Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pulling it all together

I love comments! A reader suggested I do a post on how I organized the food for the dinner party I had last week, so it would all be ready at the right time for serving. My lists were not as extensive as those for a big holiday dinner, but I did write everything down, including which plates and serving pieces I planned to use and I made a timeline of when to begin preparing each dish. Here's how it all came together...

Our guests were to arrive at 7:00 pm on Friday, so I worked backwards from that deadline.

I made the creme fraiche on Wednesday.

On Thursday I mixed the Olive Focaccia and Cranberry-Pecan sourdough, let them rise, shaped them, and put them in the extra fridge overnight to proof. They finished proofing at room temperature before I baked them Friday morning. Good bread is not supposed to be eaten warm; it just tastes like steam. The flavor is not fully developed until the loaves cool, so I was not trying to wait until the last minute to bake these. (My only exception to this is soft dinner rolls, which I like to serve warm from the oven.)

Also on Thursday, I washed all the salad greens and stored them in a 2-gallon ziploc bag in the refrigerator so they'd be ready to go the next day.

Friday morning, after the bread was baked, I toasted the pecans that would go in the salad and left them at room temperature to cool.

(At this point I took a break from the kitchen to straighten the rest of the house and go to the gym)

Friday afternoon I washed the beets and put them in my large crockpot with a little olive oil to roast for several hours. I put butter out to soften, though no one actually used it on their bread.

About 5:00 pm I started cooking in earnest. First off, I made the carrot soup and put it in my small crockpot on low to stay warm. I put the salad plates in the frig to chill. I browned the pork chops and shallots and let them simmer. I scrubbed the potatoes, par-boiled them just until tender and drained them.

About 6:00 pm, the beets were done, so I slipped the skins off under warm, running water and cut them into quarters or eights, drizzled them with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a dash of sea salt and put them in a bowl back inside the crockpot to keep them warm.

I made the berry-vinaigrette for the salad. I set the table. I tore up the lettuce and put it in a tupperware bowl in the frig.

About 6:45 I lit the candles and made one last swipe of the bathroom sink and fixed my lipstick!

I sliced the bread and put it in a basket on the table. I put ice in the glasses--non-drinkers all of us, we had ice water with our dinner.

When our guests arrived, right on time, I was still washing up some dishes (so the kitchen wouldn't be a total disaster) but the food was ready.

I filled the soup bowls, garnished them with a dollop of creme fraiche and put them on the table just before we sat down to eat.

After we finished our soup, I cleared the bowls, then quickly chopped the apple for the salad, dumped the lettuce into my myrtlewood salad bowl and added the pecans and dried cranberries, then tossed it with the berry-vinaigrette. I served the salad on the chilled plates and then put the bowl on the table in case anyone wanted seconds.

After the salad, I needed a few minutes to finish preparing the main course, so I suggested my husband give our guests a quick tour of the guest room/laundry room/canning and baking kitchen we are in the process of adding on. This gave me a chance to finish the sauce for the pork and saute the potatoes in a bit of butter. I served the main course family style, placing the pork chops with their sauce, the pan-roasted potatoes and the warm beets on the table in serving dishes and we passed them around.

And finally, I cleared the dinner plates and we enjoyed the cookies and a selection of dark chocolate for dessert before we moved into the living room with our herb tea. Oh, and I did take a minute to put the food away, for safety's sake, but waited until our guests had left to do all the dishes!

Yes, it was a lot of work, but this is my idea of fun. I can't sing or dance or paint a picture--cooking and baking are my hobbies. I hadn't had a "real" dinner party like this in years, so once-in-a-while it's nice to go all out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Winter Dinner for Four

We had some friends over for dinner the other night. Since there were just four of us, I decided to get all fancy, polish the silver, and serve the meal in courses.

I planned a local winter menu. We started off with bowls of Pureed Carrot Soup garnished with homemade creme fraiche, accompanied by a basket of Olive Focaccia and Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough slices. For the salad course, I made My Favorite Salad, using Fuji apples and toasted pecans with a raspberry vinaigrette. Pork chops in a creamy shallot sauce, roasted beets with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and pan-roasted baby potatoes from my garden made up the main course. Our guests provided the dessert and entertainment; delectable chocolate thumbprint cookies and classical guitar-playing.

After dinner, we sipped our herb tea by the fire while we listened to a selection of traditional Christmas carols. The perfect finish to a lovely evening with dear friends.

If I had my way, I'd forego all the holiday gift-giving frenzy for more occasions like this; good food, uplifting conversation, and the sharing of talents with family and friends.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Local Food Gifts

Someone left a comment asking if I had any ideas for local food gifts. What follows is a quick, random, off-the-top-of my-head list:

Flavored vinegars using local berries (frozen berries work even better than fresh because they are already broken down). Put in a pretty recycled bottle and attach a berry-vinaigrette recipe with ribbon.

Local walnuts or hazelnuts--shelling them is a gift in itself.

Gift certificate to a local restaurant: Dino's and The Mark V top my list.

A basket with fresh Lighthouse breads and some of their jam. Or a gift certificate for their bread.

Baklava from The Baklava lady.

Chocolates from Arrow's Delight or Umpqua Valley Chocolates (Kathey at 430-5600).

Delicious Hazelnut Toffee from Donna Holm.

A couple half-gallons of Umpqua Dairy Ice Cream (or gift certificate) with local nuts and homemade berry topping.

Gift certificate for a Cooking for Charity class. $$$

Local wines.

A pie from Kruse Farms.

Culinary herbs from Bunyard's Barnyard or culinary lavender from Double P Soap & Lavender Farm (733-5287)

A combination of any of the above into a gift basket.

A dvd of the movie FOOD, INC.

Local jerky from Oakland Lockers.

I'll post more if I think of any. Help add to the list with your suggestions

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Butternut Squash Pie

This is my friend Laura's recipe. It's the pie I made for our Thanksgiving feast and the pumpkin pie lovers raved about it. Laura says she doesn't usually let on that it's not pumpkin until after the skeptics have tasted it.

I used a butternut squash I bought at the farmers market before it closed for the season. It had been sitting in a basket on my kitchen table for nearly a month and it was still perfectly good. Winter squash will keep for months in a cold garage and Kruse Farms still has some to stock up on.

Butternut Squash Pie
(adapted from Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe)
Makes one 10-inch pie

Pastry for one 10-inch pie pan, unbaked
1 3/4 cups pureed butternut squash (see note)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (I used freshly ground and I counted 50 swipes across my grater)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups cream, half-n-half, or evaporated milk (I used evaporated milk)

For the pastry, I made one batch of all-butter pie crust (see Perfect peach pie) and used half for the butternut squash pie and half for the Dutch apple pie.

Preheat oven to 425. Combine pureed squash, sugar and spices. Blend in eggs and cream or evaporated milk. Pour into unbaked 10-inch pie shell. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes longer or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Note* To prepare the squash: Wash thoroughly, pierce with a sharp knife ( I make a two or three-inch slit in one side) and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 1 hour, until soft. Let cool, remove skin and puree in blender or food processor until smooth. If not using right away, cooked squash may be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen. One 3 1/2 pound uncooked squash yields about 4 1/2 cups of puree.