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Burnt Cream

Mix Match Dinner Party: Caramel!

Over the Easter weekend, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to hold a dinner party so that I could try out some new ideas which have been formulating in my brain for the past couple of weeks.

"Mix Match" because I was serving alcohol that is normally reserved for the end of a meal at the beginning and serving aperitifs at the end... and "Caramel" because there was a caramel theme to the food running through the evening.
"Caramelization occurs during dry heating and roasting of foods with a high concentration of carbohydrates (sugars)."
Well here is the run down. There were three entrées, one main course, two puddings. My guinea pigs - sorry, my guests! - were a hand-picked bunch of my coursemates, the ones most renowned for their fearlessness and bravery! :)

So 6 guests, 6 courses. Simple, no...?

The first course was croustillants aux legumes (grated vegetables (carrot, turnip and courgette) rolled into balls and then fried) with a blue cheese sauce. Because of the roquefort in the sauce, I paired it with a Sauternes 2005. Standard combination, slightly lacking in originality, but it whet the whistle and was a good introduction to those of my guests who hadn't tried Sauternes before.

The croustillants once they'd been shallow-fried.
The second entrée was much more unusual: a slice of caramelised mango, wrapped in a lightly salted spinach leaf. I tried to find out if anyone had done it before, but from the radio silence, it seemed not.

Caramelising the mango.

There were two rounds - the first to see how well the dish went with what was left of the Sauternes in our glasses. Quite well really. The sweetness in the wine really brought out the sweetness of the mango. (N.B. Thank you for the suggestions and encouragement, Chateau Coutet and Sauternes Steve!)

The second round was to pair the mango and spinach with a nip of whisky. Daley suggested Cragganmore 12, which was a great idea. The majority of my guests agreed that overall, the whisky went better with the dish than the Sauternes. I agree. To me, the whisky was more balanced and complemented both components, rather than neglecting the spinach as the Sauternes had done.

By this time, I'd reckoned that we'd need something more refreshing to cleanse our palate, so I served a terrine of salmon and pink grapefruit, with sesame seeds and a hint of soy sauce, on a bed of rocket leaves, along with a glass of crisp Chardonnay.

Mmmm, salmon...
As for the main course, well, I decided upon a recipe for caramelised shallots with chicken breast in a red wine reduction, buttery potatoes and courgettes.

I accept there are probably better matches for the wine to accompany this dish... but I chose a Pinot Noir, one from the Cotes d'Auxerre Burgundy area. I wanted something to balance and bring together all the elements of the dish and the subtlety and smoothness of this wine and it has to be said, this wine is pretty tasty. Medium bodied, deep ruby in colour, subtle vegetal notes on the nose, and complemented by some red fruit on the palate, low tannins, quite high acidity but oh so smooth... yum!

Moving onto puddings, the first was a mille-feuille of oranges. I made whisps of caramel by gently melting down sugar and drawing the shapes over some grease-proof paper.

This was great fun to make as it was just like painting with food, but it was time-consuming (because you can't leave the sugar - not even for a second!) and messy!

Cleaning the pan was not easy.....
The slices of oranges had been sprinkled with cinnamon and left to soak in their juices. I served this with a shot of Suze. If you haven't heard of it, because it's very unheard of outside France, Suze is an alcoholic aperitif, made out of plant botanticals. It has a delicate bitter taste and normally I drink it straight or on the rocks, but you can mix it with orange juice if you want to dilute it. I had thought that a more orange-based liqueur, like Grand Marnier or Cointreau for example, would have been a bit too much orange over-kill and that Suze would be more complex on the palate.

Plating up at the table. Apparently the acidity of the oranges will break
down the caramel if they're left for too long. 

Finally, the second pudding was a moelleux au chocolate, a chocolate pudding served in little ramakin pots, eaten as soon as it comes out of the oven. A dollop of vanilla ice cream and mmmmmmm....
Unfortunately this pudding really did get eaten the moment it came out of the oven and so I only have one very quickly taken photo. The quality of the photo is not the best, but I can tell you that they'd risen beautifully and had just started to crack on the top! This was served with a shot of espresso, to stand up to the dark chocolate as well as to be sipped while nibbling on the caramel.

Now, the burning question, is what shall I do for my next dinner party??

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