Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sharpe's Menu: Vernal Geekquinox 2015

Spring had arrived the day before, accompanied not by budding leaves but by a heavy snowfall warning, because Alberta. This did not dispirit us, however, as the weather was not severe enough to postpone Pete's semi-annual Geekquinox dinner, this one themed around Napoleonic officer Richard Sharpe, star of Bernard Cornwell's series of novels and Masterpiece Theatre's TV movies (aptly portrayed by Sean Bean).


Indulging both his dedication to cuisine and his compulsion towards presentation, he gave us all a video menu last month that used 54 minutes of excerpted video from the aforementioned series to present the dishes we would be eating that evening.


Many of us thought it would be a puzzle, and seeing the regiment's hunter sight up a hare made me think that rabbit might be on the menu. In fact, the videos were just a way to frame up different French and British dishes within the theme, linking them to various characters, and with the centrepiece being the immensely appropriate Beef Wellington. Upon arrival, we were able to view the bill of fare in its entirety again.


For someone who a few years ago would have listed the telephone as their preferred cooking implement, Pete has come a long way. Combining his epicurean tastes with a scientific rigour and dauntless attitude, there are few dishes or styles of cooking that he is unwilling to approach, and watching him in the kitchen is a treat.


The Guinness and Irish Whiskey cheese fondue was absolutely delightful, rich and hearty.


Audrey and I both love scallops, but have never had occasion to try Coquilles St. Jacques, and now we got to have them in bespoke dishes! To be fair, Pete would have preferred ramekins, but couldn't find any to his liking and these were on sale.

The stove only allowed six of these to be broiled at one time, so as Pete prepared the second batch, he was taken aback by the silence boom the normally talkative crowd. "Are they all right?" he inquired. Everyone replied in the affirmative, wordlessly, their mouths filled with scallops in a rich creamy sauce.

All the food was excellent, but the centrepiece was undoubtedly the Beef Wellington: a succulent tenderloin coated in foie gras and wrapped in phyllo pastry. It is quite an involved dish to prepare, so he had made it Thursday.


Taking them from the fridge, he quickly gave the pastry an egg wash for browning, and put them into the stove with the meat still cold; in this way, the beef doesn't overcook while the pastry bakes.

Normally Pete likes to do his experiments beforehand so he can adjust the recipe if needed; the complexity of this dish prevented that, so he was perhaps a little less certain than usual when he removed it from the oven and began carving it.

He needn't have worried; the meat was a prefect medium rare, soft and succulent, with most of the flavour coming from the foie gras and pastry. Accompanied by braised leeks and Yorkshire pudding, it was a masterwork that required no gravy or potatoes to round things out.

Another brilliant meal, spent in delightful company; three cheers for the chef!


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