Category Archives: France

Diner en Blanc Brisbane

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You might have heard of the famously exclusive Diner en Blanc pop up picnics that started over 25 years ago in Paris by François Pasquier.  What started as a gathering of a small group of friends has grown to over 15,000 people in Paris each year and has since expanded to cities around the world.

The rules are simple, yet strictly enforced and specify that you must dress elegantly in head to toe white, bring a table of a certain size, 2 white chairs, white table linens, white dishes and cutlery, and your own food for an elegant picnic. The location is only revealed just before the picnic begins and has historically been held at iconic locations in Paris such as the Eiffel Tower site, the Louvre Pyramid, the Château de Versailles, and the Champs-Élysées. The highly coveted invitations first go to friends of the organisers and their recommendations, then are open to the public waiting list, which reached over 30,000 just a few hours after registration opened for the New York City event.

Thanks to my dad’s obsession with Twitter, I found out about Australia’s first Diner en Blanc event in Brisbane early enough to get my name on the waiting list and buy tickets through the general registration.  I now know that it was a stroke of luck that I was able to get through the online ticket purchasing process since it sold out in 20 minutes and ended up with a waiting list of almost 7,000.

After several weeks of anticipation and preparation gathering all of our white essentials, the big day arrived on the first day of Spring.  We were assigned one of the 5 transport locations in Brisbane where we had to meet a bus that would take us to the secret location.  When we arrived there were 3 white buses and a swarm of white clad picnic goers buzzing around trying to guess the secret location we were about to descend upon like a flash mob.  We were only told once en route that we were heading for the Queensland Performing Arts Complex Forecourt at Southbank  (an easy guess) – right on the Brisbane River across from the city skyline with the white Wheel of Brisbane as the backdrop and views of the white Victoria Bridge, an iconic location and the perfect spot for Brisbane’s first Diner en Blanc.

When we arrived at Southbank we disembarked the buses and were instructed by our table leader to our row and began setting up our tables and chairs in an organised formation on the lawn while confused onlookers and theatre goers tried to figure out what was happening.

The protocol is that everyone must wait for all of the tables to be set up for the start of the dinner, which took about 10 minutes from the time we arrived and  was signalled by everyone waiving their white napkins in the air.

Setting up

We spent the diner meeting the people on our table row, swapping interesting nibbles, and admiring the effort that everyone had gone through to decorate their table.  There were full silver services, 3 tiered stands, meringue towers, elegant candelabras, even white painted sticks that formed a canopy over two tables (see picture).

There was live music that meandered through the rows of tables serenading the guests and people mingling, eager to see who else had received one of the coveted 1,000 places at the event.

At 9pm we all lit sparklers, which signalled the beginning of the dancing, which brought everyone together for an eclectic all white dance party under the stars with a backdrop of the Brisbane city skyline.  It was unforgettable.

After the last song was played everyone disassembled their temporary elegant creations, packed up their belongings and left the location, leaving no trace behind.

It was a magical evening that I encourage everyone to seek out and attend wherever possible.

For information on Diner en Blanc visit their website.

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Old French Fig Cake

My boyfriend’s cousin Val, who recommended the banana lime cake from a previous post, also suggested that we try the Old French Fig Cake out of the same book.  She’s brought over a slice of one that she’d made and we decided that we had to give it a try to have with our morning tea.

I have to admit that I’ve never cooked with figs.  I’ve had plans to use them several times but always buy the figs and then forget about them until it’s too late and they are ridden with mold.  This time was different.  We bought some beautiful figs from the weekend market to use in the cake – the recipe calls for 225g but Val recommended that we used more so we threw in a few extra.

The dough ends up being very thick and cooks on low heat for a long time, which is typical of old fashioned cake recipes.

It’s very sweet and drier than a dessert cake, which makes it perfect for morning tea.

Old French Fig Cake Recipe adapted from Cake Bible

Ingredients

  • 300g (10 oz) fresh ripe figs, chopped finely or minced
  • 125g (4.4 oz) butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg, lighty beaten
  • 3 2/3 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ Tsp grated lemon or orange zest
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 150C (300F).  Lightly grease a 20cm (~8 in) cake tin and line the base with non-stick baking paper.

