With The Artist’s Daughter staying with us in Provence over the last month, we seemed to have got through an awful lot of back episodes of ‘Come Dine with Me’, (that’s right, blame the children….) the English TV show where 4 or 5 people cook dinner for each other and judge the dining experiences on a rating of 1-10 with the highest scorer winning £1,000. In France there is a version called Un Diner Presque Parfait, and in the US, ‘Dinner Takes All’.
Recently my friend and blog mentor, Julie Mautner arranged for me to get a copy of French Classics Made Easy by Richard Grausman and I decided I would have my own ‘Come Dine with Me’ experience using recipes from the book.
Richard Grausman, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, gives us the recipes for French Classics like Bouillabaise, or Coq au Vin, in a more digestible form, reducing, where possible, the use of cream, butter, salt and eggs and simplifying the cooking methods. His aim is to show that anyone who knows how to boil water or dice an onion can master a soufflé.
I decide to put his recipes to the test and chose a menu of dishes I have never cooked before. On Friday I go shopping to get my ingredients. I am going to make ‘Chicken Salad with Fresh Peaches in a Curry-Lime Dressing’ Salade de Volaille aux Péches, for my starter, substituting crab meat for the chicken (something the author suggests). I can’t find any pre-cooked crab and end up with a live one but am too squeamish to put him in the pot and have to enlist The Artist’s help.
I go to my butcher for his free-range chicken and tell him I am cooking Poulard Pochée à L’Estragon, Poached Chicken with Creamy Tarragon Sauce. He suggests I buy a whole chicken, which he chops into portions as it is much tastier than using chicken breasts. The rest of the ingredients, I pick up at the local Intermarché Supermarket.
Saturday I prepare all the dishes in advance and for dessert I make a Chocolate-Orange Sorbet and Almond Tuiles.
By the time my guests arrive at 8.40, I am ready and have even had time to wash my hair, put on a frock and do my nails! They come bearing wine and gifts, assorted mustards and Joel Durand’s chocolates.
We go through into the courtyard where The Artist serves Bellinis, which, for those that don’t know, originate from Harry’s Bar in Venice and were made famous by the many ex-pats who imbibed there in the 30’s (Hemingway amongst them) and are made with sparkling wine and white peach purée.
With regards to our guests, Julie, obviously, I know, but we have only met Olivier once before and Carlos not at all; luckily there is nothing like a sparkling drink to break the ice and we are soon being regaled with tales of Belarus strip joints by Carlos who has just got back from there, literally, he arrived at our station at 8.30pm from Marseille Airport (I know, I too had to ask where Belarus is, it borders Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia and belonged to various countries in the past, most recently The Soviet Union from which it got its independence in 1991, oh yea Wikipedia!).
After a while I leave the merry-making to plate up the first course of avocado, egg, scallions and peach in a lime and curry mayonnaise dressing, topped with crab meat (the author says to mix it all up, but I thought it was nicer to keep the crab separate) on a bed of lettuce and a tomato garnish (I am getting quite fluent with the culinary lingo!).
The verdict? Olivier felt it could have had more curry powder, I agree as with just a pinch, you could hardly taste it, he also thought that chopped chives might have been a nice addition, (was he saying the dish was bland?). Carlos said he loved it as it was, especially the fresh lime dressing and the avocado and crab mix, Julie and The Artist agreed with him.
Next I go back to the kitchen to cook the rice and green beans, accompaniments to the Chicken which I heat up in the stock I poached it in, as well as the velouté sauce, which I had made earlier but which is still a little thin. Olivier comes to see how I am doing and suggests adding Maizena corn flour, (the great French cooking cure-all!) but I tell him I have to follow the recipe to the word and carry one stirring. It finally thickens and I take the chicken out of the stock (forgetting to wipe it with kitchen towels as instructed) and arrange it on a plate and pour over the sauce.
I bring it to the table together with the rice and green beans.
Everyone seems to enjoy it ‘though The Artist later said his chicken was a bit dry; did I poach the chicken for too long, or dry it out by re-heating? I don’t know.
Finally I serve the Chocolate-Orange Sorbet, (I added a couple of capfuls of Cointreau to the mixture before freezing), along with a shop-bought raspberry sorbet and homemade Almond Tuiles (so called because they are shaped like the French roof tiles).
