Most people either love or hate New Years. I always feel that it is one of those “over-rated” holidays with too many expectations and the end result is never what you fantasize it will be. Lenny still has hope, even though he can not remember one standing out over the others. This would be the first New Years Eve we have spent at our home as we are usually on the E. Coast. Therefore, we wanted to make it extra special with the hopes of it being one that stands out. In the early planning phase we talked to our friends Jeff and Andy to see what they were up too and before we knew it we were planning a sit-down dinner for 12, one that would be similar to our ever so popular French Bistro dinner. But where would we go?
This time we would be going to Argentina! We started researching the food in Argentina almost immediately and the task at hand was looking for cookbooks, this proved to be very difficult. We finally decided on one to use, Argentina Cooks! As well, we were really surprised by the heavy influence of Europe, particularly Spanish and Italian in the cuisine. At one point I felt I was planning a meal in Italy. So we put out our feelers and contacted a few people, to get their advice on menu planning. Sylvia of La Vida en Buenos Aires was a huge help in giving us some direction with the menu planning.
Since our 20 sq. ft. kitchen would not handle a dinner for 12, Jeff and Andy were more than accommodating to host the evening at their home. As well Jeff would be my cooking companion as when we did the French dinner. Jeff’s brother John took charge of decorating for the evening and Andy set up the very adult bar. The table was decorated in shades of white and silver with lots of white light and candles. Each place setting had a coordinating menu printed out in hues of pale blue. We wanted the dinner to be cozy so he moved the living room furniture into the dining area and created a nice little lounge area which had views of the kitchen, and then he moved the table into the living room by the fireplace. The room was magical and intimate, exactly what we had in-visioned for New Years!
Unfortunately, the guest list was the hardest part of the evening as we wanted to be with everyone but due to space and budget, we had to have limited the guest list to 12. To be able to share our evening with everyone we love we did a live webcast – which was very fun as we had family and friends from far signing in. Sort of your virtual dinner party!
Now for the food! We decided to add our own style into the menu planning and to take the hearty country food of Argentina and add a California twist to it, as well we wanted to make it a bit more formal. It was very important that the food we used be organic, seasonal and as local as possible as we wanted to utilize the farmer’s market as much as possible. The menu we planned would be 7 courses and would be paired with wines to compliment.
The first course was cocktails. We wanted to start the evening with cocktails, which we found out is very American, as most people in Argentina do not do “cocktails” before dinner, they usually just enjoy the fine wines that they are known for. We picked the classic Martini and Champagne to start the evening with and in keeping with our Argentina theme, we choose to serve cold cuts with drinks. Throughout our research cold cuts are normally served at the beginning of a more formal meal in Argentina. We used 4 different Salame from Boccalone and simple olives.
The next course was Trio de Empanadas, which was served with a 2008 Zolo Torrontes from Mendoza. I found a great website which has a wonderful piece on Empanadas, it is Laylita’s Recipes. She has a wonderfully easy recipe for Empanada dough, which is very similar to tradition tart dough. Do not let empanadas intimidate you, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy they are to make. Our trio consisted of: Leeks with Pancetta and raisins and Gruyere (recipe), Swiss chard with beets and Twig Farm Goat cheese (recipe), and Ricotta Salata with Point Reyes Blue cheese (recipe). The cheeses we used were from Cowgirl Creamery. We served the empanadas with Chimichurri, which we felt, in the end, was a bit too strong for the delicate flavors of the empanadas. The wine was a perfect compliment as the sweetest brought out the creamiest of the cheeses we used.
The next course was Sopa de Zapallo and it was served with a 2006 Mapena Sauvignon Blanc from Mendoza. The recipe for this butternut squash soup was very interesting as it used green peppers (which I normally do not like) as well as Anheim pepper, beef broth and milk. As I am typing this I just remembered we forgot to put the egg yolks in the soup, most of the dishes we made called for eggs, which I found a bit odd. Never the less the soup came out beautifully. It was rich and creamy and slightly sweet due to the butternut squash and it had just a bit of a bite from the peppers. The wine was soft with a slight taste of apple, it really went well with the complexity of the soup.
The next course was an Ensalada de Pomelo and it was served with a 2006 Catena Chardonnay from Mendoza. The recipe from our book called for romaine with oranges. Keeping with our local agenda, we thought about using seasonal greens but were worried that the bitterness of the winter California greens would be too much with the grapefruit. So we opted for a mixture of butter lettuces and baby romaine that we found at the farmers market. Jeff and Andy grow these amazing grapefruits at their Palm Springs home so we were lucky to be able to use them in the salad. When we were prepping the salad we found that some of the grapefruits had pink flesh and others had white, even though they all came from the same tree, they were equally as sweet. The recipe called for blanched onions, we wanted to follow the recipes, so we blanched the onions. This process made the red onions milder but it also took the color out of them. Next time I would not blanch for as long. The dressing was very light with only olive oil, red vinegar, and dry mustard. The buttery undertones and the French oak in the wine were slight enough to compliment the nuttiness of the lettuces and the slightly tart but the sweetness of the grapefruit.
