Confusion will be my epitaph…

Umm.. So, yeah, hi.. I realize it’s been a while since Iw as here or have made any posts. As you may have well guessed, this blog pretty much died years ago, yet I’ve been unwilling to pronounce it dead.. It just seemed so, final!

But I guess all things, except maybe Twinkies, must come to an end.. And I’m ready to call it. Listen, guys, I had a blast writing this blog for the past many years and I still look back at those times chronicled within these pages with great joy. I’m in a different place in my life now and the things I experience or write about are so different from most things I’ve written about here.. Except well, I still cook, I still drink expensive wines and I do love a good brew. Only now my hair is shorter and I hurt for half a week if I go on a two day binge, so.. There..

If any of you are still left: Thank you all for following me all these years! I’m not all gone. I’ve got another adventure up and running on www.roadtripping.dk where I talk about a rather silly decision I’ve made with a friend to go road tripping through the Southern United States in a year. You’re willing to head on over and read all about it or show us some love on www.facebook.com/roadtripping.dk

And if long reads are no longer your fancy, there’s always new media: @johanjohansen on twitter.com or instagram.com/johanjohansen 

So long, my friends, and thanks for all the fish!

Cooking a 14-course dinner, part 6: The execution, dishes 11-14

Dish 11: Parfait of cave-aged Danish cheese served with ”sparkling cheese”

This is the sort of dish that was both pretty stupid, pretty funny and pretty up and down. Firstly, I should probably try to explain the concept of sparkling cheese: See, some time last summer I had Tina and Malene over for dinner one evening. Now, in case you hadn’t figured it out already, Tina and I argue quite a bit just for the heck of it and that evening was no exception. The subject of heated debate that night was Champagne and whether or not other sparkling wines could be referred to as Champagne. As I’m getting wound up yelling at Tina that “FOR THE LAST FUCKING TIME, THEY’RE NOT CHAMPAGNES, THEY’RE SPARKLING WINES!”, Malene cuts in by grabbing a shaving of Grana Pandano cheese, going “Oooh.. So this is not Parmesan, it’s sparkling cheese, gotcha!” – which kinda ended the fight right there as everybody were cracked up laughing for the next twenty odd minutes.

For no other reason than the fact that we’re a bunch of odd-balls, the inside joke of sparkling cheese stuck around for the next year or so and when I got around to creating this menu I went “Hmm.. I wonder what it would take to create real, sparkling cheese..” Parts of it seemed pretty simple, I was to get a cheese that was like Parmesan but not really Parmesan. In keeping with the general theme of the dinner, I also needed it to be a Danish cheese which sorta complicated matters but no more than to the point where I could go to my cheese monger and ask him for something Danish that was as close to Parmesan as possible. He ended up suggesting a cave aged specialty cheese from out west which was actually quite good and complex in it’s flavor – that was the first step solved. Now, for step two, to actually make the cheese sparkle which proved a little more difficult. I started out by deducting that the one common feature of sparkling wines (other than the bubbles in the glass) is that they create a sort of fizzy sensation in your mouth, so I figured that if I were to make cheese behave like sparkling wine in any sort of way this would be the feature to copy. But how does one make cheese fizz in the mouth? Good question! The answer turned out to be effervescent sugar, i.e. popping candy! Mixed grated cheese in a specific proportion, it created a not too sweet cheese mixture which would bubble and pop slightly on the tongue, creating a sensation sure to send any blonde giggling. I was well proud of myself!

And then I went and ruined the dish by thinking it wasn’t special enough in itself, thus trying to expand upoin it by trying to copy one of Ferran Adrias old tricks, Parmesan Parfait, to be served alongside.. What a not very good idea that was. For starters, I messed up the process, so the Parfait froze solid, secondly it was just too plain weird to really catch on as a pre-dessert serving. Oh well, at least the sparkling cheese part worked and put a smile on Tina’s face, even if she didn’t get the joke at first. The Parfait will be going back on the drawing board.

Dish 12: Frozen apple-air with a hint of fermented blackcurrant juice

Where the previous dish had failed miserably, here’s a fun and simple little dish that’s apparently really impressive in its simplicity. During this series of posts, I’ve already ranted a lot about lecithin, the magical powder which can transform liquids into a stable foam which can be used for all sorts of fun things. One really funny application is to create a foam out of some sort of flavorful liquid and then quickly freeze it to create what the culinary snobs refer to as frozen air. The result is a super light, airy frozen substance which in appearance looks a little like an ordinary frozen treat, but is a lot lighter and easier to cut through with a spoon, and on contact with your tongue sorta just evaporates into the flavor of whatever liquid you chose. Very curious, really, and an impressive little party trick.

For this evening’s presentation, I’d chosen apple juice as my flavorful liquid and added a bit of Cassis (Blackcurrant liqueur) for extra taste and a bit of kick. The fact aside that Cassis is a French invention, both apple and blackcurrant are typical Danish flavors and I deducted that Tina wouldn’t protest too much to the addition of a little extra alcohol.. And she didn’t! Rather she was very fascinated by the simple yet flavorful and fun dish. In fact, her tasting notes read simply “Yay! :)” which is usually an indicator that the little one is indeed very pleased. Way to redeem oneself from the disaster of the dish before.

