Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dinner Party Redux

This week I held not one but two formal dinner parties for friends and family. After the fun of Monday’s feast I was ready to double down and cook again for my cousin who also lives in New York City and her boyfriend. The four of us convened at around eight and I started cooking from ingredients that I had bought the day before at the green market. I had some fresh produce left over and went to the fishmonger and butcher to supplement my menu. It is such a blast for me to cook for people so I welcomed the opportunity to host back to back evenings for some of my favorite people. The first course was a beet and escarole salad with yogurt dressing. I used the leftover beets pickled in balsamic vinegar the day before and chevre served over escarole and arugula tossed with yogurt dressing. The dressing was made with Greek yogurt that I thinned with balsamic and olive oil to give it a savory kick. I have a sneaking suspicion that this was the group’s favorite dish of the night, maybe tied with the pie.

The second course was sambal grilled shrimp with dashi. A dashi is an Asian broth made with simmered soy sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, and water spiced with anything on hand like ginger, lime, chili, etc. I made a small pot of dashi with tons of fresh cilantro, lime zest, ginger, and jalapenos to match the spiciness of the shrimp, which I marinated in sesame oil and sambal or red chili paste. The dashi was way too salty which is a problem that I have dealt with for months. The trick is to get the broth flavorful enough without the overpowering saltiness of the soy sauce coming through. I encouraged my cousin and her boyfriend to peel, dip, and eat the shrimp with their fingers before sipping the small serving of hot broth. The shrimp were epic, spicy and charred from a tour in the grill pan, and the broth was pungent though dismally salty.

The third dish was pork tenderloin with creamed leeks and Brussels sprouts with cherry butter and shallot puree. I often borrow inspiration, or in this case recipes, from restaurants around town that wowed me. Back Forty in the Lower East Side is one such place and the daily specials are not to be believed, particularly the Brussels sprouts side dish. The inherent bitterness of steamed Brussels is juxtaposed well with the sweetness of unsalted cherry butter and pureed caramelized shallots. After my first bite I knew I was going to have to try to recreate the side dish at home. Pork tenderloin is always a hit and it is terribly easy to make. Just marinate a pork loin or simply season with salt and pepper, sear it in a hot cast iron or oven-safe pan until well browned, and finish in a 375 oven for about 10 or 15 minutes depending on your choice of doneness. Creamed anything is delicious and leeks are no exception just sauté sliced leeks in olive oil or butter until they begin to shed their water and add a touch of cream until slightly thickened. Tasty time.

Valerie continued with her pie making endeavors and presented the table with a freshly baked plum pie that had literally left the oven two minutes prior. We knew full well that plums were not in season but sometimes you have to sacrifice locality for yearning and we wanted a plum pie damnit. She is slowly perfecting the piecrust and this one was attractive, delicious, and slightly salty which matched well with the sourness of the plums. A little vanilla ice cream completed the experience and the meal much to our delight. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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