Saturday, October 23, 2010

France, 16th October 2010

"No, the rien, no, je regret de rien..."
All the butter
All the cream....
Yes, it was real not a dream....

The above would sound even better with on the tune of Edith Piaf which was, by the way, in the background for much of the evening but I very much doubted anyone noticed.

If I could describe this evening in just one word, butter would be it.  That all food tastes absolutely delicious when smothered in sticks of butter has been known by food connoisseurs and scientists since the beginning of time (or since a farmer discovered that wonderful by product of cow milk).  I had to really wonder last night if French cuisine is really the closest second to Italian cuisine... olive oil vs. butter?  One lowers and the other one increases cholesterol but they both do wonders for the waistline (not in a good way obviously). 

The French dinner was as close to a perfect 10 that I have ever been.... In fact Katie and Anne gave 10 to every dish (and if I had let them they've had scored the Boursin 10 too), Tony, Dan and Peter had 10s and one or two 9.5s and even Eric didn't score anything less than 8.   Katie went as far as to say that the dinner was better than anything she had in Nice - she had just come back from a week in the south of France. 

I really have Julia Child to thank for this... and perhaps even Julie Powell as I probably would not have used recipes from "mastering the art of French cooking" and picked Boeuf Bourguignon if I hadn't read her book and watched her movie...  I think I went through the entire book and picked quite a few recipes before settling on a menu that resulted in an absolutely divine dinner.  Every morsel was followed by mmmmm of pleasure from the soup to the tarte and I am so inspired by the food that I think I want to move to France.  Now that would be so nice.  But it's not likely to happen any time soon.

I finalized the menu at least a week before the dinner and despite a really busy week I managed to find time to go shopping... the beauty of using Mastering the Art of French Cooking is that you can find all ingredients at the regular supermarket and that saved me the usual hopping around to various farmers market and obscure Asian stores to find ingredients that I can barely pronounce.  I think the most exotic thing on the menu was chicken livers (well at least it is in Atlanta, I grew up eating chicken livers and hearts so it's nothing special to me) and they sold them at Kroger. 

I was able to take Friday afternoon off and have a head start on the star dish: the Boeuf Bourguignon.  According to Julia Child this dish is even better if prepared in advanced and let sit and I think she was right.  What I didn't know was that there are 4 cups of Bordeaux in this dish.  And quite a bit of beef stock which at Eric's recommendation, we mixed with some concentrated veal stock that gave the sauce even more flavor.  We had plans for dinner on Friday night so I ended up cooking the stew at a lower temperature but for 5 hours instead of the 3 as the recipe instructed.  And the result was spectacular.  But I am jumping ahead now.

I had never heard about Julia Child until I moved to the US and even then, I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about: so she was a TV chef, as much as Jamie Oliver is in the UK but what I didn't know was that her recipes really were the result of a deep love of French food and I discovered that after reading her book, My life in France, which is absolutely wonderful and makes you dream of a life in the street of Paris.  If you haven't read it, I strongly recommend you do.  After putting into practice some of her wisdom, I have to say I truly think she was a genius. 

I welcomed my guests with a glass of champagne and a few canapes: melon et jambon (melon and prosciutto), slices of baguette smothered in pate de canard (I've got this from Floyd and Kiyomi when they came back from a trip to France - the cats went absolutely wild over this!) and slices of baguette smothered in Boursin with a slice of cucumber.  For those of you not familiar with Boursin, it is a French garlic cream cheese and it's delicious.  They sell it at the supermarket so try it if you haven't done so already.  It goes wonderfully well with bread or crackers but I think I'd put it on vegetable sticks too.  Really really good.  If you try it let me know how you liked it.  Anne loved it... I probably should have given her the leftover cheese but I didn't think about it.  Sorry Anne!  I think it would have gone well with the croissants too (but not with raspberry jam...I think).

