Monday, March 7, 2011

Excess and decadence, oh my!

This was Mardi Gras weekend, The Official Weekend of Excess and Decadence, and I had friends come for dinner.  We were also celebrating a birthday, and what better way to attempt to age gracefully but with lots of rich food and plenty of bubbles?  We started with Pamplemousse cocktails (because I had read about them recently on Molly Wizenberg's blog Orangette , which I of course tweaked a bit, and then moved on to Cava, one of my favorite sparkling wines (Castellblanch Brut Extra followed by Castellblanch Semi-Seco).

We actually drank the Cavas out of order, something I have mild regrets about because I had not planned out which sparkling wines we would actually drink post-cocktails or with what appetizers, I just planned to have lots of bubbles on hand. I think we would have preferred the sweeter cava to follow the cocktails, and as has been observed, hindsight is a great gift, is it not?  But we were all very merry (despite one of us feeling a bit under the weather) and we made do.  Keep calm and carry on, as the British say.

In between all the bubbles, we had lots of appetizers, and because I had wanted to make Dirty Rice, we had that too.  And the chopped and layered salad I've mentioned in a previous post.  And my gal pal's brownies.  And very large strawberries.  And warm Nutella with Frangelico.  Because by this time, I was pretty tired and didn't put a lot of effort into a creative dessert.  However, it was in keeping with the general mood of excess and decadence.  So there you have it.  A fairly lazy, drawn out dinner party that managed to produce four seriously overfed and overindulged adults.  With plentiful leftovers for revisiting the same insanity the next day.  Laissez les bons temps rouler.

I'm sending along six recipes.  Pamplemousse Cocktail, Shirttail Cajun Cousin Chicken Wings, Oysters with Pernod and Bacon-Herb-Parmesan Bread Crumbs, Sherried Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Crabmeat, Shrimp en Brochette Feu Doux, and My Family's Dirty Rice. 

I'm pretty sure your tastebuds will want to get up off that couch and join a Second Line...

Pamplemousse Cocktail
     makes 4 servings

2 oz. Aperol (Italian bitters similar to Campari)
8 oz. freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
a generous splash of blood orange bitters (I uses Stirrings, which you can find at Spec's)
4 oz. or more chilled dry sparkling wine (I used an inexpensive dry domestic champagne)

Combine Aperol, grapefruit juice and bitters.  You can chill this mixture separately from the sparkling wine until ready to serve, if you wish.  At serving time, divide evenly among four stemmed glasses.  Fill each glass with chilled sparkling wine.  Garnish with a small wedge of grapefruit or mint leaves, if you'd like.

Shirttail Cajun Cousin Chicken Wings
    ...these wings will taste best if you start them early to let them season...

2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. cajun seasoning (such as Tony Chachere's or Zatarain's)  OR an equal amount of Penzey's BBQ 3000
1 tsp. salt, optional (if I use Penzey's seasoning, I use salt)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3 dz. chicken wing pieces

Combine all the dry ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag or container with lid.  Add chicken wing pieces and toss well to coat with spice mixture.  Refrigerate up to 24 hours ahead to infuse with spices.

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large cookie sheet with foil and bake wings for about 35 to 40 minutes.  Serves 4 to 6 people.

Oysters with Pernod and Bacon-Herb-Parmesan Bread Crumbs
    with thanks to Saveur Issue #115 for their Oyster Stuffing recipe for inspiration

4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4 inch pieces
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 Tbs. madeira or port
2 Tbs. finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tbs. chopped thyme leaves
1 Tbs. chopped sage leaves
1/4 tsp. Tobasco
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups homemade bread crumbs from stale bread
2 dz. oysters, shucked, with 2/3 cup or more liquor reserved (I buy already shucked in pint containers)
2 oz. Pernod
1/2 cup butter, melted, divided
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese

lemon wedges

1.  In a medium saute pan, cook bacon pieces until fat is rendered.
2.  In same pan, add shallots and celery, reducing heat to medium, stirring occasionally until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
3.  Add oyster liquor, madeira or port, parsley, thyme, sage, Tobasco, and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce sauce, stirring occasionally, cooking about 5  minutes.  Set aside to cool.
4.  Combine cooled mixture with bread crumbs in a large bowl and toss well to distribute flavors.  If breadcrumbs appear too dry, add more oyster liquor in very small quantities until mixture just begins to cling together.  Do not add too much liquid or you'll get a mushy clump that cannot be redeemed.  Set breadcrumb mixture aside while you prepare the oysters.
5.  Heat oven to 400 degrees.
6.  Prepare 12 large scallop shells (balanced on a baking tray of rock salt or on muffin tins, or small ramekins set on a large baking tray) by putting approx. 1/2 tsp. melted butter in each shell/ramekin.
7.  Place two oysters in each shell/ramekin. 
8.  Using a medicine dropper or a small spouted measuring vial, drizzle the oysters with a small amount of Pernod, distributing evenly.
9.  Spoon bread crumb mixture over oysters, distributing evenly and then drizzle with remaining butter.
10.  Distribute shaved Parmesan cheese evenly over breadcrumbs.
11.  Bake for about 10 minutes in middle of hot oven until golden and slightly crisped.  Serve with lemon wedges.  Serves 6 to 8 very generously and to rave reviews.

Sherried Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Crabmeat
        I owe my soul-sistah TxMama all the credit for her fabulous recipe...

1 to 1 1/2 lbs. medium to large mushrooms, wiped clean and stems removed
2 oz. sherry, divided
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbs. finely minced onion or shallot
1 Tbs. heavy cream, half and half or milk
1/2 tsp. prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp. salt
3 shakes Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. finely chopped flat leaf parsley
8 oz. flaked crab meat (you can substitute imitation crab here, but read note below)
good quality paprika (make sure it's bright red)

1.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Drizzle a little sherry into the cavity of each mushroom and set aside.
3.  Blend cream cheese, onion or shallot, cream/half and half/milk, horseradish, salt, Worcestershire sauce and parsley with an electric mixer until fluffy.  Fold in fresh crab.  If you use imitation crab, add it to the cream cheese mixture before blending to help flake the imitation crab into small pieces.
4.  Fill each mushroom cap generously wih cream cheese mixture.
5.  Place on generously buttered jelly roll pan (filling up, mushroom cap on pan) and sprinkle lightly with paprika.
6.  Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until cream cheese is hot, bubbly and just beginning to brown.
7.  Before serving, drizzle remaining sherry over the hot mushrooms.  Serves 6 to 8. 

Shrimp en Brochette Feu Doux

            Similar to the appetizer at Pappadeaux, but with a killer dipping sauce

12 large shrimp, peeled, with tail on, deveined, and butterflied
6 slices of good quality bacon
12 pieces of pepper jack cheese, cut approx ¼ inch thick
6 wooden skewers, 6 inches long each, soaked in water for about 30 minutes prior to cooking time
2 Tbs. sambal oelek (Indonesian chili and garlic sauce)
¼ cup honey

1.  Par-cook the bacon to a pliable state.  In other words, it shouldn't be crispy.  Drain on paper towels and cut each slice in half.  Set aside.
2.  Lay bacon slices flat and place prepared shrimp near one end. 
3.  Lay a piece of cheese on each shrimp.
4.  Roll bacon around shrimp and cheese and thread 2 shrimp on each skewer. 
5.  Broil on baking tray in middle of oven for approximately 5 to 7 minutes, until bacon is crisped and shrimp tails are curled. 
6.  Combine sambal oelek and honey in small bowl to use as a dipping sauce.  Serves 4 to 6.

My Family's Dirty Rice         (always better the second day)

1/2 lb. ground chuck
1 cup chicken livers, cleaned and drained
2 onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 to 6 tsp. Tony Chachere's or other cajun seasoning
1 Tbs. oil
1 Tbs. flour
3/4 to 1 cup chicken broth
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
6 cups hot cooked white rice

1.  Brown ground chuck and chicken livers over medium-high heat in large skillet, breaking up meat and livers and chopping into fine crumbs. 
2.  Add onions, green pepper, celery and garlic and saute for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are softened.
3.  Add Tony Chachere's seasoning to taste.  Set aside.
4.  In small saucepan, combine oil and flour, cooking over medium-high heat to a light taffy colored roux.  Remove from heat and stir in chicken broth and scallions.
5.  Add roux to meat and vegetable mixture and blend well.
6.  Add parsley and hot rice, blending well.  Add more chicken broth if rice appears too dry.  Serves 8 to 12.

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