Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cucumber Salad, Balsamic Caviar and Fried Camembert

Looking through the pictures as I've been writing about each of the courses from the murder mystery dinner has been a reminder of how much fun I had planning and preparing all the dishes.  It's like I can re-live the night, in a way, which is the reason I really started this blog in the first place. 

One of the more fun projects for the dinner was this balsamic 'caviar'.  It looks impressive and with the right tools, some simple instructions and a few tips, it's so easy to make.  This would definitely be a fun project with kids (and with fruit flavored jello).  The result would be like jello dip'n'dots. 

So here's the concept: As small, warm droplets of gelatin dissolved in balsamic vinegar are dripped into cold oil, the temperature change allows the spherical drops of gelatin to set before they reach the bottom of the oil.  This results in little balls of balsamic 'jello'.

You will need the following tools:  
  • A pipette dropper (or equivalent): I bought mine from Amazon and they have been really useful.  I'll have to muster up some creativity to use all 100, but they were so cheap.
  • A tall slender container: I used a large drinking glass that was about ten inches tall and four inches wide.  It worked perfectly.  I read online that a lot of people had problems with irregularly shaped balls.  (insert witty vulgar joke here).  The irregular shapes probably occur when the gelatin balls don't have time to set completely before they settle at the bottom of the oil thus creating one flat side.  I had only a few pieces that were irregular and I was able to just scoop them out.
My 'caviar' were, on average, about three millimeters in diameter.  But as I mentioned a few of my pieces were irregularly shaped.  I think this was because as I was dripping the gelatin into the oil I went a little too fast and dropped multiple drops of gelatin in the same spot.  Those little drops met together and made a bigger drop which fell through the oil faster and reached the bottom before it had set.  To avoid the same mistakes I made, just keep moving the pipette tip to different areas of the oil and drip as small of drops as possible since they will set more quickly.

I had a vegetarian dining with me so I used agar-agar in place of gelatin.  You can substitute equal amounts of agar for gelatin.

Because these little guys were going directly on a salad, I chose to use olive oil as my cooling medium.  If you were doing say... hot sauce flavored 'caviar' (hmm....!) or the fruit jello flavor, you could opt for vegetable oil, which has a milder flavor, instead.  Once the gelatin has set in those cases, you can submerge it in cold water.  With a little agitation, the oil will separate away from your 'caviar' and float to the top of the water.

Balsamic 'Caviar'
1/3 cup
  • 2-3 cups oil (placed in freezer for 45 minutes)
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons agar-agar powder or gelatin
  • ice bath - large bowl filled with ice and water
Heat the balsamic in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Stir often to avoid burning.  When the balsamic begins to bubble add the agar and whisk until completely dissolved, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Remove the container of oil from the freezer and place it in the water bath.  This will help keep the oil cold as you drip in the warm gelatin.   Be sure it's steady and won't tip.  This step will take a couple of minutes and will allow the balsamic mixture to cool just slightly (exactly what you want).

Fill the pipette with the balsamic mixture and begin squeezing out small drops into the cold oil.

Every once in a while (maybe every other time you refill your pipette) stir up the bottom of the glass to make sure the finished caviar isn't sticking and to recirculate the cold oil.

Seedless cucumbers, also called english cucumbers, are long.  Like 12-14 inches long.  For this recipe, I made thin strips down the entire length of the cumber which were used to wrap around and secure the contents of the salad.

When I originally served this dish as part of a multi-course dinner, I playfully included different eating utensils for each course.  This particular course was served with miniature tongs.  How cute and clever, right?  Wrong.  Turns out that attempting to eat an incredibly long piece of cucumber with only tongs is an awkward experience.

I think that most often this salad would be served with a fork and knife, in which case your guests can simply cut the cucumber into smaller bites on their own.  But if you're feeling funky and forcing your guests to Macgyver their meals with unique utensils, I would suggest one small change to prevent the aforementioned awkwardness.

Cut each slice of cucumber in half.  This will give you two 6 inch lengths of cucumber which can then still be wrapped and skewered to hold one-bite sized bundles of salad.

Cucumber Wrapped Salad

  • seedless cucumber - thinly sliced lengthwise
  • spinach
  • red bell pepper - sliced
  • radish - sliced
Bundle the spinach, peppers and radish and wrap in cucumber slice.  Skewer to secure, if neccessary.

On the other side of the plate from the salad was a miniature cheese plate.

I served comte (similar to an aged cheddar), stilton (bleu cheese) and a deep friend camembert (a soft cheese like brie).  To add a little texture and flavor I included pieces of candied apricots, almonds, grapes and slices of Avenue Boys Smokehouse farmer's sausage.

Deep Fried Camembert
  • camembert cheese
  • pan searing flour
  • egg - whisked
  • italian seasoned breadcrumbs
Cut the camembert into slices or wedges.  Coat each wedge in flour, then dip in the egg and toss in breadcrumbs.  In order to prevent cheese from oozing out of the crust, give each piece another coat of egg and breadcrumb.

If you've prepared them for the following day, refrigerate the coated cheese at this step and bring them back to room temperature before they are fried.

Heat vegetable oil in the fryer.  Fry the cheese for 30 seconds.

I served this salad as one of the eight dinner courses at the Pasta, Passion and Pistols party
with an olive bread crouton.


  1. Ohhh I want that Deep Fried Camembert immediately! Reliving this amazing meal through your blog is so much fun!

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