January: An All-American Sunday Dinner

January:  An All-American Sunday Dinner

An All-American Sunday Dinner

Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Sautéed Apples

Rutabaga Potato Purée

Peas with Celery and Shallots

Quick Cloverleaf Rolls

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

Wine:  Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling

The Sunday Dinner

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is past us, and January can be a pleasant, quiet refuge.  The holidays served to remind us of the importance of family.  Family has many different configurations and meanings to people, while some still pretend that there is one set definition.  One strong idea, however, runs through the concept of family and that is love or some unknown bond that is common to a set group of people.  I think of myself and my cousins, some of whom I have only met once as a small child, yet I keep in touch with them and I know most, if not all would open their door to me in an instant, as I would to them.  If the opportunity presented itself to have just one Sunday dinner with them, that would only strengthen our bonds.  Family is more to us than what a group photo depicts (we have no such photo anyway)–there is a tie that cannot and will not be cut.

When I was preparing for this dinner my first thought about Sunday Dinners was from the TV show Blue Bloods, in which the “Sunday Dinner” figures prominently and is in fact one of the more memorable moments in the show.  Every Sunday the whole extended TV Blue Blood family comes to their father’s home for a large traditional sit-down meal.  I loved watching the behind-the-scenes YouTube clip about shooting these dinners.  But the fact remains that the Blue Blood version of the Sunday Dinner is, indeed, a fiction.

In contrast, Don Draper from Mad Men realized that the advertising world’s idea of the “family” was a lie and that the American people were not fooled any longer by that “Leave it to Beaver” style sit down meal.  Times had changed, families had changed, even what people were eating had changed.  Don and Peggy’s new ad campaign reinvented the concept of “family.”  To these fictional characters, the realization of this cultural shift in the “family meal” is actually quite poignant. The show cleverly juxtaposes this cultural shift with the exceptionally mid-Century event of the first Apollo 11 moon landing, overlaid with the genius of Don Draper’s ad campaign for Burger Chef, giving the whole scene not just poignancy but the weight of  social critique. Watch this clip first and then this one to understand.

Don recalls his own family dinners and realizes that not only has it changed, but perhaps it never existed.  His children live with his ex-wife and her new family, Don’s new wife lives in California and he in New York, so they don’t sit down to dinner together on any regular schedule.  Peggy reveals that most nights she eats alone or with her neighbor’s 10 year old son who sits in front of her TV.  Burger Chef provided the proverbial family table and the Apollo 11 mission provided the bonding American family experience.  While people ate in front of their TV watching the astronauts land on the moon, America dined together.

The Sunday Dinner in Blue Bloods is a fiction because today with our upward mobility, only rarely do families all live in the same town, have the same schedule, and have no other obligations, so they can sit down EVERY Sunday to eat and drink together.  The show does however have some great awkward scenes that really highlight family tension.  Mad Men and Blue Bloods both understand that family centers around food–whether it is a burger from a burger chain or 250 homemade meatballs–food is a focal point.  Food welcomes us, reminds us of our grandparents, or a simple meal that created a special bond between unlikely individuals.

My family is all over North America, but for many members of my extended family food is a major part of their life.  One of my cousin’s who lives on the East Coast and has developed a love for urban organic gardening has started a Facebook group:  The Urban Farm Report.  Another cousin lives in Maine and they tap their Maple trees and set up a sugaring operation in their backyard to make their own maple syrup.  In Michigan I have a pig farming cousin and his wife sells her own homemade dog biscuits at the local farmer’s market.  And in Canada lives another cousin who in his spare time is an organic chicken farmer.  I hope to have to opportunity to share just one Sunday Dinner with each of them someday!

darren-maple-sugaring
Darren making Maple Syrup.

For my January Menu, I was lucky enough to have Sunday Dinner with some members of my husband’s extended family, including their very well mannered dog, who got to share her dinner with my dog.  It was a joy to open my home to them and get to know them just a little more.  We also had the presence of another family branch–my brother-in-law’s family, the Stivalas, who resides in Upstate New York.  Their presence was in the form of art and music.   Oscar Stivala provided the art in some of the photos and our music for the evening.  His CD is not only tremendously enjoyable to listen to, but it was also fitting to have family entertain us at a family-centered meal.

