It's been far too long since I had any sort of Dinner Club gathering for selected students and friends, but recently I've been inspired to put on my thinking toque.
A couple of weeks ago, I listened to the Splendid Table podcast and heard a woman extolling the virtues of making a simple soufflé for a dinner party. It had been years since I'd made a soufflé, but suddenly that sounded like just the thing to get our little group jump-started once more.
So I planned a very restrained, simple French menu (featuring local foods), invited my guests –- the faithful Persephone, She Who Cannot Be Labeled, the Contradance Queen (someone with whom I definitely should have struck up an acquaintance long before this!), and der Freiburger -– and started off the day by baking a loaf of French bread.
I had some difficulty with the dough because my instant yeast really is too old (and is now gone, alas), but I eventually managed to shape it into a dense baguette, then joined the ends to make a wreath and snipped the dough down and turned the pieces like an épi, or a sheaf of wheat. (Obviously that effect would have been more obvious had I left the loaf in the baguette shape.) It's not quite what I had hoped for, but everyone seemed well satisfied with the bread.
Der Freiburger arrived early as he had expressed a keen interest in learning how to make a soufflé. Not wanting to discourage any sort of curiosity where the kitchen is concerned, I welcomed him and immediately put him to work whisking the béchamel base for the soufflé and then whisking egg yolks while I power-whipped the egg whites in the monster mixer. (WOW.)
Explaining the whys and wherefores along the way, I took him through the recipe step by step, realizing that the recipe was far easier than I had remembered it. And once we had scooped the mixture into the prepared pan and wrapped a parchment collar around it, we slid it into the oven to bake while we made dessert. (More on that in a moment.)
The last menu item to make was green beans almondine, one of my favorites from growing up in the Chef Mother's kitchen. I had thawed a bag of organic green beans from last year's farmers' market, and while those drained, I melted butter in a saucepan and toasted slivered almonds. The beans got tossed in with the nuts, just to warm everything up before serving. (Sorry, no photos.)
Then, once everyone had arrived, the timer on the oven went off, and out came a glorious mixture of eggs, cheese, milk, and air.
Most impressive, especially when seen from the side!:
We partook of dinner heartily, cleaning out the soufflé dish and nearly all of the beans, without feeling stuffed afterwards. (That's one of the beauties of soufflé: it looks really rich, but it's really fairly light and pleasant, filling you without pushing the edges.)
After that, of course, dessert took center stage. I brought out my recipe for dark chocolate pots de crème, making a thick, luscious, dangerously dark pudding from 99% Scharffen Berger unsweetened chocolate (oh, how I heart you, SB!), and topping it with a spectacular cinnamon and hazelnut crumble.
The first bite resulted in a collective moment of reverent silence and savoring, with contented sighs following soon after. (It is a very good dessert, I agree.)
All in all, it turned out to be an incredibly successful dinner with comparatively little work, and it never ceases to delight me to find new people to sample new dishes and to appreciate the joys of local food. In fact, we had such a grand time that I'm already planning our next soirée: a Moroccan feast to chase away the winter blues.
And the RSVPs are already coming in...!