Last night we had some Dutch friends over for dinner, along with our American friends. Trying to make a French dinner for this international gathering, I’d planned cassoulet, with a foie gras starter, a rich winter dinner for one of the first cool evenings so far. As luck would have it, as many menu malfunctions ensued as if we’d had Janet Jackson in the kitchen!
We started out by by not having time to really devote ourselves to making the cassoulet, a dish which demands time and tenderness in order to rise above the gloppy and stodgy possibilities that surround it. Realizing this, I switched the plan for the main course to a dish that sounded really good: oxtails braised with chestnuts and Toulouse sausage. When the butcher wasn’t sure he’d be able to get an oxtail, I failed to make another menu plan, having blind faith in his powers. Alas, the oxtail was not to be. Hurriedly, on the morning of the party, we changed plans again, this time going for stuffed rabbit papillotes with Picholine olives.
Then, when I opened the mi-cuit foie gras, it tasted off, sourish, truly icky. No effort to improve it had any effect at all, so 20 Euros worth of foie gras went into the trash and a new starter course sprang to life. If you’ve ever thrown out a lobe of foie gras, you know how I felt about it. And if you haven’t, take my advice and try to avoid the experience.
An amuse of celery root and apple purée topped with onion marmalade, followed by super-garlicky aillade on chestnut bread toasts with a little salad on the side was my solution, and not too coincidentally was what I could whip up with what was in the fridge.
And then there was a series of cheeses served with quince paste and quince chutney that I’d made from my neighbor’s quinces, followed by the glorious cake that lured you into reading this post in the first place. And with it all, a really surprising, entirely white, wine flight.
Before the dinner I went into a local wine shop and described my menu in minute detail, and the wine merchant chose the wines for me. And he was amazingly right on, especially given the fact that the wine he chose for the foie went wonderfully with aillade. I’m not sure whether to tell him that I totally changed the menu, but I’ll certainly tell him that his wine choices were super, just as I’ll tell the butcher’s wife that her rabbit recipe, given to me in a hurry and without benefit of pen or paper, turned out to be really fabulous.
That’s a thing I love about France, the generosity of those who care about food when it comes to sharing their knowledge. The dinner was excellent, and I owe a lot of people for that, including the flower guy down the street who agreed to make me an arrangement that was largely edible, albeit not terribly fashionable.
And now we’re off in the morning for the Basque country, and the piment d’Espelette festival. I’m so excited!