Dinner for friends

What to cook for homesick French friends? Well, les grands classiques, bien sûr! My friends Jean-Pierre and Alexia came over for a visit last week-end. They left Paris three long years ago and came back to France for a little holiday. They absolutely love their new life, but had turned into homesick Parisians, or, should I say homesick for good old French food. Nothing can really replace the authentic taste of baguette, country bread, Normandy butter and fresh foie gras from the Gers region. I can understand exactly how they feel as I have been in a similar situation when I lived abroad. Sentimentally speaking, I had to cook food that meant the world to me. Good times, good friends and good food have a precious link.

Pastis before…
And Pastis after (diluted with water).

So here was the menu: A little glass of Pastis for an apéritif. The hot summer nights call for a little anis seed infused cooling drink. For starters, a hearty old-fashioned onion soup that is so good you will want to keep this recipe forever. Served with Comté cheese tartines. The main course had to be special. In France, we have the Eiffel tower, we have couture, we have wine, and we have foie gras. Foie gras is the national festive food, often served for Christmas, new year’s eve or any special occasion. And there are so many special occasions. I got a glistening piece of foie gras from a producer in the Gers (he has a reputation for being ethical and working with proper methods).

Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples (flambés with cognac) on toast

Pan-fried foie gras with poached egg and Périgueux sauce

As they are good old friends dashing with humour, I couldnt’ help making a little ‘Portrait Chinois‘ (if you were a dish, what would you be?) of them through my cooking. For Jean-Pierre, it had to be the poached egg version with Périgueux sauce as his family is originally from there. For Alexia, the golden rosé apples match her beautiful mane, for my husband, a baked version with Chasselas grapes macerated in Cognac, very masculine and deep. And for me, a simple pan-fried version with figs and Chasselas grapes, since they come from my grandmother’s hometown Moissac. September rhymes with Chasselas grapes.

And what a better way to finish this sumptuous meal than with a Paris-Brest? A decadent choux pastry filled with praline and coffee cream reminding us all of good times spent at Chez Michel (10 Rue de Belzunce, 75010 Paris), one of our favourite bistrots in Paris, where they make the best Paris-Brest in the world.

May good times last forever.

Main ingredients:
1 good-quality duck or goose foie gras (approx 500 g), veins and impurities removed, cut into 1-1.5 cm/ 1/2-inch thick slices
300 g Chasselas grapes (or good quality small green grapes)
8 small figs
1 golden rosé apple
Country bread

Fig heaven

1) Pan-fried foie gras with golden rosé apples and cognac.
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice apples horizontally.
In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras and apples. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras and apples. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the apples to cook for 3-5 mores minutes turning them on each sides. Drain the pan, keeping a little bit of duck fat and fry slice of bread in pan for 10 seconds on each sides. Serve apples and bread with foie gras.

2) Roasted foie gras with Chasselas grapes and cognac
Preheat oven 200°C. Peel and remove pips from grapes. Place in a bowl and soak in cognac for at least 2 hours. Place foie gras in a heat-proof small oven dish (I use a small Staub cocotte) and bake for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, drain the fat and add macerated grapes in dish. Bake for 8 more minutes and serve.

3) Pan-fried foie gras with Chasselas grapes and figs
Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. Slice figs in quarters. Rinse and dry Chasselas grapes. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras, figs and grapes. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side or less. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras, figs and grapes. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Leave the figs and grapes to cook for 3 more minutes. Serve immediately.

4) Pan-fried foie gras with sauce Périgueux and poached egg.
Sauce Périgueux:
50 g butter
200 ml stock
1 small glass white wine
1 shallots (finely sliced)
2 g salt
10 g flour
1 bay leaf
1 chopped black truffle
2 g pepper

Chop the truffle and set aside. In a small pan, melt butter and fry shallots until soft. Add flour, stir well, add wine and reduce for 2 minutes. Stir well. Gradually add stock and stir constantly. Add bay leaf, stir well. Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat. The sauce should be slightly thick and creamy. Strain the sauce and add the chopped truffle last.

Egg: In a shallow pan of boiling water, add 1 tsp of white wine vinegar. Prepare your egg by breaking it into a little cup so it’s easier to pour into the boiling water. When the water is boiling, pour in the egg in the water. Cover with a lid for 3 minutes, then check if it needs a bit of ‘pushing and shoving’ to make the form rounder. You can use a large slotted spoon for this. Depending on how well you like the egg cooked, 3-5 minutes should complete the task. When ready spoon egg onto a plate. Set aside and drain.

