Late February marks the time of year when winter’s charms begin to wear out. Sweaters and scarves, once donned excitedly, are now put on begrudgingly. Snow, which once seemed magical as it fell to the ground, is now just an unwelcome reminder that cold days still lie ahead. While one might prefer to simply hibernate until spring arrives, there are things one can do to shake up the midwinter doldrums. You can, for instance, go winter camping! Or, if going out isn’t your thing, take the excitement indoors with a dinner party! Dinner parties are excellent cold-weather diversions — they bring your favorite people together in an intimate setting full of warmth, laughter and that winter-weather essential: libations!
To celebrate the simple act of dining with friends, we’re launching a new feature today. We’re calling it Dinner Party, and it will showcase a few delicious recipes from a brand new cookbook as well as beautiful tableware from a favorite shop or designer. To kick off the series, we chose Rachel Khoo’s charming guide to modern French cooking, The Little Paris Kitchen. Newly released in America, this delightful little volume contains dozens of recipes that taste just as good as they look. To complement the pared down beauty of Khoo’s book, we decorated our table with a few super easy DIYs, a lovely printable menu and pieces from one of our favorite new stores: West Elm Market!
Hopefully, these recipes and table-setting tips will inspire your own Parisian dinner parties and give you the push you need to get through the worst of winter. But — if that’s not enough — we’re also giving away two copies of The Little Paris Kitchen to two lucky readers! To enter to win one of these fabulous cookbooks, simply leave a comment on this post telling us your ideal dinner party for a cold winter day. We’ll choose our favorites! — Max
To see all the recipes, DIYs and photos, continue reading after the jump . . .
Above image: We fashioned a tiny Eiffel Tower out of a single piece of copper wire. Bend a length of copper wire so there are about 4 inches on one side. Twist at the bend about three-quarters of the way down. Twist the longer side of the wire upward from the bottom, curve it across to the other leg and twist back down. Cut off any excess. Red striped dinnerware set from West Elm Market.
Above image: We displayed bunches of dried lavender in vintage tins and mason jars wrapped with twine. For an added touch, we painted a red stripe around the twine with regular acrylic paint.
Above image: Palmiers served on an enamel roasting pan from West Elm Market. Full recipe below!
Above image: Our main course — moules marinières — served in an enamel cast-iron Dutch oven from West Elm Market.
Above image: These easy-to-make seashell candles helped create a lovely atmosphere. Check out the how-to here!
Above: The dessert! Îles flottantes, or floating islands.
Above image: We dressed up a simple strand of string lights by wrapping the cord with regular brown twine. Simply knot 2 foot lengths of twine to the cord and wrap it tightly around. When you reach the end of the twine, knot it and begin again. Repeat until the entire cord is covered.
Above image: The entire table! We used a canvas drop cloth, available at most hardware stores, as a tablecloth.
Palmiers (Elephant Ears)
- 4oz puff pastry
- 1 heaped tbsp Meaux mustard (or another grainy mustard)
- 2 handfuls of finely grated mature Comté cheese or a mature hard cheese of your choice
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two sheets of parchment paper into a 8-by-12-inch rectangle.
2. Spread the mustard over one pastry rectangle and sprinkle the cheese on top. Take one long side of the rectangle and roll it into the middle. Repeat on the other side so that the two rolls touch each other. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for 10 minutes* before cutting into thirty 3/8-inch-thick slices. Lay the slices on one of the prepared baking sheets.
3. Bake the palmiers for 10 minutes or until golden and crisp. Serve warm or at room
Moules Marinières (Mussels with White Wine)
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course
- 4 lb mussels
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bulb of fennel, thinly sliced*
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs of thyme or a pinch of dried thyme
- 2/3 cup dry white wine
- 2/3 cup crème fraîche
- a handful of chopped parsley
1. Clean the mussels using plenty of cold water. Pull out the fibrous beards and scrub off any barnacles. Toss any that have cracked or broken shells or that do not close when lightly squeezed.
2. In a large pot (big enough to hold all the mussels with some extra room to spare), soften the onion and fennel over low heat with the butter, bay leaf and thyme. When the onion and fennel are soft and translucent, add the wine followed by the cleaned mussels. Increase the heat to high, cover the pan and cook for 3–4 minutes or until the mussels open, shaking the pan a few times to help them cook evenly.
3. At the end of the cooking time, remove the bay leaf and sprigs of thyme (if used) and discard any mussels that have not opened. Stir in the crème fraîche and serve immediately, with a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
For the crème anglaise
- 4 egg yolks
- 7 tbsp sugar
- 1 vanilla pod*
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 tsp ground long pepper or black pepper (optional)
For the praline
- 6 1/2 tbsp sugar
- scant 1 tbsp water
- 1/2 cup slivered almonds
For the islands
- 2 egg whites
- scant 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
- a couple drops of lemon juice
- a pinch of salt
1. To make the crème anglaise: Mix the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl. Split the vanilla pod in half lengthwise and scrape out the grains. Place the pod and grains in a pan with the milk and pepper and bring to a boil. Remove the pod, then pour a little of the hot milk onto the egg yolks and sugar, whisking continuously. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, then pour the mix into a clean pan, set over a gentle heat and whisk constantly. Do not let the custard simmer at any point or it will split. After 5 minutes, it will begin to thicken slightly and become the consistency of half-and-half (it will thicken more when it cools down). Transfer to a bowl and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
2. Meanwhile, make the praline: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the sugar and water into a large pan, heat gently until the sugar dissolves and then increase the heat to high. When the mixture starts to bubble, add the almonds and stir continuously for 5 minutes to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Once the sugar and nuts have become a dark golden caramel color, pour onto the prepared sheet and spread as thinly as possible with a palette knife (be quick, as it sets pretty fast). Leave to cool.
3. To make the islands: Put half the egg whites into a clean glass or metal bowl. Add the sugar, lemon juice and salt and whisk until snow white. Add the rest of the egg whites and continue whisking until the meringue forms stiff peaks.
4. Gently drop six spoonfuls of meringue into a large pot of simmering water** and simmer for a few minutes or until they are slightly puffed up and just set. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a sheet of parchment paper until needed.
5. Pour a ladleful of crème anglaise into each of the six glasses and gently place a meringue in the center. Snap the praline into small pieces and sprinkle on top.
*The vanilla pod can be interchanged with different flavorings. Here are a few ideas to get your imagination going:
- Winter warming: 1 cinnamon stick, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger and a pinch of nutmeg
- Chocolate chile: 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 pinches of chile powder, or to taste
- Zingy citrus fruit: finely grated zest of 1 orange, 1/2 lemon and 1/2 lime
**If you prefer, you can cook the islands in the microwave. Spoon six small heaps onto a plate, leaving at least 3/4 inch between each one, and microwave on medium-high for 30–60 seconds.