Friday night we had Brian and Geng over for dinner, an intimate dinner for four that lasted until about 12:30 in the morning. As mentioned before, I think that 4-6 people is the right size for meals at our place, that way everyone can fit around the same table and my kitchen is not overtaxed.
Above, Tawn, Brian and Geng toasting in the new lunar year.
I also continue to improve my skills at planning meals that can be prepared largely in advance and aren’t overly complicated to prepare. The menu, which I assure you sounds much fancier that it was, was as follows:
Taiwanese pumpkin and ginger soup
Winter greens with goat cheese and raspberry vinaigrette
Maple syrup glazed magret du canard (duck breast) with cherry sauce
Pan-fried sundried tomato polenta wedges
Roasted cherry tomato and pepper compote
Individual chocolate souffles
Brian and Geng arrived shortly before eight, one of the drawbacks of starting dinner after work. They brought a huge basket of fruit for Chinese New Year and also two bottles of very nice wine. We worked our way through the first one over cheese, crackers and some salami (from SF) and olives.
After about an hour we decided to actually start eating the food, lest we fill up on cheese and crackers.
The soup started out with the butternut squash and ginger soup recipe I like. It has coconut milk and curry powder in it, and I add some tumeric and bay leaf as well.
Ran into some difficulty as the market had no butternut squash in stock – remind me again why I bother to go to the market at Emporium? – so I settled for some Taiwanese pumpkin. Also, I followed the recipe more closely this time and used water instead of chicken stock. In my opinion, while the soup was good, it tasted a little flat and watery. The missing ingredient was the chicken stock.
Left to right: slicing the pumpkin; sautee the aromatics while the pumpkin bakes; pumpkin flesh and the secret ingredient Aroy-D coconut milk; the soup before blending. Below: the soup, served up after an overnight rest to let the flavors mingle, garnished with a dollop of sour cream and a grating of fresh nutmeg.
All in all, still a pretty tasty and satisfying soup.
For the salad, which was mixed greens including escarole and endive, I wanted to do a raspberry vinaigrette. I was a bit shocked that when you use real raspberries to make a vinaigrette, you get an extremely vivid and thick dressing, below.
The sundried tomato polenta was another make in advance item. I prepared it on Thursday evening and then let it set in a cake pan overnight. On Friday I sliced and pan fried it, reheating it in the oven before dinner. Nice and crispy, especially with a little melted mozzarella cheese on top.
My earlier attempt with duck this week was a trial run for Friday’s dinner. I learned some lessons and Curry’s W provided a few suggestions. Among other things, I air-dried the duck breasts in the refrigerator for 24 hours before cooking them. Also, I used only the lightest film of olive oil before cooking and spooned off the duck fat as it collected in the pan. This way the breasts came out with a nice exterior and a lot of the fat rendered. I also added just a little bit of Chinese five-spice, salt and pepper for seasoning. After pan-frying I drizzled some maple syrup on top and placed the pan in the oven for a few more minutes.
That’s actually when I managed to burn my left palm. After removing the pan from the oven and taking the breasts out, I grabbed the handle with my bare hand, completely forgetting that I had just taken the pan out of the oven. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot and I was able to put my hand under cool water and ice it, so by this morning the swelling was down and there isn’t much pain. Clearly, I need to pay more attention when I’m in the kitchen.
To accompany the polenta and duck I roasted cherry tomatoes and bell peppers in the onion with olive oil and rosemary. That makes a very nice compote and intensifies the flavors.
I was able to prepare all these components in advance and keep them covered n a low oven, so very little last minute fussing was necessary. Below, the final plating of the duck. I kept empty space on the plate for salad, forgetting that there were salad plates on the table already, leaving this plate looking a little lonely.
I have to say, the duck turned out much nicer than earlier this week. Moist, not too fatty, beautifully pink but fully cooked. I might not give up on duck quite yet.
Dinner conversation was really great and we had a fun time. For dessert, I baked some souffles. Cooks Illustrated has a recipe (and I think you can do this with any of the souffle recipes) where you fill the ramekins then freeze them. They can then go straight from the freezer to the oven and puff up beautifully.
The tops of these souffles were a little dark by the time the interiors finished; maybe the heat was a bit high. I have to remember that with a convection oven, you need to turn down the temperature a few degrees.
Still, they were very tasty and I think a souffle never fails to impress!