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"Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Thu May 01, 2014 10:26 am

I mentioned in the Black Muscat Salt topic that we are preparing the food for a dinner on Sat May 10. I don't go a day without worrying about the details, so it probably makes sense to see if people have input for me here. I will get to the menu below, but one thing on my list of worries -- for the main dish I was thinking of visual impact and I decided to try and serve Romanesco as the vegetable. The problem is that I've never prepared Romanesco -- if you don't remember it, I think of it as fractal hallucinogenic broccoli designed by Maurice Escher. It's pretty. But evidently the flavor is somewhere between broccoli and cauliflower. And if I steam it to preserve the appearance, how can I make it taste interesting? It will help when I can get my hands on some (there's one worry, will I be able to FIND it, but I think I will). One idea I have: A while back I bought a big bag of baby bok choy at one of our Chinese supermarkets. I steamed it, tasted it, eww, no flavor, most boring thing ever. Then I drizzled some sweet thai chili garlic sauce on it. "Bang!" as some TV chef would say, but the flavor just popped out. I am thinking I can put just a drizzle of that on the Romanesco and it will taste interesting despite being steamed.

The menu comes nowhere near to competing with some of the feasts that Jenise has described, but we wanted things that could be prepared ahead since we are both cooking and dining. And a lot of the food will have to be loaded into the car and drive a few miles from our house to our friend's house. So simplicity in prep was a virtue. This is for the music department of the church where Louise sings in the choir, and attendees pay $50 each. The wines I will bring should do a lot towards making it worth the price. I consider the wines in my cellar "free" because I paid for them years ago and I don't mind sharing.

First course -- d'Artagnan mousse de foie gras (maybe truffé) on toast. I'll probably have both Keller toast (hard and crunchy) and "regular" toast made from baguettes. I'm planning to open a Sauternes and maybe linger a little on this course.

Second course -- large "dry" scallops dusted with chili powder and sautéed to brown on the bottom. To decorate the plate, mâche = lamb's lettuce and a bit of good Spanish ham. I had planned to pivot from Sauternes to Champagne for this course.

Third -- a rich cream of mushroom soup, the host's idea. I am expecting him to give me a recipe but I can fall back on the Julia Child version if necessary. Continue with the Champagne.

Fourth -- Confit duck legs. I liked the fact that 1) these are already cooked so you just need to brown them, and they can be browned in advance and kept warm in the oven, 2) they have a rich savory flavor, and 3) it's not something people often think of eating, at least not in my experience. So it's different. This is the dish where I want to have romanesco on the plate. I have also experimented with a combination of half potato and half celeriac, cooked soft and put through a ricer to make an elegant mash, which of course is enriched with butter and cream. I have plastic rings for plating (from the plumbing department at Home Depot) and we found a good size to make identical "hockey pucks" of mashed potatoes on the plate. These could be dusted on the top with a little paprika, maybe this is a better place for the black muscat salt? The wine will be a rich red. I had thought "Chateauneuf" but sometimes people don't get the earthy sous bois flavors, and perhaps Barolo would be better? Gotta think about that.

Dessert -- a chocolate mousse.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu May 01, 2014 11:23 am

Frank,

A classic menu and excellent choices. A few quick thoughts (...I'll also let your menu roll around my brain a bit longer for any further ideas...):
- foie gras and toast... how are you going to decorate the plate? The stuff is yummy but it's not attractive. Would folks appreciate the traditional accompaniments (pickled cornichon and baby onions) or, if vinegar isn't preferred, how about a shower of red grapes or toasted pistachio nuts? Maybe a lychee or a fig?
- mushroom soup... garnish? Perhaps run a few fennel bulbs over the mandolin, sprinkle with oil and salt, and crisp them in a slow oven? Put one per bowl, as you serve.
- confit... yes mash and yes Romanesco. Love the black salt on the white root cake! But why either/or? Need vegetable _and_ starch on the plate. We just had Romanesco on Sunday, just steamed and served with a butter sauce. It is mild, the texture is cauliflower but the taste is broccoli.