Dish 13: Skyr (Icelandic cultured fresh cheese) with beet root syrup, flower honey, honey-roasted wheat kernels and dried berries

Here’s another pretty weird one cheese and beet root, not your standard dessert ingredients.. Well, cheese maybe, but beet root, no. The fact remains, though, that beet roots contain a lot of sugar and, as such, are used by the more adventurous as a more or less prominent dessert ingredient. As for me? Well, I needed a syrup to sweeten my skyr for this rather old school dish and I figured that anything with a lot of sugar in it can be reduced to a syrup, so why not try beet root? The obvious desirable side effect here being that it would make a bright red syrup which, when mixed with the white Skyr, would presumably create a nice hot pink color which just happens to be one of Tina’s favorite colors.. Blondes, go figure. So I set to work and in one of the most complicated and certainly messiest endeavors of my culinary career, I actually managed to turn about two kilos of beet roots into juice which was subsequently painstakingly reduced to a thick, messy and surprisingly sweet syrup.

The general idea behind this here very dish was that I had no spent such a long time trying to do something inventive and futuristic that it would be fun to play with some really old school Nordic flavors such as soured cheesed, wheat, berries, honey and root vegetables. So I took some very plain Skyr cheese, mixed it with a bit of honey, topped it with some dried berries and some wheat kernels which I’d steamed then roasted in honey. A bit of the beet root syrup was then poured on top and the lovely little mess was then served up for diners to mix table side at their own discretion.

The flavors of this dish were, umm, interesting. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, they were sweet (but not cloyingly so), slightly sour and tangy and complex. In other words, a dessert after my liking, not annoyingly sweet but rather a nice, complex and full-flavored comedown after the main dishes. Tina, too, digged the flavors but was admittedly even more into the fact that the dish turned hot pink by the swirl of a spoon..

Sheesh, tipsy blondes. Anyways, with that little color experiment out of the way, it was finally time to settle down, relax and pull the last dish of the day out of the sleeve:

Dish 14: Chocolate stout ice cream, caramelized pears and beer syrup

There’s nothing more Danish than beer, really! And we all love ice cream. Pears may not be too Danish in origin, but caramelized pears are certainly a classic dessert side dish at almost every Danish grandma’s dinner table. So what could be more (un-)natural than to combine beer, ice cream and pears into one final dessert dish? I know!

I’ve realized over the year that I find some weird kind of satisfaction in making ice cream or sorbets as long as it’s not your run off the mill standard kind of ice cream. Coming up with new flavors is apparently a lot of fun to me and so, it didn’t seem entirely too far fetched for me to combine a cream based ice cream with chocolate chips and a nice, little Danish chocolate stout to create chocolate stout ice cream. Neither did it seem too far fetched to go out, get a couple of pears, cut them in half, remove the skin and cores, roast them in butter and sugar, add pear juice, a little alcohol and a little flame, leaving me with a pair of nicely caramelized pears.

I’d also spent a lot of time meticulously reducing one of my beloved old 2007 Royal Vintage Stouts into a syrup to use for a bit of extra flash during presentation, but of course when time arrived, after 13 other dishes and about a bottle and a half of wine, I completely forgot this nice, little extra touch and served things up without it. No matter, though, the dish was still a complete success. The stout and chocolate added a nice, little extra touch to an otherwise pretty standard ice cream and the pears were a nice, fresh, little side note. Detailed tasting notes are a little sketchy, both of us had pretty much had enough at this point, both of eat and of drink, so we were kinda just soldiering on for the hell of it to be able to say that we’d made it full circle. Tina’s tasting notes read simply “Beer ice cream good!” and I’m inclined to agree. I’ve a batch left in the freezer that I’ll taste one of these days and form a better opinion. I think for future reference, 12 dishes will be enough. 14 was great fun and a nice challenge, but there apparently comes a time where you just can’t bear to process more tastes and impressions, so.. Yeah.. Otherwise, I’d call it a complete success and let the subsequent food coma speak for itself..

14 Dish Tasting Dinner: Done! What’s next?

On a personal note, though..

Sometimes your entire world just seems to come tumbling down around you.. Earlier today we were shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the passing of our dear, old university English lecturer, Ole Buhl, who left this world entirely too early a few days back.

I think it’s safe to say that over the course of a lifetime, you run into relatively few people that really hels inspire you and shape you into who you are today. And I think that even fewer of these will be people that you have had an entirely professional relationship with, over the relatively brief period of three years..

Nevertheless, that was the case with Ole who, in this casual pseudo-eccentric, strolled into our lives on one of our first days of Uni and, for the next three years straight, proceeded to pull os through every nook and cranny of the English language with a passion and dedication that only someone who truly LOVES his field could do.

At first, he might have appeared a little old fashioned and strange, but we pretty quickly found out that here we were dealing with a person so passionate about what he was doing and so passionate about passing on, not only his love for the English language, but also his work ethics, attention to detail and professionalism that we couldn’t help but get captivated and involved , and eventually we, ourselves, started getting into it and were inspired to not only try our best, but our damn best.

It’s this mix of attention to detail, professionalism and love for what you’re doing that sadly a lot of people seem to be missing today, but thanks to Ole, we all have at least a bit of that. And still to this day, those very basic yet important values of loving what you do and not just doing things half-heartedly but, rather, being proud of what you do and doing them to the best of your ability, with a sly smile on your lip and a bit of sarcasm on your tongue, continue to thrive in us and for that, we owe the man a big thanks.

It’s safe to say, without bragging, that we have, by and large, become a rather successful bunch over the years and I would very much like to believe that we owe at least part of this success to the discipline, thoughtfulness and earnestness instilled within us by Ole and the enthusiasm for his work that he showed us and subsequently passed on to us.

