Since Burgundy is the wine and food capital of France, dinner parties are not a matter to be taken lightly. They are great fun but they can be a marathon for the host. Here’s the deal: It will be a sit down affair. At the very least there will be a light nibbles, a first course, a main course, a cheese course, and a dessert course. This is followed by expresso and chocolates. There are various wines, of course. When you’re done, you’ve used a mountain of plates and platters and all the glasses in the house, maybe twice.
So how’s a cook to cope? I love to entertain, but I invariably find it takes me most of the day (or maybe two) to pull this all together.
I’ve learned some tricks along the way to make it plus facile. My latest: when we’re really behind in entertaining and we’ve got 6 or 7 couples on the invite list who have been sorely neglected, I divide them into two groups. Then I do one group one day, and the other group the next! This was Ron’s brilliant idea. You simply cook twice as much, same menu both days, and the flowers you put out will last the week. I only resort to this when we’re in serious entertaining debt---but haven’t you been there?
But here's another idea for a fast dinner party. Last week we were invited to dine at the home of our French friends Mireille and Michel, and Mireille taught me a thing or two with her fabulous menu. It was quick and easy to put together, and perfect for a chilly winter day. She shared her recipes with me--you don’t even need to measure anything. Merci Mireille, and happy entertaining to all!
RECIPES: Mireille’s Dinner Party, Fast and French
First course: Mireille steamed some fresh green asparagus and served them tiède (room temperature) with a vinaigrette on the side. It was the famous French dressing #1 but with a twist: she added lots of finely minced cilantro (she used a mincer, but you could pulse it all briefly in a blender), so it was a pretty, fresh green color. You could also use parsley, or other fresh herbs.
Wine: a chardonnay such as Saint-Véran or a Pouilly-Fuissé is nice with this.
Main course: A slow cooked lamb roast with a tian of vegetables (this would work with with a pork or beef roast, too).
For the tian she cut regular baking potatoes into slices about ½” (1.25 cm) thick. Then, in a heavy stoneware baking dish (like Le Creuset or Emile Henry), she layered the potatoes with thick sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced onions, rosemary sprigs, and olive oil. She placed the roast, sized to serve 6, right on top of the veggies and cooked it in a slow oven (350F, 175C), uncovered, for about 2 hours. (My note: check your roast and vegetables for doneness after an hour; you can always pop the roast in a separate pan and continue cooking either veggies or roast longer as needed).
To serve she put the veggie dish right on the table, then carved the roast and served it separately. Dinner done, and delish.
Wine, for this and the cheese course: we would choose a red Côtes de Rhône or a Pinor Noir.
Cheese course: two French cheeses, served with a sliced baguette.
I brought the dessert, which was: Dori Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies (made ahead, and frozen) served with caramel ice cream and a garnish of fresh raspberries.
As usual, I’m always learning something from the clever French. And if anyone else has an easy dinner party menu to share, I’m all over it!
FAVORITE READS: Foodies, you'll be interested in a new book by John Baxter called The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France. You can read an interview with the author over at Barbara Redmond's blog, A Woman's Paris. Barbara says "I couldn't put it down. It's a wonderful romp from cuisine to cuisine through the French countryside."