Plan in Place, Dinner Party in Action

Dessert cakes were done the day before. Morning of dinner, butterscotch sauce was made. Corn soup with Indian spices finished before noon. Brioche pudding in oven.

By 1:00 PM we had a strong start on what would be five courses. Guests were due in five hours.

I am sorry to say actual pictures will be few since we got so caught up in cooking and greeting and serving that the camera was forgotten. So I will use some pictures from the cookbooks. Our food looked exactly the same (smile).

The appetizers are pretty self-explanatory. Suffice to say once we decided on the Chicken Livers with Sherry Glaze we found a ton of recipes on the web. It was more common than we thought. So just Google it. Once guests arrived we quick grilled them and the Pears and Prosciutto.

Dinner began with Corn Soup w/ Indian Spices from David Tanis Market Cooking. The spices included garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, black mustard seed and cayenne. It had a wonderful tang over the creamy corn flavor. It may be the first time we’ve done a soup puree but it turned out quite nice. A tablespoon of whole milk yogurt and some chives topped it off. The yogurt in the photo seems to have cayenne in it.

photo from David Tanis Market Cooking

The Fennel, Radish and Mushroom Salad was from the same book. The lemon/olive oil dressing had been made ahead and the vegetables were all cut so it was any easy job to combine, plate and serve. We used watermelon radishes which looked so nice with the pale fennel and mushrooms.The main course was from Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Nopi. The original recipe was Chicken Supremes with Roasted Garlic and Tarragon Brioche Pudding. We substituted duck breast. Because the brioche pudding is so different from anything we have made before I am including the recipe here. If our guests read this I think the ingredients may surprise them. It is very rich.

Tarragon Brioche Pudding

2 heads garlic
1/4 C olive oil
4 eggs
1 1/4 C heavy cream
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp grd cinnamon
1/2 oz. finely chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp unsalted butter, melted
14 oz. crustless brioche loaf, trimmed and cut into slices
Sea salt and Black pepper

Cut off the tops of the garlic cloves, place on a square of foil. Drizzle w/ 2 Tbls olive oil, sprinkle w/ salt, wrap up the bundle and roast for 35 minutes. Once done and cool to the touch, squeeze out the insides of the garlic and crush to a fine paste.

Place the eggs in a bowl and whisk. Add cream, nutmeg, cinnamon and tarragon with 1 tsp salt and a grind of pepper. Put aside.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 4″ loaf plan with butter and line with parchment paper. Brush a bit more butter on the paper then layer the bottom with brioche bread. Spread half of the garlic puree on top and pour over a third of the cream mixture. Another layer of bread, pushed down so it gets soaked in the cream. Then spread the rest of the garlic, pour another third of the cream and top with the last layer of bread. Finish with the remainder of the cream. Lightly press down and set aside for 30 minutes.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes at 425 degrees. Should be brown on top and a knife inserted should come out clean. Once it is cooled and removed from pan it looks like this.Cut off the end edges and slice into six pieces. Just before serving, fry the slices in a bit of olive oil over a medium heat. Here is what it looks like when served with the duck and the peas & tarragon au jus.

Brioche Pudding: photo from Nopi by Yotam Ottolenghi

It was yummy but alas the recipe serves six so there were no leftovers.

After some time of talk and laughter and wine we served dessert which was described as Sticky Toffee Puddings but in reality looked like little cupcakes with butterscotch sauce and whipped cream on top. They didn’t look great but tasted good.

So with thoughts of an early Spring I had daffodils and green napkins and a floral runner on the table. (My hopes were high but as I write this, two days later, rain turning to sleet and ice is carrying on outside.) It doesn’t matter the dinner was a success.

Afterward: It only took us till noon the next day to clean up. But being exhausted we did sleep in a bit. However it is always a high doing it and we hope your next gathering is as fun. Bon Appétit!

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Dinner Party Prep or A Month of “How about this?”

