Le Nom, Volume III: A French Dinner Party

May 20, 2012 in The Menacing Gourmand

When life deals you lemons, throw them away and make cheese sauce.  This is the lesson I learned from this month’s Le Nom.

Due to a few scheduling conflicts, we had a smaller group for this dinner party.  To make sure we continued with the tradition of having more food than anyone can possibly eat, I decided to contribute not one, but three dishes to ensure we had a little bit of everything.

My initial plan was to make garlic aioli for us to dip bread in.  I found a recipe on food.com, which called for a fruity olive oil.  This was the perfect opportunity to use the Queen Creek Olive Mill Meyer Lemon Olive Oil.  Queen Creek Olive Mill is the only company in Arizona to make their own EVOO, and offer a number of unique flavors  – Mexican Lime, Roasted Garlic, and Chocolate are but a few. They practice sustainable farming and have a great reputation around the valley. I’ve been dying to try them out.  Unfortunately, I either completely screwed up the recipe for the aioli, or it was a bad recipe to begin with.  When I made it, I expressed my concerns over the result on Facebook.  My chef friend Brian asked me what the problem was.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: “What should the texture of aioli be?”
Brian: “Mayonnaise.”
Me: “Yeah…it’s like soup.”
Brian: “What was the proportion of egg to oil?
Me: “One Egg, 1.5 cups olive oil.”
Brian: “A whole egg?”
Me: “Yup.”
Brian: “That’s the problem. Here’s what you do…”

He gave me excellent instructions on attempting to revive my soupy aioli.  Unfortunately, it didn’t really work, and I decided to give it a little taste to see if it was even worth saving.  Between the high amount of olive oil and the lemon juice the recipe called for, the mixture tasted like oily lemon, and not in a good way.  The olive oil was an amazing olive oil (I got a second bottle for non-aioli purposes), however this recipe just didn’t work at all. I’ve decided to have Brian or gourmand-friend Steven show me how to make aioli someday.  I’m pretty sure the majority of this fail is on me.  I’m a visual learner, and I think I need to see someone make it.

Why am I telling you about the dish that failed? Because I want you to know that it’s okay to screw up a dish.  It was a pricey screw up, but the only way to reach new horizons with cooking or anything in life, is to take a risk, be willing to see it blow up in your face, learn from it, and move on.  So? I moved on.

The next recipe I tackled was pots de crème. I have always wanted to make pots de crème, which is basically a sexy, naughty version of custard or pudding.  I found a great recipe on The Pioneer Woman’s web site – it’s not a traditional way of making pots de crème as there is no baking involved, but this recipe is super-easy, can be made ahead and is a silky chocolatey treat.  I particularly appreciate how she explains she made a mistake with the temperature of the eggs and coffee, because I probably would have done the same thing had she not mentioned it.  I had some Godiva liqueur on hand, so per her suggestion, I replaced the vanilla extract with the liqueur.  I also added white chocolate Godiva liqueur to the whipped cream – I need to practice this more.  I used to be really good at boozy whipped cream, but lately I’ve been adding in the liqueur too early, and it’s not thickening as much as it needs to.
Pairing suggestion: You could go with an alcohol pairing, like Raspberry Lambic, or banyuls, but I think just a good old-fashioned cup of coffee works here.  It is so rich, you need the bitterness of a cup of coffee to balance it out.

The next thing to tackle was Cauliflower Gratin.  Why did I choose this dish? Well, for one thing, I wanted to have a vegetable on the table.  Second, it has all the ingredients that make French food delicious – cream, butter and cheese.  Magical things happen when these three ingredients come together.  This is also a simple recipe, and I think it came out perfectly.  I’ll be making it again on Memorial Day weekend for friends who missed this month’s Le Nom.
Pairing suggestion:  Since this is a side, you’ll want to pair to your main dish, but if you decide to have a mountain of Cauliflower Gratin for dinner – and there’s nothing wrong with that – an unoaked Chardonnay would be a tasty choice.  I think a mildly sweet Riesling might work too.

So, the house was clean, the table was set, the gratin was in the oven and people were soon to arrive.  I needed a replacement for my Aioli Fail, so I decided to wing it.  I had a ton of Gruyère left over, so I decided to basically take an Alfredo recipe, replace the Parmesan with Gruyère, omit the garlic, and at the suggestion of Steven, add white pepper and nutmeg for seasoning.  While it didn’t thicken very well initially (as it cooled, it was much thicker), it was cheesy goodness that was devoured by all.  Was it a “French” dish? I’m not totally sure - Gruyère is from Switzerland, but it’s used in many French dishes – quiche, croque-monsieur, french onion soup… I’ll give myself a pass.
Pairing suggestion: again, an unoaked chardonnay or a Riesling would work.  A Brut champagne would be pretty yummy too. One of the Le Nommers brought a Sauv Blanc that worked nicely.

While we were enjoying the cheese sauce, another Le Nom member showed up, explaining their own challenge with the dish they were going to bring – a peach crème brûlée for dessert.  Apparently, video games and baking do not go well when done simultaneously! Not a problem for us – again, we always have more than enough food, and we had an emergency dessert waiting in the wings.

After enjoying our bread and cheese sauce, it was time for the main meal – inside a beautiful Le Cresuset oval French oven, Steven and Jennie brought with them the dish of all dishes, Juila Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon.  Because I’m a little nerdy, I was excited to try this particular recipe because I loved the movie Julie & Julia, and the boeuf bourguignon was a critical plot point in the movie.  It also looked really yummy on film.

Served atop egg noodles, this dish is a mix of elegance and comfort food. It is a labor of love – taking all day to make, as several of the ingredients must be prepared in advance prior to adding them into the stew. From the Burgundy region, boeuf bourguignon was originally a food for peasants, but today it tends to reside in the world of haute cuisine.
Suggested Wine Pairing:  We enjoyed pinot noir with the dish, however a nice Syrah or Cabernet would also go well here.

All of the food was delicious, and we actually had the perfect amount of food for six people.  My only regret was not saving a bit of the boeuf for myself for the next day.  What was I thinking?

Next month, we are heading back to this continent to tackle Mexican cuisine.  There are so many regions to choose from, and so many different dishes that can be made – carnitas, flan, enchiladas, mole sauce, ceviche…yum.  I can’t wait to see what everyone brings!

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