Just as you must kiss many frogs before finding your Prince Charming, you must stumble your way through many awkward, mistimed or outright embarassing dinner parties before you reach entertaining nirvana. But then, sometimes the stars align and everything goes exactly according to plan. We had one of those nights. And it was magical.
We had been planning this dinner party for weeks, debating menus, negotiating dishes, drafting timelines. This is the sort of thing we love to do. Our typical approach is to shoot for the moon up front, devise a menu that is impossible by mere mortals and their terrestrial kitchens, then tweak and scale it until we have something achievable yet still remarkable. We like to try new things, and to do new things with old ideas. We have fun in the kitchen.
A holiday meal needs a masterful centerpiece, and we were inspired by Gourmet magazine to do a crown roast of pork. Not only is it elegant and impressive, it is also charmingly old-school, like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.
The art of entertaining involves knowing your boundaries, and delegation is key. Initially we had planned to do everything, including wine pairings. It’s always lovely when guests bring wine, but then you end up with mismatched bottles that have little relevance to what you’re serving. This time, we delegated the pairings, asking each couple to bring wine appropriate to a single course. Each couple knew the course they were pairing, but none knew the entire evening’s menu until they arrived.
Courses (all five of them) and wine flowed seamlessly, and we started early enough to allow for time to hang around afterwards, digest, play parlor games and still be in bed at an almost-reasonable hour for a school night. Almost.
Lots of clean plates, and precious few leftovers — except, that is, for the pork. This week, it’s all about the pork as we repurpose a mountain of porcine protein into new dishes: Curries, pastas, what have you. I am not complaining.
Horn-tooting details and luscious photographs after the jump!
Bartlett pear, Pont l’Eveque and walnut spoons
Acacia 1997 Brut
We’re club members at Acacia, and over Thanksgiving weekend we ran up there to pick up our winter shipment. Included was a bottle of this bubbly, which we got to sample there at the winery. From the first sip, we both knew what we had to do with it. The brut had heavy overtones of pear, honey and nuttiness. An amuse-bouche was hatched in our minds.
We used very ripe Bartlett pears from Church Produce. I then took a large wedge of Pont l’Eveque cheese, and cut away the rinds, then split the interior in half lengthwise. Some walnuts got a quick toast in a dry pan, then a thorough obliteration in the mini-prep attachment of our new stick blender. (Awesome tool, by the way. Thanks, mom!) A dollop of honey on each spoon provided a sticky — and tasty — pad upon which to perch our little cylinders of love. Then it was a one-two-three factory preparation with a small ring cutter: Pear, cheese, nuts, spoon. Repeat.
Curried pumpkin soup
Robert Hall 2005 Viognier Paso Robles
When we made punkin pie, I roasted up a hell of a lot more sugar pumpkins than we actually needed. This was mostly deliberate, as I thought it might be nice to have some extra pumpkin purée around. Who wouldn’t? It certainly made short work of this soup, a simple concoction of pumpkin purée, chicken stock, heavy cream and spices.
We seldom make soups for dinner parties. Partly this has to do with the somewhat awkward configuration of our quarters — the dining room is rather far from the kitchen, so transporting large amounts of liquid is complicated and treacherous. However, we did successfully get a large bowl of the stuff all the way into the dining room without any catastrophes.
The soup was viscous yet smooth, lacking any fibrous bits from the pumpkin. DPaul wielded a light hand with the curry, accentuating the savory nature of the squash, merely hinting at sweetness. The viognier was buttery and smooth, a delightful foil to the richness of the soup.
Crab, avocado and mango "terrine"
Matua Valley Estate 2005 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
Drylands 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough
This is a reprise of a salad I’d made earlier in the year. Initially, I was cogitating on how to do these up in neat little columns, ring mold and plate ahead, yada yada yada …. But you know what? We didn’t have time for that crap, nor space in the fridge to make it work. This dish is about the flavors, and even a quasi-sloppy presentation is appealing. The colors alone make it worthwhile.
Naturally, I planned to use dungeness crab. However, once again focusing on expediency, I opted to try some of the canned blue crab claw meat from Drewe’s, which the guy I usually deal with assured me garners fantastic reviews from everyone who’s bought it. True enough, it was delicious, and I would certainly buy it again.
The crab was lightly infused with tarragon, and gently lubricated with mayonnaise. The avocado had some parsley to punch up the green, and the mango was just mango. I love the juxtaposition of the cool, creamy and tart flavors in this salad.
But the wines! I’ve long been a big fan of Marlborough sauvignon blancs. I love the bright, tropical fruit flavors that only they have. But I tend to think of them as summer wines. While each of these wines were different from the other, both had the classic tropical notes — most especially passion fruit and pineapple — and that played beautifully against the mango. It was like a shot of summer wedged in the middle of a heart winter’s dinner. Very refreshing.
Crown roast of pork
Green beans with almonds
Domaine de Boissan 2004 Gigondas Vielles Vignes
Ta-daaaah! Practically nothing has as much wow factor as a crown roast. Booties are not optional. (I, um, forgot to buy the frills at Drewe’s, so DPaul set to work making them, based on the old paper lanterns we all learned to make when we were five. See? Everything you ever need to know, you do learn in kindergarten.)
As with the soup, we had a servability problem at first. DPaul initially wanted to plate in the kitchen. I argued that there is no point in doing a crown roast if you’re going to serve it all carved already. So the logistical battle became getting the roast from the roasting pan onto a large platter, and ensuring enough space in the dining room to cut up such a beast.
And a beast it was. Drewe’s has a minimum of 16 ribs when you order a crown roast; ours had 17, like some mutant pig. And these are not your typical chops. Once cut through, they were perfectly enormous. Bronto-chops, we took to calling them.
Well, I’ll eat this dinosaur anytime. Because the meat took its sweet time to cook through (almost three hours), it took on that slow-cooked texture, shredding and falling apart, yet retaining enough moisture to be succulent and sweet. We made a pan sauce from the drippings (with a little help from Jim) that was the color of espresso and as full of delicious, dark love.
Oh yeah, and the stuffing and the beans were good, too. Whatever, it’s about the pork.
The Gigondas was wonderfully earthy and hearty. Or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Details get fuzzy later in the evening.
Mitchell’s eggnog ice cream
The crisp recipe comes from Elise’s Simply Recipes (which I rely on rather heavily, I admit), and it was just fine. I might have whirred the oats in the Cuisinart first to break them down a tad, but it tasted very good just the same. And the ice cream. Run, do not walk to Mitchell’s and get yourself a big, fat tub of the eggnog ice cream. It’s unbelievable.
Eggnog makes more sense to me in ice cream form. As a beverage, it’s too viscous and gloppy. (I am of course referring to the store-bought pap. Homemade eggnog is a different creature.) This utilized the custardy thickness to its greatest advantage. It’s awesome.