I have always wanted to join a book club. I have this idea of us all sitting round, drinking wine and of course discussing that month’s book. However my friends have not been enthusiastic. It was only after reading last months edition of “Delicious” magazine that I came upon an article about a group of friends who get together to review cookbooks, that I decided to pitch the idea to my friends. Strangely enough the food and wine combo was more appealing to them!
I have a rather extensive and ever growing collection of cookbooks so as originator of the idea, and given my love of cookbooks it made sense that I co-ordinate this supper club and host the first event. After much perusing I chose “The Little Paris Kitchen” by Rachel Khoo. This book was bought around the same time her show was on the BBC, however despite looking at it many times I’d never actually cooked from it. My approach was simple, I passed the book around each of my friends in turn and we all chose a course: starter, main, vegetable side and dessert. As I was hosting, and given that I’m a confident cook, I let everyone choose first and I took what was left.
The whole point of the night was that we each follow the recipe to the letter, that way we could adequately decide whether the book was good or not. No deviations and no using our intuition. We each part prepared the food before arriving at mine, that way it was just a case of finishing the dish and serving it up. Here’s our menu for the night:
Starter: Souffle au fromage (Cheese souffle) – Lesley
Main: Boeuf bourguigon avec des quenelles de baguettes (Burgundy beef with baguette dumplings) – Laura
Vegetable Side: Endives au jambon (Chicory with ham) – Paula
Dessert: Creme caramel (Vanilla cream with caramel sauce) – Michelle
I also have an interest in wines and matching wines to food so I also did wine pairing for each of the courses using only French wines as we were cooking French food.
Starter: Premier Cuvee Sancerre
Cocktail: French Martini
Main: Bordeaux St-Emilion Grand Cru
First up was my souffle and whilst I got a great rise and it tasted nice there were some concerns with the recipe itself. The recipe does not ask you to cook out the flour when you add it, something most French recipes would ask you to do as raw flour is not great to eat. Although the recipe did not include a sauce I did add one as I suspected the souffle may be on the dry side and I was right. The sauce I made (not from the book I hasten to add) really did save this dish and was Laura’s favourite taste of the night.
Next up was Laura’s beef main, with Paula’s chicory side. Whilst both tasted nice, we all agreed that Laura’s dish lacked a depth of flavour that you expect from a Boeuf bourguigon. One problem Laura noted was the lack of seasoning in the flour whilst she was sealing the meat, something we would all have done. Paula’s chicory was nice and different to how most of us would eat it (normally in salads). My friend Paula is Dutch and she made this dish as this is how she would eat chicory at home, this dish is very familiar to her which was why she chose to share it with us.
Our final course was Michelle’s Creme Caramel which she managed to serve up to us whilst she was still sober! Michelle’s was the only dish that was prepared completely beforehand and served on the night (just as well!). The first attempt at this recipe was frankly a disaster. The quantities worked fine, the making of the caramel and the custard both worked well. The problem came when cooking the custard in the oven. The recipe states to put the custards into a bain-marie with cold water and cooking in an oven at 110C (conventional oven). As the point is to follow the recipe Michelle did so but after an hour plus in the oven she still had watery custard. A quick chat between us and we both agreed that we would never put a warm custard in the oven this low nor using cold water. Michelle clearly wanted to serve something so we consulted my Michel Roux “Dessert” book and indeed they needed a hotter oven and hot water. So she started again, just as well she has chicken given the amount of eggs she went through!
So our verdict on the book – it’s not the best, this is French food done light. If you are interested in leaning French cuisine I doubt this is the book for you. Will it remain on my bookcase, alas no. I don’t follow recipes to the letter as I’m an intuitive cook, I could see the problems as I was reading them. A real no for me is when the cooking method and times are full of errors. We would not have had dessert had we not read another recipe. So relegated to the charity box.
Our verdict on the night – it was a blast and something the four of us plan to repeat quarterly together! Great fun, got us all trying something new and like all good book clubs, plenty of alcohol consumed! Give it a try with your friends and let us know how you get on!