So thank you, Ole, for all your hard work, your encouragement and your justified bollockings when they were needed. And thank you also for your character, your love of life and your love and pride for field that you taught. A cloud passed by the sun the moment we learned of your passing and indeed the world seems a colder place today..

Fucking hell, it doesn’t seem fair..

Well, this seriously complicates matters..

Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons, legendary saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, passed away two days ago on June 18 from complications of a stroke suffered a week ago, 69 years old.. Springsteen released the following statement:

It is with overwhelming sadness that we inform our friends and fans that at 7:00 tonight, Saturday, June 18, our beloved friend and bandmate, Clarence Clemons passed away. The cause was complications from his stroke of last Sunday, June 12th.

Bruce Springsteen said of Clarence: Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner, and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band. (source brucespringsteen.net)

Bruce and Clarence were in a band together since about ten years before I was even born, so I can’t even begin to imagine how devastated Bruce must be, I am however rather upset myself, mainly because I was very much looking forward to seeing these two together on stage some time.. Boo :(

Rest in peace, big guy!

Cooking a 14-course dinner, part 5: The execution, dishes 8-10

There’s been a lot of talk about wine already in this series of posts, so I’ll sum up the red wine quickly: BEST.. WINE.. EXPERIENCE.. EVER!! Okay, I can do better than that, but really it would take forever, let’s just say that I managed to get my greedy, little hands on a very limited release Argentinean cult wine which, on paper shouldn’t really be much to look at (or sip at for that matter): Grown at an impossible altitude,  made from impossibly young vines and not really having had any age to it it shouldn’t be too exciting, yet it beats many classic vintage French wines in blind tests.. Which is really saying something. Now, I’ve never had 1982 Mouton Rotschild, me, and I’m reasonably willing to bet that neither has Tina  but now that I’ve had 2007 Riglos, I’m not sure I really want to.. Because this DKK 400 bottle of wine was sure as fuck good enough for me.. Incidentally, I sat next to a bottle of 1982 Rotschild during a tasting once and that nearly cost me more than the entire bottle of Riglos on account of the Rotschild being like DKK 10,000 a bottle.. but I digress.. What I wanted to get at was that once the wine hit the glass, it shut both Tina and up good, which is a feat to say the least, and nearly made me forget about the food coming up, coz.. fucking hell.. Tons and tons of ripe fruit, thick, deep, impressive lasting taste which filled the mouth for minutes on end, smokey/roasted notes and an unmistakable smell of my granddad’s old tobacco cabinet.. Which might not really sound like much of a good thing, but believe you me, it was! Quiet reflection grabbed us for several moments as we swirled our glasses, sniffed, tasted, stared lovingly at the fluid within and just sorta zoned out.. Until someone realized that, oh right, there was food to be had!

Dish 8: Pheasant in two ways: thigh and breast, Celeriac confit, baked shallots and reduced pheasant stock

I end up doing pretty weird spontaneous things from time to time which probably goes to explain why I suddenly this winter found myself coming home from the local supermarket with a frozen pheasant in my bag of groceries. Of course, I’ve absolutely no idea how to cook pheasant, and, funnily enough, I still don’t have a clue.. But, as the observant reader will know, not having a damn clue about how to do something hasn’t usually kept me from attempting to do something.

So, I went on my merry way, assuming that cooking a pheasant was probably a lot like cooking a small chicken – and as it turns out, it’s really not – but who was I to know? So, I whacked the drumsticks off the little bird, cut off the breasts (something that always makes me wince and feel a little sad, coz hey, I like breasts as much as the next guy), wrapped the breasts in a little bit of the left over artisan ham, then chucked both breasts and drumsticks in the oven at a very low temperature for a very long time. The rest of the bird carcass, I chopped up in a rather brutal manner and chucked it in a pan with some vegetation, a bit of water, salt, pepper and a fair amount of white Burgundy. I then applied some low heat to (eventually) create a slowly reduced pheasant stock.

Once the stock was done, I skimmed off the fat and combined it with a bit of celeriac root and thyme and chucked it in the oven along with some shallots to create a confit of celeriac and baked shallots which I figured would go well with the pheasant. A bit of a gamble, really, as I had absolutely no idea what pheasant tasted like, but luckily enough a pretty good match as it were.. The end result ended up looking a little something like this

Which doesn’t really look too bad at all, and ,really, it wasn’t.. The only problem, really, was that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Had I know that, I would probably have known that pheasant breasts need high heat for a very short time, not low heat for a very long time. The result was a bit of a gummy mess, but a good one at that, though. In short, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the taste which was all-out gamey in a lean kinda way.. (A little like duck, only good!) It was the chewing that posed a bit of a problem, which was a crying shame because we both agreed that the combination of pheasant, ham and celeriac was borderline awesome.

The drumsticks, though, were much better, probably owing to the fact that when it comes to poultry, thighs have always had more fat and connective tissue than breasts have.

Tina, being the sweetheart that she is, immediately took it upon herself to make a note in her tasting notes stating that pheasants have very small breasts and that one should be careful when handing them. I, on the other hand, took to giggling, going “teehee, she said breasts” while I cleared the table for the next dish..

