Newlyweds...new place...and new toys to mess around with...all lead, subconsciously or like a bullet train that won't be stopped, to dinner parties. All of a sudden, while you are still feeling your way through your new role as wife and partner (sometimes gingerly and other times with glorious abandon), you are, without warning, by forces both without (well meaning and hungry friends and family) and within (oh you so know you want to preside over a table laden with delicious food saying things like, "it was my pleasure"), thrust into yet another role...that is hostess.
My first dinner party as officially-married-couple was given for C's grandmother before she returned to the States. There is nothing to document this monumental first because, as I was cooking for my new mother-in-law as well as grandmother-in-law, both good cooks in their own right, I was just way too nervous to take pictures. Or even think. Thankfully, everything turned out well and I managed to relax and enjoy the evening. So when dinner party # 2 rolled around I was ready with my camera, poised to document every moment.
Despite the performance anxiety, I actually enjoy orchestrating these dinners and the days leading up to them. Planning excitedly, going over endless menus and recipes, dragging cookbooks to bed and pouring over my choices, writing out my menus on (don't laugh!) special stationary, deciding on the place settings (I mixed and matched different patterns here) & centerpieces (my mom bought me orchids), thinking up of the little details (instead of having salt and pepper shakers, I like to crush red, green, and black pepper with sea salt and serve the mixture in small dishes with tiny silver spoons -- you can see it in the picture above), and my pièce de résistance...a minute-by-minute game plan of the day itself.
For a little pica pica (appetizers), I had Warm Marinated Olives and Grilled Nectarines with Ricotta and Prosciutto. The olives can about because for Dinner Party # 1. We bought marinated olives from a specialty deli which has them laid out temptingly in wooden vats...we scooped them into small platic containers and then merrily had them weighed...only to find out they were mind numbingly expensive. I kid you not...more expensive than all our cheese. So this time I decided to try doing them myself, to very saticfactory results. I used a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook. I used regular olives from the supermarket (although the recipe does call for Picholine, Moroccan, and Nicoise, I was still smarting from my last olive purchase and wasn't about to go into olive debt one more time), just rinse them well and pat them dry. Then toss with orange and lemon zest, fresh thyme, and minced garlic. Right before your guests arrive warm them gently so all the flavors infuse. Very good and a great way to jazz up olives on the cheap.
The idea for the Grilled Nectarines with Ricotta and Prosciutto came from the fabulous J of Kuidaore. Inspiration struck when I read her post on jamón. She prepared a dish of Grilled White Peach with Mascarpone Foam & Jamón Serrano with looked and sounded so good I just had to try it. Due to ingredient availability and lack of J's wondrous foam-making contraption, I made do with grilling nectarines on our brand new contact grill (I heart, I really heart), then dabbing a generous splodge of ricotta on them, and wrapping them in thinly sliced prosciutto. Thank you so much J for the inspiration! This was delicious and a crowd pleaser.
I decided to serve a salad as my mains were quite heavy. This one I got from the Donna Hay magazine issue 23, called Marinated Basil Bocconcini. I followed her recipe for the basil marinade (with anchovies...yum!) to the letter and left the bocconcini to soak ahead of time. The original recipe calls for arugula but I couldn't find any in the places I usually do, so I had to settle for regular curly lettuce. The original also has prosciutto, but since it was already making its presence felt amongst my appetizers I just nixed it here.
The main event was quite a big deal for me as I have never, ever made roast pork before. I have no idea what behooved me to attempt a completely untried and untested dish during a dinner party, but there you have it. I used a recipe from Donna Hay's The New Cook, Roast Pork with Apple Stuffing. I followed it religiously, as it was my first time to make it, only tossing some dried apricots in with the apple and fresh sage stuffing. The pork was very good...tasty and tender (thank you Donna and cooking gods!), however, Donna's roast was crowned by a glorious crackling, and although I was very obedient with her commands, mine (as you can see) yielded nothing of the sort. Why oh why? Did I not rub your rind lovingly with lemon and salt as instructed? Then started you off at 425F for 20 minutes before lowering the temperature? Any help/tips/suggestions would be greatly appreciate as I really liked this dish and do want to make it again but I want my crackling!
As veggie sides for the roast pork, I simply steamed some asparagus and french beans (haricots verts), tossed them (separately) in butter with a generous sprinkling of fleur de sel.
Now, this (below) was actually the dish which I decided to make before the other dishes came about on the menu. It is also the dish, among everything else served here, that I am most familiar with. Fabada is something which a number of people in my family (men and women, maternal and paternal side) cook. Each has their own recipe and I have learned from all. Now I have my own. I believe there is a different recipe for Fabada for every person out there who makes it. It's something I both love to make and love to eat. My way involves days worth of shuttling from store to store for ingredients (I buy my chorizo Bilbao and ham bone in one place, my Morcilla -- if I use it -- in another, my bacon slab in yet another, and so forth) and a long slow cook over a fragrant bubbling pot. It's not the most photogenic dish, but it is really, really good...something that I can truly say is one of my specialties.
Dessert was another old standby, found when I just started exploring food blogs and was enamored (still am!) with Clotilde's adorable blog, Chocolate & Zucchini. The recipe is taken from Je Veux du Chocolat! by Trish Deseine and is called Gâteau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie. It is chocolate perfection if you like your cakes rich, dark, and melty. You can find the recipe here. This is my brother's favorite cake that I make. On another note, I am in love with my dessert plates.
The evening was a roaring success! Everyone was happy...my grandmother was amazed that I even cook...my mom proud...and everyone else in a blissful state of satiation. Good food and good company...what could be better? :)