I had everyone move to the table and switch to red wine... French for the main part.  I had purchased a few Bordeaux, Katie brought a bottle and Dan and Peter did also (I think from France but I am not sure - I mean, it was French wine but I am not sure if they bought it in France or not).  While they sipped and chat and looked over the menu, I pulled the first course out of the oven. Thankfully, the soup terrine I used to warm it up and then broil it so the cheese was nice and slightly charred, did not explode.  This is another piece from my Delta kitchen collection.  I have mentioned previously that all of my china is the discontinued line of Delta's business elite, right?  Anyway, I arrived at the table with the French Onion Soup and additional Swiss cheese to add on top of it.  Yes. Swiss.  The recipe said Swiss cheese.  I guess smelly French cheese just doesn't go with it.  Of course I had included toasted baguette slices in the soup and then the cheese on top.
And here is when the ohhs and ahhhs and mmmms started.  This soup is so delicious it's almost unbelievable that it's truly and simply an onion soup.  Granted, the onions have to cook for a good while in a ton of butter and that gives it a truly wonderful flavor.  Here are some of the comments:  "Fantastic" (Anne), "Superb" (Tony), "Better than in France" (Katie), "Best onion soup ever eaten" (Peter), "Perfectly Balanced" (Dan), "Great Umami" (Eric - ehr,  what??).
My new boss - who's French - commented that "normally we don't eat onion soup in the fall, it's a winter dish" but this thing is so good I think I could have it for breakfast at the beach!

The other starter was "Timbales de Foies de Volaille" or unolded chicken liver custards (chicken liver pate y'all).  Eric had suggested that perhaps I should make one large timbale and then allow the guests to just have as much as they wanted as it sounded like a heavy dish but I preferred the option to serve in individual portions.  Despite the fact that it contains quite a bit of cream and that it was served with sauce Bernaise (read: butter and egg yolk... ah!), this dish isn't really that heavy actually.  I served it with slices of baguette and had to go replenish the bread once or twice as my lovely friends were gulping it down like it was their last meal.  I love it when people enjoy my food.  It is so rewarding. And yes, there were little leftovers, but I was asked to bring out the ziplocks so they could take the rest home. 

And here comes the brightest star of the evening: le Boeuf Bourguignon.  I can now say that I understand what all the fuss is about.  This is the king of the beef stews.  It's almost a crime to call it a beef stew, it's way better than that.  I think it should be used to cure eating disorders: if you're anorexic, you could never resist this.  If you're bulimic, I doubt you could possibly decide to part with it. 
I also think, it should never be eaten in the presence of a vegetarian: way way too hard to resist.  If it was remotely possible for me to be a vegetarian, I think I could be convinced this isn't really meat in order to get a few bites with a guiltless conscience.
One cup and a half of Boeuf Bourguignon is 20 Weight Watchers points.  I discovered this the day after the dinner, when Eric presented me with a lovely sloppy joe (it's a sandwich for my foreigner followers) made with the leftover dinner. 
So why is it so good?  I honestly don't know.  It is made with a lot of wine as I mentioned earlier but the rest of the ingredients are quite simple (and yes, of course there is butter).  Is it because it cooks slowly for a long time?  Maybe, but I've had other stews that cook for a long time.  It must be the love that goes into making this dish.  Really, as you follow the recipe you can see how the ingredients go so well together that you can almost hear them singing "Kumbaya" in the pot. 
I served the boeuf with petit pois au beurre (yes, green peas smothered in butter) and boiled new potatoes (with butter? Of course!).  That's what Julia said it should go with if it should be accompanied.  I think it would have done perfectly well by itself with a little bread to mop up the juices. 

And to end, my favorite French cake: Tarte Tatin (well that's how I always call it but apparently the complete formal name is La Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin - there were more than 1 it appears).  It's an upside down apple tart but cooked with so much butter that it literally melts in your mouth.  But it's got fruit so surely it must be healthy right?  Right.  At this point, I stopped counting the points.  I think I had gone over my limit for the week...  Oh well, I'd do it again and again if given the chance. 
I served this with a side of creme fraiche and the combination was divine.  Julia said it is better eaten warm and frankly I can't remember if it was warm or not but it was really good.  Let me share some more of the feedback from my friends: "Unbelievable" (Anne), "Pure Apple Butter" (Dan), "Fabulous" (Peter), "Oh Mon Dieu" (Katie), "Totally Satisfying" (Tony).  And yes, they all gave it a 10.  It would have been a perfect 10 but for Eric who said it was a bit bland but then proceeded to score it a 7.5 which for someone who doesn't really eat dessert is equivalent to a 10.  Oh so I want to think. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I must say I did not bake the short pastry for the tarte.  I have miserably attempted to make short pastry before but it's way too delicate for me to work with so I used one from Kroger.  But I did the rest.  Including peeling and quartering 4lbs of golden delicious apples. 

