Saturday, February 21, 2009

Cooking Club : February Dinner : French

Tablesetting : Dinner Club February

Our cooking group has gone through some major changes since our January dinner. A few of us girls slowly came to the realization that we had a different style, and skill level, than the rest of the group. So, we set off, on our own, in search of a few more members. And, slowly, we're finding them. But, so as not to be far behind in dinners, and because we enjoy our monthly meetings so dearly, we went ahead with a dinner in February with the two newest members of the group. One of our newest is a very talented pastry chef, one whose blog, skill and life experience I've admired ever since I stumbled across her about a year ago. We're honored to have her, and although she may not be able to make every dinner, I look forward to the delicious food and insight she will bring to the group. Our other newest seems to have a real understanding of food, and seems to simply enjoy it. The three 'oldies' were so delighted by our February dinner. It absolutely perfect. Every dish was a delight, the company, while new, was really relaxed and delightful. Quite a difference than what we became accustomed to.
We have a few other women interested, whom I really hope join in, each one seems quite talented and like a good fit. I'm really looking forward to the future of this group, and (hopefully) all the amazing dishes I'll taste!

So. . . for our February dinner we wanted to choose a theme that paid homage to the air that lingers in February, love and passion. Am I right? With Valentines, it's surely one of the love-iest months in the year. We toyed with a color theme, but ended up choosing a French theme. French cuisine is so classic, and Paris, if you weren't aware, is a city made for lovers. There's just something magical and romantic about France. Plus, miss Rachelles apartments every corner is infused with gorgeous parisian flair. It was simply a perfect choice on various levels.

Rose Cocktail - Dinner Club February

Our hostess kicked off the evening with a tall, cold, prosecco cocktail infused with a touch of rose water for each of us. If you haven't read this yet, a good sparkling wine is definitely on my top ten list of things I love in life. There is just something really special, and kind of magical about sparkling wine. It's a happy drink. The addition of the rose water is so simple, but quite lovely. Perfect for toasting special occasions. Rachelle used a prosecco. Prosecco is generally quite dry, but is the most common sparking wine used to create bellini cocktails (champagne and fresh fruit puree, traditionally peach). Likely, prosecco is your best choice for this drink as well. If you wanted something with a pink flush you could use a nice sparkling rosé.

To make this cocktail simply add a drop or two of rose water to a champagne glass, top with champagne with one fresh rose petal for garnish. The amount of rosewater will depend on the strength of your rosewater, if using the kind in the little blue bottle in the 'mixers' section of the grocery store, you will want to probably use a couple of teaspoons as it's not as concentrated as other varieties.

Mini Brioche Croque Monsieur Appetizer : Dinner Club February

I knew immediately what I wanted to make; mini croque monsieurs on homemade brioche. I read once that, when in a french cafe, if a croque monsieur is not on the menu, it is not a good cafe. It's their 'standard' ham and cheese sandwich. If standard means smothered in a delicious cheese laden bechamel, sign me up! I haven't made croque monsieur in over a year, so I was happy to use my standard recipe. To make it a little more special, I chose to make my own bread. Brioche, because it's slightly sweet, soft, buttery, and chewy. I knew the combo would be too good to pass up. Unfortunately, my pug Bub, had different plans for my brioche. After it was neatly packed away in my bag, he jumped on the table, opened the bag, and ripped the loaf to smitherines. So, rushedly, and luckily with a few hours to spare, I whipped together another loaf (which, of course, had to have it's own set of challenges). So, the dish wasn't the magnificent feat of appetizer-y I had in mind, but it tasted delicious, so I couldn't complain, well, not too much at least.

I used le tartine gourmands recipe for brioche. I came across a few in my search, one of which took over a day and a half to make, and chose tartines because although it looked very simple, it also looked perfect. And it was! Recipe can be found right here. And as for the croque monsieur? Ask and ye shall receive!

Croque Monsieur (to make a Croque Madame simply top sandwich with an egg!)


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch nutmeg
3 cups Gruyere, grated
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 slices fresh brioche, crusts removed
Dijon mustard
8 ounces baked honey ham, the highest quality you can find

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. 3. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened.
4. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside.
5. Cut breads into little squares.
5. To toast the bread, place the slices on 2 baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.
6. Brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere.
7. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes.
8. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned.

Serve directly out from the oven, hot!

Starter Salad : Dinner Club February

Our pastry chef brought along a gorgeous salad with butter lettuce, fennel bulb, dill, toasted walnuts a simple vinagrette and two thick slices of french blue cheese. With a lovely baguette on the side. Yum!

Bourginon : February Dinner Club

Over at Rachelles blog Roses and Lemonade you can find the beef bourguignon recipe. She spent days, literally, making this main dish. And she's dedicated quite a lengthy post, including the recipe on her blog. So hop on over there and check out what she has to write, as well as the recipe. Another newbie brought the delicious spinach au gratin, which was heavenly, and a wonderful pairing with the whipped potatoes and beef, unfortunately I do not have the spinach recipe. All I can tell you about the bourguignon is, whatever she did, it was entirely worth it. If you want to impress your family, special someone, or just yourself, this is the recipe for you. Deep complex flavors, buttery beef, whipped potatoes. Oooooh, swoon. My stomach just started gurgling up at me. . . .

Lillet : February Dinner Club

After dinner there was a little unexpected surprise. A splash of lillet served over a generous helping of ice cubs and fresh blood orange rounds. I'd not yet experienced lillet. It's a fortified french aperitif wine from Bordeaux. It's a blend of 85% wine and liquers made from various oranges. It's also kind of fun to say. Lillet! It's extremely smooth, with a hint of honey sweetness. The blood oranges were an incredible addition. I can't wait until I can sit in the sun, or lay in my hammock, on the back porch, in the warmth of summer, and slowly sip an icy glass of lillet. Definitely something to look forward to. . .

Creme Brulee : February Dinner Club

My dear Ashley made the creamiest, most delightful creme brulee. So silky smooth and creamy, with the exactly perfect amount of crunchy caramelized sugar crust on top. Even though I was stuffed, it was nearly impossible not to devour the whole heart ramekin full! Some people don't seem to understand how ridiculously uncomplicated, not to mention rewarding, making your own creme brulee is. This recipe couldn't be easier or more delicious!

Recipe: Fail Proof Creme Brulee
Adapted from Alton Brown


1 quart heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1 cup vanilla sugar, divided

6 large egg yolks

2 quarts hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

1. Place the cream, vanilla bean and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
2. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
3. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. 5. 5. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually.
6. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins.
7. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
8. Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes.
9. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
10. Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top.
11. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top.
12. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top. Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Set Table : February Dinner Club

Full Dinner Plate : February Dinner Club

Rose Champagne Cocktails : February Dinner Club

Cheers friends!