I FINALLY got to meet Miss Jen/Merry last night; she and her husband Alex came over for supper on their post-comiccon tour up the coast. The live in Florida, and I really wanted a chance to showcase some of the fabulous produce we're getting right now. Particularly of note this week, the black mission figs are back! Here's what I came up with for a Friday night dinner party....
Junipero Martinis & Glenfiddich Manhattans
Hummus with lamb and pinenuts
Grilled proscuitto-wrapped & chevre-stuffed black mission figs
Sweet corn soup garnished with hazlenut oil, garlic chives, and bacon
Leek, bacon and chantarelle tart with San Joaquin Gold & a simple green salad
Fig & champagne sorbet with snickerdoodles
I was particularly pleased with the tart and the sorbet. San Joaquin Gold cheese is new to me, and I'm sure going to become a favorite in our house. It nicely rides the line between strong enough for me, and nutty enough for Russell. The sorbet was not-so-sweet, and was nicely complimented by the cookies. I was pleased with the flavor of the champagne next to the intensity of the black figs.
It was a warm Sacramento afternoon. The event? A six year old's birthday. The cake ala Spiderman. The adults, making their own party out of the occasion, created a Southern BBQ style potluck. I chose to bring the dessert.
I think I'm a baker at heart. Key lime pies are inherently easy recipes, but I looked forward to making this one for days. I planned for it. Made it 2 days early for logistical reasons. Bought a hand-mixer that I lost in our last move. Bought spring form pans I've always wanted. Actually shied from the $25 non-stick 9" pan and settled on buying 2 for $15. Until I'm convinced by others, or by experience, that you need to shell out that much for a spring-form, I'll stick with the cheap ones.
I beat egg whites until they formed soft peaks, and smiled. How fast! How easy! I must make a merengue sometime soon!
Then I completed what turned out to be a black-hole-cave-in-so-sour/sweet-your eyes cross Key Lime Pie that prompted a comment, "Wow. This thing's so good it must have been rekeyed!" Geeky, but still a compliment.
(Key) Lime Pie
I followed this recipe to the letter from How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. Love her.
Suggestion: 9" spring form pan
for the crust:
3/4 c plus 2 T (or 7 ounces graham crackers)
scant 1/4 cup softened, unsalted butter
(you can add 1T of cocoa powder to make a chocolate variety, but she stresses avoiding using chocolate graham crackers cuz they're hard to cut after baking)
for the filling:
5 large egg yolks
14 oz can sweetened, condensed milk
zest of 3 limes (I had to buy a zester, too! always wanted one)
1/2 c plus 2 T lime juice (of 4-5 limes, I found out)
3 large egg whites
--Preheat oven to 325, and put in a baking sheet
--Mash the graham crackers and butter together and press into the pan evenly, going a little up the sides, then chill while you make filling (lament: don't have a food processor as suggested, so resorted to the old stand-by of plastic sealable back and a rolling pin, then mashing butter in by hand)
--beat egg yolks until thick, then add condensed milk, grated zest, and lime juice.
--whisk egg whites separately until soft peaks form, then fold gently into yolk goo
--pour into the pan and cook for 25 minutes (ended up being 30 in my oven), or until filling is firm. It puffs a little, then falls during cooling - hey, as Nigella puts it, "that's the deal".
--cool on rack before unmolding, and chill well
In which I continue my explorations into cooking with condiments that make my mouth happy but my tummy gurgle...this week it was Seared Chicken with Sriracha Barbecue Dipping Sauce again from the July 2004 issue of Cooking Light. Barbecue, Thai-style. Carol and Dan agreed with me that the dipping sauce was awesome, spicy and addictive but not too spicy, and I think it would go well with pretty much anything, not just chicken. Carol made a yummy salad to round out the meal. And Richter loved the smell of the fish sauce in the marinade.
Combine 1/2 cup chopped shallots, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 4 garlic cloves, minced; stir in 1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil. Place shallot mixture in a large zip-top plastic bag; add 8 (2-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken thighs to bag. Seal and marinate in refrigerator 3 hours to overnight, turning bag occasionally.
