Monday, June 13, 2011

French-Inspired Lunch with Cost Plus World Market and Foodbuzz Tastemakers

In college, I had this poster hanging in my room. Due to space considerations, it ended up over my bed, which galled a lot of people. When Dan and I moved in together, he banished ol' George to the closet and has been really leery of my decorating skills since.

Needless to say, when Foodbuzz came calling with an opportunity to put on a party with supplies from Cost Plus World Market, he came along to ensure that the decor would suit an elegant affair.

Well, with all of the great gear from World Market, it's really hard to go wrong when picking decor for a lovely outdoor party. The email from Foodbuzz popped in my inbox and I instantly knew what kind of party I would have: a leisurely lunch inspired by a friend's story of the French countryside.

My friend J.L., the very one who took my profile photo, went to a wedding in the French countryside. He talked about a gorgeous lunch, with tons of handmade food, great wine, and hours to eat and talk. Since I have neither the time nor funds to travel to France, I thought I'd bring a little taste of it here to San Diego.

It needed to be an outdoor party and our yard wasn't the biggest. Our party of six fit perfectly around our 30 x 60 inch dining table with little room to spare. We served the food family style and had a separate serving table.

I wanted a tablecloth reminiscent of vivid Provençal patterns and loved the green and teal of the Las Palmas pattern. Moroccan blue buffet napkins, white plates, and stemless wine glasses completed the look. The sweetpeas, placed in low vases as to not block guests' views of each other, was the imperfectly gorgeous and rustic look I was aiming for.

I've wanted a galvanized tub for serving cold drinks forever, so it was one of the first items I picked up from World Market. Even though there was wine, we drifted quickly to the refreshing fruit sodas from World Market. With flavors like blood orange, orange-mango, and pomegranate, the fruit sodas make a great drink to serve on a warm afternoon.

Teal and white lanterns matched the table and worked beautifully with our hanging tomato plants. Our vegetables are doing shockingly well and gave our backyard a lush feel. Hanging tomato plants, flowers, herbs, squash, and eggplant crowded around the table.

At World Market, we found the frames for paper cones to serve French fries. Dan fried up batch after batch of fries and I can honestly say that fries are best homemade, despite the time and cleanup required. Dipping sauces were also from World Market and served in their mini ceramic dishes. We were really excited to find curry ketchup amongst the myriad of condiments at the store.

One of the main courses was pork medallions with orange and fennel based on a recipe from Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table. The original recipe uses oranges and cardamom, but adding fennel was a fantastic touch. Along with the fries, we started off lunch with cheese and strawberries. The cheese, a cow's milk Chaorce from Champagne and sold by Taste Cheese, was perfect with the strawberries and wine.

Mussels in a sauce of white wine, butter, garlic, shallots, thyme, and parsley is the classic French dish of moules marinière. As a teenager, I traveled to Paris with my folks and I remember these gigantic ads in the Metro featuring moules marinière. A clear photo of in-shell mussels drenched in bits of shallots and piled high, then enlarged to fit a billboard as high as the subway tunnel. This is something that translates easily in San Diego, with fresh mussels from Carlsbad Aqua Farm.

Dessert was a lemon tart with a pine nut crust. We've had a small lemon tree in our backyard, but since we moved in, it's produced all of one fruit. It would blossom, but the baby lemons would fall off the tree before they were full-grown. This year, however, we were suddenly hit with a massive harvest. I'm not sure what's going on, but a tart was in order.

My original proposal included profiteroles, but we had so many lemons that a tart seemed more fitting. Dan, however, disagreed, so the profiteroles were back on. The eggy dough makes little puffs that are sliced in half and a scoop of ice cream placed in the middle. My favorite recipe comes from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook and includes a recipe for the easiest chocolate sauce ever. I use chocolate with a very high percentage of cacao for a dark and delicious sauce.

I can definitely cook, but entertaining is a different set of skills I have yet to master. Thanks to the incredible variety of decor, food, and drink from Cost Plus World Market, entertaining is a lot easier. Pictured above are some of my favorite items:
  • The dipping sauces, which are a sampling of condiments and pantry goods from domestic producers and from countries all over the world.
  • The sodas, which were refreshing and tasty without being too sweet.
  • The hammered stainless steel kadhais, an Indian wok used for cooking and serving. I have them in a couple of sizes and they're amazing serving pieces.
  • European chocolates, especially my favorite Kinder brand. From that French trip of my teen years, I was introduced to the Kinder brand of chocolates, which were sold in supermarkets just like Hershey's is sold here. We gave out Kinder Happy Hippos as party favors.

Some Thoughts on Entertaining
  • There wasn't a lot of time given to put this lunch together, so my number one suggestion is to always keep it simple and intimate. Small groups and simple menus mean less work on your part.
  • Be realistic. If you can't make something, then there's no harm in buying it. Look to places like Cost Plus World Market for fun and interesting food and drink to serve.
  • With a small space, cramming people a little bit doesn't hurt and promotes conversation. Make sure everyone's comfortable and keep only the essentials on the table. Everything else can go on a separate table or on your kitchen counters.
  • Look to cookbooks for ideas and suggestions outside of recipes. Authors often include side stories on decor and entertaining to give an idea of how to showcase their recipes. The cookbooks I used for this lunch were Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten, Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan, and Bouchon by Thomas Keller.
  • Enjoy yourself. I often don't plan my cooking well and spend more time in the kitchen than with my guests. This time, I sat out in my pretty backyard and caught up with good friends.

Check out Cost Plus World Market's website, their eCatalog, and their amazing World Market Explorer Rewards Program.

Many thanks to the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program and Cost Plus World Market for their support of this amazing lunch! Check out my Twitter feed for some great Instagram shots of the lunch.

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers program, I received a stipend from Cost Plus World Market and Foodbuzz to purchase items to create this French-inspired lunch.

9 bites:

TheCilantropist said...

Marie this looks aaaamazing! :D  I am a big fan of World Market - both their housewares and their food offerings - and I think you did a great job of throwing this party.  Jealous!  And invite me next time! ;)

Snehal said...

Fantastic pictures, Marie! I especially loved the tablecloth and the lanterns - oh so pretty!

Averie Cooks said...

Your party set up looks awesome!!!  I saw FBuzz offering this and I am so glad you took part!

I am going to send you an email, too.  Need to ask you something :)

Sally said...

Lucky guests at your party--beautiful job, Marie!

Mary said...

I love Cost Plus - they have some awesome things there. The lunch party looks so lovely! And I agree that homemade fries are so, so good.

Marilynmcw said...

What a wonderful french lunch!!!!! I think it was just right and would have loved to attend. We do not have world markets here in the greater Boston area but I am sure I could find similar items at Whole food or some other store. Thank you for wonderful ideas!!!!!!

Haley said...

Awesome Party -- gorgeous photos. love you and Cost Plus!

Leanne A said...

Gorgeous lunch! I love Cost Plus... just found out the Bed Bath & Beyond in Mission Valley has the food part of Cost Plus in the middle of it. Lots of Cadbury and Kinder chocolates!

elizabeth said...

I've never heard of Cost Plus, and as someone who works in the food industry, I must remedy this immediately.

This lunch reminds me of one of my favorite little food moments in film--the big lunch that Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan eat when they take that detour to Kevin Kline's family vineyard. 

9 bites