The main course was Prendedero de la Carne de Vaca which we served with La Croqueta de Chimichurri y de la Patata y Pimientas Asadas, which was served with 2006 Crios Syrah/Bonarosa from Mendoza. The beef really is the show stopper during a meal in Argentina. I had lunch with Carrie, from Oliver Ranch Company and after I told her about our upcoming meal she put me in touch with Bill Reed of Estancia Beef. Estancia Beef has ranches in Argentina and their beef is raised 100% on grass. I met with Bill and lucky for us he has a freezer full of this beef and he was kind enough to give us some beautiful cuts for our dinner. The recipe we used was very interesting (getting back to those eggs) as you quickly cooked the meat to seal in the juices then you coated the top with the yolks from hard boiled eggs, onions and then oven roasted the meat with beef broth for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes, the top was coated with bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and allowed to bake for another 20 minutes. The end result was a very interesting dish. The beef itself was very flavorful and moist with a clean finish. Everyone really commented on how spectular they thought the meat was, not like the beef we get at home. (we have some left over beef left (uncooked) and cannot wait to try it out on the grill). We served this dish with roasted assorted peppers. When preparing this dish we used red, orange and yellow peppers as well as Poblano peppers, whcih were flame roasted, then drizzled with olive oil, vinegar, and herbs. The potato croquette as a mixture of mashed potatoes, bread crumbs, and roasted peppers. The wine we served with this course, I actually thought would have gone better with our next course. Regardless it was a nice red wine with pleasant berry jamminess.
The next course was a single Ravioli and it was served with a 2006 Lo Tengo Malbec, from Argentina. We noticed in all of the books we used for research that there was either a pasta, crepe or souffle inspired dish served with dinners. We were not sure which we would do when initially planning the event and decided to wait and see what was fresh at the market. Then I remembered it was truffle season and I remembered that there was a wonderful ravioli dish we saw on TV a few months ago. Lenny fell in love with the visual of this ravioli and has expressed how he would love to eat it one day, so this seemed the perfect opportunity. It is a simple ravioli filled with a pillow of ricotta cheese that has been flavored with herbs and chili peppers, in the middle of the pillow you carefully lay an egg yolk (used farm fresh eggs), cover with pasta and make a ravioli. This was the first time I have ever made fresh pasta dough let alone a ravioli. The dish takes a steady hand, by the 5th one, I was not breaking yolks any longer. As well Jeff was enjoying it so much that he rerolled the left over dough and continued making ravioli, which was a good thing as this was one dish that some guests asked for seconds of. Before serving you boil the ravioli for about 4 minutes, then you serve singly, with a drizzle of melted butter, a dash of truffled sea salt and a shaving of fresh truffle. I could not find fresh truffles so I used a truffle pate. This is a party for your taste buds, earthiness of the truffle, the richness of the egg, the sweetness of the butter, the dense pasta and the saltiness, very complex. The wine was big, bold and sexy (just like our men); full of juicy tannins that were still soft on your palate, I really enjoyed this red wine. Though I thought it was a bit too big for the ravioli it was a nice wine to finish the meal with.
The last course was Flan de Naranjas con Dulce de Leche and it was served with Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Brut, N/V at the stroke of midnight. I did not want to use the ordinary orange juice for this flan so I used freshly squeezed blood oranges. The recipe was very different from the tradition Basque or Portuguese flans I am accustomed to making as you make a simple syrup from the orange juice and it does not call for milk in the base. As I really wanted this dish to be rich, I did use half of the juice called for and then substituted heavy cream for the other half. We served it on a puddle of homemade Dulce de Leche and then drizzled with a burnt caramel sauce. It was fantastic! Ultra creamy, not overly sweet and the hint of orange with the difference caramels was really brilliant. Two of our none flan eating guests said it was the best they have ever had! Veuve, well, one cannot go wrong with a wonderful bottle of Veuve!
Now was this a New Years to remember? Yes! We had a wonderful evening with old friends and new, the food and wine was outstanding and the conversations were intriguing. Were our expectations met? We really did not have any as we were just happy to share one of our mutual loves with everyone. More importantly, when we end a year and begin a new one it is important to remember the people in your lives that give you joy and bring you love and happiness, that is really the most important thing to any year!
We want to thank Foodbuzz for helping make this a special night and for picking us to share our evening with their 24, 24, 24 events. As well a big thank you to Bill over at Estancia, we could not have truly had an Argentinian meal without beef from Argentina!
Happy New Year, may 2009 be filled with good food and good fortune for everyone!
Thank you for joining us at the Chez Us table; we love having you here.
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Blood Orange Flan
2 C. Blood Orange Juice – approx. 8 oranges
1 C. Granulated Sugar
6 Whole Eggs
11/2 C. Heavy Cream
1/8 t. salt
Mix orange juice and granulated sugar in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.
Cook without stirring over medium heat until the mixture reaches a temperature of 220 F on a candy thermometer or until a small amount dropped from a spoon spins a thread.
Remove the mixture from the heat and set aside to cool. You should have about 11/2 cups of syrup.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Beat the eggs until they are frothy.
Stir in the salt, mixing well, then beat in the syrup and then the cream. Mix thoroughly.
Pour the mixture into ramekins that have been lightly buttered and dusted with granulated sugar.
Set the ramekins into a large pan and pour boiling water halfway up the pan.
Bake in the oven for about 35 minutes or until the custard is set, test this by checking to see if a toothpick inserted into the center of the custard comes out clean.
Cool thoroughly on a rack.
Then chill for 24 hours in the fridge.