Thus, the Sunday Dinner need not be every Sunday, but it can serve as a symbol of bonding and love.  It can be spontaneous or planned, frequent or infrequent, but make an effort to share your food adventures with the ones you love. The Sunday Dinner is a simple everyday celebration of family.

I would love to hear about your family’s food adventures and I invite you to share in the comments.  Now, on to this month’s food and wine.  Classic flavors are found in this homey menu that is fairly easy to prepare with a little preparation and planning.

The Wine

It was fitting that this menu features a wine from New York (Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards) since our art and music which entertained us originated from that state, but out here in California there is not a New York Riesling to be found!  That did not stop us from having a wide array of Rieslings from Washington, Germany, France, and Mendocino.  These also spanned the tasting profile of the Riesling variety–from sweet to dry.   Having these menus is such a fun excuse for tasting these wines and different wine regions.

In doing my research for this variety, I discovered that the Finger Lakes Region in New York produces ice wine.  I have never tried an ice wine and I am completely intrigued by this specialty wine.  If you have tried some from this region please tell me all about it and which vineyards have some stand out examples.

The Food

perfect-plate
The meal perfectly plated by my guest.

None of the recipes from this menu can be found on the Epicurious.com web site, so I will also include the recipes for each along with my comments.  All of these recipes can be found in The Best of Gourmet: Volume Two (1987).

Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Sautéed Apples:

pork-apples-sauce

Meat preparation is not my strength in the kitchen.  I was a vegetarian for a good portion of my adult life and so, understanding how different meats should be prepared and even taste is something I am still learning.  Thus, there were two very important things I needed to know to prepare this very simple dish:  What is a rib-end boneless pork loin? and What does it mean “rolled and tied.”  The second question really stumped me because if it is a big cut of meat, why is it tied?

The Cooks Thesaurus’ page on Pork Loin Cuts really helped me a lot.  I purchased a boneless pork loin from Costco and on the back of the package there is a diagram showing the various parts to that cut of meat.  That along with the Thesaurus explained everything I needed to know.

The tying of the pork was explained very nicely in this four minute video from Fine Cooking.  This is so super simple to do and it makes the pork come out perfectly.  What I don’t understand is why did it take me so many years to spend four minutes to learn this technique?  I tied my pork and rolled it in the herb mixture the night before.  Here are some photos of my tied pork:

Now go and make yours.  Here is the recipe originally published in the 1987 Gourmet Compendium:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • a 3-pound rib-end boneless pork loin, rolled and tied
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • sautéed apples (recipe follows)
  • fresh sage leaves for garnish if desired

In a small bowl combine the salt, the pepper, the sage, and the thyme and on a large piece of wax paper rub the mixture on the pork, coating the pork well.  Wrap the pork in the wax paper and chill it for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Pat the pork dry with paper towels.  In a heavy flameproof casserole heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking and it it brown the pork.  Transfer the pork to a plate, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, and in the fat remaining in the casserole cook the onion and the garlic over moderate heat, stirring, for 1 minute.  Return the pork to the casserole, add the cider, and bring the liquid to a boil.  Braise the pork, covered, in a preheated 325 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer registers 155 degrees, for juicy, barely pink meat.  Transfer the pork to a heated platter, discard the string, and let the pork stand for 10 minutes.  Spoon off the fat from the pan juices and in a blender or food processor purée the pan juices and solids remaining in the casserole.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper and serve it in a heated sauceboat, straining it through a fine sieve if desired.  Arrange the sautéed apples around the pork and if desired garnish the platter with the sage leaves.  Serves 6.

Sautéed Apples

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into 12 wedges
  • 1 large red apple, cored and cut into 12 wedges

In a large skillet melt the butter with 2 tablespoons water over moderately low heat and in the mixture cook the apples, covered, in one layer, in batches if necessary, for 2 to 4 minutes, or until they are just tender.  Increase heat to moderate and cook the apples, seasoned with salt and pepper, uncovered, turning them, until they are tender and lightly golden.

Rutabaga Potato Purée and the Cloverleaf Rolls

rolls-and-rutabagas

I have never cooked or eaten a rutabaga before.  They are very easy to prepare, a wonderful alternative to potatoes, and a perfect complement to the pork and apples.  I kept thinking there must be something wrong with the recipe because it requires no liquid when mashing them.  But the rutabagas are quite most and creamy on their own and no additional liquid is needed.

