So, Saturday was given over to what might be termed a Food Snoot Dinner. We took our travelling dog and pony show to Oakland to cook for a small host of friends. What we didn't mention was that our primary mission was to have our friend Jeff make his patented margaritas -- the best on this side of the Tropic of Cancer-- and to get a loaf of Bill's Portuguese Sweet Bread -- the best on this hemisphere of the world.
Our end of the bargain was providing some eats, to wit:
- Steak Poivre with Brandy Cream Sauce or
- Halibut and Shrimp Ajito
- Sofrito Collard Greens
- Ricotta Gnocchi, sauteed with Herbs
- Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes with Warm Black Cherry Sauce
In order to accomplish this, we went on a bit of a shopping trip, which took us to the chocolate department of Whole Foods. Scharffenberger, Valrhona, or El Rey.... choices choices. After a respectable amount of testing, we settled on 70% cacao Scharffenberger, and the spicy and very complex El Rey 62% cacao.
Molten lava, here we come.
We arrived early, the better to margarita ourselves.
"Work? What do you mean?"
"Cook. You were going to cook. You brought a giant cooler and a shopping bag of food along."
"See -- here are the pots and knives and other implements of cookage...."
"Believe me, we're so ready to cook, but my throat... it's just a wee bit dry...."
"Would you like some water?"
"When I want water, I'll drink water, when I want tequila, I'll beg Jeff for a margarita."
The Margarita Man -- a blur of action -- goes to work on limes and lemons straight off the tree from Bill and Mo's garden.
Meanwhile, we got to work on the menu. I forgot to bring the recipe for the gnocchi so already -- before I've even had a sip of alcohol, I'm doing well.
"Uh... I think let's start with a bowl."
In the end, we added two eggs to about two pounds of ricotta and then Jan and Mo lovingly rolled out the gnocchi with liberal amounts of flour.
After I'd had a good half a drink though, "Damn! I forgot to put in the Parmagiano!"
I think you can see where this cooking situation is headed.
Still, knowing this was a somewhat likely scenario, we pre-prepped extensively. So in no time at all, we had all the burners going pretty decently and, miraculously, had dinner moving right along.
For the Steak Poivre, we coated one side of New York Strip steaks with a mix of crushed peppercorns and mustard seeds and threw them onto the grill.
The brandy cream sauce is on the top left burner. A pretty straightforward mix of sauteed shallots, cooked with a tablespoon dijon mustard, a quarter cup of brandy and (the secret killer ingredient) half a cup of Straus Family cream.
Not shown in this picture: Jan and Mo and I taking turns dipping fingers in the neck of the cream bottle and licking off the thickened cream that rose to the top.
Anyway, we finished the sauce with lemon juice, thyme and some salt and cayenne. And once again, our own Sauce Master hit every note perfectly.
In addition to the Sweet bread, Bill brought us an Apple Pie, a specialty for Eric, who was not allowed to have Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes. Hey, Eric, you're not -- hey! hey! you're not allowed to have that! *Slaps hand*
For a cheese course, we had some Mimolette, affined by Jean d'Alos, of course, with toasted pecans.
Kitty says, "Nice bread, but where's all that steak that I saw around here before?"
Zuni Cafe's Ricotta Gnocchi
1 lb ricotta (Use Bellwether Farms Ricotta, or else, make your own and drain well. You need very firm ricotta cheese.)
1/4 cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese
1 Tbs butter, melted
2 tsp flour, plus 1 cup for shaping
1 tsp salt
Mash together ricotta, 2 teaspoons of flour, Parmagiano, butter, eggs, and salt, mixing to a smooth paste. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
Pour remaining flour into a large plate. Put on a large pot of water to boil. Using a spoon, scoop out a small ball of the ricotta mixture. Roll it in flour to form an oval.
When all of mixture has been rolled and the water is boiling, drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and simmer five to six minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Serve hot with more butter and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. We sauteed them briefly in butter with some chopped sage.