Serving French Guests in America
by Amy Nyvall
(Spirit Lake, Iowa)
Question: Hi, My husband has a young, French co-worker that just moved to the area a few weeks ago. He went to college here and I think this is his first job out of school, so he is used to American food by now.
Anyway, we are having him and his American girlfriend over for dinner tomorrow night. I am wondering what I should serve. I am a good cook and love to cook international cuisine. I would love to serve him something that has familiar ingredients, while not trying to "cook him a French meal." Does that make sense? Let me know your thoughts.
I was thinking I could serve some baked Brie, perhaps. But, I still wonder what the main course should be.
PS Should I serve the Brie after dinner for him? My husband and I would normally eat that as an appetizer before our salad and main course.
Answer: Hi Amy, Thanks for writing in with your question. Sorry that I am probably late with a response, but I bet your dinner was a success anyway.
For a dinner party, the appetizer course in France is usually just a very small nosh to go with a drink and nothing so substantial as baked Brie. Personally I like to serve Brie en croute as a first course. I serve it with baby greens or arugula dressed in just a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil. This makes a great contrast of flavors and textures with the Brie and also makes a pretty presentation.
As you know already, most French people are used to having cheese served as a separate course after the main course. However, they would not be surprised to find cheese included in a starter course. If that is the case, skipping the cheese course is entirely appropriate.
I like serving things such as beef estouffade , beef Bourguignon , or chicken Provençal to guests. These are dishes that are very typically French, but are easily made the day before and rewarmed for dinner. Many times they taste even better after an overnight rest. You can serve these simply with a loaf of good French bread - no need to do accompaniments. These are not fancy French presentations, but they are quite delicious and appreciated by most French people.
There are many easy French desserts to follow up with, but chocolate mousse is almost always a hit with most guests. Again this is prepared in advance, making the dinner party more enjoyable for yourself as well. Also, keep in mind that most French people wouldn't be at all surprised to be served a high quality store bought dessert. Short cuts are certainly tolerated by most.
Hope that helps a little anyway. Wishing you lots of happy cooking and dining,