Hostess With The MostessPosted: October 11, 2010
Last weekend was one of my final weekends of freedom before things get really hectic and I become a sad student living in the library in sweatpants, glasses and unplucked eyebrows with horrible eyebags so I decided to host a little dinner party. Coincidentally it was a weekend where all my nearest and dearest were actually in Melbourne so it was basically the most perfect timing of the year. I’m surprised my apartment didn’t implode with the chatter and laughter ricocheting off the walls.
It was actually a pretty big event having people over for dinner. It’s not that we live in a barn or anything but we don’t entertain too formally so we don’t really need to care if we haven’t dusted in a few weeks and our couch has an unfolded throw over it because we usually need to keep our feet warm while watching TV. But we went all out for this dinner party: we tidied, scrubbed, dusted, mopped and cleaned the kitchen up so well that I almost felt guilty for having to cook in it for fear of dirtying it up again.
Then there was the menu planning. From the get go, the main two requests I fielded were for Crack Pie and some form of pork or another. You see, my friends are equally as crazy about pork as I am. With those requests in mind, I got to work.
The initial menu was really ambitious. It was going to look like:
Prosciutto Ring bread
Rosemary Focaccia Sheet
Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps with Goat Cheese Mousse
Six-Hour Roast Pork Shoulders
Potato Gratin / Gratin de Pommes de Terre
Provencal Vegetables / Byaldi
Unfortunately I was not the Superwoman I previously assumed myself to be, so I had to eliminate the items that I italicised. Anyway, maybe having those other two items would have been a slight overkill but I still really want to try making the Parmigiano-Reggiano Crisps. It’s a recipe from the French Laundry Cookbook and it sounds so simple and delicious!
Then I had to go grocery shopping on a Friday with my trolley, which I usually detest because I find it so bulky. I had a really good time shopping though, as one of my favourite delis in Victoria Market doesn’t open on weekends so I was able to catch up with the proprietor, sample some cheeses (yum!) and talk a little bit about salts and butters. I found most of the proprietors a lot cheerier and chattier on Friday as well as the market was more pleasant to be in without the overwhelming weekend crush.
When my housemate saw all the vegetables unpacked, she joked, “Wow, is this FarmVille?”
Then there were the goodies from the deli like prosciutto and hot sopressata sausages (for the Prosciutto Ring bread), Comte, goat cheese and Parmigianno Reggiano, and of course, one of my favourite things to cook with, Lescure butter. If you’ve never tried French butter, you really need to. It’s a tad pricier but it makes a world of difference. I remember when I first had Galette des Rois, which my friend made after her stint in France, and I was blown away and the secret to the perfect creaminess of the galette was the French butter. H-E-A-V-E-N.
I really enjoyed cooking for the dinner party because of the new dishes I was trying out from the Bouchon cookbook by Thomas Keller. I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this cookbook because of how approachable all the dishes are and how I look at them and just want to eat them. The dishes I chose didn’t come with pictures, unfortunately, so how it turned out is my assumption that I’ve done it right.
The Byaldi or Provencal Vegetables was described as a refined form of ratatouille and Keller said it’d go with anything so that drew me in immediately. As much as I love pork, I understand that with a meat-heavy meal you need a subtle flavoured vegetable dish to go with it and I so loved that I could cook it a day in advance as it was recommended for the flavours to be fully incorporated into the vegetables.
The fun part of this dish for me was getting to use my mandolin. I smartly used the finger guard as I was working pretty quickly slicing the vegetables. I know I’ve swooned about my mandolin before but can I just say again how useful it is?
Let me tell you why I love Thomas Keller’s recipes: the details. I fully understand why he’s one of the best chefs in the world because of the tiny little details that he pays attention to. I enjoyed making the dishes from his cookbook simply because it was so educational (hence the fun!). For the Byaldi I learned how to peel the skin off tomatoes and to make a sachet; both techniques are obviously important and will benefit me but no recipe picked off a food magazine would demand these details off you, or perhaps there’s an assumption that the home cook only wants to make “simple food”.
For the potato gratin, the new techniques I picked up were the soaking of the potatoes before cooking them to remove the starch (so handy!) and how to tie a bouquet garni.
The final dish itself was beautiful, although it didn’t photograph well. I forgot the final coating of thyme and Panko breadcrumbs but thankfully the taste of the dish did not suffer for it.
Another reason why I love Keller’s recipes is just how simple everything is. I remember the first time I flipped through The French Laundry Cookbook, I was surprised at how simple all the ingredients were but yet with the right combination of ingredients, he made them great.
For the main course, we had Six Hour Roasted Pork Shoulders. I made this recipe once before with a pork loin. It was a pretty massive meal of 2.7kg worth of pork and the entire apartment smelled like heaven while it was roasting.
As Jacey said, “I wish we could bottle this scent.”
For dessert, it was Crack Pie with some improvisations. The first time I made it, I mentioned that it was much too sweet for my liking and I adored the crust a whole lot more than the entire pie so I needed more crust. So with version 2.0, I doubled the cookie recipe for the crust and ended up with a lot more crust and extra cookies to snack on, and even extra pie crust that I ate out of the mixing bowl with my bare hands. Shh, it’s my dirty little secret!
I also upped the salt quantities in both the crust and the filling, and I reduced the amount of white and brown sugar in the filling by 50g each. I still think it could be a little less sweet but my darling friends who tasted my first batch loved this version a whole lot more too, and the ones with the sweet tooth all found it ideal whereas I personally could do with less sugar as well. I was just a little worried it’d compromise the texture of the pie but I could mess around and add more cream. No disrespect to pastry chef Christina Tosi, it’s just that I’m not a sugar junkie.
I hope everyone had fun that night but I definitely had the most fun cooking up a storm. I went to bed after the dinner party with my shoulders stiff and my legs achy from being on my legs for the better part of two days but it was still immensely satisfying especially when I got to bring everyone together to break bread (literally!).
I wish I had remembered to photograph the Prosciutto Ring bread but I forgot all about it. I have enough prosciutto and sopressata for another batch so I might make it again and photograph it then.
The great thing about my friends, apart from their crazy company, is how thoughtful and generous they are to me. Apart from the generous bottles of wines and non-alcoholic beverages,
I got a box of macarons from Lindt Cafe (I had two for breakfast on Sunday) and a bouquet of flowers because once Stan came by and there was a vase of flowers on my dining table and he asked, “Who’s your secret admirer?” and I sadly admitted that I bought myself flowers as I hadn’t received flowers from guys in well over a year (oh the depressing timeline of my single life!). Imagine how tickled I was that Stan remembered that conversation and decided to gift me with flowers. Thoughtful little gestures warm my heart.
Of course the biggest pay off was the fact that everyone went home stuffed and happy. It’s what every hostess wants most out of a dinner party.