Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dinner is My Dream

Last Friday another one of my dreams came true. We hosted a dinner party, to put it the old fashioned grown up way. I spent all day in the kitchen and decorating the table. I loved every minute of it. I may not know much, but I know that I wanted that experience, which I hope will be the first of many.

The Menu
Crostini with Tomato-Bacon-Apple Jam and Feta
Cider Braised Pork Shoulder with Onions, Apples & Potatoes

Puree of Roasted Butternut Squash with Maple

Cider Glazed Apple Cake with Whipped Cream and Apple Chip Garnish

Now, I had not made any of the dishes before, and I've only done a multi course dinner one other time--without guests. I just read a reference to an all apple dinner and thought it would be fun. Basically, this was an entirely "test kitchen" experience--a chef with her training wheels still on, so to speak. But don't worry. The guests were advised and willing. People can be so agreeable if you promise them (free) food.

The results? To my great relief, nothing sucked! The appetizer was interesting and acceptable. One guest thought the jam was reminiscent of baked beans in flavor. Not tres gourmet, but not a bad thing either. It means a balance of tangy and savory and sweet. Success number one.

The braised pork shoulder was, of course, falling-apart tender. (You would be, too, if you were in the oven for six hours. ) I'm not sure how I've made it this far in life without relishing a long, slow braise, but I have corrected that oversight. It's my favorite kind of food trick--good and EASY. Once it's in the oven, you're done. Unless you thicken the pan juices with a little buerre manier for sauce, and why wouldn't you? So, I did. Success number two.

My absolute favorite part of the meal was the butternut squash puree. I have to credit the Pioneer Woman herself, Ree Drummond, for the method. Her recipe was the simplest (I want the Lazy Chef award please) and could be done ahead and warmed. In addition, she had enough enthusiasm for the flavor that she lapsed into One. Word. Sentences. And promises of eye rolling and ecstasy. When I tasted it, I gave out a little "Oh, yeah" myself. I seem to remember some involuntary noises from at least one of the guests, too. It really is that good. And easy. And GOOD. Definitely a standby fall and winter side dish. I'm ready for the next Pot Luck. Success number three.

The apple cake, even if the recipe was from a famous Australian chef, did not wow me. I knew what I wanted (one tall layer, moist, crackly on top), but this version fell short. The search continues. And if anyone suggests you make apple chips glazed in reduced apple cider and powdered sugar, and then instructs you bake them on a Silpat--take that last part seriously. Those little buggers were the only thing I have ever baked that stuck hopelessly to PARCHMENT PAPER. I had to, shall we say, improvise to end up with any chips at all. On a positive note, they did taste good and added a jaunty note. On the whole, a weak success number four.

I was also pleased when a guest commented that the apple theme wasn't obvious. It didn't seem that he (or she?) was eating appple-apple-apple all the way through. The fruit's flavor was an influence rather than a star in the appetizer and the main dish, only coming to prominence in the dessert. I felt successful again at that moment, but that wasn't the best one for me.

No, the best part was quietly had during all the feasting when, just as I did during our barn warming, I felt a little more like the me I want to be. Sitting at the end of our handmade, candle lit table covered with my great-grandmother's lace tablecloth and graced by good food and friends, I thought that, for me, this was it. I had come into my own in some small way. It's just a dinner--and not a Martha-esque feature one at that--but it's one of my long awaited dreams. I'm not on the outside with my nose against the glass any more. I don't know what the culinary future holds for me. I just know that I want to have dinners, feed my friends, be the hostess.

But you never know where seemingly tiny desires may lead. If hadn't done theater on a whim and bought a certain red dress, I might never have met my husband and boon companion. So it's just dinner...but then again maybe not. If nothing else, dinner makes life a finer thing while I wonder what's next.


Samantha Roberson said...

Once again you are my hero! The menu sounds delicious and your table was beautiful.

Dave_Flora said... was soo good! The company lingered long after the meal, which is the kind of thing I was looking for. I love taking care of people, so this segways right into a desire of mine as well!
Well done, bebe!