A French inspired long Sunday lunch
July is French month at our place. Always has been. The main reason is Bastille Day on July 14, which we always celebrate whether we are away on the boat or back home on land. Festivities have taken may shapes over the years. When lucky enough to be in France (or French territories) we would partake in the local events: fireworks over the bay of Benodet in 2006, military parade in La Rochelle in 2011, Polynesian Show in Bora Bora in 2014. Any other years, it means a big feast and though we’re talking about a single event, it is the lead up and the aftermath that make the whole month of July a festival of French food. From the planning, produce sourcing and prepping prior, to the cleaning up and accomodating of left overs afterwards…our home feels like a little corner of France.This year was no different.
We always try to host a big family meal at least once a month, and as you may know by now, everyone in our clan not only likes to eat but cook as well. In a typical Aussie fashion, no guests like to come empty handed and generally the first question I am asked after sending an invite is “What can I bring?” For many years, I would play the perfect French hostess, replying “nothing at all, just the pleasure of your company”. And I meant it, as I took great pleasure in planning the meal, choosing the wines to match the menu and the flowers to dress the table. Admittedly it was easy since our boats have often been the largest in any anchorage, and on land our house is comfortable enough to accomodate a crowd. However, years of cruising and sharing potluck dinners in parks or on beaches, discovering other’s culinary prowess created a shift of mindset and I now find it much more fun when each participants comes along with his or her own creation. Be it a potato bake or a bottle of wine. Keep people engaged, as they say…
This month dinner theme being French, is think it fair to say the challenge was on. Our guests were Terry’s children (Craig, Mal, Shelley and Tania) and partners (Danielle and Kathy), grand-children (Harry, Hannah, Cooper and Jessie), and the boys mum, Rosalie, and her partner, Ian. Rosalie immediately offered to cook Coq au Vin and I suggested that the others take care of starters as I had a couple of desserts in mind. Just as well the invites went out 3 weeks ahead, it gave everyone plenty of time to do some research…myself included! The kids were over the moon when on Bastille Day itself, I decided to test a batch of crepes for dinner. While quite common in France, a crepe dinner is a treat in Australia. I served a savoury main of mushroom and bacon pancakes followed by lemon and sugar crepes for dessert, to the delight of Anne who reminded me “I” had missed pancake Day in February this year, so this was only a catch up !
2 days later, I drove to meet a girlfriend, Elaine, in North Sydney, who wanted to show me her neighbourhood farmer’s market. She had asked me to come early, as stalls often sell out by 8am. That meant I was on the road at 7am on a Saturday, not something I do often. Luckily the traffic was light and being school holidays, it turns out the Northside Produce Market, was only moderately busy. As Elaine took me thru her favourite stalls, I could not help being reminded of the open air fresh markets in France, with the artisan breadmakers, green grocers, fresh flowers, and cheese mongers!!! Oh, never mind the early drive, it was so worth it, especially when I found Steph’s Gourmet Food and its french saucisson and pates! We instantly broke into French and babbled away, taking all of poor Elaine’s patience to pry me away…for we had a lot to catch up with over coffee and my friend was on a schedule as tight as I was, hosting a lunch of her own the next day. The rest of the morning was spent discussing world issues, upcoming holidays, the menus of our respective Sunday lunches and the latest Pokemon Go craze taking over! We have very diverse topics of interest as you can see …
This brings us to our French inspired lunch. Being in charge of desserts, I chose to make a chocolate tart and an apple cake. The former, I knew would be a favourite with the children (young and old), the latter is an old family favourite and a rustic take on the traditional apple pound cake. Unlike other years, I found myself with enough time on my hands to get organised in advance, and with a lot of the prep done the day before, it was merely a matter of putting things together and let the oven do the work for 1 hour or so. Which allowed me to prepare a main of beef stew with carrots, to complement Rosalie’s coq au vin, as well as a big batch of garlic mashed potatoes to mop up the delicious juices from both courses. And because I had last minute concerns that the grandchildren may not fancy all these wine laden stews, I cooked some mac and cheese as a back up! All we needed now were our starters…
Shelley and Tania brought some vol au vents, with a choice of 2 delicious fillings of curried prawns and chicken and leek. Craig produced an amazing plate of salmon tartare garnished with dill and green sisho (courtesy of Darling Mills Herbs, one of my market’s finds!), while Danielle put together the most wonderful beef carpaccio with parmesan and rocket. My starters’ contribution was a plate of snails in a burgundy sauce of garlic and parsley butter, served in tiny pastries instead of shells as the French do. Not that we needed another dish, but I had promised to cook snails! With such an abundance of food, Terry suggested that we should end lunch right there and then, but hey, who was in a hurry…the beauty of long lazy lunches is that nobody is rushing to go home and it was well into the evening before our guests departed. One could say that no dinner was necessary.