I do not have a picture that would do justice to such a delightful dessert so I won't include one here.  You can google the desserts and you'll find plenty of pictures. 

We also sampled some lovely chocolate that Dan and Peter brought back from France and some nice chocolate cookies Anne found that are also French.  And I gave everyone a sample of the home made limoncello we recently made - to Eric horror since it's an Italian drink not French (oh wtf!).  How could we still eat after such a meal? I don't know but frankly, nothing felt very heavy. 

The goodybags were la petit dejeuneur for the next morning: breakfast!  I wanted everyone to stretch the evening as long as possible so I bought some croissants and pain of chocolat at Holeman and Fitch bakery (if you haven't tried their bread or croissants, I would recommend you do.  Their store only caters for restaurants but they are at the Saturday Farmers Market up by Jesus Junction on Peachtree Street). 

Here is the menu with the scores:
Amuse Bouche
Melon et Jambon (ns)
Assortiment de Canapés (ns)

Soupe á l’Oignon Gratinée  9.8
Timbales de Foies de Volaille 9.4
Main Course
Boeuf Bourguignon  9.7
Petits Pois Étuvés au Beurre et Pommes de Terre Bouilles  9.6

La Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin  9.6

Overall Dinner    9.7

So, how can such a simple concoction of ingredients that resulted in such a simple menu (onion soup, pate, beef stew and apple pie) result in what was possibly the best dinner I have ever made?  It is certainly the best dinner I have made as part of my quest to cook from all countries of the world.  Friends often ask me which is my favorite dinner to date and I am always unsure of the answer because I have had some pretty amazing meals but I now know for sure this was it. 
So, I'll leave you with a phiilosophical dilemma: is it possible that French cuisine is as good as Italian?  I can't answer this question... my Italian pride forbids me to even consider that there could be anything as good (never mind better).  So I'll leave it to you to decide but beware of what you say, as I said, I am after all, Italian. 

Next, Georgia (the one near Russia, not the one in the US).

Stay tuned...


Anonymous said...


Looks like French was the best of the best.
I don't know but did you already cook Italian in the Alphabetical dinners???

Looking forward to next posting.

dan le said...

What a lark, What a rush! Heart your funny blog and Julia Child's French Cuisine, but like you said how can one not like it with butter and more butter. Merci so much...

Anonymous said...

Sounds absolutement heavenly! Love to read your descriptions and the scoring comments. Bon appetit!

Peter Wallace said...

Rossana, what a heavenly meal! And a wonderful evening. Loved reading your report! By the way, there is only one Julia Child! (spelling wise!)
Viva le beurre! Merci beaucoup...

Anonymous said...

OMG Rossana, just reading about your French dinner made my mouth water!!! I'm hungry now...and it sounded like the main course was absolutely divine! Looking forward to reading about all the other alphabet and be sure to invite us over for dinner when you make it around to "D" again for Dominican!

Kathy K. Rondon

Anonymous said...

Don't mean to post anonynously but this d@#$ DL computer doesn't allow me to sign into Google - Eric

Umami, also referred to as savoriness, is one of the basic tastes sensed by specialized receptor cells present on the human and animal tongue. Umami is a loanword from Japanese meaning "good flavor" or "good taste" (noun). "Brothy", "meaty", or "savory" have been proposed as alternative translations, however. In as much as it describes the flavor common to savory products such as meat, cheese, and mushrooms, umami is similar to Brillat-Savarin's concept of osmazome, an early Western attempt to describe the main flavoring component of meat as extracted in the process of making stock.

The umami taste is due to the detection of the carboxylate anion of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid common in meat (particularly bacon), cheese, broth, stock, and other protein-heavy foods. Salts of glutamic acid, known as glutamates, easily ionize to give the same carboxylate form and therefore the same taste. For this reason, they are used as flavor enhancers. The most commonly used of these is monosodium glutamate (MSG). While the umami taste is due to glutamates, 5'-ribonucleotides such as guanosine monophosphate (GMP) and inosine monophosphate (IMP) greatly enhance its perceived intensity. Since these ribonucleotides are also acids, their salts are sometimes added together with glutamates to obtain a synergistic flavor enhancement effect.

It says so in Wikipedia, so it must be true!

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