Dish 9: Pork ribs braised in Danish vintage stout, smoked, hay-baked celeriac and brussel sprouts sautéed in bacon fat

I’ve had many a stab at seeing exactly how ridiculously expensive and decadent dishes I could produce. Caviar, lobster, Kobe beef, King Crab and saffron oriented dishes have ensued.. For my next trick this evening, I wanted to try something completely different.. I wanted to see exactly how cheaply I could produce something that could be considered gourmet grade. I forget exactly how much money went into the project but I think it was something to the effect of DKK 50 (which by my calculations amount to about 2.5 grams of Caviar, but I digress), for which I got almost 3 kilos of pork ribs, some celeriac, a few mixed veggies and some Brussel Sprouts.. Oh, and a bottle of 2008 vintage stout which I only managed to sneak into the budget because I bought if for like DKK 5 a year ago when it zoomed past the best before date and stores apparently can’t sell things they consider expired – even if they were made for storage.. Go figure!

Now, I’d like to state that while I didn’t exactly spend a lot of money paying for the dish, at least I put a lot of time and effort into cooking the dish for a person I love.. But.. Umm.. Yeah.. Truth be told, I just sorta chucked things in a pan, applied heat and forgot bout it while zooming off to take care of some work-related business.. So love, yeah.. Time, well, kinda.. Effort? Umm.. Well, I did put SOME effort into hand picking the meat off the bones after simmering them for a good four hours? As much effort as it could possibly take to pick fall-apart tender meat off a bone..

Ahem, anyways, come serving time, I reheated the new boneless fall-apart tender pork meat in the sauce created from the simmering process and served it over a mash of smoked, hay-baked celeriac (which was really just celeriac wrapped in hay and a very basic salt/flour/water dough, then baked in the oven and afterwards subjected to a bit of smoke)  with a few Brussel sprouts sauteed in bacon fat on the side.

It wasn’t expensive, it wasn’t hard, it wasn’t pretty.. But MAN was it tasty! And apparently Brussel Sprouts are super hard to get right, so I did score some street cred with Tina for actually making them tasty, of course I also scored a few pretty weird looks when trying to explain (and sell) to her the concept of hay-baked celeriac. I did win her over, though, and she went from “how can anything with a faint taste of grass possibly be considered a good idea?”  to remarking in her tasting notes that the mash was “great, great, great!” .. Told ya, babe! :P

Dish 10: Tenderloin of venison on a bed of wilted spinach, Pommes Fondant, sautéed shallots, roasting juices and blackberry gastrique

Here’s a fun fact (about Bratislava).. Since I first got into cooking, I’ve really cared less and less for tenderloin.. I mean, it’s such an overrated piece of meat, really.. No no, hold the cries of outrage and hear me out here. I mean, tenderloin is a nice and tender cut of meat and all (hence the name TENDERloin, I’m guessing), it’s just frightfully boring tastewise. I mean, compare it to a nicely marbled ribeye steak or, hech, even a piece of flanksteak and you’ll know what I mean. It’s kind of ridiculous that a much more (supposedly) inferior and cheaper cut of meat can have so much more flavor.. But, once again, and for the umpteenth time in this post, I digress.. What I can’t deny is that there’s something oddly flashy about tenderloin, I mean, it’s a prestigious cut of meat..

So, how to make tenderloin an appealing eat for food snobs such as myself? Well, how about jazzing it up a bit? By adding some spice? And some gameyness? Heck, sounded like a plan to me! So when I happened to stumple upon a nice, little piece of venison tenderloin in the local supermarket.. Well, it ended up in my shopping basket for much the same reason that the poor pheasant mentioned above did, and much like the poor pheasant mentioned above, I took it home, not really knowing what the hell to do with it. Unlike pheasant, though, I have quite a bit of knowledge about how to cook tenderloin. So what I ended up doing was searing the meat with some spices (pepper, coriander, salt as far as I recall) first thing when I arrived at Tina’s on the date of our little dinner experience. I then rested it a bit while I deglazed the pan, added shallots, thyme and a bit of ox tail stock and red wine. This sauce base went into a pot while the tenderloin went into the oven at like 55 degrees C, and both things were just sorta left there until main course time rolled around some 5-6 hours later.

When eating time rolled around, I evacuated the tenderloin from the oven, pulled the sauce off the heat, got out a pan and wilted a bit of spinach down in a bit of bacon fat, put the spinach on a plate, topped with a few thin slices of tenderloin, sprinkled a bit of pommes fondant casually around the plate, added a few drops of blackberry gastrique, drizzled a bit of sauce over the whole thing and served it up amongst cries of “ooh” and “aah”.. Easy as pie! (well, complicated like pie, really, but that doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it?)

And how did the dish fare? Well, thankfully venison tenderloin is a lot more interesting than beef tenderloin – mainly in that it has a lot more flavor to it. The spinach was good, too, and bacon of course adds a magic touch to everything, doesn’t it? I was more nervous about the tenderloin and blackberry pairing that I’d sorta pulled out of nowhere, but thankfully that went down nicely as well.. The blackberries had a bit of a sweet and sour twang to them that mixed well with the deep, gamey flavors of the meat.. The only thing that didn’t work, really, was the part I was most excited about – the Pommes Fondant which are basically fried potato cubes which are then steamed in veal stock. I had a good feeling about it all, I mean, fried potatoes are good, veal stock is good.. But combined it turned into a bit of a soggy mess with the crust pealing off he potatoes and not really doing much good for anything.. It was an interesting idea and it was okay, it just wasn’t gourmet grade.. Not that I’m picky or overly scrutinizing when it comes to my own cooking or anything.. Better luck next time.. The dish was pretty visually stunning, though, and went down well with both of us.. And even better with a glass of the impossibly delicious wine.. Did I mention the wine already?