Foie gras: Cut two thick (1.5 cm thickness) slices of foie gras, sprinkle lightly with flour on both sides. In a sizzling hot pan, place the slices of foie gras. Do not add oil/fat/butter as the foie gras will release its own fat. The foie gras should be cooked 1 minute on each side. Do not overcook foie gras. Quickly add a dash of cognac and flambé the foie gras. Remove the foie gras and set aside on serving plate. Place the egg on top, drizzle generously with sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Old-fashioned French onion soup with Comté tartines
1 kg large yellow onions (sliced finely)
50 g duck fat (alternatively you can use butter instead)
1.5 litre good-quality chicken stock
100 g Comté cheese
Salt & pepper for seasoning

Old-fashioned French onion soup

Peel onions and slice them finely. In a large pot, heat duck fat and cook onions on a low to medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a soft boil and cook for 15 minutes. Scoop out half of the onions and purée the onions in a food processor. Return the pureed onions to the soup and mix well. The soup should have a nice smooth velvety consistency as well as bits of onions.
In a pre-heated oven 200 °C, grill a few slices of country bread topped with a slice of Comté cheese for a few minutes until cheese has melted and slightly golden. Serve soup in individual bowls, add a melted cheese tartine on top of each bowls and season with salt and pepper.


(serves 8-10)
For the choux pastry ring:
150 g plain flour
140 ml water
90 ml milk
90 g butter
1 tsp salt
4 eggs
3 tbsp flaked/sliced almonds
Icing sugar (for sprinkling)

For the cream filling:
5 egg yolks
80 g sugar
40 g flour
60 g ready-made praline mix (it’s a mixture of sugared ground almonds and hazelnuts – nearly like a paste)
350 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)
175 g good-quality butter – at room temperature
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 200°C and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

For the choux pastry:
Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, add milk, water, butter, salt, sugar and bring to a simmer. Take the pan away from the heat and add the flour (in one go) and stir constantly until you get a smooth dough. Put back on a low heat for 2-3 minutes to dry it up slightly. Take away from heat. Off the heat, add the beaten eggs, slowly (reserve 4-5 tbsp for final brushing) and stir gradually to form a smooth dough. Leave to rest at room temperature. Line baking tray with parchment paper and trace a 20 cm circle. Place the choux dough in a piping bag with a large nozzle (2.5 cm) and pipe the 20 cm ring. Pipe a second ring around the inside next to the first ring. Finally, pipe another ring on top of these two rings. Use remaining beaten egg adding a small pinch of salt – brush top ring with egg and sprinkle evenly with sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is firm and golden. Take out from oven and immediately slice the ring horizontally into two layers so the steam escapes. Set aside and leave to cool.

For the cream filling:
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy and light. Stir in the flour. In another pan, bring milk to a boil with the salt and coffee, stirring until the coffee dissolves. Whisk the milk into the egg mixture, return it to the pan, and whisk over gentle heat until boiling. Once thickened, cook the cream gently for one minute. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool completely, until cold. Once cooled, gradually ‘smooth’ in butter with a spatula, alternating with the praline. Note: If you are not a praline or coffee flavour fan, you can alternate and create your own filling with rum, vanilla, chocolate. As you wish.

Scoop cream into a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped nozzle. Put the lower half of the pastry ring on a serving plate. Pipe the cream in ‘rosettes’ onto the ring and set the upper ring on top. Sprinkle with icing sugar. Keep in refrigerator for 1 hour before serving.

41 thoughts on “Dinner for friends

  1. Oh no. I am so disappointed in this blog now. Foie gras is so cruel to the poor birds. I can’t believe there is anything ethical about making a duck’s liver expand quickly until it nearly bursts. It’s like force feeding someone donuts to make them distgustingly obese, unhealthy and unable to move confortably – for what? To eat the fruit of this hideous process. To eat the product of such torture to my mind is just a horrid thing to put in to your body. You are what you eat and I would not want to be this – I’m not vegetarian either. It is just so wrong. No wonder some countries have laws that ban it. I wish the UK would hurry up and ban its sale and consumption here. My visions of you as a beautiful culinary goddess are now in tatters. There is nothing beautiful about someone who eats foie gras. Please please don’t. I beseech you. I’d just hate to be reincarnated as a duck in France ;-). I know I will get flack from some and strong support from others but I had to honestly share my views and my horror at seeing this particular post. It is why I won’t be following any more. The very concept of foie gras really makes me sick to my stomach. OK I was probably naive not to expect it from a French chef. It’s one of those things you like to blank out until it rears its ugly head.

