Hard as it is to believe this was a weekend filled with wonderful food - that part's not unusual but– and not one photograph!!! I guess we were too busy enjoying the moments to stop the action. So I’ll just paint you all a picture. There are some recipes below, so if you’re in a hurry you can just scroll down.
The weekend actually started for us on Thursday evening. We were invited to a fundraising dinner. It was a very elegant affair – beautiful table settings complete with centerpieces of stunning white calla lilies, ladies looking lovely, a terrific band, awesome entertainment, (even the speeches were great). But let's talk about the really important part - let’s talk about the food……While everyone congregated, there was a lovely display of crudités – very colorful, but most people were holding out for the hors d’oeuvres. Since there were over 600 guests, three bars plus two martini bars were set up at various locations. Waiters in white shirts, black pants and black vests (and don’t forget the white gloves!!), walked around with trays of scrumptious finger foods like miniature egg rolls, spicy stuffed tiny pita pockets, chicken satay and beef teriyaki skewers, bite-sized potato pancakes (latkes), sushi and if that wasn’t enough, there were two stations set up with chefs slicing smoked meat accompanied by mustard and rye bread. So now that we are already full, it’s time to go into the ballroom for dinner. A few speeches, a short video and course number one – grilled salmon fillet served over steamed vegetables, very colorful and the salmon was actually a dinner sized portion. The band played a short set and now it’s time for course number two – a giant plate of mixed greens and other veggies with a balsamic vinaigrette (I passed on this course as I was already stuffed). More dancing and then on to the main course. Are you ready? Wait staff (still in white gloves) serving you at the table – a giant slab of roast beef which was very tender and perfectly cooked with a delicious mushroom jus, grilled chicken breast (biggest chickens I ever saw – so I passed and just tasted my honey’s - it was delicious – no rubber chicken for this fundraiser!!!) Oh yes, don’t forget the sides – roasted potatoes, more mixed steamed vegetables. We stayed for the speeches and entertainment – accompanied by frozen yoghurt shaped and colored like fruit. Then we waddled to the car – too full to even consider staying for the sweet table. I can’t even imagine what that looked like. And naturally I swore I wouldn’t eat until at least Saturday.
Friday was rather low key, food wise. I couldn’t think about cooking and we even ordered in for dinner (Thai food, in case you’re curious – not bad, but I really just picked at it). Saturday, during the day was rather low key as well - just some fruit and munchies during the day, saving ourselves for dinner out with friends. We ate at a delightful Portuguese restaurant. Leao D’Ouro Restaurante It was a perfect night – not too hot, not too cold. We actually opted to sit inside beside floor to ceiling doors that were open, so it felt like being on the patio. The décor was simple but classy – white cloth tablecloths, dark wood accessories in this long and narrow restaurant. The wait staff was knowledgeable and friendly. And the food was delicious, the presentation, striking. One of our friends ordered grilled shrimp and calamari shish kebab. It arrived at the table in a most unusual fashion – the two-foot long skewer was suspended from a wrought iron stand – wow!!! I had jumbo shrimp, served over rice with a spicy piri piri sauce. I would have licked the plate clean, but I thought that might be over the top in such a lovely restaurant. The rest ordered beef tenderloin with a mushroom Madeira sauce that melted in your mouth. Instead of having dessert there, we all came back to our place and I served a blueberry, strawberry, cherry clafouti.
In my recent review of my cookbooks I came across a book I bought on a trip to Seattle. It was the first time I had been to Sur La Table (we don’t have that here in Toronto, unfortunately – or fortunately for my wallet, depending on your perspective) and two books called to me, A Spoonful of Ginger, by Nina Simonds (more from that in another post) and The Pacific Northwest, from the Williams-Sonoma collection to remind me of all the great eating we did on that trip. (I couldn't find the link to that particular book, but came across this one on New Orleans which I will have to buy and urge you all to do the same since they are donating the entire retail price to the Red Cross).
Anyway, the Pacific Northwest cookbook had this delicious sounding double cherry clafouti recipe. Now, I’ve never made clafouti before but have seen it mentioned on several food blogs – such a funny name, and it sounded simple enough after the custard fiasco. I baked it in the afternoon and, of course we didn’t actually eat it until about 9:30 so it sank. I don’t know if that’s usual. It looked all puffy and gorgeous when I took it out of the oven, but it didn’t look particularly stunning when I served it. Everyone did have seconds though, because it tasted sublime.
Any of you clafouti makers out there can let me know the real deal. My sister is always in awe that I will try something completely new even when having guests over. It’s my way of living on the edge – some people get their risk thrills from jumping out of airplanes, mine is less death-defying. But I digress….
So as is my way, I changed things up a bit – I had no fresh cherries so I substituted blueberries and strawberries; no Kirsch so I used Grand Marnier.
