Just as a start point, I'm going to give you the menu I prepared and served to my guests last weekend. The idea is to give you an insight as to the sort of table I like to try and present to my guests, for whom I (as host) am responsible, in all senses - from their arrival.
They should feel welcome, at their ease, they should have some nice odours to welcome them, and they should be aware that they can eat or drink whatever they wish - there is no MUST....!
Maybe, before continuing, I should add that my region of France, being the South, is very particular in it's dishes, and échalote and garlic are extremely important, and consumed in enormous quantities. If you're ever there, don't be scared of eating garlic, it is rarely overwhelming with these dishes, and nobody is going to look at you in horror or move away from you in the bus/train/plane!
I should add, also, that most of my guests are French, locals but also from all over France. A smattering of Dutch, German and British are also present regularly, particularly in the tourist seasons.
They all seem to enjoy the food from the South, and have no problem with the garlic etc.. Maybe it's because they're on holiday!
One thing I always do have to do, when the British are present, is remove the salt cellar from the table.
Strange, but a British person's first gesture upon receiving food is to stretch an arm out for the salt - without tasting!
ALORS! A TABLE.......
After the normal ritual of "Aperos" which I will deal with elsewhere, the passage to table presented an entree (to clear the mouth of left over "pastis" or cocktail tastes)-a simple green salad with a crispy, slightly sharp vinaigrette. Often the aperos are too long and too copious, and I've never really understood why the French, in particular, tend to take such overpowering drinks as aperos. Pastis, absinthe, bitters (like "Suze"), and then not one, nor two, but three or four! Somebody once said somewhere "one pastis is an appetizer, two and appetite killer" - I personally find Pastis so strong in flavour and antiseptic value that it actually kills off the taste buds in the mouth, but then - I'm not a pastis or aniseed drinker - I don't even consume the vegetable "fenouil" nor the sausages "merguez" due to their strong flavour of anis.
So - a small green salad, with a sharpish vinaigrette sorts the palate out, and leaves room for much more.
With this I served myguests with a crisp, ice cold local white wine, which has 12 vol, but can be drunk copiously, so long as it's ice cold. It is also an ideal wine to accompagny the next course, a "Brandade de Nimes avec ses croutons".
This dish is made from salt cod, fresh cream, olive oil,and some put mashed potatoes in as well, although the latter turns it into "Brandade Parmentier" and is a very substantial meal in its own right. The main and most important ingredients are the salt cod, and an extremely high quantity of garlic. I also serve a few raw, skinned garlic cloves on the side for personal addtion. The croutons, in triangular form, must be browned crispy, preferably in olive oil. They are also "rubbed" with garlic cloves by the guest himself.
The cold, chilled white wine went down wonderfully well, although here in tharea red wine is drunk with almost everything, but not by mr le marquis....!
To our shame, but for the good of our stomachs, most of my guests are smokers, they are also excellent creators of "small talk" or "table talk", so our courses are always interspersed with longer breaks as a pause, cigarette and table talk take over for a while.
For that reason, most of my guests are aware that a meal "chez mr le marquis" normally takes a minimum of around 3 hours, often much longer!
It is a "social" occasion, and most thoroughly enjoy it. Mind you - they are all mainly very carefully chosen!
Often at this moment I serve a little "trou Normande" - apple sorbet drenched in Calvados, but I've given it up when I have British guests, they always think it is the "pudding"!
So - after our Brandade had slid down sufficiently, we passed to the main course, which today was a:
"Gardienne du Taureau" et ses riz sauvage Camarguaise.
This dish is a local speciality, due to the fact that in Camargue, arenas and bull fighting of one sort or another, is prevalent, so logically, bulls meat is plentiful. It's not cheap, but what specialities ever are? Obviously beef can be used, in which case it becomes a "daube Languedocien(ne)" or "Boeuf Languedocienne" called many other things as well.
Traditionally it is served with wild Camargue rice, which is brown in colour, very long to cook, and I personally don't like it! Little known is the fact that the South of France is one of the world's largest rice producers, India, China and Spain being ahead of them, but not for so called "Riz Sauvage"! You can also serve the fore mentioned croutons, again with garlic to be rubbed, but my guests have already had those, and variety is the spice of life - so normal rice is served by me.
Once you've got the "knack" preparation only takes around 10 to 15 minutes, but cooking is long, slowly, around 4 hours!
The olives can be left out, but it's no longer "Une Gardienne"!
This is also one of those dishes that is "always better the day after cooking" - but normally you're told that and never invited the next day!
Voir les recettes de Anick Decarie-Lehmann
(Also known as "Gardienne du Taureau")
The wine to serve with this is a local red, but a Minervois or a Corbières are also impeccable. In quantity, please, and NOT "room temperature" - room temperature here is somewhere around 30C.....!
Put the bottle(s) in the fridge, and serve them from there. Believe me - it's better!
Another pause, more chit chat, more cancer preparations, more food!
FROMAGES. I'm not going into that, as Gen de Gaulle once asked "how can you govern a country that produces more than 3,000 cheeses?"
Instead, we'll pass to the dessert. Obviously, between cheese and dessert, you can serve another small simple green salad, for the same reason as before - clean the palate!
So - "Cerises "Baden-Baden". Sounds complicated, but it's not, and it's one of the dishes people have come to expect from me!
Basically cherries, the "bottled" type, stoned and in their own syrup.
They are warmed on the stove, flambée them, if possible in the liqueur "Kirsche" orjust use Cognac. When they have stopped flaming, thicken up the cherries and the juices with a little cornflour, just getting a slightly runny sauce consistency. To serve them, put one or two vanilla ice cream balls in the glasses, cover them with the hot cherries in their sauce, decorate with whipped cream - Chantilly, and serve quickly. I also serve a hot dark chocolate sauce extra, on the side, this gives the hot & cold contrasts. The "Baden-Baden" bit comes from the city in Germany of the same name, which is in the Black Forest area, hence the same - or similar ingredients as for a "Schwarzwaldertorte" (Black Forest gateau) just without the sponge.
The only trouble with this dessert is that it disappears all too quickly, and total silence normally reigns at table!
Finally, but so important - "Le Café"!
So important that years ago, I invested in an expensive machine which makes me an Expresso café just like you get in Italy or even in French cafés, and it was worth it!
Of course, the "pousse-cafe" must be present, Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados or even Grande Marnier or Cointreau. Just refill the coffee cups as required, and let your guests help themselves to liqueurs-digestifs.
Not dumb, our ancestors, "digestif" helps digest, and it's very agreeable as well! There is no suggestion that you've served something "doubtful" (which was the original reason for drinking digestifs) but you are showing your guests that you care about their welfare! Let the bank manager take care of the resulting damage, nowadays a top Cognac (Hennessy "Paradise" for example - the TOP Cognac existing) costs around 1500euros - the bottle!
So - there we are, you've been invited to the table of Mr le Marquis, you chit-chatted between mouthfuls, you've been taken on a tour of the Region, all you need now, like mr le Marquis, is a SIESTA!
Vauvert,France. *** Juillet 2010 ***** iwmpop
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