In which I host a dinner party…

I know it has been a couple days, but this is going to be a good one, so hopefully it makes up for my absence.

I had a dinner party to say farewell to my friend Meredith. Meredith is heading to further her education in London, and I am jealous. Meredith pops up in the comments here occasionally as “the other Meredith.” because I happen to have two friends named Meredith. They are both making significant life changes in the next couple of weeks, and I spend an inordinate amount of time with both of them. It is very confusing. This Meredith is a colleague and friend, so the dinner guests were all coworkers and friends as well. Just the ladies. It was lovely.

I decided to make four courses, because it was Monday and that totally makes sense. I was going to pair the courses with wine from my California trip back in April, which Meredith joined me for. I have been thinking about pork belly, and decided to do that as one of the courses, and I have been going through some of my back issues of Bon Appetit and I found a recipe for potato crusted halibut. I thought I would do that with salmon, and that became another course. I started with a pasta course and finished with dessert.

I intended to make a flat bread and gougeres for hors d’oeuvres. The flat bread was an adventure. I used to have a pizza stone, and I mistakenly left it in the oven and must have dropped something cold on it one day, because it cracked in half. I never replaced it. Pizza and flatbread crust are just not the same done on a cookie sheet, so I had to find a suitable substitute. I used the underside of my cast iron frying pan. It was great, I preheated it and all was well, except that I rolled out the dough too big, so it sort of draped over the side. I made it work. I used the pizza dough recipe from Todd English’s Figscookbook. It is a great dough, light and really crispy, but kind of a pain in the neck to work with because it is a really wet dough, and it sticks to everything. Still worth it though, because it comes out awesome when cooked. I topped the flat bread with gorgonzola dolce, sauteed red onions and sliced asian pear.

for starters...

for starters...

We didn’t need the gougeres, which was a good thing since they never made it out of the flour measuring stage. We had our flatbread with champagne that one of my lovely guests brought over.

Then dinner. First course was butternut squash tortelli, which are essentially very large tortellini. I roasted the squash for the filling, and then threw it in the food processor with parmesan cheese, amaretti cookies, salt and pepper. The sauce is butter melted until it stops foaming, then you add sage, the cooked tortelli, and some of the pasta water, which should emulsify with the butter to make a sauce.

first course.

first course.

It was pretty good. I liked the filling, but the pasta was a little weird. I don’t know if the pasta wasn’t cooked enough? It was a little tough where the sheets were folded over and touching each other, so I don’t know if that was just undercooked, or if it was too thick or what, but it was good. I do really like the filling. More practice needed, perhaps.

Next course was my favorite I think. I wrapped salmon in potato “scales.” Yukon golds sliced really thin on the mandoline (though I think I could have gone even one click thinner.) I overlapped the potato slices and wrapped them around each filet. It looked like this…

potato sleeves

potato sleeves

I seared both sides until the potatoes were crispy. They went on a bed of melted leeks. You may remember those from the tart. The sauce was corn and shiitake sauteed in butter and finished with a little bit of cream. This was really good. The salmon ended up cooked perfectly, the potatoes were crispy, the leeks, corn and shiitake were tasty. Definitely my favorite of the night.

third course

third course

alternate view

alternate view

Next was pork belly. I had a 4 lb piece of pork belly that I braised in chicken stock, soy sauce, garlic and onions and let cool to absorb all the deliciousness. I cooked polenta in chicken stock and carrot juice (a little trick I picked up from a chef acquaintance of mine) and then poured it into a baking pan to cool and set. The final step was to steam some cockles and sear the skin of the pork belly and the polenta squares. All on the plate with a little of the cooking juices.

third course

third course

This was good. It was supposed to be otherworldly. It was also supposed to have kale chips that I had made. It would have added color and cut the richness a little bit. I forgot to add them. I am not sure what I would do differently, or if perhaps I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped because I was already kind of full. I think I will have to have some leftovers to test it out again. The cockles kind of got lost, which I would like to remedy for next time. The polenta was good, and I think I will eat leftovers with some of the corn and shiitake from the second course.

Dessert: falling chocolate cake from Olives, but instead of raspberry sauce I made salted caramel ice cream again. It was delicious again, but it didn’t really set up, again. Kind of annoying, maybe it’s the salt in the recipe? How do I remedy that? It was delicious with the cake though.

dessert

dessert

Overall the dinner party was a success. Great guests, good wine, fun times. I have a sink full of dishes, and some good leftovers to show for it. I will be attempting all of these dishes again, especially the salmon. I will do all sorts of fish that way, with all sorts of accoutrements. Lots of opportunity there. And this is only the beginning of the pork belly adventure. Lots of possibility there. Just means more dinner parties to be had. In the meantime, I will searching for an apartment with a dishwasher.

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