One of the things my wife and I don’t do enough of is entertain. When the opportunity presents itself, I am all over it! She called the other night and asked if we could host a dinner for a prospective new hire and her family. It’s a great chance to meet new people, help introduce them to the area, make them feel cared for and comfortable, and to just make good food to share with good people.
We asked them about allergies, likes and dislikes before planning the menu. This was a very easy to please family! No allergies and we were told to not worry about picky eaters. Those kids were champs! They tried everything that was provided, and I was really happy to see the plates get cleaned, and even a few seconds asked for.
For this event, we did not provide a fancy table setting. We just used our normal dishes and (horrors!) our badly mismatched glassware. I had to fancy it up a bit, and I did this by getting a low center piece from the local florist. It is nothing fancy, as you can see, but it did add some color to the table.
Dinner started with introductions, drinks, a meat and cheese platter, homemade pickles, crackers and snacks. Since I haven’t started making my own cheeses and sausages yet, I just bought a couple different salamis from the grocery store, and three cheeses. Mt Tam is a triple cream brie that is so gosh darned good! It has a very mild flavor and is so creamy, but only has a little bit of the funk associated with a brie. Then I choose a Sartori Balsamic cheese. It is a hard, sharp cheese that is soaked in a balsamic brine. I can understand why it has won awards. Last, I chose a cheddar, which makes little sense due the previous selection. I probably should have selected a gouda, or maybe an Havarti, but I really like the Barber’s 1833 Vintage Reserve Cheddar. It is sharp, but has a very creamy consistency, and small, if even detectable, lactic acid crystals. To that I added Cranberry Relish, Szechuan Dijon Mustard, Candied Walnuts and Dilly beans and Dill Pickle chunks. Life is good!
First course was a nice, green salad. I love to pack salads with a lot of flavor, color and texture. It is the best way to keep things interesting. The base was made of baby spinach, several types of frisee (green and red), butter crunch, and red leaf lettuce. Topped with match sticks of cucumber, diakon, carrot, red onion, roasted red pepper strips and shavings of Parmesan cheese and finished off with some dried cranberries and pistachios, this salad was a crowd pleaser. I had a store bought Ranch dressing available, and also made a nice, Asian Honey Mustard Vinaigrette.
After the salad, came the Herb Roasted Chicken, Spaetzle, Bourbon Cranberry Orange Relish and 10% Spelt Sourdough bread. There were more varieties of pickles as well. The Chicken is a family favorite recipe and it never fails! It is flavorful, moist and tender. I am convinced that cutting the chicken in half along the back bone and the breast bone, which allows the chicken to lie flat in the roasting pan, is critical to allowing the chicken to cook evenly. I have never had the breast turn out dry while the thigh is done or under done.
Spaetzle is a simple dumpling that is diminutive in size, but big in flavor. Once the dumplings are made (see this recipe) you can either fry them in a few tablespoons of butter and then season, or you can brown some onions in a large frying pan in three or four tablespoons of butter, then add the spaetzle in once the onions are the desired color. Fry the spaetzle to get some browning and crispness (about 15 minutes on medium heat with frequent stirring) and then add four to six ounces of grated Gruyere cheese. Mix that in and kill the heat. Serve with a little chopped parsley or chives. Talk about comfort food!
The Bourbon Cranberry Orange Relish is the perfect foil for the Herb Roasted Chicken. I always make this relish to go with turkey or ham on the Holidays. It is sweet and tart, and has nice textures. It is also great with salamis and cheeses! It was truly gratifying to see the younger people eat it enthusiastically! I have nothing against the stuff in a can. I have good memories of using it, and for people like my parents, it was just easier, but it is so simple to make your own that I just can’t open the cans anymore. Except for my oldest daughter. She still loves the red cylinder of cranberry deliciousness!
I’m not going to share the recipe for the Spelt Rustic Sourdough bread yet. It isn’t quite right yet. It had super flavor, and the crust was very nice, but it didn’t rise well and the bread didn’t score well. It was almost as though the cuts tried to self heal while baking. It was odd. Al l I know is that I want to learn how to use Spelt because the flavor was seriously good!
It was a lingering dinner, with good conversation. Getting to know new people is such fun, and being able to share about our community to people who may be moving into the area is a true privilege.