Recipe Test Nest » 5 Star » Sweet and Sage
Sweet and Sage

With all of my canning projects and a really busy work schedule in September, I needed to take a break from Test Nest. October started back with a FALLabulous menu. My favorite time of the year, I was excited to test recipes influenced by fall’s best offerings. Testers for the first dinner of the month included Daniel Evans, Micah Allred, Russ Hill, Vicki Walters, who brought friends Heather Payne and Laura White, and the ultimately wonderful Joon Shin who once again took all the pictures for the evening.

Sparkling Cider with Rhubarb Bitters (3 Stars)

I’ve been trying to experiment with bitters in drinks. Bitters help aide with digestion and I wondered if adding the bitters to the cider would soften the sweetness of the cider. We added 1 T. to each bottle. Joon liked that the mix gave a floral beginning with bitter ending. Some guests didn’t think the bitters were noticeable, others thought Martinelli’s was too strong of a sparkling cider and should have cut a little with seltzer. Maybe a better twist on this would be to try apple juice with 2 T. bitters and seltzer.

Cheese and Chutney Plate (Plum – 5 Stars, Nectarine – 4 Stars)

I wanted to be able to rate some of the chutney’s I’ve canned over the summer so I thought doing an appetizer cheese plate would be perfect. I served nectarine and plum chutneys with four different cheeses. I had a Pyreness Brebis – a French sheep cheese that has a caramel sweet taste; 2 Sisters Isabella Gouda – a Dutch cheese that is creamy and dense with savory butterscotch balanced taste; Capra Sarda – a sweet goat cheese with brown butter aromas; and Emmental – a Swiss cheese that is sweet and nutty.

Everyone loved the Plum Sauce, which is sweet and smoky with a slight heat. The Nectarine was tangy. Not everyone loved the combination of the chutney’s with the cheeses, but it was fun to play with the combos. I might have to make a flavored syrup for the next cheese plate.

Pumpkin and Sage Soup with Gruyere Toasts (3 Stars)

I haven’t found the perfect pumpkin soup and this one was not it. The pumpkin flavor was undistinguishable; it almost tasted like a potato soup instead. It could have been the pumpkin, but I think more it is the recipe. The Gruyere toasts added more complexity and were a definite hit in general. Will definitely need to bring that part of the recipe back with another simple puree soup (testers said toasts were a 5 Star).

Sweet Potato Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter (4 Stars)

When I saw this recipe I was intrigued and really wanted to make it. I knew I wouldn’t have time to make the pasta, nor do I have a pasta maker, so I purchased fresh made pasta from the Italian shop in Chelsea Market. The filling was fantastic (roasted sweet potatoes smashed with some mascarpone), but the execution needs some work. This was my first time making ravioli and I definitely learned some tricks. Pasta lengthens once boiled so there didn’t end up being enough filling in the pasta, plus it soaked up too much moisture. I had a ravioli cutter but it didn’t work great, probably because the pasta needed to be moister and I need to smash down the filling better. Next time I try this I’ll also double the brown butter sauce and thicken it a little. The sage definitely compliments the sweet potato and using salted butter rather than sweet butter might help add more savory to the dish.

Carrot Cake with Cinnamon Frosting (4.5 Stars)

My mom swears by this Carrot Cake recipe (from Lion House) and I do remember it being really good. I really think this might be the carrot cake recipe to keep. It is moist and there is a nice balance of spices in it. One great suggestion was to use fresh ginger rather than powder spice. The recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting but I wanted to try this cinnamon frosting, which Russ Hill said was the best frosting he’s ever had. They really did go well together, but I’m still a cream cheese frosting purist with Carrot Cake and a lot of the other testers prefer as well. A couple testers felt like a 5 star carrot cake should include nuts, I’m not a nut fan. The frosting on its own is definitely a 5 star and I’m going to start thinking of a variety of other cakes to try it with (pumpkin, gingerbread, would even be good with chocolate).

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