Friday, December 12, 2008

Lesson 4: Cooking and Eating

Entertaining adds an element of complexity to any meal.

Adding to the complexity of entertaing was also trying to ensure that there was enough food for 12 people. Each menu serves 6, therefore I tried to double each recipe. My math wasn't so hot on doubling the recipe for the Swiss Chard Gratin, however, being such a rich dish, there was plenty for everyone.

My wife brought a dose of reality to the situation as well, with her comment (more of a rhetorical question) "Why are you trying to cook a meal you have never practiced for a group of people you like? What if you mess up?" I think I addressed this briefly in my first post about Lesson 4, but I was also a bit nervous and knew there was great risk involved. The group, I felt confident enough, would be understanding, and I could probably find enough other stuff to feed them around the house if total dissaster struck. I didn't have a solid plan B, but I didn't need one!

This doesn't mean there wasn't panic, dissorganization, or concern along the way. My highest level of panic set in right before people started showing up--I was alone, there were tons of things I was attempting to do all at once, and I hadn't extended the table, nor collected enough chairs for everyone. I think the biggest problem, in addition to not setting up the table before hand, was that this menu had so many steps compared to past menus. These included steps that took a great deal of time, so planning the order to do everything was crucial.

I began about 3:30pm after arriving home early from work. The first thing was to set the second batch of sorbet to mix again so that it would have enough time to freeze before dessert time. I had to refreeze the second batch because I had miscalculated the fact that the freezer bowl needed to be refrozen between batches of ice cream.  For some reason I thought I could make two batches back to back on Thursday night, however finding out that the bowl wasn't cold enough, I was left with one batch of incredibly great sorbet and one batch of sugary liquid that froze much like italian ice.  This second batch I thawed on Friday and remixed in the ice cream mixer to find that it was extra light, overflowing the container, and had a much better texture than the first batch, made according to the recipe. So what turned out to be a mistake made out as a big success! Comparing the two textures, I think the concensous was that the twice mixed batch was in fact the best.

After doing the dessert I worked on the crepes, both soaking the salmon in milk (2 hours needed) and making the crepe batter to rest for at least 30 minutes. 

Mushrooms for Swiss Chard Gratin

The swiss chard had to be separated, the leaves blanched, the stalks peeled and boiled, mushrooms sauted, and bachamel sauce made.  As I was working on the bachamel sauce, I was running around like crazy.  The bachamel needed to be watched closely, at the same time that I needed to finish the lamb and get it in the oven. 

Prepping the Lamb

This was the time that I started to get freaked out a bit about setting up the table and being ready for the guests. I solved the issue by getting the table done, finished the lamb to get it into the oven, and then breathing a sigh of relief, all was a bit calmer when people began arriving.

Leg of Lamb Almost Ready to Cook

My first guests were friends that took all of the pictures on today's blog. They were supposed to show me how to better use my point and shoot camera, and were able to give me a few clues about places for lighting. I didn't really have all that much time to have them show me how to use any settings or give other suggestions. Instead, they took some great pictures as I worked, and I put them to work grating the cheese and I did have them help with the crepes as an extra hand was definitely needed to get those done in a timely fashion. In return for the great pictures I fed them a great meal, but they wanted some free publicity as if you like the pictures on the blog today, visit applemoon photography.

As more people arrived I started the crepes and discovered that two pans were needed and an extra set of hands helped as well. Once the crepes were cooked it was easy to roll them up with the salmon, top them with creme fraiche, broil them and serve them hot. We stood around the kitchen to eat these as appetizers, which allowed me to be part of the festivities while still getting everything together for dinner.

Crepes With Just the Right amount of Creme Fraiche

Part of the timing for this recipe worked out in that the swiss chard gratin went into the oven when the lamb came out. In 15-20 minutes it came out extra gooey. At the same time I was making the pan sauce for the lamb. All that was needed was water to deglaze the roasting pan...I could tell immediately that this was going to be an amazing sauce (and much easier than using a liaison to thinking the veal sauce or to make gravy!)!

Cheesy top to the Swiss Chard Gratin

I used my instructions to carve the lamb, finding that it was cooked not very consistently throughout. This could be a bad thing if I had wanted it rare, like the instructions said, and that is the way that I would personally eat it; however, with so many people eating it was a really great to have everything from rare to well done. This allowed each person to select their favorite piece based upon size, shape and doneness.

Leg of Lamb Ready to Come Out of the Oven!

Everything was ready, plates were filled with some lamb, swiss chard gratin and everyone tried the vegetarine tarrine that I made as well. Leftover crepes were added to the plates by those who wanted, and all of the drinks were filled.

Finished Lamb

After the main course, I served everyone the pineapple sorbet, and then a second serving just to be sure eveyrone didn't go hungry.

Pineapple Sorbet (a little whip cream on the first one for added fun)

Here is what was said about the meal: Mindy said, "the salmon crepes were great, wish I could eat more." Michael thought the meal was "the bomb diggety". Nate said, "the swiss chard was creamy amazement," while his wife Beth said, "yummy, crepes were good too." Carlos said "the crepes were good with the perfect touch of sour cream." Robyn, "everything good, the tarrine had a good meaty texture", and Maria said, "the swiss chard was great!"

More Yummy Crepes!

I think this menu was my overall favorite. I was particularly impressed with the sauce for the lamb and extatic about the sorbet. I loved the fruit flavor, the amazing soft texture, and how easy it was to make it at home. The cost to buy the mixer part for this was worth every penny, even if I never make another batch of sorbet or ice cream again. I think the crepes were a crowd pleasure, and the swiss chard dish was so rich, creamy and cheesy, how can you not like it!?!

Overall the best menu that I have made so far!

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