March: Dinner Photos

March 29, 2009

These flowers were the only spring-y thing in the dinner: wait till next month

These flowers were the only spring-y thing in the dinner: wait till next month

So, the dinner! We had some of Frank’s co-workers who hadn’t come before and I was a little worried they wouldn’t be into it, but I think everyone had fun. I’m going to say I think this was my favorite so far, but then again I couldn’t eat the main course so who knows.

First course was a miso mustard cauliflower puree with a fried quail egg and pickled red cabbage:

These were good. I’m really into the miso/mustard/creamy combination. It doesn’t taste “miso-y” necessarily, just sorta salty/savory and tasty. I give these an A+.

Fennel and pickled red onion salad with olive puree, candied and fresh orange slices, fennel fronds and seeds:

And with this, we see the inadvertent theme of the evening introduced: ugly food. The flavors on this were good, I thought, but I didn’t consider how dog food-like the olive puree would look. Lots of the food this month was similarly unphotogenic (not that my photo skills are helping anything. Sorry again about that.) Not sure why that happened. Anyway, the olive and orange worked great together and one fennel-hating guest ate his whole portion, so I am going to call it a win.

Next up, cumin lemon carrot soup with a pimenton-infused carrot cube:

My original idea was to have the soup very light and frothy, kind of almost foamy. It didn’t end up that way at all–more creamy and sweet/spicy. Also, the people at the Ideas in Food blog are always using their sous vide machine to “infuse” flavor into vegetables, so I thought I’d try it, but I’m not entirely  convinced.

I mean clearly this is my fault for doing it wrong, but still. The cubes were good, and had a texture that was sort of firm and soft at the same time, but I’m not sure the pimenton flavor came through. I’d try the sv vegetables again, though. Maybe next month with aspargus? In any case, this was tasty, but not a home run. Nice small middle course.

And now we come to the citrus-cured wild salmon with avocado and garlic chives:

Like I mentioned before, this was supposed to be with pomegranate seeds instead of avocado, but alas, no poms to be found. I also accidentally made nine of these instead of ten, so I only sampled a chunk of salmon, not the whole dish. Frank said it was good, and the salmon bite I had was very silky and tasty–I love my fish guy. So, not a particularly inventive dish, basically deli sushi, but good.

Broccoli “marrow bone” with roasted broccoli salad:

Since this was the meat dinner, I thought it would be funny to have a vegetable play on meat. The idea was to fill the broccoli stems with a melty cheese/broccoli mixture and have people scoop it out and put it on toast like marrow. A roasted broccoli salad with raisin vinaigrette played the part of the parsley salad.

The broccoli stems were much smaller than I’d imagined when I thought this up, so not very much goo fit in them, plus I was going to blowtorch them but Nico forgot the blowtorch at home. I ended up broiling them. I’m not sure where on the stupid/funny continuum this dish lies, and the closer I got to serving it, the more I was sure it was way to the stupid side. The only thing that saved it, I think, was that it actually tasted really good. I think with some fixing, this could work really well, though I realize that any food that involves quotation marks gets some people’s hackles up. Which, fair enough.

Now on to the main course, 48-hour short ribs with Rancho Gordo flageolet beans, onion confit, and crispy kale:

Another of the ugly dishes. Since I didn’t taste this, I can only say that people seemed to like it. I couldn’t even taste the beans, as I put bacon in them, so I had to rely on Frank for seasoning. I hope they were okay. I have to say, it was nice to sit out a course and have extra time to do kitchen stuff. If it wouldn’t be too weird, I think I would only cook and not eat, but that just seems inhospitable.

The short rib came out much more falling-off-the-bone than the tester, perhaps due to a minor screw up of short duration where the temp of the sv machine rose kind of high. The confit was from a jar my mom gave me for xmas. I was going to make a red wine pan sauce with the bag juices, but there was so much fat and I didn’t have time to de-fat things. Not as much fat rendered in the tester, again I think because of the accidental hour or so of high temperature. Lastly, kale chips got a little more burned than I meant for them to, but c’est la vie.

