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New year, new gourmet dinner

Some years ago, DH and I started cooking a gourmet dinner on New Year’s Eve — yes, just for the two of us. (Everyone seems to find that odd, but believe me, when your friends all start having babies… You start doing a lot of things just the two of you!)

Last year, that dinner didn’t quite land on New Year’s Eve itself, and this year it was even later. DH had call duty over New Year’s weekend, so we picked the weekend after for our dinner. That way, there could be wine.

First course: Mushroom and cappuccino velouté

Source: The ever-cheery sounding Cooking with Foods That Fight Cancer

Wine: Stoneleigh 2006 Pinot Noir (New Zealand)

Certainly the healthiest item of the meal, the soup was also very easy to make: Sauté mushrooms, garlic, and shallots in olive oil, add good-quality chicken stock and let simmer, add fresh basil and blend, season with sesame, then froth milk and put on top. We don’t have a proper “milk frother”, though, so that wasn’t as foamy as it might have been.

But since shitake mushrooms are delicious, the soup was delicious. The wine was also very nice, living up to its reputation as a really good Pinot Noir for less than $20 a bottle. Fruity but subtle, complementing the earthiness of the mushrooms nicely.

Second course: Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter Sauce

Source: LCBO — Squash ravioli, Sage butter sauce

Wine: Chateau des Charmes St. David’s Bench Chardonnay (Ontario)

I’d been wanting to try making ravioli for a while, and found these two LCBO recipes on hand. What we made was a bit of a combination of both.

I had my doubt about the thing when the roasted squash ended up a bit overcooked, with burnt edges; was the whole thing going to end up tasting charcoal-y? Plus, one squash didn’t seem to provide quite enough material, so we supplemented with can pumpkin.

Actually stuffing the things, which I had been dreading, was actually much easier than expected. And amazingly (to me), almost none came apart in cooking, and the won tons, which seems so doughy when raw, turned very light after cooking.

The butter sauce was also cause for some concern enroute. (And can I say, that was a shocking amount of butter! Not how I usually cook!) It was supposed to get light brown; it kind of went beyond that, to a darker colour. Was it going to taste all charcoal-y?

But everything was delicious. No charcoal accents at all. And the detail of crisping the sage leaves in olive oil added a really cool texture to the whole thing.

The wine, recommended by LCBO, did match the food very nicely. It took on a completely different, fuller character, compared with drinking it alone.

Main course: Macademia-Crusted Lamb with Celery Root-Fennel Mash and Coconut Mango Chutney

Source: LCBO again, their Holiday 2004 issue. (Oddly, none of these recipes seem to be on the website.)

Wine: Clos des Brusquières 2003 Chateauneuf du Pape (France)

This recipe was a last-minute substitution when we weren’t able to get our hands on sushi-grade tuna. The idea was accompanying honey-encrusted French-cut lamb chops with a fairly subtle-flavored mash and a very strongly flavored chutney.

None of this was hard to make, but it did take a while. DH handled the mash, which involved a couple of vegetables we don’t cook with very often: the ugly celery root and a fennel bulb (with some other flavorings, like garlic and sea salt). The result was very pleasant-tasting.

The chutney was all strong flavors: sugar, vinegar, chili, ginger, mango, cinnamon, coconut, mint, raisins, lime. It seemed like such a hodge-podge, and the color ended up so odd (brownish), that I was actually surprised how good it tasted!

The main event lamb, by comparison, was a master of simplicity. And it all worked together with the wine, which was very nice, as those tend to be. (And yes, we were feeling a little tipsy at this point, though by no means getting close to finishing any of the bottles!)

Dessert: Pumpkin-Wild Blueberry Pie

Source: Michael Stadtlander’s The Heaven on Earth Project

Wine: Cave Spring’s 2006 Late Harvest Riesling (Ontario)

Michael Stadtlander is considered one of the best chefs in the world. He runs a restaurant out of his own home. It’s extremely difficult to get reservations there now, but many years, we were able to. (We just had to book four months in advance. Seriously.) And it was, indeed, a sublime experience.

We bought his book a few months ago and — guess what? — a lot of the recipes are really hard to make. But this pie was approachable, and this seemed a good time to try.

I didn’t compromise on it too much. I used can pumpkin instead of cooking my own, and the blueberry glaze seemed to require the sacrifice of too many delicious wild blueberries to too little input on the pie. But I did follow pastry recipe, and was pleased how easy it was to mix. Rolling got a bit sticky (the crust had sugar and vanilla in it), but adding flour made that work. No amounts were given for the various spices in the pumpkin pie, so I just threw in what seemed like a reasonable amount of each.

