In my proposal, I wrote the the following: "I am currently doing a personal challenge on my blog called "50 Countries, 1 Year." In the challenge, I create 50 recipes (or meals), one from each country of my choosing. Of course, I feel that some countries deserve extra attention when it comes to their cuisine. I did this with Italy, and quickly found out that I *could* spend much more creating a special meal than I *should*. Because of this, I would really like 24x24's help with one of my other "special" country experiences: France. While I don't think that French food is anything earth-shatteringly original (and certainly not after the release of Julie & Julia), I think that creating a solely French multicourse meal for my 50 Countries challenge is somewhat unique."
The menu went like this:
-Baguettes with Camembert
-Tarte au Pistou
-Roast Chicken with Gratin Dauphinois
-Profiteroles with Coffee Cream
-Lots of French wine
With the Foodbuzz Stamp of Approval, I spent a few weeks fine tuning the menu and flow of the meal, and all of yesterday shopping (three different places!) and creating it. From start to finish, I spent 10 hours yesterday working on this meal. All I can say is: My feet hurt. Oh! And that it went AWESOMELY and everyone loved it and we had a super amazing wonderful time that may or may not have ended in a toast to Foodbuzz for making it happen. :)
The best thing that I did the night before was write up an extensive game plan for the next day's preparations. I had morning stuff (i.e. set out slices of baguettes so they will be stale by the time you make the soup, fry bacon and set aside the fat, make pate brisee, make profiteroles, etc), and afternoon stuff (i.e. prep chicken, assemble tart, etc). I found the actual timing really difficult. Fortunately, I had my lovely fiance to help talk me through it and settle on when to put things in the oven. It all worked out really well timing-wise, and I was able to both put things out on the table at a reasonable pace AND eat with my guests. Whew!
Our guests began with a (store bought) baguette, camembert, and locally made, spreadable goat cheese.
Though it was my original intent to serve the Tarte au Pistou after the soup and salad, it made more sense to cook it just before everyone arrived and to serve it on the heels of bread and cheese.
Originally, I started with a recipe for this tart that included eggs and cream. But it was a French recipe with unclear directions, and it made me nervous. I then found that many "Tartes au Pistou" did not actually include eggs or cream, but rather just pistou, tomatoes, and goat cheese. Well! That's a lot less nerve wracking. So, I cobbled together a recipe from a few different sources, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. The result? Many "yummy noises" from around the table.
Tarte au Pistou (modified from Food & Wine and Marmiton)
-1 prepared (uncooked) Pate Brisee (recipe follows)
-2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
-1/8 cup olive oil
-1 clove garlic, chopped
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/2 of a fresh tomato, grated
-a few pinches shredded mozzarella and parmesan
-3-4 large tomatoes, sliced into rounds with the seeds removed
-4 oz log goat cheese, cut into 7 rounds
-Herbes de Provence for sprinkling
-Olive oil for drizzling
1. In a food processor, put basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, tomato, and cheese. Puree until mostly smooth. This is the "Pistou."
2. Preheat oven to 400.
3. Spread pistou evenly over the bottom of the tart.
4. Put down 2-3 layers of tomatoes over the pistou.
5. Put goat cheese over the tomatoes.
6. Sprinkle with herbes de provence, drizzle olive oil over everything.
7. Bake for 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven. Serve hot.
Pate Brisee (from Joy of Baking)
-2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon (4 grams) salt
-1 tablespoon (14 grams) granulated white sugar
-1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.54 cm) pieces
-1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 - 120 ml) ice water
1. In a food processor, place the flour, salt, and sugar and process until combined. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal (about 15 seconds). Pour 1/4 cup (60 ml) water in a slow, steady stream, through the feed tube until the dough just holds together when pinched. Add remaining water, if necessary. Do not process more than 30 seconds.
2. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and gather it into a ball. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, flatten each portion into a disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour before using. This will chill the butter and allow the gluten in the flour to relax. At this point you can also freeze the dough for later use.
3. For each disk of pastry, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to fit into a 8 or 9 inch (20 to 23 cm) tart pan. To prevent the pastry from sticking to the counter and to ensure uniform thickness, keep lifting up and turning the pastry a quarter turn as you roll (always roll from the center of the pastry outwards to get uniform thickness). To make sure it is the right size, take your tart pan, flip it over, and place it on the rolled out pastry. The pastry should be about an inch larger than your pan.
4. When the pastry is rolled to the desired size, lightly roll pastry around your rolling pin, dusting off any excess flour as you roll. Unroll onto the top of your tart pan. Never pull the pastry or you will get shrinkage (shrinkage is caused by too much pulling of the pastry when placing it in the pan). Gently lay in pan and with a small floured piece of pastry, lightly press pastry into bottom and up sides of pan. Roll your rolling pin over top of pan to get rid of excess pastry. With a thumb up movement, again press dough into pan. Roll rolling pin over top again to get rid of any extra pastry. Prick bottom of dough (this will prevent the dough from puffing up as it bakes). Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to chill the butter and to rest the gluten.
