I was extremely ambivalent about our New Year’s Eve celebration this year, debating what sort of commemoration would be significant for this once-in-a-lifetime event. The hoopla and commercialism of the holiday seemed so unappealing, as were trips to far-off destinations.
We (and many others I’ve since discovered) opted for what felt the best: a quiet, intimate evening with our family and friends. When my dear husband offered six wines from his collection, the seemingly overwhelming task of creating a menu befitting the turn of the century became a simple matter of pairing comfortable foods with elegant wines.
It seemed appropriate to start the evening’s festivities with two icons of the 20th century: oysters-on-the-half-shell a la Julia Child and Sir Winston Churchill champagne. Julia’s simple preparation of a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of fresh pepper on oysters is a perfect match for the special cuvee of champagne created by the house of Pol Roger specifically for the great British statesman.
For our second appetizer, my husband selected a Pouilly Fuisse from J.J. Vincent that we had sampled on a trip to France, which I paired with little bits of rich, salmon-filled phyllo pastry. Our first course features grilled Maine Lobster Tails with one of my favorite wines, a buttery, luscious Puligny Montrachet from LaFlaive.
Our next liquid libation, 1976 Lafite-Rothschild, was one of the first wines which my husband started his collection with, specifically with the intention of decanting it for this celebration. I’ve chosen to complete this memorable course with a simple roast of farm-raised venison tenderloin. We’ll salute the farmers of our state and enjoy another promising product of Maine agriculture.
Fresh, locally grown greens are a luxury in the dead of winter, that’s why I’m so thankful we have hydroponic greenhouses like Haight Farm. What better way to highlight this small extravagance than with a Wine Spectator’s wine of the year, the 1989 Chateau Beaucastel. Like Courtney and Woody Haight, the Perrin brothers are consummate to their craft. We were fortunate to meet these sixth-generation winemakers and barrel taste this wine on a trip to France.
I wanted to close the century on a sweet note and create a grand finale that wasn’t too tough on the nerves. Keeping in mind that looking back can often inspire you to look forward with cool equanimity, I chose comfort over futuristic, simplicity rather than fussiness.
An adult version of the favorite bedtime snack of cookies and ice cream and a glass of vintage champagne will be our toast to the new millennium. After years of manic striving and experimenting, we will start to relax.
Beggars Purses with Slow Roasted Salmon and Apple Filling
1 10-ounce piece of center-cut, skinless salmon fillet 1 apple cored and grated 1 tablespoon butter, softened 1 tablespoon fine bread crumbs 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh parsley 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 teaspoon honey
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and butter a roasting pan that just fits the salmon. Grate the apple and place under the salmon fillet in the pan. Combine the remaining ingredients to make a glaze and spread over the salmon. Roast the salmon for 20 to 25 minutes or less, until just cooked. Instead of the traditional flakiness test for doneness, look for a change in color from translucent to opaque.
To make the purses:
1 pound frozen phyllo dough (available at supermarket)
1/2 cup melted butter
Lay phyllo sheet on a work surface and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with two more phyllo sheets, butter each as you layer them. Cut the stacked, buttered phyllo sheets into 4-inch squares. Place a small spoonful of the roasted salmon and apple in the center of each square. Gather the corners together over the center and crimp firmly to form purses. Transfer them to a cookies sheet and brush the tops with melted butter.
The purses may be stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake. To bake the purses, preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Makes about 30 purses.
Grilled Lobster Tails with Sweet Potato Latkes and Vanilla Bourbon Sauce (adapted form a recipe by Joe Pirkola of Raspberry’s Restaurant in Ogunquit)
3 frozen lobster tails, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator (frozen lobster tails are available at McLaughlin Seafood on Main Street in Bangor) 2 pounds sweet potatoes 2 egg yolks
1/4 cup scallions, chopped pinch of flour sea salt and fresh pepper
To make the latkes:
Peel and coarsely grate the sweet potatoes. Combine with egg yolks, seasoning and flour. Use just enough flour to absorb the excess moisture. Preheat a skillet and melt some butter. Divide the latke mixture into 2-ounce portions, yielding about 12 pancakes. Brown the pancakes on both sides in the skillet and reserve in 250 degree oven while preparing the tails and sauce.
