Le Diner d’Anniversaire

Number 90 on the list of stuff white people like is dinner parties and ever since I purchased a table that can sit 12 people, I have been looking for any good excuse to entertain! So when a good friend reached a milestone birthday the same week as me, his fiance Vlasta and I decided to treat some of our friends to a night in instead of a night out. Going out to a nice restaurant would have easier than slaving in the kitchen for hours, sure, but I actually like to cook and I didn’t want to deal with a messy bill sharing situation like the one Muriel Robin joked about in her famous l’addition skit.

We kept things very simple with a black & white tablescape and a group friendly menu, dividing up the courses between the two of us. My grandmother made a delicious watercress soup and I wanted to integrate cresson in my dishes. As appetizer, I prepared a duo of watercress: a salad and a soup, served in a tall shot glass. The watercress salad was served with a simple tarragon vinaigrette. To make the vinaigrette, mix together 1 1/4 tsp Dijon mustarde (I typically use the Moutarde de Dijon a l’ancienne, with whole grains, but the traditional moutarde works as well); 2 tbsp white-wine vinegar; 1/2 tspn dried tarragon, crumbled; 1/4 tsp salt; 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper & 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil. The vinaigrette can be made in a blender or not and sprinkled evenly over 2 bunches of watercress divided between 12 plates.

For the main courses, Vlasta prepared a delicious Herbs & Garlic Roasted Leg of Lamb served alongside an Herbed Potato Gratin with Roasted Garlic & Swiss Cheese. The thyme and rosemary in both dishes ensured that they perfectly complemented each other. We paired the meal with a 2007 Catena Malbec, which retails for approximately $18.

To wrap the dinner, I wanted a simple dessrt that could be served individually and prepared ahead of time. I settled on verrines of Grand-Marnier soaked strawberries with crème faîche ice cream. Verrines are sweet or savory dishes served in indivual glasses (verre = glass in French) where all the components are artfully layered for an elegant presentation. They have been the rage in France for years and so I liked the ideas of serving verrines as dessert. The crème faîche ice cream was also a nod to the dollop of crème faîche served with the soup (and it was delicious!).

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