March: Easter Dinner

Easter Eggs

Time to have company!  My last two full menus were enjoyed by just my husband and our daughters.  March however, brings my family not only Easter, but also my daughter’s 16th birthday and my nephew’s 9th birthday.  March, then became the perfect month to celebrate with family and friends enjoying a grand full menu from The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI.  Here is the menu:

Goat Cheese and Walnut Souffles with Watercress and Frisee Salad

Herbed Roast Leg of Lamb with Roasted Onions and Potatoes

Rosemary Mint Wine Jelly

Mixed Spring Vegetables

Minted Pea Puree

Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake

Wine:  Chateau Chasse-Spleen ’85

This menu has some wonderful opportunities to enhance the ambiance by adding some seasonal media.  As guests arrived I played a spring themed Spotify playlist that included Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Jean Sibelius’s Spring Song.  As the Easter Eggs were being hidden and the kids were waiting we put on Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.  Fred Astaire’s dance routine in the toy store is sure to entertain everyone even in 2016!

Remember that immersion blender that I said you needed in February’s posting?  It will come in handy all through this menu!  You will need it for the lamb gravy, the minted pea puree, and the raspberry white chocolate mousse cake.  That little gadget is like having your own personal prep cook!  It’s that handy!

Wine:

I admit, I was so busy with planning that I really dropped the ball on the wine for this month.  We had wine with our Easter dinner, but it wasn’t reflective of the menu suggestion.  For those of you with more organizing power, the following is my research on the Chateau Chasse-Spleen.  It looks like they still produce wine and it is available in California.  This is a Bordeaux blend red wine, so if you don’t have easy access to obtaining the Chateau Chasse-Spleen, then I would suggest a Bordeaux blend from your local wine merchant.

The Food:

Goat Cheese and Walnut Souffles with Watercress and Frisee Salad:

Souffles

As I have mentioned in my earlier blog posts, I am but one person in my kitchen, so timing and prep work are very important.  Before I made these little souffles I did a little research to see if I could make them in advance and then freeze.  I found a few tips on the internet that seemed to indicate that it was possible, so I made the decision to go ahead and whip these up a week in advance.

I made a double batch, so there was plenty to try when they came out of the oven.  I think I may have overcooked mine just a little, because I thought they were a little dry.  One of my daughters really liked them a lot, but I was unimpressed.  They were good, but not very flavorful.  I think I prefer different cheeses, like feta or Asiago or something more sharp and salty.

Overall, freezing in advance worked out great!  I thawed them in the fridge the night before our party and popped them in the oven for about 6 minutes at 350 degrees.  The end presentation on the salad made an elegant first course.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the souffle salad.

Rosemary Mint Wine Jelly

mint jelly

When I mentioned to people that mint jelly was part of my Easter menu they would give me a funny look and they seemed to be skeptical.  I have to admit, I was not really looking forward to this part of the menu.  I mean mint jelly is passé.  We were all wrong.  This jelly is the stand out of this menu!  It is beautiful, tastes refreshing, and is the perfect complement to the lamb.  It was also easy to make.  I did not put them in Mason jars nor did I do the proper procedure for canning.  I simply made the jelly and placed it in the jars you see in the picture, then placed those in the fridge.  You can make this jelly days in advance, longer of course if you do the proper canning.

I was asked by my sister to please add more on the mint jelly, because she said people need to know that this jelly was “transcendental,” and she continued, “it goes with so much more than the lamb.”  Apparently, my sister felt that I did not express just how amazing the flavor is of this jelly.  It is surprising just how good this jewel like jelly turned out.  With your leftover jelly, if there is any, try it on fresh berry scones with Devonshire cream.  Or you can do like my daughters and just eat spoonfuls of it like it is jello!  I hope this paragraph impresses upon you how much this jelly was enjoyed!

The Main Course:

Lamb

The gravy that accompanies the lamb is excellent!  Roasts are usually very easy and this lamb was no exception.  I started marinating it the night before.  Once you take the lamb out of the oven and while it rests make the gravy and the Minted Pea Puree.  You might also need to do the finishing touches to the Mixed Spring Vegetables (my Mom brought this dish and finished it at my house.  It was nice to have a helper with me in the kitchen!  Thanks Mom!).

Everyone really liked the lamb and all the sides.  The minted pea puree was a fresh bright green and not super minty, very easy to make. It was a nice side, but it was also good there were other veggies on the plate too. It added variety.  Each side dish on the plate complemented each other and nothing overpowered or detracted from the other flavors.  Our lamb was incredibly tender and had a wonderful mild flavor.  Put lots of gravy on your potatoes and dig in!

