Saturday, October 31, 2009

French? Fantastique!

One of my great pleasues in life is spending time with old friends over a few bottles of good wine, great conversation and of course, delicious food. Last night my gorgeous friends Justin and Marek joined Michael and I for a long overdue catch up over a french inspired meal (see, watching Julie and Julia at the cinema the other day has brought out the francophile in me!) I was fortunate to have the day off, so I had the luxury of plenty of time. As well as the shopping and dinner preparations, I also took the opportunity to make a batch of chicken stock - I used some on the day but also put some in the freezer to use later. It is such an easy thing to do if you have time - home made stock has a flavour that a mass produced, bought product just can't match. I do keep commercial stock in the pantry but there is nothing like one that you have made yourself.

So, what did I cook? I decided to include a couple of french classics as well as some of my own dishes with a french twist. I consulted my trusty beaten up copy of Larousse Gastronomique for inspiration and came up with the following menu.

Spinach, cheese and chive souffle
Watercress and radish salad with toasted hazelnuts and garlic prawns (served with a Dijon dressing)
Coq au vin with potato galette and sauteed asparagus
Rhubarb and strawberry meringue parfait

I have never cooked a souffle before so I was a bit nervous about it. I have never been someone who really uses recipes - I prefer to cook by taste and touch and to let my instincts guide me. With a dish like a souffle however, you pretty much need to follow a recipie. I actually found it hard to do what I was told (I can already hear my mum saying - what's new?!) but the result was absolutely beautiful. Light as air and delicious. Unfortunately, in my haste to get the souffles straight from the oven to the table before they start to deflate, I forgot to take a photo of them. Sorry everyone. I do think that they deserve a blog entry of their own, so I will make them again and post the recipe and photos when I do (very soon, I promise!)

The next course was a light salad - quite simple but full of flavour and great textures. I combined watercress, thinly sliced radish, toasted hazelnuts and prawns that I marinated in olive oil, garlic and paprika. The dressing was olive oil, a touch of honey, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. This dressing combo works well with many kinds of salads and is a real favourite. The crunch of the hazelnuts was really delightful and there is a great contrast of nuttiness and the peppery taste of the radish and watercress.

The main course was the classic Coq au vin. I prepared this earlier in the day and let it cook for a long time. At the last moment, I removed the tender chicken from the pot and finished the sauce off with a splash of cream and then let the sauce reduce and thicken. I based the recipe on one of the versions of Coq au vin in Larousse Gastronomique but tweaked it a little (if you are interested, it is the Madame Maigret's recipe. It is listed in the book under Coq au vin)

My guests really loved the tenderness of the chicken and the rich, moreish sauce. I served the chicken with lovely fresh asparagus which I sauteed with just a touch of sea salt and pepper. I also made a potato galette - a layered cake of potato and leek that I cooked for a very long time until the potato was deeply caramelised and crisp on top. To make the galette, you slice the potato very thinly and layer it with sliced leeks. Season each layer with pepper and a small amount of salt, brushing the layers with a little melted butter. I used a cake tin lined with baking paper to cook it in.

For dessert, I revisited a dish that regular readers will remember from back in July - a parfait of rhubarb, meringue and strawberries. I had saved a batch of the rhubarb/strawberry mixture from back in July and had frozen it, so it is the same mixture you will see in the photos for my entry on the 25th July. Check out my archives from July for the recipe. I used delicious organic cream on the top this time with some vanilla extract and a touch of caster sugar.

The boys and I all had a wonderful evening - there was plenty of laughter and great conversation, as well as some very good red wine provided by the generous Justin and Marek. I love my friends :)

I was very happy with how the four dishes worked together and even happier to have conquered my very first souffle. Julia Child would have been proud :) In the words of the great lady herself - Bon appetit!!!


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