Spicy margarita granita:

This was a surprising hit–usually the granitas are not really remarkable. I had the simple syrup that I used to candy the oranges for the salad and the jalapeno for the dessert, so it was spicy and orange-flavored. I added lime and tequila and froze it. It didn’t freeze as hard because of the tequila, but was good and spicy.

Cheese:

Cana de cabra, an American farmstead gouda, a very stinky vacheron, and a Point Reyes blue.

Dessert, poor ugly old thing.

It’s a chipotle chocolate cake smooshed around ginger pastry cream (see the last post for a full breakdown of what went wrong here), topped with a ginger white chocolate glaze, a sweet tomatillo sauce, a slice of candied jalapeno, and candied ginger (not homemade.)

They are undeniably fugly, but the flavors were really, really good. I liked it a lot. My only thought (besides the aesthetics) are that they were a bit big–everything was very rich, and I didn’t even eat the short rib. I had some ginger liqueur with it, and others sampled some absinthe.

Mignardises were more green tea truffles and earl grey tea cookies. I didn’t get a photo but they were the same as last month.

And that’s it! March, boom, done. I’m happy. This month felt the easiest so far to pull off, and there weren’t any major clunkers. Portion sizes were way more appropriate than last month. I’m hoping next month will be a little easier on the eyes, but we shall see.

All clean and time for bed.

All clean and time for bed.

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February: Recap

February 22, 2009

The game plan

The game plan

So without further ado, here are the dinner photos. Allow me to re-remind you that I am a terrible photographer, and being rushed with dim light helps nobody. You might have to use your imagination a bit.

Red and yellow beets, goat feta, dill, and balsamic vinegar:

amuse beets

amuse beets

These were good. Maybe could’ve use a tad more salt.

Scallop, miso mustard sauce, cress, broiled grapefruit, long pepper:

I wish I’d gotten more color on the scallops. I did the grapefruit in the broiler and that smoked everything up because we have no venting to speak of, so I didn’t get the pan as hot as I should have. Also couldn’t find peppercress. Still: solid dish.

Sunchokes two ways: cold salad and hot soup:

People liked this. Some of the guests hadn’t had sunchokes before, which was kinda cool. I would like the rest of my thumb back, though.

Cheese grits, butter-poached shrimp, mushrooms, hot spring egg, hot sauce:

This was a real crowd pleaser. There were several grit-loving Floridians in the crowd and bowls were licked clean. Unfortunately, I think it was too heavy to fit with the rest of the meal–I definitely felt full after this course. I tried to keep everything small, but even so, too many courses I think.

Celeriac raviolo, braised celery, parsley, fennel, celery salt:

This was okay. I had intended it to be sort of refreshing with the celery–I was debating between this and a lemony pasta. Maybe celery’s just not that exciting or maybe I was getting too full. This was a meh.

Halibut with saffron broth, parsnip puree, spinach, garlic puree, chive oil, grapefruit zest, and parsnip chips:

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

There is a restaurant in Alaska called the Halibut Hole. True story.

This was a partial steal from Thomas Keller–he has a whitefish, parsnip puree, spinach, saffron sauce dish. I added a few things and took a few others away. His is no doubt superior, but I liked it nonetheless. Like I said, the halibut was a last minute but fortunate addition. My problems with the water bath meant that I ended up with hotter fish than I’d planned, but that was probably good since it took a minute to get them all to the table. Successful dish, though a bit fussy. The parsnip chips were really good with it, I thought.

Campari lime rosemary granita:

The survivors

The survivors

Very good. Glad some could be saved after the accident.

Cheese:

Crottin de chavignol, Idiazabal, French raclette, gorgonzola dolce

Definitely not necessary this time, as people were stuffed. I like to have cheese. If I did this menu again, I’d trim from the savory courses.

Brown butter hazelnut cake with yogurt jam and kabocha squash glaze, frozen creme fraiche, candied squash, and brown butter solids:

This was yum. The cake is from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook. All around good.