Despite my miss givings, the Chocolate-Orange Sorbet is very good (great for all you lactic intolerant people out there) but the dish is marred by my addition of the raspberry sorbet (I felt it needed another colour to brighten it up) and the Almond Tuiles have gone soggy as I put them into a tin before they were fully cooled, but they still taste good (I later revive them by drying them out in a cool oven).
Everyone leaves together around 12.30. We’d all had a lot of fun and I hope that everyone enjoyed their meal, would I have won the £1,000? You’ll have to ask the others……
And what about the book? My cooking tends to lean more towards Provençal food, which is much simpler than Classic French food and uses olive oil, garlic and vegetables over butter and cream, but it was interesting to try these more haute cuisine, or fine-dining, recipes for a change. I was impressed with the very clear step-by-step instructions and Richard Grausman really does simplify, what would otherwise be daunting recipes. I did feel a sense of satisfaction that the food had turned out exactly as it was supposed to and I learned how to make Almond Tuiles!
Please add you thoughts in the comments below.
Julie Mautner says
Ange, what fun to read the “behind the scenes” of the beautiful meal you prepared for us! And what a great evening it was. I only hope another book lands on your doorstep soon, inspiring you to get back into the kitchen and let us “Come Dine With You!” You would win the prize for sure! I’m delighted to have been one of your designated eaters!
Carlos Stelmach says
Angela and Jake,
Thank you for an impeccable meal and a very enjoyable visit! We loved the food, wine and most of all, the company. I’m sad to be leaving Provence tomorrow and family, friends, new friends and acquaintances, but I’ll be back and I look forward to keeping in touch with you and to more good times together.
Hurry back, we’ll keep the ‘martinis chilled’ as they say…..
Now I’m even more disappointed that we couldn’t make it in Saturday. You know my love for anything with chicken and also love orange chocolate!
Judging by the avove and having already sampled your culinary skills several times over I am sure you would have gotten my vote! Sounds absolutely delicious.
You were missed, but hopefully you’ll be there next time! Didn’t we talk about doing this for real once?
Wow, am I impressed with all you did for that dinner party! Very gutsy to try all those new recipes for the first time for guests. I usually do a dry run to know what the outcome will be. Glad everything worked for you and that your guests enjoyed the results of your labor. From what you said in you blog and from the photos I have the following comments:
1. When poaching the chicken, be careful that it simmers gently and don’t cook it longer then necessary. Over cooking can make it seem dry as one of your guest commented. The sauce looks very good, but just a bit too thick. It looks like it coated the chicken just a bit too thickly. It should be thin enough to flow and cover all the chicken yet thick enough for a light coating to remain on the chicken. You can see in your photo that there are some uncoated spots on the chicken pieces.
2. With the tuiles, you now know what to do if there is too much humidity. Each time you make them, try spreading them thinner on your baking sheet. They look great, but just a bit too thick.
All in all I think you did a superb, first time, job with the recipes. Brava! I look forward to seeing and hearing about the next recipes you try from FRENCH CLASSICS MADE EASY.
All the best,
Thanks so much for all the advice Richard. I’m sure your book will become a go-to for many years to come! Will try and make the Tuiles thinner and I think you’re right about the sauce ending up to thick.
Wylie Goodman says
It sounded lovely. I couldn’t have eaten the chicken (allergic) but the photos made it look delicious nonetheless in the velote. And perhaps you can post the recipe, attributed of course, for those Almond Tuiles. I’d love to learn to make them. For easy French cooking, I’m a sucker for Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking.” I think I lived off all of her pomme de terre recipes for a year!
Thanks Wylie, I will do a separate Almond Tuiles post. I agree with “Bistro Cooking” it has been my ‘go-to’ book on French bistro food for a decade!
Hope to share a meal with you soon in France!
Eileen Gregory says
Hi Angela. Great blog. How lucky your friends are to be the best fed lab
rats in Provence
Thanks Eileen and lovely to hear from you! Wish I could be a lab rat in your lovely kitchen!
It looks like a heavenly meal from where I’m sitting (all too far away). I now want all those recipes. And swat did you do to the rice?
It’s called 3 grain rice! Wild, Red Camargue and Long-grain! Very posh you know!
sabrina gordon says
I am a great fan of come dine with me it makes me laugh ,it isnt always about the food. Love the pics especially the last one.
Vicki Archer says
Angela, thanks for the message….Mark has been in contact via email about the magazines…
More importantly…this dinner looks scrumptious and you would sure to have been the winner….xv