For the cloverleaf rolls I used a roll recipe from Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg.  I made the rolls a week ahead of the dinner and put them in the freezer.  I made the rutabaga potato purée the morning of the dinner and I used the microwave to reheat them for serving.  It worked out well.  Here is the rutabaga recipe as originally published in the Gourmet compendium from 1987:

Rutabaga Potato Purée:

  • 2 pounds rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes, and reserved in a bowl of cold water
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

In a large saucepan combine the rutabaga with enough salted cold water to cover it by 2 inches, bring the water to a boil, and boil the rutabaga, covered, for 40 minutes, or until it is just tender.  Add the potatoes, drained, simmer the vegetables, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are very tender, and drain them well in a large sieve or colander.  While the vegetables are still hot force them through a ricer or food mill into the pan or mash them with a potato masher in the pan, add the butter and salt and pepper to taste, and stir the purée well.  Reheat the purée, if necessary, over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is hot, transfer it to a heated serving dish, and spread it decoratively with a rubber spatula.  Serves 6.

Peas with Celery and Shallots

peas-with-celery

If you have the celery and shallots chopped up in advance of your dinner this dish comes together in a snap.  I copped the celery and shallots into pea sized pieces.  I like everything to be the same size in a dish like this.  I did not add the minced celery leaves nor the sugar–totally forgot, but I don’t think they were missed much.  My vegetarian daughter ate a lot of peas and rutabagas and she said they were fantastic together.  She really liked the flavor of the shallots.  Here is the recipe as originally published in the Gourmet compendium from 1987:

Peas with Celery and Shallots:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/3 cup minced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • two 10 ounce packages frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds if desired
  • 2 tablespoons minced celery leaves

In a heavy saucepan cook the sliced celery and the shallot in the butter, covered, over low heat, stirring occasional, for 5 minutes, or until the celery is softened.  Add the peas, 2 tablespoons water, the sugar, the celery seeds if desired, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, covered, for 3 minutes, or until it is hot.  Sprinkle the mixture with the celery leaves and toss it.  Serves 6.

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

It is a real tragedy that this recipe is not on Epicurious.com.  I thought it was easy, had a wonderful presentation (even with my problem as you will see), and tasted like it was inspired by the angels in heaven!  The flavor is similar to a gourmet marshmallow with the crunch of toasted almonds.  The fluffy white cake is light, springy, and moist.

I made the cake two days prior to our dinner.  That did not effect the quality of the cake, however, the presentation suffered from gravity.  I am not sure if I should have made my frosting a little stiffer or if the almonds were too heavy for the frosting, but the frosting started to, very slowly, slide off my cake.  My husband said it looked like one of the Queen’s hats.  Here are the photos:

In any event, the cake was very tasty and everyone loved the frosting despite the “slide.”  Once the cake is cut and plated you cannot tell one way or the other.  Here is the recipe as it was originally published in the Gourmet Compendium from 1987:

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

For the cake:

  • 1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups egg whites (about 13 large egg whites) at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste

For the icing

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste

1 1/2 cups toasted sliced almonds

Make the cake:  Sift the flour 3 times onto a sheet of wax paper.  In the sifter combine the sifted flour and 2/3 cup of the sugar and sift the mixture onto another sheet of wax paper.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites until they are broken up, add the salt and the cream of tartar, and beat the whites until they are frothy.  Beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, a little at a time, and the almond extract and beat the whites until they hold soft peaks.  Sift one forth of the flour mixture over the whites, folding it in gently but thoroughly, and continue to sift and fold the remaining flour mixture into the whites in the same manner.  Spoon the batter into a very clean, ungreased tube pan, 10 by 4 1/4 inches, preferably with a removable bottom, smoothing the top, and rap the pan on a hard surface twice to remove any air bubbles.  Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 300 degree oven for 1 hour, or until it is springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.  If the pan has feet invert the pan over a work surface; otherwise invert the pan over the neck of a bottle.  Let the cake cool for at least 1 hour or overnight.  Run a thin knife in a sawing motion around the edge of the pan and the tube to loosen the cake from the pan and invert the cake onto a cake stand.  Slip strips of wax paper under the edge of the cake to cover the cake stand.

