Entertaining: French Dinner Party
When it comes to entertaining, my goal is always to have as much done ahead of time as possible. I want to be able to enjoy the time with my guests, without being constantly tied to the kitchen. The beauty of this menu is that much of it is prepped ahead and the beauty of French cuisine is that it focuses on method & a few simple ingredients, so there is much less to chop & shop for!
My 1st rule of thumb is to have something out to snack on when your guests arrive. Whether you are hosting 2 people or 50, this eliminates the urgency of serving dinner straightaway. The simple crostini Appetizer below is a perfect starter. Though it is a dinner party, the focus is on the experience rather than just the meal. In most cases, you don’t need to plan to serve your 1st seated course for at least 45 minutes. This gets your guests acclimated, allows room for late arrivals and gives time for some mingling & a drink…which brings me to my 2nd rule of thumb!
Cocktails may very well be the key to a great dinner party…well for me at least!! This cocktail below is my absolute favorite! My preferences lean toward a little less sweet & a little more acidic, you can adjust to your own of course. I love to infuse some lavender or rosemary into my simple syrup for a floral or herbaceous note. I recommend using a brut sparkling wine to top it off, as it will brighten the overall flavor. I also always recommend fresh lemon juice to bottled. Bottled citrus loses many of the enzymes that hold the best flavor and tend to have a metallic taste as well…non merci. Plus, you will want the twist from the lemon peel as a garnish, so it works out well!! These do pack a bit of a punch, so you can plan to switch to serving straight sparkling wine, or a crisp French rose or sauvignon blanc to pair with the rest of the menu.
When serving several courses, do yourself a favor and keep it simple. A great vinaigrette is the key to a beautiful salad. This particular salad course will be fresh arugula dressed with a champagne vinaigrette. You can certainly doll it up if you’d like. Some shaved fennel, toasted hazelnuts & blue cheese would pair beautifully. We will keep it simple, as I said, and focus on the dressing and peppery arugula greens for this course!
For the main course we’re serving a classic French dish, Chicken in a Tarragon Cream Sauce. Accompanied by herbed farro, it lends nuttiness & and the perfect base to absorb the delicious sauce. Farro is a hearty grain that responds well to being prepared ahead of time. Our tarragon chicken can be started before your guests arrive and finished in the oven as well, shaving some off even more time away from the party.
For the farro:
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add 1.5 cups of quick cooking farro. Cook for 10-15 minutes & strain. Stir in some butter, herbs, salt & pepper!
Jacques Pépin’s Poulet a la Crème (Chicken in Cream Sauce) – C H E W I N G T H E F A T
*The only thing that I tend to do differently than the above recipe is saute some garlic and shallots with the mushrooms, as well as substitute the water for chicken stock!
ANNNNNNND, I can’t think of a more delicious way to end a French dinner party, that also takes into account preparing ahead, as creme brulee. Baked and cooled as much as a day in advance, the only step left is caramelizing the sugar and serving! Voila! Enjoy!