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Need menu ideas for an easy make ahead French bistro meal

I'm hosting my book club later this month. There is a group of 8 of us (all relatively adventurous eaters with no allergies or food restrictions) and we often try to pair the meal with the book that we have read. This month's book is The Paris Wife, which is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage while living in 1920's Paris. There aren't really any meals described in the book (though plenty of drinking), but a good amount of time is spent in Paris cafes, so I thought it would be good to do some sort of Paris bistro menu. The other factor is that I will be working that day and hosting about 1 1/2 hours after arriving home from the office. Obviously, I can have the table set, etc before, but I'm trying to think of meals that could be made the day before and reheated. Maybe French onion soup and cassoulet? Anyone have any favorite (and not too complicated) recipes? Thoughts about dessert? Tarte Tatin seems like the obvious one, though I have never made it and am a little concerned about the moment of truth when I flip the pan over. Again, any suggestions for a dessert that can be made ahead?

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  1. If you have time, you might take a look at "The Movable Feast" (written by Hemingway during the same time in Paris). I seem to remember he goes into more details on the food ... unfortunately I don't have my copy with me to look.

    Some ideas -- Mussels Mariniere (assuming you can pick up some nice mussels.. and french bread.. on the way home from work) cook in just a few minutes. Beef Bourguignon can be done ahead and reheated. Dessert -- maybe a galette? I would think it could be done the night before.

    1. There'e always good old chocolate mousse! Before you all jump in and say it's been done to death, I say that sometimes something is done to death is because it's so good!

      1 Reply
      1. re: sandylc

        I think this is a good idea. It may have been "done to death" back in the day, but no one has served me chocolate mousse in many years. And it is made ahead of time, which sounds like it would be good for the OP's book club.

      2. I do not know where you live, but depending on your weather a salad nicoise would be lovely. You can pre chop lettuce, hard boil eggs, par boil haricut vert. The only thing you would have to do is gently sear the tuna (or use canned if you prefer). Serve it with a platter of some yummy runny french cheeses and a baguette. Sounds perfect for a group of ladies.

        3 Replies
        1. re: ctfoodie

          Made my first outrageous Ni├žoise last night, possibly our best dinner in weeks. I marinated the tuna steak and roasted it in a pan with carrots and onions. After 4-6 hours in the fridge it had a very subtle browned/ cerviche-like tang, adding appreciably to the effect of a well-rounded entre┬┤ -perfectly complimenting the capers& minty blanched peas. As a side, I sauteed fresh spinach which looked excessive yet provided another level of contrast. Together, it felt exactly like dining on the Med.

          1. re: ctfoodie

            In France you would never see salad nicoise made with fresh tuna, only canned packed in olive oil.

            1. re: robt5265

              I know, and I've got three large cans on standby yet I shudder the thought of actually opening them. Maybe next week, for guests. Anyway, mercury is contaminating most tuna worldwide today. Now, with all of the dire new reports from Fukushima,-Yikes!

              Yesterday, LA just experienced their highest fallout yet. Which means you can't trust any of the California vegetables except tubers. Luckily, I have two small plots that have been covered since March 7th 2011, plus a 12x20' hoop-greenhouse. So far,- great lettuce, spinach & (soon) tomatoes, peas, etc. If we could grow lemons I suppose I would be learning how to make lemongrass soup!

          2. French onion soup followed by Cassoulet sounds a bit heavy... and Casoulet is anything but uncomplicated - I have made a few times, and very multi-step!

            I like Firecooked suggestions of mussels with beef bourguigogne to follow. Very Bistro-y. Doing mussels for 8 could be a bit of a challenge as well, so another entree (first course in France) might be an onion tart with caramelized onions and lots of fresh thyme.

            It would be great to have a cheese course after the plat, and Chocolate mousse sounds divine for dessert. or you could do Il Flotante with custard sauce and rasperrries, which would be easy and very different for an American audience. Easy-peasy trick my French BF's aunt taught me; you can make the floating islands in the MICROWAVE in seconds. SSSHHHH, no one has to know! I bet you can find a recipe on the internet, but basically a sweetened merangue cooks in spoonfuls on a plate in the micro for 30-40 seconds for each 'pile of puff', and serve on a pool of custard sauce with berries and perhaps some caramel sauce.
            Yum!

            1. CHICKEN GRAND MERE -- easy make ahead - i make a simple version of chicken grand mere using only skinless thighs (bone in or out, but i usually do bone-in for extra flavor) ... buy at least two thighs per woman guest (if men, add more per guest) ... dredge the chicken in flour and herbs, brown in canola oil, then layer (no more than 2 thick) in to a wide, shallow oven proof casserole (your le Creuset?) ... then brown some sliced mushrooms (at least 2 cups sliced), diced onions (one the size of woman's fist), a couple cloves crushed mild garlic - sprinkle evenly over the chicken.

              Drain any excess fat, then deglaze your pan with some white wine or broth, add to the casserole. Add some more broth up to a total of about 1 quart ( i cheat and use either the Pacific brand or the concentrate in the jar that is called Better than Bouillion) ... add your favorite herbs (thyme, pepper, bay leaf) and keep in your fridge overnight. (i generally cook it right away and don't refridge, but you can for make-ahead convenience) You might need to sprinkle a bit more flour in to the casserole to thicken the broth as it cooks in the oven

              oven at about 350 (or i think you could slow cooker this but i don't have one - maybe someone here is an expert on that) --- for about 90 minutes. Remove the lid from your casserole for the last 30 minutes or so to get a nice top and thicken it a bit more. I actually don't put the lid on tightly at all during the oven cooking - i don't want steamed chicken. Instead, i use a loose foil cover on a large fancy looking roasting/lasagne pan that i also use to serve it in.

              here is a link to a recipe attributed to Cafe Boulud
              clearly i don't use the whole chicken or the bacon etc etc.
              http://www.starchefs.com/chefs/DBoulu...

              serve with rustic mashed or roasted NEW potatoes, some green beans or other green steam-able vegetable I notice there are lots of tasty green bean preparation ideas on this website. our chef friend steams the beans ahead of time (keep them bright and crisp) then takes out of fridge and heats in a quick saute pan with a bit of butter/oil mixture. Season to taste.

              i vote for the chocolate dessert idea too.