Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dinner for Eight on a Winter's Night

Having Eight for Dinner...
Last night we had some new friends over to meet more new friends in town. I wanted to keep it simple enough to have fun but be delicious and I had one person who does not eat red meat, and another who does not love fish, so I wanted to come up with a way to have any items that had either be side dishes with alternatives - here is the menu.

Raw Oysters with a Spicy Cocktail Sauce
A Cheese/ Antipasto Platter of Robusto, Fromagier D'Affinois, Ak-Mak, Crostini, Soppressetta, marinated olives, thinly sliced proscuitto and red grapes

Butternut Squash Soup with Saffron
Grilled Meatball Salad with Scallions and Arugula Topped with Shaved Parmesan
Homemade Bread
Homemade Parpadelle Carbonara - (see July 1, 2009 recipe)
Roasted Pears and Red Onions in Oregano

Dark Chocolate Truffles (made with reduced fat milk rather than cream!)
and my neighbor and baking aficionado is bringing: Coconut Cake - adapting a recipe from Epicurious 

My timeline:
Thursday: make the base for the Butternut Squash Soup in the evening, freeze
Friday: Make the truffles with the kids - one of their favorite activities
             make and Pre-poach the meatballs during their nap time and refrigerate.
Saturday AM: cut the pears, onions and oregano, toss with olive oil and refrigerate
              make the homemade pasta and let dry
              Precut the pancetta for the carbonara and put in a side bowl in the fridge
              Make the bread dough, let rise and bake

PM:   Before everyone arrives, prepare the antipasto platter, shuck oysters
          Set the table

Butternut Squash Soup with Saffron
2 butternut squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup apple cider
2 vidalia onions, chopped
1 cup Chicken Broth or water for soup
2 cups chicken broth or water for roasting squash
1 cup Heavy Cream
Saffron - 2 large pinches
Crostinis and Sour Cream for topping

Cut in half and seed the two squash.  Put it in a pan skin side up with an inch of water - or even better - chicken broth- (about 2 cups in my pan) and place in the oven, turning on to convection or just bake at 400 for about 40 minutes or just until the squash is soft and easily pierced with a fork.
While the squash is cooking, melt the butter and heat with oil in a saucepan.  When the oil is hot, put in your onions chopped and cook on medium low for about 20 minutes stirring frequently.  Turn off and let the onions cool.
When the squash is done, let cool in the pan and peel.  In a blender ( I  find it works to a finer level than the cuisinart on this one) blend the cool squash and 1/2 cup of the remaining water in the pan until it is completely smooth.  Then blend the onions and oil from the pan in the blender.  Combine all that is blended.  If you are cooking in advance, this is a great place to stop and when all are cool, freeze in a ziploc freezer bag for up to five days in advance.  If not...

Put the mixture - now at room temp - in a soup pot and reheat to a simmer.  Add 1 cup of apple cider and 1 cup of chicken broth and let come to a simmer again, adding saffron and lightly salting.  Reduce heat to low and add cream until heat through.  Serve with a piece of crostini on top that is topped with a dollop of sour cream.  

Grilled Meatball Salad
This is my adaptation from a Lachian Mackinnon-Patterson recipe served by the owners of Frasca in Boulder Colorado at a dinner party photographed for Food and Wine magazine in 2008.  I do a few things differently in terms of the ratio of the meats, the substitution of pancetta for bacon and the addition of more greens (the scallions alone never seem enough at dinner parties).  Check out the original at Food and Wine's website.  I use 50% veal and 50% lamb, pancetta diced finely instead of bacon, and 2 cups of arugula as the base to the salad, drizzled with olive oil and the juice of 1/2 lemon.  Finally - a trick from my grandmother, I always add diced sultanas or yellow raisins to my meatballs as they soak up the juice of the meat as it loosens, rather than loosing them and having dry meatballs.  My husband is a great winter griller (must be Vermont blood in there) and its a great way for him to help out on one of the dishes!  One of my guests - and new friends- last night said, "meatball salad - I think that is going to be my favorite kind of salad," and I think I agree and now I am certain we will become old friends.  

photo copyrighted by Maura McEvoy -  from Food and Wine magazine

Homemade Pasta for 8 as dinner or 12 as appetizer

3 cups flour
5 jumbo eggs

Need: pasta roller, either manual with crank or the attachment to your Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer (this is the sort of thing you should by from Williams-Sonoma.  I had one crap out on me after owning it for two months, and Williams-Sonoma exchanged it in a heart beat.  Also check out their video on this page if you want a pasta making demonstration).

This is a family tradition dating back since Who knows when in my family - so though it may seem insane to some to make pasta, for my family, it almost seems insane not to.  The best part of homemade pasta, is that the kids LOVE to make it with you - as I did with my grandfather - so its a great way to keep them busy as you are preparing for a dinner party - its like PlayDoh that you can eat in the end!  

Measure out the flour and put on your counter, having your kids prepare a "pool" opening in the center.  Crack your eggs into the pool and lightly salt with ground sea salt or kosher.  

Whisk the eggs totally beating and then begin to bring in flour from the sides a little at a time.  When the mixture gets thick enough, put down the whisk and using your palms, fold flour into the eggs a little at a time around the circle until you have a dough.  Knead for a minute only until combined.  Breaking the dough into four parts, feed into the pasta roller on the biggest setting, folding each time and rotating the dough each time for about 15 times or so until you feel the gluten making the dough more elastic.  Then begin to putting the settings higher and higher (tightening the roller space to make the dough thinner and longer each time - like a 4 inch snake that's been flattened on the road - great image right?) When you have flattened on the highest setting twice, place the pasta on a cutting board and cut into 1 inch by 4 inch strips roughly.  I lay out on long sheets of parchment separating each layer with a sheet of parchment and folding in half to let dry for the day.  If you are serving another day, it tastes much better to dry the pasta on a rack than to refrigerate.  Repeat the process until all four parts of the dough are made into pasta.  

Place in a pot of boiling salted water and let cook about 2 minutes after boil starts up again - or until the pasta floats to the surface.  

See July blog for Carbonara recipe.  

Reduced Fat Dark Chocolate Truffles

This is my version of a Martha Stewart recipe that calls for whole cream.  Given the high antioxidant powers of dark chocolate, and the fact that its nutritional value is diminished by cream and sugar, I was anxious to find a way to make these healthy.  I think I achieved it but it is definitely somewhat harder to form into balls with the rediced fat, so be patient.  

1 lb. Callebut dark chocolate or other high quality like Valhrona - I used 62% cocoa
1/2 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons pear brandy or Grand Marnier
Unsweetened Cocoa powder - high quality - I like Droste of Holland

Cut up/ Dice the Chocolate into small chunks and place in a stainless or heat proof clay bowl. Bring milk to a simmer, add brandy and pour over the top of chocolate with a pinch of salt.  Cover with aluminum foil and let stand for five minutes and then stir to smooth out the chocolate.  If for some reason you have difficulty, just put the stainless bowl over a pot of water that is near the bowling point and stir with a whisk until fully melted. Pour into an 8 by 12 baking dish and let cool in fridge until the chocolate is cold and thick but still able to be formed into balls.  Using a spoon, mini-ice cream scoop or melon baller, take out pieces and roll on a cold counter or parchment paper into a ball.  when it is fully round and smooth, roll into a bowl of cocoa powder.  Refrigerate and serve.   

Finally, the coconut cake .... my neighbor Pia brought over a cake that we all raved about.  (see photo above).  She started her recipe with an epicurious find, and made some changes to swap out a cream cheese frosting for a buttercream coconut.. I will see if I can get her to comment on those here!

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