Friday, March 9, 2012

Brunch with Friends: Menu Three

Brunch with Friends has gone international with this instalment!

We were staying in Dean's home while in Buenos Aires (thus having a full kitchen at our disposal) and he had a great many friends both in town and also visiting... It seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up. Dean was game. And what friend is going to pass up a brunch invitation??

This was also the largest group that has ever sat down to a BWF meal... numbering nine guests. And we were up to the challenge!

Dean and I batted around ideas for brunch but were waiting to see what was in season and looked good at the market before setting the menu. I knew that I wanted to see some typical Argentine products on the menu - like Argentine chorizo and dulce de leche - but in what form was to be determined. 

Brunch with Friends: Menu Two
Selection of Cheeses and Garlic Rubbed Crostini
Sticky Roasted Figs with Malbec Syrup
Torrontes Infused Cornmeal Scones
Blueberry Cornmeal Scones
Nectarine and Orange Marmalade
Purgatorio Eggs Baked in Proscuitto Cups
Cold Ginger and Honeydew Shot
Argentine Chorizo
Dulce de Leche Filled Puffs with Nutmeg Whipped Cream
(And lots and lots of bubbles!)

Traditional penguin carafe
used to serve house wine

Most of this brunch was prepared in advance, the night before, while we poured (and drank) glass after glass of wine from our Mendozan adventure. This is how the work was managed...

The night before:
We made the almonds first in the oven (~20 minutes of baking), while the marmalade was working on the stove top. We added the Torrontes to the golden raisins and the Malbec to a pot on the stovetop to reduce. While both were cooking away, we mixed our scone batter. The almonds were removed from the oven to cool and the figs were put in to roast. The scones were shaped, cut, then put in the fridge for the night.

The morning of:
Heated the oven. On the stovetop, we sauteed the chorizo and baked the proscuitto cups in the oven (8 minutes). Baked the scones (20 minutes each batch). While the scones were baking, we mixed the pate a choux on the stovetop, then piped and baked the puffs (30 minutes, one batch). While the puffs baked, we prepared the eggs. Puffs came out and chorizo went into the oven. So did the slices of french bread for crostini. We put the eggs in the oven when the majority of the guests had arrived, so that we could snack on the cheese platter while the eggs baked (20 minutes). 

Malbec Syrup
First, we poured the better part of a bottle of wine into a pot and set it to warm under medium heat. You want to reduce this slowly into a sticky and thick syrup. In cooking with wine, you want to use a bottle that you enjoy drinking. Don't use bad wine. If it isn't good in your glass, it certainly isn't going to be good reduced into a concentrate of bad wine flavour. Reduce the wine by half, give it a taste and decide if you'd like to sweeten it somewhat (I added about 1/3 cup of sugar), then continued to reduce the wine by half again. This whole process will take about an hour, depending on your temperature. Watch that the syrup (sugar) doesn't burn, so keep the temperature low and take your time. 

Paprika Spiced Almonds
I wrote about the paprika almonds not so long ago. These things are amazing. I might make some today again. You can make these days in advance. They certainly don't need to wait until the night before. 

Sticky Figs
These figs are a variation of Jamie Oliver's figs in his cookbook Italy. It's really about cooking your figs at a low temperature for a long period of time... caramelizing the natural sugars and bringing out all of the best flavours of that fruit.

Cut or tear your figs into halves or quarters and spread on a parchment lined baking sheet. Place figs in a low oven... we opted for 200 F for a few hours, then turned the oven off and left them in there overnight. They were lovely and sticky when we woke in the morning...

Nectarine and Orange Marmalade
Why not make jam?? That certainly seems to be my thought these days. It is so easy to whip up a fresh and seasonal compote that will be infinitely better than whatever you have in your cupboard. Of course, you don't have to make your own jam... but it's certainly fun to try.

Following the same principles of jam making as we have with the Orange and Blackberry Marmalade or the Meyer Lemon Marmalade, we chopped two nectarines and one orange. We added the chopped fruit to a pot with the juice of one lemon, one cup of water, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Let the mixture cook together for about 45 minutes. Taste (especially the orange rind) for tenderness, then -if satisfied- transfer to a bowl to cool.

Torrontes Infused Golden Raisin Cornmeal Scones and Blueberry Cornmeal Scones
The key to success with these scones is to keep the butter chilled throughout the process. We started the golden raisins (from PASRAI) infusing in Torrontes around the same time as we were opening wine for the syrup and for our glasses. 