We are planning a dinner party. Yes, we have done it before, many times, but it is always the same craziness and seemingly endless decision-making. The problem lies in the attitude of the two hosts. Me, who wants everything decided and organized at least a week (2 weeks would be ideal) before guests arrive and He, who says we have a whole week yet before guests arrive. Now you may think that this is because He doesn’t do the actual cooking but He is the main Chef. I’m the time, date, invitations, house cleaning, table setting and dessert person. In other words, Management.

All of this starts at least a month before the actual event. Once we settle on who we wish to invite, the dance of dates begins. We are retired but not everyone we invite is retired and everyone, whether retired or not, has a million other things they are involved in. So at least 6 dates are emailed out to guests before an actual invitation is sent and, fingers crossed, at least one works. That is the easy part. Now, what to serve?

We do a lot of talking and suggesting and mulling but finally a day comes when the cookbooks come out and a decision on the main course must be made. Once an agreement is reached, another afternoon is needed for h’ordeuvres, salad or soup or both and dessert. This time I got things started by suggesting a chicken dish we had a couple of months ago but neither of us really could remember where it came from so I just started going through some books and marking other possibilities. Most of my suggestions get rejected…but he doing the cooking so that’s OKAY, at least we’ve started looking. However this usually gets him to mark a variety of dishes and together we whittle this down to the MAIN. This time Yotem Ottolenghi’s cookbook Nopi, was the winner. (that’s it on top of the post). A day later He called an audible and substituted duck for the chicken.

NOPI -Yotem Ottolenghi

I had already found a dessert, like three weeks ago, so we were set there. He rarely questions the dessert choice and even after throwing out a few other ideas we both went back to my original dessert. This came from the Fall 2017 issue of Sift magazine.

After a lot of dancing around other course ideas for awhile, yesterday, a week before the dinner, the cookbooks came out and decisions were made.Even Martha was consulted, but she didn’t make the cut.The winners eventually were NOPI: main, DAVID TANIS MARKET COOKING: soup, PLENTY: salad, SIFT: dessert and a surprise entry, Mallmann ON FIRE: appetizer. Francis Mallmann is a culinary pyromaniac from South America. We will modify his recipe since he usually specializes in large portions.

pears and prosciutto

So now the store list gets made, I start attacking the house clutter, tableware is chosen and a plan of action for cooking day is developed. Hey, we’ve got a whole week. Ultimately it is all about food and friends and we enjoy every minute.

PS: Post dinner I will write about our successes and near misses.

An End and a Beginning with Art

It is no secret that Curt and I appreciate art and have created much of our own. We also have been gifted art, we have traded for art and we have purchased art. The art we buy will probably never appreciate enough that you would call it an investment but we don’t buy art to make money. We buy it because it makes us happy. We enjoy looking at it. There are very few walls in our house that do not have a piece of art on them or, in the case of sculpture, in front of them.

For awhile I have been admiring the work of a Wisconsin Plein Air artist by the name of Steve Wysocki. Steve lives in Northern Wisconsin in a town called Armstrong Creek. He is a tireless painter. He recently posted pictures on Facebook of him painting on a frozen lake while ice fishing with his son. The guy can’t stop. And when he isn’t painting he is working on the family ranch, The Armstrong Creek Bison Company. If you look through his body of work you will immediately notice the influence the bison have on him. Now I mentioned that Steve is a Plein Air painter, well Plain Air is a French term meaning “open air” that refers to creating a work of art outside. It literally means the artist has his palette and canvas and easel and paints outside and he is literally painting what he or she is looking at, they are not just outside. Once again, when you look at Steve’s work I think you will understand.

Last summer I saw one of his works on a Facebook page and I was immediately drawn to it. I inquired about the painting but at the time I just couldn’t justify the cost no matter how much I liked it. Time passed, I scanned Steve’s online gallery, good work but nothing clicked. Then that painting I loved was accepted into the Northern National Art Competition at Nicolet College in Rhinelander, WI. You may be saying, so what, but not so fast. This show has a National reputation and hundreds of artists enter every year for inclusion in the show. More than $8500 in awards is given out, including three $1000 awards of excellence. I thought for sure someone would snap it up. By now I was in communication with the artist so when I found out the painting had not sold at the exhibit (whew!) I showed it to my husband and asked him what he thought. He also liked it a lot and Christmas was coming. These days It is hard to buy gifts for each other so we decided to make Steve an offer and maybe, just maybe, this would be our Christmas gift.To make a long story short this great crow now lives with us. This was our last new art for 2017. And perfect for a couple of bird watchers.