Place figs in a saucepan and simmer for 8 minutes.  Add butter and sugar and keep stirring over gentle heat until melted.  Allow to cool.

Stir egg into mixture.  Add sifted flour, baking powder, salt, zest, and vanilla extract.

Pour into prepared tin and bake for 60-90 minutes or until cake no longer sticks to a cake tester.

Dust with icing sugar.

BOF Frittata

We were all supposed to make a Tortilla for French Fridays with Dorie this week, which is essentially a frittata with potatoes.  My boyfriend’s mom taught me what she likes to call the BOF cooking method this week, which means Bottom Of the Fridge.

It’s perfect for the end of the week when you have little bits of this n’ that left in the fridge and need a way to bring them all together.  Frittatas and tortillas are one of the many perfect ways to bring a bunch of random BOF ingredients together cohesively into a dish because the egg bonds all of them together in one nice savory slice.

We didn’t have any potatoes in the BOF this week so what we made for FFwD is technically just a frittata.   We were also only cooking for 3 so we didn’t bring out my new frittata pan that I got for Christmas, and instead we used a quiche pan.

Since we totally deviated from Dorie’s recipe this week I’ll post how we made our BOF frittata.

Dallas’s BOF Frittata

Ingredients

  • Chopped mix of vegetables from the Bottom of the Fridge (We used pumpkin, zucchini, mushrooms and peas)
  • 6 eggs
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • Cheese (we used feta)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Dash of seasoning (we used lemon pepper, but Herbes de Province would be great)
  • Fresh herbs (we used Italian parsley & chives)

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Coat the vegetables in olive oil and roast in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until browning and tender.

Top off with peas and fresh herbs.

Beat the eggs with the cream.  Add whatever seasoning you like – we used Dallas’s favorite, lemon pepper but some French Herbes de Province would be lovely in this. Stir in the grated cheese.

Pour the egg mixture over the roasted vegetables in the greased frittata dish.

Bake at 350F for 40 minutes, or until the eggs have set to the point where the frittata doesn’t jiggle when you shake the pan.

Enjoy!

Other BOF cooking method ideas:

  • Stirfry
  • Fried rice
  • Soups
  • Pasta

FFwD: Chicken B’stilla

I’ve missed the past 4 weeks of French Fridays with Dorie because I’ve been setting up shop in my new home of Brisbane, Australia.  When I saw the Moroccan B’stilla on the agenda for this week I knew I had to make it!

I love the blend of ginger, cinnamon, and coriander that’s common in Moroccan cuisine and love pies even more (see previous post on Harry’s Cafe de Wheels) so this was a winning combination for me!

I found it somewhat time consuming to make but totally worth it.  The crunch of the almonds and the filo were the perfect contrast to the warm, gooey pie filling, and the spices were present enough to give you a little taste of Morocco without being overwhelming.

It was definitely a posh pie, and we came up with so many possibilities for it while we were eating – from making a large version in a casserole dish and serving it in square slices as an appetizer to making mini party pies.  I already can’t wait to make it again!

As always, I can’t post Dorie’s recipe for the B’stilla but highly encourage you to buy her book Around My French Table to check it out.

I did find a B’stilla recipe from another blogger, The Last Ditch,  who swears that her B’stilla recipe is the best.  I haven’t made hers so I can’t compare it to Dorie’s, but it sounds delicious!  You can find it here.  Regardless of whose recipe you use, I recommend using chicken thigh meat to get the most flavor and not to skip the almonds!  Also, don’t even think about using any other pastry than filo because it won’t do the pie justice.

FFwD: Speculoos

These cookies are all over the place in Belgium and Holland at Christmas time, and are called Speculaas so I assume that Dorie Greenspan’s Speculoos are the exact same.

I made these as a hostess gift for a Christmas party I attended and enjoyed making them so much that I decided to make three batches!  The spices in the cookies make your entire kitchen smell like the holidays and they are perfect dipped in coffee/tea/cocoa or smeared with Nutella.

