It's been too long since I've been part of an elaborate dinner gathering. (Oh, don't worry, I've still been eating well, between lots of cooking at home and with kids in schools, and out and about on dates.) Last night, in celebration of the series finale of Downton Abbey, my landlady threw a wonderful dinner. It all started with me needing an excuse to make some cocktails with the starfruit I'd pickled....
What's that? You're surprised that I enjoy the at times staid, at other times melodramatic PBS drama? I was an English teacher for a time, and retain a soft spot for all things Victorian/turn-of-the-century. No, it has not led me to catch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the theaters...but mostly because the trailers looked terrible. (The book was actually pretty good.) But I digress.
Last night's dinner was superb. Our neighbor Michele made these adorable little cucumber finger sandwiches. Sarah assembled a big green salad. I boiled up some farmers' market potatoes and parsnips, which were later tossed with butter and fresh parsley. I was also in charge of the asparagus. Kate brought some great red wines. But the stars of the show were Jacky's from-scratch Beef Wellington -- finally, a way that I can enjoy pâté! -- and Kathryn's stunning Charlotte Russe for dessert.
Here's Jacky carving the Wellington. I should have taken more pictures. I blame the good company and irresistible food and drink.
We sipped on limoncello tonics with pickled starfruit and nibbled on some nice cheeses as the final bits of our main meal came together. This was the moment when Kathryn helped me save the hollandaise from the brink of disaster. Should you find yourself in a similar state of panic -- the sauce was so smooth and velvety one minute, then a separated puddle of butter moments later -- I offer Kathryn's brilliant solution: rewarm the sauce over the lowest heat setting, and whisk in a touch of dijon mustard and a few spoonfuls of cold water until the velvet texture of the sauce returns. Voila!
Because I can't seem to resist sharing recipes these days, here's the base recipe for the hollandaise, based on Julia Child's. With Easter -- and asparagus season -- just a few weeks off, you'll want to keep it handy.
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon cold water
Juice from 1 lemon (or just 1/2 lemon if you're not a lemon fiend like I am)
1 1/2 sticks of butter at room temperature, cut into Tablespoons
salt and pepper, to taste
Whisk the yolks, water, and lemon juice in the saucepan for a few moments, until thick and pale (this prepares them for what is to come).
Set the pan over moderately low heat and continue to whisk at reasonable speed, reaching all over the bottom and insides of the pan, where the eggs tend to overcook.
(In retrospect, I bet this would work really well with a double boiler. Note to self....)
As they cook, the eggs will become frothy and increase in volume, and then thicken. When you can see the pan bottom through the streaks of the whisk and the eggs are thick and smooth, remove from the heat if things start looking funny.
By spoonfuls, add the soft butter, whisking constantly to incorporate each addition. As the emulsion forms, continue whisking in spoonfuls of butter until fully absorbed.
Season lightly with salt, pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper if you're feeling spunky, whisking everything together well.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding droplets of lemon juice if needed. Serve.
(If your sauce starts to fall apart, see Kathryn's tip above.)