This past Saturday, Tawn and I had two couples over for dinner. All four of them are foodies, so I made a special effort to cook an elegant meal but something that wouldn’t require a great deal of last-minute attention. There are few things worse for a dinner party than having to be in the kitchen while your guests are sitting at the table.
Amuse-bouche: To wake up the taste buds, I served a tomato water gelée topped with a tomato coulis. The tomato water, which is a bit cloudy because I rushed it along rather than waiting the twelve hours called for in the recipe, is made by blending fresh tomatoes and then straining them through cheesecloth. What happens is that the water in the tomato slowly drips out, full of tomato flavor but without any color. Of course, by squeezing the cheesecloth, I extracted a bit of the red coloring, clouding the water.
I added some gelatin to the tomato water and let it set in colorful shot glasses. I passed the remaining tomato pulp through a sieve to make coulis, flavoring it with some salt, sugar, and a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Not sure if it was the most exciting amuse-bouche ever, but I was pleased with it.
I made two salads, both of which were based on dishes I had at Orris, a Los Angeles small plates restaurant that I’ve been to a few times. The first dish was thinly sliced roast beets topped with cheese and dressed with balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, and dill. The original version of the dish is supposed to have manchego or another similar Spanish cheese. I ran out of time while shopping and had to settle for edam, which wasn’t nearly as good.
Another Orris-inspired dish was an asparagus salad with a tarragon dressing, tomatoes, and pecans. I assembled it a bit differently than the original dish, but it came out very nicely. Visually, it is very appealing, and the taste was nice, too.
To accompany the meal, I prepared a loaf of rosemary and black olive bread. This is one of my favorites and always turns out well.
The pasta course (which I didn’t get a picture of!) was a roasted vegetable lasagna with homemade pesto sauce. If I had had my way, I would have made individual servings of this. In the interest of minimizing time spent in the kitchen, I made a single batch and just served it at the table, family style. This dish was so tasty – the roasted veggies had lots of flavor – and I think I will make it my new standard lasagna recipe.
For the main course, I prepared basil marinated snow fish en papillote. Steaming the fish and vegetables in their own individual parchment paper packets is easy, convenient, fancy, and produces excellent results. In this case, I marinated the snow fish in an olive oil, white wine vinegar, and basil mixture for 30 minutes, then steamed the fish with carrots, turnips, zucchini, and bell peppers. The fish was seasoned with a small bit of butter, a strip of lemon peel, and a kaffir lime leaf.
I was able to cook the packets while we were eating the lasagna, so the fish was hot out of the oven when served. The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but it turned out very nicely. Snow fish has a high oil content, so it stays moist. Next time, I think I would cut the turnips a bit thicker and instead of including zucchini and peppers in the packet, I would serve them on the side.
To celebrate the end of summer, I prepared a duo of cherry desserts. In the larger ramekin is a cherry clafoutis, which is a pancake like batter baked with a dish of fresh cherries. The smaller ramekin has cherries covered with a chilled sabayon, a frothy mixture of egg yolks, sugar, and amaretto liqueur. The sabayon is heated in a bowl placed over a steaming pot of water. It is whipped continuously, cooking the eggs and incorporating air. Once the mixture has cooled, I folded in some whipped cream. Finally, before serving the dessert I used a butane torch to brûlée the top. On the side is some more whipped cream and a cherry reduction sauce.
What I liked about these desserts is that I did not make them too sweet. Instead, they were satisfying without being sickeningly sweet. All in all, a meal well done.
While cleaning the dishes afterwards, I was struck by the pattern the beets had left on the serving plate, so had to take a picture.