Thursday, August 2, 2012

SOB Dinner - Coffee and Brandy

"The gasogene and cigars are in the old place. Let me see you once more in the customary armchair."

As I have said before, it's the company that makes these dinners successful.  They provide the inspiration and the reason for the evening.  The advantage of a long, leisurely meal is that you have a chance to relax and enjoy each other's company. We tried new foods, and even enjoyed some of them.  We shared how each couple met.  (I think Bob even got it right!)  We told stories about our parents, about our travels and about our kids.  We laughed together.  We ate too much, drank just enough and enjoyed every minute.  It was a magical evening.  One we'll have to do again.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

SOB Dinner - Six Napoleons with Black Pearl Truffles

When the title of a story is also the name of a dessert, you'd be silly not to run with it!  Of course, it took me until a week before the dinner to realize the connection.  Remember?  I was stuck on the rose idea!  And it wasn't until the night before the party that I came up with the honey and brandy flavored filling.  Sigh.  My brain just doesn't work as fast as it used to.  Honey for Holmes, brandy for Watson.  Perfect!

My daughter had the great idea of hiding a gem in one of the desserts.  So I did! I couldn't find the Black Pearl of the Borgias, so I did the next best thing. I bought a Swarovski crystal similar to this one, 


in a 27mm size.  Large enough that I hoped someone would find it before they choked on it! 

Six Napoleons with Honey Brandy Cream Filling

For the pastry:

24 sheets phyllo
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup powdered sugar.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lay two sheets of phyllo on a piece of parchment paper.  Brush with butter, then sprinkle with hazelnuts and powdered sugar.  Lay two sheets of phyllo on top, and brush with butter.  Using a pizza cutter, cut into rectangles approximately 3 X 6 inches. Move parchment paper and phyllo to a cookie sheet.  Top with another sheet of parchment, and repeat the process twice more, ending with parchment paper.  Place a second cookie sheet on top, an bake for 12 minutes, or until golden.  Carefully remove top baking sheet and parchment paper; cool phyllo rectangles on bottom baking sheet on a wire rack.  When cool, separate into rectangles.

Honey and Brandy flavored Cream Filling

6 egg yolks
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons honey
2 cups heavy cream

Whisk together the egg yolks and salt in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed. 

Fill a small cup with 1/4 cup of apricot flavored brandy, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Put the cup aside.  In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the honey. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and let cook until it reaches 240 degrees F. It should get very active and bubbly.  Take the honey off the stove.  With the egg yolks still whipping, slowly pour the hot honey down the side of the mixer bowl and let it combine with the yolks.  The gelatin should be a solid mass in the cup. Scrape it out with a rubber spatula and into the saucepan you used to cook the honey. The heat of the pan should melt the gelatin into liquid.  Pour the gelatin into the mixer bowl as well and let whisk together until the mixture has cooled down to temperature and looks like it has tripled in volume – it should have a thicker, more puddinglike consistency and no longer seem as liquid.
Pour out the mousse base into a large bowl. Either clean the mixer bowl thoroughly, or if you have another mixer bowl, whip the heavy cream until it has soft peaks (do not overwhip).  Scrape the whipped cream out onto the mousse base. Using a spatula or bowl scraper, carefully fold the whipped cream into the mousse base, trying not to deflate the whipped cream too much.
At this point, you can cover and place the mousse in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to let set.

To assemble the Napoleons, place one of the baked phyllo rectangles on a plate.  Spread with Nutella, then spread honey filling.  Top with another rectangle of phyllo and repeat the process, ending with the phyllo.  Serve with Black Pearl Truffles.  Hidden gems are optional.

Black Pearl Truffles

9 oz good quality semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons apricot brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
Black sesame seeds

Heat whipping cream until just below boiling.  Pour over chocolate.  Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth.  If necessary, you can place it in the microwave and heat in 30 second intervals to melt chocolate.  Be sure to stir after each heating, because chocolate never looks like it melts.  When chocolate is melted, add flavorings.  Allow to cool.  Using a small scoop or spoon, scoop out some chocolate and roll between your palms to make a ball.  Roll in sesame seeds and set aside.

The dessert wine was lovely.  Dunham Cellars Late Harvest Riesling 2009.  

My first thought when I tasted this wine was 'plums'.  Then I tasted peaches and apricots, with a smooth, sweet finish.  It was a perfect pairing with the dessert.  

Next instant, with a loud shout of triumph (s)he held up one splinter, in which a round, dark object was fixed like a plum in a pudding.

Terri found the gem!