For the vanilla bourbon sauce: 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 teaspoon lobster base or 2 tablespoon lobster stock
1/2 cup heavy cream 1 small bay leaf
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract) salt and fresh pepper to taste
Dice the butter and bring it to room temperature. Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a simmer and continue to cook until reduced by one half, whisking occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter unti well incorporated. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl, save the vanilla bean and discard the remaining solids. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds, adding them to the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
To prepare the lobster tail:
Grill the tails on a medium-high grill, turning so they cook evenly. When the internal temperature of the tail reaches 140 degrees, cut the tails in half and grill the cut side until it turns a nice color.
Carefully remove the lobster meat from the tail. On a warmed plate, spoon on some sauce. Arrange half a tail and two latkes on each plate. Serves six as an appetizer course. Serve with sauteed spinach as an entree course to feed three people.
Roast Venison Tenderloin with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms and Lemon Asparagus
1 piece venison tenderloin, allow about 6 ounces per person (may also be prepared with beef tenderloin if desired) room temperature butter salt and fresh pepper
Rub the tenderloin with butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in a greased pan and roast in a 400 degree oven until a thermometer reads 120 degrees (for medium-rare meat, 110 degrees for rare and 130 degrees for medium-well). Let the meat rest for 10 minutes after removing from the oven. Slice into medallions.
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms
2 pounds assorted mushrooms, including shiitake, portabella and cremini 2 shallots 3 tablespoons butter salt and fresh pepper 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Slice the mushrooms. Finely chop the shallots. Saute the shallots in butter in a saute pan over medium heat for about one minute. Stir in the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms have given up their water and it has evaporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the chopped fresh parsley. Serves six.
18-24 pencil thin asparagus lemon juice grated zest of lemon
Trim the woody end of the asparagus and steam until just tender. Sprinkle with lemon juice and lemon zest. Serves six. To assemble: Arrange the mushrooms along one edge of the plate and overlap with the tenderloin slices. Place the asparagus spears on the plate. Sprinkle the plate with chopped fresh parsley and garnish with a lemon curl.
Haight Farm Salad with Warm Goat Cheese Dressing
Two 4 ounce bags Haight Farm mesclun mix 3 ounces goat cheese
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar 1 tablespoon honey 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard salt and fresh pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
In a blender, combine the vinegar, honey, thyme and mustard. With the motor running, slowly pour in the oil and blend until emulsified. Season to taste with sale and pepper and set aside.
Break the mesculun mix into bite-sized pieces in a bowl. Pour 1/3 cup dressing into a saucepan and place over low heat. Gently swirl the pan and heat the dressing slowly. When warm, add the goat cheese and stir around until it just starts to melt. Pour the mixture over the salad greens, toss to coat and serve immediately.
Shopping notes: Haight Farm mesculun mix, wild mushrooms, venison and Maine goat cheese are avaiable at the European Farmer’s Market on Buck Street. The market is open from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, and will have special New Year’s hours from 2:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 30.
Carmel Crunch Ice Cream in Hazelnut Lace Cups
1/2 cup ground, toasted hazelnuts (pecans or walnuts may be substituted) 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1/2 cup all purpose flour
Generously grease three large baking sheets. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, corn syrup and lemon zest. Cook over low heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved. Add the flour and the nuts and stir until the mixture is well blended.
Pour three circles of batter onto each of the two baking sheets and two circles onto the third sheet. Spread the circles with the bottom of a large spoon, allowing plenty of space between them. Bake one sheet of cookies until lightly browned, approximately 13 minutes. Let them cool for one minute.
Using a large spatula, carefully remove one cookie. Mold it around the sides of an inverted custard cup, pinching the sides to form pleats. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Let cookies cool for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cookies from the custard cups and place them right side up on a wire rack.
To serve, place the Hazelnut Lace Cup on a dessert plate and fill each with a scoop of Caramel Crunch Ice Cream. Sprinkle the plate with confectioners sugar and serve at once.
Handmade Caramel Crunch Ice Cream can be purchased at Frank’s Bake Shop on State Street in Bangor.