Oh, right.. I guess I did.. Next up.. Desserts!

Cooking a 14-course dinner, part 4: The execution, dishes 4-7

Having blabbered incoherently about wine for a few minutes, it was time to move on with the show and bring on the next dish:

Dish 4: Steamed asparagus and Skagen Ham with poached quail egg yolks and home-made mayonnaise with vinegar, tarragon, wild garlic and seaweed

There’s this really curious and strange trend going on in Danish gastronomy at the moment. No, I’m not talking about the whole NOMA wave, I’m talking about Danish producers actually starting to believe that they can deliver products as good, if not better than their famous international counterparts. From what I’ve gathered, it started with beer (and they had me at that, of course) and went over vegetables, now we’re seeing a strong development in Danish artisan cheese makers, challenging some of their famous French counterparts.. It’s really quite interesting and funny to watch. Anyways, when I heard of a little old man at the very northern tip of Denmark who produced air-cured ham comparable, if not better, to the very best hams produced in Italy and Spain.. Well, it goes without saying that I had to track some down and play around with it.

Unlike many specialty ingredients I’ve played with, tracking it down wasn’t too hard, but like many specialty ingredients I’ve tracked down, it cost me an arm and a leg.. But who cares? The more important question became: What to do with this fine, expensive, thinly sliced new ham of mine? Well, it’s asparagus season in northern Europe, so the answer came pretty easily: steamed asparagus! And what goes well with asparagus and salty ham? Poached eggs! Or in this case, because I’m me, poached quail eggs.. quail egg yolks, even! And, well, I’m gonna level with you here, I chose to poach me some quail egg yolks in a very simple case of “because I fucking can!” I find no joy what-so-ever in poaching eggs, in fact I quite hate it. Contrary to what all those “it’s really not that hard” blog posts on the internet say, poaching eggs is fucking difficult, even more so when we’re dealing with tiny hard shelled eggs laid by midget birds with too much calcium in their diets! I could entertain you for hours about how I spent a late morning dropping little eggs one by one into simmering water, carefully cooking them at exactly 92 degrees centigrade for 58 seconds while gently separating the yolk from the whites, then dumping them in ice water and storing them carefully for the night to come.. But I won’t, I’m that good of a guy! I’ll fast forward to serving where a few slices of ham were placed on each plate, topped with a few spears of steamed asparagus and three tiny poached egg yolks which had veeeery carefully been heated in hot water then dropped on top of the asparagus. To finish off, I added a few splashes of home-made mayonnaise to which I’d added a reduction of vinegar, shallots, tarragon, seaweed and wild garlic (which is apparently the new black in Danish cuisine).. The idea, was to give the mayonnaise which is very traditional (and French) a Danish twist and still add a bit of a nod to Tina’s love for Sauce Bearnaise.

I could go on and on about the result and flavor combinations because, goddamnit, you can believe the hype about Skagen Ham, it really is that damn good.. But rather than do that, I’ll leave you with this food-porn like image of us tearing into it, because, well, poached eggs simply are one of the sexiest things in this world (after girls and white Burgundy, of course).. No, really, I mean that..

Ahem.. Anyways..

Dish 5: Hot-smoked peppered salmon with new potatoes, Champagne Beurre Blanc, asparagus, cress and butter

The next dish on the menu came about for several odd reasons. For starters because Tina has decided to spend her life living with a boyfriend who doesn’t like fish, which is a little odd for someone who loves fish and shellfish as much as she does, but then again, Tina’s a strange, little girl.. Anyways, for that reason alone, I try to work at least a few fish-based courses into dinners such as these. Which is, again, a little strange as I’m not exactly a big fan of fish, me, either.. Well, I absolutely love sushi and I’ll eat fish sorta willingly given no other choice, but I’ve never exactly been one to go “wow, I really think I’ll cook up something new an exciting with fish as the main ingredient tonight!” .. But on the other hand, I do love me a challenge, so long story short.. Another fish course it was! And a smoked salmon one at that, for two very good reasons: One: I’m addicted to smoke.. Not smoking.. Smoke! I apparently love smoky flavors, be it in my chili, my food and my whisky. Two: In so far as I can actually love a fish, I love salmon.. As long as it’s smoked (duh!) or cured, I’ve been violently, violently ill eating a piece of steamed salmon once and I just CAN’T do it.. So hot smoked salmon it was, from my local fish monger, with nothing but a dash of pepper on top.

With that we had the first new potatoes of the season (which pound for pound were nearly as expensive as the fancy ham), boiled skin on with some fresh herbs and then gently coated in melted butter. A few sprigs of asparagus were added to please the eye, and a healthy dose of tangy Champagne Beurre Blanc was added to please the Tina. Beurre blanc, essentially is a classic French sauce made on a reduction of vinegar, shallots and wine (in this case, Champagne), it’s all reduced to a sweet and sour mess before scary amounts of cold butter is mixed into sauce, creating a sort of emulsion of tangy buttery goodness which goes really well with fish. Especially fish of the fatty variety because the vinegar in the sauce cuts through the fattiness of the fish.. It’s a beautiful combination, really.. If you ask me..

