There is a certain joy to be had in properly cooking and serving good food and wine. And then there is the joy of properly cooking and serving good food and wine to seven accomplished and beautiful women. They’re too different things entirely, I’m just sayin’.
The turnout to our big tapas dinner Thursday night was a few heads shy of the ten I expected, but the ladies laughing and drinking and slurping gazpacho and wine in our dining room didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they got seconds on several of the courses, so that worked out in their favor anyway.
I find I get limited feedback on what worked and what didn’t when attempting a Big Deal dinner. Everyone’s being polite and is half-lit and is generally disinclined to foist suggestions on the person delivering course after course of good food and wine. I get that, but wish people they’d be a little harder on the food. I don’t know if it was starting out Catholic, but when everyone’s singing praises, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. Anyway, the food.
Sliced vegetables went out with a mellow garlic dip that looked distressingly like potato salad but was actually extremely tasty. Hummus from World Harvest was a dud, again. Feta-stuffed peppers were as easy to pull off as they were wonderful to eat. Here I also shoehorned in an unscheduled salad of lardons (slim pieces of homemade bacon) and tat choi I picked up in a last-second and life-saving visit to Eric Reuter and Chert Hollow Farm (good Missourian write-up, by the way, Eric) for mizuna and other greens Thursday morning.
Some people loved the goat cheese truffles, others thought they were so-so. Depends how much you like goat cheese and prickly dried herbs. Meh. Gazpacho was good, but tasted like it’d been frozen (it had, a fact I readily admitted) to me. The girls liked it well enough that several asked for seconds.
The bruschetti were good. The favorite seemed to be the ones smeared with a little lard and topped with sauteed garlic and Eric’s mustard greens. Go figure.
And then the one nerve-wracking moment: deep-fried pork belly. The 1’x2′ pieces were dropped into the Fry Daddy for 2-3 minutes and pulled when they looked appropriately crispy/melty. Served with horseradish beer mustard and some of my (very easy) pickles, the bellies were a hit. Not nearly the best thing ever – I’ll work on that next time – but they were, no doubt, very good. Meaty and juicy and salty, they were also less greasy than you would expect. The wife had been skeptical of serving these workout-oriented ladies unreconstructed pork fat, but it turned out very well. Leftovers disappeared quickly.
Lamb koftas were well-recieved but I’d probably left them on the grill a minute too long. Still, served alongside jury-rigged tzatziki sauce (again, another prepared-food letdown with World Harvest…what’s the deal? Everything else there is great.), the lamb balls disappeared instantly.
Sidebar: The wine, beginning to take hold, also may have prompted the gals to notice (and make much light of the fact) that half of what I was serving was coming out in ball form. Oh the jokes these lady professors and teachers and doctors and engineers made. School bus/locker room material folks, and very, very funny overheard from the kitchen.
The skirt steak turned out very bland to me but the ladies devoured it. This was due, perhaps, to they no longer possessing fully functional taste buds. Or maybe it could have been the impossibly decadent potatoes au gratin served alongside. Originally based on a recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” this dish has become a bit of a personal calling card. I made them for my wife during her first pregnancy maybe a hundred times. So easy, so good. But I’ve never made it with $16 a pound Swiss Gruyere and Weiler Dairy cream (to say nothing of finely chopped chilis scattered throughout to make it more summery). A splurge, and worth it.
The chocolate ganaches were ringers as well. Made with Alan McClure’s otherworldly Patric Chocolate and more Weiler cream, they were the cause of much groaning and eye-rolling. If I had closed my eyes I could have fooled myself into thinking I was blindfolded on the set of a bad (or good?) porno flick. I, being a gentleman, did not do this. But to quote the late, great Chris Farley, you can imagine what it would have had been like.
The real standout of the meal wine-wise was the 2006 Byron Pinot Noir. Lush, layered and deeply grapey, this was another splurge worth the investment ($25 at Patricia’s).