I am happy to report that the supper party on Saturday was a smashing success!
Except for the minor mishap that literally smashed one of our light fixtures...
Last week, as some of you may recall, we had a heat wave with temperatures in the high nineties for a couple of days. Silly me, I chilled the fancy Pinot that James bought to save it from the heat, but didn't think to put the sparkling wine in the fridge. Let's just say they put those cages over the corks for good reason. On the first bottle, the cork shot harmlessly into the ceiling. Unfortunately, James opened the second one directly under the light fixture hanging over the ice bucket and snacks. Glass everywhere. Fortunately not in the food though. I tried to replace it but no such luck - they were clearanced three weeks ago at Lowes. I opened the third bottle outside, and I've never seen anything like it - once the cage was removed, the cork just launched itself like a rocket. If anyone had been standing in the way, it definitely would have left a mark. I am assuming it had something to do with the heat - we've never had something like that happen before. Luckily the wine was fine though. We had three couples over, our friends Brandon and Ally, Marc and Susan, and new friends Mendy and Mike. Mendy and James went to high school together many moons ago, and reconnected on MySpace, of all places. They have been corresponding for a while, and we decided it was high time we all met.
For our pre-dinner cocktail nibbles, we had Picholine olives, Pepadew goat cheese with flatbread crackers, and toasted almonds. The olives came from Whole Foods and the rest from Trader Joes. Pepadew goat cheese is fresh goat cheese blended with sweet pickled red peppers. The Mediterranean flavors went well with the Gloria Ferrer Brut - or what was left of it anyway!
The first course was a corn soup I made using a recipe in the Boulevard cookbook. I bought the corn on Friday at Chino's in Rancho Santa Fe. The produce there was amazing as always. I also bought herbs and more tomatoes. They had corn with Huitlacoche growing on it beautiful berries, eggplants, peppers, etc. I put together this centerpiece with some of it and some from our Be Wise box this week.
The soup was good, but for the amount of trouble I'm honestly not sure it was worth it. It was a two day process involving quite a lot of manual labor - shucking the corn, cutting the kernels off the cobs, making a stock out of the cobs - then straining that, and boiling that stock over another set of cobs before going on to finish the soup. Mercifully, it cooks quickly from that point forward.
I also had a few problems with the recipe (and the cookbook in general - but we'll talk about that another time). It called for straining the soup through a fine mesh sieve, but that would leave only broth. I ended up pureeing the heck out of it, straining it, and putting about half of the pureed corn back in for body. Otherwise, it would have been far too thin. The recipe also specified a much shorter cooking time for the stock than seemed appropriate. 45 minutes was not nearly enough time. I wound up cooking the stock the first time around for about an hour, and the second time around for another hour. The suggested times were 45 minutes the first time, and only 30 the second (after bringing it to a simmer).
The other half of the first course were little gougere "blt" sandwiches - made with a recipe from the Zuni Cafe cookbook. This recipe didn't let me down ingredient-wise, but I was glad I had read some other recipes before I started so I knew that I could beat the eggs into the dough with my Kitchen Aid instead of trying to do it by hand. Gougere are made with Pate a Choux, a pastry dough made by bringing butter, water and salt to a simmer, beating in flour - and then beating in eggs one at a time. This same dough is used to make cream puffs and beignets (when fried). The eggs don't really want to blend into the buttery dough - so stirring them in is very difficult. The paddle attachment on the Kitchen Aid totally saved me. I beat in some cheese and chives and a pinch of cayenne and piped them onto the baking tray (practicing what I learned in school) in an oblong shape (I would do them more round if I had it to do over - they looked a bit too much like little hot dog buns!) I split them and stuffed them with bacon, tomatoes and a leaf of lettuce, piled them into a basket and passed them with the soup. They looked cute, but given the amount of labor that went into making the dough from scratch, frying multiple batches of bacon and putting them together, they just really weren't worth the trouble. I also think my gougere were a little "eggy" - when they got cold they were a bit rubbery. The bang for the buck factor was a bit low for my money. Sorry no pictures, I was too busy dishing up the food to photograph it in the process.
The next course was the Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, also from the Zuni cookbook. This was one of the highlights of the evening and something I will definitely make again. The Zuni cookbook includes detailed instructions on how to do this - but they can all be boiled down to a fairly simple formula. I will post more on this later, because frankly this dish deserves its own post. Very easy, very good - and even better left over.
For dessert, I went back to the Boulevard cookbook. Chocolate Cherry Shortcakes with vanilla ice cream. The only change I made to the menu was to use homemade fudge sauce and a warm cherry syrup instead of the cherries jubilee. I just couldn't find fresh cherries. I suppose I could have used frozen, but that seemed like it would defeat the purpose. I was actually kicking myself for not buying the gorgeous berries they had at Chino's and using them instead of cherries.
The shortcake recipe also presented me with some problems though. The dough was much too soft and spread more than it should have. This may have been my fault - because I didn't buy self-rising flour as called for, but substituted by stirring in baking powder and salt. I used a whole 3 teaspoons baking powder though, so really I think it should have worked. I wasn't able to split the shortcakes as pictured in the lovely photos, but I did top them with the vanilla ice cream (using their recipe but subbing half and half for cream) and my own cherry syrup and some spectacular hot fudge sauce made from a recipe in the back of the book. The sauce was very easy and delicious.
After dessert, we had some little mignardises and espresso. I bought some Parisian macaroons from the only source in San Diego that I know of - Opera Patisserie, and served them with the brownies I made the other day - cut into tiny bite sized chunks, and some homemade almond crunch. I was going for an almond croquant but wound up with something more like toffee. It was easy and good though. These three items also went into the little favor boxes that everyone took home.
The wine pairings worked out well. We had Frog Hollow "Eye of the Toad" Pinot Rose with the soup, and Sanford Pinot with the main course. For dessert we had a bottle of "Rosie Rabbit" from Rosenbloom, a late harvest Zinfandel.
We put away quite a bit of the vino too, I must say. Between eight people, we downed four bottles of sparkling wine, one bottle of Riesling, two bottles of Rose, three bottles of Pinot, and two bottles of dessert wine. One of the bottles of sparkling wine was thoughtfully supplied by Mendy - who also brought the Riesling and a bottle of blueberry wine (labeled "semi sweet table wine") - which we made a dent in, despite everyone's laughing about it. There is an important lesson here. Always buy at least one more bottle of wine than you think you will need.
I think everyone had a good time, and all of the food came out more or less the way it was supposed to, which is really all you can ask. I was pleased and had a lot of fun doing it. I will post the recipes that bear repeating this week so please check back... you really must try that Zuni chicken!
Update: The recipe for Zuni chicken has been posted here, and the recipe for the Hot Fudge Sauce is here.