Astonishing Dinner Parties

It is a known fact that as cash gets tighter good, old-fashioned dinner parties come back into fashion?

In the old days, we would all pull together and do a dinner party fit for a king.

But in the old days (20-30 years ago), we girls didn’t know much about wines.

We left it all up to you guys.

Haven’t we all changed?

We girls know so much more about wines, these days.

Not only about wines, but about our own personal taste in wines.

We are no longer afraid to say what we like and what we don’t like.

So, I am putting together some really good-value, easy-preparation dinner parties for 5/6 people, with hints for recipes, and their matching wines to please both us girls and you guys.

The French spend a lot of time and energy on cooking and preparation as you know.

Wine is always a vital part of a dinner party being a success.

A carefully chosen, matching wine is always served with each dish.

The French would never serve the same wine throughout the whole dinner.

(However, please do so if you personally prefer it, after all wine is a pleasure and should be savoured as such.)

Assume 6 glasses per bottle 75cl.

Fill the glass 2/3 full, no more. You must be able to swirl the wine around the glass!

Wine is taste and pleasure.

If you prefer a different wine, feel free to change it. My wines are suggestions which, I know from experience, work well with these dishes.

Remember, you drink the wine, not the label!

All the recipes ideas I am going to give you have been passed to me over the years by friends, or friends of friends, both in the UK and in France; or real recipes from cookbooks which I ticked around with because they were too time consuming or finicky.

My heartfelt thanks go to all of you. I have used most of these recipes over and over and over again.

COCKTAILS

As people arrive and have deposited their coats somewhere, it is nice to put a glass of something delicious and out-of-the-ordinary into their hands.

Touraine METHODE TRADITIONNELLE

Sparkling Rosé Brut Touraine Sparkling Rosé

This is an absolutely stunning dry sparkling rosé made in exactly the same way Champagne is made.

In fact, all Crémant wines and Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wines are made in the same manner in France. They just come from different regions.

That is the only difference, other than the price, which is about ½.

Serve very chilled. 8°c.

It is soft on the palate and goes down a treat with just a good mixture of dried fruit and nuts. Pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc. A selection of raisins & sultanas, dried pawpaws, dried mangos, dried bananas. You can usually buy the mixture already done for cocktails in a good supermarket. Easy!

However, if you like doing complicated cocktail bits; please feel free to do so.

STARTERS

I must admit I always find the best and easiest starters are fishy.

At this time of the year, and after such a chilly spring, shellfish is lovely!

If you have a good fishmonger; fish section of your supermarket; or a farmers’ market, get prawns and shrimps.

Fishmongers usually have a selection of different types of prawns, or shrimps.

Snip off the long whiskers from the prawns.

On each small plate put:

A few leaves of nice quality lettuce, lambs lettuce is nice,

2 or 3 cherry tomatoes, halved,

4 or 5 fresh prawns,

A few fresh shrimps,

If you enjoy making a good fish terrine or mousse, then a small portion of homemade terrine or mousse is lovely with a couple of fresh prawns and a bit of salad.

Make a sauce for it of crème fraiche, a couple teaspoons of water, and chopped chives, mixed well.

A few drops of good quality vinaigrette (not too strong, balsamic vinegar is nice) on the lettuce.

A small blob of good quality mayonnaise on the side to dip the prawns into.

Chunky white and brown bread. Butter.

A spare paper napkin per person.

A plate in the middle of the table to put the shells on


ALTERNATIVE STARTERS

Fresh asparagus.

Not everyone can get these and they can be very expensive. They come into season in May.

You might have some growing in your garden! (They grow wild in our vines.)

The green ones have a stronger flavour than the white ones.

Scrape off the woody outer part of the stem (with a potato peeler).

Boil slowly in a large open pan (frying pan) for about 15-20 mins. Be careful the little tender head doesn’t fall off. This can be done well in advance.

Serve with good quality vinaigrette (not too strong); lemon mayonnaise; or hollandaise sauce.

Same accompaniments as above.

2 spare paper napkins per person.

Fresh asparagus is always eaten with the fingers!

Both the above dishes are a dream with a really good, vibrant Sauvignon Blanc.

Young and zesty.

Not many people know that Sauvignon goes with asparagus. But now you do.

MATCHING WINES FOR STARTER COURSE

Either: Touraine Sauvignon Vieilles Vignes 2006    

Or:      Sancerre White

MAIN COURSE

Butter chicken.

Sorry to tell you this but using butter is the tastiest way to cook. Any French chef will tell you this. The dishes you do will taste that little bit more exciting if you use real butter. Yes, I know, we are all trying to lose weight. But if you are going to do a dinner party, you might as well make sure the food is tasty!