Now time to serve the meal and enjoy!

The Dessert:  Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake

White chocolate cake

I made this incredibly delicious dessert three days in advance.  The picture above is from The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI, below you will see a picture of the one I made.  It may not have been as pretty, but everyone ate my cake along with a chocolate mousse cake from a local bakery called Ettore’s European Bakery.  Ettore’s is probably the best bakery in the Sacramento Area.  The verdict was that the Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake was on equal footing with the Ettore’s cake.  WOW!  That is some high praise!  This cake is worth the effort and is truly special.  Following are my suggestions for the cake.

Set aside a day to make this cake.  This cake is made in many steps and you might want to make the White Chocolate Genoise many days or up to two weeks in advance and freeze.  I always find it easier to slice a cake horizontally when it is partially frozen.  Please note that the directions say to slice the genoise into thirds.  I found this impossible.  You can either slice it in half as I did, or you can make two cakes and slice as needed.  Or, and I didn’t try this, you might want to do a double recipe and bake it in one 8 1/2 inch springform pan.  That might give you the needed height for slicing into three horizontal slices.

I could not find frozen raspberries in a light syrup, so I just bought frozen raspberries and added some simple syrup.  Just make sure you do not have more than 20 ounces because otherwise you will end up with too much extra raspberry mousse and it will also not be as firm as it needs to be for forming the dessert.

For brushing the cake layers I used Chambord which enhanced the raspberry flavor perfectly.  Good luck with this cake, but even if it isn’t perfect the flavor is just amazing!!  You can always call it a “trifle” and serve it in a bowl!  Here is what my final product looked like:

White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Easter Dinner:  A Design Collection

There are all sorts of wonderful items in this collection for designing your Easter holiday table and dining room.  The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI, shows this menu served in a conservatory with bougainvillea and colorful bouquets of spring flowers.  I could not find the exact china pattern that is pictured in Gourmet’s photo, but I love the one I picked out: Ceralene Raynaud Limoges’s Crocus.  It seemed fitting for a spring dinner.  You will also find some stunning English Ironstone platters and this little item is a perfect Easter Basket for the mint jelly:

Silver Basket

I would love to know what you are cooking and if you ever do full menu cooking yourself.  Leave me a comment so we can talk about food!

 

February: Dinner Florida Style

Florida dinner

The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI from 1991 has a menu highlighting the flavors of Florida.  This menu is fantastic!  Everything was fairly simple to prepare and the flavors were outstanding.  However, each of these menus tends to have a standout, something that will be made again and has potential to add flavor to other meals.  In this menu the standout was the papaya coriander salsa.

I made this menu for Valentine’s Day.  In each of the Gourmet compendiums they always have a tropical menu.  I would love to make this a Valentine’s Day tradition to have a tropical meal in the cold of winter.  Although I live in California, and it never gets very cold here, it is still fun to reflect on the essence of the tropics and its exoticism and romanticism through its food.  I also love themes and you can have a lot of fun with this theme.  On Spotify there are some great funky Florida playlists or put a Cuban inspired playlist on the stereo.  Be sure to wear your Tommy Bahama clothes to this meal!  Luckily, I have a closet full.  Putting all these elements together created such a wonderful night in Florida (AKA our dining room)!

 

One last musing before I dive into the Florida Menu.  One thing I just love about these Gourmet menus is that I get to travel all over the world!  No “arm-chair” traveling for me!  I am a more active traveler–you can call me a “kitchen traveler.”  I don’t have the opportunity to travel a lot in my life, but when I do the food is what makes the trip.  So, if I can’t get that experience from actually traveling, then I will bring the world to my kitchen!  If Florida is anything like the trip I took via my kitchen, then it must be a beautiful place!  Join me as I reflect on my trip!  Here is the menu:

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup

Grilled Red Snapper with Thyme

Papaya Coriander Salsa

Grilled Marinated Zucchini

Rice and Tomatoes

Passion Fruit Mousses with Raspberry Swirl

Coconut Tuiles

White Chocolate Pecan Truffles

Wine:  Belvedere Russian River Valley Chardonnay ’87

Wine:

When I made this menu in February, I didn’t think I would be starting a blog, so I didn’t jot down the name of the wine we had with this menu.  For our wine, I simply picked out a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley.  We really enjoyed the wine and it complemented our menu all the way through each course.  I think the Gourmet Magazine editors might have chosen a Russian River Valley Chardonnay because of the tropical notes in this wine.  On our Chardonnay bottle’s notes they stated that there were hints of mango and other tropical flavors.  I also saw this on other Chardonnays of this region.  On the wine label look for the appellation of origin to find one from the Russian River area.  The Russian River is in the Sonoma and Mendocino County area in California.

