a long summer meal
Woah, this is a long one. I was going to break this post up into multiple little ones, but I decided that to get the full effect of the evening–and the experience of countless courses–it should all go in one. A couple of our dear friends were moving out of town, so we thought, of course, we should do some cooking. But we’ve been reading Thomas Keller’s cookbooks (see the previous post about beet salad) and about his ideal of many smaller courses, so as we started brainstorming what to cook our menu got longer and longer. We had no real theme that tied it all together, but I think it turned out really well. It was super fun to prep in the afternoon and then spend hours eating, doing the final cooking between courses. There is something really nice about having a slow meal with good people and trying lots of different things. My favorites of the evening were the pan-fried peppers, the bruschetta, and the sliders.
So, in order of appearance…
1. pan-fried peppers
I saw this recipe in an article in Bon Appetit magazine on a trip the author took to France. She met with a chef who served her these peppers at lunch. The whole article was about the simple dish and she raved about it so much that I wanted to try it. While G and I were at the farmer’s market I saw some green serrano peppers that looked similar to the ones in the magazine’s picture. The recipe in the article recommends shishito peppers. The serrano’s were great, and they had a little bit of a kick. (If you don’t like spice at all, though, this is not for you.) This dish makes for a really easy appetizer and you can just serve them in a bowl right after you take them out of the pan. Eat them with your fingers and have a crisp white wine or beer on hand!
green serrano peppers, whole and washed
about 1/4 cup canola oil, enough to heavily coat a large cast iron pan
coarse sea salt
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
about 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Heat up a large cast iron or regular skillet on high heat. Add the canola oil and let get hot for about a minute or so until it shimmers. Add the peppers and a large pinch of the sea salt. It will sizzle. Keep stirring the peppers and shaking the pan so they move around in there. When they are about half blistered (about 2 minutes) add the garlic and then keep stirring/shaking until they are totally blistered (about 2 minutes). When done put them in a bowl, add lemon juice and more sea salt and toss. Serve right away.
2. bruschetta with red and yellow tomatoes
G makes the best bruschetta. I think the secret is great grilled homemade bread and balsamic reduction. Oh, and letting the garlic, tomatoes, and basil mixture sit for a while in the fridge to let the flavors really come out and mix together. It’s perhaps one of the easiest things to make and one of the best things to eat in the summer. We found yellow cherry tomatoes at the market, which we mixed into the regular roma tomatoes, along with fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Before serving, we brushed some Italian bread with olive oil and put it on the grill. The balsamic reduction to drizzle on top can be made ahead of time by letting some balsamic vinegar slowly cook down in a sauce pan. Make sure to let it cool before serving.
3. dubliner sliders with port wine onions
Earlier this summer G made amazing burgers that had, among other things, port wine onions on them. We used the same onion recipe to make these sliders. G mixed ground sirloin and ground chuck (85% lean) to make the mini patties and while they were on the grill we topped them with dubliner cheese (and Irish cheese, sort of like a hard white cheddar). The cheese and the onions went great together. Way better than White Castle. Well, unless you’re wasted at 3am. At that point it might be hard to tell…
4. greek stuffed peppers
This dish had a lot of promise. It was recently on the cover of Saveur magazine and it looked so good. And it looked great in our kitchen all the way up until the first bite. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great, either. Nothing that you’d care about eating again. Because of that I’m not going to include the recipe, but if we figure out a way to make it better, I’ll post about it in the future. I will tell you about it though. We used fresno pepper, which have a fair bit of spice to them. We stuck them whole under the broiler on a cookie sheet for a few minutes, and then when they cooled, we slit them down the middle on one side and took out the seeds. We stuffed them with a delicious sounding mixture of feta, Greek yogurt, egg yolk, chopped kalamata olives, fresh parsley, salt, and pepper that we mixed with an electric hand beater. After stuffing them we placed them on a cookie sheet lined with foil and let them sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes. To finish them we sprinkled them with parmesan cheese and put them back under the broiler for about 6 minutes.
5. mini lamb with herb oil, mint yogurt, and rosemary garlic
I think this was our most complicated and beautiful course. Actually, I guess it wasn’t too complicated, it just had many components. Our friends brought over these tiny cuts of lamb, with little t bones in the middle (really cute) so we kind of made up what to serve with it as we went along. First, we decided to try to make an herb oil from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry. I think you can make herb oil with pretty much anything and we picked cilantro and mint. According to Keller’s instructions, we blanched the herbs for 15 seconds before throwing then in a blender. I’m not sure if this is right though, since it made the leaves of the herbs really wilted. I’ll have to experiment more with this because maybe I just blanched them for too long (or maybe they are supposed to be that way).
After I pulled off all the (wilty, although wonderfully smelling) leaves and put them in the blender, I added canola oil a little bit at a time. Keller says to then strain the bits of herb out, but we left them, partially because we don’t mind them, but also because we don’t have a fine enough strainer. We did this earlier on in the day and let the oil sit in a container in the fridge until we were ready to use it. The flavor was pretty good, especially after it sit a while, although I think next time I would try to use less oil and maybe see what it tasted like unblanched and left to sit overnight.
For the lamb we also made a rosemary garlic mixture, taking fresh rosemary and mining it into garlic with some oil. This is pretty easy and involves essentially cutting the two ingredients in a pool of oil, every once in a while smushing them into the cutting board/oil with the flat part of the knife.
We cooked the lamb in a cast iron on the stove (not the grill because the lamb was so small) with the rosemary garlic and served it over a greek yogurt that we had earlier added chopped mint to. Lemon zest (because it’s awesome) served as a garnish as well as the herb oil.
And finally…well at least before dessert….we had kabobs. This dish sort of broke our small portion rule as the kabobs were huge. We skewered chicken, beef, onions, bell peppers, and fresh pineapple and set them on the grill. Beforehand we marinated the chicken and beef in a mixture of soy sauce, pineapple juice, and chopped fresh ginger.
The chicken, I think was the my favorite part of the whole kabob, although the grilled pineapple was also awesome. We saved the skin from the pineapple and grilled big slabs of it that we put on the plates to serve the kabob skewers over after they were grilled. Fancy.
7. grapefruit panna cotta
This was the biggest un-success. As you can see from the picture it doesn’t quite look like panna cotta. To be generous you could say it turned out like pudding, but realistically it had more the texture of creamy yogurt. I followed the recipe that I found in Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman’s A Return to Cooking exactly except for one ingredient, which I suspect (and hope) is the key to the problem. The recipe called for gelatin sheets, but I couldn’t find any at the store so I got some gelatin powder thinking that there must be some conversion online for sheets to powder. To my surprise there seemed to be no internet consensus on this conversion. Websites cited a wide range of numbers and others noted that sheets might be different sizes depending on where you buy them. So I took my best guess and put in a whole packet of powder, hedging on the upper estimates thinking that at worst my panna cotta would be too firm. But alas, no luck. Maybe with powder I need to set it overnight? If anyone has any suggestions I’d very much appreciate it. I am going to try to get it right one of these days.
But what did end up on the table was not too bad. I mean, you can’t really go wrong with buttermilk, cream, and sugar. That formed the base for the panna cotta. For the sauce, I took the juice of a few large grapefruits (which I had saved from cutting out sections for garnish) and put it in a saucepan with the scraped out insides of a vanilla bean along with its shell. I cooked this on low heat until it reduced a bit…maybe about 20-30 minutes. The smell was insanely delicious. I poured a bit of this over the “panna cotta,” placed a few grapefruit sections on top, and drizzled some honey over it all. Yum. Whatever you’d call it, it was delicious.