Dining In: French bistro at home

Photos by Amy Shutt

With the swelter of August finally behind us, our thoughts turn to dining and entertaining outdoors. One of our favorite ways to do that is by capitalizing on the small plate, or tapas, trend. Though the “tapas” trend started in Spain, small plates are showing up on bistro menus everywhere, including the U.S. This French-inspired bistro-style small plate menu will wow your guests. It’s sophisticated yet simple, and it’s not too heavy for those still-sultry fall evenings.


• Seared Salmon over Lentils
• Fig and Onion Tart With Blue Cheese
• Baby Greens with Vinaigrette
• Dark Chocolate Mousse

Dining In September 2015 225 Magazine

Seared Salmon over Lentils

We typically eat lentils in a soup or on top of rice. However, this combination is a very classic French pairing of flavors. The hearty lentils with a little tang from the Dijon mustard pair quite nicely with the richness of the salmon. This dish pops with unique textures and flavors. It’s also very hearty, so as a small-plate dish it works particularly well. 

Servings: 6

For the seared salmon:
6 3-ounce skinless salmon filets
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
½ teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
2 fresh lemons, cut in half

1. Rinse the salmon filets and pat them dry. Sprinkle both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add half the olive oil and 3 of the filets. Cook the salmon 3 minutes on one side. Flip the salmon over and continue cooking an additional 2 to 3 minutes, depending on your desired doneness.

3. Place the cooked filets onto a plate, sprinkle them with a little of the herbes de Provence and squeeze a little of the fresh lemon over them.

4. Cover the cooked salmon with a piece of aluminum foil while you continue to cook the remaining salmon in the remainder of the olive oil.

5. Serve the seared salmon over the warm lentils.

For the lentils:
1 pound dried lentils
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped shallots
½ cup chopped carrots
½ cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1. Place the dried lentils in a large pot and pour cold water over them until they are completely covered.

2. Bring the lentils to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer the lentils for 10 minutes. Drain well and return the pot to the stove.

3. Place the olive oil into the pot and add the shallots, carrots and celery. Sauté 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Sprinkle in the herbes de Provence, salt and pepper and continue sautéing for another 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Pour in the white wine and bring it all to a simmer.

6. Add the drained lentils and chicken broth. Stir in the tomato paste and mustard. Simmer the lentils 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally until lentils are tender. This can be made a day in advance. Serve the lentils warm along with the seared salmon.

Dining In September 2015 225 Magazine

Fig and Onion Tart with Blue Cheese

This fig and onion tart and the baby green salad that follows are a fun take on both an appetizer and salad course together. The flaky puff pastry crust paired with the sweet figs, savory onions and slightly pungent blue cheese is the perfect way to start off this small-plate meal.

Servings: 6

1 frozen sheet puff pastry dough, thawed
1 pint fresh figs*
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
Pinch kosher salt and black pepper
2 large sweet onions, sliced thin
¼ cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

2. Trim the figs, cut them in half and place them into a bowl.

3. In a small sauce pot, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, pinch of salt and pepper and bring it to a simmer.

4. Remove the vinegar mixture from the heat and pour it over the figs. Toss them to coat and set them aside.

5. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.

6. Add the sliced onions, salt, pepper, sugar and thyme. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the onions until they become golden in color and are very soft.

7. Remove from the heat and spread the onions over the prepared dough.

8. Place the figs on top of the onions and sprinkle with the crumbled blue cheese.

9. Bake in the preheated oven 15 to 20 minutes until puffed and golden.

10. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool slightly before cutting into wedges. Serve warm along with a small mixed baby green salad.

*If fresh figs are not available, dried figs will work as well. If using dried figs, bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in the figs. Turn the pot off and allow the figs to steep in the boiling water for 5 minutes or until they become soft. Drain the figs and pat them dry then continue with the recipe.

Baby Greens with Vinaigrette

The lightly dressed simple salad balances the complex flavors of the tart. Together, they make a very satisfying first course—small plates but not small flavor.

Servings: 6

1 12-ounce container pre-washed baby greens
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1⁄3 cup olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1. Place the baby greens in a large salad bowl.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients until well combined.

3. Drizzle the dressing over the greens and toss to coat.

4. Divide the salad among 6 small salad plates and serve along with slices of the fig and onion tart.

Dining In September 2015 225 Magazine

Dark Chocolate Mousse

Anyone who loves chocolate will be delighted with this rich and decadent dark chocolate mousse. The dark chocolate is enhanced with a hint of the espresso, which adds another level of flavor. This dessert is so rich a little goes a long way, making this the perfect way to end your small-plate French bistro-inspired dinner.

Servings: 6

½ cup water, divided
1 tablespoon instant espresso
6 ounces dark chocolate
2 tablespoons butter
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

1. In a microwave-safe bowl, heat half of the water for 30 seconds. Add the instant espresso and stir until it is dissolved.

2. Place the chocolate and butter into the hot espresso and heat again in the microwave for another 15 to 20 seconds. Stir until the mixture is smooth. Set aside.

3. In a small heavy saucepot, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and the other half of the water. Turn the heat on medium-low and stir until the mixture is thick and coats the back of a spoon.

4. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Fold the chocolate into the egg yolk mixture and set aside to cool.

5. Using an electric mixer, whip up the heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar until stiff peaks form.

6. Remove half of the whipped cream from the bowl, place into an airtight container and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve the mousse.

7. Fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining whipped cream. Divide the mousse among 6 3- to 4-ounce dishes. Cover and place them in the refrigerator for several hours or up to a day. Before serving, top each mousse dish with a little whipped cream.