Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Menage a Trois a la Rustic French Fare

I have been a really bad member of a supper club ever since I moved, missing the last two occasions (one Italian-themed and the other Oscar party snack-oriented) and even more so my good, foodie friends. So I corralled one member with a newly purchased house and another member who is a great organizer and then myself from afar, and we decided to throw a special dinner this past weekend called Menage a Trois. As menu designer I was looking to create a meal of rustic French fare after spending the last half a year curled up on the couch on many occasions at the Cute Gardener’s house flipping through the pages of Dorie Greenspan’s “From Around my French Table.”

I came up with the following: 

St. Germain cocktails
Assorted French Wines
Mustard Batons
Beef Bourgogne
Haricot Verts
Potato Gratin
Tarte Tatin
Cheese Plate

The concepts behind these dinners are that each person invited signs on to make one of the prescribed menu dishes from scratch; of course, cranked up a bit above the norm with a flourish of their own voice.

As guests arrived, we enjoyed various bottles of French wine and the cocktail of the evening titled the GOLD Standard. Made by one of our illustrious ladies who brought a package of finger tattoo mustaches for us to choose from Pepe Le Pew style, it consisted of St. Germain and pear vodka – strong enough to be a proper cocktail but sweet enough to pair well with the berets and stylish handkerchiefs that dotted the guests’ attires.

We also snacked on my mustard batons – my newest go to recipe for appetizers. They are distinctly French and are basically puff pastry breadsticks with middle sections ripe with Dijon. But because they are so easy, and the possibilities are literally endless (think raspberry jam ones for breakfast, Nutella and cacao nib dusted versions for dessert or olive oil and sea salt powdered varieties for a champagne and salad lunch!), I have become quite fond of the perpetual crowd pleasers.

I also cooked a hearty pot of vichyssoise in a countryside style where the potatoes, leeks and onions were steamed and charred with butter and herbs first to provide a smokier robustness to the normally cream intensified dish. We served this in small wine glasses so that guests to drink the starchy puree without utensils. The starch of the soup was the perfect setting for the fragrant entrée to come.

The beef Bourgogne arrived smoking hot and perfumed with a potent scent of wine on top of bacon notes from the 24 braising the meat had incurred. The delicious stew was ripe with pearl onions, baby carrots and mushrooms – all the makings for the perfect French countryside main dish. 

Alongside that were haricot verts – the green beans painstakingly split in half to expose the textural crunch of the inner seeds, apparently a major step in the classic side dish that can not be side stepped in order for it to be deserving of the term “authentic”. Sprinkled with diced almonds, it was both nutty and green tasting.

The tarte tatin, made by our tart of a host, featured pears instead of the typical apples and delighted in its novelty. Baked under a beautifully imperfect and hilly crust …

… the true caramelized heart of the dish was revealed when turned over and out on a platter. Buttery yet light, dense and sweet simultaneously, the crust provided a nice heft for the juicy and chewy fruit.

And of course … no French feast would be complete without a great cheese plate to accentuate up all the aforementioned indulgences.

I did end up eating leftover beef Bourgogne for the next two mornings, as it is the kind of dish that gets better and better as it ages.

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