“Flight” by Stephen Wysocki 16″ x 20″

Just a note to say this one is not Plein Air. Steve can’t paint that fast but his website said this image came from a trail camera he had set up.

The first piece of 2018 came as a surprise gift. I have a high school friend that I have reconnected with on Facebook recently. We graduated in 1967 so it has been a long time and in school we were probably acquaintances at best. We ran in different circles. But that’s the miracle of FB sometimes. I’m not going to go into the convoluted way how Rich and I found each other but since he has retired from a tech industry job he has been deeply involved in his first love, photography. Lots of great nature work, textures and occasionally a bird or two. Whenever a bird would show up in his lens he would send me a note asking, ‘what is this bird?’ And I or Curt would give him an educated guess (some were pure guesses, others were definite IDs depending on the photo). Over the last couple of years Rich would post pictures of his serious work and for a short time he had a shop on Etsy. Now I believe you have to visit his business FB page, Image with Vision, Inc., for information on him and his work. Worth a look. He lives in Chicago but on the far east side, almost in Indiana, so he does a lot of shooting at Wolf Lake and the Indiana Dunes State Park. Yes, even in the winter. Also a recent trip to Alaska has provided some inspired shots. Last week I received a cryptic message from Rich saying I should watch the mail. This is what arrived.

Corrugated Iron Ice #3-Wolf Lake , 10″x 6.625″ photograph by Richard Ackerman

It is a photo I had admired on his page. The simplicity and the color just drew me in. He sent it along as a thank you for all the bird identification and the support I have sent along to him in his new found love. Can’t wait to get it framed.  So this was the new art that began our journey into 2018. Hope your year is filled with art and images that make your life richer.

Just Who Was Wearing Those Hats?

hatsSaturday, January 21, 2017 was the Women’s March, a significant and historic event. I was not available to march but lent my support by knitting 13 pink hats known as Pussyhats. Three of my hats went to the Washington March with a High School friend and two of her companions. They reported that the experience was amazing and on their way home they continued to proudly wear their hats. At rest stops and gas fill-up people asked to take their pictures. The hats also served as very positive conversation starters. By the way, the latest numbers I saw on the Washington Women’s March was a half million.

My Washington Marchers from Illinois

My Washington Marchers from Illinois

Two of my hats went to Madison, WI with two very close friends. They marched with 75,00 to 100,00 other participants. At one point near the end of the march a young woman asked my friend Marjorie where she got her hat and how could she get one. Marjorie immediately removed her hat and gave it to her. Then Patricia gave her hat to the young woman’s companion. It was that kind of day.

My Madison Women in front of the the statue 'Forward" A Wisconsin Women's Memorial from the Columbian Exposition 1893. Sculptor: Jean P. Miner

My Madison Women in front of the statue ‘Forward” A Wisconsin Women’s Memorial from the Colombian Exposition 1893. Sculptor: Jean P. Miner

Proud owners of new Pussyhats courtesy of two amazing women.

Proud owners of new Pussyhats courtesy of two amazing women.

As you can see from the last picture not all people who marched on Saturday were women. There were many men there in support of women and women’s rights. And a lot of them were wearing hats, yes Pussyhats, with courtesy and permission from their ladies. They didn’t just take them. Here is an album of Wisconsin men at the march from the blog Each Little World. All photos copyright of photographer Mark Golbach.

The remainder of the hats I knitted went to Washington to be distributed to whoever needed one. But now what? The march may be over but there is still alot of work to be done. Here’s my pitch if you want to be part of the movement. The Women’s March project has initiated 10 Actions in the first 100 days. Follow this link to get involved. First action, postcards to your senators. Go ahead, do it, do it now.