So, take 200 gr. butter salted or unsalted (I use unsalted) out of the fridge early afternoon so that it can soften to room temperature.

Then mix it with a couple cloves of crushed garlic and some parsley.

Fresh, if poss, free range Chicken 1.8 kgs. If you get it from the butcher he will truss it for you.

Heat the oven to 200° Celsius.

Loosen gently the breast skin from the chicken and very carefully push the butter up between the skin and the breast. Very, very carefully so as not to break the skin.

Rub the rest of the softened butter all over the chicken.

Make sure every part of it is covered with a thick layer of butter. Especially the wings and legs.

Put in the cavity a few sprigs of whatever fresh herbs you can get.

Thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence.

Also, a few whole cloves of garlic, peeled. A couple of shallots.

Salt & pepper to taste. Just pepper if you have used salted butter.

Cook for about 1½ – 2 hours. Baste it occasionally.

Make gravy out of residue in dish. Adding water and a spoon of dry sherry to it.

Veggies: Roast parsnips; roast Swedes; roast red and yellow bell peppers;

steamed or boiled new potatoes.

ALTERNATIVE MAIN COURSE

8-10 Chicken breasts done the French Asian way.

Slash the breasts in a couple of places acrosswise so that the flavours penetrate the flesh.

Sprinkle each side with flour, whole cumin seeds, black onion seeds, salt & pepper.

Pat onto the breast to make it stick.

In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan put 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil (I use olive), a walnut of butter; 4 chopped shallots, 4 chopped cloves garlic, salt & pepper. Sauté until just soft.

Add the chicken fillets. 2 heaped teaspoons garam masala

Sauté until a lovely golden colour.

Mix in a bowl:

50cl. Crème fraîche

150ml. approx water;

A very large heaped tablespoon of very lazy ginger. Chili to taste.

Mix it all up and add to the chicken fillets.

Cover and cook for about 20 mins.

If you don’t want to use crème fraîche you can use undiluted thin coconut milk but it is not quite as nice.

This is tastier if it is all done in advance. Add water if sauce gets too thick.

When reheating, make sure not to “overcook” the fillets in the microwave as they go tough.

Veggies: steamed Basmati rice; steamed broccoli.

MATCHING WINES FOR MAIN COURSE:

Either: Chardonnay (white)                                           Chardonnay

Or: Touraine-Mesland White 2006                                Mesland White

Or: Touraine Gamay (red)                                             Gamay

CHEESE COURSE

The French always keep a little place for a little cheese and it is served after the main course.

A good cheese board in France usually has a selection of:

A hard cheese such as Comté or Cantal;

A blue cheese such as Bleu d’Auvergne or Roquefort;

A cheese that goes straight to the hips such as Brie or Camambert or Reblochon;

A goats cheese (unfortunately good French goats cheese is still difficult to find in the UK)

Served with a salad of mixed lettuce leaves and vinaigrette (not too strong).

Good quality UK cheeses work well, too.

MATCHING WINES FOR CHEESE COURSE:

 Either: Touraine Côt 2005 (red)                        Touraine Côt 2007

 Or: Touraine-Mesland 2005 (red)                    Touraine-Mesland 2005

 

Or: Sauvignon Blanc with the goats cheese as per starter course.

Or: All of the above

PUDDINGS

Apple Crumble is just lovely at any time of the year.

8-10 eating apples such as Golden Delicious which make the best apple crumble of all. Peeled, cored, cut into quarters or smaller.

Put into greased, high sided tart dish and put into microwave for 10 mins. Or until they are soft and watery.

Turn oven to high 250° Celsius.

Make crumble from a large cup of sifted flour,

large cup of golden brown cane sugar crystals (cassonade),

130 gr. butter.

Crumble it all up by rolling it around and through the fingers.

Put on top of apples. Cook on high for about 10 mins or until the crumble begins to turn pale golden, then turn right down to 120° Celsius for another 35 mins. You will see the water turn syrupy in the dish.

Chocolate mousse, no butter, no sugar:

6 eggs separated.

200 gr good quality cooking chocolate.

Melt chocolate in a bain marie or in microwave. Mix with yolks.

Beat egg whites. Fold altogether. Put in fridge.

WINE FOR DESSERTS

The French always open a bottle of sparkling wine for dessert.

The sparkling rosé Touraine you had for cocktails would be lovely – but that is entirely up to you.

If you have a sweet tooth our medium/dry and sweet Vouvray wines are just yummy!

I can offer mixed cases of some of the wines above to make the choice easier for you:

You can also mix your own online. I have made it very easy.

Mixed Case Reds

First published April 2008

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