11 November 2008

Culinary Sincerity: An Organic Dinner for Four

To cook is not just to prepare food for someone or to cook for yourself;
it is to express your sincerity.
~ Shunryu Suzuki


“Are you a chef in a restaurant?”

Such words are music to the ears of an amateur gourmet such as myself. It is one of the highest compliments you can pay me. It means that I have achieved a great level of culinary magic, one that creates the illusion that I actually know what I am doing in the kitchen! And Saturday night, I practiced my secret kitchen arts and fooled not one guest, but four.

After spending almost six months searching for a mutually agreeable date and time, I finally hosted the Organic Dinner for Four I donated to the 2007 Tepeyac Family Center Gala. I hope the guests in question found it worth the wait as well as the $6,000 they donated! Certainly Mrs. R’s question seems to say that it was. Planning, shopping and executing this dinner was both a labor of love and an exercise in insanity.

One of the causes I support is the effort to buy fresh and local. Today more than ever, the local economy is in need of our support. And nowhere is this truer and more effective than in the realm of gastronomy. All the stories coming out about poisoned Chinese food products only confirms my earlier decision to buy as little from large chain grocery stores and as much from local farmers and butchers as I possibly can. Food is about relationship and authenticity. Now be honest: does your grocery chain cashier, meat manager or produce guy know you by name and ask after your family and talk about theirs? Even if they do (which is rare around here) can they tell you which farm the food comes from and how clean it is?

Aside from the meat (from Texas so still uber American at least and organic)and the seafood (fresh off the boat and a plane from the New England coast), and one red bell pepper (oddly enough only green bell peppers at the farmers’ market), every course I served was fresh, organic and locally grown and purchased. So I not only succeeded in putting my money back into the local community but using such fresh ingredients ensured better taste in the finished meal. Ah yes, so what was on the menu? Voila:
Fresh Sea Scallops from the Coast of New England – served on a pillow of spinach pesto
Autumn Spinach Salad – with Walnuts, Apples and Cranberries sprinkled
with a Balsamic Vinaigrette
Pumpkin-Butternut Squash Bisque with Cider Cream
Grass Fed Filet Mignon with Port Glazed Cranberries and Gorgonzola Cheese – served with Bacon and Red Bell Pepper Green Beans and Orzo
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Coulis

There was only one slight hiccup ~ again, it would not be worth the telling without something going wrong! The original menu consisted of a potato-turnip puree for the starch portion of the main course. The recipe I used and which I will not be using again, turned my beautiful red potatoes and turnip into glue. I kid you not ~ I seriously could have hung wallpaper with it. I grabbed a wine cooler, almost fainted and then quickly substituted an orzo dish and chucked the potato glue into the oven to finish off the monstrous recipe. And there it turned to soup and was acclaimed by all the kitchen staff! Will wonders never cease!

I served four different wines with dinner: two bottles of 2006 Viognier from Horton Vineyards and one bottle of 2007 Chardonnay from Rappahannock Cellars with the first three courses; a beautifully plumy bottle of North Mountain Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc Reserve 2006 with the main course and a Raspberry Merlot with dessert, also from North Mountain Vineyards. All the wines were from local Virginia wineries and all were quite good. I must however, give special mention to the North Mountain wines ~ and not just because I met them at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday and they were super friendly and nice to me! ;-)

I had never tasted a Franc Reserve before and after one sip, I knew I had to serve it with the filet. I was not able to taste the Raspberry Merlot on the spot, but I figured that with dessert, it would be fine. Alas! If only I had been able to taste it there, I would have bought a whole case of it! It was definitely the hit of the evening! And not just among the guests, but my friends who were playing kitchen and wait staff for the night. Thank goodness no one was there to see me swig down the last few drops after everyone had toddled home or off to bed. It was decidedly barbaric of me! But oh so worth it!!

Which sums up the whole evening, actually. Exhausting, overwhelming, insane, with some hysterically funny moments thrown in. And totally worth it.

I can’t wait to do this again. ;-)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

Special Thanks goes to the lovely and talented: Annie F., Jeannette P. & Marlena L. for chopping, smashing and arranging things so beautifully; Tika, the baker extraordinaire who donated the flourless chocolate cake. Also to Roshan, our tireless waiter in training; Sergio, whose haunting piano music was the icing on the cake and my long suffering housemates who helped turn our home into a peaceful café for the evening. I could not have done it without any of you!

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