Since today is my mom’s birthday (happy birthday mommy!) I thought I would post an easy French dinner party menu that I whipped up when she was in DC visiting. The soup, peppercorn sauce, vinaigrette and meringues can all be made in advance so it is pretty stress free (unless you screw up the dessert like I did!). This menu includes all the great French comfort foods but isn’t really heavy.
I have tried at least a dozen french onion soup recipes, as it is one of Patrick’s favorites but this is really the best. Petit Trois is a French bistro in LA that I desperately want to try, but lucky for us they shared their recipe with Bon Appetit. I usually just make it with canned beef stock but it is definitely is better with homemade – I suggest making up a big pot one rainy weekend day and just keep it in the freezer for when you want to make this soup.
A fresh green salad is the perfect accompaniment to the steak. I like this vinaigrette because of the double punch of the dijon and shallot but any dressing will do. Use pre-washed mesculn greens to make this even easier.
I linked to Ina Garten’s method of cooking filets here but if you have a way of cooking them you prefer, by all means. I like the nice crust that searing in a cast iron skillet gives the steaks and then they get cooked through in the oven (a pat of butter on top doesn’t hurt either!). The roquefort sauce in that recipe is delicious but even better is Michael Richard’s Green Peppercorn Sauce, published years ago in the Washington Post. Richard is a world famous French chef that has made Washington his home. Central, his bistro downtown, is one of my favorite spots in the city, especially for a luxe lunch. This sauce is nice and creamy but the real star are the brined green peppercorns. They come in small cans and can last in the fridge forever really. I prefer the ones from Madagascar by Moulin (can below) – they can be sort of tough to find, I have seen them at Dean and Deluca and some Whole Foods. You can also order them online. If you cannot find them don’t try to just use regular green peppercorns – the brine softens them and mutes the pepper taste.
Ile Flottante (sort of)
As I said the last time I made this meal my mom was in town visiting so I wanted to do something special. Ile Flottante is one of her favorite desserts so I thought I would try my hand at it. If you have never tried it, it’s basically a cloud of puffy meringue floating in a pool of creamy vanilla sauce, usually with caramel or praline crumbled on top. Not bad, right?? Ina has a great recipe that I have used before and fast tracked it by using melted vanilla ice cream as the sauce instead of making creme anglaise. However, here is when getting wedded to a menu item can come and bite you. Even though it was October, DC was experiencing one of those weird fall heat waves and it was pretty humid out. Humidity plus meringues equals no go.
They never get nice and crunchy, they basically weep all over the place and are gooey and tough. Luckily my mom is a good sport and we had the ice cream with the praline crumbled on top instead. Pretty delish but not exactly as planned! A good reminder to always have a back up in mind.
The good news was that because it was so nice out we were able to eat outside under our pergola with the bistro lights on so it felt like a lovey French cafe right there in Washington. This is a great menu for any time of the year – just remember to stock up on some French wines are well.