A 7 Course Feast… Stephen Comee cooks in the heart of Heart Kitchen….. and what heart he has !!!!
February 5, 2014
He came.....He conquered...Stephen Comee cooked up a storm, like a orgasmic bullet straight to our hearts. We loved every second of this delicious experience, sourcing, preparing, sharing music , wine, food and the love. Our invitation is simple, try one or two dishes and if you have the willingness, courage and trust...... try the entire menu. A wonderful time leaving etched in our hearts as wonderful memory. Thank you Stephen for sharing X
- Prep: 1 hr
- Cook: 2 hrs
- Yields: 6
An excerpt from the original story by Stephen Comee - A feast for Two Gales
3 December 2013 (Tuesday)
I got up a little later today, but still made time to practice and shower. Had only a cup of tea for breakfast. Later in the morning, Simon took me to the butcher’s, where we picked up our merchandise. The clams and oysters were so fresh they had still been alive in the water the night before! Then, before continuing our day, we had lunch at the little restaurant (The Pantry) in the middle of the shopping area. It was very good. I had a wonderful sandwich on some heavy, dark bread, together with a lemon green tea, and it was very nice. After munching, we then went to a supermarket to pick up more things. I had brought my list of needed ingredients with me, and was able to pick up everything on it, plus get another white wine, an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and a wonderful Châteauneuf du Pape for the main course. So, paying for all the food, I gladly told Simon that I think we had everything I needed, so we returned.
As soon as we got back, I got to work. I placed everything that required refrigeration in the fridge, and then went to the counter area between the sink and the range, and proceeded, as much as possible, to line up the ingredients in order, course by course, to make it that much easier and quicker to prepare them when the time came. In order to achieve that, I had first chopped the dried apricots I had brought and let them soak in Har- vey’s Bristol Cream while we were gone shopping; so now I put everything into a saucepan added a little but- ter, and I simply reduced the liquid until I had the consistency of a thin jam.
Then I put it in a small glass cup and washed the poêle pan. Then I sliced some onions and roughly chopped the chicken livers and set them aside. All those things made up line 1, the closest to the gas range (stove). In the next line had only a cup with chopped Peppadew pickled peppers, as everything else needed to stay chilled in the fridge. In the third line had a bowl of three or four types of fresh mushrooms, sliced and chopped; I had some dried wild mushrooms soaking in warm water; the garlic paste (in a tube), crushed red pepper, chicken stock, and wedge of lemon were also in place. In the fourth line, I had the clams, which I had washed to get rid of any sand, soaking in water. Lined up, I had the secret ingredient, the Thai green curry seasoning, plus the lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, and galangal (Thai ginger), all chopped and ready to go. In the fifth line, I set aside the white miso mixed with Manuka honey, some brandy-butter I made, and the sliced leeks. In the sixth line, I had the Smirnof (instead of the planned Stolichnaya) and the wild blueberry and black currant jams ready for the duck. I had peeled and sliced the small new potatoes we had bought and placed them in a baking dish with some English white cheddar and fresh double cream. I had also prepared the asparagus by breaking off the root ends (as Simon had taught me—Ta, Simon!) and letting the stalks sit in a glass of water. In the seventh line, there was just a wonderful bottle of port. And in the eighth line, there was a bowl with chopped walnuts, a box of Betty Crocker chewy brownie mix, and a cupful of M&Ms.
With that all set up, I decided to go and take a short power nap to get ready for the cooking marathon to come. . . . ZZZzzzzzzzz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I did take a quite a nice long nap, and felt wonderful and refreshed upon getting up. I took a quick shower, sat in meditation for about 20 minutes (I was doing the Ishaya techniques of the First Sphere in order to help me relax, come into myself, be fully present, be in my heart, be compassionate, be mindful of others, and also to be empowered by being filled with JOY: the joy of being alive, the joy of being with friends, the joy of being able to prepare this meal for, and share it with, with people I love; the “Joy of Cooking”; and the Joy of Life—Ah! the joie d vivre!), and then changed into new clothes. I wanted to wear something cool, as it would be very hot cooking all evening, so I put on the lime green polo shirt I had bought at Westfield yesterday. It was, after all, a casual dinner in the country and not an evening at Maxim de Paris, and I also wanted to be comfortable while I was cooking the courses.
. . . I got up at around 5:30 and asked Simon if he would do the honours of shucking the oysters for me—and to do so he had purchased a special shucking knife just that morning at a kitchen goods store a couple of doors away from the butcher’s. So he set to doing that—but before we got started, he presented me with a special “Heart Kitchen” apron. I was very touched, and felt honoured to receive it. Wow, I thought, now I really have to outdo myself to be worthy of this! So, not one to shirk in the face of duty, I girded my loins (with the bright red apron’s strings) and prepared to do the Battle Royale of the Heart Kitchen. How well could I pour my heart into my cooking and infuse it with love, and still make it look and taste beautiful??? That was going through my head, which I why I poured myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc before starting! So, as Simon attacked the denizens of the deep, I grabbed their cousins, the clams, and put them over a very low flame. When they were all opened, I took out the still closed ones and discarded them, and then set the saucepan to cool. When is had, I reserved the liquor to use on the chowder, and took all the clams out of the shells and set them aside, chilled. When Simon finished shucking, I washed the oysters thoroughly to get rid of any bits of shell, and then set them aside, chilled. We were then ready for everything. So we just sat and chatted over wine and waited for our guests, Stephanie Chappell and her fiancé, a New Zealander named Aaron Scott, to arrive. Below are the grand menu and the music list:
They arrived anon, and shortly after they did, I explained how the evening would proceed, namely that I would prepare each course, one course at a time, and then I would sit and join them for each course; then, as the conversation continued, I would nonchalantly get up and make the next course, and so forth. That taken care of, I sat and we all explained pleasantries and talked about the day. Steph told us about how she was now so nervous— because her son had just obtained his driver’s license, and Simon and I spoke of our plan to travel back in time forty years to visit Oxford, where I wanted to show him where some of my old rooms are. Sue said she would be bringing Murray around to see the grandparents before his departure. I proceeded to make the aperitifs: a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (for Aaron) with a dash of Harvey’s Bristol Cream (for Steph, as well as for Simon & Sue). It was my re-invention of the classic Kir, or a cocktail originally made with 4/5 Burgogne Aligoté (but now with any white Burgundy) and 1/5 Crème de Cassis; here I used the same proportions, and named in a “Kir Anglais.” We toasted the evening and everyone’s health and good fortune, and it was quite good.
They all liked it. Steph said the sherry’s sweetness softened the wine and rounded the edges, and Aaron thought the sherry’s nuttiness complemented the wine well. Simon and Sue agreed that it was a lovely combination. So we may have to rename it “Kir de la Couronne,” as “Stephen” comes from the Greek word for “crown” (στεφανος) Ha, ha, ha! So the evening was off to a good start.
Well, having had our pre-prandial libation to the strains of Pavarotti and Sutherland singing “Libiamo, libiamo ne’lieti calici che la belleza infiora. E la fuggevol ora s’inebrii a voluttà (Let’s drink, let’s drink from the joyous chalices that beauty so truly enhances—and may the brief moment be inebriated with voluptuousness).” A fine sentiment, indeed, and the most perfect way to begin our gastronomical adventure.
First, for our first appetizer, I placed the sliced onions in the frying pan, and sautéed them over low heat till they were golden brown, almost as if I were going to make a French Onion Soup, being careful not to let the onions burn (which makes them bitter). Then, when they were beautifully golden, I added the chopped livers, constantly stirring to thoroughly heat but not overcook them. At the very end, just before turning off the flame, I added the apricot-sherry glaze, adding a small splash of more sherry, and then served them in some beautiful cups that I think Sue said came from Bulgaria (or somewhere in Eastern Europe). The dish was a great hit, and even Aaron, whom Steph said never eats any kind of offal (thinking it awful!), liked it! Because the combination of apricots and meat reminded me of Persian cooking, I named it Foie de Volaille Shārzad, and served it to the swells of “The Sea” from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.
While we carried on more conversation, I started the next dish: Saumon Fumé de Chêne Vert (and wondered if anyone would realize that although Chêne Vert means a large Holm Oak, it was also a pun for Holmer Green!) I first laid the plates out upon the counter, and made a small bed or rucola (rocket), with balsamic dressing, upon which I placed some slices of oak-smoked salmon. Then I put a dollop of some wonderful crème-fraiche on top of the fish, and then garnished it with some chopped pickled peppadew peppers. In terms of what wine to serve with the oak-smoked salmon, how could I choose anything other than a wonderful Pouilly Fumé? The flintiness of wine beautifully cut the oil of the fish, and the smoky accents worked together quite well to create a wonderful mélange of flavors upon the palate. And, of course, what other music could match any better than the Trout Quintet by Schubert (as it was a troutlike fish and we were five)?
When we finished oooh-ing and aaah-ing, I sat at the table for a while to enjoy my meal with my guests—and I considered Simon & Sue my guests as well, even though I was cooking in their kitchen—and felt much at ease when I realized what the poster behind me said: “WE DO REAL, WE DO MISTAKES, WE DO I’M SORRY, WE DO SECOND CHANCES, WE DO FUN, WE DO HUGS, WE DO forgiveness, WE DO REALLY LOUD, WE DO FAMILY, WE DO Lo♥e.” Then I knew for certain that I was in the right place!
Although I had never mentioned it, I also could not resist preparing a “smoked” (or “processed with fire”) dish as the “cold” hors d’œuvre, and now preparing cold “winter” mushrooms as the “hot” hors d’œuvre. (Oh, the devilishness of me!) So now I was ready to prepare Les Cèpes Sauvage d’Hiver, based on Les Hygrophores de Neige à la Paysanne from Roy Andries de Groot’s combination travelogue of a journey through Provence that is also a classic on Provincial cooking as he encountered it cooked with love at the inn with the same name as the title of his engaging book, The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth.
Simon had helped me pick out some wonderful mushrooms. They were not white champignons, and definitely not the “snow mushrooms” of de Groot’s recipe, but we had about four types of lovely, beautiful local mushrooms. Plus, Simon had some wonderful dried wild mushrooms on hand, so I took a small handful of those and reconstituted them in warm water with a little honey. There is a trick to cooking this dish: You first have to sauté the mushrooms in butter on high heat until the bubbling and squeaking stops—this indicates that the water has been expelled from the mushrooms, which now have little vacuums inside, so when you then add the lemon juice and chicken stock, they soak it all up, just as they did the butter. And making a further variation, I decided against using the traditional Provençal egg-and-lemon sauce (which is much like a Hollandaise), so when I put the butter in the pan, I also added some garlic paste (crushed garlic is also fine) and some crushed red peppers, making it a type of peperoncino-style dish. When the mushrooms had soaked upon the chicken stock and lemon juice, I drizzled a little more lemon juice and some olive oil on them and served them next to a little salad of rucola (rocket), on which I had sprinkled an orange-oil dressing mixed with virgin olive oil and a touch of balsamico. And since they were “winter” mushrooms, I played Vivaldi’s “Winter” as I served this wonderful little dish. It was as I served this that Stephanie exclaimed, “My goodness, Stephen, every dish is tasting better than the preceding one, which is amazing, as they are all so good!” Needless to say, the cockles of my heart were ticked pink, and well they should be, as the next course was a clam dish! With the mushrooms we finished the Pouilly Fumé and moved on to an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc.
After sitting and enjoying the mushrooms with my friends, I then went over to the range and began to prepare what was to be one of the greatest dishes of the evening: Soupe de Palourdes à la Nouvelle Angleterre “Siamoise.” It was a New England–style, cream-based chowder. I did actually “cheat” in terms of time and used one can of Campbell’s Clam Chowder. It also contained a few diced potatoes. I then added ¾ of a can of milk, and ¾ of a can of clam broth; I also added some Chinese powdered scallop stock that I had brought from Japan, and then added all the clams from the whole kilogram. Then I added some sliced stalks of lemongrass (bai takrai, the aroma of which I am enjoying in the photo below), Kaffir lime leaves (bai makrut), and some slices of galangal (kha), a type of Southeast Asian ginger that to me has a distinct camphor-like fragrance. Just before it came to a boil, I shut off the heat, and added a heaping tablespoon of Thai Green Curry paste (available at any ethnic counter in a large store), and melted it into the soup as one does with miso (keeping it in a ladle and stirring the warm broth in it to dissolve it before adding it to the soup).
Thinking that oysters and clams are both shellfish, I believed that it was appropriate to continue drinking the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc with this creamy chowder. For those in the know, it was somewhere halfway between a New England Clam Chowder and a classic Thai Tom Kha Gai, or a creamy but spicy soup made with coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, and chicken that often contains some kind of mushrooms, as well as coriander leaves. Because of the Thai connection, I decided to serve it to an aria from Massenet’s Thaïs (even though it takes place in Egypt, the name sounds like “Thai,” so I took the director/ producer’s liberty), Dis-moi que je suis belle (Tell Me That I’m Beautiful!). Véritablement!
Stephanie being beautiful & enjoying herself at dinner, and the beautiful centerpiece and candle left over from the renewal-of-vows ceremony about 10 days earlier.
At that point, we sat and chatted a bit more, giving me a bit of a breather, before jumping into the next course—the oysters!!!!! And I recalled what the Walrus sang to the oysters on his way to dinner in Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice: “The time has come,” the Walrus said, / “To talk of many things: / Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— / Of cabbages—and kings— / And why the sea is boiling hot— / And whether pigs have wings.” And that led me to choose, as a musical accompaniment to the oyster dish, Cole Porter’s “Tale of the Oyster,” from the minor musical 50 Million Frenchman!!! (Lyrics can be found at the end of this account. It seems apparent to me that Porter must have based his song upon the ditty in Carroll’s tale.) According to Simon, these oysters were still thriving in the sea off the coast of Devon just yesterday.
They were a chore for him to shuck, but he said he remembered having done it many years before so it was not such a challenge. Thanks, S!! I first added the chopped leeks and butter into a frying pan, and sautéed them until they changed color and started getting soft. Then I added the oysters, together with the sweetened white miso and some dry saké, and when the alcohol had evaporated I then added the brandy-butter I had made and cooked down the liquid. When the consistency was just right, I served them piping hot, together with small glasses of Japanese dry saké, at room temperature. I had picked it up at Narita, and purposely got a kara-kuchi (dry) type, though I have forgotten what it was called. It was in a bottle with a metal closure like on a Mason jar. In any case, it was very good, and went perfectly with the creamy, succulent oysters and their rich, buttery, miso sauce. As Aaron had said that he loved saké, I gave him the bottle to take home and enjoy at his leisure. . . .
OK. Up until now was a piece of cake. Now comes the test: the duck! First, I had removed the duck from the fridge earlier to bring it to room temperature. Then I wiped the succulent breasts with paper towels in order to remove any blood or moisture, and lightly peppered both sides, salting the skin side only. I placed the breasts skin-side down, and I cooked over a rather high flame in order to beautifully brown the skins, because it not only looks nicer but tastes better as well, and then turned the heat down and let them cook a little more. When that side was done, I turned them over gently, slowly cooking them to just the right amount and then took them out of the frying pan and placed them aside to rest on a plate (covering them with tin foil, which might have been a mistake, as the retained heat cooked them a little more, but they were still definitely not overdone). Then I poured some Smirnof vodka into the frying pan to deglaze it and flamed it.
I wanted the duck juices to become fully blended with the vodka and them become part of sauce. Then I then added some wild blueberry jam and some black-currant jam, about half and half, and proceeded to stir it and cook the mixture down to a nice consistency, like the black-cherry sauce in Canard à la Montmorency, and then added another splash of vodka. WT...—за ваше здоровье (Za vashe zdorov’ye: To Your Health!)
But before I had actually started to prepare the duck, I had taken the small casserole of potatoes I had assembled earlier and placed it in the per-heated oven, so they would be done in time to serve together with the duck. It was going to be a wonderful dish of Gratin Dauphinois, made peasant style. Also, when I had taken the duck breasts off the heat, I then placed the asparagus in a small saucepan and added some Châteauneuf du Pape, covered it, and let it simmer. This would be the Asperges au Vin Rouge—and these would be the two side dishes to complement the canard sauvage. So when the potatoes were out of the oven and had cooled slightly, I put the breasts back in the pan (fire off) and just covered them with the sauce; then I placed them on the individual plates and spooned the excess sauce on top. I then added the asparagus to the plates, and spooned over it the wine to which I had added some butter and reduced to a sauce. And last, I added the Pommes du terre gratin dauphinois to finish off the dish.
What music to use as I served this dish was really a no-brainer. As can be guessed, I opted for the Swan Lake suite of Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikovsky, first, because of the vodka and the Russian connection, but also because of the duck–swan closeness. Also, the ballet itself is about a beautiful young princess (Odette [“wealthy/noble one”], who was the white swan—thus the use of the white meat of the duck) with whom Prince Siegfried (“victory and peace”) was deeply in love. Well, that sounded not only like Sue (“lily”) and Simon (“he who has heard”), but also like Stephanie (= “royal crown”) and Aaron (“exalted one”), who, since he was the groom-to-be, was also a sort of Dauphin (heir-apparent to the throne—see the connection with the potatoes?). And in the Roman liturgy, there is a prayer that begins Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor, Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor, “Thou wilt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop and I shall be cleansed; Thou wilt wash me, and I shall be washed whiter than snow”—which obviously matches the Asperges au Vin Rouge. So to the beautiful, romantic melodies of Swan Lake, I served the Blanc de Canard au Myrtilles et Cassis. And the reason for the Châteauneuf du Pape was simple: while shopping, Simon had told me that it was one of Sue’s favorite wines—so that was an easy choice!
As this was the last major course, we sat and took or time, enjoying our meal and our wine and one another’s fine company, and the hours moved on apace, much to our dismay. . . . When things had settled a bit, I got up and brought over a cheese board with some Blue Stilton upon it, and then served some excellent
Here we have the ivory-stemmed silver goblets,
Sue enjoying her port in little silver goblets, with ivory handles—antiques that had been given to Simon and Sue when they purchased Keepers Cottage from the previous owner. They are exquisite little cups, and are perfect for serving port in this way. I instructed everyone to first try the port and see how good it was, and then to try some of the Stilton. It was when they took the next sip of port that the miracle happened. . . .
Many people know that blue cheese works best when eaten with a sweet ingredient. The French serve Roquefort with acacia honey or raisins/sultanas. The English have a unique way of serving Stilton by injecting it with Port. Well, I wanted to serve it the way I was taught by my late close friend, His Imperial Highness Prince Norihito of Takamado of the Imperial Family of Japan, who told me that he had been taught it by a former ambassador to Japan from the Court of St. James, Sir Hugh Cortazzi. It was very simple—you simply serve Blue Stilton cheese and a rather good port at room temperature, and when you drink the port right after eating the cheese, something magical happens and the port suddenly tastes like Louis XIII brandy! So we tried it, and, sure enough, there is an amazing change, and, though the flavor of the port does indeed change, it gets even better, and tastes like an aged brandy that had been made out of fine port! Because the taste is so heavenly, I served it to a Japanese singer performing her version of “Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets, complete with words, the refrain beginning “Every day I listen to my heart, . . .”
Then it was time for the sinfully good surprise brownies—which were stuffed with walnuts and even M&Ms! And I had to have Samuel Ramey performing Ecco, il mondo! (Behold, the world! . . .) as Mefistofele, from the eponymous opera by Boito. Being almost devil’s food, it was devilishly delicious, and brought out the wicked in me. . . .
So, as we were enjoying our wickedly good brownies (though they got a little singed around the edges, as I was not used to their oven), I let the music continue over into Madame Butterfly singing Un bel dì (One fine day, . . .) from Puccini’s opera, as it was my hope that it had been a fine time for everyone there. You can imagine my surprise and utter joy when Steph and Aaron very non-chalantly asked if I would serve as the priest and officiate at their wedding on 23 May 2014. . . . I was stunned, but felt incredibly honoured, and said that I would of course be happy to do so. (How I will manage it in terms of money and time-off, I will deal with later. . . .) And while we were still sitting and sipping and chatting, I ended the long meal by letting the “wicked” in me out, by standing and singing “For Good,” from Wicked, the refrain of which contains the lines “Because I knew you, I have been changed, for good”—both for the better and for forever!
— fin —