A birthday dinner

On the 16th of March, I qualified for a Victorian Government Senior’s Card.  To celebrate this event, we invited two couples to have dinner at our home on the evening of 15 March.

We had decided well in advance that the highlight of the meal would be a beef rib roast, cooked in our Weber Q.  We gave our butcher – Ashburton Meats – plenty of notice and they hung a four-rib piece for six weeks, promising great texture as well as flavour.

For an entree, we served salmon carpaccio with a herb and tomato salsa.  We make this dish two or three times a year.  It tastes luxurious but it is an inexpensive special-occasion dish.

The recipe is provided at the end of this post. All palates vary, so we would encourage you to vary the quantities of herbs and tomato to suit yourself, as we have.

The centrepiece of the main course was the rib roast.  We eat our beef medium rare; our guests had all indicated a preference for medium-cooked meat, so we planned to take our share from the middle.

While the Weber was heating up, Maggie made a paste using about 1 tbsp hot English mustard, 1 tbsp olive oil and a generous grinding of black pepper.  She whipped the mixture in a bowl with a grapefruit spoon until it resembled mayonnaise and then rubbed it into the surface of the beef.  We cooked the beef for about 1 hour and 10 minutes and then rested it for at least half an hour, wrapped in a double layer of foil.  We have never got into the habit of using a meat thermometer; Maggie usually gets it right by testing with a metal skewer.

To accompany the beef we cooked potatoes, spinach and Dutch carrots, as well as some gravy and horseradish cream.

We used Royal Blue potatoes – they roast really well.  The potatoes were peeled, cut into chunks, covered in a saucepan with salted, cold water, brought to the boil, simmered for 4 minutes and drained (brief boiling helps to set the starch to crunch-readiness).  They were then tossed in olive oil, to which numerous slices of garlic had been added well before, and tipped into a foil tray that held them snugly. They were roasted in the Weber Q for about 45 minutes, turning the chunks over two or three times.

For the spinach, we removed the leaves from two generous bunches – bought at Toscano’s of course – then rinsed and drained them.  I melted 40g of unsalted butter (adjust downwards for smaller bunches) in a large saucepan over medium heat and then gradually added large handfuls of roughly torn leaves as Maggie tossed and wilted the spinach in the pan.  When all the leaves were wilted, we let them simmer for a couple of minutes then removed the pan from the heat.  After a few minutes, more water had evaporated, and the pan went back on the heat.  We added half a teaspoon each of salt and chicken stock powder, two teaspoons of Dijon mustard and between a third and half a cup of cooking cream.

Spinach cooked this way is one of our favourite side dishes.  We serve it with a variety of beef dishes, roast chicken and, for my son and daughter-in-law, with a brunch built on poached eggs, dry-fried rashers of bacon, sauteed mushrooms and roasted tomatoes.

The preparation of the carrots was novel for me – its origins were in Maggie’s former life. She trimmed and peeled the carrots then placed them as two layers in an un-lidded saucepan; then they were covered with a light chicken stock – made by poaching breasts for a sandwich filling – and sweetened with a teaspoon of sugar.  The carrots were simmered until tender, by which time the liquid had become deliciously syrupy.

For the gravy, we used a light Gravox gravy powder and water as the base, to which I added a beef stock cube to help the gravy work with the robust flavours of the other items.  The gravy was later enriched by adding all of the resting juices from the beef and some salt and black pepper.

Finally, the horseradish cream!  We had dug out some horseradish from our garden.  Maggie then washed and lightly peeled the roots, cut them into sections and put them through the finest setting on our electric mincer.  The product was then stored in a jar of white vinegar in our fridge.  To make the cream, she combined some drained horseradish, light sour cream, a generous pinch of both salt and sugar and a grinding of black pepper.  She then adjusted the balance based on feedback from my palate (although I am not a fan of horseradish, I do have a strong sense of taste).

The much-used word ‘delicious’ does not do justice to our palates’ experience of this roast beef dish.  It was simply the best that all six of us had enjoyed, largely due to the quality of the meat but augmented by the side dishes.  And we all had our meat cooked the way we like it.

Next, dessert!

We had considered various options for dessert – all of them proven crowd-pleasers – but eventually settled on a Sicilian apple torte.  One factor was the fact that we could make it a day or two in advance, reducing the workload on the day of the dinner and, also, allowing the flavours and textures to develop.

