Years ago when we lived in Michigan we went to a dinner party hosted by Peter, a bachelor friend. It's been a while, but what's remained in my memory is the excellence of the meal. Not one of us had a clue our old friend was such a talented chef. We were served a perfectly dressed tossed salad, individual filet mignons, a lovely spoon bread and Port Wine Gelée for dessert. And he did all the cooking, no help. Very impressive. Who knew? After all, he could have taken the easy way out and done his entertaining at a restaurant; most single guys did back then...we were a pretty big group.
Of course I just had to have the spoonbread and gelée recipes. Wasn't easy. Peter didn't want to part with the gelée recipe... turned out it was a very old family recipe, handed down from his grandmother. In the end he relented - I pestered him unmercifully. He had get an OK from his mother and sister too. There are lots of recipes that use port wine, but I've never found one like this.
For some reason it's very much a recipe for the holidays. Special. Festive. Unusual. Light. It seems to me that Christmas would be the ideal time to try this. You have to make it ahead - just whip the cream at the last minute. It serves a lot of people and your biggest problem will be finding a pretty tray on which to unmold it and some lovely fruit for decorating or perhaps even some holly. I used the biggest (unfortunately also the most boring) mold I own. Why I have never purchased a prettier one I can't imagine.
A couple times I have cut the recipe in half when I didn't need quite so much. At a guess I would say this recipe easily serves 12-16 people.
Peter's Port Wine Gelée
5 envelopes Knox gelatin (approximately 12 1/2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 cups cold water
2 lemons, rinds and juice
1 orange, rind and juice
4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups sugar
2 cups good quality tawny port wine
2 jiggers whiskey
2 oranges, sections only
4 grapefruit, sections only
1 bunch of any small seedless grapes, halved
1 cup sliced almonds
2 cups whipping cream, whipped and lighly sweetened
candied ginger cut in bits, to taste
Soften the gelatin in the 1 1/2 cups of cold water for 5 minutes. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Sliver the rinds of the lemons and orange, add to the boiling water along with juices, cinnamon, gelatin mixture and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, let the mixture steep for 5 minutes. Strain and then add the wine and whiskey. Set this mixture aside to cool to room temperature and then place it in the refrigerator. You want it to begin to get thick. If you add the fruit when it is thin, the fruit will sink to the bottom.
Section the 2 oranges and the 4 grapefruit. Halve the grapes. When the port wine mixture is very thick and syrupy, add the fruit sections, grapes and almonds. Pour into your favorite mold and refrigerate overnight.
Whip the cream, add a little sugar and then dice some candied ginger into the whipped cream. Unmold the gelée, surround it with fruit or holly and serve with the whipped cream.