French Food and Cake Party

What makes food delicious? Fresh ingredients? Interesting flavor and texture combinations? Full of healthful nutrients? Skillfully prepared? 

Yes, I think that is part of it, but not all of it. Food was such a big part of our trip to France that I decided to throw a France Food and Cake party with some girlfriends.

The party was soul-warmingly fun!

But, I think what made the food so delicious was not because of the food or the preparation per say, but more because of the atmosphere. It's so hard to describe. It just worked.

We served the food in courses, which I think helps to savor the individual dishes. Imagine if we did this for Thanksgiving! In my family, we eat all the food at the same time and so the new or smaller side dishes tend to get lost among the traditional dishes. But, with courses, each of the dishes get the spotlight - at least for a moment.

But the company, the alarmingly warm weather, the remote and beautiful location, and probably the wine all made the party too. We enjoyed several reds and some Pouilly-Fuisse chardonnay and some lillet.

I wrote up the menu and then asked each guest to volunteer to bring an ingredient for the menu. Most of the dishes were made during the party! The menu was based on the food I ate while in France.

First course: Spinach Roulade with Red Pepper filling and balsamic reduction. Romaine lettuce with mustard seed vinaigrette.
France version (ala Chateau de Pommiers in Ige)

My version

This was the trickiest replication of the evening. I had tried to make the roulade a few days before as a test and it did not turn out well. It was edible, but barely... As you can see in the picture below, instead of a red pepper filling, I used a celeriac filling that wasn't so great. Plus, I didn't fold in the egg whites thoroughly enough, which is why there is a layer of white between the green outer edge and the celeriac filling. 

Second course: Toasted baguette with zucchini, tomato, and Swiss cheese.
France version (ala some restaurant in Paris)

My version

I actually liked my version better! 

Third course: Quinoa cakes with eggplant and red pepper ragu.
French version (ala La Zucca Magica in Nice)

My version

This was definitely an inspiration rather than a replica. Also, we improvised because the "cakes" fell apart and magically turned into "beds". I completely forgot to take a picture of the eggplant ragu, which may have been a result of too much wine by the third course! But, the host had made the ragu starting around 4:30 p.m. and just let it simmer until we were ready to eat it, around 8 p.m. That long simmer did wonders for the ragu! It was so good I inhaled it even though I wasn't very hungry by this time.

Fourth course: cheese and fruit

I was surprised to learn that in France the cheese course is typically after the meal and before the dessert. I've always eaten it as an appetizer! All the cheeses are French cheeses (purchased from a cheese shop on France Avenue - he he!). They were divine. 

Fifth course: Cake!

One of the guests bakes cakes on the side. So, I just assigned her "cake" and she brought this masterpiece!  It was so delicious! It is obviously a chocolate cake; some layers had chopped almonds in them and some were soaked in amaretto. Marzipan layers in the middle and a beautiful flower on the top. Ganache drizzled over the top makes it mouthwateringly delicious!

It took us nearly 4 hours to eat dinner. It was relaxing, nourishing, delicious, and sustaining. It was exactly what this blog is all about. Finding things that sustain you and relishing in them. 

Spinach Roulade with Red Pepper Filling
Serves 10, about 90 minutes

Red Pepper Filling
2 large red peppers
7 ounces soft cheese (I used quark)
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Seed and chop the peppers. Place in a saucepan with water that not quite covers them and cook over medium heat until soft, about 15-20 minutes.
  2. Drain (if needed) and place in a food processor. Puree the peppers. Add the cheese and salt; mix until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Spinach Roulade
10 ounces frozen spinach
4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup cream
2 tablespoons grated parmesan 
Nutmeg, salt, and pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Place the spinach and butter in a saucepan over medium heat and warm until all the liquid is gone.
  3. Separate the eggs. (I find the easiest way to do this is to use my hands.) Place the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a large mixing bowl. Whip the egg whites with a mixer until stiff peaks form. This means that the whites are stiff enough that none of the peaks tip over (soft peaks look like the tops of a Dairy Queen ice cream cone; we want peaks that stand straight). 
  4. Place the cooked spinach in another large mixing bowl. Add the yolks, cream, parmesan and spices (to taste). Stir well. Add half of the egg whites and fold to combine. Add the second half of the egg whites and fold to combine. Be patient. This step always takes longer than I would like. Be sure to combine thoroughly for an even texture.
  5. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking spray. Pour the spinach mixture into the pan and smooth out the top with a rubber spatula. Be sure that it is even throughout. (The size of the jelly roll pan will determine the thickness of the roulade. If you like thicker roulades, use a smaller pan.)
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Keeping on the parchment paper, slide it from the pan onto a cooling rack. Let cool for about 10-30 minutes. Spread the filling evenly on the spinach layer. 
  7. Carefully, roll up the roulade, beginning at the narrow end. How tight or loose you roll it is your preference. Some filling will probably seep out the sides. 
  8. Wrap in parchment paper, place in a sealed container, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  9. To serve, cut thin slices of the roulade. Top with extra filling if desired. Drizzle with balsamic reduction.
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Toasted Baguettes with Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Swiss Cheese
Serves 10, about 30 minutes

2 baguettes (as fresh as possible)
2 small zucchini
2 tomatoes
3 ounces swiss cheese (approximate amount)
Olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice the baguettes into 1/2 inch thick slices. Place on a jelly roll pan (or cookie sheet). Brush the tops with olive oil.
  3. Slice at an angle the zucchini so that they are about the same size as the baguette rounds. The slices should be no more than 1/4 inch thick. Place one slice on the top of each baguette round.
  4. Slice the tomato into 1/4 inch thick slices (at the most). If needed, cut each slice in half to fit the bread. Place one slice on top of each zucchini.
  5. Slice the swiss cheese into 1/8 inch slices. Cut to fit the baguette rounds and place one slice on top of each tomato.
  6. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese is browned. Remove from oven. Let cool a few minutes before serving.

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Quinoa cakes with eggplant and red pepper ragu (We left off the smoke mozzarella because of the large amount of cheese in many of the other dishes.)