BFFs

Last week I spent three fabulous days with two dear, dear friends from high school  (graduation: June 1967). We have been getting together on and off over the years either going out to Colorado to where Lynn lives or up here in Wisconsin with me or to Arlington Heights in Illinois, Audrey’s stomping ground. Last year we got together in Santa Fe, New Mexico and vowed that we would not let years go by before getting together.

Reason 1) We ain’t getting any younger.

Reason 2) We heard about the untimely death of one of our former friends.

Granted we had lost touch with Sue but it still was a shock to hear of her death in a car accident. In high school we used to be a “group” of five but Marie left us very early from a severe health issue. Then we were all working on marriage and kids and everything else that comes with life so we hadn’t even started to think about our mortality or getting together to celebrate old times, since those times weren’t that far in the past.

But hold on, this wasn’t supposed to get so maudlin. This year was our 2nd consecutive gathering and I was not going to miss it no matter what. That meant hobbling around on my arthritis riddled knees (coming up this fall: knee replacement ). So with drugs and a knee sleeve, I made it. Of course my besties sure made it easy. We held back on the walking (the tram around the Chicago Botanical Garden was great) and Audrey even had a small stool for getting into the back seat of the van. However the bag of frozen carrots I iced my knee with in the evenings might never be the same. The rest of the time we talked and ate, and laughed and drank, and talked and ate some more. Another year, solving all the problems in the world. We’ve all had our trials and tribulations, our health issues and setbacks, our joys and celebrations. It was good to share them. So I am ending here with some pictures that I know Audrey is going to kill me for posting. I subscribed her to my blog last week but I think I heard her say something about not wanting to see herself on it. Close your eyes Aud!!

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that's what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Then: circa 1967. Looks like Aud and Lynn went to the same hair salon. Hmm, so that’s what they did on those weekend outings without me.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles.

Now: circa 2016. Looks about the same to me except Aud and I have exchanged smiles. (from left – Jeanne, Audrey, Lynn)

Oh, What a Night!

Last night was almost surreal, or maybe I was hallucinating but a little “sort of surprise” retirement party took a lot of interesting turns. If I was Alice I might have thought I was sliding into the rabbit hole but no, we were at a new restaurant, to us, called THREE THREE FIVE. Seems it has been here in Green Bay for almost six years and we vaguely knew of it but had never been there. Fine foodies we are. Anyway this all started because a dear friend of ours is officially retiring from a fine academic career and we, Curt and I, and three other of her friends wanted to celebrate this milestone. We were initially called by Sid who proposed this outing. We readily agreed and the planning began. This particular restaurant was her first choice but they are a bit unusual as they are only open on Wednesdays to the general public. The rest of the time they host private parties, cooking classes and corporate gatherings. They tout themselves as an upscale private dining studio. Also they only take reservations a week ahead so on the off-chance we could not get a booking, Sid put an alternate plan in motion. She reserved us a table at Cafe Chanson, a local restaurant featuring French cuisine. If we couldn’t get THREE THREE FIVE, Cafe Chanson was a lock.

THREE I THREE I FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

THREE THREE FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

Fortunately she was able to get us a table and our guest of honor promised to hold the date open. We weren’t telling where we were going just that Curt and I were picking her up at 5:40pm. No dancing shoes required but bring your appetite.

When we entered the dining room we immediately saw two other friends and former colleagues from the University who had retired a few years earlier. They are great foodies and it wasn’t surprising that they had discovered this restaurant and were regular diners. They, of course, had a seat at the counter which overlooked the kitchen and the food prep. We greeted them and asked about the food, needless to say they gave it a vigorous thumbs up.

Once seated we got caught up in the atmosphere and the menu, which was printed on origami paper and had extremely small type. This group does not have young eyes and this was REALLY SMALL type and the lighting was dim. We muddled through but Ginny dug out her magnifying glass. The theme of tonight’s menu was the chef’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  We discovered later that each Wednesday is different and some evenings the menu has twice as many choices. Tonight happened to be Asian.

