Since we were once again at Verses on New Year’s Eve, this year’s gourmet dinner we cook ourselves occurred on January 2. (January 1, believe it or not, Jean went canoeing.)
We began with a glass of Ice Cuvée from Peller Estates. This is a Champagne-style sparkling wine (mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) that is accented with a bit of Vidal ice wine. The Champagne taste definitely predominates; this is not a sweet drink. But the ice wine does add a nice sweet edge to it. It’s a good starter.
Our first course highlighted wild mushroms. First up was buffalo mozarella with bruschetta of wild mushrooms. This was a recipe by Lucy Waverman, based on an item from Vancouver’s Cibo Trattoria. The bread used was sourdough, a fair amount of fresh garlic was involved, olive oil and balsamic vinegar participated, and the whole thing was topped with pecorino cheese. The result was a lot of flavor, but it all seemed to play nicely together. Though if we tried it again, we might try grating rather than shaving the pecorino.
The wine was going to be a Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, but at the last minute I substituted this John Tyler Pinot Noir that we’d also purchased in California. This is a very small winery, so their wines are unlikely to ever show up in the LCBO. It’s a really nice Pinot. Not quite the wow factors of the Rodney Strong Estate Pinot, but still very smooth, and very good with food.
We also had—unpictured because soup just looks like soup—a wild rice and mushroom soup, recipe courtesy of Alive magazine. This was mostly wild mushrooms with a bit of carrot, onion, celery (I used celery root), with wild rice, cooked in vegetable broth with a bit of red wine. It turned out very nice as well, once seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper.
And both recipes were actually pretty quick and easy to make. Because of the wild rice, though, the soup requires an hour’s cooking time.
Next up was Pan-Seared Arctic Char with Olives and Potatoes, courtesy of Fine Cooking magazine. Only we couldn’t find arctic char, so we substituted a nice-looking rainbow trout from TJ’s Seafood. This was really a plain simple recipe, where the fish is just salted and peppered and fried in a bit of olive oil, while the potatoes and sliced and boiled for a short time, then also fried, along with Kalamata olives and fresh rosemary. Then it’s all seasoned with balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Proves you don’t need complicated techniques to make great food, because it was delicious.
With this, we served a white Chateauneuf-du-pape that we had brought back from Provence. While I don’t remember being that blown away by this type of wine on that trip, did it ever taste wonderful last night. Very complex, very delicious. Possibly the best of the night.
The one item I’d decided in advance I wanted to attempt this year was duck ravioli. I found the recipe we used just via Google; it was called Duck confit and mashed potato ravioli with white truffle sauce. It wasn’t particularly difficult, but it was time-consuming. You had to make the mashed potatoes, skin the duck confit and chop up the duck meat, crisp up the skin, then warm up the meat and combine it with the potatoes, and stuff everything into won ton wrappers. (And I’m not sure what this was about, but we have a ton of stuffing left!)
The way we manage this meal overall, by the way, is to do as much in advance as possible in the afternoon, then just do the final cooking of each course as we go through the evening. The final touches for duck ravioli are just to boil the raviolis, and make the truffle sauce. Which is just unsalted butter browned and then combined with truffle oil and truffle paste. And you top the raviolis with the previously crisped skin.
As a side dish (we need our veg), we made Jamie Oliver’s sweet and sour squash recipe. This would be from his Cook with Jamie cookbook. It involves chopping the squash into “finger”-sized pieces (not sure food should be compared to body parts), and basically steaming, then frying it with red onion, garlic, thyme, raisins, pine nuts (we had to use almonds), and lots of parsley. The sweet and sour is created with balsamic and white wine vinegar, and sugar.
That was a slightly weird food combo, so we settled on a blended red wine: the 2005 Stratus Red. It’s a pleasant yet complex wine, and probably suited the food as well as anything could.
We were pretty proud of ourselves for managing our portions throughout such that there was still room for a modest serving of dessert. (Also, we now have a lot of leftovers—today will be the best leftover day ever!) For this we made Almond-scented chocolate cannoli, using an old recipe from Shape magazine. So it’s a light-ish dessert, with light ricotta and light Cool Whip combined with a bit of almond extract and a few mini chocolates chips and stuffed into a cannoli shell (that we bought; didn’t make).
And on the side, we made Chili Chocolate Truffles, using a recipe from LCBO magazine (Winter 2006). So it’s whipped cream, butter, and bittersweet chocolate flavored with ancho chili power and honey, chilled and rolled in either grated white chocolate or cocoa powder.
These were served with a 2000 Vintage port from Quinta de la Rosa, a lovely smooth drink. The cannolis had a nice cheesy, chocolate, almond taste (as one might expect, I suppose) and the chili in the truffles was very subtle, just giving a slight bite to the sweetness.