12 December 2007

Dinner for Eight on Our Lady's Feast Day: 8 December 2007

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.
~ Luciano Pavarotti

After many months of trying, my choir director and my schedules finally meshed. I hosted him for dinner along with six other close friends. Choosing the menu took much thought ~ Dahvid is a true Southern gentleman from North Carolina and accustomed to his mother’s incredible, I am sure, Southern cooking.

A Southern feast with a Mikaela twist was debated, but in the end I opted for a menu with a cranberry theme.

Cook's Notes:
One: Remember to read the recipe thoroughly. Not allowing the cheesecake to cool a full 4 hours before chilling overnight did not really hurt it; however, not chilling it for an hour with the cranberry topping made it a tad drippy.

Two: Some dishes are perfectly happy being cooked the night or even two days before the event. In fact, they may even benefit from a couple days rest in the fridge. This will free you the cook from being chained to the stove and/or the kitchen all evening. I spent more time in the kitchen this time around then I did with my

Three: Remember these pieces of wisdom from the queens of culinary masterpieces:

“You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.” Julia Child

"Food is not about impressing people. It's about making them feel comfortable." Ina Garten
I wish I had read those before Saturday! ;-) For the appetizer, I leafed through a 1998 issue of Saveur that I had on my shelf and found a delectably simple recipe for Cappesante el Pesto (scallops with pesto). This recipe, inspired by the author’s father, Edward Giobbi, was hailed by my guests and I must say, the pesto, made with fresh basil, walnuts instead of pine nuts and gorgonzola instead of reggiano (my substitution) was the best pesto I had ever tasted.

Next came a simple salad of spinach, arugula, walnuts, cranberries and gorgonzola cheese, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. I followed this with a soup course and used a recipe from Epicurious.com for Fresh Wild Mushroom Soup. This soup, made up of shitake, cremini and regular mushrooms (again, my substitution), beef broth and brandy, was an instant hit at the dinner table. I alone did not find the taste to my liking. I am always surprised when anything I cook or create comes out well and is well-received, a trait which drives my friends crazy. But in this case, the surprise was warranted because I honestly thought it was the most deplorable mushroom soup I had ever tasted! :-) Cie la vie ~ at least they loved it and that is what is important. For my own dinner, however, I will try another mushroom soup recipe.

For the main course, I went back and forth between pork loin, chicken with pesto and beef tenderloin. I finally decided on Beef Tenderloin, served with a cranberry and port sauce. Beef tenderloin is one of the tenderest cuts of beef you can find…and the most expensive. Buying organic tenderloin from Whole Foods made it a tad more expensive than it usually is. But it was well worth it. A couple of days later I cooked up another cut of beef in the leftover sauce and was disappointed in the toughness of the meat. I am now officially spoiled in favor of tenderloin! ;-)

To end the meal, I chose a wonderfully creamy Cranberry-Orange Cheesecake with a chocolate crust, also found on Epicurious.com. One of my friends, who is from Long Island, paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve yet received for my culinary skills when he said: This is by far the best cheesecake I have ever had. Remind me why you haven’t opened your own restaurant?” Ah yes, Dennis, that is an interesting question! ;-)

My future career plans and the inordinate amount of time spent at the stove aside, the evening was wonderful ~ filled with laughter, time spent with some of the best friends and another successful culinary adventure!

Next up: Christmas dinner!

Oremus pro invicem,
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