Born in England, living in Washington and with a summer house in France, my husband and I, not surprisingly, favor international menus. Happy unions can be expected, like this recent dinner of old favorites.
The opener is firmly American--plump shrimp in a creamy sauce of goat cheese picked 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 colored and the sauce will turn disconcertingly gray.
The main course turns to England and my childhood, when my father, a hunter, would bring back pheasant at least twice a week. A brisk flaming in brandy highlights the gamey flavor of these birds, while 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 taste.
From my Russian father-in-law comes a taste for Kasha--nutty grains of whole buckwheat that are a splendid match for any game. For cooking, Kasha is best toasted with an egg so the grains remain fluffy when simmered briefly in water. Cracked wheat (also called bulgur) can be substituted and is 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. Tarte Tatin is composed of big chunks of apple caramelized deep inside and arranged in a glistening circle atop a crisp pastry base.
The achievement of this tour de force depends on using firm apples that hold their shape during 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 creme fraiche, Tarte Tatin completes an international alliance in grand style.
INTERNATIONAL DINNER FOR 8
Shrimp With Caviar Cream Sauce
Pheasant With Red and Green Grapes
Apple Tarte Tatin
Suggested wines: Domestic Sauvignon Blanc with shrimp, French or domestic Pinot Noir with pheasant.
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.
About one hour before serving, if serving pheasant rare, heat oven to 400 degrees and cook birds. Arrange shrimp with lettuce on plate.
Just before serving add sauce to shrimp.
While serving shrimp reheat pheasant or keep warm on top of stove. Add grapes to sauce just before serving. Reheat Kasha. Reheat Tarte Tatin on low heat on top of stove.
After serving pheasant turn out tarte then serve immediately.
SHRIMP WITH CAVIAR-CREAM SAUCE
1 (8-ounce) package, softened
1 cup sour cream
Juice of 1 lemon
Dash cayenne pepper
4 ounces red salmon caviar
3 tablespoons whipping cream
1 onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, sliced
3 quarts water
2 pounds unshelled raw shrimp
2 heads bibb lettuce
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Beat cream cheese with sour cream until smooth. Beat in lemon juice, cayenne pepper, then fold in caviar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in cream. Sauce can be refrigerated up to 2 days.
To cook shrimp, bring onion, thyme, bay leaf, 1 tablespoon salt, peppercorns, garlic and water to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add shrimp. Cook until opaque and firm to touch, 3 to 5 minutes depending on size. Drain, cool, then shell. Remove vein if large. 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 fan on top. Refrigerate. Just before serving, spoon sauce over shrimp to partly cover. Sprinkle with chives. Makes 8 servings.
Note: Caviar sauce makes a great dip if not thinned with cream.
PHEASANT WITH RED AND GREEN GRAPES
4 (1 1/2-pound) pheasants
8 thin slices bacon
1/2 cup butter
5 to 6 tablespoons brandy
3/4 pound seedless red grapes
3/4 pound seedless green grapes
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed to paste with 3 tablespoons water
8 slices toasted bread, halved diagonally
Season pheasants to taste with salt and pepper inside. Cover pheasant breasts with bacon. Tie birds with string.
Heat half of butter in large casserole. Brown pheasants thoroughly on all sides. Use 2 casseroles if necessary so pheasants lie in single layer. Add giblets, including liver. Cover. Bake at 400 degrees 20 to 25 minutes or until juices drained from center of pheasants run pink, not red. If well-done birds are desired, continue baking until juices run clear.