Sunday, February 28, 2010

Annual Valentines Extravaganza

As mentioned in the previous post, I generally avoid going out to restaurants on Valentines Day.  It is almost always over-booked to the point that the kitchen can't keep up.  I'd rather go out almost any other day of the year other than Valentines Day.  Also, I don't like all the desserts named after terrible movies like "Sleepless in Souffle." 

Anyway, this year I think I went a little over the top, but it mostly turned out well outside of a few missteps.  Also, the "Weird Stuff in my Kitchen" category has now been expanded to include 10 lbs of candle wax.

The first course was Alinea's Hot Potato, Cold Potato.  The black truffle and potato soup was amazing and full of black truffle-y goodness.  The candle wax bowls were much more difficult to make than I imagined because they kept cracking.  Eventually we got them down and they turned out nicely.  Here's how to make the candle wax bowls.

1.  About 2 lbs of unscented candle wax.
2.  5 9" baloons

You melt the candle wax in a double boiler over medium low heat.  Meanwhile, fill the balloons with a little water and tie them off.  You then dip the balloon 8 times in the melted wax, take it out and press it down really really gently on a flat surface.  Dip 16 more dimes and again, press down to make a flat bottom.  Allow the wax to harden, then gently pop each balloon and remove the bowl from the balloon.  The last step is to heat a pan over low heat until warm.  Put each wax bowl on the pan upside-down for a few seconds to smooth the edges.  Remove and put in a safe place as they are very delicate.

Lots of work just to make some bowls, yes?  Onto the real recipe.  I didn't want to spend $80 on black truffle juice, so I made a quick mushroom stock.  (2 lbs of mushrooms, sliced, brown over medium heat with a little oil, add 4 cups of water, and simmer for about an hour until reduced by half.  Strain).

100g Yukon Gold potatoes (this is about 2 medium sized potatoes), peeled and diced
225g mushroom stock
500g heavy cream
25g black truffle oil
5g kosher salt

1.  Bring potatoes and mushroom stock to a boil over high heat.  When it hits a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
2.  Add cream and return the mixture to a simmer.
3.  Put it all in a blender and blend on high until smooth.  With the blender still running, add the oil in a thin steady stream.  Throw the salt in and then turn the blender off.
4.  Strain the soup and refrigerate for at least 8 hour.

For the potato part

4 sticks worth of clarified butter
5 spheres of potato scooped out with a 1/2 inch melon baller

1.  Heat the clarified butter over medium heat.
2.  Add the potato spheres to the hot butter and roll them around the pan for 20 minutesuntil tender.

To make the mushrooms

5 shiitake mushroom caps
1/4 cup mushroom stock
1 tbsp butter
kosher salt

1.  Melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes.
2.  Add the mushroom stock and a pinch of salt and cook until the stock is mostly evaporated.

Now to assemble:

1.  Pour some cold truffle soup into the bowl (about half full)
2.  Take a pin or needle and impale a small cube of parmesan cheese, a small cube of butter, and a small cut of chive onto the pin.  If using a needle, stab the eye end of the needle into the hot potato sphere.  Stick the sharp end of the needle gently through the wax bowl where the bottom begins to flatten.  To eat, pull the pin out, dropping the hot potato, butter, cheese, and chive into it.  Drink it all down like an oyster.

I served this with a Schweiger Chardonnay.  John from Cuvee Cellars said that the oakiness of the chardonnay would be awesome with a cream based soup.  He was right.  It was a spectacular match.
The next course was a duck with a honey-orange sauce, duck confit, a candied orange, and green beans almondine.  This would have been the best dish of the night if not for the fact that I overcooked the duck a bit by leaving it in the pan for too long.  When I was formulating this dish, I was almost positive that the Ridge East Bench Zinfandel would be the perfect match since it has such strong notes of freshly cut orange.  I asked John for confirmation, and he agreed.  This was the best matched wine of the evening.

Here is how you make the duck.  I'll note the point where I went wrong and it became overcooked.

l large duck breast (about 2 lbs)
3/4 cup chopped shallots
1.5 cup orange juice
2.25 cups chicken broth
4.5 tspn Earl Grey tea leaves
1 tbsp honey
3 tbsp butter, cut into 1 tbsp pieces
kosher salt

1.  Preheat oven to 450.
2.  Heat a large saute pan over high heat for a few minutes until the pan is very hot
3.  Meanwhile, score the skin side of the duck in a cross-hatch pattern.  Lightly salt and pepper each side of the duck.
4.  When pan is hot, put duck in, skin side down.  Cook for 4 minutes until the skin side is really brown and lots of fat has been rendered.  Flip the duck and cook the other side for about 2 minutes.  Take duck out of the pan and reserve on the side.  Reserve the rendered the duck fat.
5.  Take another large pan and put the duck breast in it, skin side up.  Put the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.
6.  While the duck is in the oven, make the sauce.
7.  Heat the reserved duck fat over medium heat until hot.  Add the shallots to the pan and cook (stirring frequently) until they begin to brown (about 5 minutes). 
8.  Add the orange juice to the pan to deglaze, scraping the bottom as you pour it in.  Then add the chicken broth and the tea leaves.
9.  Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until reduced by a little more than half.
10.  At some point while the sauce is reducing, you have to get the duck out of the oven.  When you do, take the duck out of the pan and cover it tightly with foil to let it rest.  I left it in the pan to rest and it became woefully overcooked.
11.  Strain the sauce into a sauce pan to remove the solids.  Push down on the solids to extract all the flavor. 
12.  Put the sauce pan over medium heat and whisk in the honey.  When the sauce returns to a simmer, whisk in each piece of butter.
13.  Slice the duck crosswise on a bias.  Put each piece on the candied orange with some duck confit.  Put the green beans with some almonds between each slice and drizzle the whole thing with the sauce.