Origami Paper Menu

Origami Paper Menu

Three Three Five menu 1/6/16

THREE THREE FIVE menu 1/6/16

Once we started ordering I didn’t think of taking pictures of the food but this being a special occasion, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Some of us just wanted to graze on starters while three of us went directly for the Tonkatsu Ramen. Between the 6 of us we ended up trying everything except the Bread & Butter and the Steamed Bun (which we saw on another table and it looked great).

Now is when some of the special things happened. The chef arrived at our table saying this must be a special occasion because a couple at the bar wanted to buy us a bottle of wine or two bottles or cocktails. Well of course it was the friends I mentioned earlier. We went with a bottle of champagne (and asked him not to break the bank with his choice.) He chose well, not too dry, not too sweet.

After a few more plates were brought to the table, the chef sent an order of sablefish with his compliments. Okay here is the second weird thing this night. If you read us regularly, you know I don’t eat fish. I can’t even get it near my mouth. But Carol, after tasting the sablefish said I had to try this. It didn’t taste fishy. I would like it! All right, for the guest of honor, I would try. it. I am embarrassed to admit, I liked it. It was almost buttery. And…I had a second piece. Whoa! we were definitely down the rabbit hole.

As we ate and observed the other diners, we started to recognize people we knew but were not acquainted with, like the new director of the public library. He started after I retired so I was a stranger to him. Also one of our local sports stars, Jordy Nelson, from the Green Bay Packers. He is on the injured list so obviously can go out for a nice dinner instead of sweating it out somewhere preparing for this weekend’s playoff game.

As to the food… the Tonkatsu Ramen was amazing. Fabulous broth, mushrooms, slices of super tender pork belly and a perfectly cooked egg with a firmly set white and a totally runny yolk inside. We were so impressed with the egg that we asked the chef for details on how he accomplished that trick.

Curt pronounced the oysters good even if there was too much granita on top.The Wagyu Beef Dumplings were fabulous. Sid and Carol gave us some little tastes but kept the majority for themselves; they were really almost too good to share. The only real disappointment was the Chilled Foie Gras…lots of Riesling gel, lots of ground pine nuts, slices of lychee but if there was foie gras in there, Ginny couldn’t find it. The rest of us looked too. Maybe they waved it over the plate before bringing it to the table.  But that was a minor blip in the evening.

The major surprise came at the very end when we asked for our check and was told, “your bill has been taken care of.”. What?  No way. Our friends again.  Where are those two?  Gone.  Of course, the waitress wouldn’t tell us what it came to so we might tip her appropriately and we couldn’t thank our benefactors. So one of us asked if THREE THREE FIVE had gift certificates. They did, so we left a $100 certificate for our generous friends and an additional tip for the waitress. Next time our friends come in, it will be their turn for a surprise.

Like I said, What a Night!

 

 

Dum Dum Dum, Dum da Dum, Dum da Dum

Spoiler Alert! yep, I mention things you don’t want to know,unless you are in the know.

forceWe finally made it to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had to spend 5 days avoiding spoilers and over-enthusiastic reviewers who forgot to put “spoiler-alert” at the top of their articles. But I made it and wow!

Back in November, the 17th to be exact, our friend Michael emailed an idea for the foodies group. “How about we all go see Star Wars and then go out for dinner afterwards?” It didn’t take long for us and the third couple of our group (Patricia and Richard) to say, YES!!!!

We decide against the opening day cause we are old nerds and not interested in fighting the crowds or the kids with light sabers. So we picked the following Tuesday, the 22nd. I was charged with getting the tickets, Michael the dinner reservations. Two days before Christmas meant picking the theater furthest away from the huge shopping mall. None of us were interested in walking a half mile from our parking spot to the show. And two days before Christmas also means that even on a Tuesday the restaurants would be packed…ours was.

The movie: I really enjoyed it. It did seem very familiar as it seemed to echo Star Wars: A New Hope in many ways. Harrison Ford, even at 73, still played Solo at his cocky best. He has aged well. Weren’t some of his lines original to Episode 4? Carrie Fisher pulled off General Organa even though in person Carrie is a bit flaky she handled her role well.