If you are interested and enjoy the challenge of getting the menu as complete as possible to the original, then you might be interested to know that the Belvedere winery does not exist, however, it looks like C.Donatiello is the current owner of the site in Healdsburg, CA.  I have no idea how their wines are, but you can check out their web page.

If I were to do this menu again, I would try to find the Russian River Chardonnay produced by C. Donatiello.  I love the food challenge of finding all these elements to a menu.  The hunt is part of my hobby.  As I go through these menus I seem to get more and more honed in on how to create these menus so they are as true to the original intent as possible.

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup:

The soup is very good.  I used more curry powder than the recipe calls for.  Be sure to taste as you add the curry, the flavor really comes through so you may not want to add too much more.  I served it warm, as I am not a huge fan of cold soups.  If  you don’t have an immersion blender, then get one now!  I think that an immersion blender might be one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It has made my life so much easier and it will make cooking this soup easier for you too!  Stop reading this and get one.

Timing is really important to me for creating these menus.  I am the only cook in my family of four and I do the majority of the clean up.  I have found that if the menu says that you can make it in advance, then take them up on that opportunity!  For this menu you will want to make the soup, and all the desserts in advance.  This frees you up for the main course on the day of the meal.  It also de-stresses the chef!  When all I have to do is a little grilling and assembly the day of the meal, then things go very smoothly and I am happy as are my guests.

The Main Course:  Grilled Red Snapper with Thyme, Papaya Coriander Salsa, Grilled Marinated Zucchini, and the Rice and Tomatoes:

The snapper is easy to prepare and absolutely amazing with the salsa.  I didn’t even know I liked papaya!  The salsa is the stand out in the recipe!  It would be good in tacos, on chicken, just with tortilla chips.  I used a football shaped papaya, probably a Mexican variety.  My papaya was large so I only used about 1/2 of it and for the rest I cut it up, put lime and honey on it and ate it for breakfast.  Everyone ate about triple the amount of salsa on their snapper as what I served in the picture above.  Set extra on the table for everyone to enjoy.

I did not make the rice according to the instructions in the book.  Although, looking at the instructions again, I see that you can make the rice one day in advance, so I might do that.  I think it would result in a flakier dryer rice.  I had a wetter rice, but the flavor was nice and a great complement to the rest of the main course.  The zucchini needs to be marinated, but it super simple.  This main course may sound like a lot to create, but it comes together with ease and is very rewarding.

The Dessert Trio:  Passion Fruit Mousses with Raspberry Swirl, Coconut Tuiles, and White Chocolate Pecan Truffles:

Florida dessert

Ok, so the picture makes my little raspberry heart look like coagulated blood, but it really was a fantastic dessert, I promise!  Who is going to refuse THREE desserts in one sitting!  This dessert is why this menu is perfect for Valentine’s Day!

I really need to change the name of the mousse I made.  I did not use passion fruit because I could not find any.  I went all over town, but finally gave up and I used an organic apricot nectar in place of the passion fruit.  It worked perfectly and probably made the creation of this dessert a little easier as you will skip a few steps that you would have needed for the passion fruit.  Apricot is a nice complement to the raspberries, be creative and don’t let the fact that you can’t find passion fruit keep you from making this nice dessert.  Other than the substitution the recipe is great, but I thought the raspberry swirl part could have used a touch more of sugar.  Be sure to make this a day or two in advance.

The coconut tuiles are a snap to make!  I made mine well in advance and froze them until the day I made the menu.  These will take no time at all for you to make and are a very nice complement to the dessert course.  Make sure your oven is nice and hot so the coconut gets toasted.  I used unsweetened coconut.  You might want to add a little extra sugar if you use unsweetened coconut.  I did not and they came out great, but probably could have benefited from a touch more sugar.

At first I thought the white chocolate pecan truffles were a waste of time and I was not really a fan.  But, the extras stayed in the fridge for a week or so and they started to develop more texture and flavor.  When they were finally all gone, I was a little sad.  I used Cointreau rather than Brandy and it had a nice subtle orange flavor.  Try using only one tablespoon of cream because I thought they were a little too soft.  But, make these little truffles.  Just make them about two weeks in advance.  They are quick to prepare and after two weeks, worth the effort.