Good luck.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Thu May 01, 2014 1:49 pm

Sorry, Jeff, I always meant to serve both the celery mashed potatoes and the romanesco with the duck, re-reading what I wrote I can see how you got the impression I meant one or the other. Good ideas about what to do with the foie gras. The fact that I plan to serve it with Sauternes makes me a little iffy about the cornichons, but it would be good to have the plate look more interesting. The d'Artagnan stuff comes in little white plastic oval containers, I was thinking of unmolding those and slicing the paté into rectangular "sticks". Not positive how that would work but when I've eaten at Boulud's restaurants I have noticed there seems to be a fashion for serving some things as rectangular sticks, I think I had a dessert that was a couple of delicious sticks of something chocolatey.

Now that it's May the date seems very close. I am over-worrying but that is probably a good sign, usually when I work myself into a complete froth about something it turns out beautifully. It's when I am confident and half paying attention that things can go awry.

PS I have been trying to remember what Hoke said in the Wine Match topic, so I looked it up...

--Said it before but it's worth saying again: The Marquis de Lur Saluces (former long term family owner of d'Yquem) made it abundantly clear that he thought the best way to serve d'Yquem was before a meal with foie gras studded with cracked peppercorns.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Mike Filigenzi » Thu May 01, 2014 2:39 pm

That's a meal I'd love to eat.

I like Jeff's idea of the toasted pistachios with the first course. Those would work well with both the wine and the mousse. Just not sure how they'd plate. I think you're right about the cornichons - I don't think I'd mind them but others might. Don't know about the grapes. I can see them going well with the mousse but I've never had them with Sauternes. Might be good and they'd definitely liven up the plate.

I also really like the idea of the black salt on the white mash - that will look great. Don't know how many bottles you're looking at opening, but giving folks the chance to try both the CdP and the Barolo would be fun.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu May 01, 2014 6:39 pm

Oh, thanks for reminding me, Mike. The wine! I think almost any decently tannic red wine will work with the fatty duck and creamy mash. I love Barolo but it can be temperamental. You might also consider what is the audience familiar with... Southern Rhone is a good call. Bordeaux should work.

And, now that I think about it, why exactly do you have 'Barolo for 50' in your cellar? :?:
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Thu May 01, 2014 8:18 pm

Our particular dinner will only have 8 at table -- $50 is the price per person. But, come to think of it, I probably could pour Barolo for 50 people. Eight lucky people would get the Gaja Sperss... If you have great Barolo anyone should be able to understand it.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sat May 03, 2014 12:56 am

I haven't had the chance to talk to the produce manager at Wegman's yet -- but reading online, romanesco usually appears in the marketplace in October and November. So it's not likely to be easy to find in May. If that's true, what do I do instead? I want to keep the potato-celeriac mash, so that makes cauliflower not good since it's white. And broccoli -- not everyone likes it. The classic match with confit duck leg is cannelini beans, or other beans, because of the association with cassoulet. But that kind of lowers the tone of the plate. Want to suggest something?

I've been thinking something like snow peas or sugar snaps might be a little surprising and taste good in combination?
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Mike Filigenzi » Sat May 03, 2014 1:17 am

How about something with fresh favas? We have a lot of them in the market right now.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jenise » Sat May 03, 2014 1:36 am

Frank Deis wrote:I haven't had the chance to talk to the produce manager at Wegman's yet -- but reading online, romanesco usually appears in the marketplace in October and November. So it's not likely to be easy to find in May. If that's true, what do I do instead? I want to keep the potato-celeriac mash, so that makes cauliflower not good since it's white. And broccoli -- not everyone likes it. The classic match with confit duck leg is cannelini beans, or other beans, because of the association with cassoulet. But that kind of lowers the tone of the plate. Want to suggest something?

I've been thinking something like snow peas or sugar snaps might be a little surprising and taste good in combination?


I agree that the plate needs a green/third element, but I'd like to steer you away from a three-plop presentation. The potato cylinders (great idea) need to stand alone, so the duck confit should be parked on or against the third item such that it not only adds the desired color but keeps the duck legs from slippy-sliding out of placement and into the potatoes like wrecking balls as the plates are ferried to the table. Something green and leafy would work very well, IMO. Spinach with butter, garlic and lemon juice; rappini, swiss chard (the all white stalks, preferably), or a Brussels sprout hash (season only with butter and cardamom seed), just to name a few things, would all work beautifully and give you that intense emerald color. They would also all add some nutritional balance--fiber, and no carbs.

