Ok. I love French Food at Home so much that recapping it is a blast. While all of the episodes rock, this one – How Grand – is, by far, the funniest.
We start with Laura on a stairwell talking about the need for more formal events so casual events feel more like “let your hair down events” that they are. She goes on about how we’ve lost the art of formal entertaining. She ends the segment by saying ‘why be small, when you can be grand?” Opening credits to the jazzy soundtrack with some guy singing ‘come over, come over, come over.”
Laura then walks in to her well appointed kitchen (which I will use as inspiration for my own kitchen redo) and states that she is rebelling from all the barbecues and jeans events and creating a formal dinner starting with a pumpkin mousse. She starts by soaking gelatin in rum. She then heats up one cup of cream and says she will have another cup of cream for another phase of the dish. To the cream, she adds vanilla, the softened gelatin and sugar.
I am really dying to have her kitchen. It’s unpretentious but pretty. Out of her stainless steel fridge she gets pureed pumpkin which she explains she made herself from baking a pumpkin and then pureeing it. The jazzy music starts and Laura mixes everything together. Then Laura does a trademark move – she strains the puree through a sieve. If you watch regularly, you will see she sieves everything. She mixes the warm cream mixture with the pumpkin and pops the mixture in the fridge to set. While the mixture is setting up, Laura does another trademark move, she whisks the other cup of cream BY HAND. Along with sieving everything together, she whisks everything by hand. It’s kind of insane, but when she does it, it’s totally endearing. Once the cream in the fridge is thickened, she folds it into the whipped cream.
For her grand dinner for her grand friends, Laura says she has a plan – enlisting Daniel, a boy from down the street, to serve. And the way she says it implies she will be deflowering Daniel by the end of the evening. As she is filling champagne coupe with the custard, the over-18-but-not-by-much Daniel arrives and Laura looks like she could eat him alive. In fact, she’s all aflutter with how nicely he’s dressed up. She exerts an almost inhuman amount of self control and forgoes the deflowering and sends Daniel to the laundry room to iron napkins. Seriously, there’s more chemistry here than in a Monsanto lab.
Because Laura is going over the top, she decides to make a chocolate sauce. In doing so, she does something that makes me adore her even more – she says she should be using a bain mairie but decides to make the sauce over the stove. And I love she is confident in her viewers’ intelligence to understand French terms. The sauce itself is a basic ganache. I want Lauara to keep speaking French and she delivers by saying “voila! dessert.”
In the next segment she talks about atmosphere impacting food. All about linens and silverware. But food comes first and She will be making quail with mushrooms – I’m quite impressed she’s using such an esoteric ingredient. Clearly this was not produced by the US Food Network which would have turned it into yummo chicken with cream of mushroom soup sauce. But then the show gets more awesome when Laura offers Daniel-the-neighbor-boy a glass of juice and Daniel asks for a beer. Laura says Daniel can have a beer after the dinner party. And yes, all of that is as suggestive as it sounds.
From one set of hot kitchen action to another, Laura ties up the quail to keep them from splaying (with requisite arm gestures that indicate splaying). She browns the seasoned quail in butter as she comments on their daintiness. She then gets out an onion and bacon which will be cut up into lardons (awesome!). When the quail have browned on all sides, she takes them out and adds the bacon and onions. I’d like the point out her knife skills are excellent. Like any good sauce, she delgazes a flour-thickened-brown-bits in the pan with wine and then adds stock, this time, veal stock. She adds a bay leaf, noting that it seems wrong not to. Adding back the quail, she braises them covered, as she sautees chanterelle and blue foot mushrooms in a separate pan to serve as a bed for the quail. She pulls out the quail from the stock and then adds the mushrooms and finally adds parsley and the quail on top of the whole shebang.
For a first course she makes “tiny tiny fig tartlets in a port sauce.” Doesn’t that sound good just reading about it? Ok so after commercial, Laura goes into her perky voice and talks about fig and goat cheese tartlets. It’s all “wee tartlets” and teensy tintsy figs.” She starts by poaching the figs in a cup of sugar and a cup of port. She “cheats” the pastry by using premade puff pastry but please, no one would make their own puff pastry. Because she doesn’t want the puff pastry to rise, she weighs it down with a cookie sheet and bakes them in a 400 degree oven. For the goat cheese, she adds a little cream to goat cheese to make it spreadable and mixes with rosemary. With the jazzy come over music as a soundtrack, she chops rosemary and checks on the poaching figs. She takes the figs out of the port and chops some walnuts. Then to softer jazz music, she assembles the tarts and puts them in the oven to heat.
Her final dish is cabbage, but she classes that up by calling it cabbage for kings – savoy cabbage. But first commercials. After commercials she comes down in her party dress. It’s kind of baggy and does nothing for her clearly spectacular figure. As Daniel is drinking his juice, Laura sniffs it to see that he’s not getting drunk. Once assured that he’s not on the sauce, she sets him to setting the table with her personal preference of glasses on the inside and napkins on the outside.
Daniel is sent on his way and Laura sings the praises of savoy cabbage noting that it doesn’t have the stink of regular cabbage. The addictive jazzy “come over” music starts up again as she shreds the cabbage and sautees in it butter. She wiggles her hands to demonstrate the wilted cabbage. After sauteeing, she puts it in a glass bowl.
Finally the dinner starts. Daniel is serving everyone and the scene is surprisingly natural – people having dinner and hanging out. This is what separates the good cooking shows (NIgella Bites) from the bad cooking shows (Nigella Express). People in this scene don’t make fake compliments. They talk about the food naturally. Her circle of friends seem witty and sophisticated and one notes that the quails are are so cute he wants to dress them. Dessert is served and everyone clinks glasses and laughs. As a little audience tribute after the credits, there’s a little scene of Daniel finally drinking his beer.
Sadly, there’s no final scene of Laura taking Daniel on the kitchen counter a la Heather Locklear on Melrose Place. Lack of schtupping aside, Laura’s delightful and these are recipes I would totally make myself.