Wednesday's dinner and my first meme

Ever since Anne tagged me a few weeks ago for my first meme (topic: what would you make if you had a bunch of food bloggers over for dinner), I've been meaning to post about it.

But just like the other posts I've been meaning to write about recent visits to Per Se, Jean-Georges, Burger Joint, and Pala, I just haven't gotten around to it. I can't keep up people! I eat three full meals every day (often with sweet snacks in between) but just don't have enough time or energy to write about them all. It's times like these that I have NO idea how Luisa is writing really good posts every single day this month as a part of NaBloPoMo. Not to mention that she's also able to still cook up a storm and read books in practically one sitting. I give her serious credit.

So, in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, I'm going to tell you about a dinner Daniel and I hosted for five of our friends on Wednesday night. Since it was such a smashing success (April, Josh, Allison, Mark and Marie, feel free to back me up here!), I know it'd be the perfect meal to serve a bunch of food obsessed bloggers (provided none are vegetarian of course).

To start, we served one of our favorite fall dishes: pumpkin ravioli with a sage brown butter sauce using this recipe from Chow. We did not make the ravioli from scratch (it was a weeknight after all), but our local butcher has a great selection of homemade ones that we stock our freezer with every fall. In addition to grated parmiggiano, we encouraged everyone to sprinkle crushed amaretti cookies on top.

I know what you're thinking. Crumbling cookies over a plate of pasta? Our friends seemed surprised as well, but believe me, it's good. The almond flavor adds a sweetness to the lightly spiced pumpkin filling, not to mention that sharp parmiggiano and a buttery sauce taste even better when clingy to crunchy cookie bits. If you're fond of salty and sweet combinations, as I am, you'll particularly like it. It's such a good combination that even Mario Batali grates a couple on top of the Pumpkin "Lune" at Babbo.

Since Daniel had the week off from work, he was in charge of the main course. I pushed hard for short ribs hoping he'd make a recipe I found on Epicurious that combines chocolate and rosemary, but he had his heart set on duck.

Unlike me (and often to my dismay), Daniel doesn't always rely on recipes. He sometimes consults a few and then goes off on his own, mixing and matching ingredients that he hopes will work well together. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but this time around, he created a winning combination.

Tired of all the fruity sauces that restaurants pair with gamy meats, he roasted the duck* in a homemade glaze and went a more traditional route with a rich gravy. We all oohed and ahhed in between every bite.

For side dishes, he settled on Wolfgang Puck's braised red cabbage and pearl onions roasted with duck fat inspired by this Tyler Florence recipe.

He tweaked the braised cabbage recipe slightly by adding apple cider in addition to the apple cider vinegar it called for which he thought would have been too acidic. The result? A tangy side dish that paired perfectly with the juicy duck.

The pearl onions were good, but a bit bland compared to the other more vibrant dishes. I liked how they crisped up a bit after being roasted in the duck fat and didn't mind their delicate flavor, but Daniel thinks roasted potatoes would have worked better.

For dessert, I decided to make a tarte tatin**, the one exception to my rule of diligent recipe reliance (thanks to my friend Chris who taught me how easy it was to make one at an election party two years ago -- my only fond memory from that painful night). However, this time around, I prepared the apples using a tarte tatin recipe that Molly recently posted, and also asked Mark and Allison to pick up the bottle of Tokaji that she recommended serving alongside each piece.

My final product didn't look nearly as beautiful as hers, but it still tasted pretty darn good. On the side, I served vanilla ice cream and my favorite companion to tarte tatin: thick, 2% Greek yogurt which helps cut the sweetness quite a bit. The Tokaji was a nice fancy touch, though I think after such a heavy meal, a dessert wine wasn't really necessary. I think it'd be best enjoyed with the tart after a lighter meal, or just the two together as a midday treat.

As much as I like to try out new recipes, I think this entire meal would be perfect for a food bloggers dinner, preferably in the fall. I'd invite Anne from Good American Housewife, Andrea from Madison & Mayberry, Luisa from The Wednesday Chef, Molly from Orangette, and their signifcant others Fred, Ryan, Ben and Brandon as well. And then I'd add that dinner to my ever-growing list of things I need to write about.

*Since Daniel's duck was so delicious, I asked him to try and recount what he did for me. Here's the basic gist. He bought two ducks (he doesn't remember how many pounds they both were, but I'd say about 3lbs each) which he trimmed of extra fat, rinsed, patted dry and then rubbed generously with kosher salt and black pepper. In our food processor, he made a glaze by combining sherry vinegar, stone ground mustard, currant jelly, a hunk of ginger, three cloves of garlic, salt, four sage leaves and some orange juice (to help it from becoming too thick). He cooked the duck breast side up in a roasting pan (with a little bit of water in it to keep the drippings from burning since this was the same pan he used to make gravy) at 350 degrees for approximately 3 hours, turning and basting them with the sauce every 30-45 minutes. To make the gravy, he skimmed off the fat (about a pint in total, though some was used to make the onions), then deglazed the drippings with port and red wine, and thickened it with some flour.