Make the icing:  In a small saucepan combine the sugar, the corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water, bring the mixture to a boil, covered, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, and boil the syrup, uncovered, until it registers 240 degrees F. on a Candy thermometer.  While the syrup is boiling, in a heatproof bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until they are frothy and as soon as the syrup reaches 240 degrees F add it to the whites in a thin stream, beating constantly.  Beat in the vanilla and beat the icing until the bowl is not longer hot.  (If the icing is too stiff beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water, or enough to form a fluffy, spreadable icing.)

Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake, including the inner cavity, cover the cake with the almonds, and remove the wax paper strips carefully.

An All-American Sunday Dinner:  A Design Collection

This Ebay collection is inspired by the table and room design pictured in “The Best of Gourmet: Volume Two” (1987) from the menu titled, “An All-American Sunday Dinner.”  I wanted to include only pieces that either reflected an American table or pieces that were made in America. What could be more American than a silver dessert set made by one of our Patriots?

For your Sunday dinner table pull out one or two heirloom pieces to reflect the continuity of the family.  Or check out my Ebay collection and choose a new addition for your table.

The best part about doing these menus is knowing I get to make one again next month!  Until then, enjoy your food and your family!

S.  Save

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December: A Caroling Party (AKA “The Rackerby Family’s European Alpine Christmas”)

December:  A Caroling Party (AKA “The Rackerby Family’s European Alpine Christmas”)

place-setting-2016

I usually do a roast, turkey, or ham for Christmas Day dinner.  This year, however, I wanted something fun and casual but really I was just absolutely captivated by the picture in the cookbook.   Below is the original picture from The Best of Gourmet: 1995. Below the picture is the “Caroling Party” menu.  The items in brackets were not from the original menu, but were my own addition or brought by my guests.  This menu serves 12 and I had 12 guests at my dinner, so it put this menu to the test.

a-caroling-party

A CAROLING PARTY MENU

Starter Course

Crisp Spiced Nuts

[A selection of cheeses from the Northern European Region]

Nose-Warmer Punch

Main Course

Hearty Goulash Soup

Viennese Cucumber Salad

Marinated Vegetables with Mustard Dill Dressing

Wines

Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah

[A selection of other Santa Barbara Syrahs to taste and enjoy]

Dessert Course

Austrian Sweet Cheese Crêpes Baked in Custard

Apricot Carmel Sauce

[Meyer Lemon Pie]

[A selection of Christmas Cookies and Candies]

[Holiday Teas from Simpson and Veil]

My Plan

Saturday, December 17, 2016:  Make nuts.

Thursday, December 22, 2016:

  • Make the crêpes
  • Make the apricot caramel sauce

Friday, December 23, 2016:  Make goulash

Saturday, December 24, 2016:

  • Make Marinated Vegetables
  • Stuff Crêpes

Christmas Day:

  • Set table
  • Make:  Nose warmer punch in slow cooker
  • Set out nuts and cheese plate
  • Reheat soup
  • Finish marinated veggie platter
  • Prepare cucumber salad
  • Place crêpes in oven while we eat

The Holiday and Winter Setting

place-setting-2016-2

This was a Christmas Dinner party, so I did want something elegant, but I also wanted to highlight the cozy Alpine ski lodge quality.  At first I thought I should stick with the “caroling” part of the original Gourmet magazine theme, but eventually I dropped that idea and started to focus on the “cozy” aspect to Northern European winters.  I told everyone to leave the fancy dress and heels at home and wear your UGGS and jeans instead.  For gifts I gave everyone scarves and winter hats, and luckily out here in Northern California the weather was accommodating to this theme and it was actually cold–well, California cold that is.

In doing my Northern European cozy research, I came across a new, fun, and very worthwhile fad–Hygge!  Really, I had no idea this was a thing until after I decided on cozy as my theme.  There are, as I learned, tons of books, articles, youtube clips, and other things dedicated to this concept.  I highly recommend looking it up.