5. To prebake the tart shell: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line the unbaked pastry shell with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Fill tart pan with pie weights or beans, making sure the weights are to the top of the pan and evenly distributed over the entire surface. Bake crust for 20 to 25 minutes or until the crust is dry and lightly browned. Remove weights and cool crust on wire rack. Proceed with desired recipe that calls for a pre-baked shell.
-Makes two - 9 inch (23 cm) tart shells.
I made the Soupe a'Lail in advance and reheated it. This was a very good idea, as reheating took all of 5 minutes. While it was reheating, I was able to place bread in the bowls and get the Gruyere shredded. Brilliant! Oddly, the seasoning of Soupe a'Lail reminded me somewhat of Top Ramen's seasoning. Apparently Top Ramen is seasoned with tons of garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley. Who knew? Anyway, this was a very tasty soup that everyone loved (though, hilariously, no one suspected that the floaty bits were egg!). I felt that it was transformed from good to great by the addition of bread and cheese.
Soupe a'Lail (from Traditional French Food)
-1 litre (4 cups) of chicken stock
-8 cloves of garlic, minced
-75g or 3oz of duck fat (**I, of course, do not have duck fat lying around. So, I used some of the bacon fat I reserved during my preparations.**)
-2 eggs, separated
-1 bouquet garni (**Fresh thyme, bay leaf, and parsley, with a sprinkle of dried herbes de provence. See my hilarious 'bouquet' method below.**)
-salt & pepper
-4-6 slices of stale bread toasted
-75g or 3oz of grated cheese (**I used Gruyere. It was amazing.**)
1. Bring the stock to the boil.
2. Fry the garlic in the bacon fat, then add to the stock.
3. Add the bouquet garni and simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Remove the bouquet garni.
5. Beat the egg whites lightly and add to the soup.
6. As soon as they have set remove from the heat.
7. Whisk some of the soup with the egg yolks a bit at a time, then pour into the rest of the soup.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Put a slice of the stale, toasted bread in the bottom of each bowl, and cover with grated cheese. Then pour the soup over it, and serve.
-Technically serves 4, but I got 6 decent-sized servings out of it.
Salade Lyonnaise is commonly considered to be one of the most delicious salads ever invented. And it's not difficult to see why. What's not to love about what is, essentially, a Bacon & Egg Salad? From the sharp taste of hot red wine vinegar, to the bitterness of the endives, the crunchy bacon and croutons, the silky poached egg, and the downright decadence of using bacon fat as part of the dressing, this is one amazing salad.
Salade Lyonnaise (from My-French-House)
For the salad:
-1 small head curly endive, washed and torn into bite-size pieces
-8 oz. bacon, cut into lardons (1/4" strips)
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-6 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
-Fine sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
For the croutons:
-3 1/2-inch slices of a French boule, crusts removed, cut into cubes
-2 teaspoons olive oil
For the poached eggs:
-1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. To make the croutons: Toss the bread cubes with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and peppr. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake, turning once, about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and reserve. (**NOTE: Obviously, I did this in advance.**)
3. To poach the eggs: Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the white vinegar. Break each egg into a small cup. Gently slide the eggs, one at a time into the boiling water. Cook until the whites are just set, about 4 minutes. Lift the eggs out of the water with a slotted spoon. Place in a bowl of warm water to keep warm while finishing the salad.
4. To finish the salad: Place the endive into a bowl. Fry the bacon until lightly browned. Discard all but 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Add the oil and heat. Pour over the endive and toss well. The heat should wilt the leaves slightly. (**NOTE: Since I made the bacon in advance, I simply put the reserved fat in a skillet with the oil and reheated. No biggie.**)
5. Add the vinegar into the hot pan and cook until it has been reduced by half. Pour over the salad and toss again. Taste for seasoning, add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
6. Divide the endive among 4 plates. Sprinkle with the bacon and croutons. Place a poached egg on top and serve immediately.
At this point in the evening, I said, "Let's take pictures of you all at the "Halfway Point." There was a slight pause of horror. "We're only...halfway?" Evidently, a suggestion to pace themselves would've been helpful.
It was nice to have this bit of time where the chicken and gratin were in the oven and I didn't have to do a thing except socialize and catch up on wine drinking. Fortunately, the Roast Chicken and Gratin Dauphinoise came out beautifully. This is my standby recipe for Roast Chicken. It is the most wonderful recipe--so simple, healthy, and utterly delicious. The Gratin Dauphinoise recipe was suggested by my friend Lauren, whose parents make it often. I was told by Jill that she'd recently been to Idaho, tried a lot of potatoes (and as such considered herself something of a "Potato Connoisseur"), and these were "Damn Good Potatoes."
