Today has a funny feeling to it. The feeling of askew and unsettled.
There was the storm that knocked out our power and heat for 20 hours, which was a nothing in comparison to what so many of you are still dealing with. And then there's that I'm here, talking about a story I started working on three months ago, one that published one month ago, with food for September. Yet here we are, almost at November.
Do you think that Halloween, a day of ghosts and goblins, of tricks and treats and dashes of magic, is a good day for time travel?
I’m hoping so, as that’s my plan. Fingers crossed you’re up for the ride.
The idea was that we'd make a meal together, one that felt right for the end of summer and fall's beginning, one that suited big platters passed around, with a menu inspired by ingredients we found at the farmstands and orchards and markets we like. Nikole and I would sort the food together; then on the day, I'd cook, she'd get everything set in that way she does so well, and Michael would be tasked with capturing it all.
Here's how it went.
We filled the table. (And I may have filled the studio with smoke at one point.)
There was a salad of Santa Claus melon and spiky, sharp arugula, dressed with Champagne vinegar. We stripped the gold and cream kernels off the cobs of a pile of corn, and sautéed them with sweet onion, ground fennel and coriander. There was a plate of brined pork chops, edged with crunchy fat and succulent through and through, finished with a cider pan sauce and decorated with fried capers. Capers are so nice that way, they split and crisp, opening up like blossoms with the tiniest of petals, frilled and crunchy. We leafed the Brussels sprouts to keep their shape, the ideal vessel for toasted hazelnuts and a dressing of olive oil.
The afternoon before, we'd filled cups with layers of icewine gelée and a honey-kissed yogurt mousse and then stashed them away in the fridge. To finish them on the day of, there wasn't much to do but for spooning over some pan-roasted plums. That was dessert.
When all was settled and dishes empty, and the room quiet, we stayed around the table. We sipped on drinks and talked past dark.
Thinking back to then from now, I think we achieved the meal we'd hoped for. It was a September dinner in Ontario's farmland, even though it was August in the middle of the city. I'm grateful for those who shared in the making of it all.
And I'm so very happy to now share a part of it with you.
If you'd like a way to help with relief efforts for those effected by Sandy, the Red Cross may be a place to start.
And, I've not forgotten — for the copies of UPPERCASE issue 15, Mike and Lauren have been selected. Guys, I'll be in touch!
ICEWINE GELÉE WITH YOGURT MOUSSE AND PLUMS
While the recipe reads long, it isn’t especially complicated; the steps are spread out over the chilling time, with only short periods of activity.
The icewine gelée is intensely flavoured, balanced by the subtlety of the yogurt mousse. Sautéed plums are simple, yet luxuriously lush, gorgeous with their claret juice. The unexpected addition of fresh thyme, and grassy, extra-virgin olive oil, bring a fragrant richness, evocative of fall.
Grilled figs would be a lovely substitution for the plums. Or maybe fresh cranberries, cooked with sugar and orange zest, until they just burst and go juicy.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Ready time: 3 1/2 hours (includes chilling time)
For the icewine gelée
- 1 sheet leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
- 100 ml icewine
For the yogurt mousse
- 2 sheets leaf gelatine, gold extra strength
- 1 cup greek yogurt (2% butterfat)
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Seeds scraped from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1 cup heavy (whipping, 35%) cream, divided
For the plums
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, not extra virgin
- 8 small, firm plums, each cut into eight wedges
- 2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar, or thereabouts, depending on sweetness of fruit
- Pinch of Kosher salt
- 1 small sprig thyme, left whole, plus more for garnish
- Extra-virgin olive oil and store bought amaretti or other crisp biscuits
For the gelée, soak the gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, gently warm the wine in a saucepan over medium-low heat until under a simmer; do not boil. Remove from the heat, squeeze the excess water out of the gelatin and whisk into the warm wine until dissolved. Divide the wine mixture between six 1-cup-capacity cups and refrigerate gelées for 1 hour.
To make the mousse, soak gelatine in a shallow dish of cold water for 5 minutes.
While gelatine is softening, stir yogurt, honey and vanilla seeds together in a small bowl. Pour 2 tablespoons heavy cream into a small saucepan and set aside. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, whip remaining cream to firm peaks.
Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and melt in the small saucepan with the reserved cream over low heat, stirring to combine. Whisk this into the yogurt mixture and then fold in the whipped cream. Spoon yogurt mousse into the dessert cups, on top of the icewine layer, filling to a generous two-thirds full. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.
To prepare the plums, warm olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add plums, sugar and salt. Cook, shaking the pan gently and turning the fruit with care, until plums begin to soften, around 3 minutes.
Remove pan from heat, add the thyme sprig and stir. Let cool for 5 minutes.
To serve, remove thyme from plums and spoon fruit on top of prepared mousses. Garnish with fresh thyme leaves and a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil, passing the amaretti cookies and any remaining fruit at the table.
Note: We used the Cabernet Franc icewine from Henry of Pelham in the gelée for its beautiful colour and acidity. Peller Estate’s Private Reserve Icewine Vidal makes for a rich, golden gelée, and affords a more modestly-priced option.