Last Christmas my friend Kelly and I gave our significant others (each of whom is the primary chef at our respective houses) a promise of a home cooked meal with wine pairings, designed and prepared exclusively by us. As the new year turned into the spring, and then the summer, and then the fall four busy people still hadn’t managed to pick a date. And then, with Christmas 2012 on the horizon, the so-called “Kelly Dinner” happened. And it was awesome.
Tuna tartar with root vegetable crisps, Spiced butternut squash soup, Truffled mac & cheese with lobster shots and wilted greens & Ancho chocolate Crème Brûlée
Not bad right? Even better given that the day before Kelly had met with a super knowledgeable LCBO employee who had helped her select what turned out to be pretty perfect wine pairings for each course.
A full day affair, Kell and I met to pick up groceries at 11am. We shopped at Fiesta Farms, which, if you don’t know it, is pretty much the best grocery store ever. It’s kind of like Whole Foods, but way cheaper, and 5 minutes from my house. We managed to get everything on our list there except for the lobster, so we made a quick trip to Kensington Market before getting down to business.
Because it was the easiest and could sit the longest, we started with the soup. The recipe was really simple (we added cayenne and cumin and more than doubled the other spices) and really delicious. We served it with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of chives and a carefully placed beet chip.
Next, we took on the ancho chilli crème brûlée. It was a first time endeavour for both of us and we learned a few very important things: (1) crème brûlée needs to be refrigerated for hours after it’s cooked, so don’t save it till the last minute; (2) “tempering” means slowly warming up the eggs to be added to a hot creme mixture so as to avoid having scrambled egg brûlée; and (3) kitchen torches are fun! We used this recipe and again, more than doubled the spice content. I learned about the need to temper from the commentary surrounding our chosen recipe, but didn’t actually find this important step included in any of the recipes I looked at. Word to the wise – when using a recipe found on-line, always pick one with lots of commentary. This is the best place to get reviews of the recipe, check out suggested modifications, etc. (Photo below)
Post brûlée, we somewhat simultaneously prepared the vinaigrette for the tuna tartare, cooked the macaroni, grated four kinds of cheese, and prepared the base of the white sauce. Once we had all of our courses prepped for the final stages we managed to fit in a small break to make ourselves and the “dining room” look presentable. We had been so focused on the food we forgot all about place settings, but using a festive pashmina and last year’s Christmas garland we managed to throw together what I thought was a pretty impressive table.
The tuna tartare was a big hit and much easier than expected. All you really need is good ahi tuna and a few fresh ingredients to make this dish awesome. We served it layered on a bed of avocado and topped with crisy fried shallots alongside root vegetable crisps. A cookie cutter or other shaper comes in super handy for plating if you want to go for the stacked effect like we did. Unfortunately we neglected to take a photo of the much more impressive side shot, so you’ll just have to trust me that it looked great! We (sort of) used this recipe by Emeril, replacing the fried wontons with the shallots and skipping the caviar and the wasabi creme fraiche.
For the mac & cheese we choose a basic Bobby Flay recipe with a twist – the addition of an entire head of roasted garlic and a generous drizzle of white truffle oil. Mac & cheese generally isn’t terribly pretty, so we tried to break up the plate by serving it on a white side dish along-side spoon size lobster shots and sauteed kale. The lobster shots were something we essentially made up (a crap shoot I know, but it’s tough to go wrong with lobster, butter and garlic!). Rather than dealing with the mess of cracking claws (the original plan) we picked up a tin of frozen lobster pieces, chopped them up and served it warm in a delicious broth of garlic butter and lemon.
After the cheesy, lobster, truffle extravaganza, the team took a much needed break. While the boys finished up their wine pairings, Kelly and I got to work with the kitchen torch. Apparently you can also brûlée under the broiler, but that didn’t seem like nearly as much fun. We saved this step till pre-serving, but I think everything could be done in advance, which makes this a great dinner party dessert. The end result was delicious, though very rich (who would have thought with all that whipped cream and chocolate???). Served with a drop of whipped cream and a tiny red chilli, I thought it was as pretty as it was tasty.
We wrapped up an amazing meal with an equally amazing lounge on the couch (and a few glasses of bubbly to celebrate our hard work).