Tag Archives: dinner party

BIRTHDAY QUAILS

Not that I need an excuse to throw an elaborate dinner party, but it’s become something of a tradition around these parts that I host a big feast in honor of my friends’ birthdays. (Sometimes, of course, the birthday parties end in blood and tears).

So for Fred’s birthday, something special was in order. We began with fresh oysters, halved radishes, bowls of salty pistachios, and local charcuterie. We moved onto a creamy purple potato dauphinoise spiked with thyme and sage. We relieved palates with a shaved fennel, dandelion greens, blood orange and chicory salad. The main event was a heaping platter of roast quail, fried in duck fat and stuffed with black cabbage and bacon. We ate them with our fingers, squirting the birds with juice from lemon wedges. Then we tackled a huge board of cheeses – most of them local Quebec products that we also feature at the restaurant. (Have you ever had the Alfred le Fermier? It’s one of my favorites, like a creamy, milky gruyere).  For dessert, a leftover baked alaska pinched from work and a sweet chocolate ganache tart contributed by Seeger. There’s just something about cooking for friends… it always makes me feel great.

(Quail photo by Marc)

RETURNING, AND SOME MUSSELS

When I first started working at Lawrence, I thought for sure that I would be able to make time for both work and writing. That between the long days making anglaise, puff pastry, bread, custards, and caramel, I would still feel stoked to write in this blog (or anywhere else!). Six months later, I’ve accepted the struggles that I’ve encountered when searching for energy and inspiration to ever visit this space, especially when the one thing that I blog about the most — cooking! — I simply don’t do much anymore. (I mean really: you don’t want to hear about endless breakfasts of avocado toast, lentil mush, and late-night popcorn). So one of the things that I thought about over the holidays was how to make this space feel engaging and special to me again. Because I’d really like it to be! And already: relaxing in this space again feels comforting and cozy.

These photos aren’t that recent, but hopefully still worth sharing. I’ve written about the beauty of steamed mussels before (my recipe can be found here). They’re one of my favorite dishes to make for friends because they’re awesomely cheap, easy, and healthy. And right now, they’re in season. I also added an obscene amount of chopped herbs (I used a mix of fresh dill, fennel fronds, parsley, basil, mint, and tarragon), pastis, and my secret ingredient — a tiny dice of raw celery. The steam relaxes the celery slightly and gives the dish a miraculous lift and lightness. We ate big bowls of brothy mussels with crisp duck fat-fried potatoes, a shaved fennel salad, and golden garlic toasts — made with my own bread! (A smuggled-home stump of Lawrence sourdough).

So here’s to more parties… and garlic toast… and brothy healthfulness… and finding time to spend in spaces that you love…. even if all you make six days of the week is avocado toast and lentil mush.

PREVIEW FEASTING

Some of my shots from last week’s Rau Rum preview dinner… full details for Le Pick Up’s summer feast here!

SCENES FROM A KINFOLK DINNER, PT II

 

After we finished the initial prep, we moved inside for bread and butter, gougères and white Burgundy. (Here’s the recipe I like to use for these delicate, savory cheese puffs.) I do love making pâte à choux… all that stirring and stickiness! It’s the perfect celebratory snack.

MEET UP

Internet dating is nothing strange, but how many people make friends over the internet? Getting to know rad people through this blog has to be the best reason ever for blogging. In this instance, it was finally meeting one of my favorite bloggers, Joyce, and her awesome husband Ben, in a kind of blind-double-date.

When I found out they were making an impromptu visit to Montreal, a dinner party meet-up was clearly in order. And what a pleasure to discover the overwhelming semiotic overlap, from musical tastes to California childhood to academic lifestyle (Joyce is a historian — just like my dad!) to love of cats (Wallace, duh!).

We chatted over tarragon roast chicken, oceanic goodies from Kamouraska, Paul Legault’s famous strawberries, and a slightly fizzy biodynamic gamay from Morgon (one of my favorite grapes!). “Grape juice!” Joyce exclaimed. “Dangerous,” she added. Dangerous, indeed — we polished off that bottle in record time. The internet is an awesome place, but nothing beats sharing a bottle of wine with friends in real life.

