Friday, March 5, 2010

dinner for the beloved and bethrothed

So its official, my brother is engaged and I cooked the dinner to celebrate the occasion. As with any menu I let inspiration lead the way. I let myself be moved to what to cook. This night was no exception. It had to be grand, but humble and accessible; I wasn’t cooking for a group of gourmands. There were nine of us including myself, all very close friends. I set my longest table with white butcher paper; I filled three big mason jars with flowers, and then I went to market. Cambridge is a gourmand’s delight; it’s easy to understand why Julia Child made this town her home for so many years.

Savnors is our local butcher, it was my first stop. The staff is knowledgeable and encouraging. When I explained my use for the Foie Gras the young butcher suggested the “B” grade, slightly cheaper but a good product for charcuterie applications. So from there I walked out with two chicken legs, two onces of Foie gras, one Large Lamb Top Round and a gallon of Massachusetts apple cider.

Next stop was New Deal Fish Market; Carl the owner has a passion for fish that transcends the ages. Fish is in his blood, New Deal has been around since 1928. Again he has an enthusiasm for his clients and his product that gets me excited about shopping there. Gloucester Monkfish was my intention but alas the day boats didn't go out so, Carl sold me Maryland Stripped Bass. It seemed like a good answer.

Then it was on to Christina’s; a locally owned spice/dried goods specialty shop and ice cream shop. It's a fun place to explore and dig around. Every time I'm in there I find some new product I've never seen before. For instance who knew that in south Indian cuisine they use dried mango powder as a seasoning. For this visit I needed dried beans, pink peppercorns, a vanilla bean, bulghur wheat, Muscovado sugar and ginger ice cream.

Finally I made my stop at Ho Foods. I know there is controversy behind the giant that keeps us fed in the winter. From June until October we are a blessed ten minute bike ride from a farmers market any day of the week. But during winter for product that you haven’t cellared, canned of frozen, California produce at Ho Foods is where it’s at. The list was long; beets for the Chèvre canapé; artichokes and cipollini onions, to garnish the lamb course; a baby eggplant to substitute the meat course for our dear vegetarian friend; mushrooms and local arugula for the salade, and pineapple for the dessert.

Home to my kitchen I raced; there I brewed some black tea, set the music up for some hard pounding house, wrote out a draft menu and a prep list, then my hands began to fly. (I confess during the prep of this dinner I had a few hours of help from a dear friend.) The first thing I did was get the beans cooking. First I gave them a hot soak and then in the oven with carrot, thyme, garlic, and a big splash of apple cider. Next I worked on the Galantine; I seared the Foie Gras then diced it into small bits and set it away to cool. I boned and skinned the chicken legs, then diced and marinated the meat and finally put it through a meat grinder. Once ground I folded in the diced Foie Gras, an egg, chopped herbs and then wrapped it all up in the chicken skin and poached it very slowly in a water bath.

The next project was to get some vegetables cooking. The artichokes and cipollini needed cleaning and then slowly cooked in a mixture of olive oil and aromatics. Beets were roasted “en papillote”, which means they were put into a foil envelope with olive oil and seasonings, and then roasted in the oven. The foil packet trapped the moisture that was produced by the steamy beets, inflating the packet and in a sense steaming the beets in their own juices. I cut an eggplant in half, scored the cut surface, moistened it with olive oil, rubbed it with cumin and roasted it in a hot oven, until the outside was almost charred and the inside was molten goodness.

The pound cake was next. Muscovado sugar comes from Mauritius , it is a dark brown sugar loaded with complexity and intrigue. So I beat together the butter and sugar until it was fluffy, then added the eggs one at a time; and finally the flour with some baking powder too. Into a long skinny mould it went, and 325 for about 40 minutes. After that was in the oven my focus went into the butchery. Both the lamb and bass wanted some attention. The lamb needed some trimming, portioning and then marinating. I marinated it in olive oil, cumin, garlic, coriander, smoked cinnamon and chili powder. (Generally I buy my olive oil and some Middle Eastern ingredients like yoghurt and feta in Watertown at Arax. It’s a little Lebanese/Armenian family run market.) The bass needed more love. First I pin boned it, then skinned it, cut it into logs and seasoned it. Then I sliced some bacon, laid it out neatly on plastic wrap, and wrapped the bass up. I tied off the plastic wrap ends and left it to be cooked later.

I then realized I had a load of mushrooms that needed cleaning for the salade. So as I cleaned mushrooms I also started the garlic soubise. I peeled the garlic, then blanched it three times,( I started it in cold water and brought it to a boil and then refreshed it with fresh cold water and started again) this takes away some of the potent sulfuric nature of garlic and leaves behind the sweet and rich goodness. I then added a peeled potato, some time and covered it with milk and let it simmer for about 30 minutes until all was cooked. I drained the liquid put the solids through a food mill and finished it with some olive oil.

With the soubise done and the mushrooms cleaned, I turned my attention back to the apartment making sure it was ready to receive guests. I straightened the cans on our wall of provisions in the living room, I swept the floors, dimmed the lights and I switched the music to Spanish guitar. Not a moment too soon as the bride and groom to be would momentarily ARRIVE. I sent the groom back out for some baguette and additional beverages, snuck the pineapple into the oven for dessert and started on the canapés. Soon the rest of the guests arrived and the party started. And now I give you the written menu presented to my guests on Sunday February Twenty First.

Trevor H. Smith in cooperation with Orrin and Eustis Provisions

Celebrates the engagement of Nathan Scott Smith and Emily Brook Reynolds


Sweet/Salty Almonds and Cashews

Chèvre and Golden Beet

Chicken and Foie Gras Galantine

Graber Olives, (a 4 generation Smith family tradition)


Warm Salade of Arugula, Wild Mushrooms, Poached Egg and Garlic Soubise


Garbure with Maryland Stripped Bass wrapped in House Smoked Bacon


Roast Top Round of Lamb with Artichoke and Cipollini Confit, Spicy Yoghurt, Bulghur, and house-made Preserved Lemon and Pickled Pepper


Oven Roasted Pineapple with Muscovado Pound Cake, Pink Peppercorns, Ginger Ice Cream and August Blueberry Preserves

Martinelli's sparkling apple cider