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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Frugal in France: Is French Cooking Time-Consuming? Fancy Dinner

I would have to say:non. If you cook a la Julia Child, who was writing for American cooks remember, it IS time-consuming. That is because you have to make all the stuff French people buy: bread, pate, and the like.

Our fanciest dinner was at the home of Francoise and Herve. Here is the menu:
--melon, baked prunes and prosciutto
--lamb chops and zucchini tian
--cheese plate
--apricot crumble

Oh, bliss in the recollection of this beautifully composed meal. Note, however, the no-work elements in this fancy menu.

Then there are the dishes that require some labor. The prunes take almost no time. Lamb chops take no work, just timing. The zucchini for the tian were probably sliced on a mandoline, and then layered with cream and cheese, and then baked. The crumble consisted of sliced apricots topped with an easy mix of crumbs and sugar.

This did involve a goodly amount of work. But much less than I used to spend on my over-complex dinner parties in the days when I did such things.

We ate in a beautiful garden with our hosts and their nice teenaged sons, Julien and Vincent.

Thanks to our hosts for a lovely meal, good conversation, and an example of graceful and seemingly stress-free entertaining.

Any tips for simple, elegant cooking?


Shelley said...

I think I need some help defining what constitutes an 'elegant' meal. Is it the number of courses? The costliness of ingredients? The complexity of the dishes? The presentation? Perhaps all of the above is the easy answer, but without understanding your definition of elegant, I'm not sure what - if any - suggestions I might put forward.

Duchesse said...

Elegance IMO is transmitted by the quality of the food, the balance and accord between courses and the presentation- not just the plate, but also the accompanying wines and the table setting- the "art of the table".

Simple and elegant intersect nicely. We like to make an interesting soup and roast a chicken, for example.

Most of my French friends cook menus like you describe. A few use what they call "the American system": they buy the first course (such as a shrimp bisque) and the dessert.

I have also noticed that North Americans eat much faster; sometimes an entire meal, including dessert, is consumed in less than an hour.

All those courses are there for a reason: to keep people around a convivial table. Another part of an elegant dinner is that people actually *dine*.

Joan said...

As usual, Duchesse hits the nail on the head. I would also add that an "elegant" meal is one where the hostess is unflustered, where the dishes appear on the table as though by magic, and the guests do not feel as though their host/hostess is working like a trojan to pull everything together behind the scenes. Ingredients do not have to be costly... just of the highest quality (in season is best) and with no over-fussy preparation.