Sometimes, You Just Go Fancy

The Table is Ready for Action

The Table is Ready for Action

Most of the time, we cook a small dish here, a little thing there.  It’s not often we pull out all the stops and make a big, fancy meal, visiting close friends and fellow foodies Brian and Karla gave us the right excuse to put together something special.  One of the reasons that they’re good friends is because even though they enjoy the finer side of dining, they’re the kind of folks who don’t necessarily need you to cook them a fancy meal.  They would be perfectly happy with something more straightforward—a tray of lasagna and a salad.  They don’t wear their meals as a fashion statement, they just enjoy delicious food.

Here’s the menu:

Hot Pepper Goat Cheese Phyllo Pouches

Served with Demi-Sec Kir Royale

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash on Baby Arugula and Pecan Salad

Served with Mint Julep Shooter

Surf and Turf of Old-Bay Roasted Florida Shrimp and Bison Rib-Eye

Smoked Gouda, Fennel, and Leek Risotto

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Pignoli

Served with 2010 Martinelli Zinfandel Giuseppe & Luisa

Olive Cake Parfait with Mixed Berry Grand Marinier Compote

Served with Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port

Hot Pepper Goat Cheese Phyllo Pouches

Chevre Pocket

Chevre Pocket

We’ve experimented with this a number of times in the past, trying different cheeses and flavor profiles, plus experimenting with the right number of phyllo layers.  It’s riffed nearly directly from an Ina Garten recipe, minus the salad.  Our original intention was to use Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze lavender-and-herb chevre, but when we were shopping, we saw the Hot Pepper version and audibled into a more piquant opener.  We had talked about adding some hot pepper jelly or sambal to the dish, but decided to pass on that once we got the spicier cheese.  In the future, even with the same cheese, we’ll add the jelly.  That one more uptick of heat would have been great.

I believe in pairing sweetness with spicy heat.  Kir Royale is always a great first drink of the evening anyway, so the fact that it would pair up nicely with the dish was just a bonus.  We used Graham Beck’s Bliss Demi-Sec (having gotten it on sale) instead of a Brut.  We taste-tested first to make sure it wasn’t too sweet.  The Crème de Cassis had the right amount of bitterness to offset that sweetness, making it a fine drink and spot-on pairing.

Maple-Roasted Butternut Squash on Baby Arugula and Pecan Salad

I’m a recent convert to butternut squash.  I’ve found that I enjoy the pumpkin side of the squash family quite a bit while still disliking the zucchini side.  This course was inspired by having some roasted butternut as a side dish.  Because of the cinnamon and carmelization, it kept hinting at wanting bourbon, so we started brainstorming.  A full on mint julep wasn’t the right call, so we thought about the shooter.

The next step was getting the drink into the small format glass.  The first thought was to just make regular juleps and strain them into the glass.  We were worried about pieces of mint floating around, which led to the idea of infusing mint into the bourbon.  We consulted with our friend Nate DeWitt, mixologist extraordinaire, and he told us to instead infuse the simple syrup—which made perfect sense as soon as he said it.

After making the mint simple syrup, we did a fair amount of experimenting with the mixture.  In the end, we agreed on the ratio of 6 ounces of bourbon and 2 1/3 tablespoons of mint simple syrup, shaken over finely-crushed ice and strained into cordial glasses to yield four drinks.  The next discussion was serving temperature.  We eventually agreed that simply as a drink, we’d serve the shooter ice cold, but as an accompaniment to the dish, warmer was better, as it really opened up with aromatics of the bourbon.  I’ll post a full recipe for both the salad and the shooter in the next few days.

Surf and Turf of Old-Bay Roasted Florida Shrimp and Bison Rib-Eye

Roasted Shrimp, Bison Rib-eye, Risotto, and Chard

Roasted Shrimp, Bison Rib-eye, Risotto, and Chard

Our friends live in New York and are reasonably well-traveled, so there’s not too much they don’t have access to.  We figured that serving something local was the right way to go, so we got some nice Gulf shrimp.  We were simply going to roast them as we’ve done before, and focus on the side dishes.  Somewhere along the way, a discussion of surf and turf came up, and I recalled that we wanted to have bison rib-eyes for Day of Thrones 3, but the butcher was out.   I called the manager, verified they’d have them, and we were in business.

I didn’t want to cover up any interesting flavors in the meat, so I merely lightly dusted them with Penzey’s Chicago Steak Seasoning and rubbed them with a little olive oil.  I made a bit of garlic butter to finish them with, and that was that.  Bison is leaner than beef, which is why I went with the fattier cut of the rib-eye instead of the strips they also had.  Each one was just under a pound.  I grilled them about four minutes on a side and then let them rest for a few minutes before topping them with the garlic butter and serving.

If there was a failure in this meal, it was in the wine selection.  The wine didn’t fail—it was remarkably good.  The pairing failed.  I wanted something to bridge the gap between the shrimp and the steak, something that would have the residual fruit sweetness to go with the spiciness of the shrimp plus the tannic backbone to go with the steak.  Zinfandel was the first thing that came to mind, although I also considered an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.  Again, the wine was delicious.  It just didn’t do what I had hoped it would do.  If I do something similar again, I’ll try it with Australian Cab or a Cab/Shiraz blend–slightly more tannic with about the same fruit profile.

Smoked Gouda, Fennel, and Leek Risotto

We’re leaning more toward risotto than potatoes these days.  This was a version of what we did for Day of Thrones 3, once again wanting the smoky elements of the gouda as opposed to the nuttier flavor of parm.  We also again added marscapone to it, which will become a permanent part of the recipe.  The aromatics of the fennel and leek nicely picked up the aromatics in the shrimp spice.

Sauteed Swiss Chard with Pignoli

We love broccoli and we love asparagus, and it’s easy to default to either of them as the green for a meal.  Chard is a little bitter and a little earthy, so we thought that it would go quite nicely as a contrast to the risotto and a compliment to the bison.  It was a big hit.

It was simple enough.  We toasted a few pignoli beforehand, just to have them ready to go.  Because we know it can be pretty gritty, we washed the chard three times, drying it in the salad spinner each time.  We cooked two heads of it in a large sauté pan in 3 tablespoons of butter for about 15 minutes.  Right at the end, we tossed in the pignoli and squeezed the juice of half a lemon into it, hoping the acidity would both brighten the dish and cut into the bitterness.  It did.

Olive Cake Parfait with Mixed Berry Grand Marinier Compote

DessertThis was a Rocket Scientist design, using the olive oil cake from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook and inspired by one of his parfaits.  She said the meal felt like it wanted something fruity and creamy to end with without being heavy.  Served with a glass of Graham’s 20, it was a light and fitting exclamation point to the evening.  I’ll post a full recipe for this one as well later in the week.  Until then, enjoy the picture.

We had also planned a cheese plate, but everyone agreed that we were comfortable enough without it.  If forced to choose between a sweet and a cheese to end a meal, I’ll almost always choose cheese.  In this case, I thought the dessert would be light enough (and it was) to warrant still having cheese.  It was the rest of the meal (even spread over five hours) that was filling enough to make skipping the cheese the right call.

Although we occasionally have some of the elements of this meal, putting them all together into a feast of this proportion doesn’t happen all that often.  We were happy that our friends provided us with the excuse to do it.  We agreed that next time they come, the four of us will cook together something interesting, and I’m sure you’ll hear all about it.

Advertisements

About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
This entry was posted in Food We Make, Wine and Spirits and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Sometimes, You Just Go Fancy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s