Their first meeting in the movie, Han: “You’ve changed your hair.”
Leia: “
You’re wearing the same jacket.”

han-leia-star-wars-the-force-awakens-161251

I loved these snippets of dialogue.  Chewie was Chewie. And of course C3PO and R2D2 eventually made their appearance. My favorite character was Rey, for she is the subtitle folks. Yep, the force is strong in her and it’s waking up. But then isn’t Luke her father?

picture from Comicbookmovie.com

picture from Comicbookmovie.com

My fellow movie goers did not think so but I contend she and Kylo Ren are cousins. By the way, these two have a very intense light saber battle. Great to see Luke finally. Did you notice the Mark Hamill was on-screen for 20 seconds and got 2nd billing in the credits? And Han, oh we will miss you.

All in all we had a great time. Now I can read all of the articles on who everyone is and why they are fighting. Like who’s the Resistance as opposed to the Republic and where the hell Supreme Leader Snope came from? (PS: He’s really Andy Serkis).

Afterwards we had a great time at a local restaurant, Plae Bistro where we hashed out the movie, shared our favorite moments, drank a lot of wine and ate good food (except for the Mushroom Spätzle, yuk).

I will end with a movie/food note. Did you spot the Romanesco Broccoli in Rey’s meal at Maz Kanata’s? A fractal vegetable, how delightful.

Romanesco Brocolli

Romanesco broccoli

We need a dessert… Houston, we have a persimmon.

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A while ago we started watching series shows with some friends. I think it started with Justified. We had watched the first season on Netflix streaming but we don’t have DISH or Direct TV so when the 2nd season started we were out of luck for probably six months before we could view it. But then we got talking with some close friends who were also hooked on Justified and they had DISH, woo hoo! They were recording season 2 and already had about four on their DVR. They invited us over for dinner and TV. We brought dessert and we all had a great time. A couple of weeks later we went back for two more episodes but this time we brought dinner and they did dessert.

A regular get-together was born.

Rules: One, no overly crazy cleaning, except maybe the bathroom. Two, no gourmet cooking, keep it simple. We alternate dinner and desserts.  We’ve gotten through three seasons of Justified and the fourth starts this January. In between seasons we watched Longmire and started The Borgias. Since neither of us has Showtime we got The Borgias on disk from Netflix. Last night was the first episode of Season 3 and Pat and Dick were coming to our house with dinner in tow. We were on for dessert. With a persimmon sitting on the shelf just ready to burst Curt knew it was destined to become our sweet treat for the evening.

You may remember that we posted a short piece about persimmons several years ago.  If not, you can refer to it here.  Mostly, I like to eat persimmons as a fresh fruit – the Fuyu variety that is.  The Hachiya variety is a whole different matter.  If you try to eat them before they’re fully ripe you’ll be met with an astringent mouthful you won’t be able to swallow.  Hachiya need to sit and slowly ripen to the point that they’re like a squishy orange/red water balloon.  The skin turns almost translucent and the flesh is more like a soft jelly that a fruit.  That’s what we had.  I’m led to believe that some people let their Hachiya get to this stage and then cut or bite a small hole in the skin and suck the flesh out like a Slurpee, but not frozen.

persim3

A ripe Hachiya persimmon, cut in half

In casting about for some recipe to use with this beautifully ripe but somewhat intractable fruit, I came upon a reference in a bread book by James Beard that had a Persimmon Bread recipe.  It looked good and so, off I went.

Beard on Bread by James Beard, 1973

Beard on Bread by James Beard, 1973

Persimmon Bread (adapted from Beard on Bread by James Beard)

1-3/4 C. all-Purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. mace, ground
a few gratings of nutmeg
1 C. sugar
1/2 C. butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 C. bourbon
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 very large, very ripe Hachiya persimmon, cored but not peeled, pureed, about 1 C.
1 C. coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 C. currants, plumped with 1/2 Tbs. bourbon

1 Tbs. coarse sugar (raw sugar, rock candy, or the like), broken into edible-sized pieces if necessary.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Make a depression in the center and add the melted butter, eggs, bourbon, pureed persimmon, nuts and currants.  Mix the batter well, until there are no dry bits left.  Butter and flour a 1 pound and a mini loaf pan.  Fill them about 3/4 full with the batter.  It’s pretty stiff, so use a spatula to make sure it gets into the corners.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake for 1 hour at 350˚ or until a skewer comes out clean.  Let the loaves cool in the pans and then turn out onto a rack.  Serve with fresh butter.  Keeps wrapped for 1 to 2 weeks.

