Cooking Notes from
the Hot Chocolate & Shortbread Tasting Party
One week before the Party Trent and I tasted all of the hot chocolates which were in the running and arranged them into 5 flights.
I decided to use 5 teapots and rinse them after each use. I went from full size coffee cups to tea cups to demi-tasse cups trying to decide the tasting format. I was glad I had a selection of demitasse cups, as they were perfect for the tasting. I used Minton demitasses from 1862 and the 1920s plus a couple of Grindley demitasses. I dug out some really tiny silver chocolate spoons and some demitasse spoons for stirring.
One day before the Party I made the soup and all of the sandwiches. Tea sandwiches seem to taste better if the bread is slightly dry – it gives a nice contrasting texture. I bought the bread two days before the party at Acme Bread Co.
The other key to keeping the bread dry is to make sure that you lightly butter the bread before filling it. Somehow the butter keeps the filling from making the bread hopelessly soggy. I started at 9:15 and had finished the soup and sandwich fillings by 11:15.
Egg Salad with Boquerones Acme Herb Loaf
I boiled and shelled the eggs, then rough chopped them. Meanwhile in the food processor I pureed white anchovies in vinegar (boquerones), some Toby’s ranch dressing, some Spanish smoked paprika (just a pinch or two) and the capers which had been well-rinsed.
Then I mixed the dressing with the eggs and lightly pulsed it a few times in the food processor again. I didn’t like the sourness of the vinegar it seemed to unbalance the filling. So at the last minute I folded in paper thin cucumber slices (seeds removed - I used a mandoline) and that seemed to fix the imbalance. Another time I would choose a different White Anchovy to use – these ones were very bitter.
Egg Salad Recipe (roughly): 8 hard-boiled eggs
1/2pkg white anchovies/Boquerones (1 tbsp of their liquid)
1 tbsp Toby's Ranch Dressing
2 tbsp salted capers well rinsed
1/8 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/3 of cucumber: peeled, seeded and sliced paper thin
Continental Chicken Salad
Add Beth Kitchen’s chipolte ranch dressing and Mango chutney and golden raisins
I used Naturally India’s Mango Murraba Chutney which has saffron and pistachios in it. The saffron adds some color to the chicken. The golden raisins were really dry but on Sat they had rehydrated slightly making them really work. The Chipolte Ranch I didn’t like that much – and it really had a spicy kick so I was very reserved on it’s use. I topped these sandwiches with Pecans.
Rough Chicken Salad Recipe
Meat from 1 whole roasted chicken hand shredded
3 tbsp Mango Chutney
1 c Golden raisins
1 tbsp Chipotle Ranch dressing
Sliced Willie Bird Smoked duck breast on Acme Olive Bread with Girl & The Fig – Fig Jam – slice duck and bread.
I was not sure about the olive bread and the duck/fig combo working so I tested it out. Unusual but good. This smoked duck didn’t have tons of flavor on it’s own and the marriage of the three flavors seems to work well. I decided to leave the crusts on, as this bread tends to be more rustic with lots of holes and I worried about it falling apart. The fig jam was more bitter than I had hoped but it worked well with the sweetness of the bread. If I made these again I would choose the Fig/Apricot Jam which has more sweetness.
Goose Liver Pate on Pain de Mie
I garnished these with French Cornichons. Next time I would add the garnish the day of serving as even though I drained and dried them really well (and placed them strategically) they still made the edges of the bread they touched slightly soggy.
Ohlone Smoked Salmon Salad with Basil Pesto & Cucumber
This hot smoked salmon and pesto mixture worked really well topped with very thinly sliced cucumbers. I removed the skin and scraped the hard top of the salmon slightly, crumbled it, and then added the pesto. I was worried this was going to be too dry and almost added some sort of other dressing but held back – I was glad I did. It worked well.
Rough Salmon Salad Recipe: 1/2 pound hot smoked salmon filet hand shredded (skin removed and gray fat scraped away - also if the top has a hard layer remove it)
3 tbsp Good quality Basil Pesto
I made a quick stock first out of the chicken carcass from the roast chicken I used in the chicken salad, throwing in whatever vegetables trimmings I had and some water; it netted about 2 cups of strained, defatted stock.
Then I sauteed garlic in the olive oil (for both the soup and the dressing for the fennel salad) and removed it then skinned and chopped it. Then I sliced the mushrooms and leeks plus I rehyrdated the candy caps in Pineau des Charentes.
I wanted tarragon for this soup but all I had was tiny baby tarragon coming up in the garden so I used some of that and some English Thyme. I needed to add more liquid to it when it was done and didn’t want to add water so I added an extra cup of sherry.
Jack loved the soup with big chunks of mushrooms and didn’t want me to puree it. I wanted a little more refinement so I quickly pureed it using a handheld blender. When I finished the mushroom bits looked like small pebbles. Jack still liked the big chunky style better.
Make Dressing for Fennel Salad
Roasted Garlic, Lemon Juice & Olive Oil and salt. I still haven’t got the ratio perfect – I’m continuing to work on it!
Plate Shortbread & Marshmallows
I looked at what I had to do on Saturday morning and decided to plate the shortbreads and cover them on Friday night. It allowed me time to arrange flowers and set the table without a complete panic on Saturday. I broke each cookie into two pieces and arrange the pieces on plates with labels, leaving extra space and labels for the shortbreads which would arrive the day of the party.
The Day of the Party
For this lunch I used Royal Albert with little roses and Spode with a basket edge and big roses complimented by Grindley’s Old China pattern. Each place setting had a pink marshmallow mushroom as a greeting (from Van Lauren in the U.K.).
I used dark chocolate masculine striped placemats and solid olive green napkins to balance the roses.
Flowers & Centerpiece
The centerpiece Trent and I made by washing and drying a selection of different apples and filling a bowl. I chose different colors of reds, yellows and greens. I used my great aunt Myrtle’s cherub vases (as it was very close to Valentine’s) and filled them with “tiny gems” – basically anything I could scavenge, in flower, in the garden - it was a challenge at this time of the year!
Attach Score Sheets to Clipboards
Make Fennel Salad
I washed the fennel well and sliced it, then mixed it with the dressing I had made on Friday. Then plated the salad trio.
I thought that the Point Reyes Marinated Mushrooms & Point Reyes Asparagus Spears worked well as a trio with the Fennel Salad. I had considered RicksPicks Beets or Pickles or Alexander Valley Pickles as well but settled on less is more.
Make Cheese labels & Plate Cheese
I had ordered a number of the cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen to arrive a few days before the party. The others I had purchased locally. I like to choose an interesting selection - with some new cheeses we've not tried and some that we have tried and liked. I usually have at least one goat, sheep and cow - at least one stinky and one hard - and sometimes a blue. I knew that one of our guests likes goat cheese and so for fun I chose some "interesting" goat cheeses that they probably hadn't tried.
I plated the cheese Saturday morning, trimming anything that needed it and placed labels on each one and arranged knives. Cheeses should always face out, so that the cut edge is easily accessible from the side of the plate. Try to give cheese some space so when they are cut they don't run together (or crumble together).
Then I covered the plates with a clean dishtowel and Jack put them in the wine cellar until needed. We brought them in to warm up to room temperature an hour before we were going to eat them.