Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Three Course Dinner Party

  • Parsnip Soup
  • Grilled Shrimp and Sweet Potato Mash
  • 5 Spice Pork Tenderloin, Braised Red Cabbage, and Apple Cranberry Compote
That was the menu at a dinner party I hosted this past Sunday at my apartment. Cooking for others is one of my great pleasures. I love to watch people brighten up after a particularly delicious bite or guffaw at a strange flavor combination. Cooking allows me to spend time with people I love to see and key them into seasonality, organics, and regional cuisine. My very good friend Nick was in town visiting from Ithaca this weekend on his way to Utah and we decided to catch up in the kitchen over an Haute meal. Nick and I have a long history of cooking together and have shared many a meal at some of the best restaurants in the US and abroad. The other guests were friends of ours from college that live in the city. Nick and I drew up potential three course tasting menus before settling on soup followed by a seafood app and a pork main that I would plate and serve from the kitchen. Three course meals are the perfect size, just enough food to leave a guest satisfied and not overly stuffed. Soup or salad is a good first course to spark the palate and pave the way for heavier and more robust dishes. The progression of seafood followed by meat just make sense to me though I sometimes substitute a pasta or rice dish as a second course the way the Italians do before finishing a meal with roasted meat. Parsnips are in season and remind me of the holiday season so I decided on a pureed parsnip soup. Pureed soups are rather formulaic, just sauté onions, garlic, parsnip cubes, and a bay leaf until soft and cover with good stock. Then puree the mixture until smooth and finish with a touch of cream, parsley, and a pinch of smoked paprika. For the second course, I grilled some really good looking large shrimp from my fishmonger at Joon and paired them with a roasted sweet potato mash. The mash is a great side dish and is super easy to make. Cut the sweets in half lengthwise and score them by making long incisions across the flesh. Coat them with olive oil and salt and roast them in the oven for about forty minutes at 350 degrees. My guests all favored the shrimp admitting that it is a weird flavor and texture combination that happens to marry quite well. The final dish was my personal favorite and I plan on making it again in the very near future despite its complexity and long prep time. Pork, cabbage, and apples are commonly cooked and served together, a combination that descends from eastern European and Germanic cooking traditions. This dish was inspired by my friend Risher, a close friend and school chum since preschool who I have spent time with in his father’s house in Tubingen near Stuttgart in Germany. My time there introduced me to good beer, sausages, and other culinary delights that continue to pique my taste buds and experimentation in the kitchen. Pork tenderloin has a wonderful flavor and requires relatively little preparation to remain moist and tender. I rubbed the meat with a blend of chili powder, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon, Paprika, and salt before browning on all sides and roasting in the oven. I braised the red cabbage with onions, juniper berries, and a splash of white wine vinegar to make a sauerkraut of sorts. The apple compote was made of sliced honeycrisp apples and reconstituted dried cranberries cooked down for about an hour on low heat in butter and a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon. The spice and bacony pork flavor of the pan roasted the presentation I placed slices of the pork on a bed of cabbage next to a spoonful of apple compote topped with a drizzle of bourbon cream sauce and chives. It was ultimately a successful evening that was enjoyed by all. Hopefully this is the start of a new trend for the new year; the bimonthly three course tasting menu dinner party. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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