Persimmon bread adapted from James Beard

Persimmon bread adapted from James Beard

And for your viewing pleasure, we all recommend Justified, Longmire and The Borgias.

A Week of Dinners – Friday with the Foodie Group

By far the best dinner of the week because we enjoyed it with good friends, it was marvelous and….we didn’t have to cook or clean up. Yes, this was the Fall get-together of our so-called “Gourmet Group.” The usual group of opinionated academics, librarians, artists, liberals, writers, readers, gardeners… joined together for food, laughter, discussion and debate. Patricia and Richard were the hosts and they outdid themselves beginning with:

The Openers

Crostini with cream cheese and tomato jam (left)
Charcuterie includes Hot Sopresatta, Fennel Salami (right)
Asiago Cheese
assorted olives

-Fennel salami is really wonderful but the hit of The Openers was the homemade tomato jam. One of its main ingredients is BACON. Oh yeah.

The Soup/The Salad

Curried carrot soup w/ lemon and sea salt toasts

– I could have eaten a giant bowl of this soup and gone home a happy camper but there was more to come. Recipe will be at the end of the post.

Warm mixed Mushroom Salad w/ Citrus Soy Dressing

-This dressing sounds so simple but it had a subtle tang which set it apart from a regular viniagrette. This recipe is at the end as well.

The Entree

Veal Scallopini w/ Gorgonzola Sauce
Butternut Squash Ravioli w/ garlic butter sauce
Steamed Pea Pods

-You’ll just have to imagine how good the veal was because more recipes will just make this post go on and on and on…. Important to note the ravioli came from a pasta vendor (Tarsi Pasta) at our local Farmer’s Market. No point on trying to do from scratch yourself when you can find a local-business that does it better.

The Dessert!

Ginger Yogurt Mousse w/ Pistachio Meringue

– Curt actually let out a loud “WHOOP!” when he tasted this. It was so damn good he couldn’t help himself. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

The remainder of the evening consisted of coffee and more laughter, more discussion, more solving of the world’s problems.

The Recipes:
Curried Carrot Soup (Derozier)

2 TB olive oil
1 1/4 # carrots, grated (8 cups)
2 large leeks, thinly sliced–white and light green parts
Scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
Generous 1/2 tsp hot curry powder
2 cans chicken broth + 1/2 cup water (or liquid to 32 oz)
1/4 c chopped pistachios for garnish

Heat oil in large pot. Add carrots, leeks and baking soda. Cover and cook abt 15 minutes or until vegs are tender. Stir in curry powder. Add liquid and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, puree with immersion blender and season with additional salt to taste. Garnish with the pistachios.

Mushroom Salad with Ponzu Dressing (Derozier) 
Adapted from May 2011 Bon Appetit 

Dressing:
Wisk together
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
6 TB Ponzu sauce ( a citrus based sauce – or use the juice of mixed fruits like oranges, lemon)
1 lrg clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Mushrooms:
2# assorted mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, etc)
3 TB olive oil
1/4 cup sake

Saute over med-high heat until wilted and just beginning to brown. (about 7 minutes)
Add sake, stir to coat.
Gently dress the mushrooms, arrange on the bed of greens, baby arugula and slender stalks of chives. Drizzle remaining dressing over the top.

Gifts from the Hunter

We have a dear friend who is a hunter. We tease him, good-naturedly, because we aren’t hunters. But we have benefited over the years from his hobby, his passion. This is one of those times.