Love the first course. But I agree with whoever said that the Sauternes and the pickles (otherwise, a great love of mine) would be at odds. However, I also agree with whoever thought that plate also needs another detail. My first thought is something I had once at Patina in Los Angeles--a warm 'marmalade' garnish of fresh kumquat slices pan seared and combined with (probably) some orange marmalade out of a jar. Looks gorgeous on the plate, puts a major liplock on the citrus elements in the wine, and it creates fabulous aromas for a plate that otherwise has very little. People eat with their eyes first and nose second--something like this would feed both. Could even go sweet-savory and add some cracked green peppercorns to it.

Re that same course, I am leery about you trying to cut the foie into batons because they would be very difficult to handle without getting finger prints on them. Have you thought of that? Best maybe to cut slices?. Is there an aspic layer on top? If not, the oval ends can probably be flattened a little before slicing so that the portion sizes don't appear uneven.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Sat May 03, 2014 2:27 pm

Ooh, I like Jenise's idea -- as I heard it -- of thin-slicing kumquats and giving them a quick sizzle.

If the romanesco isn't around, you could try broccolini or even a baby bok choy. But I never say no to sauteed spinach with garlic and butter....
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jenise » Sat May 03, 2014 2:46 pm

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:Ooh, I like Jenise's idea -- as I heard it -- of thin-slicing kumquats and giving them a quick sizzle.


You heard it right. Then just bind them with a bit of marmalade. It would be a pretty little jewel on the plate and optional to the diner whether to use it as a topping or not.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sat May 03, 2014 3:24 pm

I'm loving the kumquat idea, but I will have to see if I can find those -- they are also seasonal. Failing that, I'm sure I have jars of orange marmalade and maybe I even have kumquat marmalade. Hitting the orange element in the Sauternes is brilliant.

And I like the idea of a leafy green. I like Swiss chard but I have mainly used it in soups, will have to see what recipes are around. Normally I separate the stems and cut them up and then recombine with the leaves. I made a Mourad recipe for red chard but the results weren't all that memorable. I can visualize the white chard, I'm sure I can get it and I can probably make it taste great.

Thanks everyone, you've really given me something to chew on here.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sat May 03, 2014 3:29 pm

Mike -- I thought of favas early on but 1) I am not seeing them in the usual places where I find them and 2) I like to do them "right" which means peeling down to the little tiny green beans. And the time and effort, and the enormous amount of favas in the pod that you have to buy to put a tablespoon of tiny green favas on each plate -- it kinda goes against the philosophy of what I am trying to do with this meal.

By the way along the same lines -- it's just a bit awkward to get the meat off the bones and it passed through my head that I could bone the duck legs and find a nice presentation for the meat. But it's just too many man hours to do it right, and the diners need something to occupy them, n'est-ce pas? So they get the old traditional leg on the bone and they can wrestle with that.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sat May 03, 2014 4:12 pm

This image is kind of an inspiration -- I think from a restaurant called Raku Sweets?

The dots are raspberry sauce and mango sauce, and the center is a clump of candied pecans.

Image
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sat May 03, 2014 11:55 pm

I bought a bunch of white chard and a bunch of red chard. I cooked up the white batch "clean" with just butter, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. It was delicious.

I'll try the red bunch with garlic and Turkish urfa pepper. And it looks like we will need at least 4 bunches of chard for the dinner, since Louise and I easily finished the whole dish with our leftover roast chicken tonight.