So if not entire Statlander-esque in the end, it still turned out very good. Pumpkin and wild blueberry (frozen after we bought them up North this summer) is a good combination. And the Riesling had about the right amount of sweetness to match.

Pie was even better the next day when it had had a chance to chill longer.


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New Year’s Eve Eve dinner

For the past few years, our New Year’s Eve activity has been to prepare a gourmet dinner for two. This year, however, Jean was interested in going to Verses for their New Year’s Eve dinner. So, we decided to do our gourmet dinner the day before — on New Year’s Eve Eve. Time will tell how wise it was to plan on two multi-course meals in a row.

In the meantime, this year we remembered the request to post pictures along with descriptions of what we made for dinner.

Cranberry Scones with StiltonAppetizer: Dried Cranberry Scones with Stilton

Source: LCBO Food and Drink Magazine, Holiday 2005

Matching “wine”: Fonseca vintage 1988 port

Description: Baked scones with dried cranberries, cut in half and filled with cranberry-orange marmalade, topped with Stilton cheese, more dried cranberries, and chives.

Assessment: The Stilton really “pops”, but is nicely accompanied with the cranberry and the touch of chives. The scones turned out really well–fluffy and tasty. Both scones and marmalade were made the day before, which meant only assembly was required.

The port was amazing–complex flavours, smooth going down but a little bite afterward. And a good match for the cheese.

Apple and oyster mushroom salad with Pinot NoirSalad: Apple and oyster mushroom salad

Source: Cooking with Foods That Fight Cancer (cheery, huh)

Matching wine: NZ Kim Crawford pinot noir (Vintages)

Description: Apples and oyster mushrooms cooked in a little butter and placed over arugula coated with olive oil and cider vinegar. Topped with walnuts.

Assessment: The mushrooms, in particular, tasted quite nice, and were well offset by the apples, argula, and walnuts. The Pinot Noir smoke was a good match for the mushrooms, as hoped.

Scallops in lemon-shallot sauce and Sauvignon BlancFish course: Lemon-Shallot Scallops with Sugar Snap Peas

Source: Cooking Light Magazine, June 2002

Martching Wine: NZ Whitecliff Sauvignon Blanc

Description: Scallops are first pan-seared in a little olive oil, then shallots and garlic are cooked in a little butter, and simmered in white wine. Scallops are then tossed with the sauce and topped with fresh parsley.

Sugar snap peas are simply steamed.

Assessment: Simple but effective. The key is to not overcook anything. The Sauvignon Blanc is a typical NZ type, with a nice bite to it.

Loin of lamb with potatoes and Spanish red wineMeat course: Loin of lamb with fresh herbs, served with oven fries and cinnamon sweet potatoes

Source: A Taste of Quebec Cookbook (lamb), The Best Light Recipe Cookbook (oven fries), LCBO Food and Drink Magazine, Holiday 2002 (sweet potatoes)

Accompanying wine: Spanish Merlot-Cabernet Sauvignon blend (not available in Canada; we brought it back from Spain)

Description: The boneless lamb is pan-seared, then baked at 450. Meanwhile, a red wine, beef stock, and fresh herb sauce is prepared for it. The oven fries basically involve soaking the cut potatoes, then mixing them with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baking them. The sweet potatoes are cut into disks and baked. They get topped with a mix of brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt for the last 10 minutes or so.

Assessment: I’d never cooked lamb before, but this turned out quite well–nice flavour, not overdone, good sauce. I had done the two potato recipes before, and they both turned out fine, even though we had to compromise on cooking times and temperatures in order to get everything done together.

The wine was really fantastic. Big and fruity but not overwhelming.

Chocolate torte with port sauceDessert: Chocolate Torte with Dried-Cherry Port Sauce

Source: LCBO Food and Wine Magazine, Holiday 2004

Accompanying “wine”: We went back to the port!

Description: A totally decadent mixture of quality chocolate, butter, and eggs, topped with a port sauce mixed with dried cherries. Not too hard to make, and all doable the day before. Served with vanilla ice cream as well.

Assessment: We had to wait a bit before digging into this, but it was certainly good. And a small piece is perfectly satisfying.

Larger-size and a few extra images posted at Picasa: http://picasaweb.google.com/culture.guru/NewYears2008GourmetDinner