I have been pretty quiet in the food blogging world the past few days. Usually I go through my feedly everyday to read and comment on my fellow bloggers pages and compliment their work. I got on today and I saw I had 70 unread posts, so it was a busy afternoon of trying to catch up.
My absenteeism wasn't in vain though, I swear. Since Thursday, I have been shopping, prepping, and executing an 8 course grand dinner for the Boal Mansion in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania. Every year the CEO of the Boal Mansion, Christoper Lee, hosts a dinner for the patrons of the museum. Last year, I took my first crack at being the Head Chef for the event and have to admit wasn't happy with the meal I put out. It was a combination of lack of experience, planning a menu that wasn't ideal for the space (or lack there of), and just overall more than I could chew....no pun intended.
So, when I got the email for the event this year, I took it as a challenge to do better. I felt like I had grew in culinary knowledge and skill the past year, but I wanted to validate those feelings. Planning began and I put together a menu that I felt was solid, delicious, and executable.
Right before the dinner started, I remember reading in Ruhlman's Twenty one thing that really stuck with me, something so simple...Think. I went through each course in my head, thought about every movement involved, every step, in order to get a beautiful and delicious dish in front of the guest. I honestly can admit, I have never felt so confident and relaxed in a kitchen environment. Everything went smoothly, I knew the answer to everything, and at the end of the meal I felt proud of what I put out on the table.
Then the best part of the evening was talking to the guests afterward and asking them what they thought because I wanted honest and thoughtful feedback. What I got was truly humbling. I was told by most of the guests that I need to open my own restaurant, one guy starred me dead in the eye and said I was one of the best chefs in the area (Which I would definitely argue against), I got asked if I was available to hire as a private chef, on and on...I just felt so good about where I am at in my culinary life after this dinner. Did I get validation?? You bet I did!
I kept on trying to remind myself to take pictures, but I did miss a few of the courses, but I'll go through each course and talk about it!
Amuse Bouche: Shrimp Ceviche
We actually did a shrimp ceviche last year for the first course and I really liked how it worked as an opening course. It was lite and the lemon and lime juice really woke up the palate. It also has a really nice texture with the soft and tender shrimp paired with the crunch from raw red onion and cucumber. Then to tie it all together the avocado and a punch of cilantro to cap it off.
Right off the bat we were getting word from the guests that they liked the food. Of course, it was only the top of the first with lots of time left, but it's always nice starting out strong.
Soup: Caramelized Carrot Soup w/ Horseradish Crème Fraîche
This is the second time I made this soup for a private dinner and the second time I forgot to take a freaking picture! This soup I got from the most amazing cook book ever; Modernist Cuisine at Home. It is all done in a pressure cooker and really the only ingredients are carrots and carrot juice. Since the carrots are cooked in a pressure cooker you get this amazing depth of caramelization that lends to a extremely velvety and rich soup.
Being that there is such a natural sweetness to the soup I wanted to add something that would counter balance the sweetness. I knew I wanted to use Crème fraîche as a garnish, so I decided to whisk in some horseradish which added a little zip to the soup. I got a lot of great compliments on the soup and they loved how the horseradish crème fraîche paired with it. 2-0 so far on the dinner!
Entree: Seared Scallops, asparagus puree, black truffle sea salt, lemon zest
So a few weeks ago I was talking about a website called My Spice Sage. I received a bunch of amazing salts and spices from them. The one I was really excited to use was the Black Truffle Sea Salt. I knew I couldn't just use it on anything, but I finally figured it was time to use it on these gorgeous scallops I picked up. When I opened up the bag of BTSS, oh my god...the smell that came out of that bag was pure ecstasy! I mean, I just can't even describe it.
I ended up seasoning both sides of the scallops with the BTSS, searing them in hot oil, placed them on top of this gorgeous green asparagus puree and then topped them with a little bit of lemon zest.