Tina, on the other hand, went her own ways in claiming that the combination of the fish and the sauce wasn’t nearly as good as that of the sauce and the potatoes alone.. We had a nice, brisk little argument over this and I eventually concluded that her opinion was based on the fact that Tina is seriously addicted to tanginess and sour flavors and as such didn’t really appreciate the more mellow combined flavor of the fatty fish and the tangy sauce as much as she appreciated the full out punch in the face of the sauce on its own.. As a result, I went through the course, eating it the way I had intended, with the fish and the sauce together, while Tina went on eating the fish on the side and then combining the sauce and the potatoes, with a little more sauce that I got for her from the kitchen.. To each their own :) Not too surprisingly, Tina’s tasting notes for this dish mostly mention the PERFECT combination of the sauce and the potatoes before making a small note about the salmon and asparagus being of really good quality.

Dish 6:  Slow roasted breast of chicken, julienne spring vegetables and chicken consommé

There are stupendously complex dishes, and then there are really simple dishes that just taste awesome.. After a few (i.e. five!) rather complex dishes, I felt relieved to be going for something nice and simple: breast of chicken! Chicken breast has somewhat of a bad reputation, and pretty much deservingly so. It can be one of the most boring eats on the planet, but treat it right and it can also be really good eats! It’s not complicated to make a tasty, juicy chicken breast.. It’s just rather expensive and time consuming:

Step one is to get the best chicken that money can buy: organic, of course, and one that has been allowed to grow naturally and slowly. You then bring said chicken home, brine it in an 8% salt solution for six hours, rinse it out, soak it in water for another hour, dry it out in the fridge overnight and stick it in the oven for a good ten hours at 65 degrees, rest it well and cut the breast off.. Then you’ll have the most amazing chicken breasts ever.. And while you’re all in, you might as well strip the bones from the rest of the meat and then use the bones as the base of a pot of home-made chicken broth which you’ll then carefully and meticulously reduce down slowly over low heat, adding a bit of fish sauce and salt to taste near the end. You might then want to carefully clarify the broth to create a consommé which you might as well use to pour over the chicken breasts placed on a bed of julienne spring vegetables and some left over asparagus spears.. Thus creating the sixth course for a gourmet dinner, in just under two day’s time! Simple! Time consuming, yes, but ridiculously simple.

“That’s your slow roasted chicken, that is!” Tina exclaimed after the first bite.. “Well, it’s Heston’s, really,” I replied, “but yea..” – “Wow,” she said.. And wow was about right. You’ve no idea how chicken can really taste until you’ve gotten a good specimen and treated it with the respect that it deserves. It was like buttery chickeny goodness coated in rich, velvety chicken broth.. Yum! .. And then I went and ruined it all by saying something stupid like “Iiiii.. think I’ll add a bit of raw leek to the julienned spring vegetables..” – Okay, ruined is a big word and a bit of a wrong word, but really.. I was surprised how much of an oniony flavor leek can have in its raw state, and I was surprised how much that flavor killed the delicate taste of the chicken consommé. It was, admittedly, a rather small flaw, but a flaw none the less, and it hurt, but at least I got six dishes in before making any utter mistakes, and at least the dish was still very tasty, but with two dedicated and attentive food geeks, it didn’t go unnoticed and, of course, deserves mention here as well.. Blah, on to the next..

Dish 7: Cava granité

There’s really only one problem to lengthy 6+ course dinners (barring every other problem I’ve already addressed anyways), and that is the fact that the flavors at some point become so many and so complex and intermingled that really tasting new flavors become increasingly difficult and you need a little something to cleanse the palate completely before moving onwards, and thus God created the palate cleanser, a small, reviving dish that washes away the old flavors and prepare you for those to come.. Why am I spending an entire paragraph explaining this to you guys? Well, GUYS, because that is EXACTLY the excuse you will be using to sneak a little more alcohol into the GIRLS you’re having dinner with in the shape of a Cava Granité..

Okay, I kid, I kid.. Though if you’re a worse man than I, then the idea would probably work to your advantage.. But all joking aside, a palate cleanser at at least one point during a lengthy meal IS a good idea, for the (real) reasons stated above. I wanted one for my meal as well, and since I happened to have a half bottle of Cava left over from various elements of the other dishes, it seemed quite appropriate to mix it with a bit of lemon juice and a fitting amount of sugar, then freeze it till needed and shave a little into two ramekins and serve as needed..

The result was a semi-sweet, refreshing, cold lemony treat which washed away the previous impressions and, as intended, gave us a little breather and time to prepare for the upcoming heavier dishes. It also made us quite warm, happy and chatty, possibly owing to the 12% alcohol by volume well hidden by the sugar and lemon juice. You want to be careful with the sugar, of course, as this is in no way meant to be an overly sweet dessert-like dish, but on the other hand, you don’t want it to be too tart or dry..  I must’ve gotten the balance somewhat right as Tina’s comments read simply “Simply yummy! No further comments!”

Join us in the next installment of the series for more tall tales involving pheasants and things that go “oink!” in the night..

Cooking a 14-course dinner, part 3: The execution, dishes 1 -3 (and some affectionate blabbering about wines)

There’s an important French cooking concept. It’s called mise en place.  It refers to the concept of everything needed to quickly finish a dish being in it’s place and prepped. It’s supposed to make execution of multiple servings dinners quite a lot easier.. And I’m not very good at it.. Well, that is, I’m pretty good at sorting everything out, putting it into place, and getting it ready.. I’m just not very good at subsequently remembering where I put the gosh darn things..

