Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Friday Dinner Challenge

Hosting a dinner at home on Friday evening is always a bit of a challenge, given both of us have a day time job. That plus we were out most of the evenings this week - that means I had even lesser time to shop for ingredients and prepare some of the food in advance, hence I needed to be much more careful with planning and executing, trying to make use of ingredients readily available at home than those obscure items that were a bit tricky to find, for example, and try to start even earlier for some of the dishes to spread out the prep time. 

Iberico Pork Rack with Cocoa Nibs crust, Parsnip Puree and Brussels Sprouts
Deciding on the main course is the easiest part this time. I got some cocoa nibs from Chef Marike during my visit to the Caprice kitchen last month, so I wanted to turn that into a dry marinate along with crushed fennels. Pork is a perfect match for a bit of a strong cocoa, herbaceous flavor, and could be roasted and done in about an hour so it's perfect - I rubbed the marinate all over the pork, popped that into oven right after work, then it's ready during dinner time. And how handy it was having a few pieces of iberico pork rack sitting in the fridge just for occasion like this.

Only in summer we had a pretty constant supply of fresh mushrooms in the market - not just the common Asian shiitake or enoki or shimeji types but like porcini, chanterelle or morel - and a few times I saw this little consignment counter at our neighborhood supermarket selling them. So I couldn't resist picking a good handful of chanterelles. The rich chanterelles from Central Europe were just perfect for making a cream sauce for the pork- with sherry for a kick in flavor, and it's quick and easy too. I then finished the main dish with a bit of parsnip puree and brussels sprouts placed under broiler for a burnt top.

My Summer Caprese Salad - Mozzarella Panna Cotta, Cherry Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, Pesto, Walnuts and Balsamic Reduction
As always, I wanted to be little adventurous in at least one of the dishes I cook - what's better than coercing friends who came over as willful guinea pigs? This time I was trying this dish that I think would be perfect for summer - a Caprese salad with a modern twist. I use the same ingredients as in a normal Caprese salad - mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil, but I turned the Mozzarella into a savory panna cotta, then topped with halved cherry tomatoes, pickled onions, basil and walnut pesto, balsamic reduction in a fancier presentation.

I also liked being able to play a bit with the colors, textures and flavor contrast with this dish - soft and creamy cheese with bits of crunchy toasted walnuts, aromatic pesto then a sweet balsamic gastrique, plus some slightly tangy pickled onions. Well I prepared the panna cotta the night before, when I was quite tipsy from a wine dinner I attended, but phew, I am glad that turned out fine (and looked and tasted just as I envisioned), but just don't ask me for the recipe - I wish I knew what I did. This is probably one dish I am most satisfied with creating in recent times.

New York Cheesecake with Cookie Crust and Cherry Jubilee
I decided to do a cream cheese dessert just because we got a bit of that was left in the refrigerator a few weeks back. While it's not enough to make a full-size cheesecake, I sure had enough to do a smaller cake good for 4 people - and that could be done a few days in advance. I made it on one late Wednesday night, and once again, I made use of some leftover ingredients, including the cookie crumbs and the chocolate spread, turning them into the crust and sauce respectively. I like using cherry for my summer dessert, so I pitted them, sauteed in butter with a splash of brandy, left cool and served with the cake. It's probably a bit too rich, but since it's "only" a 3-course dinner, I reckon it worked.

Well we went along with two beautiful wines this evening. Starting with an Australian Shiraz that our friends brought us, which is a Penfolds RWT from the 2004 vintage, which opened up with a gorgeous, big fruity nose with ripe cherry and herbs on the palate with just a slight bit of smoky hint and a long rounded finish. We probably opened this right at its peak.

Second wine was an interesting one - it's a Beaune Premier Cru we picked it up after our Hospice de Beaune dinner last year (Cuvee Nicolas Rolin 2010, produced by Etienne de Montille, if you need to be specific) Behind the light ruby color it's a dominantly vegetable nose - a bit unusual but not atypical of Burgundy, I suppose, and with a bit of floral aroma. Overall it was medium-bodied, with a bit of black fruit, earthy, mineral, herbs and maybe cassis on the palate. A clean and medium finish, but it's just fun and interesting to taste. Probably worked better with food than on its own, and I felt a bit bummed not able to have a second main course to accompany the wine as we finished the bottle towards the end of our meal. 

Anyhow, I am glad I did alright (I think) and we had a great Friday evening chatting and eating. Thank God for Friday!


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