BANDOL AND LAMB

This post may be a little late (Easter fell on the eve of our trip to the countryside), but I had to mention our Easter feast! Last year, Adam and I were inspired by Richard Olney’s woodfired lamb brochettes (crazy organ photos that really take me back here). For 2012, I wanted to stick with the lamb theme, but not skew so… experimental.

This year’s dinner was a spectacular group effort: I made a shaved fennel salad with fresh green chickpeas, fava beans, dill, and mint, as well as roasted fingerling potatoes, glazed carrots, and a plum tart; James brought a mouthwatering Bandol rosé (my favorite!), Brian made a bacon-avocado-quinoa salad (total dude food!), Chloe baked delicate date cakes, and Jessica hauled over the star of the night, two hulking lamb shoulders, which sous-vide cooked at Laloux overnight. She meant business  — and the leftovers were made into the perfect road trip sandwiches the next day, shredded and packed into a baguette with lots of Dijon mustard and leftover fennel.

RECCURRING CRAVING

The other afternoon, I couldn’t stop fantasizing about thick, tender ribbons of fettuccine, coated in a slick, peppery carbonara sauce, or translucent purses of ravioli, cradling mushrooms and chopped greens. I was gripped with another intense longing for pasta. Never one to deny myself a craving, I called up my friend Carlo, who owns a pasta maker, and we dove right in.

I’d say making pasta is equal parts tricky and simple — slightly tricky at the outset, then astonishingly easy all the way to the finish line. I decided to use Marcella Hazan’s fresh pasta recipe (she of the famous tomato-butter sauce!), which requires two cups of flour for every two eggs. Easy enough to remember. (While I used simple all-purpose flour, other recipes recommend dopio zero flour, which has a high protein content and is also great for pizzas).

The process, at the start, is a little fussy: build a small volcano, crack the eggs into a crater at the top, and gently, steadily, work the egg into the flour. (A little egg will run down the sides of your volcano like lava. No stress. I folded it back in and reshaped until combined). After it comes together into a shaggy ball of dough, knead like crazy for about five or six minutes until the glutens develop. The finished dough will be smooth, soft, pliable, and a beautiful pale yellow.

(At first, your pasta dough may be a little fussy and brittle, as you can see from Carlo’s first attempt! But after we ran his dough through the pasta press a few times, it turned surprisingly supple and soft. And I promise you can’t taste the difference!)

I was so happy with the fettuccine that we made. The wavy, marigold-colored ribbons, barely dusted with flour, was exactly what I had been fantasizing about earlier that afternoon. I didn’t want to distract from the perfection of the pasta, so the sauce was simple, just a few cups of halved cherry tomatoes, minced shallots, and chopped garlic, fried at high heat in a little bacon grease and olive oil until the tomatoes released their sweet, rose-colored liquid. I added a fat splash of white wine, and piled on chopped basil, parsley, shaved Pecorino, toasted pine nuts, and reserved bacon to finish. We made a big mess — flour everywhere! — but it was worth it. Think I may just invest in my own pasta maker!

A SPECIFIC CRAVING

The other night, I was struck with an inexplicable, deep craving for spaghetti and meatballs. Nothing else would do. Not lasagna, not pizza, not any other kind of pasta. Spaghetti and meatballs. The Italian-American kind, the sloppy, rustic meatball that drowns in red sauce and a blanket of grated Parmesan. Who knows where cravings come from, but I identified mine, and it had to be quashed.

So I made it happen. I made up the recipe as I went along, loosely looking at the Barefoot Contessa version, too. I used equal thirds of ground beef, pork, and veal, and added panko, egg yolks, chopped shallots, and water until the mixture felt moist and ready. The sauce was a simple-enough combination of San Marzano tomatoes, onions, red wine, garlic, and thyme, and it simmered away for hours. And as for the pasta, well, I bought that fresh from Milano!

