A group of friends and I recently gathered for a housewarming party for our dear Grace. It was also the date of the Roman holiday Vulcanalia. Look on the calendar, there's bound to be some reason to celebrate.
We started things out with a fun cocktail I tried in Cleveland. The Basil Grape Refresher is made with muddled basil and grapes. Add a touch of sugar or simple syrup, and then shake with ice and vodka. Top with ginger ale to taste. Simple and easy cocktail, and you can play around with it to modulate the sweetness.
The first course was steamed crab legs and topneck clams. When I cook crab legs, I normally take frozen snow crab legs and put them in a big steamer basket over a big pot of boiling water. I'll dust it all with Old Bay and squeeze a lemon over all of it. The trick is to take them out of the basket right when they're warmed through--too long and they get leathery, too short and you've got cold spots. While big and meaty, the clams were a little tough. I've had better luck with littlenecks when the craving strikes me.
For the second course, we enjoyed pan-seared slices of halloumi cheese and chunks of Santa Claus melon. The melon is white-fleshed with a flavor similar to honeydew, and it looks like a striped green football. The cheese was salty and savory, providing a nice counterpoint, and anyone who hasn't tried halloumi yet ought to swing by Fresh Market and give it a shot. For this course the Thomas Hyland/Penfolds Riesling was provided by Paul and was fruit-forward with flavors of apple and grapefruit.
The main course was beef tenderloin slices on a bed of mesclun greens with mushroom-sage risotto. I trimmed and trussed an entire tenderloin and rubbed it down with a blend of fennel seed, allspice, salt, and pepper. It was slow cooked at a steady 180°F until the interior reached medium rare. I then let it rest while I heated up the broiler, and then seared the outside of the roast in the oven. I took quarter inch slices and plated them, and then used a chipotle finishing sauce to top it all off. It was soft enough to cut with a fork and deeply delicious.
Paul provided this wine as well, a Penfolds Bin 128 Shiraz. It had rich notes of cinnamon, cedar, and blueberries. Well balanced and nicely complementary to the beef. It's the second time we've tried this Australian wine and it's a great one. Not to mention the great math joke in the name.
Somewhere along the way another bottle was needed, so I picked the 2007 La Vieille Ferme Rosé from the Côtes du Ventoux region of France. It's 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 10% Syrah. Srawberry-kiwi Jolly Rancher flavors with a touch of lemony acidity. I've had the red and white versions of this wine and they're all solidly constructed wines at great prices. And you don't see giant talking chicken ads for them at the wine shop.
Late that evening we wrapped it all up with key lime pie. Congrats to Grace on the new digs and I can't wait to cook over there again.