Sunday, October 3, 2010

Project Food Blog #3. The Luxury Dinner, The Burra Memsahib Entertains!

  Wow! I cannot believe it but I'm still hanging in there with Project Food Blog. Thanks to all of you for your support and your votes. I'm totally blown away that I made it through Rounds #1 and #2 and am now heading for 

Project Food Blog Challenge #3 : The Luxury Dinner!
    The folks at Food Buzz want to know how I entertain with a dinner party and  Luxury is the name of the game. High Falootin' Hoity Toity, we're puttin' on the Ritz... or at least puttin' on the dog! Even Patsy got into the act with a bath and a new outfit.

  This Challenge really made me think about what my feelings about luxury are. I'm used to throwing big parties and large dinners, in short cooking for a crowd. There's usually no less than 8 at our table, especially when I'm doing an Indian feast. But when I really thought about what luxury meant to me, I started thinking small and intimate, the best and rarest ingredients carefully prepared. Luxury means the good stuff and that's not for a crowd. I also wanted to fix dishes that I hadn't fixed before with a protein that I hadn't used before, mainly because it's a bit pricey. I decided to go Daffy.

I decided to do duck, a Goan Duck Vindaloo to be exact.  I'd turn the evening into a mini-trip to Goa and all points South. And who exactly is the Burra Memsahib? Well, back in the days of the Raj, that was "The Great Lady" known as "The typical haughty and condescending creature." I figured she ought be able to throw a luxury dinner. Except she wouldn't be cooking it. Or doing the shopping or the dishes after. So how to still channel my inner Memsahib while still being my very own kitchen wallah? The first step was coming up with a menu.

                             (Click on the menu below to enlarge it.)
    I'd roll out the luxury with a Bengali  Royal rice rich with raisins and cashews and whole spices. It's sprinkled with rose water and kewra water and topped with rose petals and orchids. The last time I had orchids on a Friday night it was Prom and I didn't wind up eating them.

I made a shrimp and vegetable stuffing...

   I softened and rolled pappads. I stuffed them with the mixture, then fried them and served them with a tender, organic watercress and shallot salad with a lime dressing and the Kashmiri Apple chutney that I'd made from the apples I'd gleaned last month. 

I splurged and bought lotus root and mixed it with summer squash and peas from the Farmers Market.

 In short I scoured Sonoma County and parts of Marin for the best ingredients I could find. I broke out the Palmaz 2006 Johannisberg Reisling at 45 bucks a bottle. Seeing as I don't even drink, what were we saving it for if not this night!!?

  I love throwing a good dinner party, and I especially love working with the best ingredients I can find and putting together a dish I've always wanted to try but never cooked. What I hate is getting all funky and sweaty, and since this was all about The Luxe, and I would be doing some unfamiliar dishes (in clay) I decided planning was number one!!  The way I looked at it, the more I could do ahead, the more "luxurious" I could look on the actual day of the party.

   So on Thursday I started cooking my duck... till Midnight I was cooking my duck. You see I wasn't sure if I'd make it to Round 3, so I waited to throw my dinner until the day I found out. Great planning Kathy!

    One of the best things about Duck Vindaloo is the fact that long cooking and overnight storage (in the fridge of course) is great for it. The dish was designed for big time celebrations such as weddings which could go on for days. Things had to sit around in a lot of heat without refrigeration, and since it's traditionally cooked in rice or coconut vinegar, it keeps!

   Right around this time my mother, who now because of this whole Food Blog thing seems to be intrigued by the cooking game, volunteered to come over and "help"me. Considering her last attempt at "cook-ahead-entertaining" worked great until she forgot to actually do the cook part and the refrigeration part afterward, resulting in the whole family looking for the last pumpkin pie in Santa Rosa on Christmas Eve, I passed. Though on second thought, if Vindaloo style cooking was meant for anyone, it was meant for her.

   The secret to making this dish without needing an angioplasty afterward is cooking with all the fat, refrigerating overnight, and then when the hardened fat has chilled and risen to the top, removing it. The dish is reheated slowly the next day and keeps all the flavor of the fat without all... the bad fat. That's a little trick that Paula Wolfert turned me on to.

   And who was going to enjoy all this  duck largess with us? Our neighbors Kathy and Leighton (the guy on the right. He's not reacting to the food, he just bought a boat and thinks he's a pirate)

   They're regular guests at our house and that was another reason I wanted to make sure I had something unusual. Kathy is from France and lived for a number of years in Nepal. Leighton is in the wine industry, therefore a reason to pop the good stuff. He and Kathy brought some choice bottles for the table to taste. Of course our friend Mr. X was included. He is going back to Kerala next month to visit his friends. He also was nice enough to lend me one of his bronze Urulis as a centerpiece so that I could float marigolds and sunflowers in it.

  The marigold petals were strewn along the tablecloth, the candles were lit, the chapattis made ahead of time and kept warm thereby avoiding floury sweaty hostess syndrome,  the table was set and everyone dug in.

    I was going to plate everything then decided part of the fun of a party, even if it's a luxury party, is letting everyone serve themselves family style. It gets conversation going and people get to explore and ask about the various dishes being offered. Always helpful if you're serving foods the guests are unfamiliar with.

   Everyone wined and dined.

   We were serenaded throughout dinner by Pandora. Not the planet from , the webservice which I'd programmed with the music of Bismillah Khan
 ...and Ravi Shankar.

   These guys really know how to rock out an Indian dinner party. Having been a DJ for a number of years in LA, I like to get a good musical ambiance going before the company arrives. I also like to chop in rhythm, and music while I'm finishing cooking helps me keep in pace.
  There were laughs and toasting and finally the dinner was done. But not quite, because what would dinner be without dessert??? Certainly not luxurious that's for sure.

   After the duck in such a rich sauce, and the seafood and the chutneys and the rice with the spices, I was looking for a dessert that would be light and flavorful and yet elegant. Something worthy of my dinner. I also wanted something that would be characteristic of Goa, where the chefs love their puddings. I chose a  light Mango pudding, almost a mousse, scattered with blossoms and rose petals.

   Ok, I have to admit to really working the flowers for this dinner party. Besides the flowers for the table, I broke the bank and bought edible flowers and hot damn I was gonna use them!! On everything.

 Of course we weren't the only ones getting a treat. Patsy was rewarded for good behavior during dinner, and only occasionally getting under the table and laying her head on guests' knees.

She had her own little Pupcake from Three Dog Bakery here in Sonoma, where she also got her Luxury Dinner evening wear.

What followed was definitely not luxurious behavior so there are no photos after she got her treat.
Back at the luxury table we were not much better.

Dead soldiers hit the table, and Mr. X's uruli started to leak all over the table cloth. The guests were mellow.
And thanks to careful planning I made it through, calm, cool and collected.

  In short how did we like our luxury dinner? I got over my fear of cooking duck which I'd always found terribly intimidating. After all who wants to drop a bundle on something and then wreck it? Slow cooking did the trick. It was nice to have just a few guests, good conversation and the ability to focus on having a nice relaxing evening for once, with family and friends, and after all isn't that what true luxury is all about?


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