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Christina and I did all of our at home holiday season entertaining over our extended New Year’s weekend. Our entertaining included New Year’s Eve cocktails for seven; our anniversary dinner for two; and, Sunday evening cocktails and light dinner for nine. Writing At Home has made me a more thoughtful, organized and disciplined home entertainer. I have always been that way professionally and my professional experience informs At Home. I have not always applied these principles at home. As a result, my home entertaining has often been more harried with too much time in the kitchen and not enough time with guests than would be the ideal.
Overall, the plan that I developed on my previous blog worked. Most of my shopping took place on Tuesday with prep work on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. My “hybrid” menus included a mix of things that I made and things that I bought. I re-used several menu items for both New Year’s eve and Sunday evening. I spread my tasks fairly well. Most of the menus used room temperature food with a only few hot items that required me to spend time in the kitchen.
Here’s a photo log with comments.
New Year’s Eve Cocktails, Hors d’oeuvres and a Light Dinner
Our New Year’s Eve “House Cocktail” was the Tangerine-Kumquat martini that I developed for our wedding. This “souvenir” label leftover from our wedding adorns our refrigerator.
The prize at the bottom of this “fruitini” is the candied kumquat — sitting at the ready at the bottom of the glass. See the previous blog, or At Home page 47 for the recipe.
For New Year’s eve, our living room coffee table was set and ready to go about 5:45 with guests invited for six. Late arriving guests gave Christina and I some welcome and relaxed alone time. Clockwise from the bottom, shrimp with cocktail sauce, assorted olives, almonds toasted in olive oil, mussels with mustard mayonnaise, citrus cured salmon with cilantro creme fraiche, roasted sweet and hot peppers, crostini and black bread, dry scallops with pink peppercorns and blood orange juice and tuna tartare.
The roasted peppers I made last weekend had too many hot peppers. I added more sweet peppers to balance the mix with the added benefit of better color. Rather than broiling the added peppers, I roasted them over a direct flame on my stove. The big batch of peppers lasted the entire weekend with leftovers to spare.
I had not originally planned to serve mussels, but I needed a good stock for the fish stew I planned for our anniversary dinner. Cooking mussels in some white wine and shallots is easy and results in a wonderful stock. The mussels were a cocktail bonus. I made a mayonnaise that I used for the mussels with added Dijon mustard as well as a the rouille that I served with the fish stew.
I made a blend of olives mixing a Greek mix, smallish green Picholine, large meaty, multi-colored Cerginola, deep-green and fruity Castellanos, a smattering of kalamata and tiny arbeginas. With my preference for fruity green olives, I prefer to make my own mix as I have more control of the olive contents. See page 63 in At Home for a Brief Primer on Olives.
The citrus-cured salmon with cilantro creme fraiche lasted throughout the weekend. See At Home page 152 for Mastering Cured Salmon.
Not sure why I added tuna tartare. Really not needed and no one would have missed it. My tendency is to do too much and I need to work on that.
This is one of my favorite easy hors d’oeuvres. Thinly sliced dry scallops, dressed with lightly crushed pink peppercorns, a squeeze of blood orange, a few drops of olive oil and some large grained pink and white salt from Utah’s Great Salt Lake — a gift from a dear friend. See At Home page 149 for Dry Scallops with Pink Peppercorns.
Hot items included a Jerusalem artichoke bisque (I forgot to add the truffle oil, but it was great without it), grilled (in my grill pan) baby octopus marinated in smoked paprika, garlic, parsley and olive oil, and a cheese souffle made with gruyere, paremesan and a touch of mustard. The souffle had all the right elements – crusty top and sides, “meaty” body and a creamy interior that “saues” the souffle. I made the souffle base and prepared the souffle dish before guests arrived. That left just whipping the egg whites, folding them into the base and popping it into the oven — a relatively brief departure from being with guests. I presented the souffle and served it at our coffee table. See At Home page 110 for Mastering Vegetable Puree Soups. See page 183 about Marinating.
Our Engagement Anniversary Dinner for Two
In the “what was I thinking” category was the notion that Christina and I would also have our New Year’s Eve Engagement Anniversary Dinner. No way. We did manage pasta with boneless beef shortribs around 11 PM, but that was it. It was not until Saturday evening that we finally exchanged Christmas gifts and sat down to a wonderful Seafood Stew. The Seafood Stew is a variation on what was a standard on Frog’s menu. Its “base” was made with mussel stock, plus stock from cooking my shrimp for the shrimp cocktail, onion, fennel, garlic, canned tomato and Pernod (an anise flavored liquor). I made the base on Wednesday. To finish on Saturday, I just added the shellfish to the pot — colossal shrimp, lobster tails, Littleneck clams and jumbo lump crabmeat. (It was afterall a special occasion!) The finishing touches were the rouile, a mayonnaise flavored with garlic, sweet red pepper and bread, that gets mixed into the stew to enrich and big croutons to sop up the liquid. A Sancerre was the ideal accompaniment. See page 109 of The Frog Commissary Cookbook for Seafood Stew with Aioli. The recipe is also included on At Home Online, the At Home Book Owner’s companion website, along with about forty other classic Frog Commissary recipes.
