Wednesday, 11 June 2014

EatWith, Round 2: Parisian Bistro-Style Food Fare

Two Saturdays ago, Brianne and I joined host, home cook, and food enthusiast Tess Geer at her French-style country home in Westerville for another delicious EatWith dinner. Following our previous (and first) experience the week before, the bar for me was set rather high. Tess, as expected, did not disappoint, offering us and her other Westerville-area guests a menu brimming with bistro food fare appropriate for any time of the year. On the evening's menu: olive selection and roasted almonds; goat cheese, leek and mushroom tart; roasted lemon chicken with potatoes and carrots; romaine salad with lemon dressing; cheese selection; madeleines and mocha pots de crème.

Tess shares some of her own bistro experiences in France, which inspired the evening's menu
Again we pulled up to Tess's beautiful home, her kitchen brightened by the aromatic smells of lemon and fresh chicken stock, coupled with the warm hugs of summer air and baked goods. We could see that Tess's guests had arrived and were already taking in the tranquility of the environment.

En route to the shaded patio, we stopped by the familiar table complete with the appetizer course. Originally, Tess had anticipated making French 75's, but an unexpected lack of cointreau meant that we were able to instead have more of the kirsch concoction we enjoyed during our last visit. As far as food went, all but one of the almond-stuffed French olives were taken (a clear hit). Upon tasting that last one, I'd unquestionably vouch for at least trying these should you ever be given the chance, this coming from someone who does not like olives all that much to begin with,. Also on the table were a small plate of delicious  almonds that Tess had roasted herself, with olive oil and her Gourmet Salt Blends mix of rosemary, lemon, and garlic.

Paired with this lot was a savoury tart with tender sautéed leeks (a personal favourite of mine, especially over onions) and meaty oyster mushrooms. Enriched with a bay leaf, thyme, chicken stock, and crème fraîche, this is eventually transferred and encircled by puff pastry which when cooked is predictably flaky, buttery, and the perfect vehicle for hosting this collection of vegetables. (On this note, the veg can certainly be switched out, making this a seasonally-adaptive dish.) Lest it not be forgotten, tying all of this together is the added creaminess and salt content from the goat cheese.

With the sunlight still very much among us, we moved onto the lawn for the rest of the meal, bottles of my favourite white (Sauvignon Blanc; thanks, Tess!) chilled and patiently awaiting us next to bottles of sparkling water.

And then, the focal point of the dinner made its way to the table: Tess's take on Julia Child's favourite recipe for roasted chicken. In past encounters with Tess, she'd mentioned this particular course, her descriptions being mouthwateringly accurate. After brining her whole chickens prior to roasting, she sets them on a roasting "rack" of celery stalks and thick, halved carrots, the latter of which is a trick she learned in a French cooking class. The result is a succulent cut of simple perfection--whether the white meat or brown--paired with the rich and flavourful tastes of the mire poix-esque veg and natural chicken stock. (Waste not, want not: as for the carcasses, Tess saves them and cooks them in a large slow cooker for additional chicken stock to freeze until the next recipe calls for it.)

Served with some of her homemade baguettes (which I must admit may have sat out a little too long, but which nevertheless held up to the important task of sopping up the leftover fragrant jus on our plates), this dish remains an incredibly memorable one.

In French-style fashion, the next course was the palate-cleansing salad, its simplicity of which is unequivocally reminiscent of my own experiences at French bistros. Here, a simple bed of crisp romaine lettuce (of course you could use the arugulaesque frisée, or my favourite, the sweeter mache) was paired with an extremely bright (borderline tart, in the best way possible) dressing made of not vinegar but instead lemon juice as its base.

Onward to the next course, as the sun began to fade, came perhaps my favourite of any French course (right next to dessert, bien sûr). Presented on a large white plate came a trio of cheeses, paired with jam. Starting with the mildest on the left, the cheese course began with double-cream brie, which along with the others melded very well with Tess's homemade baguettes. Progressing toward the strongest cheese, the middle one was my personal favourite hard cheese, i.e., comté. Smooth and without the waxy, off taste I pick up from similar cheeses like emmental, comté has nutty notes which pair well with creamy dishes as one might find in eastern France. (And it certainly works well with the evening's chicken.) Finally, and arguably the most challenging of the three (yet one of my favourites no less), was the sheep's milk-based roquefort, known in particular by its rather distinctively look and smell. Accompanying this wonderful selection were jams made of guava and fig.

Finally, as dark as the night arrived and the citronella candles were lit, two desserts made their way to their table (I love multiple dessert rounds, by the way). The first were madeleines, which Tess had perfected over several recipe alterations, made particularly famous in Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. (Check out the extract here.) Rather than finding tisane (as typically served à la Proust) in the little cups Tess brought out with the madeleines, instead we found servings of densely decadent mocha pot de crème.

Made of heavy cream, egg yolks, 100% cacao baking chocolate, and strong coffee, among others, this custard dessert was topped off with whipped cream, which in itself lightened the dish overall. At one point, Tess said there were extras and encouraged me to take another. I had to respectfully decline, as I had already eaten three.

As already noted above, it came as little surprise to me that the evening's dinner was the success that it was. Indeed, as I get ready to head back to Paris in a few weeks' time, the Parisian bistro-style dinner Tess put together turned out to be a perfect precursor to the summer ahead. Many thanks go to Tess for our second EatWith experience. And to our new Westerville dining partners, it was wonderful to meet you! (If you happen to reading this, do send me a message so I can include your names here!) To sign up for one of Tess's upcoming EatWith meals (either this Parisian bistro menu offering and/or her Provençal offering which you can read more about here), or to suggest a date, click here. To find an EatWith host in your neighbourhood or future travel destination, click here.  And to check out the full album of photos from this dinner, click here.

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