Combine 3 tablespoons ketchup, 1 tablespoon Sriracha, 2 teaspoons honey, 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger, 4 teaspoons rice vinegar.
Heat 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade. Add chicken to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 8 minutes or until done, turning twice. Serve with ketchup mixture. Yield: 4 servings.
P picked First Crush for Friday's date night. Partly for the huge wine list and partly because it's two blocks from work.
I got there early and plunked myself at the bar. The bartender was really sweet and made me a yummy Hennesy sidecar. He was trying to get some brandy brought up but I didn't mind. The staff were popping over to the bar to sample a bottle of red they were all tasting.
P arrived and we got seated. It's a cozy types of place though if you end up in front of the window, bring a sweater as there's a massive draft.
Our server was very attentive and well, yummy. P ordered a flight of crisp whites. Lovely. We decided to order a bottle of Storrs White Reisling to go with dinner. First up, two small plates: the duck confit in phyllo and the baby artichoke salad with pecorino and arugala.
I thought the duck would be a nice mixture smooshed into little phyllo triangles but it was actually 3 slices of the confit wrapped in phyllo. The sweet tomato-y sauce and olive slice topping was so delicious. The texture of the duck was smooth but without being creamy (I'm not a pate girl, so that was a *good* thing). The grilled baby artichokes were amazing. Crisp outer leaves and soft soft innards and stems. Dressing not too heavy and big chunks of the cheese.
I think Storrs is my favorite winery.
Then we ordered the Fresh Maine Lobster Tagliatelli (Flat ribbon pasta tossed with fresh Maine lobster in a rich cream sauce with a touch of cayenne). Oh my heaven, dreamy dreamy. Sometimes when I order lobster mixed in with something I often find myself wishing there was more meat. The balance was lovely. The presentation was also very pretty, with a bright red lobster with some meat inside on top of the salmon colored cream sauce. So so so good. And less expensive than the chicken dish... ?
We got the dessert menu, while the charming server teased me over suggesting we'd take the bottle of wine home. If he hadn't kept refilling my glass it might have had a chance!
I didn't even look at the dessert and just ordered the cheese plate. Which was AMAZING.
Served with thinly sliced green apple, walnuts, sliced cornichon, local cured olives, and oven fresh baguette toast points:
Bermuda triangle- Northern California goats milk, nutty taste with lingering sweetness
Grafton's Classic Reserve Cheddar- Cow milk cheese, Vermontís oldest cheddar
Petit Basque- Sheep milk cheese with a medium soft, creamy texture & rich flavor
St. Agur Bleu- Cow milk blue cheese, classic French, delicate and creamy with a sweet finish
Surprisingly, the bermuda triangle was my winner. P fell in love with the aged cheddar. And oh oh, I'd sell my dog for more of that bleu cheese.
All in all, a swoony dinner in a cozy setting with attentive staff and delicious, well portioned options. I'm so glad we went right to the cheese plate. We'll have to try dessert next time.
I found this recipe for Louisiana Crab Cakes with Creole Tartar Sauce in the July 2004 issue of Cooking Light. I made them with imitation crab meat so they were a little chewy, and I omitted the onions and peppers but still got plenty of heat from the hot pepper sauce...which I really shouldn't be cooking with either and my tummy is starting to tell me about it. But damn these were yummy. So worth it. The cakes are apt to fall apart so handle them with lots of love.
To prepare tartar sauce, combine 1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish, 2 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed, 1 teaspoon Creole mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt-free Cajun-Creole seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, stirring with a whisk. Let stand 10 minutes.
To prepare crab cakes, place 4 (1-ounce) slices white bread in a food processor; pulse 10 times or until coarse crumbs measure 2 cups. Combine 1 cup breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup finely chopped onion, 1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 pound lumb crabmeat, shell pieces removed, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 large egg white, lightly beaten; mix well. Divide crab mixture into 8 equal portions. Form each portion into a 1/2-inch-thick patty. Place 1 cup breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Dredge patties, one at a time, in breadcrumbs.
Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 4 patties; cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Repeat procedure with 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and remaining patties. Serve with tartar sauce. Garnish with parsley sprigs and lemon wedges, if desired. Yield: 4 servings.