These are very easy to make and I didn’t even have to go to the grocery store to get the ingredients.  I followed Dorie’s recipe exactly as stated in her cookbook Around My French Table (with the addition of an egg that she left out in the book).  We aren’t supposed to publish Dorie’s recipe on our blogs so I found a similar one on Epicurious.com:

Belgian Spice Cookies Recipe Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg

Preparation

Combine first 6 ingredients in medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter on medium speed in large bowl until light. Add egg and beat until fluffy. Gradually add dry ingredients and beat on the lowest speed just until combined. Divide dough in half. Flatten each half into rectangle. Wrap with plastic; chill 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 large baking sheets. Roll out 1 dough piece on lightly floured work surface to 13 x 9-inch rectangle. Trim edges to form 12×8-inch rectangle. Cut into 24 4×1-inch rectangles. Lightly press miniature cookie cutter into each rectangle to make imprints (do not cut through dough). Arrange cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake until edges begin to darken, about 8 minutes. Transfer cookies to rack and cool. Repeat with remaining dough piece.

FFwD: My Go-To Beef Daube

Daube in French means stew cooked in wine, which is exactly what this classic French dish is – beef stew cooked in red wine.  This was perfect for the freezing weather that we’ve been having recently and made the whole house smell like a Sunday roast dinner.

The key to this dish is getting a good cut of beef.  I went with 3.5lbs of beef chuck roast that were freshly cut by the butcher in slightly larger pieces (2 to 3 inch cubes) than stew meat, per Dorie’s recommendation.

You start by sautéing about 8 strips of regular bacon, then brown all of the chunks of beef in a little oil combined with the bacon grease.

After the bacon and the beef pieces were all browned, I removed them from the pot and set them aside.  Then, I added the chopped Spanish onion and 6 shallots and sauteed them until they were tender and translucent.

I added chopped carrots, parsnips, and the bottom of a halved head of garlic (with most of the husk removed, leaving just enough for it to still hold together) to the mix and stirred them until coated with the oil and onions.

At this point I was supposed to add some brandy to loosen the browned bits that had stuck to the bottom of the pot, but I ended up using red wine because it was just too cold to go buy brandy at the liquor store.  It worked just fine.

Then I added the meat back in, covered it with the rest of the bottle of red wine and just enough water to cover the contents of the pot.  I brought it to a boil, and tossed in a sachet of rosemary, parsley, and thyme before covering the pot tightly with tin foil and its lid.  Then I put the whole pot in a 350F oven for 2.5 hours, stirring once.

While the stew was simmering in the oven I whipped up some mashed potatoes, which was the perfect partner for the stew.   The combination was incredibly comforting and filling.  This stew definitely just earned a spot on my ‘go-to’ list!

For more details on the recipe check out Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table and the other FFwD bloggers posts.

FFwD: Leek & Potato Soup

Even though leek and potato soup could be found on the tables of many Western countries, I’ll take Dorie Greenspan’s word when she says that ‘Soups don’t get simpler or more French than leek and potato’.  She gave an example of Antoine-Auguste Parmentier, who used potatoes to feed the poor in the 18th century.

I took a few liberties with this soup and incorporated fennel as well as ham.

Despite the list of ingredients, this soup couldn’t be easier to make!

All the ingredients you'll need

First sauté a Spanish onion, a few garlic cloves, and a thinly sliced fennel bulb in a few tablespoons of butter until softened.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thinly slice your fennel bulb, excluding the tough bottom bit

Then add a few cubed potatoes, 3 thinly sliced leeks, cubed ham, and equal parts chicken broth and whole milk (enough to cover the vegetables).

The white and light green parts of the leeks should be cut in thin strips

I added flavor to the soup with salt, pepper, thyme sprigs, and sage leaves and then let it simmer, half-covered, for 40 minutes.

One of the great things about this soup is that you can leave it chunky, puree it for a smooth texture, serve it hot, or serve it cold.  It’s the middle of winter so I couldn’t imagine eating it any way other than hot and chunky, so I lightly squished the potatoes with a fork and  served it hot – topped with green onions and alongside a baguette (to be extra French).