Thursday, 17 June 2010

Best Early Summer Starter Ever

My husband and I are planning a small garden dinner party to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. People keep asking me if I can believe it's really been five years. On one hand, it seems like a milestone type of anniversary, and I think Wow. 5 years already!. Usually, though, I can't believe that it hasn't been longer. We have two beautiful little girls together, and are so close, that when I think of things that happened before then, it's hard to believe that they weren't a part of it. As we're not normally overly social people, we decided it would be fun and throw a little party to celebrate. We're really enjoying planning it together, especially coming up with the menu.

We tested out our appetizer, and I am thrilled with how it turned out. I've decided this is the perfect starter for early summer, especially here where we can get fresh local asparagus. So here it is:

Steamed Asparagus with Poached Quails' Eggs and a Hollandaise Sauce, Garnished with Fresh Dill and Herb Flowers

You should allow four spears of asparagus and two quaills' eggs per person if serving as a starter.

The Asparagus

Buy the best freshest green asparagus spears you can find (local and/or organic if possible). Snap off the bottoms (the cut end will naturally snap off). Steam for about four minutes. They should still be vibrant green. A sharp knife should slice through them easily, but they should still stand up straight if you hold them up.

The Hollandaise

Hollandaise is one of those intimidating sounding French sauces. On chef programmes, you always see them whisking away and talking about all the things that can go wrong with a Hollandaise. Actually, Hollandaise can be pretty easy to make, plus it looks and tastes great. A home-made Hollandaise really adds a wow factor to dishes like this.

To make the Hollandaise, put two egg yolks (room temperature) and 1 Tbsp of lemon juice in your blender. Yes, your blender. It makes a really smooth sauce and is way faster and easier than using a whisk. Blend them until it makes a really smooth mixture. Then, with it still blending, slowly add a 200g of butter (use the real unsalted stuff and melt it first). Blend until it reaches a nice sauce consistency. Your Hollandaise should be smooth and creamy with a pretty yellow colour. Salt and pepper to taste.

The Eggs

I like using quails' eggs because they are so small and dainty. They really add an extra elegance to the dish, and taste perfect with it. If you can't find quails' eggs, though, you can use small chickens' eggs.

They should be poached and then placed on top of the asparagus. To poach the quails' eggs, let them reach room temperature first. Half-fill a large frying pan with water and a dash of vinegar, and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, find some small cups. Crack the eggs into the cups (one each). When the water is boiling steadily, slide the eggs from the cups into the water. Putting them into a cup first and then sliding them in helps them to stay together better, and avoids problems like the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pan. The quails' eggs are so small that they cook really quickly. It will only take a minute or two for them to be ready, so watch them closely. They're ready when the white is solid and cooked, but the yolk is still runny if you cut into it. Use a slotted spoon to take them from the pan so that excess water can drain off.

The Garnish

Not only do the fresh herbs and flowers look great, they really elevate the flavour of the dish as well. Tear up a little fresh dill over the top of the dish. (Dill is really easy to grow, and will grow well in pots--we used fresh dill from the garden.) We're having a floral theme to our party menu, so we're incorporating some type of edible blossoms with each course. We sprinkled just a few fresh herb blossoms (thyme and oregano) over the top of the dish. When you bite into them, you get a strong burst of the herbiness that makes it all taste fresh and summery.

This was possibly the most delicious savoury dish we've ever cooked at home. Delicious.

1 comment:

  1. This looks beautiful and I recognize the plate! I wish I could come to your dinner party--mostly for the company of course but also because from what I have seen of your menu so far--the best freshest asparagus--and chocolate geranium covered pistachios--sounds amazing.

    I hope the party goes splendidly. I'm sure it will.