Lemon-Garlic Roast Chicken (from Cooking Light)
-4 lb. whole chicken
-1 tsp. kosher salt (or sea salt)
-1/2 tsp. pepper
-1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence (**NOTE: This is my addition, so it's optional, but HIGHLY recommended.**)
-8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
-1 small lemon, quartered
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Remove giblets and neck. (**NOTE: So, I bought this chicken at the Farmer's Market in Urbana. I was all happy to buy a grass-fed, cruelty-free chicken. WELL. It was a surprise to me to learn that happy chickens still have all their entrails. Fortunately, my dearest Greg is a biologist, and had no qualms about taking out all the innards. I have enough trouble with the next steps, as well as the handling of an entire carcass, as it is. No handling of organs for me, thanks.**)
3. Trim excess fat. Starting at the neck cavity, loosen skin from breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat.
4. Combine salt, pepper and herbes de provence in a small bowl. Put salt mixture under loosened skin. Lift wing tips up and over back and tuck under chicken. Place lemon and garlic in body cavity. Place chicken breast-side down on a broiler pan. (**NOTE: At this point, I always have a little remaining spice mixture. I rub that onto the back, and squeeze lemon juice over the whole shebang.**)
5. Bake at 400, or until meat thermometer reaches 165 when stuck in thigh (+/- 1 hour).
6. Let stand for 10 minutes, remove skin if you so desire.
Gratin Dauphinoise (from Lauren's Parents/Epicurious/Julia Child)
-2 cups heavy cream
-2 cups half and half
-1 clove garlic pureed
-1 each bay leaf
-2 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes thinly sliced
-4 tablespoons swiss cheese grated (**Lauren suggested, and I agree, that you use Gruyere)
1. Pour 1.5 cups of each of the cream and half & half into a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in the garlic, salt & pepper, and the bay leaf. Drop the potatoes into the cream; when they are all in, add more cream if necessary to cover by one inch.
2. Preliminary cooking - 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Bring to below the simmer and maintain at just below the simmer for an hour or more until tender. Check frequently to be sure they are not bubbling (will curdle the cream) or sticking.
3. Into the baking dish. When tender, correct the seasoning and turn into a lightly butter baking dish. Spread on the grated cheese.
4. Final baking - 20 min. at 425. Set in the upper middle level of the preheated oven (425 deg.) and bake until bubbling hot and lightly browned. Do not overcook or the potatoes will be dry.
The final stretch was the hardest, I must say. After eating 5 courses, I really just wanted to lie down (preferably with the wine glass still in hand). But, I knew that I had to rally and finish making the Pièce de Résistance: Profiteroles with Coffee Cream.
Earlier in the day, I made the Profiteroles. It was my first time making choux pastry. The making of choux pastry is extremely easy: You put a couple ingredients in a sauce pan, stir until it forms a ball, remove from heat, add eggs, mix, and BAM! Choux pastry.
It was the next step that got...sticky. For profiteroles (for some reason I can't fathom), you have to stuff the choux pastry into a pastry bag and pipe it out into mounds. This was also my first time using a pastry bag. I definitely should've had Greg help me. I started by getting the tar-like pastry on my hands from trying to fill it in the bag one-handed with a rubber spatula. You then twist the bag shut and start piping. But the squeezing action made it come out the top of the bag and onto my hands. By the time I was done, my hands AND the entire outside of the pastry bag were covered in choux pastry. I was worried that more pastry had gotten on me than the baking sheet. It was a chouxsaster.
But, to my delight, 20 minutes later the pitiful mounds of goo had transformed into beautiful round puffs. "Who can explain the magic of science?!" I asked Greg, "Certainly not me or you!" See, it's funny because he's a Scientist.
I used a recipe for the Profiteroles and the chocolate sauce from Epicurious. Their recipe uses coffee ice cream as the filling. But I got the idea in my head to make coffee-laced chantilly cream as the filling, by way of coffee-flavored liqueur. And why stop there? I also boozed up the chocolate sauce. It was intensely delicious.
Profiteroles with Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Sauce and Chantilly Cream (modified from Epicurious)
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
-3/4 cup water
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
-3 large eggs
For chocolate sauce:
-1/2 cup sugar
-1 cup heavy cream
-7 ounce fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
-1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
-1 tablespoon coffee liqueur (optional)
For chantilly cream:
-2 cups cold heavy whipping cream
-1/2 cup granulated sugar
-1 teaspoon coffee liqueur
1. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.
2. Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.
4. Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag and pipe 18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.
5. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.
6. Heat sugar in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling pan occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.
7. Remove from heat, then add cream and a pinch of salt (mixture will bubble and steam). Return to heat and cook, stirring, until caramel has dissolved.
8. Remove from heat and add chocolate, whisking until melted, then whisk in vanilla and coffee liqueur (if using). Keep warm, covered.
9. Using a cold metal bowl, pour in heavy cream, sugar, and coffee liqueur. With an electric mixer, beat until soft peaks form.
10. Halve profiteroles horizontally using a sharp knife (**NOTE: It helps to poke directly through the profiterole, then use a light downward sawing motion--you must be gentle!**). Fill bottoms with a large dollop of cream, and replace tops. Using a tablespoon, pour warm chocolate sauce generously over the top.
-Makes 18 profiteroles, or about 6 servings.
And for fun, here are some reactions to the profiteroles. I would definitely say they stole the show.
It was a wonderful evening.