Green tea truffles, mango pate de fruits, earl grey tea cookies:

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mignardiiiiiiiises!

Mostly these didn’t get touched, as people were full, but friends had sampled them all earlier and liked them. There’s enough left over for snacking this week, which, score.

My full friends

My full friends

In general, I would say this menu was successful, despite a near-constant level of disaster in the prep. Like I said, there was way too much food. Last month people still seemed hungry at the end, or at least not full, so I added a course. That was a mistake. This menu had a lot more protein and the heavy grits dish, and it was too much. I have a pretty enormous appetite and I was uncomfortably full.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

This is where I keep the cat when I am not using him.

For next time, I think that I’ll cut a savory course. Or the other thing I’m kind of interested in is alternating “full sized” (though still small, in comparison to a normal meal) courses with tiny ones, like the size of the first beet course.  That might be a lot more work–I’ll have to think about it.

Sleepy Dan

Sleepy Dan

I’m also not sure if having a fish course is worth the extra money good fish costs. It was tasty, but not a show-stopper. Shellfish are so much cheaper and maybe more exciting in the end.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

I know all of you omnivores are rolling your eyes. I guess I should just try out some different things. Oh and plug in the sous vide machine correctly.

All clean and ready for bed.

All clean and ready for bed.

Anyway, that’s February in the can. I am fully tuckered, but happy. Two down, ten to go. Now, who’s excited about March?

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

Nico is! Or had better be! Or else!

January: Recap

February 15, 2009

So yeah, this blog didn’t exist when I had the first dinner, because I had no idea if it would work and the plan of doing a monthly thing hadn’t taken shape yet. Basically, I owed my friends Billy and Nico a thank you dinner for watching my cats and instead of doing something reasonable, I decided to cook a bunch of courses and invite six other people. But it worked! I’d only had two other dinner parties before, and both had an element of complete disaster to them, but this actually went smoothly.

Before I show you the dishes, let me just reiterate that I am a shit photographer. I just have a point and shoot digital and frankly zero artistic talent (plating is another weakness of mine.) If you were hoping for food porn, I apologize in advance. These are illustrative at best. Sorry to food cock block you. Anyway, onward.

The menu:

Butter-poached shrimp with salsa:

A straight rip from the French Laundry cookbook, pretty much, though I did a pseudo-vide butter poach in a ziplock on the shrimp and ditched the unseasonal tomatoes. Oh and the one shellfish-allergic friend got a vienna sausage mit saurkraut.

Shrimp and sausage a la Keller
Shrimp and sausage a la Keller


Hot spring egg with mushrooms, cauliflower, and truffle toast
:

Another pseudo-vide application. I have since gotten a PID controller from auber and a water bath–more on that later. I know hot spring eggs are kind of two years ago, but for a non-mammal-eater like myself they are pretty amazing. Still figuring out how best to unshell them. Chantarelles were sauteed in butter and thyme and reheated for service, cauliflower just roasted in the oven, toast was buttered with butter I mixed with truffle salt. Tasty. There will be many more hot spring egg dishes throughout the year.

Hot spring egg with winter garnishes and truffle toast
Hot spring egg with winter garnishes and truffle toast


Celery root soup with chili oil
:

Man, I love celery roots. They’re so weird tasting. I’ve always hated celery, but lately I’m really liking it, and I credit the roots. This soup was just diced celeriac simmered in veg stock until soft, put through the food mill, and enriched with cream and thyme. Usually I mix half-and-half  celeriac and potatoes, but I thought just the celery root would be a more pure flavor. I was wrong–it took way too much cream to get it to feel creamy enough. Potatoes really helped with the texture. Anyway, this was good but not great, and I think the chili oil was too spicy for some (though I love it.) I know people say spice is a palate killer, but I like it mid-meal. It feels like sorbet or something. I may be alone in this.

