We hosted our last dinner party one week ago.
No, not really. But it was the last dinner party we’re likely to have in our apartment. Sniff. It’s held a fair number of parties, and it’s a nice space — the dining room is gigantic for an apartment — but I’m looking forward to smoking cuts of meat on the back steps, plucking preserves from the basement, and serving food fresh from my garden.
You might imagine that we would do a blow-out farewell in honor of our current space, but I decided to keep it simple.
Appetizers and Amuse
Just before our guests arrived, I put out an appetizer platter: olives; salumi; homemade pickled red onions; and layered strips of zucchini, carrot, and bell pepper that I marinated overnight in oil and herbs. I poured a nice Prosecco — I always like to greet people with sparkling wine — and we dug in.
After I read Harold McGee’s article about gelatin filtration, I decided to try a butternut squash consomme as an amuse-bouche for this party. I steamed the quartered squash until fork-tender — about 20 minutes — over a simple stock of squash pulp, butter, and seeds, and then I used that liquid to purée the soft, orange flesh. I added water until the soup had a thin consistency and then one package of gelatin for the six cups of soup. I froze it overnight and thawed it for a week in the refrigerator in a sieve. The liquid in the soup seeped through the molecular net and dripped into the bowl below. The result was decidedly strange: An almost clear, light yellow liquid that tasted like pure butternut squash. I made a sage gelée with the intent of plopping tiny balls of it into the consomme, which I served in a small glass, but the jelly was too sticky. Melissa came up with the brilliant idea of “salting” the glasses with the sage jelly by dipping the rim into a bowl of jelly. This sticky rim added just a hint of sage to each sip of squash essence.
As an aside, I tried making fruit leather from the quivering squash mass that remained after the filtration, but I didn’t spread it thinly enough in the dehyrdator. Fruit leather remains an ongoing experiment.
Opener: Fall Salad With Marrow Dumpling
I had a hard time deciding on an opener. I auditioned a tongue and tail terrine from The River Cottage Meat Book, but I decided against it. It was good, but it didn’t seem like a natural step in the dinner. Then I saw a dish in Art Culinaire that featured fried marrow dumplings, quail eggs, caviar, and lobster glaze. I played around with that concept, but I couldn’t find an adaptation that worked for me. The morning of the party, I finally concocted a simple salad: Three leaves of Belgian endive arranged in a Mercedes-Benz symbol and filled with roasted grapes. In one corner, I piled sautéed fennel and bacon; in the other two I drizzled balsamic vinegar. I placed a fried marrow dumpling (scoop marrow, season, refrigerate, cover with egg and bread crumbs, and deep fry) at the center of the plate. I poured a François Pinon Vouvray to accompany the salad, trusting in its acidity to counteract the rich marrow.
Main: Slow-roasted Pork Shoulder With Brussels Sprouts
This wasn’t the prettiest dish I’ve ever plated, but even my talkative internal critic agreed that these slabs of pork, which I rubbed with salt and oregano and slow-roasted at 250° for two hours, were juicy and flavorful. I de-leafed Brussels sprouts and sautéed the greens in duck fat before braising them, and I dressed the meat with a brown butter sauce (which caused a stir in the dining room when it foamed violently after I added vinegar to the hot fat). I served Cantillon’s Rosé de Gambrinus, a raspberry-infused lambic beer, which I joked was a regional pairing: Cantillon is based in Brussels.
Cheese: Montgomery Cheddar
Given that Eat Local queen Jen Maiser was one of our guests, I joked that I tried to source ingredients from as far away as possible, but I only picked up the Montgomery Cheddar, a true English farmhouse cheese, because my cheese shop was out of the much more local Fiscalini bandage-wrapped cheddar. I served a dry Lustau oloroso sherry to complement the rich cheese.
Dessert: Pomegranate Sorbet With Pistachio Tuiles
Since I like to make frozen desserts early in the morning of a dinner party, you can imagine my frustration when I realized the night before that I hadn’t bought enough pomegranates. I had enough time to assemble the sorbet, but the delay stressed me out.
For once, I had success using the whack-with-a-wooden-spoon technique for extracting the blood-red seeds from the halved fruit, and I used a food mill to extract the juice from the ruby drops. I combined the tart liquid with sugar, strained fig jam, vodka, and a bit of red wine vinegar to get the taste right. But even a deep red sorbet isn’t very eye-catching when served naked, so I made lacy pistachio tuiles that I could pose like a sail in the sorbet. A number of my recent dishes have combined red and green in unexpected ways: Maybe all the Christmas decorations in stores have influenced me.
Mignardise: Candied Buddha’s Hand And Pine Nut Brittle
I’ve already written about the pine nut brittle, a simple candy that I’ll make again and again. The candied Buddha’s hand, however, was a morning-of addition. I spotted a Cthulhu-esque Buddha’s hand at Market Hall, and I decided to try candying it. Of course, you have to chop all the pretty yellow tentacles into bite-size strips, but I hoped the unusual flavor would come through in the final product. It did, but I think next time I’ll only blanch it twice instead of the three times I do for normal candied citrus peel. There wasn’t enough bitterness to stand up against the sugary syrup and coating.
Labels: Dinner Party, Recap