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.


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