We mixed the cornmeal flour base for each batch of scones. A few adjustments were required based on our pantry stock (used 1 2/3 cups flour (since we didn't have spelt) and milk instead of buttermilk), plus reducing the oven temperature by 25 F to compensate for the reduced altitude in Buenos Aires. Since we were in Buenos Aires and 40 C temperatures plus strong humidity, I kept chilling the ingredients in the freezer throughout the baking process. Everything was warmer, including us, and I didn't want the scones to melt into a mess because of it.

After cutting the butter into the flour, I gave it a quick stir then put the bowl back in the freezer while I washed my hands under water as cold as I could tolerate. In retrieving the bowl from the freezer, we "cut" the butter into smaller pea-sized pieces by hand, working the butter into the flour mix. Next, we added our blueberries to one and the Torrontes infused raisins to the other. Mix and mix, respectively. Then stir in the milk before dumping the whole mix onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough, as gently as possible, into a ~8-10" disc. Cut into wedges then place the wedges on a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the second batch. Then cover both trays with plastic wrap and put them into the fridge for the night. You'll bake them in the morning. 

When you get up the next morning, heat your oven to 400 F (or between 350 F - 375 F if you're closer to sea level). Take the scones from the fridge and brush the surface with milk. Bake for ~20 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to your serving dish. 

Purgatorio Baked Eggs in Proscuitto Cups
Eggs (number depending on the number of guests and size of appetites)
Proscuitto (one slice per serving)
Tomato puree (one small can should do it)
Tomatoes, chopped
Parmesan cheese for grating
Pepper (and salt... though NOT much... the chorizo and proscuitto have plenty of salt)

You can make the proscuitto cups the night before or that morning, depending on what time your brunch is scheduled and how early you care to wake. 

Depending on how many people you are serving, you can use individual ramekins or a muffin tin for a larger group. 

Heat the oven to ~350 F. Drape your proscuitto into a muffin tin or ramekins. If the proscuitto drapes over the edge of the muffin tin, place a baking sheet under the muffin tin to catch any dripping fat. 

Put the proscuitto lined muffin tin into the oven for ~6 minutes, turn in the oven, then bake for a final ~2 minutes. The proscuitto should be reasonably crisp and hold its shape as it cools. Cool in the tray. 

While the proscuitto is baking or cooling, deal with your chorizo. Slice the end of the casing and squeeze the sausage meat out into little meatballs. Saute in a frying pan until cooked through. 

For the eggs...
Heat the oven to 350F. 

If you happen to have silicone muffin trays, you'll be happy to know that you don't have to grease your tray. But if you are using regular ol' metal muffin tins, you'll want to remove the proscuitto, lightly grease the compartment, then return the proscuitto to its spot. Lightly grease your ramekins, if you are making individual baked eggs. 

Put a splash (about a tablespoon) of tomato puree in the bottom of the proscuitto cup. Crack an egg into each. Top each with another tablespoon of tomato puree, some of your chorizo meatballs, a few chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh grating of parmesan, and crack of pepper.

Bake your eggs for about 15 - 20 minutes or until your egg whites are cooked and the yolk is the desired doneness (I know some people don't like runny yolks...). 

Unmold the eggs from the muffin tin using a rubber spatula or place your ramekins on the serving plates. To give the plates a bit of pizzazz, we mixed the remaining tomato puree with some fresh chopped basil, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Give the sauce a quick zap in the microwave to heat it through, then smear a spoonful on your plate in a curve beside your egg or ramekin. Weren't we fancy schmancy?? hahah.

Dulce de Leche Filled Puffs with Nutmeg Whipped Cream
The puffs were whipped up that morning. Dean loves cream puffs, so it seemed like a great dessert for his birthday week and our Brunch with Friends.

Once the puffs were cooked, I left them in the oven (with the door ajar) to continue to dry out while we ate. After we cleared the plates, Dean and I retreated to the kitchen to quickly fill the puffs with dulce de leche and whip the cream. It only took a few minutes to fill the puffs while the cream was whipped. We added 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg to the cream, then sprinkled a bit on the top. No sugar needed! There was more than enough in the puffs themselves.

Then the crostini. Doug was in charge here. Slices of french bread were topped with a drizzle of olive oil and a few rubs with a fresh clove of garlic. Pop them into a warm oven (around 250 or 300 F) for a few scant minutes will toast the bread and perfume the air nicely.

Last and certainly not least, Dean whipped up a cold melon and ginger shot to start off the meal (you can see it next to the baked eggs). We roughly chopped up half of a ripe honeydew melon and added two knuckles of fresh grated ginger. Puree until smooth and pour into little shot glasses with a dash of bitters on top!

This was a truly extravagant Brunch with Friends. The food was unbelievable. The company was spectacular. The conversation was lively. It was one for the books.

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