Dessert was citrus fruit — navel, blood and Cara Cara oranges plus red grapefruit. I love the variation of tastes and the play of colors. The macerated cherries were a spontaneous addition — the result of the cherries catching me eye at the grocery. I love fresh cherries and thought they would provide another layer of dessert interest and a variation on a color theme. The cherries were a mistake. Imported from Chile — the cherries looked good, but were tasteless despite the addition of an overnight bath in sugar. Overall, it was a sumptuously delicious, easy to serve — and not too heavy anniversary dinner. Read about Fresh Cherries on page 414 of At Home.
Sunday Evening Cocktails, Hors D’oeuvres and a Few Small Plates
Sunday evening’s plan included cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and two small plates. “House Cocktails” included Champagne, the remainder of our Tangerine-Kumquat martinis and traditional eggnog. See Recipe for Traditional Eggnog on this previous blog post, or on page 54 of At Home.
In addition to a change in the New Year’s Eve menu I had planned, Christina altered our service plan. Rather than everything laid out from the start on the living room coffee table with the entire group gathered around, we switched to hors d’oeuvres on the adjacent dining room table. This enabled us to get the party started without immediately assembling en masse around the food.
A wonderful selection of cheeses along with great Metropolitan Bakery breads and some white truffle honey provided a cocktail centerpiece that was moved to the coffee table and mostly consumed with dessert.
A little odds and ends Saturday shopping resulted in my adding some quickly blanched sugarsnap peas with sesame salt for any folks who might have started their “eat less in the New Year” resolution. For me, and, it turned out for all of our guests, this particular resolution does not start until the first Monday of the New Year! The sugarsnaps were nearly untouched. See page 67 of At Home for Sugarnaps with Toasted Sesame Salt.
The pork shoulder began its marinade with garlic, limes and thyme on Friday and went into a 200 degree oven around midnight Saturday. It was covered with foil with lots of holes punched into it to maintain a moist roasting atmosphere without causing the roast to steam. Around noon on Saturday, I reduced the temperature to 170 degrees to keep the pork warm. Covered correctly and at that temperature, you can’t really overcok this dish — even after nearly eighteen hours. See At Home page 168 for Slow-Roasted Pork Should Infused with Lime, Garlic & Thyme.
The pork became a small plated and served pork taco. On Saturday I cut the slaw vegetables – jiciama, chayote, red onion and sweet red peppers so all I had to do on Sunday afternoon was dress the slaw. I also took the standard-sized corn tacos — too large for my small plate purposes — and “punched out” smaller tacos with a circle cutter. To assemble just before serving, I quickly warmed the taco in a dry pan to soften, added some sliced and shredded pork, the slaw and a topping of a pico de gallo — a simple salsa made with cut-up grape tomatoes — a good source of flavorful mid-winter tomatoes, garlic, and red onions dressed with a touch of lime and olive oil. A few leaves of cilantro provided added flavor and a finishing touch. See the Grilled Fish Tacos with Jicama Slaw on page 197 of At Home for a variation on the taco and slaw.
The Thai chicken curry — made with green Thai curry paste — was taste-tested, finished and waiting well before guests arrived. Just before serving I heated the curry and made jasmine rice. For variations on the Thai Chicken Curry recipe I served, see page 129 of The Frog Commissary Cookbook or find that recipe on At Home Online. At Home also includes a similar recipe for Thai Lamb Curry on page 284.
Served in IKEA bowls, the Thai curry was finished with diced scallions and chopped peanuts. I had originally planned for people to help themselves off of the stove in the kitchen, but by serving time everyone was comfortably sitting around so I just served the curry — and the requested seconds.
A simple dessert included store-bought chocolate biscotti and homemade Cornmeal Sugar Cookies, plus the cheeses from cocktails, along with an au revoir to the holidays eggnog. As I have so-stated here, I am not a baker. Baking requires a set of personal attributes for precision that I lack. But these wonderful Cornmeal Sugar Cookies — developed by Anne Clark for At Home’s Chapter 19: Baking Required — are so easy even a cook can bake them. You can find them on page 463 of At Home — and read more about the remarkable Anne Clark on page 443.
So what are your lessons?
Granted, I have been cooking professionally for nearly forty years and this was a lot of entertaining in a short span of time. But home entertaining is more a matter of aspiration and organization than skill and experience. There was nothing I did this week that you could not manage and enjoy by utilizing At Home Part 1’s planning principles: Plan to Entertain and Part 2’s do-ahead focused recipes. If you do not yet own At Home with it’s companion website — At Home Online, you can order it today.
My goal for the coming year is to encourage you to entertain at home more, make it easier for you to entertain at home and to make your home entertaining better. If you know others who might enjoy and benefit from this blog, I would appreciate it if you would spread the word.
Thanks for visiting!