To my fortune there were 3 scallops left over after we shipped them out and oh man was I happy with how they tasted. I am always a little intimidated when cooking scallops cause I don't want to over cook them. But, I was quite pleased with the doneness. The one guest told me afterwards that he never eats scallops, but he wanted more of this dish! :-D
Intermezzo: Grapefruit & Mint Sorbet, Matcha Powder
Alright so this isn't EXACTLY sorbet, it is actually more of a granita, but potato...potato. This was definitely the easiest recipe of the whole dinner. I took a big bottle of grapefruit juice, made a simple syrup with mint leaves, mixed the two together with an immersion blender, popped it in the freezer and let the mixture freeze for a few hours. Then, I took it out, broke it up into chunks and put it through my food processor with the cheese grater attachment (Learned this trick from my friends at Zola's New World Bistro). Then I took some Matcha Powder, which is essentially green tea powder, and dusted the tops of the sorbet.
I loved this "sorbet," again to my fortune it made a lot more than I needed so I have it in my freezer. It is a delicious, lite, and simple treat that would be perfect for a summer barbecue. The grapefruit juice was nice and tangy, the mint was refreshing and the pinch of matcha powder added a nice little flavor. I'll be sure to post this recipe soon!
Plat Principal: Sous Vide Short Rib, Bordelaise Sauce, Shallot & Thyme Root Vegetable Purée
I feel like a Jehovah's Witness for Sous Vide...Hello, My name is Eric and I'd like to talk to you about the power of Sous Vide and what it can do for YOU. But, seriously, look at that short rib! When I walked out into the dining room to introduce this course, I started out by saying "I'm about to blow your minds" and I am pretty sure I did!
I followed my Sous Vide Short Rib Recipe for this one, but instead of making a pan gravy I did a very traditional Bordelaise sauce which paired amazingly with the beef. For the root vegetable purée I used a combination of carrots, purple-top turnips, and parsnips. The one gentleman I was talking to after the meal was telling me his favorites and he simply said "I just don't even want to talk about the short ribs they were that good..." 5-0, but whose counting...
Salade: Butter Lettuce, Radishes, Romaine Vinaigrette
At this point in the night I was feeling really good, the hardest was behind me and I knew it was all down hill from here. The Romaine Vinaigrette was another recipe that I borrowed from Modernist Cuisine at Home (You'll have to pick up your own copy for the full recipe). But, basically, it's Romaine leaves, basil leaves, tarragon leaves, and chives that are blanched. Then you throw them in a blender with buttermilk, Parmesan-Reggiano, anchovies, soft-cooked egg, oil, lemon juice and salt. Absolutely delicious salad dressing that I tossed on some butter lettuce and topped with some radishes that I sliced paper thing on a Japanese mandolin. Easy victory on this one, 6-0.
Next course was even simpler than the last, put a bunch of fruits and cheeses on a cutting board and send it out! I picked up cave aged gruyère, brie, and goat cheese that I rolled in black pepper. We then served it with grapes, apples, pears and a baguette. Simple, but still delicious!
Dessert: Lemon Crème brûlée with Carbonated Sugar
Once again, I forgot to take a picture of my end product. But, at this point I was running on fumes and was just trying to finish out the dinner. I honestly wasn't 100% happy with the way my crème brûlée turned out. The flavor was spot on, but it didn't set up as nice as I wanted it too and was a little runny. So, really it was more like a dessert soup.
The real kicker was I topped it with some carbonated sugar, just to give them a little surprise. After I introduced it, I made sure I stayed in the dining room to see there reaction whenever the carbonated sugar started to explode in their mouth. The overall look was confusion, like "wait what's going on, am I the only one that this is happening too?" But, before I left, I revealed the secret ingredient and they seemed to get a kick out of it.
Chocolates, Coffee, and Cognac
The only real involvement I had in this last course was the fact that I brewed the coffee and bought the chocolate. Other than that, the meal was complete, clean-up began, and the night came to a finish. Was quite proud of the meal I put out and even though I put in a lot of time into this meal, it was a lot of fun.