I have many dearest wishes, but one of the few actually within the realm of possibility (as opposed to, say, winning an Academy Award) has been to throw a pull-out-all-the-stops dinner party.
A felicitous confluence of events allowed this to happen. First, I had a small nest egg of birthday money set aside. Second, our friends the Hamiltons would be staying with us on that most festive of holidays, New Year's Eve. This was key to the dinner party's success. Because they were already spending the night, we were able to put the kids to bed before we started dinner. Also, we could take our time with each course, since no one had to drive home. We could have a different wine paired with each course, since no one had to drive home. As an added bonus, these Hamiltons are great cooks and willing sous-chefs. It was an ideal set-up.
Of course I agonized over the menu, because that is my way. My way is also a very slow way, so I needed recipes that could be done mostly ahead of time and be finished or reheated just before serving. I would have loved an outrageous chunk of roast beef, but I was afraid of ruining it. I pored over magazines and cookbooks and spent many blurry-eyed hours reading recipes online. And now, without further ado, our New Year's Eve dinner:
While Shaun gave himself a last-minute haircut, we enjoyed duck liver and port mousse with cornichons and grainy mustard. Don't worry, before we dug in we realized that we should remove the layer of gelatin on top. We are very classy.
Also, lest these provisions seem a little spartan for New Year's Eve, I should mention that we spent all afternoon cooking and snacking on some Saint Andre triple cream cheese, marcona almonds, and spicy Calabrese sausage. And sparkling wine, of course.
Andrew approves our plans before the serious eating begins.
served with a white Burgundy
My favorite description of this dish came from Amanda, who described its texture as "pillowy." It was a cream of cauliflower soup (I used half and half instead of the whipping cream it called for) with a seared scallop placed on top of a bit of blanched leeks. I couldn't find the lemon-infused grapeseed oil to drizzle on, so I made some. It was well worth the small extra effort. The garnish is caviar (mine is from Iceland, the only thing I could find) and snipped chives. I plan on making this as a main course in the future, with more scallops and some bread and salad alongside.
Main course: Braised Lamb Shanks With Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise; Citrusy Root Vegetable Puree served with a Chateauneuf-du-Pape
The most exciting thing about this dish was making it: toasting the spices and then grinding them produced a smell that I have never encountered before. Even if something isn't my favorite, I always appreciate the experience of tasting something entirely new to me. The meat didn't turn out as tender as I'd hoped, but it was still very good. Next time I'd put less citrus in the root vegetables, but I thought it was an important element to help cut the richness of the lamb. A nice thing about this dish is that we made it the night before so we could cool it and scoop the fat off. The pot of leftovers has formed yet another dandy layer of fat. Definitely not a low-calorie food.
Probably thanks to my overindulgence earlier in the day, I was feeling a little queasy by the time we got to the lamb. That's when I experienced the magic of the French tradition of the trou normand. A glass of Calvados is taken to create a trou, or hole, for the next course. In this case, the apple brandy is poured over a dish of apple sorbet. I had intended to serve this between the first two courses, but I am so glad that I had forgotten. It worked like MAGIC. I felt like I was starting the entire meal over. Which was a relief, because I was looking foward to our last course most of all.
Here's Amanda dousing her sorbet and Andrew doing his best to power on through as midnight approaches:
Last course: Phyllo-Wrapped Figs With Proscuitto and Stilton
served with ruby port
Oh, how I loved this. For me it was the perfect way to end the meal, like a cheese course and dessert in one. Each bundle contained a bit of Stilton pressed with dried figs and wrapped in a small, thin slice of proscuitto. Following the suggestions of reviewers, I cut down on the amounts of everything inside the bundle. It was still extremely rich. What took it from savory to sweet were the two sauces: reduced cream with pine nuts on the plate and a ruby port-balsamic vinegar reduction drizzled on top, syrupy and delicious. It wasn't everyone's favorite dish, but it was mine.
There is no way I could have pulled off such a fun evening without all the cooking and dishwashing help I got. It was truly a group effort. Here's to the love of God, family, and friends in the new year.