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Oct 15, 2010 09:46 PM

Impossibly elegant, French...and not too difficult?

I'd like to make a really special French meal, but I'm so pressed for time these days. I'd love some suggestions for beautiful and delicious recipes that aren't too time consuming. I'm up for a good five or six hours in the kitchen, but I can't start by making brown veal stock, or assemble dishes with numerous components.

For dessert, I'll serve pears poached in red wine with vanilla and black pepper, and filled with sweetened mascarpone cream. It's gorgeous, and only takes about an hour to make. What are the analogues for the first course and entree?

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  1. it depends on some of the qualifiers that you'd like to add to further flesh out your requirements for elegant, special, beautiful and delicious. That and perhaps what the point of this meal is supposed to be.

    Oeuf mayonnaise as an example can be transformed to match those descriptors but isn't necessarily what you'd be looking for at the end of the day. And I can make numerous French dishes that will take the better part of 6 hours without involving fond brun and numerous components.

    2 Replies
    1. re: wattacetti

      Sorry, I should have said dinner. Dinner with candles. For my husband's birthday and a couple of people who would be really excited to be served to be served a fancy French meal. White tablecloth.

      As for what might be "elegant, special, beautiful, delicious" --- I'm going to have to leave that up to posters to interpret. Something that will look nice on a plate a plus.

      1. re: CathleenH

        That tells lots and I'll assume that you have good skills and won't worry too much budget-wise. I'll also assume that you actually want to eat with your husband and your guests. Your selection of what to make will depend on whether you want to do restaurant service (individual plating; my personal preference for white tablecloth events) or family-style service.

        I'd suggest a relatively simple starter and concentrate on a more extravagant main, partially so that people can anticipate it and partially to make best use of your time.

        For this you could do leek and potato soup (about as French a potage as one can get), rillettes, brandade de morue and the like. Simple, make-ahead, minimal fuss for service prep.

        Saw the posts suggesting boeuf en croute (and the Wellington), and would suggest that unless you`ve made them before, you avoid anything in a pastry case. Theres always the issue of overshooting the cooking of the beef or undercooking the thing and getting soggy pastry and you don`t need that stress for a first go.

        Boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin - both nice, but both nicer if you've got lead time to make the day ahead. I have had lots of conversations as to how to make each look pretty but that depends on personal style.

        Caroline1 has already suggested Tournedos Rossini, which would give an opportunity to showcase foie gras and truffles. Nice dish and quite do-able if you've got your timing down because overcooked foie gras = pool of oil. She is right about top-flight ingredients so unless you have access to the ingredients, set it aside. If you're going to buy black truffles make sure they're from France as the less-expensive Chinese and Australian ones don't taste or smell right. For foie gras, get duck foie gras for this recipe since it can be seared; goose foie gras is harder to obtain and can't really be cooked this way.

        I'm going to throw the following two suggestions into the ring:

        Sole meunière: it's one of *the* French fish classics and will be one of the recipes that will test your capabilities because its simplicity gives you plenty of rope to hang yourself with several times over. Since there are four fillets on a flatfish, if you get a large enough sole you'll just have to cook one fish and can then do tableside service.

        Poulet en demi-deuil: lots of variations on this but in its most basic form, it's a roast chicken with slices of black truffle slipped under the skin of the chicken breast. You'll need a really good chicken (the best version I've had of this was made with poulet de Bresse), black truffle, and butter. If you wanted to be like Alain Passard, you would roast the bird in a pan on top of the stove (not in the oven) and turn the bird with your bare hands (because metal will taint the taste). If you wanted to be Paul Bocuse, you'd put a piece of foie gras into the cavity and then put the chicken into a pig bladder with vin jaune before poaching and roasting. If you want to be realistic, just roast the thing in your oven after you've prepped the bird (truffled breast, trussed, slather in butter) and again carve tableside and serve with a chicken jus mounted with butter.

        Even if you go with something else, if your main dish permits, make and serve Joël Robuchon's pomme purée (the mashed potato that won a third Michelin star).

        And don't forget appropriate wines and consider a small cheese course before your dessert.

    2. On a recent episode of French Food at Home, she did some dishes to impress.

      Boeuf en Croute

      Grilled Sea Bass with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Broccoli Puree

      There is also a beautiful roast lamb and some other very elegant recipes. I would just peruse through her stuff.

      For your first course I don't know if you are planning on making a soup or salad but she has those as well. I would also try Epicurious and just type in French first courses.

      1 Reply
      1. re: AmandaCA

        Bouef en Croute could be a great option. (And you've got me thinking about the many uses of Dufour puff pastry...

      2. Poulet a l'estragon is not too time consuming if you can get fresh tarragon. I cut this recipe out of a food & wine article about Pepin from March 2003, and have made it many times. Here's a link to the recipe I found by googling; the original recipe called form 2 chicken breast halves on the bone and 2 whole chicken legs, you'll see the blogger substituted all thighs:


        The headnotes to the recipe in Food & Wine state that active time is 30 minutes, and total prep time is 1 hour 15 minutes. I rarely complete recipes within times given, and this one is no different, but it won't take more than two hours total.

        1. My favourite French first course is a mixed crudite (apologies - can't work out how to get the accent over the "e"). I think with a careful choice of vegetables and good plating up, this could be an elegant idea. And completely easy peasy.

          Alternatively, if your local supermarket stocks a decent ready made fish stock, then you've got the basis for another very easy seafood soup. Certainly as elegant as you want it to be.

          For a main course, perhaps poached chicken. Looks wonderful and lends itself to serving some vegetables with bold colours - maybe some wild mushrooms sauteed.

          1. I love Julia Child's Steak Diane. I'm not at home so don't have the book handy (Julie Child &Co.) and can't find an online recipe. But it SO easy, delicious and fun. If you cancheck out the book from the library, you can see if it suits.