**I never use puff pastry for my tarte tatin and instead prefer to make a crust from scratch. It's really easy. Cut up 1 stick of chilled butter (I keep a few extra sticks in the freezer at all times) into small pieces and put in a food processor with 1 cup of flour. While pulsing, slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup ice cold water until the mixture forms a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so rolling it out.

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Anonymous said...

I'd come over and eat that! It sounds delicious. Duck isn't one of those things I usually experiment with so it's nice to know of a foolproof recipe I can go to when I do.
P.S. I feel the same way about my blog -- so many ideas and never enough time to actually write them all up. That being said, I just have to hear about your Per Se visit.

Anonymous said...

I love the detail of the monkey plates we used to serve the tarte in the background of the picture. The duck DID rock. Two important tips: the glaze does not have to be really sweet and the currant jam was just enough. The gravy is really important. Save all the juices from the bird, which will collect in the bottom of the roasting pan. Make sure you have a bit of water in the bottom of the pan so that it doesn all burn during roasting. Separate de fat from the rest and spice it up with some sage, some good port and red wine, thicken it up with flour and cook for a while to evaporate the alcohol and concentrate the flavor to taste.

Anonymous said...

I happily stumbled upon your blog.... It's nice to see others that enjoy the flavors of food with a little travel mixed in.

I love the piglet cookies in your previous post. I am so buying a pig cookie cutter.

Anonymous said...

I've long been disappointed that every duck entrĂ©e I come across in a restaurant is already cooked to be sweet or paired with a sweet sauce. I really appreciated Daniel’s resolve to make a savory duck dish – I mean I appreciated it several times. And the ravioli was autumn dreamy. Lia recalls some hesitation to garnish with the amaretti cookies – maybe I didn’t notice because my eyes were closed and I was saying mmmmm.

Anonymous said...

This dinner sounds good even to a fishetarian. The cabbage sounds delicious as do the pearl onions. You already know I am a sucker for pumpkin/squash-filled anything. That's a recipe I definitely need to try.

Anonymous said...

Dinner at Lia's and Daniel's was outstanding! The duck was so savory versus sweet, which I prefer, and the gravy complemented it perfectly. And I loved the pearl onions as a side dish; I'm such a sucker for them, so I would love them with anything. It was such a fun evening, especially having a little 1 month baby boy there to delight us all. The finishing touch was the juicy apple tarte tatin, which I had seconds of! And I loved it with the vanilla ice cream. It actually inspired me to make an apple crisp for Josh on Sunday night, which I have to say was pretty darn delicious. Next time, I would like to try your tarte tatin recipe--I can't get over how you prepared it all right then and there, making it look so easy.

Molly said...

Gorgeous, Lia! What time is dinner? I'm on my way...

Anonymous said...

That dinner party sounds good to me! And I totally agree with you on the tarte tatin crust - I also never use puff pastry...only pate brisee.

Anne Stesney said...

Oh Lia! My mouth is watering. I'd hop the F train, take a bus or even swim the Hudson for this dinner. It sounds so delish from top to finish.

Anonymous said...

Daniel - more power to you for not using recipes, i never do and the result tends to be as Lia described..sometimes great, sometimes not but it sounds like you did a great job with the duck!

Lia said...

Andrea, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a hard time balancing my eating with my blog writing. Hopefully I'll get around to a writeup on Per Se at some point.

Daniel, thanks for pointing that out. For future dinner guests, this is what usually happens at our dishwasherless apartment. We start off with all our nice plates, glasses, etc., but by the time dessert rolls around, we realize how much dishwashing is ahead of us and switch over to paper plates, and very cute ones in fact.

Anonymous, glad you found my blog! I too need to find myself a piglet cookie cutter. They really are the cutest.

Josh, I'm glad you liked the cookie/ravioli combo, and everything else. Cooking for you and April is always so fun because you love food as much as we do!

Judith, you'd love the ravioli and the sage butter sauce. You and Tim will have to come over sometime soon for a vegetarian feast since we do like to lay off the meat sometimes :)

Anonymous (April), I was amazed too at how easy tarte tatin was when my friend Chris first showed me how to make it. Definitely give it a try. It's a great quick & easy dessert.

Molly, we'll have to make this blogger dinner a reality sometime. Let me know the next time you'll be in New York for a few days (after Thanksgiving of course).

Luisa, we'll have to make it happen sometime! And I had a feeling you'd be a pate brisee girl yourself.

Anne, it really was so good. Thanks for tagging me for the meme!

Kellie, living on the edge without recipes, huh? I wish I could, but when there are so many out there to guide me, I can't help but follow their lead.


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