in Breads & Grains
, Poultry & Game
, Appetizers & Sides
, Wine & Beverage
, Seasonal- Spring Foods
, Holiday Cooking
, Soups & Salads
, Cookies & Sweets
, Cheese & Dairy
, Sauces & Spreads
D and I recently had some friends over for an intimate feast. We prepared many items we had never attempted before, something I often shy away from when we have guests– there is nothing worse than messing up something you have never attempted before. But cooking, like any passion, is all about trial and error and you’ll never get better without an attempt. All in all, the 5 hours spread ended deliciously well, mishaps included.
All vegetables, and most fruits, were brought to us by our local Community Supported Agriculture program. Each week I am thankful that we have invested in our farm and I proudly brag about “my farmers” who brought me my organic vegetables– just picked yesterday!
This weekend we celebrated the spring bounty.
The evening began calmly as pictured above. I started prepping items 1 week in advance: spanakopita (spinach from “my farm” with local sheep feta), rhubarb syrup (rhubarb from last week’s CSA drop boiled down with water and sugar) and a rhubarb tart (crust prepared and frozen and rhubarb chopped and frozen). The rest was finalized and started the night before arrival…
We welcomed guests C and M with choice of champagne or a strawberry rhubarb “martini.” I like to call drinks served in martini glasses and made with vodka “martinis,” as do most bars and restaurants. I suppose because it makes the drink sound more sophisticated. D is angered by this and claims it is a merely a mixed cocktail if it has no vermouth. Our Strawberry Rhubarb “Martinis” contained rhubarb syrup, vodka, mashed fresh strawberries and were topped with champagne. We also eventually threw some mint in there.
Next was the spanakopita. I received pounds of spinach, amongst other greens last week. S
o much I feared we could not eat it, but didn’t want it going to waste. I could not bare to simply freeze the spinach so bought some filo and feta, steamed and chopped the spinach, added nutmeg, crumbled feta, wrapped in filo and froze. Laborious to wrap individually, yes (a spanakopita pie would have been easier), but well worth it.
An assemble-one’s-own course followed next. I like the idea of the guest doing some work, it allows them to understand flavor combinations you use a little more and how they work together. If they don’t cook, it also makes them feel like they are creating something. You can see the beginnings of this course spread out above: Buttered and toasted crostinis, fig spread, goat cheese and topped with prosciutto.
The fig spread is a treasured find of mine and D’s. We uncovered it in the Middle Eastern section of one of our local markets– the one I can easily spend hours walking down the aisles because they have floor to ceiling goodies from all over the world. This spread hails from Lebanon and has three simple flavors: fig, sesame, anise. It is a fantastic addition to sandwiches, crostinis
and is really a power secret ingredient. It would be simple to make, but at$2 for an 8oz container with such a pure ingredient mixture, why bother? The prosciutto was from a local Italian deli.
We entered the main of our meal. The moment D said C and M would be over for dinner I proclaimed rabbit would be the headliner. I held fast through D’s skeptism. My thought: no matter what produce we would receive from our CSA, rabbit would be a perfect compliment. D still thought it was slightly disturbing to serve “rabbit salad,” so we broke the salad into more of a side.
We wanted the rabbit sweet to compliment the warming weather– a more savory base is fitting for fall and winter. I found a marinade based in orange juice, honey and cayenne which seemed perfect for this. I wanted to incorporate nectarines into the dish and thought to make a nectarine mousse. Unfortunately, as witnessed in the picture above, the mousse never set properly (recipe now in the works). It ended more a thick sauce that we poured over the rabbit and topped it all with crumbled bacon. The salad, red bib lettuce, sugar snap peas and radish were provided by our CSA.
My newest acquisition is an ice cream attachment for my Kitchen Aid. I’ve been itching for an ice cream maker for a few years now and with a few Am Ex gift certificates in hand, it was a real steal. I went all out and made two treats for this meal. The first was a lemon-lime-ginger sorbet. This was a great sweet-tart intermission though I would add a little more ginger next time.
This was followed by D’s conquest: foie gras.
Let’s just put out that I know both sides of the foie gras debate before we get all the comments coming in. I think Gastronomica Magazine has a great article about it in their Winter 2007 issue. Let’s just say I can rarely afford it so rarely eat it. (But it is delicious.)
At this point my local butcher thinks I am crazy. Each day I go in I discuss and request more from them: free range veal, grass-fed beef, truffle butter, truffles, and this weekend, I asked if they would put rabbits and foie gras aside for me. They know me by site now and if I ask for a simple steak they ask if something is the matter– just steak?
We couldn’t afford the entire “foie” so we split if with one of the butchers who was happy to take home the other half. I asked for his discount, but he denied. Note to self: get in with butchers until discount is granted. D took care of the prep, slicing it in thirds, de-veining, salt, pepper nutmeg, layer, port, cognac, repeat. For whatever reason our most trusted cookbook failed us for the first time when it failed to mention that the foie must sit for a few good hours post-cooking to re-set– many recipes suggest 1-3 days. While we knew some sitting would be necessary, the foie was a little loose when served, still delicious (and is a great topping on salad for a luxurious dinner another night).
Lemon-lime-ginger sorbet repeat and then the finale.
I found a rhubarb streusel tart recipe on epicurious that I knew would be perfect. Not only did we receive rhubarb from our CSA the previous week, D is a big fan of anything with streusel in the name. How can you not love butter and brown sugar? Instead of mixing almonds into the streusel as called for I used the handy new ice cream maker and created my own almond ice cream.
This I believed was my true triumph. Something D couldn’t imagine tasting good– “almond ice cream just does not sound good,” yet he keeps coming back for more and requesting me to churn out new flavors– dare I attempt arugula custard? Not just yet… a cognac creation is next.
Fig-Goat Cheese-Procuitto Crostini
Roast Rabbit w/ Spring Greens & Nectarine Mousse
Rhubarb Streusel Tart w/ Almond Ice Cream