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?

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