preheat oven to 425. Roll out to dough on a lightly floured surface int a 14″ round. Fit the pastry into a buttered 10″ false-bottomed tart pan (this would be ideal for serving, but since I plated, I just used a tart pan with a non-removable bottom). Take care not to stretch the dough. Roll a rolling-pin across the top of the tart pan to cut off excess pastry. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork.
  3. For filling, peel, core, and thinly slice apples. sprinkle 1 T. sugar across surface of pastry. Working from outer edges toward the center overlap the apple slices in concentric circles, then evenly sprinkle with remaining 3 T. sugar. Bake until edge of tart is golden, about 10 mins. Allow to cool before serving.

For the Crème Fraiche:

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This recipe may seem a little … funky. But oh my goodness is it delightful.

  • 1 C. heavy cream
  • 1/2 C. buttermilk
  • 2 T. dried lavender buds
  • 2 T. dark wildflower honey or other dark honey
  1. Make crème fraîche: pour heavy cream and buttermilk into a clean jar, stir to combine. Add lavender buds and stir again. Let sit uncovered in a window sill, stirring and tasting occasionally for about two days or until thickened and pleasantly tangy. Skeeved out? Don’t be. The acid in the mixture prevents bacteria from growing.
  2. Once the crème fraîche is thick and tangy strain out lavender with a fine mesh sieve. Store in a clean jar in the fridge until use.
  3. When you are ready to serve, lightly whip one cup of the cold crème fraîche by hand with two tablespoons of honey just until it reaches soft peaks.

I served the tart and the crème fraiche separately to let everyone dollop on their own, but I would recommend a hearty plop.

In traditional French dinner style espresso and tea were offered. Following this was a selection of Sherry or Cognac as an after-dinner palate cleanser.

The best part of this evening was enjoying the joining-together of good friends of ours who didn’t know each other well and the wonderful conversations we had into the night when Shane’s sister, Megan, looked down at her watch and asked “Is that what time it is!?” We had gone on for 4 1/2 hours talking, laughing, and enjoying the food and company around us. It was a success on all accounts and I am so thankful to have such a wonderful group of people in my life who enjoy good food and good company!

Until the next post…

Which might be today, but I shouldn’t jinx myself.

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