Last weekend I hosted a dinner party for some friends at my new abode as a part of McCormick’s Dinner Party Chain. McCormick, the wonderful company most of my spice cabinet comes from, is giving away the chance to host your dream dinner party and the chance to attend the Food Network awards in New York city!!! Simply click on the link here or above and follow the instructions on McCormick Gourmet’s Facebook page, (which are basically to describe the theme and the food at your dream dinner party, nice and easy, right?) You’re welcome to share your thoughts, comments, and any dinner party photos of your own on the McCormick Gourmet Facebook page as well! When you do, make sure to use the #GoGourmet hashtag to help others find your dinner party.
For the party, I decided to make a Cuban-style Shrimp Bruschetta as an appetizer since the weather has been so admirable, and citrus-laced seafood always pairs well with the heat. I chopped up some avocados and fresh cilantro and tossed them with lime juice, then settled them on the toasted baguette slices along with the Cuban-seasoned & lime-marinated shrimp. It was a cinch to make, and had the most pleasant summery taste about it. The Cuban seasoning paired perfectly with the lime, avocado, and fresh cilantro, and the toasted baguette slices made it easy to eat and share (aka no forks necessary, which is great for me because our new place doesn’t have a dishwasher so I’m washing everything by hand). I am excited to start grilling in the backyard so I can use the Cuban seasoning on other novel creations, like steak, corn on the cob, or mahi-mahi…
The main course, Coq au Vin (pronounced coke-o-vah, aka Chicken in a Red Wine Sauce) was more complex to make, not because it was actually difficult, but more so because it involves cooking the dish both on the stove top and in the oven, which means you should use a dutch oven. I used Ina Garten’s old standby Coq Au Vin recipe as my base, (her Barefoot in Paris cookbook is my most worn and cherished book of all), and didn’t really change much other than adding a lot more garlic since I’m a garlic nut (I’m Greek! What did you expect?) But do not fret my friends, since the dish cooks so long the garlic mellows out into that nice, creamy, almost sweet roasted garlic flavor. I also acquired a slightly more copious chicken just because I wanted to make sure I had enough meat for everyone, and added an additional tablespoon of butter and flour to make the sauce a tad bit thicker. I hadn’t had Coq au Vin in years, so I was kind of surprised at how delicious it was. Not that I wasn’t expecting it to taste good, but because I’d figured if I enjoyed a dish that much then why the heck hadn’t I made it since I was nineteen?! Madness. Something about the fat from the bacon slowly permeating the tenderly cooked chicken and the red wine and thyme leaves infusing the meat and caramelized vegetables with their intricate flavors simply creates the most perfect chicken stew. Seriously, if you’ve never had Coq au Vin, you have to make some. You will be delighted afterwards.
After much pondering of sweets, I decided to make a towering Blackberry Cardamom Pavlova for dessert. Pavlova usually consists of a meringue disc with whipped cream and fruit on top. I layered mine with 3 cardamom meringue discs, whipped blackberry cardamom cream, blackberry jam, and some fresh blackberries. Cardamom is an Indian spice that is used ofttimes in their desserts (mango lassi and Indian rice pudding regularly have some thrown in), but you don’t see it used too often in the states, which is a real shame since it has such an impressing flavor when used in sweets. It tastes almost floral, but also a bit spicy, like nutmeg, at the same time. It was superb in the fluffy-crumbed meringue of the pavlova, and the floral notes paired really well with the dark and succulent fruit of the blackberries. In hind sight, I most certainly put too much whipping cream and jam between each layer, because after about 1/2 hour the meringue disks couldn’t take the weight and they slowly but surely started to crack. In my defense, the fillings all looked so good that I really couldn’t help but layer them in there really nice and thick. And it tasted just as wonderful with the cracks and the cream and jam starting to ooze out the sides. In complete honesty, I think it looked more appetizing that way. Nice and messy. The truly decadent way to enjoy a sweet.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the baguette slices flat on a pan and brush them with the olive oil. Toast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until desired crispiness is reached. Remove and set aside.
Toss the avocados with the fresh cilantro, salt, and the juice from 1 of the limes. Set aside.
In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the cuban seasoning and the juice from the remaining lime. Heat the butter in a frying pan and cook the shrimp until pink, or if you are using pre-cooked shrimp, cook until hot and lightly seared on the sides. Remove the pan from heat and set it aside.
To assemble, place 1 tablespoon of the avocado mixture on each baguette crisp and then place a shrimp on top. Continue until you have used all of your shrimp. Serve immediately.
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven. Fry the bacon until it is
just crispy around the edges, then remove them from the pan, place them
on a cutting board, allow them to cool slightly, and then dice them.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Liberally rub the chicken down with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the dutch oven with the bacon juices and brown each side of the chicken, (about 8 minutes of cooking time per side over medium-high heat). Then remove the chicken and set it aside.
Add the carrots, yellow onion slices, 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper to the pan with the bacon and chicken juices and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until the onions become transparent and tan around the edges. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two.
Then add the bacon, chicken, and cognac back into the pot and cook for three minutes.Add the wine, chicken stock, and dried thyme and bring to a low boil. Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and place in the oven. Allow it to cook for 40 minutes, then remove it from the oven and place it back on the stove top at low heat. Mash together 2 tablespoons of the butter and the flour and then stir the mixture into the coq au vin with the frozen pearl onions.
In a small frying pan heat the last tablespoon of butter until it melts. Add the sliced mushrooms and stir so that they’re all coated in the butter. Cook them over medium heat, stirring every minute, for about 8 minutes or until they turn a warm deep brown. Add them to the stew and then allow the coq au vin to simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve immediately.
1/4 Teaspoon McCormick Roasted Ground Cinnamon
1/3 Cup Sugar
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until they begin to stiffen but aren’t dry. Gradually beat in the sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time. Continue beating on high speed until the egg whites are shiny and thick, then fold in the vanilla extract and the ground cardamom.
Spread the egg whites out in 3 separate 6-inch circles on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour. Then turn off the oven and open the oven door halfway and allow the pavlova to cool to room temperature. Then remove the pavlova from the oven.
Meanwhile, heat the frozen blackberries in a medium-sized pot over medium, high heat, stirring every few minutes until they’re defrosted and break apart. Lower the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for 15 minutes. Remove 1 tablespoon of the blackberry concentrate mixture and set it aside. Stir in the sugar and honey and allow the blackberry jam mixture to continue simmering over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring every 8 minutes or so.
Then remove the mixture from the heat, stir in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and roasted ground cinnamon and allow to cool to near room temperature before placing in the rifrigerator to chill.
To make the blackberry whipped cream, beat the whipping cream, blackberry concentrate, ground cardamom, salt, and sugar until thick, fluffy, and holds a peak. Fold in the lemon zest, corn starch, and vanilla extract. Place in the refrigerator to chill.
To assemble the pavlova, remove one of the pavlova layers from the parchment paper and place on a serving plate. Spread the blackberry whipped cream on top of it, then the blackberry jam, and then arrange some of the fresh blackberries around the edge. Continue layering in this pattern until you’ve assembled all three layers of the pavlova. Serve immediately and enjoy!