Additionally, there’s an important universal cooking concept which comes in handy when staging multiple servings dinners: it’s called proper planning. And as we all know by now, I pretty much fucking suck at that. So, setting up a 10+ course dinner is always f’ing interesting in one way or another. Especially, like this time around, when I lose all my meticulously written down instructions for the proper order of doing things (timing 14 dishes in a row takes some planning, who’d have thunk?)

Keeping these two facts in mind, it should come as no surprise that the first 30 odd minutes or so of a dinner service is always a goddamn mess in which I’m running around the kitchen, wondering which thing goes where at what time and laying out things, trying to remember what the hell my plan for the evening was. Luckily, though, I have a very understanding best friend and fellow eater who doesn’t mind taking her time getting ready, and pretty, for a big dinner. Heck, she’ll even help set the table.. Lest she forgets, of course, which just happened to be the way of things this time around.. So once I emerged from the kitchen, sweating and panting (but not bleeding this time around) after I’d sorted out my game plan and running order, asking if Tina was ready for dinner, she simply smiled at me and nodded.. At which point I smiled back at her and added that “yes, you would be, if you’d set the table as promised” -”Oops,” she blushed.. “One thing,” I muttered, “one thing I asked you to do.. And you don’t do it.. Here I am, preparing 14 dishes and..” – “Oh shush,” came the reply as she got cracking and I returned to the kitchen to break out the Champagne.. Or the sparkling Riesling, I should say, as I refuse to succumb to the barbaric level of some people who refer to any sparkling wine made from any grape from any corner of the world as Champagne.

Aperitif: Michael Schäfer Classic Riesling Extra Trocken

Well, there’s a first. I don’t think I’ve ever started a fancy dinner without genuine Champagne.. Well, I have, but those were little four or five course dinners and they don’t really count anymore, do they? Anyways, my go to wine guy had suggested I try a dry Riesling over a Champagne and since he hardly ever lets me down, I went along reluctantly.. But man were my doubts put to shame.

Tina’s picture only partially captures the beauty of this wine which, admittedly, completely blew me away.. The fruity, fresh, mineral characters of the Riesling grapes really added something to the party and, on a hot spring evening such as this, it seemed more refreshing and alive than the usual Champagnes which can seem a little.. umm.. dry, heavy and complexly yeasty (and I mean that in the best possible way, of course) .. Very surprisingly little number, this, and at less than half the price of a good bottle of Champagne, a bargain, too.. And maybe a sign of good things to come?

Dish 1: Fried potato crisp with smoked salmon, smoked white cheese, radishes and pickled cucumber gel

“Pickled cucumber.. gel?” – Tina stared at me in disbelief.. “But..? Gel..? Why..?” – “Why not,” I countered, “after all, anyone can make pickled cucumbers.. I want to go down in history as the first person to combine salmon, cheese and pickled cucumber.. Gel!” – “Well, you’re the culinary genius,” she said, shaking her little head and poking at the tiny droplets of cucumber gel on her plate.. I just wonder how you come up with these weird pairings is all..”

“It sounded appropriately messed up,” was about all I could manage as a reply.. “Which means it’s probably tasty as hell,” she added, “want to have a go?” – and so we did, and apparent happy bliss ensued. Reading the tasting notes of the evening that Tina subsequently supplied me with, I can see she labeled it a “smoking good idea”, adding both “Mmmmm!” and “:)” – If I’m to elaborate a little I would say that the textures of the dish accompanied one another superbly and that the contrast between the soft cheese and the silky salmon clashed wonderfully with the crispiness of the crisps and the radishes while the pungent taste of the radishes countered the deep. smoky flavors quite well. I will, however, agree with my pretty co-eater that the “cucumber gel quite drowned in the smoky flavors” it was a nice hint of cucumberness, though.. Yes, that’s a word that I just made up.

Moving on rather quickly, I managed to plate the next dish of the evening which was probably both the most elaborate and the most nearly fatal of the evening..

Dish 2: Glazed lobster tail, trout roe and aromatic sea water foam with raw, pickled leeks, blanched red onion slithers and creme fraiche


Every now and then, I just go crazy.. And more often than not when I do, lobster is involved in one way or another. In this case I’d caught a lobster (straight out of the freezer aisle, yo!), dissected it, steamed the tails, and made stock from the shells and a crap-load of Cognac which was then reduced to a bear syrupy-like state which was then used to glaze the steamed tails. The glazed tails were arranged on a mix of thinly sliced raw leeks marinated in canola oil, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper, and blanched red onion slithers. Next to this a dollop of creme fraiche, a spoonful of trout roe and a bit of “aromatic sea foam” .. which was really just a mix of water and smoky Laphroaig Whisky infused with seaweed and dill, all of which was blended with a few grams of Soy lechitine to create a stable, manipulable foam.. Simple, right?

Okay, maybe not quite simple, but impressive – sure! Tina certainly was entirely taken aback by a combination of the presentation, the fact that lobster had once again made it onto her plate, the flavor combinations and the sheer complexity of the dish.

Sadly, though, I was struggling with a bad case of nausea, probably brought on by the culmination of a stressful week in an extravagant evening, so.. Well, for me most of this dish was spent reeling from side to side while Tina looked at me with a worried frown and tried to enjoy her own eating experience while I tried not to throw up over mine. I’m glad to report, though, that Tina had the following to say about the dish in her notes: ” lobster and sea water was a top combination! Sea water adds to lobster a hint of wind and weather and rocky shores! :)” Me, I was mainly happy that I managed to not ruin the experience for everybody by getting violently ill.. And that Tina slowly brought me back to life by having me sip Riesling until I started feeling better again. Which, happily, meant that by the next dish, I was ready to once again take part in enjoying the evening.