My husband even got on board and set up little decorative lights in my kitchen so we could avoid overhead lighting.  He also spent a fortune at World Market on tea lights and other candles.  He eagerly placed them all over the house making our home a cozy winter wonderland.  Careful to complete his vision of the hygge scene, he set a nice warm fire in the fireplace and put on our TV an 8 hour winter scene that he found on youtube.  That youtube movie really gave a winter feel to our home.  Thanks, Honey, for all your cute holiday charm!

Starter Course

Crisp Spiced Nuts:

My family loves nuts, so I made a double batch.  It made a lot of nuts–enough for our family to enjoy prior to the event, package and give to friends, and still have plenty to serve on the day of dinner.  I swapped out the hazelnuts for cashews and I did not use blanched almonds, just raw almonds and I don’t think it made a difference.  After reading the reviews of this recipe on Epicurious.com, it looks like most people choose the nuts they prefer.

The recipe in the book does not say to line the pan with foil and spray with a non-stick cooking oil, but I highly recommend doing that.  I had two baking sheets of nuts and one I oiled and the other I did not.  The oiled pan was easy to stir during cooking and easy to get the nuts off once completed.  Do not skip the step of stirring every 10 minutes.  That step is very important or the nuts will not get evenly browned and toasted and they could burn.

The final product is a bit spicy with the full amount of cayenne, so if you have guests that are sensitive to spicy food, halve the cayenne and it will still be tasty.  Some reviewers complained that these nuts are sweet with a kick at the end but little flavor in between.  To that I would stress using fresh and high quality seasonings.  Everyone in my family enjoyed them and it appeared that my guests did as well and I made them exactly according to the recipe. I made these a week ahead of time and they store very well.

Nose-Warmer Punch:

I admit, the brandy scared me in this recipe.  I was afraid I would be inebriated in one sip.  I was also worried that there wouldn’t be enough fruit flavor in the punch.  None of my fears were merited.  I thought the punch was a really nice blending of flavors and it lives up to its name as it will warm you all over and make you look like jolly Old St. Nick.  I kept mine warm in a slow cooker, as it cooks it smells fantastic!  Enjoy.

Norther European Cheeses:

I thought this menu could use a cheese plate so I asked everyone to bring a cheese from Northern Europe.  It was fun to see what everyone could find.  My sister was quite creative with her interpretation of this request.  She brought her fondue set for a real Swiss Alps experience.  She set the chafing dish up in the living room and everyone sat around dipping little bread chunks into the gooey cheese.  That really added a bit of fun to the evening’s food.  She also brought another cheese that I have never tasted or seen:  Ski Queen.  This cheese probably requires most people to acquire a taste for it, but this ended up being my husband’s favorite cheese on the table.  The New York Times has a very informative article about this cheese variety.

My personal favorite Norther European cheese is Gouda.   The best Gouda I have found in my area is one made in Oakdale, California by Oakdale Cheese.  If you like cheese, I highly recommend ordering a half or whole wheel of their Gouda.  You will not be disappointed.

Main Course

Hearty Goulash Soup:

One of my concerns when entertaining is:  Will there be enough?  With this recipe, I had plenty for everyone to be served a hearty helping with many people having seconds and enough leftovers for three people the next day.

Now, the next major concern when entertaining or even trying a new recipe:  Will it taste good?  No problem here, the answer is, YES.  Many people in the reviews for this recipe say it is average or nothing special for a goulash.  I don’t know what soup they made, but I thought this was exceptional.  The hardest part about this recipe is the time it takes, but as you are not cooking on the day you serve it, you have some flexibility as to when  you make this dish.  The time consuming part is cutting the beef into nice 1/2 inch cubes, and slicing the veggies into similar sized pieces as the beef.  But, ensuring even sized pieces in this stew key to creating a good product.

Another step to making this soup exceptional is making it in advance.  I made it two days in advance and I am so glad I did.  It is just a different soup with deeper flavors if made a couple of days before eating.  This step should not be optional.  The benefit of this step is, of course, it makes for easy entertaining the day of the dinner.

My last tip:  make sure you trim as much fat off the beef as possible. You don’t want a fatty soup, you want to make sure that the wonderful flavors come through.  Your guest will not be disappointed that you didn’t fix a fancy roast once they have their first bite of this hearty flavorful stew.

