Thursday, August 27, 2009

Extreme Summer Series: Summer Dinner Party

We had two of the world's finest ASH/BSI over for a summer dinner party recently, and decided unabashedly to show off our love for retro food stylings in honor of Susan and Mickey, who--unlike the more gastronomically cautious/sensible of our friends--have no problem with scooping up dollops of chicken liver mousse and sending it mouthward. Our devoted affection for our other friends notwithstanding, a couple of them are leery of the exotics--organ meats, soup that ain't hot. Shellfish. The menu was as follows, but we're only going to post the soup recipe, because we're lazy gadabouts who drink like it's summer and can no longer recall proportions.

The chicken liver mousse was excellent, and the recipe can be found here. We modified it thusly: rehydrate the apricots in Spanish brandy instead of water (water??), use Spanish brandy to marinate the livers, and replace the dried figs with a small amount of minced candied ginger. Then, if you're like us and you enjoy a nice terrine, send it mouthward. Also, if you like brilliant food photography and tasty comestibles from la belle France (who doesn't, apart from Bill O'Reilly?), you should regularly check out the rest of La Table de Nana. Gorgeous blog, and several of her recipes are translated from classic French cooking sites.


Chilled Radish Green Soup with Greek Yoghurt
Sugar Snap Pea Sal
ad with Ricotta Salata and Tarragon Vinaigrette

Terrine of Chicken Liver Mousse, Apricot, Candied Ginger, Hazelnut and Pistachio
Tomato, Garlic, and Olive Oil-Poached Shrimp w
ith Two Garden Basils

(both above items served with baguette)
Koltiska Liqueur-Glazed Nectarines with Basil and homemade Burnt Sugar Cardamom Ice Cream

INGREDIENTS (for radish greens soup):
greens, very thoroughly washed and then coarsely chopped, from 1 bunch radishes
8 large radishes, chopped
4 scallions, chopped, with white and green parts separated
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 handful chopped raw almonds
1 piece parmesan rind
2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
rich vegetable stock to cover (about 6 cups)
Salt and pepper to taste

for garnish: sliced raw radish, chives, and Greek yoghurt

1) Bring vegetable stock to boil along with all the ingredients save for the radish greens and green portion of scallions. Simmer for 40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
2) Discard bay leaves and parmesan rind.
3) Add chopped green portion of scallions and radish greens. Simmer until just cooked, about 5 minutes.
4) Blend thoroughly, either in a standing blender or with an immersion blender, until the texture is smooth and the almonds have created a creamy texture. Season to taste, with plenty of pepper.
5) Chill thoroughly.
6) Garnish with raw radishes, fresh chives, and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.
7) Open a beer. Enjoy together.*

*(We paired a beer with the main course. It was delicious. We cannot, however, remember what beer it might have been. We recollect a Belgian yeast strain and a nice, frothy champagne texture that paired wonderfully with the mousse. You'll never know what it was, with our apologies--but then again, neither will we. Such is the occasional nature of the beast known as the Dinner Party. When one begins a dinner party with Prohibition-style cocktails, once must be prepared to face the shameful public consequences.)

Food photography is a hilarious business. I'm going to say a word on the subject because we forgot the beer, and while the evening's conversational gambits ought to have been recorded for posterity, there are only so many Glenn Beck jokes that look tasteful when set in cold, hard print on the web.

We were first exposed to the utter hilarity of poor '50s and '60s food photography by the master: James Lileks, author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food. There is a living to be made excoriating the absolutely inedible quality of retro cookbooks' food photography. Or there is when you're clever enough for your headings to include phrases like "The Unbearable Sadness of Vegetables," or "Jello Confronts the Depression." A sample from the section titled "Meat! Meat! Meat!":

This would seem to be a segment of an intestine from some creature that ingested the fender from an old DeSoto. In any case, it's alarmingly aerodynamic, this meat; very modern and streamlined. Perhaps this recipe hails from the 1939 World's Fair.


Now, we try on Beer Meets Food never to offend the sensibilities of hapless internet food gawkers with such unfortunate food photography. But we made chicken liver mousse, of all things, and then we put it on my great-grandmother's china. And it was almost immediately...regrettable. I mean, the kitsch value was through the roof, like socks with ice cream sundaes printed on them, or a Thomas Kinkade print with specks of paint spackled onto it by one of his seven hundred Glowing Cottage Elves. would eat this, wouldn't you?