We hadn’t made the torte for a couple of years but our palates had very happy memories. As the recipe later in this post advises you, the preparation is quite involved; definitely a dish requiring a team effort.  Like most tortes, it it somewhat rich but so flavoursome that a small piece goes  a long way, even when accompanied with a dob of cream.

The spinach side dish was also prepared a day in advance; it re-heated well, in a saucepan over gentle heat.

Was there any wine on the table? You bet there was and of a standard the equal of the food.  We started with Mumm champagne, a bottle that we had been saving for just such an occasion.  A delicate French Rose was served with the salmon, followed by Pinot Noir with the roast beef. Pinot with beef?!  Yes, but not just any pinot; it was from the Central Otago region in New Zealand, which is emerging as the home of some of the world’s most remarkable wines made from Pinot Noir grapes.  The wine selection finished with a bottle of Sauternes, perfect alongside the torte.

Now, I just have to make sure that we are capable of producing a meal of similar quality when I reach 70 years of age!  Recipes follow.

Salmon carpaccio with herb and tomato salsa

For this delicate entrée, modified significantly from a recipe by Stephanie Alexander, you need sashimi-quality fillets of raw Atlantic salmon, bought on the day of use.  Ask your fishmonger to remove the skin and any bones then slice for carpaccio, ie very thinly.  Allow 2 to 3 slices per person.

In practice, most fishmongers are reluctant or unaccustomed to cutting the slices as thin as we prefer.  Maggie prefers to do it herself, using a knife we bought in Toledo when we were on a tour of Spain in 2011.  She selects tail pieces and cuts on an angle, which is easier to control; she cuts just through to the skin and then carefully removes each slice from the skin with the aid of the knife.

Ingredients

10 to 12 thin slices of raw salmon
½ tsp finely chopped dill
1 tsp finely chopped chives
1 tsp finely chopped parsley
½ tsp finely chopped tarragon leaves
½ tsp finely chopped basil leaves
½ cup finely diced ripe tomato
1 tbsp olive oil
pepper and salt
juice from half a fresh lime

Method

  1. Combine herbs, tomato, lime juice and oil.
  2. Season to taste
  3. Divide cold salmon slices between four plates and spoon the salsa over the salmon.
  4. Serve immediately.  Provide additional salt and pepper so each person can adjust the seasoning (salmon is not a salty fish).

Sicilian torta di mele

This stunning dessert cake requires about an hour of preparation but it’s worth the effort!  A small piece will be sufficient for most people.

Ingredients

150g melted butter
50g pecans toasted & coarsely ground
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1kg Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored, cut into quarters, finely sliced, then tossed in lemon zest & juice
4 eggs
2½ tsp vanilla essence
330g castor sugar – sifted
2½ tsp baking powder added to flour to sift
200g plain flour – sifted with baking powder
130g milk
150g raisins
100g pine nuts, toasted
3 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp nutmeg

Method

  1. Line base of 28cm springform cake tin with baking paper (or use 2x20cm tins but cook for only 45 minutes).  Drizzle a teaspoon or two of the melted butter into tin and spread around, then add the ground pecans.
  2. Heat oven to 170oC.
  3. Whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar together until pale and creamy (about 5 minutes), then add the melted butter, sifted flour and milk.  Mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour one third of the batter into the prepared cake tin, then top with one third of apple (apples arranged radiating out), raisins and pine nuts.  Repeat twice with remaining ingredients, ie finish with layer of apples etc, then sprinkle the combined sugar and spices over the top.
  5. Bake for approx 1¼ hours; insert skewer into centre of cake – it will still be slightly damp in centre.
  6. Allow the cake to cool partly in tin, turn out onto a plate, remove base of tin and turn onto a cooling rack, ie base down.
  7. Serve with pouring cream.

 

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About rmgtravelsandfood

Maggie and I are both in our early 60s and live in Melbourne, Australia. This blog is devoted to our shared passions for travel and fine dining at home. As cooks, we are skilful and adventurous within a framework of mainly traditional ingredients and techniques, and we aim to prepare nutritious food that looks good and tastes delicious. Our evolving repertoire is influenced by both our travels and Melbourne's vibrant food culture. While we are young enough, our priority travel destinations are overseas, although we do spend a few weekends each year exploring south-eastern Australia. As travellers, we are most comfortable with a combination of organised and independent touring. Our first overseas journey together was to Italy in the northern autumn of 2008. We later travelled in France (2009), Spain (2011), Singapore and Cambodia (2012/13). All trips from 2014 onwards are documented in this blog.
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