Remember, if you want to cook along or love these recipes and you want they for yourself you can find the recipes on Epicurious.com.  Or you can find the book for sale on Ebay.  Please feel free to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

Dinner Florida Style:  A Design Collection

Batik

This was another menu in Gourmet, in which I loved the food, but I was not crazy about the design in the photos–that is until I made the collection on Ebay.  Many of the items in the photos (pg. 16 to 19 of The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI), are not available from Ebay sellers at this moment, so I chose items that I felt were in the spirit of their design.  In the process of finding and looking up these items I always learn something about textiles, silver, or china place settings.  For example, the tablecloth in the book’s picture is credited as “Hokokai.”  The items I found on Ebay with that type of fabric were beautiful!  My deduction on that fabric is that it is a type of Indonesian batik.  I hope you love the fabric I chose for this collection as much as I do!  It is vibrant, tropical, and really reflects the spirit of this Floridian menu!

This is a small collection, but some of my other favorite finds were the pirate ship etched glass decanter, the Hollywood Regency chairs, and the turquoise blue plates.  Have fun looking through this collection and I invite you to leave your design thoughts as well as your food thoughts.

Thanks for visiting my blog.  In March we won’t be doing any “kitchen traveling” but I will be reflecting on the wonderful Easter menu from Gourmet!

January: An Informal Dinner

January:  An Informal Dinner

The first menu I made from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI,” was on page 26 to 27, titled, “An Informal Dinner.  This is in intimate and, yes, informal, family-style, eat-in-the-kitchen type of meal.  After the hectic month of December, it was really nice to have a low stress, small, cozy meal with my family.  We had our table set with tons of candles and ate purely by candlelight.  If a fireplace had been in our eating area we would have had a fire going too–it is that type of menu.   The menu is as follows:

 
 
Marinated Vegetable Salad
 
 

 

Regarding Wine Pairing:
Each menu in the Gourmet compendiums recommends a wine to accompany the meal.  However since these books are from many years past, getting the wine they recommend is impractical because of age, cost or other reasons.  I try to stay as true to the spirit of the menu as possible, however.  Being that I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination, I use one of my better skills in finding a perfect wine for my once a month meal–research.  

For this menu, the recommendation is Aldo Conterno Dolcetto d’ Alba 87.  Aldo Conterno was an Italian winemaker from 1931 to 2012.  The Dolcetto d’ Alba is a region in Italy that produces red wine.  Aldo Conterno is no longer a wine producer, so I would suggest trying to find a wine made with grapes from Dolcetto or a California Charbono which is similar to the Dolcetto.  I recommend you use wine-searcher for finding the Dolcetto or the Charbono.

 

Regarding the Food:
Now on to the details of the food.  Overall, the menu was fantastic with wonderful complementary flavors throughout.  I chose this meal for my first full menu because it was relatively simple, yet allowed me to really dive into how to prepare a multi-course menu.  I served the meal a little differently than how Gourmet lays out the menu.  I served it like this:
First course:  Marinated Vegetable Salad and Parmesan Rolls
 
Second course:  Braised Veal Shanks with White Bean Tomato Sauce and the Saffron Orzo
 
Third course:  Apple Walnut Crisp

I also allowed plenty of time in between courses.  In my opinion, that is one of the disadvantages of restaurant eating:  you are not allowed the proper amount of time in between courses.  This “Informal Dinner” is a very large and heavy dinner and should be enjoyed over the course of an evening.  I might add a WARNING at this point.  The Parmesan Rolls are very good.  If you have any bread enthusiasts, then I recommend serving only one roll at a time to this person.  I gave my husband free reign on the rolls and I thought he was going to explode!  He liked the rolls a little too much!!

Parmesan Rolls
The rolls are amazing.  I tossed the ingredients into my bread maker and they came out perfect.  To give them the flower shape, I made them in a pie pan. If you need to do these ahead of time, then I might suggest making the dough and freezing it until you are ready to make the menu.  This gives you time to work on the other items on the menu.
Marinated Vegetable Salad

The marinated vegetable salad needed a little more flavor.  I would change the amounts by doubling the red-wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and the Dijon mustard.  I also might use some cauliflower in addition to the other vegetables.  I also like Kalamata olives rather than Nicoise.