Next, brandy and coffee will be served.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

SOB Dinner - Agra Treasure Salad

Again, when planning this meal I knew I wanted to make an aspic of some kind.  It is just so Victorian.  But I wanted it to have a modern twist.  I looked at so many recipes, but again, they seemed to be better suited to the 1960's than the 1890's.  So once again, I decided to wing it.  

I thought of the recipes I'd looked at, and how often the aspic was described as jewel-like.  That made me think of treasure, which lead me to the Agra treasure.  So I had my connection.

Now, how to create a jewel-like salad of aspic.  I finally decided on creating several different vegetable juices, and making a separate gelatin of each.  I'd then cut them into cubes, and combine them to create a salad.  First, I had to know how much gelatin I needed in ratio to juice.  I found a handy chart here.  I decided one package of Knox gelatin per two cups of juice would be about right.  I experimented first with beets and yellow pepper, because I wanted something with distinct colors. I used my juicer to make juice from some beets that I had roasted.  That became one gelatin.  Then I juiced some yellow pepper, and it became another gelatin.  Then I tasted them.  The yellow pepper was actually pretty good, but the beet was horrid!

I scrapped the whole idea, and decided to try it instead with fruit juices.  But I'm kind of stubborn, so I decided to find a way to make it work.  I tasted the vegetable gelatins again, this time with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  That helped a lot.  Erik suggested roasting golden beets.  That's what I love about him, not only does he know wine, he knows food!  But I wanted the color of the red beets, so I combined the two.  That gave me a more palatable flavor, with the color I craved.  Other than that, I chose vegetables that would work well in a salad.  I ended up with six different gelatins.  Carrot, cucumber, tomato, beet, yellow pepper, and an herbal gelatin, made with basil.  The finishing touch was the mozarella pearls I found.   At the last minute I remembered I had some white truffle oil.  I put it in place of the olive oil, and finally had a flavor profile I could live with.

I think it was a visually stunning presentation, and it tasted better than I hoped.  Not great, we are talking about a very strange texture and mouth feel that is hard to get around.  But in the context of the dinner, I think it worked very well.  It was nice and light, perfect after the heaviness of the previous course.  Everyone ate it, even those of us who do not care for beets and will be nameless (David!), which I guess is an indication it wasn't too bad!

It looks pretty, but is it edible?

Agra Treasure Salad

Start with a variety of vegetables.  If using beets, I recommend roasting them first.  Other vegetables can be left raw.  To make it a little easier, I used commercial tomato juice.  The other vegetables I ran through my juicer.  This is a bit tedious, because you have to clean the juicer between each vegetable to keep the colors true.  Try to get about 1 cup of each juice.

Soften a package of unflavored gelatin in 2 tablespoons cold water.  Heat each cup of juice separately to just below boiling.  You want the flavor to stay fresh.  Add 1/2 of the softened gelatin (save the other half for your next cup of juice) to the hot juice and stir until gelatin is dissolved.  Place each juice in a separate container to set in the refrigerator.  

To make the basil gelatin, blanch two cups of basil leaves, then plunge into an ice bath.  Blend leaves with one cup of water in a blender until very finely chopped.  Strain this liquid into a bowl and add water to make one cup.  Use this liquid as you would use a vegetable juice above.

To assemble the salad, cut each gelatin into cubes.  Place a few of each kind of gelatin into a bowl.  Add a few mozarella pearls.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar and drizzle with white truffle oil.

"Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime."

 With the salad I served Kyra Chenin Blanc 2010.  It's a lovely wine, bright and happy.  I enjoyed it much more than I enjoyed the salad!

Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had gained one. 

Dessert is next!

Monday, July 30, 2012

SOB Dinner - Beef Wellington with Gorgonzola

For some reason, my first thought when planning this dinner was to serve Beef Wellington.  Don't ask me why, it is probably better suited to the 1960's than the 1890's.  But I had my heart set on it.  Luckily, I found justification in the Canon!

He cut a slice of beef from the joint upon the sideboard, sandwiched it between two rounds of bread, and, thrusting this rude meal into his pocket, he started off upon his expedition. 

Okay, it's a stretch.  But I'll go with it!  Beef Wellington is a piece of meat, wrapped in a bread like coating.  Creamed spinach seemed like an appropriate British take on vegetables, and the tarragon carrots feel French to me, a nod to Holmes' heritage.