How about this, though?

We thought not.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Salad Nicoise


INGREDIENTS (serves two; this recipe is a simplified/modified version of the one found in Cooks Illustrated from July 1st, 2002):

(hint: you're going to be boiling/steaming quite a few things, so reuse your water--hard boil your eggs and then set them in an ice bath, then boil the potatoes and put them on a board to cool, then set your steamer above the same water and steam the beans)

(for the salad)
1 8-oz. tuna steak, rubbed with salt, pepper, chili powder, and ground coriander
4 large eggs, hard boiled and quartered
5 small new red potatoes, boiled
2 tbsp. dry vermouth
1 handful trimmed green beans, steamed and then rinsed in cold water
1 small head fresh garden lettuce, leaves torn into bite-size pieces and washed thoroughly
2 small vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced and sprinkled with salt and pepper
1 very small red onion, quartered and sliced paper-thin
1/4 cup nicoise olives, chopped

(for the vinaigrette)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup fruity extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium shallot, minced very fine
1 tbsp. minced fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. minced fresh basil
2 tsp. minced fresh marjoram (you can substitute 1 tsp. fresh oregano if you like)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey or agave

(for the beer: 1 bottle Sam Adams Imperial White)

1) Heat a cast-iron or heavy-bottomed skillet with 1 tbsp. olive oil until the oil is very hot, nearly smoking. Sear the tuna for a little over one minute on each side and then remove to a board to slice.
2) When the boiled potatoes are cool enough to handle, toss with the vermouth, add salt and pepper, and set aside.
3) Whisk all the ingredients in the vinaigrette together and taste, adjusting seasoning.
4) Combine the green beans, lettuce, and red onion in a bowl and toss with 3/4 of the vinaigrette. Plate your greens.
5) Toss the potatoes with the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange the potatoes, sliced tomatoes, olives, and eggs around the edges of the salad and season the tomatoes and eggs with a little salt and pepper. Finish by placing the cooled tuna slices over the greens.
6) Open Sam Adams Imperial White.
7) Enjoy together.

Samuel Adams--the regular version--is just really low on my personal list of beers. I think Dave Chappelle's "Samuel L. Jackson: It's My F&%$ing Beer" would probably taste better, if it existed. But we cannot overstate how successful this pairing was. Sam Imperial White is a 10.3% alcohol witbeer brewed with half wheat and half barley malts, enhanced with classic witbeer spices like coriander and orange peel, with a good dose of smooth banana sweetness on the palate. It's actually quite silky and fruity for such a high alcohol brew, which makes it deceptively drinkable, not to say dangerous. The dressing for the nicoise salad is a nice tart lemony flavor balanced by loads of herbs, and when nibbled in conjunction with the almost creamy candied orange notes of this beer, both the food and the drink taste better. Exactly what we want in a pairing. HUZZAH.

By the way, Sam Adams had been putting out more and more specialty beers in recent times, even apart from their seasonal offerings like the Cherry Wheat, for example, and if the Imperial White is any indication, they're worth a taste-gander. It would be kind of silly to call them a microbrewery--Samuel Adams is actually the largest of all American-owned beer brewers following the InBev Belgian takeover of Anheuser-Busch--but one thing Sam Adams has been doing for a long time effectively is producing drinkable high-alcohol concoctions. (Their brew Utopias was record-setting at 27% abv.)

We're growing lettuce heads for the first time this year, and they're frigging cool. I always supposed that lettuce heads in a garden would be just like the ones that come from a store--you know, when they've grown big enough they're pulled entirely out of the ground, and then it's fare-thee-well-lettuce-plant-I-shall-dress-thee-for-thy-tomb-in-my-dark-stomach. And my garden would have a sad hole in it. I thought this because I'm an American and we don't grow our own food in these parts. Food comes from a box, if at all possible, or arrives on a plate in front of me carried by a gent in a black apron already cooked. (I love when that happens.) But you can actually pluck the biggest leaves one by one from the base of the plant and the stem will just get longer, growing and producing more greenery. Some of my lettuces are getting absurdly long, curvy stalks by now, which is not only delicious but kind of surreal and amusing to look at. My lettuces, as I milk their worth, are starting to look like Dr. Seuss plants. An unlooked-for benefit, and one I'll repeat next year.