Braised Veal Shanks with White Bean Tomato Sauce

I had trouble finding veal.  None of my markets seem to carry veal anymore.  I used a regular beef shank.  The beef was good, but not great.  I felt that the flavor of the sauce was too bland and a bit uninteresting.  I wish I had a French Braiser, like a Le Creuset or other cast iron cookery, that might have affected the end product.  The gremolata that topped the beef was the highlight of this dish.  It added a much needed freshness and zest that the dish was lacking.

Saffron Orzo

The saffron orzo that is served alongside the beef is an excellent accompaniment to the shank and sauce!  The color and flavor really make this dish special.  Do not skip or substitute this dish.  It brings the whole menu together.

Apple Walnut Crisp

If you haven’t eaten too many rolls, then you will want to have a big bowl of the apple walnut crisp.  A simple and humble dessert, but it will bring you close to heaven.  Is there anything better than hot apples with a crispy topping and vanilla ice cream?  The recipe says to use a pie pan—WRONG!  Use a 13″ x 9″ pan.  There are way too many apples to fit in a pie pan.  The apples do, of course, shrink down, but using a larger pan is easier and necessary.  I don’t think my husband even got any of this dessert because my girls and I ate most of it and he was too busy almost dying from the rolls expanding in his stomach!!  His loss!

Even though none of us were thrilled with the beef, we really enjoyed this meal and how it brought us all together for a very memorable family meal with just the four of us.  If you have made this menu or plan to make this menu, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

An Informal Dinner:  A French Bistro Inspired Collection

Each menu presented in these compendiums, is accompanied by beautiful photographs of the food and a stunning table setting and room that the editors felt these meals would best be enjoyed.  The detail of these place settings and rooms is impressive to say the least.  I was so intrigued by the place settings of some of the menus that I started looking to see if the items are available on Ebay.  Often they are and if the exact item is not available, then something similar can be found.

I started making collections on Ebay of the place settings for each menu.  The place setting and room decor for this menu can be found in this collection that I created.

What is funny is when I saw this menu, I loved the food, but was not crazy about the place setting.  I finally made the Ebay collection for this menu when I started this blog.  It was only when I created the collection did I realize that this is a heavily French inspired menu and collection.  I just fell in love with the items in this collection, from the simple brown gingham napkins to the fun antique maps.  This collection includes other items like bistro chairs and tables, French crystal, and some really fun French decor.  The combination of elegance and simplicity is what makes this collection unique and inviting.  I encourage you to take a look and get inspired both with the food and with the decor.Take a moment to let me know your thoughts on the food and the Ebay collections.

Now that I know I will be taking pictures of my food for a public blog, I promise I will spend more time and thought in photographing my food!  In the meantime, bear with me and my simple phone captured images!

Thanks for visiting!!  See you soon for the next menu!

Introduction

Introduction

When my sister gave me a box full of Gourmet Magazine’s end of year compendiums, I thought they would be fun to look at and maybe get some good ideas for things to cook.  I had no idea that they would become my new obsession!  In January 2016, I challenged myself to make one full menu from one of their compendiums each month.  Thus far, this has been a fantastic exercise in home cooking and my sister encouraged me to start a blog about my adventure through these beautiful compendiums.

First a little bit about Gourmet Magazine.  According to Wikipedia, Gourmet Magazine published their first magazine in 1941 and their last in 2009.  They were based in New York City.  Gourmet Magazine had four Editors In Chief during the lifespan of their publication.  You can also check out Gourmet’s web page as well.  Their recipes are found on Epicurious.

Looking at their end of year compendiums is like listening to an old LP record:  This is what this group of people was able to produce in that time span.  It shows the food in the context of the era, shows the direction of the editor, and highlights what type of rooms these meals were to be enjoyed.  That context is something that really is absent from epicurious.com.  Although I use Epicurious all the time for the ease of finding a recipe and reading all the very useful reviews, just like I use Spotify for ease of listening to music.  But, going back to the original source for context can be a more complete experience.  Complete, whole menus and dining experiences is what I am trying to achieve this year.

I decided to cook full menus from only one of the compendiums, but I am constantly cooking and using the others for ideas and inspiration.  In this blog I will share many experiences and ideas that inspire me from these books, but I will focus mainly on “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI,” published in 1991 by Conde Nast Books.  You can find this book from Ebay sellers if you want to start cooking from this compendium.

Please join me as I dive into these books and into great food!!