This past Saturday we had our neighbors over for no other reason than to get together, eat some delicious food and drink ample amounts of wine. Some pizza was baked for the kids who were sat in front of the TV while we enjoyed ourselves.
Most of the time I make up my own menu/dishes for when we have guests over, but for Saturday I decided to pull recipes straight out of cookbooks from two chefs whose food I greatly admire. It wasn’t that many years ago that making four dishes from a Charlie Trotter or Thomas Keller cookbook would be a daunting task for me to pull off. These days it’s merely a matter of lacking funds and time to prepare dishes from books like these.
The only exception to using a cookbook was the first course, a charcuterie board which had duck pâté and duck rillettes that I’d made earlier in the week to share at a friend’s house for Thanksgiving.
The compotes were apricot-ginger and cranberry-cinnamon-star anise.
For the second course I made Oysters and Pearls from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook. A friend of mine has kind of been on me for some time to make this dish, so I decided this would be a good occasion. My friend isn’t lying when he claims this is one of the top five dishes he’s ever tasted. I was unable to procure the caviar and it was still an amazing dish, and not all that hard or time consuming to prepare. While the tapioca was soaking in the milk I was able to get a lot of the items ready to complete the dish (like shucking and cleaning the oysters, steeping the milk and cream with the oyster trimmings, whipping the cream). Assembling the dish to serve isn’t all that bad either: while you’re preparing the sauce you can reheat the ‘pearls’. I cannot recommend this dish enough; sadly though I forgot to take a picture though I know plenty abound on the Internet.
The third course I made was chestnut soup with foie gras from Charlie Trotter’s Meat and Game cookbook. I actually waited to buy the chestnuts the day after Thanksgiving which was no doubt a mistake; I didn’t find them until I hit my third grocery store, and even there I was buying the very last of what they had, literally the bottom of the barrel. This is another dish I can’t recommend strongly enough. Rich, decadent, perfectly balanced are all words that come to mind when I think about how it tasted. The other components of the dish are quartered chestnuts soaked in beef stock reduction, cipolline onions, creme fraiche, preserved ginger, creme fraiche and thyme leaves. I paired this dish with a California Chardonnay, something recommended in the cookbook.
For the fourth (and ‘main’) course I wanted to do something different, and found that in Charlie Trotter’s Seafood cookbook – seared scallops with roasted mushrooms, Swiss chard, butternut squash, red wine and beef stock reductions and sage oil was a very nice and small dish after the richness of the soup. The method for roasting the mushrooms enhanced the earthiness of the mushrooms. And I really thought that all the components of this dish worked in unison:
The wine pairing for the scallops was an Australian Shiraz.
I was leaning towards doing chocolate for dessert, such as the chocolate terrine from Keller’s Bouchon cookbook, before I came across the poached pear and chestnut custard napoleon with an orange-pepper sauce and praline pecans in Charlie Trotter’s Desserts. There were no complaints with this dish. If anything I kind of messed up the orange sauce by not pureeing it right after the pear was cooked while it was still warm which lead to it being thicker and needing to be thinned out more than I did do. But it was still tasty. I paired this with a late-harvest Viognier from Chile which had pear and apricot undertones and it worked quite well:
I’m not sure when the next chance will come around that I get to cook a ‘fancy’ meal, or even cook straight from cookbooks again. Having the second child limits the amount of time for these types of luxurious activities. But it is nice to do though (cook from cookbooks that is) from time-to-time in order to be introduced to new (at least to me) methods and techniques (like the aforementioned roasting method for mushrooms). With the Christmas holidays coming up though there will be an opportunity to do something different and new, though we’ve got a New Years’ tradition of making cassoulet (I make everything from scratch, including the Toulouse sausage and duck confit) and chocolate fondue. I suspect I might throw in the oysters and pearls dish to start this year. . .