Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Cooking at Home - New Year Eve Dinner

A few friends came over for dinner on new year eve - it has become kind of our tradition to have a get-together on this day every year and this time I decided to go a little more elaborate on the menu, especially when my friend j told us he's bringing his prized champagne to share with us.

With food like turkey being the tradition for thanksgiving, or panettone for christmas, I wasn't sure if there's something similar for New Year in western cuisine, but I decided to draw inspiration from the east, from Japanese's osechi ryori dishes. (you can check out more from my blog on our New Year osechi lunch at Nadaman)

Kohaku-namasu, which essentially meant red and white salad, was typically cured radish/daikon and carrot and symbolized festivity. For my version, I actually prepared daikon and carrot in two different ways and combined just before serving. For carrot, I marinated with akamiso (red miso) which was saltier, while for daikon, I used a combination of rice vinegar and Chinese Wampi (黃皮) marmalade which I picked up from a local farm in Yuen Long the other day. Both the daikon and carrots were shredded and sat in the marinate for 2 days. On top were two oil-poached shrimps - in typical osechi bento shrimps were usually boiled and served cold but I wanted to give it more flavor and crunchiness by poaching them in oil and serving them hot.

A few months ago I saw the brochure for osechi bento from Dean & Deluca Japan which featured an item with ikura (salmon roes) served on an orange cup, so I copied the idea and served something similar. I used Mikan - Japanese mandarin orange - which is in season at this time of year and more suitably-sized for my dish. I took away the pulp, and made a cauliflower panna cotta filled half-way in the shell (using cauliflower puree, cream and gelatin). I also made a dashi broth, mixed in with the mikan juice for some sweet flavors and turned that into a jelly. Both were made a day in advance and left refrigerated. Just before serving, I mashed the dashi jelly slightly with a folk, spread it on top of the panna cotta, and topped with plenty of ikura in the mikan "cup". I have to say it's a beautiful dish to make and with interesting (hopefully in a good way) flavors and texture. It's fancy, even with a bit of molecular gastronomical style (savory panna cotta and jelly), yet it's not terribly difficult to make at home with readily available ingredients.

The last item in the appetizer trio was kamaboko (fish cakes) which again was a traditional osechi item, so I bought some from the store and include this in the platter. It's sliced and presented in festive red and white colors.

The second course was seared scallops. It's probably my favorite ingredient which was almost always featured in my menu. This time I served it with asparagus - seared as well - and Romesco sauce, which was a classic Catalonian sauce made with crushed almonds and roasted red bell peppers. Oh, and some parmesan foam on top too, which was something I have been experimenting. I love the combination of "sweetness" from that of the Hokkaido scallops and roasted peppers, and the nutty flavors from the almond in the sauce and pine nuts served on top. Also I liked the colorful presentation (red, white and green) which sort of went with the festive theme. Didn't taste much of the foam unfortunately, something I need to experiment further next time.

With the dinner planned to span over 4 hours (we started at around 8 and I wanted to end at around midnight when we could do the countdown to 2014), I decided to add an additional course at the last minute before main course was served. From Japan to Spain in which I drew ideas from for my previous 2 courses, I moved to Provence for something more rustic and substantial. Cassoulet was a classic French dish made of beans, duck and pork and cooked in a casserole. To start from scratch this would take days with the duck and pork needed time to simmer and tenderize but luckily I made some - a mix of duck leg confit with pancetta - earlier and kept frozen in the fridge, which sure came handy in this kind of day. Cannellini (white beans) was soaked overnight and slow-cooked in the meat for 2 hours to take in the rich flavors, then I put the mixture in individual ramekin dishes, rolled some puff pastry and covered the top, then baked the dish for a further 45 minutes in the oven. It's hot, it's rich and it's fatty - perfect for a cold winter days like this.

I wasn't too happy with my main course of the evening. The steak - a piece of sirloin from Australia - was seasoned and cooked in 55C for 90 minutes, before seared on a pan and served with potato mash and caramelized onions. I probably cooked the steak for a little too long in the water bath so the texture wasn't as what I expected and came a bit dry (and overcooked). The mash wasn't as creamy as I wanted too (I did cut back on the butter this time) and most importantly, for one reason or the other, I decided to present the dish without any sauce which was definitely a mistake on my part due to lack of planning. A quickly whipped Bernaise sauce would have been appropriate and saved the dish - ah! What was I thinking? This is rather forgetable.

For dessert, I went back to Japanese cuisine for ideas. Ozensai - red bean soup served with sweet rice dumplings - was the typical meal-ending sweet dish in osechi ryori. Here I did a variation of serving red bean paste and little sweet dumplings with matcha (green tea) mousse. Then on the side was a scoop of sweet potato icecream made with Naruto Kintoki, a special sweet potato species from Tokushima, where we went a few months back. It's sweeter than the normal sweet potatoes hence a good candidate for dessert.

And oh, almost forgot to mention about the Champagne which surely was the spotlight of the evening. We popped it towards the end of the meal, as the clock started approaching midnight. It's a Krug 1998 vintage, and gosh it's such a marvelous bottle. Sexy, golden color with fine bubbles as I poured it into the flutes. Very typical and unmistakably Krug with great richness and acidity - the palate reminded me of dried apricot and brioche at first sip, which slowly turned into more a "savory" character (mushroom consomme?) and more in between which I found it out of words to describe. This one is definitely a keeper and great with food - with this complexity any kind of food will do. No doubt a memorable one, and I would even call that one of the best wines I had a chance to enjoy this year.

Grateful to enjoy good company over dining table and I couldn't think of a better way to end this fine year of 2013. Happy New Year and hope 2014 would be another delicious year with good adventures for us, and for you as well.

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