In November of 2011 our friend Kenn, who lives in Washington state, was back in town to go hunting in Wisconsin with his son. He used to live here and was part of our food group so he called to see if we were going to be around on his way back to the airport. It was great to see him and catch up on the news of his family and his life in Washington. Before he left he gave us a venison loin and charged us with sharing it with Barbara and Michael, the other couple who was part of our group back then.

The hardest part of this mission was to find a date to get together. Retired people sure are busy. But last Thursday worked for everyone.

Curt immediately started thinking of ways to cook the meat and we talked about what would be good accompaniments. Pre-dinner munchies were easy. Our venison supplier had also sent at Christmas one of those wonderful Cougar Gold cheeses from Washington State University, once again with the directive to share. We coupled the cheese with crostini and pan-roasted olives.

I love cauliflower and that was my vote for the vegetable. We had recently bought yellow beets at the last Winter Market so Curt voted for those. We roasted them together and everyone was happy.

A salad of mixed greens with a simple vinaigrette rounded out the meal. We asked our friends to bring a light dessert.

So Kenn, here is what Curt did with that wonderful loin.

Curt writing from here on –

Pan-Roasted Olives

Pan-roasted olives came from an aside on some cooking show on TV (sorry, I don’t remember the actual source).  I didn’t have the recipe but I figured how hard could it be?  I started with a mix of brined olives from our local cheese monger, Nala’s.  I tried to select for variety of type (black & green) and size, eventually ending up with 5 or 6 different types of olives.  The procedure is pretty simple.  Drain the olives and put into a wok-type pan on medium heat with a little fresh, good quality, olive oil.  Add a measure of drained, pickled cocktail onions.  Pan roast/fry for about 20 minutes until the onions start to show a bit of browning and the olives are a little shriveled.  Remove from the heat and add some good balsamic vinegar and the zest from half of an orange.  Serve warm.

Pan-roasted Olives

Seared Loin of Venison with Pontak Sauce

I’ve not cooked a lot of venison.  Not being a hunter, I’m at the good graces of Kenn to occasionally gift me with some.  This latest gift was serious (a whole strap or loin – what one calls it appears to vary considerably) and a challenge.  The loin (and most venison) doesn’t have much fat so cooking it inconsiderately could lead to a dried out piece of meat and a waste of a living creature.  Scanning the net, the consensus seemed to be to cook it hot and short.  Sear the meat over high heat, but not for very long.

The day before our dinner, I sliced the loin into 1-1/2″ thick medallions which I salted with 3/4 tsp. of sea salt per pound and put into the fridge to rest (you can salt and rest meat for up to 3 days without worry and the longer the better on a very thick piece of meat, like a roast).

Salted and ready for the fridge

On the day of the dinner I took the meat out 2 hours before dinner so it could come to room temperature.  Just before cooking it, I liberally peppered the pieces with freshly ground black pepper.

Cooking was quick and simple.  I heated a pan on high, added a little olive oil, and immediately dropped in the loin pieces.  Three minutes on the first side – turn and reduce the heat to medium and another 4 minutes on the second side for medium rare.  Remove the meat to a platter to rest for about 10 minutes.  Slice on the bias for presentation and serve with pontak sauce.

Whoa!  What’s that? Pontak sauce?  That’s what I said when Kenn mentioned he was opening a bottle of his pontak to check its progress.  A search of the internet told me that pontak is a traditional English sauce for game meats based on elderberries.  So, I guess, if I was going to cook venison I might as well go all out and come up with the appropriate sauce to accompany it.  Now, I had done this research last fall and one of the things about pontak that keeps coming up is that it is best if left to age for 7 years!  Well, that wasn’t going to work for an early February dinner.  I eventually managed to find dried elderberries at a local home-brew shop and made a modified batch in December in anticipation of our dinner (I’ll post a recipe separately).  If I was lucky my pontak would have 7 weeks to age – not 7 years!

The end result was worth the effort.  The venison was so tender it was hard to believe it was from a wild game animal.  The pontak was flavorful and spicy, a bit like Worcestershire sauce.

Venison, roasted vegetables and mixed green salad

Thank you Kenn, your friends appreciate your generosity and raise a glass of Petit Syrah to you!