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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

White Truffle Dinner 2006: Course 7


This is the eighth in a series of posts directed to the Fourth Annual White Truffle Dinner that Rhonda and I recently held at my home.   For more on the dinner, please see these posts:   Introduction | Course 1 | Course 2 | Course 3 | Course 4 | Course 5 | Course 6 | Course 7 | Course 8 | Conclusion

The seventh course for this year's White Truffle Dinner was Duo of Sorbets: Pineapple Lemon Verbena & Raspberry Rose Geranium. The use of a sorbet as a palate cleanser is quite common in upper-tier restaurants, as is the concept of presenting at least two distinct dessert courses whenever a tasting menu is ordered.   Yet, neither one of these ideas occurred to me while I was planning our first White Truffle Dinner in 2003.   Perhaps it was because I was too consumed with trying to devise six savory courses and one solid dessert, or maybe it was due to my general anxiety about how we would be able to pull of a seven-course menu at home in the first place.   In either case, it wasn't until after that first dinner had passed that the need for a second dessert offering finally came into sharp focus.   It occurred to me that there were two choices:   I could serve two fully-realized dessert courses, preceded by an intermezzo comprised of an exceedingly simple sorbet (e.g., grapefruit or champagne);   alternatively, I could come up with something for the first course that could serve double duty as both palate cleanser and dessert.   I chose the latter option in the interest of keeping things simple, and I have followed that path ever since.

Sometime late last summer, I got it into my head that I wanted to experiment with lemon verbena.   I'm not really sure what triggered this;   I had never cooked with the herb before, nor had I recently tasted anything having its distinctive flavor.   Nevertheless, on my next trip to the Ferry Building Farmers' Market, I sought out the one purveyor that seems to have lemon verbena consistently available, Eatwell Farm.   As I paid for the bunch that I had picked out, I had no idea what I was going to do with it.   Maybe I would try a creme brulee, or perhaps a custard sauce to enjoy with pound cake or fresh fruit.   I ultimately settled on ice cream, and after finding some guidance online about how best to infuse the cream, I prepared a batch.   The result was excellent -- bright, lemony, and floral all at once, yet so distinctive that not a single colleague at work was able to identify the flavor upon tasting it the next day.   I later infused some water with lemon verbena and used it to make an angel food cake;   I combined some of the same water with powdered sugar and made a lemon verbena glaze.   The possibilities were endless, I realized, and I couldn't wait to explore other uses down the road.

During my numerous visits to the Eatwell Farm stall to purchase lemon verbena, I happened to notice another herb that was far less familiar to me:   rose geranium.   Its fragrance was intoxicating, reminiscent of roses yet somehow more complex at the same time.   I eventually gave in and purchased a bunch, again wondering how I would end up using it.   I never found out the answer.   The following weeks were so busy at work, that the geranium dried out before I had an opportunity to experiment with it.   I made a vow, though, to revisit this unfamiliar ingredient at a later date.
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There's more...
In planning the menu for this year's truffle dinner, I knew that the seventh course should be sorbet.   There's nothing like an ice cold, sweet, and boldly-flavored treat to awaken the taste buds after six savory courses.   Yet, my view is that if I'm going to expect sorbet to serve not only as palate cleanser but also as a dessert course in and of itself, then I have to provide something more than a single scoop of a simple and familiar flavor.   Two years ago, I served a duo of relatively uncommon sorbets that shared a theme;   I could do the same thing again this year, I thought, so long as I change the flavors and/or the theme.   But what flavors, and what theme?   The answer appeared in my mind just as quickly as the question had been formed:   the theme would be herbs, and the flavors would be the duo that I had "discovered" back in the summer -- lemon verbena and rose geranium.

My initial inclination to serve a simple lemon verbena sorbet and a plain rose geranium sorbet soon gave way to another notion, namely to pair each of the herbs with a complementary ingredient.   But what ingredients?   The first idea I had for lemon verbena was pineapple juice, which seemed like a promising candidate when I tried to imagine the two flavors together in my mind.   I ran an experiment by infusing some leftover pineapple juice with lemon verbena, and I was thrilled with the result.   With regard to rose geranium, I found myself at a comparative disadvantage since I had never tasted the herb directly.   I knew from its fragrance, however, that it would have a rose flavor, so I figured that combining it with a berry of some sort -- perhaps strawberries or blackberries -- might be a logical choice.   I jumped online to do some research and quickly found a recipe coupling rose geranium with raspberries, a perfectly good idea that I saw no reason not to embrace.

I prepared the sorbets several days in advance, anxious to get Course 7 out of the way and out of my mind.   On the night of the dinner, all Rhonda and I had to do was take the containers out of the freezer and place a small scoop of each sorbet in each of the serving dishes.   A small garnish of mint was the final touch.

Finally, to give you a sense of how the menu has evolved over time, here's a summary of the Course 7 palate cleanser selections that we have served since the inaugural White Truffle Dinner in 2003:
  • N/A (2003)
  • Duo of Fall Sorbets: Asian Pear & Spiced Cider (2004)
  • Lemon Lavender Cappuccino (2005)
  • Duo of Sorbets: Pineapple Lemon Verbena & Raspberry Rose Geranium (2006)

3 Comments:

Blogger K & S said...

I thought I commented here, but maybe not, I like the flavor combinations of these sorbet, very nice palate cleansers and refreshing too.

January 05, 2007 6:17 AM  
Blogger NS said...

Kat: I'm sorry that you had trouble with your first attempt to post a comment, but I appreciate your resubmitting it.

January 10, 2007 8:36 AM  
Blogger good said...

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July 13, 2010 2:05 AM  

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