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds Swiss chard
4 teaspoons melted butter
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice
Directions
Rinse chard; separate stems from leaves. Cut stems into 2-inch pieces; cut leaves crosswise into 1-inch strips. To a saucepan add 2 teaspoons melted butter. Add stems to pan; saute about 5 minutes. Add leaves; cook another 5 minutes. Add remaining 2 teaspoons butter and pepper. Mound in center of serving plate and drizzle with vinegar or lemon juice.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/saut ... c=linkback
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jenise » Sun May 04, 2014 5:33 pm

Isn't chard wonderful? A favorite method here is to make a good béchamel seasoned with white pepper and nutmeg, then just fold the chopped leaves into it--it cooks within minutes and is a bright gorgeous color. Great flavor too. Enjoy the red, but consider this: red chard will bleed red color--if that runs into your potato cake, could get, literally, 'bloody'. That's why I specified white in my earlier recco.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sun May 04, 2014 8:19 pm

This is a really cholesterol rich meal -- foie gras in the first course, lots of cream and butter and possibly egg yolks in the Julia Child soup, cream and butter enrichment in the potato/celeriac, and then whatever Louise needs for butter and/or cream in the Chocolate Mousse. So I can't do the béchamel this time, but I am filing it away for the future, thank you!

I had a vague idea of side by side white and red chard, but again, thanks, your warning sounds worth serious consideration.

I wrote to one of the participants and I am going to try to farm out the mushroom soup and the Keller toast. We don't have that much fridge space and I'm having nightmares about the time-line, if I can't make the soup on Friday (it's gotta be cold between cooking and serving or there are food safety issues, and I don't want those!). Have not heard back. Can handle it if I have to, we have a cooler or two and one can buy ice.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jenise » Mon May 05, 2014 2:36 am

Frank, wasn't suggesting that prep for your dinner, just mentioned it as a great method--with the white of the potato on the plate, the naked chard would provide the most vivid presentation and would be my first choice. But yeah, beware of bleeding colors--protect your presentation!
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Wed May 07, 2014 11:41 pm

My son Tom was in town and he's a some time vegetarian so I whipped up the red chard for him. He and his friends really enjoyed it but 1) the flavor was stronger, 2) the texture was coarser, 3) of course it bled as you said it would. So I'm totally doing the white/green chard for the dinner. By the way I also made an Israeli salad (from the recipe in Jerusalem for spiced chickpea salad, but no chickpeas!) and undersalted it because I wanted to give some to my physical therapist. When I tasted it later I decided to salt it with the black muscat salt, and it really gave it a bright flavor. Maybe a little bit my imagination but I thought it kind of "popped" the flavor of that salad in an interesting way.

It's funny, I am having a big problem finding the d'Artagnan mousse of duck foie gras. We've tried most of the "regular" stores and they are all stocking other brands -- even places that sell the d'Artagnan confit duck legs. I am close enough to d'Artagnan that I am considering just paying the high shipping charge and buying it direct. But I shouldn't have to.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Fri May 09, 2014 7:01 pm

We've bought most everything now -- the ingredients are expensive but between Karl and me, everything is being "donated" so it doesn't count against the payments. Eighteen large "dry" scallops at Wegmans cost about $50. The d'Artagnan confit duck legs are about $10 each. At any rate I think it's going to be a memorable dinner, and if I can make it happen my wines are going to put everything up a few notches. Also "donated."

I do have kumquats, will slice paper thin with a mandolin and soften in butter and then somehow combine with warm orange marm.

I couldn't resist a couple of perfect large Ataulfo mangos just now, so I think the foie gras plate will have watercress, a small white paper "cupcake" holder with half a dozen candied nuts, a glob of the marmalade, and a slice of mango. Should the watercress go with the scallops or the foie? We have both watercress and mâche for the small plates. It may be mainly for looks but both are quite good to eat.

Second course -- the 2 big scallops dusted with chili powder and browned, plus mâche (or watercress?) and a couple of slices of Jamon. I'm still playing with other ideas but maybe we'll leave that simple. But imagine HB quail eggs, painted with a couple of drops of top quality aged balsamic? Probably won't go there but it's a thought. I'd cut the eggs in half.

I =will= be holding back a little. I could serve Dom Perignon and Yquem. But sometimes people get a little freaked out if they notice how good the wine is. Likewise the Gaja. I have to open it some day but tomorrow is not that day. I'll open good stuff that's probably kind of anonymous unless you're a wine geek.

