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!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

SOB Dinner - Prolific Smoked Oyster Stew

There are a couple mentions of oysters in the Canon.  In The Sign of Four:

"Only that I insist upon your dining with us. It will be ready in half an hour. I have oysters and a brace of grouse, with something a little choice in white wines. Watson, you have never yet recognized my merits as a housekeeper." 

And, my favorite, from The Dying Detective:

"Indeed, I cannot think why the whole bed of the ocean is not one solid mass of oysters, so prolific the creatures seem."

I used my basic chowder recipe and pureed it, then added smoked oysters at the end.  Why smoked oysters?  Well, it is my opinion that Holmes would smoke anything, so why not!

"He smoked what??"
"Are you sure??"
Prolific Smoked Oyster Stew

Oops!  Spoons are out of order.  Use the big one, please!

1/2 lb good quality bacon
1 onion, chopped
1 medium sized potato, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups cream (I used part half and half, part whipping cream)
2 tins small smoked oysters

Chop bacon, and fry until crisp.  Add onion and celery and cook until soft. Add potato and chicken broth, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until potato is soft.  Remove from heat and add cream.  Blend until smooth.  Return to heat, and heat to just below a simmer.  Add drained oysters and cook just until heated through.  Serve, garnished with a few oyster crackers.

Erik recommended 2011 Guardian Cellars Angel Sauvignon Blanc to go with this.  Okay, he chose all the wines, but I chose him, so I get some credit!

Everyone at the table liked this wine.  Pale in color, but with a wonderful flavor that went perfectly with the soup.  Assertive enough to stand up to the richness of the stew without overwhelming, with a nice acidity that cut the cream.  Beautiful wine, from start to finish.

Tomorrow, the fish.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SOB Dinner - Pâté de Foie Gras Pie

Watson mentions pâté de foie gras pie in the story of The Noble Bachelor.

It was after five o'clock when Sherlock Holmes left me, but I had no time to be lonely, for within an hour there arrived a confectioner's man with a very large flat box. This he unpacked with the help of a youth whom he had brought with him, and presently, to my very great astonishment, a quite epicurean little cold supper began to be laid out upon our humble lodging-house mahogany. There were a couple of brace of cold woodcock, a pheasant, a pâté de foie gras pie with a group of ancient and cobwebby bottles. Having laid out all these luxuries, my two visitors vanished away, like the genii of the Arabian Nights, with no explanation save that the things had been paid for and were ordered to this address. 

 According to my research, pâté de foie gras pie was called Strasburg (Strasbourg) pie during Holmes' time.  Both my Sherlockian cookbooks had a recipe for pâté de foie gras pie, but neither one sounded very interesting.  Nor could I find a good recipe for Strasburg pie.  I had a recipe that used foie gras and a Sauternes gelatin that was good, so I decided to modify that recipe.  Rather than serving the foie gras on toasts per the original recipe, I made pastry shells, and encased the foie gras in the gelatin within the shells.  It turned out quite well. 

The Sherlock jack-in-a-box was a gift when my son was born.

Pâté de Foie Gras Pie

6 pastry shells,  (I used Pepperidge Farm frozen shells)
3 oz pâté foie gras
1 cup Sauternes wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water

Bake pastry shells according to directions and allow to cool.  Hollow out inside to hold pâté and Sauternes gelatin.  Save the tops of the shells.

Soften gelatin in cold water.  In the meantime, heat Sauternes and sugar to boiling, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Add softened gelatin to hot wine mixture and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved.  Cool until gelatin starts to thicken.  You can speed this step by stirring the gelatin over an ice bath.  Once gelatin has thickened somewhat, you can assemble your 'pies'.  Place a bit of gelatin in each shell.  Add a chunk of pâté and top with more gelatin.  Top with the puff pastry tops and place in refrigerator until gelatin sets, one to two hours.  Serve the same day.

Quite a treat, nestled in a puff pastry shell.

With the puff pastry pies I served Lamarca Prosecco D.O.C. with a splash of brandy. 

No cobwebs, just tasty!

 The Prosecco was crisp and dry, with a hint of fruit and honey.  It balanced the sweetness of the Sauternes and complimented the richness of the pâté.  The splash of brandy gave it a little kick, and a nice golden glow.  