Viennese Cucumber Salad:

I loved this salad.  Simple, yet nice presentation with the thin slices and forked decoration.  I have been to Austria, but it was about 25 years ago, so I have no recollection as to if this is an authentic flavor or not.  However, in looking at the reviews for this recipe on Epicurious.com, almost every single person that reviewed the recipe says it is exactly like they had in Austria or from their Austrian mother, and they wouldn’t make any other cucumber salad recipe.  So, for such a simple, humble salad, this has some pretty high praise.

I made this the day of the party using my food processor for thin even slices of cucumber.  Just make sure you make this in advance as the cucumbers need to sit for a little while first after salting, then draining, then with the marinade.

Marinated Vegetables with Mustard Dill Dressing:

Between the cucumber salad and this colorful vegetable platter, there is sure to be a vegetable to everyone’s liking.  This platter features beets, carrots and green beans, all cooked to crisp tender.  The carrots and beets are marinated in separate dishes, the green beans are not marinated.  The next day you arrange them decoratively on a serving platter and drizzle the mustard dill dressing all over the veggies.  My only diversion from the instructions for this recipe is that I cooked my beets in a glass pan with water, and covered, for about 12 minutes in the microwave.  Its just a super easy, super quick way to make beets.  I thought that this recipe was very heavy on the carrots, but the carrots are delicious, so it is not that big of a problem.

The choice of vegetables is very Austrian and thus, it fits perfectly with the rest of the menu.  My point in saying this is, don’t change a thing!  If you want to stick to a menu theme, then don’t add feta or use grilled eggplant.  This is not a Greek vegetable dish, it is Austrian.  I say this because one of my criticisms of the Epicurious.com web site is that these recipes are all on their own with out the context of the full menu that they were meant to be made with.  So, people make comments on the recipe, but then say they served it with all sorts of different things.  No one actually reviews the menu in its original context.  The modifications might be great, but I wish that Epicurious.com would link to the original menu so people could know how the recipe was intended.

The Wine

wine-and-nuts

Syrahs, as I learned after preparing for this meal, are like the espresso of wines.  They pack a punch in flavor and are rich heavy red wines.  They complement the Goulash perfectly.  If you just make the Goulash and nothing else, at least enjoy it with a glass of syrah.

I was surprised when I started my hunt for Santa Barbara syrahs that I couldn’t really find any in my area (Northern California and close to Napa, CA).  I ended up finding two and only two in my town–the Rusack and the Rancho Sisquoc.  No surprise that our local market carried the Rancho Sisquoc, as that winery is owned by the Flood family.  The Flood family is a well known name in San Francisco–so it made sense to find their wine in this area.  My brother-in-law was also up to the challenge of looking for Santa Barbara County syrahs and ran into the same problem in his town.  He ended up bringing the Fess Parker and the Hartley Ostini.  So, we had four for our Santa Barbara County Syrah wine tasting.

My favorite was the Rusack ($26 from the Nugget Market).  From the moment the bottle was opened it was delicious.  Gourmet Magazine suggests the Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah for this menu, and that did not disappoint either.  The Rancho Sisquoc was probably my least favorite, but not horrible, just in comparison to Fess and Rusack is lacked a certain quality.  The Hartley Ostini was a surprise.  It was good upon opening but, to my luck, not all of it was consumed at Christmas Dinner.   It sat on my counter, open for about two days.  I poured the last half glass and couldn’t believe how the flavor had developed–blackberry.  It was like drinking a blackberry that had its sugar removed.  It was superb.

I would love to hear your experience with Santa Barbara Syrahs.  Going to visit that region is on my list of travel ideas now, especially since I can’t really find a good selection of that region’s wines in my local area.  If you want to set up a Syrah tasting at your party I liked this article from WineFolly.com that has some great visual explanations of the variety and also has a link to a comparison of Old World wines and New World wines, which is fun.  You could have an Old World/New World Syrah tasting party.

Dessert Course

Austrian Sweet Cheese Crêpes Baked in Custard:

I chose to serve this dessert from the original menu from Gourmet Magazine, with other desserts because it was Christmas and I like to see a whole dessert buffet.  But, if you decide to make this dessert and no other for 12 people, have no fear, it is HUGE!

