Johan cooks dinner, Part 3: Building a menu

Setting a theme for the recently completed installment of our Gourmet dinner series was really the only easy part of the grand equation. Earlier this year, I got a pretty huge tax refund and spent parts on it on a couple of bottles of quite expensive French wine. It seemed only reasonable to cook a French themed dinner to go along with these wines.. Right! Okay! Fine! From then on, it was really just a matter of picking some fancy, classic French dishes to match the wines.. Right?

Well, see, there’s just one major problem when it comes to classic French cooking: It’s so tried, trued and tested.. And it’s all been done a million times over.. As such, the one word that keeps popping into my mind when I play the classic French cuisine association game is: “Boring!” .. I don’t mean to insult any French chefs out there, but it’s kinda what you get for being number one and the kitchen that all of Europe and half of the world looks up to.. Everybody wants to perfect your dishes.. Everyone except me, apparently. Okay, admittedly‚ I have spent hours – even days – slaving over the odd Demi-Glace or Sauce Bordelaise, but generally it’s never really been my calling to re-produce classic French dishes.

So where to go then, if you don’t want to make classic French dishes and you’re not quite talented enough to actually re-invent French cuisine. Well, one way to go is to shake and mix things up a bit. Taking classic French ingredients or techniques and going ever so slightly crazy with them, either pairing them in unusual and seemingly illogical ways or mixing them with traditional elements from other cuisines in a crazy fusion cooking sorta way.. Hey, that seemed like fun! So that became the basic premise of my dinner..

Now, to find some classic French ingredients and some not-so-classic ways to play around with them. Starting with the ingredients which, this time around, caused me a fair bit of concern and several spells of headache coz, as I mentioned in an earlier post, how do you surprise, wow and flabbergast someone who’s already used to the very best? One way would be to draw inspiration from a list Tina and I have been keeping for a few years starting back in 2008 when I got the stupid idea that despite being a poor student, I should try to introduce Tina to all of the majorly recognized luxury food items in the world. This silly idea has, so far, led us through Caviar, saffron, truffles and the likes.. But there were still a couple of items left on our to-do list, a few of which were decidedly French, namely Foie Gras and lobster – and it just so happened that these food items would make great natural starter dishes and both go well with Champagne. There’s even a bit of a dual use of the lobster in that the meat can be used for one dish and the shells for making a bisque which could be used in another.. And so, for my first three dishes I chose Foie Gras, Lobster meat and Lobster Bisque as the main ingredients.

The trouble with kicking things off with Foie Gras and lobster is, of course, that it raises certain expectations. You either have to follow up with some pretty top shelf expensive ingredients or some pretty interesting or well thought-out presentations. I had to settle for a compromise between the two because while I have made a considerable amount of money over the last few months, I’m not exactly rich. So I wanted the best possible ingredients I could get and then I wanted to do the best I could with them from then on.. With that in mind, I moved on to the next part of the dinner, dishes to match the white wine.

Since I was dealing with expensive wines, I made a point not to make the first dish served with each wine too overpowering as to really allow us to taste the wine. As such, I thought that a opening dish for the white wine portion of the show would be an egg and cheese based dish which should offer enough room for the flavors of the wine to power through. The challenge, of course would be to come up with an egg and cheese based dish worthy of following a lobster bisque. Following the lighter dish, I wanted to come up with something a little more bold to see just how much the wine could stand up to. White meat in some sort of potent cream sauce seemed a logical choice, but seeing as Tina isn’t much of a fan of white meat to begin with, it wasn’t an easy choice. I ended up settling on chicken as the lesser of two evils as I’ve actually made some head-way in getting her to enjoy chicken whereas pork is still a pretty big no-no for her.

A fact that actually posed a bit of a challenge for my next dish. I’d decided that the sixth dish would be the time to kick it up a notch and move to a red wine. I’d also decided, pretty much from day one, as an homage to our mutual love for the Asterix comic books and cartoons, that the next dish should be wild boar in a tribute to the heroes of these comics and their favorite dish.. Serving wild boar, which is essentially still pork, to someone who doesn’t dig on swine would be a challenge, both for me and for the poor girl who had to eat it.. But I loves me a challenge.

I figured that after successfully completing a challenge, one deserved a reward, in the form of something one recognizes and appreciates: red meat! The seventh course, the main course so to speak, would be some form of rare steak with a flavorful sauce and some form of potato and mushroom sides.. This was actually the easiest choice on the menu.. Well, quite possibly the second easiest as dish number eight also came to me pretty instantly: Following seven pretty heavy dishes, I figured something light and fluffy was needed, quite possibly containing a fair amount of booze to help burn away some of the fat and help kickstart digestion. And I knew just the thing: Mojito Sorbet! And no, I haven’t gone crazy, and yes, I know there’s nothing even remotely French about Cuba’s national drink.. But if only you knew how much Tina has been begging and pleading with me to make her that dish again and how every bit of female charm she could possibly muster has been applied as well.. I’m only human, y’know, and for her I was willing to bend the rules a little.. So eight dish = Mojito Sorbet, end of discussion!

It could have probably well all ended there, but then I know that I had two quality bars of chocolate laying around that I had bought ages ago with Tina in mind and couldn’t well just forget about. One was Peruvian white chocolate with licorice and lemon, the other a German 80% Cocoa dark chocolate with chili. Something would have to be done with those and it would have to be one dish for each because nine is a strange, odd number and ten just sounds better.

So, in short, that was the basic plan for the evening.

Champagne: Foie Gras, Lobster Meat, Lobster Bisque.

White: Egg and Cheese, Chicken in Cream sauce.

Red: Wild Boar, Steak with potatoes and mushrooms.

Champagne (again): Mojito Sorbet, White Chocolate, Dark Chocolate.

Then, to kick things up a notch, mix things, create some fusion and work out some new ideas. There is really no way to easily explain how the dishes evolved from there, partially because my mind works in pretty mysterious ways and partially because it would take forever to explain. Here, however, is the final menu in all it’s over the top glory:

Foie Gras on roasted rye, julienne of Granny Smith apple and baby greens in apple vinaigrette

French Gougères (cheese puffs) with steamed lobster in home-made mayonnaise and Dijon mustard

Asian inspired king crab ravioli in lobster bisque with saffron and 25 year-old Cognac

Goat cheese and stinging nettles omelette with smoked salmon topped with Szechuan Pepper on baby greens with Granny Smith apple Vinaigrette

Extremely slow roasted Danish free-range chicken with steamed white asparagus in a thick cream sauce on baguette fried in chicken infused browned butter.

Blackberry and red wine glazed wild boar meatballs with lavender served with Provencal Ratatouille of local vegetables and spiced Puy lentils

Thinly sliced rare Kobe-Style Wagyu beef from the grill served with braised oyster mushrooms, Sauce Bordelaise, and pure of potatoes with shallots, Parma ham, fresh thyme and lemon

Mojito Sorbet made with Havana Club 3 Añjos and Ron Zacapa 23 Añjos

White chocolate mousse with licorice and lemon, topped with wild strawberries, balsamic reduction and black pepper

Chocolate brownie with chili and Cointreau topped with 23 karat edible gold and served with vanilla and El Dorado spiced rum ice cream


… Nice and simple, eh? Alright, maybe not quite so simple after all, but definitely a challenge, and quite possibly enough to impress even the most spoiled of little blondes.. That is if I could actually get a hold of all of the more, ahem, luxurious ingredients, and then actually cook them..

Will our hero succeed? All shall be revealed in part four!

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