Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas

When I set up household for myself, I was happy to acquire my grandmother's set of enamel cookware. I think the story was that she'd bought it in Spain in the 70's, when she took a trip there to reconnect with her mother's homeland. I definitely have a leather coat from that trip. And the pots, with their brownish background and orange-y flowers, are unquestionably of a 70's vintage.

I really loved these homely pots--they were just the right size for everything I needed, they cleaned up easily, and, best of all, I felt connected to my Grandma Toni whenever I used them, despite the fact that my culinary projects were significantly less ambitious than hers. (I never assembled a group of family and friends to make 500 egg rolls and 300 won tons in a single day in my home kitchen, for instance.)

But the pots died. It's unfortunate (and occasionally dangerous) for a person who likes to cook to be as absentminded and easily distracted as I am. Repeated scorching breached the enamel coating; I needed new pots and pans.

Enter my mom, who had seen the sad state of my cookware first-hand. She offered to make a generous contribution towards buying something new as my birthday and Christmas presents. Super exciting. Until I hopped online and saw that buying a new set of the best-reviewed cookware would cost only slightly less than a used car.

I persevered in my research, however, and found out about Tramontina; their stainless tri-ply pans are rated a best value by Cook's Illustrated, come with a lifetime warranty, are comparable to (but way cheaper than) All-Clad, and receive great reviews from the folks who, as I ended up doing, ordered them through Walmart. (Yes, I get nerdy about this stuff.)

I wasted no time putting my pans through their paces once I got them. A birthday dinner party provided the perfect opportunity. Shaun offered to cook, but willingly cleaned when I asked him to do that instead. He even ironed the napkins and tablecloth. I never would have done that. Though I was about halfway through a killer cold, I happily cooked for two days straight.

The dinner was so fun. As I finished up things up in the kitchen, we milled about with cocktails, Warm Artichoke-Olive Dip, and Pancetta Crisps With Goat Cheese and Figs. Then we sat down to the table and got serious.

To start, we had Sweet Potato and Green Apple Soup. If you love winter vegetable soups, but have maxed out on butternut squash and pumpkin (and aren't afraid of butter and cream), you must check out this recipe. The tart apple and bitter rutabaga balance the sweetness of the roasted sweet potato and maple syrup. It's ridiculously good.

Next up were Pork Medallions with Almond-Fig Cream with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts. That was all pretty good too.

Mixed greens with vinaigrette and a cheese plate followed. Then we cleared the table and adjourned to the living room for dessert. It was the only dish of the night that I've made before, my go-to company dessert that never disappoints: Chocolate-Chip Bread Pudding with Cinnamon-Rum Sauce.

Our guests were two couples from our church who also have young kids and really appreciate the chance to get out. I couldn't ask for a better birthday present than to enjoy good food and good conversation with good people.

And while I may have forgotten a finishing touch to a dish or two, I consider it a major success that I didn't scorch a single thing.


Mullins said...

That sounds really tasty! Happy Belated Birthday. I'm not on Facebook enough to remember (har har).

Oleg K. said...

For your birthday I get a present of a soup recipe to try, even with my meager cooking skills and decidedly non-foodie palate(except for beer).

Thank you!

p.s. - Happy Birthday! (You can use this one for either this year or next, year, or both...You choose.)

Gypmar said...

Thanks for the birthday good wishes!

Oleg, I'll definitely keep yours saved up for next year, just in case. Let me know if you end up trying the soup. It's as scary to recommend a recipe as it is to recommend a book.