Don’t even attempt this recipe if you don’t have a proper pan for making crêpes.  These are easy to make if you have that equipment.  Once the crêpes are made the recipe is just simple assembly after that step.  I had a fair amount of filling left over after filling the crepes.  I filled mine using a two tablespoon ice-cream style scoop.  The recipe does say to use a “generous” two tablespoons, and that is correct.  No need to skimp when filling.

I made the crêpes three days before and I filled the crêpes the night before our dinner.  I poured the custard sauce on the crêpes right before baking, but I had mixed up the custard earlier in the day and left it in the fridge until I was ready to use it.  That timing system seemed to work out just fine.

Apricot Caramel Sauce:

This is the accompanying sauce for the crepes.  This is why making these menus can be fun–it forces me out of my comfort zone for cooking.  I am not a candy maker and while making this recipe I was sure I had done it completely wrong (and maybe I did, but it did taste fine).  The recipe requires that you melt the sugar and only the sugar in the pan.  Then you swirl the pan until the melted sugar is golden caramel.  It goes from clear to caramel in seconds so WATCH it carefully!  I had the stove on fairly low for this process.  Then, once the golden color,  you take the pan off the heat and CAREFULLY add the 3 cups of water.  Well, when you add the water the sugar completely hardens.  It also makes some scary steam noises too–be prepared!  At this point, don’t fret, as I did, place it back on the heat, stir and the caramelized sugar will dissolve.  Whew!

Now you can safely and confidently complete the other steps.  Here are my thoughts on the final product:  Although this sauce had a nice look and consistency, I was a bit disappointed at how little of a caramel flavor I got from the final product.  After the dramatic cooking experience I guess I wanted something more from the flavor.  That said, it is still a nice complement to the crêpes.

If you know something about how to make a sauce such as this Apricot Caramel Sauce then please feel free to leave me a comment about that process, and point out any mistakes I may have made.  I am still sure I did something wrong with this one.  Thanks!

A Caroling Party:  A Design Collection

This Ebay collection is inspired by the table and room design pictured in “The Best of Gourmet: 1995” from the menu titled, “A Caroling Party.”  When I saw this place setting what immediately stood out for me was the amber colored deer figurines used as table decor. I was surprised to learn that these figurines were made with candy. The candy is called barley sugar and was made in antique candy molds. These candy “statues” give this place setting a truly magical feel. I also loved the simple but unusual Christmas colors. It all comes together to create and elegant yet whimsical space for a fun and special holiday gathering. The meal starts out with punch in antique cups and nuts presented in leaf bowls.  Have a look at the collection and let me know what you love!

Barley Candy and Toy Molds: 

As I stated, I was captivated by the candy reindeer, and being daring, yet overconfident with my cooking skills, I attempted to make barley candy figurines.   After finding a recipe on line for Old Fashioned barley candy, I set to work.  The ingredient list was simple, barley, sugar, water, and a pinch of cream of tarter.  Here are some pictures from my two attempts:

In the first picture on the left, the candy was hard, and tasty, but as you can see way too dark from caramelization.  I think part of the problem that I faced was not having excellent equipment.  I had two different candy thermometers, and on the first attempt I focused on reaching the recommended temperature, but I don’t think either of my thermometers were 100% accurate.  So, back to the drawing board.  I read up on candy making, then set to work again.  This time using only my eyeballs to look for the various stages in the candy-making process.    However, this second attempt came out too soft and very cloudy.  Although, the flavor of this second batch was nice as it had a more pronounced barley flavor since I didn’t over cook it.

If I kept attempting the candy I might have gotten a product that I liked, but that wouldn’t have solved the problem of the fact that the gingerbread house mold just looked like a big blob.  The old fashioned style molds are really the only ones that give that statute shape, and these antique molds are quite pricey as you can see from the ones listed on Ebay.

Therefore, if you want to have that magical look and  you are not a candy making expert, you might want to check out these candy-makers who sell beautiful candy statutes.  They would make a wonderful addition to a holiday table:

Dorothy Timberlake Candies

Melville Candy

Shane Confectionary and a nice article about their seasonal candy can be found here.

This is also a nice article about barley candy from Smithsonian.com.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing with you a New Year filled with cooking adventures!

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