    1. Dear Marta,

      I appreciate your concern for animal well-being but the comments on my character were perhaps not necessary.

      As a big animal lover I’m very careful about where I buy my meat, poultry etc. In fact your comments are part of a much bigger debate on how we consume animal products or if we should indeed consume them at all.

      We’ve all seen horrible images and footage from various fields of food production, but I know from personal experience that there is a flip side to those images, of farmers who are caring and professional, who treat animals in a humane way. There is a growing awareness in the world about treatment of livestock and I consider myself part of a responsible movement of people, who although we consume meat, do it with respect for the animal.

      As I’ve mentioned in a previous post I believe it’s better to consume meat less often, of a higher quality, produced with a regard for the animal. It’s not only overfed ducks that raise concern but the countless mistreated and mass-produced animals, such as chicken, kept in tiny boxes their entire lives.

      As for foie-gras it’s very much part of the soul of french cuisine, it’s what we’ve grown up with and love. I do not have it very often, quite rarely in fact, but when I do I make sure to get it only from the most respectable and conscious producers. I’ve always given this issue a lot of thought, been aware of the negativity that sometimes surrounds it. In my opinion the best article on the subject was written by my favorite food writer, Jeffrey Steingarten. He’s not only got the most delightful style but he’s such a seeker of truth and knowledge, unbiased and inventive. The piece he wrote on foie-gras some years ago was for me a massive contribution to the discourse on foie-gras consumption, here is an excerpt:

      “And so, at last, the question comes down to this: How much distress does the most careful sort of tube feeding cause to the duck? I know of only two medical or scientific attempts to answer this question. Neither of them has been cited by animal-rights advocates, who instead encourage us to anthropomorphize, to imagine how we would feel getting tube-fed and fattened. But this may be the wrong question. How would we like to be a duck under any circumstances? How would we feel having to paddle all day on cold New England rivers and among the sodden marshes? I wouldn’t be able to take it. Think of all the bugs and crawling things. Isn’t there a better way of gauging a duck’s distress?
      “Maybe there is. I telephoned Daniel Guémené, Ph.D., a research director at INRA, the prestigious French Institute for Agricultural Research. Guémené is an extremely prolific author of papers published in French and English journals, places such as World’s Poultry Science and British Poultry Science. One of Guémené’s keen interests is in discovering and refining ways of knowing whether poultry, ducks in this case, are in pain. He began his work on force-feeding in 1995, and as far as he can tell, his group at INRA is still alone in scientifically assessing the effect of tube feeding.

      “His first experiments examined the concentration of corticosterone — a hormone closely associated with stress — in ducks’ bloodstreams before and after feeding. He expected a sharp rise — but found none at all. Over the following years, Guémené’s group also looked at other indications of distress — avoidance of the feeder, withdrawal, pain signals in the medulla — and found possibly some pain in the final days of feeding, probably caused by inflammation of the crop; minor signs of avoidance, but not aversion, among some ducks at feeding time; and an increase in panting. Ducks showed the most stress when they were physically handled in any way or moved to new cages. Mortality on foie gras farms appears to be lower than in standard poultry operations. Guémené’s group confirmed that although a grossly fattened liver is not natural, it is not a sign of disease; after feeding is stopped and the liver shrinks, there is no necrosis — no liver cells have been killed.”

      In the end Steingarten determines, “though it seems unnecessary to stop eating foie gras altogether, the data is not unambiguous enough to encourage unbridled gorging.”

      I do believe that everybody has a right to their opinion but we should always be careful that our opinion is an informed one. Breeding or hunting animals for human consumption continues to be a difficult issue, one that I am very much aware of.

      I’ll be sorry to lose you as a reader, we both seem to love cooking. Mimi

      1. Thank you Mimi for such an intelligent and thought provoking reply showing contrary research. I can see why it makes it seem more acceptable but I also hope it is their true findings as now we have more and more people coming out revealing that because of pressure from the food industry, people were forced to amend their findings. Recently there have been some interesting television programmes on this very subject. It is also research form France with links to agriculture so really I would love it to be from – I don’t know … Sweden! 🙂

        I particularly hate the misleading marketing that many food companies use such as a company we have in UK who sell a brand named that implies the chickens are happy. Yes they are free range in that somewhere in the multi storey massive barn full of chickens has a hole that lets them outside but most will never see the light of the day or that entrance. I make sure I buy eggs and poultry where they explicitly say the birds are free to roam woodland or pastures.

