We try to do this every year – we gather together and use each other as guinea pigs to try out various recipes that we’ve found over the previous year. Generally these are recipes that we wouldn’t have time to make on our own and that require a level of skill not required in everyday cooking. Then we take the opportunity to critique the food and try to improve on the recipe so we can share it with others later in the year.
Junkii and I had planned out our menu and gone shopping for supplies earlier in the week, so on Saturday all we had to do was pop out to the Byward Market to pick up the last few ingredients before we settled in for the weekend get-together.
Mom and George took responsibility for the dinner on Saturday evening. Or rather, I made them take Saturday because I was going to need more prep time for the Beef Wellington planned for Sunday evening.
Saturday Evening Dinner
Course 1 – Crab Stuffed Mushroom Caps: Tasty little morsels, these – very similar to escargot in terms of flavor profile, but what’s not to like about that? The crab was canned by the people who caught it (friends on the East coast) and shipped straight to Ottawa – so it was very flavorful. Adding them to mushrooms fried in garlic butter and the broiling the whole thing with some cheese on top? Mmmmm.
Course 2 – Oyster Stew: I’m so happy I learned to shuck oysters about 3 weeks ago at my friend’s place. She had an oyster party and I learned to shuck and eat raw oysters. As a result, I was also able to help George get the oysters ready for this creamy, buttery soup. The only problem with this dish was the salt level, and it’s worth making again (and again and again) as long as we remember to use unsalted butter. That way we'll be able to adjust the salt level as needed. But the oysters were so big and tender. Just lovely.
Course 3 – Cranberry and Cabbage Stuffed Pork Loin with Cider Cream Sauce, Served with Green Beans Amandine and Thyme Roasted Potatoes: While slightly overcooked despite my efforts with the instant-read thermometer (sorry Mom!) this was delicious. The cranberry and cabbage stuffing worked really well with the pork, and the cream kept everything nice and moist. The side of beans with toasted almonds is a great side, but the addition of cherry tomatoes was a nice touch, adding a little more complexity to this dish.
Course 4 – Duo of Crème Brulées: While we had a hard time melting the brown sugar with Mom’s butane torch, the flavor of the custards didn’t suffer at all. One was flavoured with Grand Marnier, and the other with Brandy – and it was truly a challenge to figure out which one to eat last. Plus that course was served with Madeira, which none of us had ever tasted before. It’s not quite as complex as a good port, but it’s comparable for sure.
Course 5 – Cheese Platter: A classic way to end a meal – with a selection of cheese (old cheddar, Danish blue, and aged Comté) and a glass of aged Tawny Port. What more could we want?
Sunday we managed both breakfast and lunch. Mom whipped up a breakfast quiche with sausage, mushrooms, onion, and cheese. Nothing new, but always delicious. And for lunch, we had a high-end grilled cheese sandwich along with some leftover soup. The sandwich featured double-smoked cheddar, caramelized onion, and green apple, all grilled in a walnut bread.
Sunday Evening Dinner
Pre-dinner drink – Kiwi Smash Cocktail: Junkii whipped up a round of nice healthy cocktails featuring fresh kiwi, white cranberry juice, and vodka. What a great summer drink!
Course 1 – Comté Gougères with Red Pepper Dip: Another course from Junkii. We were both able to make some serious strides with our pastry making skills – in this case, little cheese flavoured bites that had the consistency of a profiterole, or maybe a Yorkshire pudding, but that tasted of aged comté cheese. The red pepper dip was a perfect accompaniment.
Course 2 – Grilled Scallop Prosciutto and Melon skewers: Neither of us was sure what to expect with this grilled dish – intended as an amuse-bouche – but it turned out to be one of the best of the evening. The melon and scallops complemented each other perfectly, and the prosciutto – on the grill just long enough to get a little crispy – added a tang of salt.
Course 3 – Pear and White Port Soup: I had it on good authority that this was a great recipe, and my friend’s opinion didn’t steer me wrong. This one was yummy, although Junkii didn’t like it quite as well as I did.
Course 4 – Beef Wellington with Red wine sauce, served with Wild Mushroom Risotto and Sautéed Red Swiss Chard: Apparently I don’t like Swiss chard. I’ve had it once before and found it bitter. I found the same again this time. I didn’t even eat it, it was that bad. It would have ruined my meal. But the rest of this course turned out just right. Junkii prepared the risotto and, while it had to sit a little too long in the pot because my Wellington took longer than expected, it was perfect when he was ready to serve it – creamy and delicious. The wellington was a chore to make, but the flavor in the finished product was amazing. And the puff pastry – made from scratch – turned out to be as flaky as can be. The part that took the longest was the sauce which had to reduce from about 15 cups(!) of liquid down to about 1 cup. In the end it was worth it though, and had really intense flavour.
Course 5 – White Pepper Praline Cheesecake: This dessert was to die for! Who knew that white pepper would go so well with cheesecake. And the maple wine that we served with it really brought out the peppery notes. This is now one of my favorite cheesecakes; and this was only Junkii's first attempt at making a cheesecake. Bravo!
Both nights were undeniable successes. And despite being a lot of food, we really limited our portions, and we took our time between courses so that we never felt overfull. We learned a lot this weekend and we’re already looking forward to our next get together.