How do you say “pot luck” in French?

We went to the coolest dinner party ever this weekend.  Seriously.  And I’m kind of joking about the “pot luck” reference – no one in their right mind would ever refer to this caliber of dining experience with the same term used for tables full of casseroles and no-bake Cool Whip pies.  However, it was a French-themed dinner and each of the guests was responsible for bringing an assigned course with appropriately paired wine.  We provided dessert:

Apple Tarte presentation

Apple Tarte Tatin…a really classic rustic French dessert.  With kind of an interesting story.

There were six couples at this lovely evening and the table was beautifully appointed and located on a courtyard deck that was fantastic…so fantastic we didn’t even really mind the occasional bug who happened to be lucky enough to cross one of our plates.  So here’s the menu:

A potato and leek soup, garnished with cream and parsley that was so good I could seriously eat it every single day with not one complaint.  YUM.

The vegetable course was Mediterranean-inspired leeks with tomatoes and olives.

Oh…this next course.  I’m still dreaming of this course.  Seared foie gras on an herbed beignet with macerated white grapes.  Best. Bite. Ever.  And no wine with this course – a seriously crafted beer – a surprise and delightful.  (This from a girl who doesn’t even like the way beer smells.)

Palate cleanser: melon in a tarragon honey milk.  Sublime.

The main course was a deconstructed beef Bourguignon which included one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of tenderloin I’ve ever had.  If I’d had a butter knife, I could have used it.  My oh my.  Keeping that beef and sauce company were carrots and green beans and potatoes in the spirit of deconstuction…delicious in their own right.

How can you not love a culture with an entire course devoted to cheese?  I, for one, do not know.  There was a plate with baguette slices, apple slices, grapes and four types of cheese.  I can’t tell you anything about three of the cheeses, although I do remember enjoying them…the triple cream brie completely stole the show for me.  I could swim in it.

Dessert was ours.  A slice of apple tarte tatin with a cran-raspberry sauce and fresh cream. Paired with a chilled Sauternes.

plated tarte tatin

I think we were eating off and on for about 3 hours.  Maybe 4.  And, surprisingly, I wasn’t really as stuffed as I expected to be…I think all the breaks between courses helped.  And the laughing.  What a super fun group of people.  It was really one of my favorite nights since we’ve moved back to Texas.

Oh, right, the recipe.  Here you go:

Apple Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

an adaptation of two recipes from Guichard and Robuchon

1/2 cup sugar

1 stick (4oz) unsalted butter, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced (I used organic Golden Delicious and Fuji…and did not use all five pounds)

Flaky pastry recipe (follows)

Creme fraiche or whipped cream

Berry sauce of your choice (I would include my version of cran-raspberry sauce with this recipe, but I totally made it up as I was going along and have no idea what was finally included!  You just need a little bit of sour to contrast the sweet.)

Spread the sugar evenly in the bottom of a 9-inch cast iron skillet.  Scatter the butter over the sugar and drizzle with the vanilla.  Arrange the apple slices in circles around the skillet – remember that the bottom layer will become the top of the tarte.

Set the skillet over moderately low heat and cook the apples until the surrounding syrup becomes thick and golden brown.  (45 minutes to an hour)  Baste the apples regularly with a bulb baster.  The liquid should remain at a gentle bubble.

Preheat the oven to 425.  Set the skillet on a baking sheet and bake the apples for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Set the pastry on top of the apples and carefully push the edge down inside the skillet all the way around.  Return the skillet to the oven for 25 to 30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the juices are bubbling.

Remove tarte from oven and when the bubbling stops immediately invert onto a platter (one with a little lip is safest in case some of the caramel runs out.)  If any of the apples stick to the skillet, just remove them and place them on the tarte – as it cools the caramel will become stickier and hold them together.  Serve warm or at room temperature with berry sauce and creme fraiche.

Classic Pastry

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 stick (4oz) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 tablespoons ice water

Blend the flour and salt in a food processor.  Add the butter and process until blended (about 8 seconds.)  Add the water and process until absorbed and the mixture looks like wet sand.  Transfer pastry to a lightly floured work surface and knead lightly until it comes together.  Pat the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least an hour.  Roll pastry out into an 11-inch round and keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Look how light and flaky it is...all that butter, how could you go wrong?
Look how light and flaky it is...all that butter, how could you go wrong?

This whole dinner party experience has me thinking about other possible dinner party ideas.  One of the very first conversations we had when we arrived was about doing a party of “kid food.”  Imagine amped up mac and cheese and hot dogs on brioche…maybe we should spend some more time on this idea, it sounds like fun!

Bon appetit!!

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Luncheon Party

My mother’s cousin, whom I refer to as my aunt, is one of my most favorite people in the world.  In fact, we often tease that I should have been her daughter and perhaps was switched as an infant (her own daughter was born just two short weeks after me.)  Anyway, she is a fantastic cook and even more fantastic hostess.  I love the get-togethers at her house…”Hen Parties” as her husband calls them.  She had one recently and this time it was a Surprise Pot Luck.  (A very uncharacteristic thing to have in my family full of control-freaks, but it worked out well.)  It’s simple: Bring something to eat.  Don’t tell anyone else what you are bringing.

So, yes, it means you could end up with five salads or, even better, five desserts.  Or, you might wind up with a fun hodge-podge of yummy things, which is pretty much what happened.