Dish 3: Layered Creme Ninon

Over a year ago now, Tina watched a cooking show in which the Danish Price Brothers created their version of Creme Ninon, a chicken-y pea soup, lazed with Champagne and folded into whipped cream. For over a year now, Tina have tried to persuade me that we should cook our version of this dish while I, in return, have tried to fool her into believing that Creme Ninon could only be made with freshly picked, sun ripened sweet peas.. Mainly in an effort to get her to forget about the idea so that I might surprise her with my own version. It worked, sorta, kinda for a while until she got really demanding and started arguing her case more insistingly.. At which point I had to tell her to be a good girl and stop arguing lest she wanted to spoil a well-meant surprise.. Which, to her credit she did, if there’s one thing that will ALWAYS shut Tina up, it’s the threat of culinary sanctions.

So now the time had come for me to actually attempt to cook up the dish for my little friend, and boy was I nervous.. I mean, not only had she lifted the dish up on some sort of pedestal , surrounded by culinary mystique, I would also have to find my own damn way of doing the dish because copying a recipe is both too easy and too damn boring.. So, on a quest I went which had me first making chicken soup from scratch then reducing it for hours and hours and hours before adding the best damn peas I could find (which were of course neither freshly picked nor sun-ripened or anything else) and blending the lot with some white Burgundy, fresh lime juice and other fancy stuff.. What I was left with was an almost unnaturally green pea soup which on the evening was then heated,, poured into a heated bowl, topped with some lightly whipped organic cream and a dollop of premium quality Cava sparkling wine which had, again, been blended with a bit of soy lechitine (aah, how I love thee) to make a lasting foam and some effervescent sugar to create an illusion of bubbles. On top of every, I piled a small amount of powdered crispy ham and served it all up as layered Creme Ninon for the diner to mix at his or her own leisure at the table.

The presentation was impressive, the gimmick fun and interesting.. The taste.. Well, delicate, subtle, good.. An impressive dish, certainly, that sort of lacked the oomph to really knock us off our feet.. But then again, what can you expect from pea soup? At least Tina was very happy and had her curiosity and craving satisfied.. I couldn’t help but think, though, that she had expected a major food orgasm and ended up feeling strangely denied.

Side note: The observant reader will probably note by now that Creme Ninon is not a very typical Danish dish, nor is it made exclusively with local ingredients.. Good job, you caught me! But the even more observant and loyal reader will know, that I usually sneak in one or more dishes into my theme dinners that mess everything up and completely breaks the monotony – this was one such dish.

Intermission: On the French, their wines and the sex appeal thereof

While the Creme Ninon may have taken the price as the least surprising act of the evening, for me at least what followed was probably the biggest surprise of the evening, and it wasn’t even a dish – it was a wine.. But not just any wine, it was a rather obscure white wine from the Lirac region of France, brought home exclusively by my go to wine guy and recommended to me with the words: “Well, it’s not a white Burgundy, but I sell it by the truck load and it’s a very fine wine experience indeed!” – for some this sales tactic might seem a little confusing, others will of course know that I have an irrational love affair with great white Burgundy wines. In fact, it’s probably fair to argue that two of my favorite things in this world include beautiful women and beautiful white Burgundy wines.. Ahh, it’s a simple life.. But an expensive one at that.. But I digress.. What I wanted to get at was the fact that I had actually explicitly asked my wine guy if he could recommend me a white Burgundy for the occasion. Sadly, though, he was out of suitable candidates so rather than selling me something I’d be upset with, he reasoned that I should try one of his other white wine and see if I liked it which brings us back to the quote above.

I’d spent many a day arguing with myself about whether or not to serve the wine (what can I say? I’m a geek!) and had eventually decided that I would give it a go. I was apprehensive, though, thinking that I could probably only be disappointed. On the other hand, the madness has to stop at some point, you can’t keep popping DKK 400 bottles of wine and hey, I’d had some luck with the DKK 175 bottle of sparkling wine, maybe the ordinary white would surprise me as well. At least that’s what I tried to convince myself as I pulled the cork..

And then my snobbish ways were, once again, put to shame. As the cork left the bottle an intense, toasted, floral smell seeped out of the bottle and into the glasses. A sniff at the rim of the glass proved that something good was in store and as we tasted time stood still for a second. Now, Tina’s, admittedly slightly tipsy wine notes, called it “slightly aged-like with subtle rum-like undertones and a good, looooong after taste” and fucking silly as that may sound, I’m gonna stand up for the little one for a change. It DID have an oaky aged quality to it yet in a subtle and not over-powering way, it was very floral, sweet and sorta kerosene like (and I mean that in approving manner) like a good, young Cuban rum, yet dry and tart, too, and it did have an aftertaste that lasted for a good few minutes and kept showing new characters.. It was, in short, a very impressive wine.. It was no white Burgundy, it lacked that certain.. sexiness and finesse that make them feel so irresistible and make me do utterly stupid things such as deciding that DKK 400 is a perfectly reasonable starting point for a wine, but at half the price of said starting point, it was a very good buy indeed.. And boy am I a geek, I’ll shut up for now.. And get back to you with the remaining dishes soon.