I really thought when I hosted French Feast Night, I would be done. I really believed that this was the night of all nights and there would BE no topping it and no more theme nights. It was INSANE……and I was almost right.
To start the night, we donned the night with the name: “French Feast at Chateau de Garcia” and dressed in our French garb. (Yes. We just happen to have French garb lying around our house!)
Next, the gathering of guests. We had the Dirkses (lovingly referred to by me as “The Dirksys”, pronounced Durk-seez) the Penates, the Burkes, the Adamitises, and the Timmonses.
Waiting when they arrived were some fun cut outs to take photos. Now THIS was the start of the perfect theme night to end all theme nights:
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Of course we started the night off with a cocktail – it was called the French 75 – and amuse bouche. This was simply different French cheeses, crackers, and marinated olives. But YUM. Next course was the aperitifs, or the appetizers. Now THIS portion of the menu was off-da-chain! It consisted of croquet monsieur, which I can only describe to you as the ultimate ham and cheese sandwich with Dijon béchamel and broiled Gruyere on top. I also made escargot vol au vent (pastry shells stuffed with garlic butter, green onion, nutmeg and helix snails), and foie gras French toast (pan-seared duck liver in a balsamic glaze over crispy filo). Oh yes. I was well on my way to never having a theme night again…there was going to be NO TOPPING THIS.
Next course – French onion soup flambé. Now I've tried this before with other themes and the soup never catches the flame. Well, not on the last theme night ever! Of COURSE it went perfectly. The brandy caught on fire and made the most beautiful flame, cooking the cheeses on top to perfection! Next was the salad Nicoise. Superb, of course!
On perfect theme night, I knew nothing less than two entrees would do, so I made Boeuf Bourguignon and Coq au Vin. (Braised beef stewed in burgundy and chicken thighs made with white wine and chocolate - recipe to follow). This was accompanied by 'burnt' pasta Provencal (that’s only the name – NOTHING was burnt on pure perfection night!), and ratatouille. I must say that there is no way of getting through to you how delicious everything was. It was the most amazing night! And I was a little sad……because there would never be a night to top it.
So. Dessert. What does one make on French Feast Night? Why, crème brulet, of COURSE!! After a meal like this, accompanied by the different French wines and homemade French bread, we needed the finishing touch that would send everyone home feeling that they were a part of history! The cream that had been whipped by hand…the beautiful organic berries I had hand-picked to place around the dessert like a crown!
I had made crème brulet before…and it was GOOD. So knowing I had this many people and not enough small ramekins, I decided to go one step ABOVE – I made it on a grand scale in a casserole dish! Oh, wouldn't they be impressed?? Out it comes. I scorch the top with my hand-held torch. It was BEAUTIFUL. Smiling proudly as I watched them all take a bite, I found myself daydreaming about how awesome I was and how I had created the best theme night there ever was. Hmmm…what is that look on their faces? That’s not how I envisioned it…”How is it?” I ask. (I tried to sound as humble as possible). “It’s a little eggy”, says one. “This is the WORST thing I have ever put in my mouth!”, says another. What?? This couldn't be!! But it was. I had made the pudding on a grand scale…and overcooked it. It was like a sweet (and gross) egg casserole; not crème brulet. I was devastated. All the hard work I had put into that evening was lost in my mind. I couldn't believe it.
But of course, our friends and family lovingly reminded me that everything else had, indeed, been impeccable. And when I told them I thought this would be the theme night to end all theme nights, they knew (used this to make me feel better) that I had subconsciously sabotaged my own dessert so that more theme nights would come, and this really WOULDN'T be the last.
We, as human beings, tend to put all the good things on a shelf and cling to the bad. We lose sight of all the hard work, and subconsciously sabotage ourselves out of what could be something lovely. We create our memories from the worst moments, forgetting the best ones, and never savoring them. And all the while, we never stop to think that this moment could very well be our last.
EASY COQ au VIN
5 pieces pancetta or bacon, cut into pieces
8 chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon
2 cups white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs thyme
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
8 ounces button mushrooms trimmed and halved
8 ounces pearl onions, trimmed and peeled
Parsley, chopped for garnish
4 oz. dark chocolate (about half a bar – I use organic, of course)
In a pan or Dutch oven (I use my cast iron Dutch oven), fry the bacon over medium heat until most of the fat has rendered out (but not until its crisp). Transfer the bacon to a bowl.
Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and place in the hot pan. Leave undisturbed for 6-7 minutes or until golden brown, then flip the chicken over, allowing it to brown lightly on the second side. Transfer the chicken to the bowl with the bacon.
The pan should now have brown residue on the bottom. This is what gives the dish much of its depth. Remove 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan and set it aside in a small bowl. Add the onion, celery and garlic and sauté until soft, scraping the residue off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Hit the pan with a generous splash of brandy or bourbon to deglaze the pan. Allow most of the liquid to evaporate, and then add the white wine, chicken stock, bay leaf, thyme, and tomato paste. Return the bacon and chicken to the pan and turn several times to make sure each piece is well coated and submerged in the liquid. Cover with the lid slightly askew (so steam can escape) and simmer over medium low heat until the chicken is tender 35-45 minutes.
Add the flour to the fat you've reserved and stir until there are no lumps. When the chicken is tender, transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and turn up the heat to medium, simmering uncovered for about 15 minutes or until the onions are cooked and the sauce has reduced a bit. Add a few tablespoons of sauce to the fat/flour mixture and stir to make ‘creamy’. Add the mixture to the sauce in the pan one spoonful at a time, mixing well after each addition to make sure there are no lumps. Add chocolate to the pot and stir until melted. Salt and pepper, cumin and garlic powder to taste. Sprinkle with parsley.