I spent way too much time pondering what to take – or rather trying to figure out what I thought everyone else would bring!  I finally decided on Italian tea-style sandwiches and deviled eggs.  (And, of course, the only duplicate we had was the eggs – my aunt did them, too!  See, I really was switched at birth.)

There was also some pasta, a big salad with chicken in it, pecan pie and a chocolate cake…and lots of talking and solving of important problems.

Eggs

Sandwiches

So, deviled eggs can be kind of awful if you aren’t careful.  Usually, I find them to have way too much mayonnaise in the filling.  There’s a million ways to season that filling, so I’m not going to give an exact recipe here…just a few words on what I think should be standard-deviled-egg-making-steps.

First, the eggs themselves.  If you will store your carton of eggs on its side before boiling them, the yolk will settle in the middle of each egg making it much easier to fill since your little cup will be centered in the white.  Those flimsy, thin white sides that don’t hold the filling in are kind of messy.  Also, place the eggs into cold water in the pan and then turn on the heat.  When the water reaches a full boil, turn it off and cover  the pan for ten minutes.  The residual heat is enough to finish cooking the eggs.  When hard-boiled eggs are over-cooked they get that gray-green tint around the edges of the dry yolk.  They’ll be prettier if not over done…and the yolks will taste better.

Deviled Egg

As for the filling, well the possibilities are endless.  Pieces of shrimp.  Bacon.  Capers.  I mean, really, you can do just about anything here.  These particular eggs got a little mayo, a little more sour cream (I prefer that to cut the excess mayo taste,) a few spoonfuls of chipotle-mustard and salt and pepper.  And a sprinkle of dill at the end for color.

Egg Tray

Now for tea-style sandwiches.  These are so easy.  First the bread:

Bread

Aren’t these cute?  I used the refrigerated Italian loaf dough in a cute little fluted bread tube.  When you slice the cylinder of a loaf, you get these cute little flowers.  Too much.

Tomato Ricotta Basil

Then you spread each slice with some seasoned ricotta cheese (salt, pepper and Italian seasoning,) add sliced tomatoes, basil and some cucumbers, season again…and that’s it!

Sandwich Assembly

Secure with some toothpicks and look how fun they are piled on a platter together:

Sandwich Tray

Sandwich Close

So, go plan a “Hen Party” of your own and don’t let anyone coordinate what they are bringing…see what happens!

Sticky Caramel Mini Cakes

So tonight we are going to a friend’s house for dinner.  And this is one of my favorite ways to have a dinner party – semi-pot-luck. (As long as the people we’re doing it with sort-of know their way around the kitchen!!)  They are handling the main dish and a side…and we’re bringing another side and dessert.  No one has to work too hard and chances are you get to try something new…and, like tonight, we get to meet new people, too.

On to dessert – Sticky Caramel Mini Cakes

I love these because they are easy and they taste like cake made from caramel.  I’m taking them plain with an assortment of ice cream (ginger, pistachio or chocolate fig) and a big bowl of fresh berries for garnish.  Oh, and caramel sauce, of course.

Aren’t they super cute?

Mini Caramel Cakes

Yes, there’s a special little cupcake pan (silicone) that I adore which turns just about any cake batter into these little gems.  Love it.

Silicone Floral Cupcake Pan

How would you take your mini caramel cake… with ice cream and berries or ice cream and sauce or sauce and berries…oh, the options!

Mini Caramel Cakes

Sticky Caramel Mini Cakes

Butter 1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup

Pecans 1/2 cup toasted (I consider these optional)

Flour 1 1/2 cups

Baking Powder 1 teas

Salt 1/4 teas

Brown Sugar 1 1/4 cups firmly packed

Eggs 2

Vanilla 1/2 teas

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare cupcake pan with butter/flour or cooking spray.  Melt butter in microwave (about 90 seconds) and set aside to cool slightly.  Finely chop pecans and combine with flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl. Set aside.  To cooled butter add brown sugar, eggs and vanilla and whisk well until smooth.  Fold butter mixture into flour mixture until just combined – don’t get crazy here and overmix.

This amount of batter makes one dozen of the floral cupcakes.  Bake 20-22 minutes or until the edges are turning golden.  Remove from oven and let cool about 5 minutes before inverting pan.

Serving idea: arrange five banana slices in a circle in the center of each plate.  Drizzle plate with caramel sauce (recipe to follow.)  Top with one cake.  Garnish with powdered sugar and fresh berries.

Caramel Sauce

Heavy whipping cream 1/2 cup

Sugar 1/2 cup

Light corn syrup 1 TB

Water 1 teas

Vanilla 1/2 teas

Salt pinch

Microwave cream on high for 30-40 seconds until hot – set aside.  Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a saucepan and cook over med-high heat until sugar dissolves (about 4-5 minutes.)  Reduce heat to low and continue stirring (wooden spoon is best, I prefer bamboo) until syrup is honey-colored.  (An easy way to check color if your pan is dark is to dribble a little drop onto a white paper plate or napkin.)  When honey color is achieved, remove from heat and stowly add warm cream, stirring constantly.  (Mixture will bubble dramatically.)  Add vanilla and salt.  Let cool about 5 minutes before serving.

OK – now on to make my infamous Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes…yes, yes, I’ll be back.