Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Variations on two Themes - Paper Chef 15 Entry

Initially, the ingredients list looked a bit challenging. Not so much the beets and limes, and there are certainly enough things that are considered aphrodisiac in nature somewhere in the world to someone - but working in the pears seemed to be the challenge.

I spent most of the time looking into lists of aphrodisiacs, and even better the descriptions of why these items supposedly had this power, and in some cases its very specific effects. Everything from chocolate to tiger testicles. I stuck with things I thought I could reasonably and legally get a hold of by the deadline.

We are a house strongly divided on food likes and dislikes - the one half likes pretty much exactly what the other half does not (Life without dark chocolate?? Ever??? Harsh!). Makes for tense moments in the kitchen most nights. I schemed of bringing in the elements I wanted without having to take pictures of food taking a trip down the disposal.

The initial idea of a salad - roasted beets, pears, lime vinaigrette - came quickly. I make a similar salad with roasted beets, oranges and fennel with orange vinaigrette, so that seemed fairly straight forward. But not likely to get much attention, as I imagine it would occur to many people. None the less - doable, makes the majority happy (teenage girls). Add some arugula, pomegranate seeds, etc., for aphrodisiacs, and voila!

More creativity was needed. Maybe it was the red of the Chinese skating team against the ice in Turin - maybe the sudden heat wave in SoCAL. Who knows, but the second idea was there, and it triggered a mini flood of ideas. Idea number two seemed almost too easy - a trio of sorbets - lime, pear and roasted beet. Maybe on a chocolate sauce, or with chocolate shavings, and with pistachio powder – in any event, chocolate was going to be there – dark chocolate – lots of dark, dark chocolate. Maybe I can squeeze some sorbet in around the edges.

The beet sorbet turned into beet ice cream (unbelievably good, by the way). The pear sorbet was done quickly, with thyme to add depth. The lime sorbet turned into the disaster of the weekend. Seemed so simple - limes, sugar, water. But I wanted to be a bit more clever - key lime sorbet, from an interesting Alton Brown recipe (might even work!), but the ingredients were not to be found - anywhere. One down. Back to plain old lime sorbet. But that died too - the juiced limes, reduced with some sugar, looked so bad - pale yellow, with odd chunks floating in it - that we were all afraid to even taste it (if I found that on the floor – the dog would banished for a week). Plus - it wasn't green! No contrast with the pear sorbet. Time was running out. And my ice cream machine - not industrial by any stretch - was tapped out from the other sorbet and ice cream. Two down. But not out - yet!

In the mean time - The Brilliant Idea - a Champaign Cocktail – with, of course, the pear and lime sorbet as ice balls, and the Champaign as the aphrodisiac. But how to work in the beet? The Beet Stems, brilliant red sticks, candied, as swizzle sticks! I tried it - candying (is that a word?) some nice red beet stems in a simple syrup, and letting them cool. They hardened nicely, and seemed like they would do the trick. I just needed the sorbets.

Now the idea became variations on a theme – an entire dinner based on the Paper Chef 15 ingredient list. I was giddy. Little did I know that disaster would be the second theme.

Back to the lime sorbet. I settled in a simple lime sorbet based on frozen limeade and kiwis. The limeade, from the frozen food section (shudder) was already frozen, the kiwis were nice and ripe - what could go wrong? The color was brilliant green - with those nice little black kiwi seeds. Couldn't be better. But no ice cream machine (used it up with the pear sorbet and the beet ice cream). So I put the sorbet liquid on a baking sheet in the freezer - two days ago. Not even slush yet, let alone sorbet. I guess it is the freezer? Maybe the limeade has some residual antifreeze in it? Do kiwis prevent freezing? Who knows. Without the lime sorbet, I get no dessert dish, and no Champaign cocktail. Worst of all – no dark chocolate sauce with the sorbet dish. Life is just harsh sometimes! The weak link was the simplest of all the dishes.

No time to despair (I ate the dark chocolate anyways – got to pump up the endorphins, or something like that!). People were going to be hungry whether I had lime sorbet or not. Time to please the crowd. Fresh seared diver scallops, on a bed of red beet and pear risotto, with a lime and mango salsa over the top, and sautéed beet greens on the side. Looks spectacular (despite my pictures), tastes even better.

Last step, tweak the salad – I already have lots of red beets (I mean how many beets can you eat in one sitting?). I wanted to switch to golden beets, but was concerned I would not be able to find them. If I went with golden beets, then I could poach the pears in something red – ruby port, for instance, and have a nice contract to the main plate. Five stores and $12.00 later, I found the golden beets – for a price (it is just a root, after all!).

The final menu:

Proseco cocktail with pear and lime ice balls, and candied beet stem swizzle stick (photo tomorrow) – aphrodisiac is the Proseco

Roasted golden beet and ruby pear salad on arugula with lime vinaigrette, pomegranate seeds and parmesan shavings (photo) – aphrodisiacs are the arugula, pomegranate seeds, and parmesan (who knew?)

Seared diver scallops on beet and pear risotto with lime mango salsa, served with sautéed beet greens and port reduction. (photo) – aphrodisiacs are the scallops, mango, and port, not to mention the red color of the risotto

Beet ice cream with kiwi-lime and thyme-pear sorbets on dark chocolate sauce with pistachio powder (photo tomorrow) – aphrodisiacs are the dark chocolate, and pistachios

Served over two days – as I have to wait for the lime sorbet to finally freeze – like waiting for Godot – the second variation on a theme.

So half the house was happy – diver scallops and salad, with the fatty dessert (which they complain about but scarf down anyways) delayed till tomorrow! One abstained (doesn’t like scallops or salad, already ate half the ice cream during the preparation – went for the cheerios). I sat in a dim room, sipping Proseco, nibbling dark chocolate, the hushed cracking of red and yellow stones coming from the TV (Curling rocks, by the way!)
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