Is it wrong to use food as a reward? I mean, everyone has got everything these days. How do you say ‘well done’ in an extra special way? Beautiful baubles? Tantalizing tchotchkes? Nyet! Food is the answer. What says ‘I love you and thank you for being exemplary human beings’ better than Thomas Keller’s Five-Spice Roasted Lobster with Port-Poached Figs and Beurre Monté? Nothing else, really. So I set out to reward two individuals that I hold dear with a full-out extravagant gourmet feast.
Food has the ability to create a memory, to nourish and to enthrall. Every time I hold a dinner party, I’m acutely aware of the responsibilities that behooves each individual course. Will the dish fly and be a delectable mindblast? Will it be infamous and exhibit an ability to teleport guests to the land of taste bud ecstasy? Or will the dish be a bombastic flop and conjure up a torturous chorus of “…it’s not bad?”
I have found a recipe that can elevate you to the level of super-famous superhero. There will be fans and they will roar and they will bow. Monuments will be built in your likeness. But I’m not going to front. This recipe is strenuous, laborious and even toilsome. You have to remember that fame costs. And right here’s where you start paying…in sweat. Although it’s kitchen sweat, so it’s a clean sweat!
And now for the big reveal. The recipe comes courtesy of LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine 2013 Winter Issue. [As a side-note, can I get an Amen for this awe-inspiring publication? Every two months LCBO churns out a magazine worthy of the highest awards in the land. And they give it away for free. Unbelievable! Everyone I know loves this magazine. I hope it continues to be produced for all of eternity.] Ok NOW for the big reveal. Behold Breadbox Smoked Mackerel with Roasted Celery Chutney. It’s as delectable as it sounds. Toasty bread serves as a container for crème fraiche, mackerel (or in this case, smoked salmon) and celery chutney. Sweet, salty and with wonderful texture and creaminess. To my horror, the guests dismantled the bread box that I spent what seemed like weeks building, to dip and to scoop and to devour. I had thought that the box would function as a mere vessel. In the end, I suppose it was best that it be edible rather than serve as a simple prop.
This dish is utterly magnificent and could not have been possible without the genius that is Food & Drink Magazine. I hope that I have have done it justice. My guests certainly enjoyed it!
Once a year I like to feign that I am a real chef. Maybe Thomas Keller or possibly David Chang or perhaps even Daniel Humm. I spend a solitary night in this make believe world channeling their talent and artistry. Although I unabashedly admit that I do possess one minor ability. I have no fear in the kitchen. I am absent of any anxiety or worry of failing. While other areas of my life leave me hiding under the covers, I see the kitchen ripe for trial and experimentation. Not certain why I exude such culinary confidence but I don’t question it much. No thinking allowed, just doing. So with the help of some cookbooks to guide me and some close friends to come along for the ride, I attempt an annual fancy dinner party with the goal of honouring some of the great chefs and restaurants of our time.
First up, Duck Confit Croustades. This dish is from the Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook. A baguette smeared with dijon, topped with duck confit, fleur de sel, olive oil and parsley. Simple and delicious.
|Croustades with duck confit|
The next course was foie gras with a maple balsamic reduction. This recipe is by Daniel LaGarde, Chef
Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu. Foie gras (with black truffles) set on sautéed apples, strawberries, shallots and basil and served with a maple balsamic reduction. This was my favourite dish of the night.
|Seared foie gras with black truffles and maple balsamic reduction|
The third course was from the Eleven Madison Park cookbook. This restaurant currently sits at #10 on Restaurant Magazine’s list of best restaurants in the world. The recipe of Beet Salad with Chèvre Frais and Caraway was by far the most challenging dish of the night. It took a while to bring together the roasted beets, the goat cheese mousse, the caraway tuiles, the beet raspberry vinaigrette and the rye crumble, but it was certainly well worth the effort as my guests raved about this creation. The variety of textures and tastes made this dish unique and memorable.
|Beet salad with chèvre frais and caraway|
|A side view of the beet salad|
My second favourite chef of all time is Thomas Keller, he of French Laundry and Per Se fame (Julia Child is my favourite). I’ve turned to the The French Laundry Cookbook on numerous occasions and it has never let me down. For the the main course, the recipe I chose was the Butter-Poached Lobster with Creamy Lobster Broth and Mascarpone-Enriched Orzo. Some of the interesting features of this recipe included the lobster broth (made form scratch), the beurre monté (emulsified butter), the coral oil (canola oil infused with lobster roe) and the parmesan crisp (mine were a bit oversized but I have trouble resisting their appeal). I do hope that I was able to bring some French Laundry justice to this dish. My guests were rather pleased with the results.
|Butter-poached lobster with creamy lobster broth and mascarpone-enriched orzo|
|A top view of the lobster|
Dessert is my favourite part of the meal to eat but my least favourite to cook. Finding something to complement such a rich repast was not easy. I went with a recipe from LCBO’s Food & Drink magazine, Coconut Lime Mousse with Berries. It was a good counterpart to the other dishes and a bang-up way to end the meal.
|Food & Drink’s Coconut Lime Mousse with Berries|
Another year passes, another fancy dinner party is now under my belt. I am forever grateful to have friends that endure my culinary experiments. It could all go horribly wrong and yet they are forever willing to weather the gastronomic storm with me. The great chefs of our time are my inspiration. But the people in my life are truly what drive me to do better and be better.
The New York Times reported recently that the price of lobster has hit a 40-year low. A combo of warm weather and good conservation techniques has led to a record lobster harvest. An abundance of inexpensive lobster is a gift that doesn’t come around too often. Why not take advantage of this lobster bounty by serving your guests a knockout dish?
Dating back to 2008, this recipe is courtesy of the always brilliant LCBO Food & Drink magazine. Lobster, mango, avocado, cilantro, mint, lime and a host of other ingredients make up Thai marinated lobster with avocado and hearts of palm. I’ve served up this recipe on a number of occasions and it has elicited infinite praise and even marriage proposals. One guest proclaimed it to be the best thing he ever ate. Try this recipe for yourself and let me know what you think.