Thursday, January 15, 2009

First Dinner Party of 2009!

Besides the new clothes and various knick-knacks, I brought back a newfound enthusiasm for cooking from my trip to France. Valerie has two friends visiting from California and one of the things on their list, much to my flattered delight, was a dinner chez moi! I invited them over last Monday after a trip to the Union Square green market where walked around together looking over the produce and other culinary treasures. The first course was a Hubbard squash soup served plainly in my favorite little white cups. Hubbard squash are grayish green with odd shapes and ugly warts peppered about their skins. They have a mild sweet flavor better suited to pies or pasta dishes which I spiced up with a bit of curry powder and smoked paprika; a light seasonal soup that warmed us through and stirred our appetites.

The second course was a roasted beet and micro green salad with shallot vinaigrette. One of the few things in season virtually everywhere you turn is beets, surprisingly versatile and easily combined with myriad flavors and ingredients. I love these gem-like nuggets that emanate a deep earthy aroma and beautiful color. I roasted the small purple beets and served them atop a bed of fresh micro greens both originating from local farm stands at the green market. The salad featured a handful of the escarole/arugula/frisee mix, a few quartered beets which I marinated in aged balsamic after roasting, and a few small lumps of chevre. After assembling the salads, I topped them with a healthy drizzle of shallot vinaigrette made with minced shallots, balsamic, olive oil, and a touch of whole grain mustard. Chevre and beets are a winning combination and the peppery greens and bite of the shallot complimented their earthy flavors.

The third and final savory dish was a black cod fillet with braised greens. Whether wrapped around a piece of tuna or John Dory, rendered into a hot pan, or sliced thinly into a pan sauce or accompanying side dish, bacon and seafood share a mutual affection. I sautéed the fish in a cast iron with a couple of tablespoons of sweet butter and olive oil before finishing them quickly in a hot oven. I like my fish firm but very tender and just warmed through in the center. The greens, a mix of kale and collards from the farmer’s market, were braised in bacon fat (reserving the crispy bits), red wine vinegar, and a splash of water. The bacon adds a nice salty pork flavor while the vinegar adds acidity and liquid to create enough steam to cook the fibrous leaves through. I finished the braised greens with red chili flakes before placing a generous pile on each plate topped with a crispy piece of black cod and some chopped chives. This was my favorite dish of the three though I undercooked the fish slightly.

Valerie has been on a pie kick recently and I am thrilled to have a baker in my life. She has been making progress and of course we are all profiting from the wealth of fruit pies accumulating in my apartment. For our dinner party Monday Valerie made a traditional apple pie following my mother’s recipe. The piecrust is a simple one, mostly adapted from the Joy of Cooking, and the filling is a breeze. Peel and slice any firm apple variety of your choosing into a large bowl, add the juice of a half lemon, a couple of tablespoons of sugar, and a tablespoon of tapioca. The lemon prevents the apples from browning and the tapioca thickens the juices that escape from the pie, giving the filling a wonderful viscous texture. The pie was a big hit, despite being a little sour due in fact to too much lemon juice for which I take full responsibility, and the evening was as well. So far so good for the first dinner party of 2009 and I hope this is the start of a successful slew of them. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

No comments: