My dear new friends, today, I Pierre LeChat, the official fine food connoisseur in residence at the soon-to-be-world-famous Serendipity Farmhouse Test Kitchen, will amaze you with a most edifying discussion and review of a world-class French dinner prepared and served in the most unlikely of places. This review will shatter long-standing myths and, hopefully, transport you to a new level of confidence in your ability to take on any culinary challenge, no matter how difficult it may seem. – Before you embark on this journey, it would be considered wise for you to refer to “Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence” as outlined in my last post: Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case
Let Us Set the Table – The Story Behind the Story
It is common knowledge that Mme. Blondie, my employer and culinary collaborator, was born and raised in the South, that beautiful and enchanting region of your United States, where women possess great charm and a strong attachment to traditional ways. While reading through past posts on this excellent blog, I came across a most interesting post, a post that showed me how Mme. Blondie has made it her task and her duty to pass on her traditions in the style of the South. That post was How to Host a Tea Party – SFH Style, a truly marvelous description of how a wise and knowledgeable grandmother can influence the future and enrich the lives of the ones she loves most. Mme. Blondie can proudly say that she and her daughters and her granddaughters are truly Girls Raised In The South (GRITS).
And that brings us to Mme. Blondie’s Daughter #2, a most remarkable woman of strong character and, I say this with firm conviction, a woman of great culinary courage. She currently lives in the majestic Shenandoah Valley, once known as the breadbasket of the South. In the Valley, food of all types surrounds you. Beef, poultry, dairy, and a vast assortment of crops – good food is plentiful and the folks there know how to make a great meal. But Daughter #2 is a woman made for culinary adventure; she’s a woman ready to step out of familiar everyday meals. Like her Momma, she possesses the gift of a mind open to new possibilities, a mind that does not fear to explore.
The Challenge: An Ina Garten French Dinner
Now that you know something of the character of Daughter #2, let us discuss the nature of the challenge. Recently, Daughter #2 has been studying French cuisine through the eyes of Ina Garten and her cookbook Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home. She knew well how strongly her Momma had been influenced by Julia Child and her cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I and she thought it would be a grand idea for Mme. Blondie and her to bring what they had learned together in a semi-formal sit-down dinner party. The plans were made, the menu was decided, and the date was set – January 23, 2022, would be the day for French Cuisine & GRITS.
Both chefs started preparations early, actually days in advance. In the post Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case, you saw how Mme. Blondie prepared Julia’s Tartlets. At noon that day, I was chauffeured by Monsieur Fuzz Face to Daughter #2’s residence. Fortunately, I was able to sit in the back seat with Mme. Blondie and was not subjected to Fuzzy’s foolish prattle. When we arrived at Daughter #2’s home, just a short distance from the beautiful North Fork of the Shenandoah, I quietly walked into the kitchen. Daughter #2 was quite busy, and it took a moment or two for her to turn in my direction. When she saw me, dressed as I was in my usual dapper way, her mouth fell open and she uttered a most surprised yet sincere welcome. Recognizing me, perhaps the world’s most distinguished gourmet, she immediately dropped everything and hugged me lovingly, kissing each cheek in the customary French way. I was most flattered and I’m certain that I blushed with the attention she showered upon me.
I knew that my presence would increase the pressure on her to make the perfect meal. I did my best to let her know that she could continue without worry about me. I was here to enjoy the food and to make a new friend. – This is, after all, the way it should be in the world of fine food.
There are those that foolhardily say that a typical French dinner consists of this or that number of courses. Of course, they seldom take into account the customs in different regions, nor do they even consider that perhaps there is room for variation. In but a few minutes of searching, you can find any number of discordant answers to the question of “How many and what are the courses in a typical French Dinner?” I mock these so-called experts. Here, see for yourself how they never can agree:
Here in a loose form is what Daughter #2 served her guests and yours truly, Persnickety Pierre, on this day of days in her culinary life:
- L’Aperitif: Serendipity Cocktail – This drink was chosen for its name and significance to all associated with Serendipity Farmhouse. For the history of the drink and a recipe see: Serendipity, a Paris Cocktail from the World’s Greatest Bartender
- L’Entree: Julia’s Tartlets – The background on this appetizer is described in the post Julia’s Tartlets – Pierre’s Test Case.
- La Soupe: Winter Squash Soup – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Winter Squash Soup (Recipe here; Barefoot in Parish (BIP), p. 81)
- Le Plat Principal: Beef Bourguignon – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Beef Bourguignon (Recipe here; BIP, p. 121)
- Salad: Green Salad Vinaigrette – Taken from Ina Garten’s recipe. See: Green Salad Vinaigrette (Recipe here; BIP, p. 102)
- Le Fromage: Cheese Plate – This plate featured an assortment of Spanish & French cheeses, from cow, goat, and sheep milk. An appropriate bread was used as the base for the Beef Bourguignon and eating separately.
- Le Dessert: Mixed Fruit Tart – See: Wegmans Large Mixed Fruit Tart
- Dinner Wine: Côtes du Rhône – A moderately priced red wine and an excellent pairing with Beef Bourguignon
My Flawless Professional Review
Among my first impressions was the fact that at various points during meal preparation there were as many as six people in the kitchen. Daughter #2, of course, was the primary chef. She received some minor assistance from Son-in-Law #2 and Granddaughter #4, but, for the most part, Daughter #2 had to prepare the meal with a horde of bystanders in a very small kitchen. – To her very great credit, Daughter #2 maintained her composure throughout. Now, let us examine her meal from the perspective of Persnickety Pierre’s Criteria of Excellence:
- Level of the challenge: I am happily compelled to score Daughter #2 very highly on this criterion. In fact, there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that she has earned the coveted Persnickety Pierre’s Paw of Excellence (PPPE). Not only was her menu exceedingly ambitious, filled with many potential pitfalls, but each item was artfully chosen with the intent to please her dinner guests. Daughter #2 also had to deal with the totally unexpected arrival of Persnickety Pierre and remain calm and focused while under his intense scrutiny. Oui, truly a remarkable performance worthy of a PPPE!
- Selection of good-quality ingredients: I have come to learn that Daughter #2 spent several days shopping for the ingredients to be served in her dinner. She carefully studied several cookbooks to enlighten herself concerning the right foods for an authentic French-style cuisine. She also sought advice from those whom she regards as knowledgeable. There were several calls to Mme. Blondie concerning selection of ingredients. She even called upon the assistance of M. Fuzz Face concerning selection of wines and European cheeses. Rather atypically, M. Fuzzy actually provided worthwhile advice.
- Use of cooking techniques: There are two reasons why I have chosen to award Daughter #2 an unprecedented second PPPE. As you can see from the featured image at the top of this post, when I first entered the kitchen, I was both amazed and delighted to see several courses in the midst of simultaneous preparation. My picture shows the blue pot containing the main course. Off to the left, preparation of the soup has begun. At the other side of the kitchen, Daughter was describing the history and ingredients of the aperitif to her guests. My picture also shows the second reason for awarding the PPPE. You will see in the foreground a very large pot containing a rendition of Ina Garten’s Homemade Chicken Stock (Recipe here; BIP, p. 84). Oui, Daughter #2 had elected to make her own chicken stock for use in the Winter Squash soup. Mon Dieu, what a great undertaking! Yet, Daughter #2 desired to make the extra effort.
- Development of superior taste and flavor: It goes without saying yet it is necessary that I say it. Daughter #2, due to her advance study, selection of fine ingredients, and diligent adherence to proper technique, was able to bring together in her masterpiece meal a symphony of tastes, flavors, and aromas. There were no sour notes. This music for the palate would render any audience breathless. The reason I have chosen not to award a PPPE is because I think it only right to allow this amazing amateur chef room to grow. I firmly believe that she should, when the time is right, depart from the recipe and explore her own native ability to experiment with herbs, spices, and techniques that will expand her repertoire.
- Presentation: Great care was taken to present the meal in a manner that was authentic but not overly formal. This was, after all, a meal for the family to enjoy. Interestingly, Daughter #2 called upon Granddaughter #4 to assist in setting the table. My earlier picture of the table setting shows that was done quite well. The attention to detail is evident. Daughter #2 personally served all guests. She did so with the charm, efficiency, and professional quality that would be worthy of a large tip, had this been a fine restaurant. I must point out that, in the future, Daughter #2 might be well-advised to consider portion size. This was a multi-course meal and use of a smaller bowl for the soup would have been more appropriate. That being said, I found myself happily pleased by the flavor of the soup and consumed all of it.
And there it is! Two amateur chefs, both Girls Raised in the South, a mother and daughter working together to prepare a memorable French dinner. The mother was awarded Persnickety Pierre’s first Paw of Excellence. The daughter won Pierre’s heart with her unusually challenging and most assuredly successful effort to bring fine French cuisine to the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the breadbasket of the South. Indeed, it is without question that Daughter #2 deserves two PPPEs for her remarkable achievement of bringing together French Cuisine & GRITS!
SFH Gardens – By the Numbers
The following links will provide the latest ketchup on what has been planted, harvested, and preserved since our last Journal post:
Official SFH Weather Station Statistics
Likewise, the following links will provide the latest ketchup on what has been recorded by the Serendipity Farmhouse Weather Station – KVAFLETC4 since our last Journal post:
Report – Last Three Months