Celery root soup with chili oil
Celery root soup with chili oil


Orange salad with mint and almonds:

Taken from Penelope Casas’s Delicioso!, which I got for xmas. It was, in fact, delicioso. Winter’s kind of tough in terms of what produce is good. I like to alternate heavy stuff with citrus, because citrus is awesome. Whoever decided to make winter citrus season was clearly trying to keep me from getting SAD. The salad is easy, just orange sections, mint, red onions quick-pickled in orange juice, marcona almonds, and a citrus vinaigrette. The best part was that these could be mostly done ahead.

Orange salads. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of them out of the fridge.
Orange salads. Sorry I forgot to take a picture of them out of the fridge.


Fennel, artichoke, and olive agnolotti with brown butter and mushrooms:

I don’t think I’m alone in immediately thinking of the French Laundry cookbook when considering a complicated meal. This was supposed to be the artichoke ravioli from one of the fish dishes just made into agnolotti (which, side note, I know TK makes his agnolotti like tiny ravioli but I always thought they were more tortellini-like? Aren’t they named after pope hats? Not that it matters since as you will see my pasta looks more like wadded up tissues. Kleegnolotti?) but unfortunately there weren’t any good artichokes to be had. I know, they’re not a winter food and that’s why but they taste wintry to me. I subbed canned (I couldn’t even find frozen) knowing it wouldn’t work quite right and it didn’t. The artichoke hearts were braised with fennel and mirepoix and veg stock and olive oil and wine, but the canned chokes didn’t pick up any real flavor. I ended up pureeing them and the fennel with some of the braising stock and some olives, which tasted great. In the end, it was a good main course and nobody could tell it was the product of a fuckup. The mushrooms were chantarelles and hedgehogs just sauteed in butter and thyme

Fennel, olive, and artichoke agnolotti with mushrooms and brown butter.
Fennel, olive, and artichoke agnolotti with mushrooms and brown butter.

Lemon thyme granita:

I know it’s traditional to serve the sorbet after the penultimate savory course, but it has always made more sense to me as a transition to cheese and sweet. Sue me. This was just a simple syrup infused with lemon zest and thyme, strained, added to some lemon juice, frozen, then raked with a fork.

Lemon thyme granita.
Lemon thyme granita.


Cheese with Anna’s peach jalapeno jam:

Anna is my awesome sister. She lives in California and is launching a preserved foods business. Stay tuned for updates on that, as this jam was kickass. Cheeses were clochette, humbolt fog, garroxta, and Roaring ’40’s blue.

this picture is actually upside-down. The blue went last.
Cheese: this picture is actually upside-down. The blue went last.

Olive oil cake with candied olive and kumquat, blood orange sauce, and olive oil gelato:

Olive oil cake from an epicurious recipe, Mario Batali’s olive oil gelato, which could’ve been really good if I hadn’t majorly fluffed the attaching of the ice cream maker arm to my kitchenaid. I can never remember the right way to do that, so I ended up with the batter sitting in the frozen container for too long. Bad texture. It was fine though. Blood orange sauce was just reduced juice, candied olives were cooked in syrup then put in a low oven for 24 hours. The olive oil was a nice fruity Basque one I got from Fairway. This dessert was a success, by my reckoning. I was a little worried the elements wouldn’t come together, but it was very citrusy and floral. The ice cream had a little lemon salt on it, which gave everything a pleasant savoryness.

olive oil cake, blood orange sauce, candied olives, candied kumquat, olive oil gelato with lemon salt, olive oil
Dessert: olive oil cake, blood orange sauce, candied olives, candied kumquat, olive oil gelato with lemon salt, olive oil

Candied orange peel and salted caramels:

Mignardises. I worried nobody would have space, but they all got eaten. The caramels were left over from a holiday box I made and the peels were from all the citrus in the dinner. Next month I’m getting a little more ambitious with second dessert. I swear, fine dining was basically invented by the hobbits. Two desserts. Sheesh.

Billy, the guest of honor, and Zack enjoy candied orange peels. Well, I hope they enjoyed them.
Billy, the guest of honor, and Zack enjoy candied orange peels. Well, I hope they enjoyed them.

Whew! That post was almost as long as the dinner. So there was January. February planning is well underway, so expect some details on that shortly.