The doorbell rang, disturbing my concentration at my work desk. I launched into my usual mad dash – sock-encased feet slipping along hardwood floors, sliding to a stop in the approximate area of our door buzzer. It’s important to reach the buzzer before the UPS man grows tired of waiting – the demands of their rounds limit their stockpile of patience.
But this buzzer brought a surprise. Instead of our usual UPS man, it was a young woman from a local delivery service bearing a package from Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. It contained two 2.5 ounce tins of the precious eggs, a package of blini mix, a cast iron blini skillet, Crème fraîche and two mother-of-pearl spoons. Since our 4-year old can eat her body weight in caviar (and Leslie and I are rather fond of it ourselves) it was a most welcome token of apology from my absent cooking partner during last week’s Chef Challenge. She was unexpectedly detained by three hours at work, leaving me to fly solo.
Fortunately I was ready, stockpiling as many wines as I had menu ideas – ready for whatever ingredients showed up on my counter…
In 90 minutes, plan and prepare a meal using the ingredients purchased by my wife, Leslie, and our friend David, while they sip wine, kibitz, snicker, and critique. Leslie and I like to do stuff like this for him. He introduced us.
Hours before the ingredients arrived, I assembled an array of wines from our portfolio. I was ready to complement each course, whatever it might be. The wines ranged from light sparkling wines, a sparkling rose, crisp white wines, rich and lush whites, a rose, lighter reds, spicy reds, and deep and brooding reds.
THE INGREDIENTS (or "What do you make of this?…")
The shoppers – David and Leslie – are good cooks who have each travelled and eaten their way around the world. They are smart, they are creative, and they have an evil streak! So I suspected they’d bring home some obscure ingredients that were real stumpers. They did not disappoint, but neither were they as cruel as they might have been. Here’s what I was presented with:
- Celery root
- 4 live sea scallops, in shell
- 2.5 ozs caviar
- Crème fraîche
- Fig and Ginger Chutney
- ~ 20 Brussels Sprouts
- Cipollini onions (far right)
- Small container, seaweed salad
- 2 lb Pork Roast
- One whole, fresh Pineapple
- Beech mushrooms (near right)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- Three cheeses
I am no stranger to the halls of cooking schools, though not as familiar to them as to those of wine schools. So I was looking forward to the able-bodied assistance of our friend Kendy, who is Italian, and has creative cookery built into her DNA. In her absence, David and Leslie were unable to sit and sip and snicker, and instead became Sous Chef and Chef de Musica, respectively.
Appetizer Courses – The shoppers were kind enough to provide a layup – the cheeses, baguette and chutney provided sustenance while the "second appetizer" course was prepared – blini topped with Crème fraîche and caviar ("the roe to success"). For the blini I used an instant whole wheat pancake mix from our own stash, after being given permission from the shoppers to use anything already in the kitchen. I selected a Brut Rose to span both the cheese course and the caviar course, and we were very happy with the pairing. Though we carry no sparkling wines on our website, I do recommend the affordable Brut Rose from Laetitia (available at Tastes of the Valleys wine bar – call 805-688-7111).
Seafood Course – The next course was also pretty easy. I have always enjoyed scallops paired with mushroom or truffle-infused side dishes. So I used the mushrooms to infuse a cream made of the sweet Cipollini onions boiled in some 2% milk (borrowed from our kid’s stash) and thickened with a bit of the Crème fraîche. The mushrooms were introduced for the last few minutes and the whole contents blended and then strained. The scallops were cleaned and quickly cooked and served in their shell, with chopped cilantro topping the dish and the mushroom sauce and seaweed salad on the side. For the wine pairing I passed up anything from our portfolio in favor of a wine from our cellar – a 1994 Mer Soliel Chardonnay. I thought it’s rich bottle bouquet and remaining acidity would work well with this dish, and it did for the most part (though it was quite horrible with the seaweed salad, which screamed for a Kirin or glass of good Sake). The score on this wine pairing was two thumbs up, one thumb down, with three thumbs up on the overall dish.
Main Course – I wish there had been time to properly roast this beautiful piece of meat, but given the time limit my only option was to slice it into 1" rounds, quickly sear them and then roast them with pineapple slices. The pan drippings were deglazed and reduced and served alongside two side dishes – Brussels sprouts with leeks that were sauteed and then roasted, and the celery root, simply boiled with some oinions and then pureed.
We considered serving this with a Rhone-style blend of white varietals, as the tropical fruit would have made a nice complement to the sweet-and-salty pork & pineapple, and a nice counterpoint to the bitter and earthy side dishes. But we decided the remaining Chardonnay would do, and opened instead a fruity domestic pinot noir. Both wines nicely flattered the meal. (Click here for some great pinot options to complement your own roast pork). Four thumbs up on the wine pairing, four thumbs up on the dish – by this time, my cooking partner had arrived to help finish the wine and the rest of the meal.
Unused Ingredients – Frisée and Nutella. While it would have been easy to include the Frisée as a side, dressed with a bit of red wine vinegar and a poached egg, perhaps with some of the pork rendered down a bit, my 90 minutes was long passed, and we were happy to simply enjoy the meal we shared.
As for the Nutella, there is but one thing for an adult to do with Nutella – put a large dollop in your mouth, smile with pure joy, then listen to the last sounds you’ll hear in this lifetime – your arteries slamming shut from hydrogenated fats coursing through your bloodstream. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a muffled cry coming from inside our refrigerator. It sounds vaguely like several thousand fish eggs calling my name.
Overall Review – The meal was deemed a success, though not as good as a meal one might plan, coordinating ingredients in an organized fashion. But when you begin with ingredients this good, it is difficult not to enjoy the meal!
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Dave Chambers, Wine Merchant