Take your glass so I can sit down!
I expanded David's palate; he'd never had pâté before!  He was in for some other new treats ahead!  Things were off to a good start.

Tomorrow, the soup

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

SOB Dinner - The Setting

Decorating for this dinner was pretty easy.  I simply pulled out some of my better Sherlockiana and spread it around.
Various memorabilia
John H. Watson trophy, medal from the First International Sherlockian Games.
A wedding gift

Walter P. gets into the act again!

I found a tablecloth at Goodwill, and topped it with a valance, also from Goodwill to dress the table.

The flowers are regular and small white roses, interspersed with Lady's Mantle flowers.  The roses are from the store, and are pretty sad, but they were the best white roses within three different stores I visited.  The Lady's Mantle came from my garden.  They are in silver bowls, picked up cheap at Goodwill, because they were some kind of real estate award.  I think I paid about $2-3 a piece for them.  I have been collecting the silver platters for a while, and finally had enough to use as chargers.  The candelabra is from a local antique store.  I think it came out well.  Elegant and semi-Victorian, which was the look I was going for.

Tomorrow, we start with the appetizers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The SOB Dinner - The Menu

Back in March, the Sound of the Baskervilles - the Puget Sound's very active Sherlockian scion - held their annual tea and auction.  I donated a dinner for 4 people.  But it took until July for us to coordinate our schedules, so I could pay up!

In spite of having four months to plan, I was changing things up until the last minute.  To plan the menu, I turned to two Sherlockian cookbooks for inspiration, The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook and Dining with Sherlock Holmes.  Unfortunately, I didn't really find anything there that I wanted to use.  So, I went directly to the source, the Canon.  I tried to find any references to food that I could, and went from there.  Okay, I ended up using a lot of artistic license, but I'm happy with the results.  And yes, in a nod to Dr. Watson, liberal amounts of brandy were applied!  I'll go into more details with each course later.

Here's the menu:

Pate de Fois Gras Pie (mentioned in The Noble Bachelor)

Prolific Smoked Oyster Stew (from the Dying Detective)

Circumstantial Trout (again from The Noble Bachelor)

Woodcock Incognito with Cumberland Sauce (mentioned in several stories, quote is from The Blue Carbuncle)

Lovely Rose Water and Rhubarb Sorbet (Holmes waxes philosophical over a rose in The Naval Treaty, one of my favorite quotes in the Canon)

Beef Wellington with Gorgonzola (a play on a meal he eats in The Beryl Coronet)

Agra Treasure Salad (from the novel The Sign of Four)

Six Napoleons with Black Pearl Truffles (The Six Napoleons, of course!)

Here's a picture of the completed menu, complete with quotes from the Canon to help explain my justifications! 

The cover.  The quote is from The Five Orange Pips.

The full menu with quotes from the Canon, referenced above.

Tomorrow, the setting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Getting Ready

Today I am hard at work getting ready for my next dinner party, which will be Saturday the 21st.  I'm heading to the store shortly to buy what I can ahead of time.  The sorbet is already completed, and waiting in the freezer.  In doing these parties, it's important to do as much as you can ahead of time, because when the day comes, you always wish you had more time.

I've been planning now for over a month, and I still don't have all the details figured out.  Funny, I think I have it all together and always end up changing things at the last minute.  I've gone back and forth on some of the menu items, and had an aha! moment last week and changed the dessert.  But it comes to a point where you have to just go with what you have, and hope you remember good ideas for next time.

I had to get the menu finalized so I could meet with Erik, my wine guy.  I did that on Monday.  He is so great! As busy as he was, he took the time to make sure I came home with some great wines.  I keep hoping some of his knowledge will rub off on me, but unfortunately, I still don't feel comfortable choosing wines.  Besides, his knowledge base of both wine and food is so incredible.  It would take me months of research to do what he can do in five minutes.

Yesterday I got the menus completed.  Of course, I'd printed three of them before I caught a couple of formatting errors.  Oh well!  See if you catch them.  Here's a sneak peek.

Can you guess my theme?

Okay, I'm off to the store.  Things to do!