        I completely agree that “it’s better to consume meat less often, of a higher quality, produced with a regard for the animal”. That’s why it was harder for me to take that you, my goddess of food, was eating foie gras. We shall agree to differ. You must do what feels right in your heart. It just doesn’t feel right at all in mine.

        Anyway as you say the topic is a minefield as the animals die and we eat them in the end. Ideally I would love to be a vegetarian so that no animals suffered (there’s also a debate that more animals living in the fields are killed in the harvesting of crops) but my body screams ‘STEAK’ once a month loud and clear. I’m very in tune with what it needs. I used to joke ‘bread is evil’ when I didn’t fancy eating it years before it came to the fore that I am intolerant to wheat. I have had my health issues which were interfering with my life, but by changing what I eat I am pretty much cured. I feel good about everything I eat but I can be a pain in the proverbial because, as well as spreading the message about how to cure yourself using the food hopsital, I also want to feel good about what others are eating. I’m a fighter who cannot keep it inside and wants to change the world one duck at a time. I am sorry that I offended you. Your heart is clearly generally in the right place in this complex matter. It has to be hard to say farewell to a dish which is so much at the heart of one’s culture and childhool memories.

  2. Do you have a prefered brand for the praline paste? I am finding online sites that sell catering sized tubs for candy making but not a size for home baking.

  3. Hi Mimi, I simply love your blog and the fantastic pictures, such a nice atmosphere and colors. Just came back from a little trip to your Paris, and have had onion soup in my thoughts ever since, and here it is, will try your recipi. Thank you for sharing. Best rregards Tina Brok

    1. Thank you Tina! The recipes, food and atmosphere reflect our everyday life here in Médoc – I am lucky to have my own personal photographer (my husband ☺) to shoot it all! You must try the onion soup recipe – it’s one of my favourite soups. Bonne soirée! Mimi

  4. back to the blogosphere and MANGER is my first re-visit… Your blog posts are so incredibly inspirational, and the photos are to die for. I applaud you on your response to the consumption of foie gras. It is so important that we not only take responsibility to seek out the types of food that we consume but also origins and the integrity of the source.

  5. I am so happy to have found your blog. 🙂 My heart is full after reading this post, and all the love you’ve poured into making such delicious things in so many ways in order to delight your various friends and family members. 🙂 I also really appreciated your response in the comments regarding foie gras. It was gracious, responsible and wise. I look forward to many, many more posts. 🙂

  6. I found my way here, as many others today have, I’m sure, from Smitten Kitchen, a food blog goddess from New York. Both of you have wonderfully intimate prose, and I now find myself addicted to your blog as well! I’m am absolutely drooling over this post and am dying of jealousy! Consider yourself having earned a new faithful reader!

    1. Thank you Michelle! I am a big fan of Smitten Kitchen, Deb Perelman is such a fantastic food goddess – she makes me want to try all her recipes! I also adore her humor and wit. I hope you will enjoy my blog and the recipes. Mimi

  7. I hope it is my failing vision (needing new glasses) that causes me to not see water nor milk in the choux recipe. Do I assume 45 grams of each? Merci

    1. Bonjour! Thank you SO much for pointing this out! Somehow these two ingredients disappeared from the ingredients list – I must have pressed the wrong button at the wrong place. I have just updated: 140 ml water and 90 ml milk. (you can easily change and just use water if you prefer). I am the one who needs glasses! I really appreciate your help! Merci. Greetings form Médoc, Mimix

  8. You are an artist !
    I am one of those french people homesick of good old french food (Ieaving in China now) and I can tell you this dinner looks beyond mouth watering. It truly look amazing ! Your friends are lucky to get invited to your table 🙂
    Great blog, Regards from Shanghai

    1. Bonsoir Benoît! Vous êtes si loin à Shanghai… J’espère que vous allez tenter de cuisiner ces bons petits plats chaleureux bientôt! Si vous ne trouvez pas de chasselas, vous pouvez essayer des pruneaux! 🙂 Merci pour votre visite! Mimi x

  9. Hi Mimi! I was surfing on google through food blogs and came across your blog.
    Going to try to cook onion soup in couple of hours following your recipe 🙂

    1. Hi Mimi again. I finally cooked onion soup yesterday! and it was delicious. I am not a good cook and was very surprised by such a good result! 🙂 very easy to follow your recipe! i would love to send you the picture of the soup, but unfortunately impossible to attach it here.

      All the best from Kazakh girl living in Paris.

  10. Mimi,

    I know I should learn the metric system but as an older lady it escapes me. Is there any chance you would include the American measures?

    Thanks so much for your wonderful blog and recipes.


Leave a Reply