**This date is part ten of our new series 10 Ways to Change Up Dinner and a Movie. Scroll to the bottom for step-by-step instructions and follow us on social media or subscribe to our newsletter for more ideas on changing up an age-old favorite**
France has a long history of excellent food. The first celebrity chef, Marie-Antoine Carême, took the cooking world by storm almost two hundred years ago in Paris, serving royals and dignitaries, as well as writing best-selling cookbooks for the public. Since then, France has been known for its haute cuisine and high-class chefs.
This could be why french cooking seems so intimidating. Complicated sauces, elaborate pastries, and unfamiliar foods (hello snails and frog legs) make us Americans retreat to our favorite pizza delivery service. However, some chefs have worked to prove how simple ingredients and easy prep methods can turn out elegant french dishes. This was Julia Child’s vision. In the rising tide of pre-packaged and processed foods, she wanted to make traditional french cooking accessible to home cooks in America.
That’s why this date seizes upon a couple of her most notable recipes, with the woman herself teaching you how to cook them. If anyone can teach you how to make french cuisine, it’s Julia Child.
The first recipe on the menu is potage parmentier or potato leek soup. If you have never cooked leeks before, never fear. Leeks are in the same family as onions, garlic, and chives. Their savory flavor enhances the mildness of the potatoes. We have step-by-step instructions on cleaning, preparing, and cooking the leeks, not to mention Julia Child will walk you through it in the video below. If you wish to follow her original recipe (this one is an adaptation of mine), I recommend you check out Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the library. Otherwise, be sure to download our recipes and grocery list for free by clicking the button below.
This recipe is surprisingly simple with lots of variations. Vichyssoise is a chilled version of this soup, and if you add other vegetables you can simply deem it the soup du jour. Feel free to try it in any of the ways listed, or even more than one.
Potage Parmentier | Potato Leek Soup
This recipe has been adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Rinse your leeks. Slice off the tough green tops, reserving the white parts and tender green parts. Slice the leeks lengthwise, then crosswise. Finally, clean your cut leeks by soaking them in a bowl of cold water, stirring with a slotted spoon. Don’t skip this step or your leeks may be sandy. Remove to a large soup pot.
Peel and dice your potatoes. Add to the soup pot. (If you do this step in advance, soak the potatoes in cold water to preserve their color.)
Cover the vegetables with water and add your salt. Partially cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce heat to a simmer for 40-45 minutes until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.
Taste and correct the seasoning. Reheat to a simmer until you are ready to serve. Once ready, remove from heat and optionally add any cream or butter. Garnish with parsley and serve with the salad, crusty French bread, and wine.
4 cups leeks
4 cups russet potatoes
8 cups of water
2 teaspoons salt
parsley or chives, for garnish
use chicken or vegetable stock instead of water
finish with softened butter, sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraiche
add watercress, carrots, or turnips to vegetables
serve cold (with cream) for Vichyssoise
Next up on the menu: salade niçoise or Nice Salad. This salad derived its name from the city in Provence, not the adjective for pleasant (though it is that as well). Follow our adaptation below of Julia Child’s recipe from The Way to Cook, or get your hands on the original. While in my experience this recipe tends to be what people think of when it comes to salade niçoise, many others disagree. In fact, the salade niçoise is perhaps the most hotly debated salad I have ever come across. If you were looking to have an argument about a salad, this is the one.
To start, it’s considered a composed salad, meaning all the ingredients are arranged beautifully on a plate in little piles instead of tossed together. You will feel very fancy doing this, though it is not absolutely necessary (first point of contention). Next, it has a select few ingredients, but you are free to add others if you wish (second point of contention). Because Nice rests comfortably on the coast of the French Riviera, the recipe calls for both tuna and anchovies. I personally do not like either, though my husband loves both. You can omit the fish, which also makes it vegetarian. Lastly, the salad is served with a simple vinaigrette, which I find pulls it all together. However, other chefs have changed up the dressing before so I don’t see why you can’t either (third point of contention).
By now I have angered the salade niçoise purists and (hopefully, for the sake of my web traffic) sparked a heated debate on my social media pages. In my defense, I have two pieces of advice for the novice. First, try the salade niçoise the traditional way (whatever that is) before trying something different. Second, put niçoise in quotation marks when referencing it, to save yourself from certain disdain. That said, it’s a salad. Remember that.
Salade niçoise | Nice Salad
This recipe has been adapted from Julia Child’s The Way to Cook.
Combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette with a fork or whisk until completely emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Line a large dish with the lettuce. Spoon a bit of dressing over the lettuce. Season with salt and pepper.
In their own separate dishes, toss the potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, and tuna with a few spoonfuls of dressing each.
Then, compose your salad. Arrange each element in a in a pile or two around the dish on top of the lettuce.
Line the hard-boiled eggs around the edge, each topped with anchovy. Finish with a sprinkle of olives and capers.
Add a few more spoonfuls of dressing, salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with parsley and serve immediately with the potato leek soup, crusty French bread and wine.
(Objectionable) Variations: radishes, cucumber, beets, basil, salmon (pan-seared or smoked), ahi, peppers, carrots, spinach, green olives, artichokes, fava beans, corn, farro, cous cous, rice, mushrooms, any other fish or seafood, basically anything that sounds good
1 head butter or boston lettuce
1 cup fresh green beans, trimmed and blanched
3 or 4 ripe vine tomatoes, quartered
1 can or pouch oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked
4 eggs, hard-boiled and halved lengthwise
2-3 flat, oil-packed anchovy filets
1/2 cup black olives
3-4 tablespoons capers
5-6 gold potatoes, sliced and cooked to fork tender
Salt and pepper to taste
Flat leaf parsley for garnish, chopped
For the Vinaigrette:
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
After you craft and ingest your delicious french meal, finish the night with a movie along the same subject. We recommend Ratatouille and Julie and Julia. The first revolves around a cute Parisienne rat who happens to be a fantastic cook but struggles for acceptance in the kitchen (no surprise there). The second tells the story of two women committed to learning to cook traditional french food: famed Julia Child and her obsessive 21st century follower Julie Powell. If neither movie stands out to you, check out our list of 10 French Movies to See Before You Die.
French Cooking Date
Time: 3+ hours | Cost: $$ | Location: At Home | Level: Easy
What says romance more than french cuisine? Bread, cheese, wine . . . plus the stuff you actually have to cook. While that part may seem intimidating at first, we’ve chosen two recipes that are not only simple, but downright delicious. We’ve also chosen an cooking expert who became famous for introducing French cuisine to the everyday home cook—Julia Child. With a teacher like her, you are sure to pull this date night off. Reward yourself at the end of the evening on the couch with a movie (have you guessed which?) and some sweet treats.
Printable Menu + Grocery List
Printable Recipes (or use above)
Julia Child Videos (above)
Julie and Julia or Ratatouille
Candles, Tablecloth, Decor
Download the free printables below and print. Cut out the pieces (we recommend using a portable paper cutter). Otherwise, you can use your tablet. Gather your materials.
Deliver the invite to your date. You could leave it out on the counter one morning, send it via snail mail, pin it to your fridge, or come up with something else creative. Go green and screenshot the invite to send as a text.
On the night of, have your table set and French playlist cooing as your date walks through the door.
Cook dinner together using our recipes and following the sage advice of dear Julia Child. You can follow along with her as you cook with the videos above.
Eat your dinner over candlelight, marveling at what incredible cooks you both are.
Then, watch one of our suggested movies. If neither of those jump out at you, try one of these.
Finally, let us know how it went @makeadateofit. Pictures are always encouraged.