My sister and brother-in-law are in town, which means two things.
1) The whole family is under one roof for a week—something that hasn’t happened in more than a year.
2) I have someone else in the house who has as much fun cooking gourmet meals as I do.
Inspired by a love of food and a recent reading of Robert Capon’s book Supper of the Lamb, Joel and I decided to prepare a complex and delicious summer meal for our family. The big meal takes place tomorrow, but we’ve got the menu set, and I just ran to pick up many of the groceries we’ll need. Here’s what’s on tap:
Appetizer: Shrimp ceviche
First course: Fried goat cheese balls with honey and pistachios, served over greens
Main course: Samki Harra (Lebanese Fish in a cilantro-chili sauce), served over corn salad and mashed potatoes & parsnips, taken from The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
Dessert: Chocolate mousse
The first item on the agenda is preparing a fish stock, and I’ve got the snapper bones and head all ready. According to the man behind the seafood counter at Central Market, snappers have barbs that sting you if you touch them. Thus, I am going to arm myself with rubber gloves before man-handling the fish skeleton later tonight.
I really hope this was the grossest and hardest part of the whole process. At least I learned a little bit about the anatomy of a saltwater fish! Now it just has to boil and then simmer for 45 minutes.
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After the fish cooked for about an hour, I strained out all the vegetables and fish bits, to be left with some beautiful stock:
Fish stock all ready for the big day!!
Goodnight for now!
It’s Thursday morning, and it’s time to start working on the chocolate mousse! I put the mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer to chill, and threw together chocolate chips, coffee, kahlua, and half a stick of butter in a double boiler. The result:
After stirring in the bloomed, dissolved gelatin, I whipped up the cream and began stirring that in as well:
Now it has to chill, and after about an hour I’ll top off the mousse with some shaved dark chocolate!
And now onto bigger and more complicated things! When Joel arrived, we decided to start with the shrimp ceviche since it could be made ahead and chilled. This required three kinds of seafood: scallops, lobster, and, obviously, shrimp!
Cooking the scallops:
And the lobster:
Joel and my mom did most of the dirty work here, whereas I prepared the fruity/spicy salsa base.
Taste-testing it was divine:
While that was in the works, I started making the corn salad to go with the fish. Joel had the brilliant idea of making a kind of creamed corn out of it, so I added some of the heavy cream that we had leftover from making mousse.
I added chopped tomatoes, a little bit of onion, and substituted cilantro for basil, so that it would tie in well with the cilantro chili sauce that would go over the fish. Finished product:
Meanwhile, I chopped up potatoes and parsnips and threw them in a huge pot of water to boil for the mashed potatoes.
With the clock ticking ever nearer to seven o’clock, it was time to start the fried goat cheese balls! This course was quite an endeavor, and I think everyone helped out.
I first made a batter that we dipped the refrigerated, rolled up goat cheese balls in. My sister Emily then rolled the battery balls in panko (Japanese bread crumbs).
Joel dunked the balls in a boiling batch of canola oil. If you try this at home, be careful! The hot oil was about to splatter everywhere, so we covered the pot with a pizza pan when we weren’t using the oil.
Once the crispy cheese balls had cooled a bit, I mixed some arugula and spinach leaves on a plate, tossed them with some apple cider vinegar (Joel’s idea!), and sprinkled honey and roasted pistachios on top of the goat cheese balls. They looked beautiful!
7 o’clock! I felt like I was on “Chopped!” Luckily, our guests were not impatient, so they enjoyed chatting and drinking while we finished setting the table and fixing the main course, which was the last thing we had to worry about.
Joel had finished up the mashed potatoes and parsnips for me, while I seared the fish fillets. After those had cooked for a few minutes on each side, I sauteed some onions and garlic. After about 15 minutes, I added cilantro, the 3 cups of fish stock from yesterday, as well as some cumin and cayenne pepper to give it a kick. I then finished cooking the fish in the sauce to give it extra flavor and to make sure it was completely done. Joel and I plated the main course, using the potatoes as a base, then corn salad, then fish on top of that, with the yummy cilantro sauce drizzled over the whole thing.
Finally! Time to eat! With four beautiful courses and some Sauvignon Blanc to go with them, the meal really couldn’t have been tastier.
Fried goat cheese balls
Fish over corn salad and mashed potatoes and parsnips
And … chocolate mousse (served with coffee, of course!)
Thanks to the many people who made this meal possible! This may be our most successful feast yet. And while I think this meal was both fairly nourishing and tasty, I think these courses would have satisfied even picky Robert Capon, who wrote in his ode to food, “Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste.”