The soup -- I have no say over, we'll just keep sipping Champagne.

And the duck leg -- I'm going to do it pretty much the way Jenise has said. Maybe a sprinkle of black salt both across the scallops and across the potato/celeriac mixture… And I will take both CdP and Barolo and we will see how things play out. Each bottle I take needs a back-up in case something is corked, or in case the drinking is more enthusiastic than I had planned for.

This is tomorrow…
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Mike Filigenzi » Fri May 09, 2014 8:41 pm

Good luck! I'll be waiting to hear how it all turns out.

I'm very confident that I would greatly enjoy that meal.
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jenise » Sat May 10, 2014 3:02 am

Frank, re the kumquats. Let a few slices brown a little, it will add a toasty flavor and complex color.

Scallops with the mache. Mache is very mild and won't compete. It's excellent in fact with drizzled with a tiny bit of good EVOO and salt--flavor and shine, and that would be very compatible with the scallops and the jamon. Watercress with the foie--it's nutty and slightly bitter, should be a great contrast with the Sauternes and the foie. Re the mango, consider dicing and strewing a few around the plate, like confetti or little jewels. The quail egg could be a overly complicating--however, if you settle it inside the mache, like a nest, then it can become part of something else and add a layer.

Re the black salt--be careful to apply at the very last second--the color could seep a bit on a damp surface that's warm and hastens melting.

Agree--hold back those wines. Only serve wines like that to someone who understands what they're drinking. You're donating a handsome amount as it is.

I think you've got it all worked out--enjoy the cooking--I look forward to hearing about the results!
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Frank Deis » Sun May 11, 2014 12:30 am

I was working so hard all day today I didn't see your message Jenise, sorry! But it worked beautifully. What I did with a couple of kumquats was very close to what you suggested. It was important that the foie gras plate stay dry, because I put the nuts into a paper cupcake thing, so I used the mâche with that -- and we got several good comments about how nice the watercress was with the scallops. I took the mangoes but forgot about them, and did nothing about the quail eggs, just too complex and too much else to do. Karl wanted us over there at 4:45 and Louise went over there, but my celeriac and potato chunks were still pretty hard then, and I hadn't even started the duck. So I got everything done and arrived at six, along with the guests, in time to pour the Sauternes and set up the little foie gras plates.

One thing I learned that is worth mentioning. I don't even remember where I got the can of duck legs from Rougie -- somewhere online. It is a big can with seven legs packed in duck fat, and I wasn't sure when I would ever get around to using it, which is one reason for this menu. Well, the d'Artagnan duck legs have to be cooked only until just done because they have to survive on grocery store shelves -- a completely cooked confit duck leg is falling apart. SO the great thing about the canned Rougie duck legs is -- they are falling apart. I had to handle very carefully to get them into the pan and even more carefully taking them out. If anyone has an occasion where they want half a dozen duck legs I really recommend the Rougie. d'Artagnan to be fair is a close second, but the meat is a bit tougher.

The wines were great -- the 2001 Lafaurie Peyraguey was an amazing wine, and a couple of the guests noticed how great it was. I told Karl it was the wine in Brideshead Revisited and he really liked that. The vintage Piper Heidsieck (2004) was good, but I didn't get the extra that I sometimes get from the vintage version of a Champagne I like. The La Nerthe 98 CdP Cuvée Cadette was possibly the best Chateauneuf I have tasted and it was really good with the duck. Actually several people mentioned how nice the swiss chard tasted with the duck as well.

Louise made a 2 layer chilled mousse that was cut like a cake. The bottom layer was an intense dark chocolate mousse. The top layer was mainly composed of melted good quality white chocolate and whipped cream, with some Kirschwasser for flavoring. She studded each piece with a couple of gorgeous raspberries and some mint leaves. I did take pictures of everything but the soup.

So -- I think it holds true that if I really worry about something, that's a sign it will turn out OK. I just have to keep worrying, and listen to Jenise and the rest of you guys...
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Re: "Charity" Catered Dinner

by Jeff Grossman/NYC » Sun May 11, 2014 1:53 am

Bravo, Frank, bravo!
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