We dove into the meatballs alongside some decadent garlic bread (I split open a baguette, slather it with a compound garlic-parsley butter, tightly wrap it up in aluminum foil, and gently reheat in a 250 oven until soft and fragrant), a fishy Caesar salad, and lots of red Italian wine. Easiest dinner party of all time!

THROWN TOGETHER, EATEN UP

Buying a few clutch pre-made dishes, dressing them up in a more personal way, and preparing a few other easy side dishes might be one of the easiest ways ever to throw an impromptu dinner party. Everyone’s happy and everything’s delicious.

Earlier that morning, we took our friends out to Abu Elias and did a little grocery shopping of our own. Of course, I couldn’t resist their excellent hummus, or a pound of their excellent beef tartare, which is massaged with bulghur wheat, cumin, sumac, and other spices. But we also ordered a huge carton of fatteh (but then buttered and toasted our own pita chips to ensure crispiness late into the night), and a delicious lahmajoun.

I cracked open a jar of tiny pickled carrots that I made earlier in the week, and we readied a platter of radishes, waiting to be sliced in half and spread with butter. Adam prepped a small plate of celery sticks and taramosalata (a killer combo). We made a huge tomato, olive, and pepper salad, and a quick tabbouleh. I even whipped up (perhaps incongruously) a warm potato salad, with crispy pan-fried potatoes, tender green beans, bacon, scallions, and a rich mustard-crème fraîche vinaigrette.

But my favorite dish of the evening was derived from a recipe that I’ve had an eye on for months — a simple beetroot salad dressed with pistachios, lemon juice, and mint, from the indispensible Moro East cookbook. We picked up a bundle of gorgeous chiogga beets from the market, and roasted them in foil until tender. The Clarks like to thinly slice their beets and dress them with a chunky vinaigrette that includes minced pistachios, orange blossom water, mint, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. It was outstanding — light and floral but full of flavor.

MEETING OF THE MINDS

When Adam met up with me in Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, it was his first time meeting all of my friends. Ever. Which is crazy, I know.

So, to commemorate the occasion, the evening he was to arrive, I schemed to organize a fête both special and low-key.

At first, I thought about organizing our gang to feast at our favorite Trumansburg restaurant. I even made a reservation.

But I quickly realized that what I really wanted was a simple dinner party, thrown in Adam’s honor, at my friend Katie’s cozy country home.

It was barely a party, really more of a garden supper, but it felt perfectly full of laughter and love. Curious what we ate?

Since there are no photos (blame the wine), here’s the menu, instead:

Assorted Piggery charcuterie (including a ham hock terrine that disintegrated in the upstate New York heat) // Spanish cheeses + olives

Homemade quick pickles // beets, red onions, local green beans, and carrots

Quartered Ithaca heirloom tomatoes served over barley // red wine vinaigrette

Crispy potato croquettes (I loosely followed this wonderful recipe) // homemade crème fraîche // chives // lemon wedges

Thick ribbons of pasta tossed with fresh ricotta // lemon // local corn // watercress // torn basil

Halved local Methley plums + honey served over thyme-flecked Sable Breton // so much more of that dangerous crème fraîche

That was it. Simple and sweet and buttery. And, upon reflection, a lot of carbs!

As a final note, I can’t recommend this simple Sable Breton recipe enough. The confetti of thyme in the dough really send this not-at-all-sweet dessert completely over the top. Make it for the person in your life who professes not to like dessert. They’ll love it.

In conclusion, if someone offers you up their gorgeous backyard to host a tiny, elegant dinner party — don’t turn their offer down.

And if someone offers to hang petite twinkling lights, set a table with their most beautifully mismatched linens, buy you a vase of scarlet flowers, and even hook up a sound system that may or may not lead to a protracted discussion of the band The Archies, definitely don’t turn their offer down.

And even if you can’t find a bottle of Fontsainte Gris de Gris from Corbieres at Red Feet, no worries. Pop open a bottle of Dr. Frank’s perfectly delicious dry reisling and sit down. It’s summertime, and you are with your favorite people in the world.