Born in England, living in Washington, D.C., and with a summer house in France, I am hardly surprised at my multinational menus. Happy unions can be unexpected, like this recent dinner of old favorites.
The opener is firmly American -- plump shrimps in a creamy sauce of goat cheese perked up with salmon caviar. Now that the domestic cheese and caviar industries are so firmly established, the ingredients are not hard to find. Beware, however, of economizing by buying lumpfish caviar -- the eggs are treated with colorant, which may cause the sauce to turn a disconcerting hue.
The main course turns to England and my childhood, when my hunting father brought back pheasant at least twice a week for the table. A brisk flaming in brandy highlights the gamey flavor of these delectable birds and I've added a seasonal garnish of red and green grapes to the sauce. The pheasants, half a bird per person, are browned "en cocotte," then cooked rare or well-done to your taste.
From my Russian father-in-law comes a taste for kasha -- nutty grains of whole buckwheat -- which is a splendid match for any game. Poor man's wild rice I call it. For cooking, kasha is best toasted with an egg so the grains remain fluffy when simmered briefly in water. Cracked wheat (also called bulghur) can be substituted and treated the same way.
The culinary tour ends in France with the most famous apple pie of them all -- tarte tatin. To call it upside-down caramelized apple pie falls far short of reality. Tarte tatin is composed of big chunks of apple caramelized all the way through and arranged in a glistening circle atop a crisp pastry base.
The achievement of this tour de force depends first of all on using firm apples, which hold their shape through cooking -- golden delicious are a reliable choice. Next they must be thoroughly cooked in caramel so the juice of the apples themselves caramelizes. Finally I like to use halved apples, so they unmold as a cartwheel for maximum dramatic effect. Served warm American-style with vanilla ice cream, or French-style with cre`me frai~che, tarte tatin completes an international alliance in grand style.
A celebration for the cook, with plenty of time for a festive glass before dinner.
Up to two days ahead: Make caviar sauce. Cook pheasant, if serving it well done. Cook kasha. Make dough for tarte tatin.
Up to one day ahead: Cook shrimp.
Up to eight hours ahead: Bake tarte tatin.
One hour before serving: If serving pheasant rare, heat oven to 400 degrees and cook birds. Arrange shrimp with lettuce on plates.
Just before serving: Add sauce to shrimp.
While serving shrimp: Reheat pheasant to keep warm on top of stove; add grapes to sauce just before serving. Reheat kasha. Turn oven to low and warm tarte tatin.
After serving pheasant: Turn out tarte.
SHRIMP WITH CAVIAR CREAM SAUCE (8 servings)
The caviar sauce makes a great dip if it is not thinned with cream.
FOR THE SALMON CAVIAR SAUCE:
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
Juice 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces red salmon caviar
3 tablespoons whipping cream, more if needed
FOR COOKING SHRIMP:
1 onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 quarts water
2 pounds shrimp
2 heads boston lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped chives
For the sauce: beat cream cheese with sour cream until smooth. Beat in lemon juice, cayenne and pepper, then fold in caviar. Add cream to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. The sauce can be refrigerated up to 2 days.
To cook the shrimp: bring onion, thyme, bay leaf, salt, peppercorns, garlic and water to a boil and simmer 10 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until opaque and firm to the touch, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size. Drain, let cool and shell them, removing vein. Shrimp may be cooked a day ahead and refrigerated.
Up to 2 hours ahead: shred lettuce and spread on 8 individual plates. Arrange shrimp overlapping in a fan on top and refrigerate. Just before serving, spoon sauce over shrimp to partly cover; sprinkle them with chives.
PHEASANT WITH RED AND GREEN GRAPES (8 servings)
Large cornish hens can be substituted if pheasant is not available; they should be cooked 30 to 40 minutes until well done.
4 1 1/2-pound pheasants
Salt and pepper to taste
8 thin slices bacon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
5 to 6 tablespoons marc or brandy
8 slices toasted bread, halved diagonally
FOR THE SAUCE:
3/4 pound seedless red grapes
3/4 pound seedless green grapes
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups veal or chicken stockSTART NOTE cq END NOTE
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed to a paste with 3 tablespoons water
Sprinkle birds inside with salt and pepper, cover breast with bacon and tie it with string.