Escargots (Snails) in garlic butter sauce
In France, you can purchase frozen pre-seasoned snails in the shell, ready to bake. Believe it or not, it used to be one of my kids favourite food, owing a lot to the garlic butter sauce which they used to mop with chunks of fresh bread. We used to always have a packet handy in the freezer, ready to pop in the oven for 15 minutes and voila! No such thing here in Sydney, so I have had to come up with my own way. You can buy canned snails as well as clean empty shells, but at $1 a shell I find it an expensive proposition. I substitute shortcrust mini-pastry cases instead, which is not only more economical but turns this starter into a perfect finger food (one bite and it’s gone!)
You can also use vol au vent cases, another ideal vehicle to soak up the butter.
1 can of escargots (2 1/2 dozens)
30 pre-cooked mini pastry or vol au vent cases
For the butter:
100g butter at room temperature
1 tsp salt
1 pinch white pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 garlic clove crushed (or more to taste!)
1 small french shallot finely chopped
1 tsp brandy (optional)
- Preheat oven to 160 C.
- Prepare the butter sauce: blend together all the ingredients, cover and allow to sit for a few hours for flavours to develop.
- Drain the content of the can, and place each snail in a pastry case ( or shell if using). Cover with the butter mixture prepared as above. Bake in the oven until the butter sauce sizzles and the pastry cases are warm.
- Serve immediately.
Beef and carrot stew
A favourite in our family, this meat stew uses white wine and mustard, instead of the traditional red wine and mushroom combination. I also like to include lots of carrots and peas, to make it a one-pot dish (though some kids have been known to pick the vegetables out…) This dish is best to prepare the day before as the flavours improve if left overnight. All you need is to reheat slowly before dinner.
Serves 6, as a main
1.2 kg chuck steak, cut in 5cm pieces
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, trimmed and chopped
750 ml dry white wine
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 bouquet garni
Sprigs of thyme
4 carrots, peeled and sliced in coins
200g frozen peas
A handful of parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper
- Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven on high heat. Brown the meat in batches, set aside.
- In the same pot, add 1 tbsp of olive oil. Reduce the heat to medium and sweat the onion and celery, until soft and translucent ( careful not to let it burn). Add the meat and its juices, the dijon mustard and stir until combined. Pour in the white wine and enough water to cover the meat. Add the bouquet garni, bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer for at least 2 hours or until meat is tender, checking occasionally that the liquid has not reduced too much.
At that stage you can turn off the heat and let the dish cool and rest in the fridge overnight.
- The next day, about 1 hour before serving, reheat the mix, adding the carrots after 30 minutes or so. Once carrots are cooked thru, check for the sauce consistency: if too much liquid, take the lid off and let it reduce. If too dry, add hot water. Add the frozen peas in the last 5 minutes of cooking.
- When ready to serve, season to taste and sprinkle parsley over the top. Serve hot, with garlic mashed potatoes.
Garlic mashed potatoes
Do we need a recipe for this? Ok, let’s see:
1 kg of potatoes, peeled and quartered
100g butter, softened
1/2 cup of lukewarm milk
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
- In a large pot, place the potatoes in enough cold water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Drain the water out.
- Add the butter, milk and garlic and mash the potatoes with a potato masher or a fork (NOT a blender or it will turn the potatoes into a gluey mess!)
- Serve immediately or keep warm on minimum heat until ready to serve.
This recipe is not mine, I first discovered it 25 years ago in a book written by French chef Gabriel Gate “Great cakes and Desserts”. It has been a favourite for years, more rustic than an Apple tart and more transportable than a pound cake, it is terrific served warm with a dollop of cream or as a treat in the kids lunch box.
150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
150 self raising flour
1/4 cup sultanas, softened in hot water
2 large apples (the original recipe says Granny Smith, but I used Jazz)
A sprinkling of cinnamon
1 tbsp caster sugar for dusting
Apricot jam ( I used redcurrant jelly ) for glazing
- Line a 20cm round cake tin with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 200 C/400F
- In a food mixer, cream butter and sugar for a few minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time and lastly fold in the self raising flour. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, tapping it a little to distribute the mixture evenly (the batter is quite thick, similar to a muffin batter).
- Drain the sultanas and sprinkle them on top of the batter.
- Peel, halve and core the apples. Cut into 5 mm slices and arrange over the cake mixture in a circular pattern, with the slices overlapping.
- Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and the extra sugar. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 1 hour or until a metal skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and unfold onto a cake rack. Allow to cool.
- Just before serving, brush the top with warmed redcurrant jelly