The recipe for Individual Beef Wellingtons can be found here.  I followed the recipe pretty closely.  But read through the reviews, there are some good suggestions you may wish to follow.  I used my own demi-glace for the sauce.  This recipe is nice, because it can be mostly prepared ahead of time.  The one thing I'd change next time is where I buy the meat.  I bought my tenderloin at Central Market.  I told the gal at the counter what I was making, and that I wanted six pieces of steak the same size.  She didn't have any in the case, so she had the butcher cut them specially for me.  Imagine how disappointed I was to get them home and unwrap them, to find them in a variety of sizes!  I got out my kitchen scale, and they varied more than two ounces between the largest and smallest pieces.  So, I had to cut the larger ones down in size.  Consequently, the meat, although very flavorful and tender, was more well done than I would have liked.  Other than that, the recipe is a keeper.

A little gorgonzola peeks out

Creamed Spinach

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 boxes frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups whipping cream
freshly grated nutmeg

This is another seat of my pants recipe.  Saute the onion in the butter until soft.  Add spinach, then add cream and cook until cream is reduced by half or more.  Add grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Tarragon Carrots

2 bunches carrots
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

Peel carrots and slice very thin.  Place in saucepan with butter and tarragon and cover.  Cook until carrots are tender, about 5-10 minutes over medium heat.

Slightly mysterious!
The wine with this course was Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010.  A nice, solid Cabernet, with a lovely finish.  Just enough tannins, with layers of flavor that seem simple at first, but grow with complexity as you drink it.  But not so complicated that you lose focus of the food.  A very nice wine!

Tomorrow, salad angst!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

SOB Dinner - Lovely Rose Water Rhubarb Sorbet

"What a lovely thing a rose is!" 

He walked past the couch to the open window and held up the drooping stalk of a moss-rose, looking down at the dainty blend of crimson and green. It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.
    "There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion," said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. "It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers."

Ah, my favorite quote in the Canon! From The Naval Treaty.  I love the little glimpse it gives us into Holmes' soul.  

So, I knew I wanted to include roses in the meal.  Especially since Marge is an expert in heritage and antique roses.  I'd found a recipe for a rose cream that used rose water, so I experimented with it, thinking I'd create a rose parfait with fruit for dessert.  It was good, but in my opinion, the rose water was pretty overwhelming.  But I kept it in the back of my mind as I searched for a new recipe.

Originally, I'd planned on using an Earl Grey tea sorbet.  But a little over a week ago, I had an aha! moment, and realized I knew what the perfect dessert would be - Napoleons.  After all, we had six people, which meant six Napoleons!  It was just too good to pass up.  I could use a rose water flavored cream in the Napoleons, but wanted to add brandy to dessert, so I nixed that idea.  That meant I had to fit the rose water in somewhere else.

In my search for desserts using rose water, I'd found a few sorbets.  The one with rhubarb seemed appropriate for the palate cleanser, so that is where I decided to use my rose water.

Lovely Rose Water and Rhubarb Sorbet

Lovely rose color as well!

4-5 rhubarb stalks
1-2 cups sugar
rose water to taste
2-3 tablespoons cream

Bear with me.  I developed this recipe myself, and I don't always measure, I cook by the seat of my pants.  This is one of those recipes.

Wash and chop rhubarb into 1 inch pieces.  Place in a saucepan with a little water and cook until rhubarb is soft and falls apart easily.  Add sugar to taste.  You want it to be a bit tart.  Allow to cool.  You should have about 3 cups of stewed rhubarb.

Place stewed rhubarb in a blender and blend until smooth.  Add rose water to taste.  I added between 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of rose water, which was enough to give the flavor without being overwhelming.  But you might like a bit more.  You want the flavors to be balanced.  You lose some flavor when you freeze something, so keep that in mind as well.  Add the cream at the last.  The cream helps to round out the flavor a bit.

Pour rhubarb mixture into a shallow pan and freeze to semi solid.  Return mixture to the blender, and blend until creamy.  Return to freezer and freeze until firm.

Tomorrow, the main course.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

SOB Dinner - Woodcock Incognito with Cumberland Sauce

"I dine at seven. There is a woodcock, I believe."

From the perennial Christmas story, The Blue Carbuncle.  Doesn't your family read it every year?  