Heat half the butter in a large flameproof casserole and brown pheasants thoroughly on all sides. Note: Use two casseroles if necessary so pheasants lie in a single layer. Add giblets, including liver, and cover the casserole. Cook in a 400-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes until juices drained from center of pheasants run pink but not red. If you prefer the birds well done, continue cooking until juice runs clear.
After 10 minutes, remove pheasant liver from casserole and crush it with remaining butter, using a fork. Season it with 1 tablespoon of the marc or brandy, salt and pepper and reserve. Put grapes in a pan with wine and simmer until lightly cooked but not soft, 1 to 2 minutes.
When pheasants are cooked, pour off any excess fat from pan, add remaining marc or brandy and flame it. Remove pheasants from pan and discard trussing strings. Bacon can be discarded or served with pheasants, as you prefer. With poultry shears or a heavy knife, cut birds along each side of backbone and remove it. Cut birds in half along breastbone and trim leg bones to neaten them.
For the sauce: add wine from cooking grapes to pan and boil about 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve juices. Add stock to the pan and bring to a boil. Whisk enough cornstarch paste into boiling sauce so it lightly coats a spoon and then strain it. If pheasant is well done, it can be stored up to 2 days in the refrigerator with the sauce, keeping grapes and crushed liver separate. If you like the bird rare, however, it should be cooked at the last minute and served at once.
To finish: if necessary reheat pheasant in sauce on top of stove. Arrange pheasant halves overlapping on a platter, or on 8 individual plates, and keep warm. Make toast and spread triangles with crushed liver. Add grapes to sauce, warm gently 1 minute and taste sauce for seasoning. Spoon grapes and sauce over pheasant and serve.
KASHA (8 servings)
The plumper the grains of kasha, the better.
1 1/2 cups kasha
1 egg, beaten to mix
3 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
Put kasha in a heavy pan and stir in egg. Toast kasha over high heat, stirring constantly with a metal spoon, until grains are dry and separate, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add water, salt and pepper, cover and simmer until water is absorbed and kasha is barely tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Note: cook kasha very gently so grains do not burst. Take from the heat and leave 10 to 15 minutes to allow grains to firm up. Stir with a fork and taste for seasoning.
Kasha can be refrigerated up to 2 days. Reheat it on top of the stove.
APPLE TARTE TATIN (8 servings)
Pears can be substituted for apples in this recipe. Asian pears, the exotic variety that has recently started appearing in markets, are particularly good as they hold their shape during cooking.
Pa~te brise'e (recipe below), or pastry for a 10-inch pie
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
6 pounds firm apples
Vanilla ice cream or cre`me frai~che for serving
Make pastry dough and chill. Melt butter in a 12- to 14-inch heavy nonstick frying pan or skillet, take from heat and sprinkle with sugar. Peel, halve and core the apples. Arrange halves upright in concentric circles on top of sugar. They should fill the pan completely and be tightly packed. Cook apples on top of stove until a deep golden caramel is formed, about 20 minutes. Note: the apples will make juice that must evaporate before it will caramelize.
When apples are cooked, let them cool slightly. Roll dough to a round slightly larger than the pan. Set dough on apples so they are completely covered, tucking in edges. Note: work fast so dough does not melt in heat of apples. Bake in a 425-degree oven until pastry is crisp and brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Tarte tatin can be prepared up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated.
Not more than half an hour before serving, warm the tart on top of stove. Turn it out onto a tray or large platter. If any apples stick to bottom of the pan, transfer it to top of the tart with a spatula. Serve the tart warm, with vanilla ice cream, or cre~me frai~che.
PATE BRISEE (Makes enough for a 10-inch pie)
1 2/3 cups flour
6 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold water, more if needed
Sift flour onto work surface and make a large well in the center. Pound butter with rolling pin to soften slightly. Put butter, egg yolk, sugar, salt and water in the well and work with fingertips of one hand until partly mixed. Gradually work in flour, pulling dough into large crumbs using fingertips of both hands. If crumbs are dry, sprinkle over a tablespoon more water. Press dough firmly together -- it should be soft but not sticky.
Work dough on a lightly floured surface, pushing dough away with the heel of your hand and gathering it up with a dough scraper until smooth and pliable. Press dough into a ball, wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Dough can be refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen.