Bob is one of our favorite artists as well as being a friend. He is the creator of a series of shockingly lifelike and slimy amphibian portraits such as the one at left. We have a large example hanging in our living room.
But Bob picked up and moved to Southern France (I can't imagine why) where he's become quite a success with his landscapes and street scenes and portraits of everyday life there. We keep threatening to visit--we simply don't get to see him as often as we'd like.
Lately Bob had been e-mailing us about his wondrous adventures traveling by slow train across the Australian continent and hanging out on deserted beaches. He and his son also maintain a cabin in the Shenandoah area of Virginia where he holds huge debauched feasts for friends and relations.
When Bob comes to dinner, he usually brings a surprise or two. This time it was a bag full of morels that he'd foraged near his cabin. Some made quite an impression, as you can see here in the picture of Bob (with mustache) and his cousin Steve, our favorite photographer.
Bob also brought along a bottle of his home-brewed apple champagne. The challenge for us was how to adequately impress Bob with all the great stuff we've been cooking lately and fashion it into a menu that made sense.
By that I mean of course the homemade sausages, the sauerkraut--it just didn't seem to work with the seasonal items my wife had assembled. And how exactly would the morels fit in?
So this is what we did: Since I'd already defrosted some of the chorizo sausages we made at the "matanza" back in March, we displayed those as an hors d'oeuvres on a bed of our sauerkraut (from the bucket that's been sitting on the kitchen counter) braised with onion, apples, caraway and juniper berries. With that I poured a bottle of Trimbach Pinot Blanc. As a second hors d'oeuvres we served whole artichokes my wife had steamed, along with an aioli for dipping.
Predictably, the crowd was wild for the sauerkraut, even though it made absolutely no sense at a dinner celebrating Spring. Our friend Pete swooned over it (as I knew he would) and launched into a story about how he and his siblings growing up in West Virginia would hold their noses when grandma sent them down to the cellar to collect kraut from the big barrel she would have fermenting down there.
Somehow the story detoured into pickled green tomatoes, so I pulled a jar of those from the refrigerator, which sent Pete into paroxysms of gustatory exclamation. Pete is a wonder to behold when he is properly fed, a most appreciative guest.
The dinner itself was more straightforward. I had collected a big bowl of greens from the 30 or so different varieties we have growing in front of the house here in the District of Columbia. All different shapes and colors and not just lettuces. I threw in a few mustard greens (they're just now the perfect size) to give the salad some bite, then dressed it with a honey-mustard vinaigrette.
As for the morels, we sliced those up and sauteed them on the stove with a bit of fresh sage. In the absence of any brandy to flame them with, I added some Madeira and finished them with heavy cream. We served them with a grilled, butterflied leg of lamb, rosemary-roasted potatoes and poached asparagus that my wife garnished with chive blossoms out of the garden.
Like I said: perhaps not the menu I would have designed sitting in front of my computer. I fear we did not do Bob's morels justice. But somehow we tolerate all kinds of culinary collisions when the ingredients are first rate and when the food is prepared with love for friends.
I think Bob enjoyed it. We were lucky to see him. He's flying back to France today.
Bon voyage, Bob!