Do you believe?
Okay, I tried.  I really tried.  Some time ago, I happened into the Butcher Shop Cafe in Kenmore.  I saw that they carried a variety of game birds, and they told me they could order most game birds that they didn't carry.  So, I tucked that fact into my little brain attic, thinking that it might be a good source for specialty meats and game.  Fast forward to one month ago.  I went into talk to them, to see if they could order woodcock.  Well, of course the owner wasn't there, but they took my name and phone number and told me they would call me, that if they could order it they could do it within about a week.  In the meantime, I found out they did carry quail in stock, and I knew it would make a good substitute.  But hope springs eternal, and I waited to hear about the woodcock.  I waited a week, no word.  I tried calling, there was no answer but I left a message.  Still no call.  So the following week I made a trip there.  Oh, they meant to call me, they just hadn't.  And they couldn't get woodcock, unless they ordered a case of them, and the price would be prohibitive.  So, I got the quail.  

I decided the quail was masquerading as woodcock in my recipe, and I'd just treat the quail the same way I would have treated the woodcock.  In retrospect, it should be Quail Incognito, but there is no reference to quail in the Canon.  So there you are.  

"How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?"

Woodcock (or Quail) with Cumberland Sauce

Aren't their little arms cute?

6 quail
6 slices good quality bacon
6 slices good quality bread, buttered and toasted (I used potato rosemary bread from the bakery)
2 cups port wine
1 cup beef demiglace (I used homemade)
1/4 cup currant jelly

My quail came frozen, so I thawed them in the refrigerator the day before.  They were partially boned, and came out of the package looking like a flattened cartoon character.  Almost too cute to eat!

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  In a fry pan, fry bacon until it is limp.  Set aside.  In the same pan, brown the quail briefly.  Place quail in a greased roasting pan, and place a piece of the bacon across each breast.  Bake quail for eight minutes.  Remove the bacon, and continue cooking the quail for another ten minutes, or until done.

Cumberland Sauce

While quail is cooking, make a 'batch' of 'Cumber'land sauce.  Reduce port wine by half.  Add demiglace and reduce again.  After browning the quail in the fry pan, add a tablespoon or two of flour to the pan drippings and cook briefly.  Add port wine reduction and cook until thickened.  Add currant jelly.

To serve, place a piece of toast on plate and top with a quail.  Pour Cumberland Sauce over all and serve.

Wow, wow, wow! This was my favorite part of the meal!  The sauce is really incredible.  Even if you can't find quail, try it with some other kind of bird, like cornish game hens.  It's worth it, and not really difficult at all.

Oh, and then there was the wine!  Borsao Berola 2008.  


It was my favorite pairing of the evening.  Rich and full, well balanced, fruity, full of flavor.  The fusion of flavors in the wine and the quail was incredible!  Erik hit it out of the park with this one!

Tomorrow, a little bit of a rest as we cleanse our palate.

Friday, July 27, 2012

SOB Dinner - Circumstantial Trout

"Circumstantial evidence is occasionally very convincing, as when you find a trout in the milk, to quote Thoreau's example." 

"What's that swimming in my cream?"

Again, from The Noble Bachelor.  Doyle must have been hungry when he wrote that story!  There are certainly many references to food.

I think I may have eaten trout back in my youth. Back then, I ate moose burgers, because my parents had friends that went hunting. So we probably had friends that fished as well.  I probably purged it from my memory banks, just like Holmes would have.

"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.... Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones." 

I don't know anyone who goes fishing anymore, so I bought my trout at the market.  I didn't ask about the moose burgers.  Still trying to purge that memory.  I wonder what I forgot that was useful?

Circumstantial Trout

Milky fish
3 trout 
1 onion, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1/4 cup butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Have your trout filleted at the market to make it easier to prepare.  You'll probably still have some bones to remove.  Place fillets skin side down in a baking pan.  Season with salt and pepper, then cover with onion and lemon slices and dot with butter.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until fish flakes easily but is still moist.  Remove onion and lemon and place on individual plates.  Serve with cream sauce.  Garnish with fresh chopped tarragon and freshly grated lemon zest.

Cream Sauce
4 cups whipping cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups wine (I used Sterling Vintner's Collection Chardonnay 2010)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped, plus extra for garnish
lemon zest

Heat cream and butter in pan until reduced by half.  Add wine, and reduce again until about three cups remain.  Add parmesan cheese and stir until incorporated.  Add fresh tarragon.

The wine with the fish was 2010 Thistle Chardonnay.


I'm not usually a fan of Chardonnay, but I liked this one.  It had nice balance.  The trout was quite a delicate flavor, and this wine enhanced that flavor.  If I had do-overs, I would have breaded and pan-fried the trout.  I think the flavor would have benefited from the flavor added by browning it a bit.  But with all I had to juggle in cooking this meal, I just couldn't have managed it in a timely manner.  But it's something to explore in the future, because I did enjoy the trout.

Tomorrow, my favorite course of the meal!