D and I do not give dinner parties very often. The cost, partly financial but mainly physical and emotional, is just too high.
D is something of a perfectionist, you see. No, forget about "something of". He is a perfectionist. He wants to produce multi course tasting menus which are on a par with those you might expect to emerge from a Michelin starred kitchen. He sometimes forgets to take into account that a) we are not professional chefs, b) we do not have professional equipment but c) we do have day jobs and d) a very small kitchen indeed. This makes him grumpy. He feels he has failed his guests. I, too, get grumpy - mainly because I just want to have another glass of wine and relax over my dinner. Perfectionism is not an affliction from which I suffer.
Anyway, this weekend we designed a menu of dishes inspired by food we ate in New York. Some worked better than others but overall, I thought it was pretty good and I think our guests enjoyed it too, even though Marco Pierre White Junior had a brief meltdown over some missing horseradish.
On arrival - truffle popcorn and cheese "cookies". The truffle and rosemary popcorn was a nibble we came across in our NYC watering hole of choice, Third Avenue Alehouse. To recreate, I mixed the kernels with truffle salt and dried rosemary (not fresh - it just caught horribly when I tried it) before popping in oil. I tossed the popcorn in butter melted together with truffle oil just before serving and sprinkled it with a little extra truffle salt. This is a decadent, dangerously moreish snack - perfect with an aperitif.
The "cookies" were our nod to EMP's black and white cookie nibble. When we ate those, you see, we jokingly said that they tasted like the best Ritz crackers and Primula you could have. So, er, our guests actually got Ritz crackers and Primula. There were although shavings of apple and sharp cheddar in there.
Pan fried mushrooms and squash mixed with dried cranberries and then topped with a rich, thick squash puree flavoured with herbs. This was our version of EMP's nod to New England in the Fall.
Smoked sturgeon sabayon drizzled with chive oil and served with cream cheese and caviar rye toasts. The sabayon was taken directly from the Eleven Madison Park book and, predictably, tasted absolutely divine. D used a milk frother when reheating it to achieve a light texture which worked beautifully.
I think the matching wine must have got to the evening's official photographer (who, to be fair, was also head chef, waiter and sommelier) as the photos become a bit fewer and further between at this point. So, you don't get to see the carrot tartare where carrots were lightly poached in chicken stock and butter, roughly chopped to achieve the tartare texture (EMP use an old fashioned meat grinder) and then served with raw quails' egg yolks, and a selection of condiments. Nor will you be able to note that horseradish was not among the condiments and thus it was the carrot was served to the sound jaw grinding. I liked it though - it is such a fresh, clever dish.
For the meat course, it had to be our take on the classic American deli sandwich, the Reuben: home made corned beef on baked circles of sourdough bread, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and lashings of Russian mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was delicious - flavoured with tomato ketchup (it is sweeter than tomato puree), horseradish, grated shallot and dill. D was unhappy with the presentation of this dish but it tasted like an absolute dream and it is difficult to make the elements of a sandwich look pretty.
For cheese we again took inspiration from EMP where we were served a single cheese alongside the beer in which the rind had been washed. We went for Stinking Bishop with a Perry accompaniment which worked beautifully and, in place of biscuits, baked pretzels from Paul Hollywood's recipe that worked like an absolute charm - I would urge you to give them a go if you, um, like pretzels.
Onto sweet courses and D loves to do a hot and cold cocktail as a pre dessert - his layered g&t is a thing of genius. The hot and cold Manhattan didn't work quite as well as there was too much alcohol in the granita for it to freeze properly but it still looked pretty and tasted delicious.
Finally, peanut butter and jelly cheesecake pots - I loved these, and I don't really like peanut butter. We made bars from this recipe (highly recommended) but wanted to serve it slightly deconstructed in a more restaurant (pretentious) style, so layered pieces of it up with fresh raspberries and salted peanuts before topping with a drizzle of melted jam and some cream. About a squillion pro points, wouldn't you say? Well worth it though.
We had intended to sample some chocolate covered salted pretzels with coffee but everyone was reeling slightly by now so we decamped to the sofa to rub stomachs and hide from the washing up. I ate one for breakfast the next day though and can tell you that they are rather good - now if only Dean and Deluca could be persuaded to open a Leeds branch my cup would runneth over.
We are hoping to tempt my brother and sister in law over when they are next up North as some of these dishes definitely bear repeating. And D's frazzled nerves should have repaired themselves by then. Of course, if he were writing he would tell you that he just can't get the staff, and he would have a very fair point. It turns out I do bake a damn fine pretzel though.