Dinner and friends
February 6, 2013
There’s nothing better than cooking dinner for a few good friends — doing one of the things you do best and in the process, pleasing people you care about.
I put together a pretty respectable dinner party Saturday night for some good friends, who went home full of both a pretty decent meal and an evening of good conversation and laughs. A good time was had by all. Unfortunately, there are no photos of anything other than the beginnings of the dessert, because the camera battery died.
Initially, I’d planned to sous vide some steaks and then sear them on the grill, it having been a gorgeous day. That plan got derailed when I found I had only one package of steaks in the freezer, and needed two. I did, however, have two packages of pork chops, so with little hesitation, I switched to pig.
Laid them out to thaw Friday night, and by Saturday morning a menu of sorts had formed in my head. The last adventure with pork and cherries had been successful enough, we’d have the pork chops over polenta, with a cherry sauce. We’d have butternut squash on toast, from a recipe I’d saved a while back. We’d have something green. And we’d have apple crisp, because I had Arkansas black apples that needed to be used.
And that’s what we did. I sous vided the chops, boneless loin chops about 8 ounces each, after a sprinkling down in Jamaican Jerk seasoning, for 8 hours, to be seared off in a hot skillet at the last minute. I caramelized a bunch of onions and whacked a couple of butternut squashes in half, brushed them down with olive oil, sprinkled them down with the same jerk seasoning, and ran them in the oven. The recipe would have had me peel and dice the squash and then use red pepper flakes; I ain’t about peeling and dicing squash when one can roast it and just scoop it out, not when it’s gonna get all mushed up anyway.
Meanwhile, I peeled and sliced my apples and filled up a pie plate. Drizzled them with a little melted butter and some molasses. Made a topping out of oats, brown sugar and melted butter and covered it with that. Set it aside to bake later.
Commenced playing with a sauce. Dried cherries. Hydrated in some wine. Put on to boil, added some anchovy paste for a little umami — I had a couple of sweet elements going, didn’t want too much sweet in the sauce. Cooked a while, tasted, added more anchovy paste, and a splash of brandy. Worked. Let it reduce.
Looked in the freezer for the bag of lima beans, which I was planning on with a little chopped up country ham. Ooops. Not limas. Shelled edamame. Never mind; just plan to nuke ‘em in the bag, dump in a bowl and toss with some butter and salt. Healthier, anyway.
Polenta. Read grits. Cooked with lots of cream and some cream cheese. Hard to beat.
Departed somewhat from the recipe, scooped the now-tender squash out of the shells, added to the onions in the skillet. Added the called-for cider vinegar, and some honey since I couldn’t find my maple syrup. Went looking for my goat cheese, realized I’d used it a few days back, said “Damn!” and pondered what to sub. Went with cottage cheese, because one of the suggestions in the recipe was to use ricotta, and cottage cheese is close. Sorta-kinda. Let that cook and get happy, took my potato masher to it, let it cook a little more. Meanwhile, I cut the crusts off eight slices of gluten-free bread, which ain’t good for much other than this; toasted them, and put two pieces side by side for four portions. (They were small slices.)
Do not be tempted to skip this step. The crunch of the toast adds a needed texture element.
And I put together caprese salads with pre-sliced mozz (the shame!), roasted tomatos, and the fixin’s.
At that point, one guest had arrived, set the table for me, and made margaritas. So I put together an appetizer tray (nothing fancy; salami, cheese, crackers, pickles, olives) and enjoyed a few minutes with a glass of wine as the other guests arrived.
Come time to eat, and I piled squash puree on top of the toasts, topped them with grated parmesan, and ran them back in the toaster oven. Seared off the chops. Nuked the edamame and tossed with the butter and salt. Plated everything — chops atop the polenta/grits, topped with the cherry sauce; flanked by roasted sweet potato wedges — oops, forgot to include them, roasted while the crisp was baking, tossed in olive oil and more jerk seasoning, the edamame and a squash toast.
Way too much food. But damn, it was good.
We topped the crisp with ice cream and caramel sauce. And then sat and called for cranes to come move us from the table to the couch.
Good food, good friends. You ‘n ‘y’mama ‘n ‘em come on over, and I’ll try to do something similar for you.