Clanking of Crystal
(explosions off in the distance)
(new year's eve. number 45.)
This was the 5th time we have prepared vaguely the same meal, on New Year's Eve, for a group of invited friends, and our forth celebrating it as an 'anniversary.' The first year, it was a humble and rag-tag affair, people sitting on stools that didn't fit the dining table, or eating gnocchi with a spoon because we had run out of forks. Each subsequent year, we've "remixed" the original menu, as a constraint that offers fun and boundary-pushing challenges for us. One year we planned so many courses we could hardly keep track of them all, and probably forgot to bring some out. Last year we served the meal as snacks and it turned into a giant, raging party with broken lightbulbs and fireworks. So, this time around, we reduced it to a refined but hearty three courses, and invited 16 people. It was a special group this time; consisting largely of people who are either in town only for the winter, were just visiting for the Holidays, or had never been to Secret Restaurant before.
This group included the very special guest Will Boal, our old 3rd-cook from the "late 2010/early 2011" era, who is the only person to have attended every single Secret Restaurant Portland anniversary dinner. He was visiting with his partner Hannah Keen. They met as apprentices on Let Us Farm (and hosted our Sept. 2011 farm lunch) and now run 26th Street Farm together in Hastings, Nebraska.
Past New Year's S.R. blog posts, for reference:
Roasted Garlic and Cambozola Cheese, Sliced Baguette
The classic appetizer from Beppe & Gianni's Trattoria in Lucas and my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. We served this at our first New Year's dinner of '09/'10. It's is one of the impeccable appetizers of the world.
Chex Mix with Pumpernickel Pretzel Sticks
My classic formula for Chex Mix: the box recipe, but with 1/3 more butter, twice as much worcestershire sauce, twice as much spice mix, the addition of 'Old Bay' seasoning, and some improvised toss-ins to taste. Salt & pepper after it comes out of the oven. I made this at Halloween and Sofie's sweet neighbor, Steve, was nearly moved to tears by the nostalgia induced in hitting handful after handful of the stuff.
Purple Barley + Repurposed Antipasto Winter Salad
Inspired by the seasonal salad at Tastebud, Portland's classic wood fire pizza/Montreal style bagel purveyor at Farmer's Market. Many a Secret Restaurant day, frazzled by the crowds at market, we have reached for these salads when we remember to eat, and boy, have they served us well. So, this is a nod to them, while sneaking in many of the required-to-remix menu items. Chickpeas, slow-soaked and slow-simmered and then slow-roasted, purple barley, cooked, cooled, tossed with oil, lemon, and rainbow chard stalks cut to rice-grain size. Frisée, torn and tossed attractively (how could it not be?). Savoy cabbage massaged with meyer lemon and salt. Some chard leaves treated the same way. Fennel, lightly pickled with lemon and white wine vinegar. A light (maybe too light) serving of blue cheese dressing made with buttermilk and our own creme fraîche.
Salmon Soup with Semolina Gnocchi Dumplings + Forest
Sweet white onions, treated like french onion soup with a long deglazing period, putting an entire bottle of Pino Griggio in there. Started with butter, but we added pieces of salmon collar about halfway through. We then blitzed the whole deal, adding the water at this stage, in the Vitamix. The result was a delightful smoked salmon creamed soup with no cream in it, light pink and delicate in flavor and texture. A revelation for all of us. Lighter than a bisque, more singular in its direction than a stew; salmon soup is really all we could call it.
Gnocchi recipe from David Tanis's exquisite new book One Good Dish. I've spent every New Year's for the last many making gnocchi like a Sicilian grandmother, and have been making fresh pasta for Secret Restaurant and my everyday living; and this was an exciting new thing to try. The flavor of the dough was enhanced with the addition of chopped scallions, black pepper, and parmesan.
We floated 4 dumplings in each bowl, added pieces of perfect smoked salmon tips (Newman's Fish market, of course) and shaved fennel, then topped it all with a Noma-style forest of curiosities. A salad burnet leaf here, crumbled sage there, broiled salmon skin here, fennel frond there.
Redcurrant topped cheesecake on grapefruit zest/almond biscotti crumb crust
The dessert for our first informal New Year's dinner was ice cream with espresso poured over, and biscotti. Biscotti has been the key ingredient that we've remixed again and again. This time I made a batch of grapefruit zest and almond biscotti, then crumbled it into the crumb crust. This cheesecake used a Nigel Slater no-bake cheesecake as a guide; but adding a log of chévre to the mix.
Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon (most familiar, probably, to those who have eaten grits at Pine State Biscuits or Screen Door Restaurant) grew the redcurrants and saved them for our friends at The Hungry Gardener Farmstead last summer; a time when we couldn't make it to the Hillsdale market the one week, and then next- the currants would be done. Sofie's mom picked them up and froze them, and one freezer near-disaster later, they remained waiting for a fitting application such as this one.
I cooked them, with a little sugar and lemon juice, then added some redcurrant jelly from Herrick Farms outside Springfield, Oregon, which was the first farm stand I ever went to as a child and where my parents still drive out weekly for most of the year. This delicious, bright, piercing sauce topped off the cheesecake, and was garnished with delicious freshly candied Meyer lemon peel.
Anthony and Carol Boutard, the farmers at Ayers Creek, write the best newsletter in the history of newsletters for anything, ever.
Here's Anthony on my favorite fruit, oft-neglected and with brief season:
Members of the genus Ribes, the gooseberries and currants, produce true berries. The general definition of a berry is "a pulpy fruit enclosing several seeds." Tomatoes and grapes are also berries in the botanist's world. This week we will have a full selection of these fruits. The Ribes are very good for preserves and jellies. Red currants are often combined with raspberries to make jam because they have a high pectin content. Red and black currants produce good juice. For the best quality and yield, use a steam juicer such as the Mehu Liisa, developed by Finns desperate to preserve the essence of summer. Generally neglected in North America, the berries of Ribes are very nutritious and deserve a more prominent place on the table.
The individual currants are on a raceme called a strig in the trade. The strig should be removed before the fruit is used. The stem lends an off-flavor and bitterness if it is cooked with the fruit. The classic kitchen trick is to use a fork to comb the individual berries off the strig. Works, but it gets tedious. A more efficient method is to put the fruit in the freezer, and when the berries are frozen, the stems can be rubbed off without making a mess of the berries. Insulated gloves are useful if you have a lot of currants to clean.
As an aside, the currants of the genus Ribes bear no relationship to the black, wrinkled raisins called currants. Those small, dried grapes originated around the ancient Greek city of Corinth, and the word "currant" as applied to them is merely a British corruption of that ancient city's name. The grape used to produce those raisin is also sold as the "Champagne Grape," though there is absolutely no connection between those grapes and the sparkling wine than lends its name to them.
This is from the July 17th, 2011 edition of the Ayers Creek Farm Newsletter. They don't have a website, but you can find many of these delightful pieces of writing archived here.