You can also candy orange slices if you want to jazz up the presentation.  To do this, boil equal parts sugar and water together in a large sauce pan to make a syrup.  Reduce to low so it is at a simmer and add the orange slices.  Cook for about an hour, uncovered, turning the orange slices over ocassionally.  Heat the oven to 350 and put the orange slices on a baking sheet.  Put them in the oven for about 20 minutes to dry.  For an added touch, blowtorch each segment to get a little blackness on it.

I served this with green beans almondine (which I have posted a few times).  The duck confit was store bought from my butcher (because I didn't have enough time to make it myself).  Anyway, here is a picture.

The final savory course was lamb with 3 toppings and burning rosemary.  I got this general recipe again from Alinea, but I changed one of the toppings, and I use river rocks instead of a terra cotta plank.  I served this with a 2005 Oak Valley merlot blend.  It's an outstanding wine, get it from Cuvee Cellars.

Ingredients for Lamb
3 lamb loins
3 tbsp butter, cut into small cubes

1.  Seal the lamb loins and butter into a vacuum bag using a Vac Saver
2.  Heat a large stock pot of water to 135 degrees.
3.  Put the lamb-filled bag into the water and cook for about 20 minutes to get it to medium-rare.
4.  Remove from water, cut bag open, take lamb out, cover lamb with cold, wet paper towels and immediately refrigerate.

Red Wine Braised Cabbage Topping
1 lb red cabbage
1 shallot, chopped
6 tbsp butter
1 scant cup red wine
1 1/3 cup port
1/3 cup honey
pinch of kosher salt
a couple grinds of black pepper
1/4 russet potato
1.25 tbsp red wine vinegar

1.  Slice cabbage thinly.  In a large, deep pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the cabbage and shallot and cook for 5 minutes.
2.  Add all ingredients except the potato and red wine vinegar.
3.  Cover with a parchment paper lid for about 1.5 hours until liquid is almost evaporated.  Make sure to stir ocassionaly so the bottom doesnt burn.
4.  When it reaches this point, remove the parchment.  Grate the potato on a box grater or microplane.  Add the potato and cook for 30 minutes more.
5.  Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. 
6.  Refrigerate.

Date Compote Topping
1.1 lbs dates
1.1 lb water
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
a couple grinds of black pepper
2 1/4 tbsp olive oil

1.  Fill a bowl with some hot water and put the dates in them for about 5 minutes
2.  Pull the skin off of each date and remove the pit.
3.  In a medium sauce pan, combine the pitted dates, the 1.1 lb of water, the vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. 
4.  Cook for about an hour until at least half of the liquid is evaporated.
5.  Transfer contents of the pan in to a blender and blend on high for 3 minutes until smooth.
6.  With motor running, drizzle the olive oil in. 
7.  Transfer to a squeeze bottle and refrigerate.

Red Wine-Plum Topping
3 plums
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp red wine (like cabernet)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 sprig of rosemary
1/2 cup veal stock

1.  Preheat the oven to roast at 350.
2.  Cut 2 of the plums in half and remove the pit.  Put them in a pan with the butter, 3 tbsp red wine, the sugar, and the rosemary sprig.
3.  Put the pan in the oven for 30 minutes, covered with foil.
4.  Remove the skin from the plums and discard it.  Cut the plums in half to make quarters.  Put them back in the pan.
5.  Meanwhile, chop the last plum and put it in a small sauce pan with the 1/2 cup of red wine and 1/2 cup of veal stock.  Heat it over low heat for 20 minutes.
6.  Put the roasted plums and the red wine mixture in a blender and blend on high until smooth.  Add some Ultratex-3 to the blender to thicken.
7.  Refrigerate in a squeeze bottle.

To Assemble
1.  Gather 15 2" diameter circular river rocks.  Drill a hole through 5 of them.
2.  Heat the oven to 550, and put the rocks into it for at least 30 minutes.
3.  Slice the lamb loin into 3/4" thick medallions.  Heat some olive oil in a pan over high heat.  Put 15 lamb medallions into the hot oil for 30 seconds.  Remove and set aside on a plate.
4.  Cut 5 small squares of cabbage and put them on top of 5 lamb medallions.  Put a generous squeeze of date compote onto the next 5 medallions.  Finally, put a generous squeeze of plum sauce onto the last 5 medallions.
5.  Carefully put three hot river rocks into a small, cast-iron skillet with the rock with the hole in it in the middle.  Put the date compote medallion on the rock on the left,  the red wine braised cabbage medallion in the middle, and the plum sauce medallion on the right. 
6.  Set them in front of each diner and put a sprig of rosemary in the drilled hole.  Eat with chopsticks.

We had panna cotta for dessert, which was delicious, but I did not make that, so I do not have the recipe for you.  I attempted to make tempura fried chocolate gelatin served with burning vanilla, but that did not turn out well at all.  I'll have to go back to the drawing board on that one.  Another successful Valentines Day in the books, and we avoided any terrible puns in the process.

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