Cherry & Blueberry Clafouti (according to the book, clafouti originated in Limousin region of France) and in the Pacific Northwest, that has an abundance of the best cherries in the world, cherries are commonly used.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 45 minutes
Cool time: 10 minutes
¼ cup (2 oz/60 g) unsalted butter
3 cups total (12 oz/375 g) blueberries & strawberries (the real recipe calls for stemmed & pitted sweet cherries)
½ cup (4 oz/125 g) pitted dried sour cherries
8 tbsp (4 oz/125 g) sugar
¼ cup (2 oz/60 g) Grand Marnier (they call for kirsch or framboise
1/3 cup (2 oz/60 g) all-purpose flour
½ (4 oz/120 ml) cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp confectioner (icing) sugar (I didn’t bother)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter a 9 inch (23 cm) baking dish or deep pie plate. If you use a regular pie plate it will overflow.
2. In a large fry pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the fresh blueberries, strawberries (or fresh cherries, if you can find them) and dried cherries as well as 2 tbsp of sugar. Cook until it bubbles, stirring occasionally (about 2-3 minutes). Pour the liqueur and remove from heat. Toss, cover and set aside for 10 minutes for the fruit to really absorb the liqueur.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and flour until smooth. Whisk in the remaining sugar, vanilla, milk and salt until it’s all creamy.
4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fruit to the greased pie dish and then pour the liquid into the batter. Mix well and pour over the fruit.
5. Bake the clafouti until it’s puffed and brown (about 45 minutes). Remove the dish from the oven and let it cool on a rack for 10 minutes.
6. They suggest dusting with confectioners’ sugar, but I just served it with vanilla ice cream on the side.
This seems a perfect dish to semi prepare in the afternoon and then pop in the oven as everyone arrives (or starts to eat) for dinner. Then it’s perfectly cooked, warm and still puffy – or so I imagine - when it's dessert time.
Sunday morning started in our usual fashion - New York Times in bed served up with freshly brewed coffee and animated discussion, followed by a chorizo sausage and mushroom fritatta. (Similar, but focus is on the sausage this time). Sunday was my honey’s birthday and just a few days before my baby’s birthday (no matter how old she is, she’ll always be my baby!!!) so we had a simple supper celebration with family. I used a couple of recipes from the Inn on the Twenty cookbook I recently wrote about . My baby requested the lime roasted sweet potatoes since she missed out the last time I made them and I paired that with the cider vinegar grilled chicken recipe (it was awesome, if I do say so myself). We had a mixed green salad with a dressing I made from the Fresh at Home cookbook because I liked the name – Geisha dressing. Everyone else thought it was okay, but to me – “okay” is not good enough, so I probably won’t try it again. Their wild ginger dressing sounds scrumptious so I will give that one a try (I’ll keep you posted). Dessert was by special request from the baby – Baskin Robbins ice cream cake like she had when she was little – Jamoca Almond Fudge with almonds around the sides and chocolate icing on top.
Simple Birthday Dinner Menu
Cider Vinegar Grilled Chicken
Mixed Greens with Asian Dressing
Lime Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Ice Cream Birthday Cake
Cider Vinegar Grilled Chicken
Prep time: 10 minutes
Marinate: 1-4 hours
Grill time: 30- 45 minutes depending on the size of the chicken quarters.
6 chicken breasts, bone in (because some of my guests like dark meat, I quartered 2 chickens leaving the wings and legs attached – I just removed the tips of the wings)
1/3 cup (3 oz/ 80 ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (4 oz/120 ml) green onions, chopped
¼ cup (2 oz/ 60 ml) each - fresh basil and parsley, chopped
2 tbsp (20 ml) each - fresh thyme and rosemary, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
½ cup (4 oz/120 ml) cider vinegar
1. Combine all the dressing/marinade ingredients in a large bowl. I didn’t read the directions very carefully. It said to add everything BUT the cider vinegar at this point, but I just threw it all together and it still tasted fine and looked awesome.
2. Lift the skin of the cleaned, dried chicken pieces and put a small spoonful of the herbs under the skin, toss with the rest of the marinade and let it sit for 1-4 hours in the fridge (longer is better, it allows the chicken to absorb some of the flavors.)
3. Preheat the grill, brush the grates with some oil and cook skin side down over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes or so. Cover the grill. You want it to look golden, not burnt, so you might want to lower the heat and turn the chicken before that happens.
4. Turn the chicken and cook another 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked through – you can use a meat thermometer or poke it with the tip of a knife at its meatiest point. If the juices are clear, it’s ready. If you’re worried, slice into the chicken and if it’s white – not pink, it’s done). Once you turn the chicken is where the cookbook says to sprinkle the vinegar periodically. I guess it’s to turn caramelize the juices. I just basted occasionally with the marinade.
Hope you enjoy.