Here’s who I had for New Year’s Eve: Eric Ripert (Executive Chef at Le Bernardin), Jamie Oliver (a.k.a. “The Naked Chef” and owner of Fifteen), Clarissa Dickson Wright (of the Two Fat Ladies fame), Frank Stitts (Executive Chef at Highland’s Bar and Grill) and Craig Stoll (Delfina Restaurant). And they were all delicious.
For this past New Year’s Eve celebration, I thought it would be fun to host a “hands on” dinner party. I assembled recipes from famous chefs’ cookbooks for three 4-course menu sets and together with my trusty friends Francis and Suzanne O’Connor, (You might recall a dinner I had a few months back with them), chose one set. Besides the recipes, everything else we’d leave to chance – very much ad lib. Who needs rules when you’ve got great company (and, some might add, wine)? Of course, add a little u.e. *charm* and you’ve got instant fun. And, it was. We had a smashing time.
We invited an excellent crew of able chef-guests for the event. Minding the various levels of culinary abilities, the recipes, some of which I had to adapt, were sent out with instructions to bring a bottle (or two) of wine.
As it turns out, we ended up with more wine than the 12 of us could comfortably consume – in a week. With plenty of good food, great wine, and fantastic company, the stage was set for an evening that properly fête both the old and new year.
2007 Eve’s Dinner Party
Crown Roast of Pork
Port, cranberry and mushroom sauce
I selected these recipes because they were all very home-cook-friendly. You can read more about each individual course by clicking on the links above.
We started the evening off with bottles of bubbly which were paired with a cheese board that I assembled: what I call a “selfish” selection – no rhyme or reason for the selection other than the fact that I loved all of them.
I made sure that the board included an assortment that would pair well with champagne and full-bodied red wines (part of the fun of not knowing exactly what will be opened): 3 year-aged Gouda, Idiazabal, Hervé Mon Morbier, Époisse (I was lucky enough to find some at my cheesemonger’s) and Fourme d’Ambert.
With the cheese, we also opened up a 2005 bottle of Torbeck’s Barossa Valley Woodcutter’s Shiraz (which I enjoyed very much – especially with the Fourme d’Ambert), a bottle of 2002 Il Cuore Cabernet Sauvignon (which, despite its name, did not endear itself to my heart – I found it watery and pedestrian), and a bottle of Simi Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which I regretfully didn’t get to taste.
Our friend Leigh prepared the first course, an excellent warm Portobello and zucchini tart which we paired with a unique (and I am told, rather rare) bottle of 1999 Robert Mondavi PNX Pinot Noir from the Carneros AVA. I had simplified Ripert’s recipe for the tart, but we were all pleased with how tasty it turned out. The Portobello caps were meaty, tender and flavorful, and the silky diced zucchini provided the perfect textural foil for the crisp toasted crouton tart base. While I didn’t really care for the pinot noir on its own, I did enjoy it with the beefy Portobello and especially the savory zucchini.
Greenspan prepared the second course – a fun and festive salad recipe by Jamie Oliver. It involved Bibb lettuce, shaved fennel, pomegranate seeds, grilled halloumi cheese, and a bright and alluring garlic-spiked “lemony crème fraîche dressing” that really helped bring everything together.
Personally, I would have paired this salad with a white wine, but we didn’t bother opening another bottle. I think most were content with the Mondavi pinot noir.
There was much ado about the main course. Francis had been good enough to have his butcher crown an entire pork roast for the event. Before the evening started, a few of us had quite a vigorous discussion as to how long to cook the meat (read about the discussion in the commentary to the photo on my flickr account).
While Francis and Suzanne garnished the crown, I helped Mariebelle (who is not a kitchen goddess) finish her parsnips off with a brandy and mace glaze. Walker hopped outside to grill the scallions for the ham hock vinaigrette that went with the asparagus.
All of this activity culminated in the presentation of the crown roast at the table. After all the forced and obligatory ooh’s and ahh’s had finally subsided (tough crowd), Francis carved the meat in the kitchen, while an assembly line formed to help plate the chops with parsnips and the grilled asparagus.
At table, we paired the main course with a 2004 Rodney Strong Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Although I didn’t love this pinot noir, I preferred it to the Mondavi that preceded it. Paired with the pork and sides, I found the wine rather flat – especially against my favorite show-stopper, the smoky and velvety grilled scallion and ham hock vinaigrette-dressed asparagus.
Lastly, we finished the evening with a molten chocolate cake taken from “The Essence of Chocolate” cookbook. I served the cake with home-made ice cream made with figs macerated in Pedro Ximenes sherry. Accordingly, I paired the dessert with the same sherry I used in the ice cream, a bottle of Alvear Solera 1927 PX. It was a *perfect,* of course!
For most of the guests, the one recipe that unexpectedly delighted them was the brandy and mace-glazed parsnips from “Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies.” When I initially proposed the recipe to Francis and Suzanne, they both knitted their brows and winced in hesitation. Parsnips? Mace? I know, it sounds like a child’s worse root vegetable nightmare. The fact that the recipe came from two famously stodgy overweight British women – didn’t help either.
A parsnip-lover, I urged them to consider including the recipe in our dinner. If nothing else, I noted that this novel dish would get the guests talking about the food. Well, I was right. I just saw Suzanne yesterday and she and some of the guests are still talking about the parsnip dish… and, as it turns out, they loved it. So, I’m including the recipe in this post.
Roasted Parsnips with Brandy and Mace
This recipe is one of Clarissa Dickson Wright’s contributions to “Cooking with the Two Fat Ladies” cookbook.
6 parsnips, trimmed but not peeled
2 tablespoons butter
½ wineglass (2-2 ½ fl. oz.) brandy
1 teaspoon ground mace (or to taste)
1. Boil the parsnips for 15 minutes. Cool slightly, then peel and slice.
2. Heat the butter, brand, and mace in a pan, put in the parsnips and heat through. Reduce the liquid to a glaze and serve hot.
N.B. Mace is a strong spice with a unique effect, so make sure you know what amount you’re comfortable with. I, like the Two Fat Ladies, favor dishes with stronger flavor. If you’re unfamiliar or shy with mace, you’ll want to adjust the amount.