Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dinner with friends

When I moved into my new place last July I swore I was going to have friends and family over for dinner all the time -- it hasn't exactly happened that way. For starters it took months for my furniture to be delivered (hard to host a dinner without a table and chairs), and secondly I've had a difficult time conquering my fear of kitchen multi-tasking while hosting.

When you're in a relationship entertaining is fairly simple. One person can be chit-chatting with guests in the living room, pouring wine, etc, while the other is busy in the kitchen chopping herbs or prepping appetizers. When you're a single girl it's all on you to be a good host while at the same time not burning the garlic or forgetting about the walnuts you put in the oven to toast.

Tonight my friends Cathy and Jason came over for dinner and I was determined to make something nice for them. Coming up with a menu is fun, but also overwhelming when you have as many cookbooks as I do. I finally settled on roast pork with apricot and shallot stuffing, roasted winter vegetables, buttered green beans, and a warm apple compote to serve alongside the pork. For dessert, a maple sugar pie (Cathy loves the flavour of maple) with whipped cream.

The menu determined, I headed to St. Lawrence Market this morning to pick up everything I needed. In the early afternoon, I baked the maple sugar pie. It was my first attempt outside cooking class at pie pastry, and it rolled out nicely. Tricky thing, that pie pastry. In retrospect the pie was creamy and sweet, the crust crisp and golden. For a flakier crust I hear using half vegetable shortening and half butter is the way to go and I might try that next time. I used all butter and the crust was a bit on the firm side for my liking.

With a couple of hours to spare I started cooking the apple compote, using Fuji apples (a recommendation from Chef Marty). I'm proud to say it turned out just as well as it did in class last week, and Cathy and Jason raved about it. It goes so nicely with roast pork, I'm definitely adding it to my repertoire. I've included the recipe below.

The pork turned out well. I don't know what cooks did before meat thermometers. It's impossible to tell otherwise whether the pork is cooked all the way through. I tested it once and it wasn't quite done enough in the center so it went back in the oven for another 10 minutes. That finished it off and it was cooked just right. As for the stuffing, it tasted great when I cooked it in the pan but I'm not sure it benefited from being inside the pork roast. I think next time I'd make a double batch -- one for stuffing the pork roast to keep it moist, and more to serve on the side on its own.

The winter vegetables were tasty although it's hard to screw those up. I went for a selection of red-skinned baby potatoes, parsnips, onion, and purple-hued carrots that looked and tasted a bit like beets. Very cool, and really added some visual oomph to what can otherwise be a dull-looking dish.

(By the way, I didn't take any pics of the meal -- you'll have to believe me when I say it all looked fantastic.)

All in all, the evening was a great success and I managed to enjoy my friends' company without being a slave to the meal (as I was worried I might be). Next time I have Cathy and Jason over though I'm making things simpler: macaroni and cheese. I never need an excuse to cook that and Jason told me tonight it's one of his favourite dishes. Say no more!

Good luck to all those single guys or gals cooking for friends. It's a challenge, but you'll definitely be satisfied when you're through. And hey, if you feel overwhelmed, they're your friends, put them to work!

Warm Apple Compote*

Serve with pork, or enjoy it on its own.

4 Fuji apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1 inch pieces (If you can't find Fuji, Braeburn, Spy or Ida Red will also work)
1-2 oz water
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
1 tsp nutmeg, or to taste
1/3 cup chicken stock
1/3 cup red wine
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
Rind and juice of one lemon

*Note: The measurements here are to be used as a guide only. Taste the compote as it's cooking and use your judgement on whether the compote needs more sugar, more acidity, more butter or stock to round out the flavour.

Put half of chopped apples, along with water and brown sugar, in a medium sized sauce pot and stir to combine over low to medium heat. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest and lemon juice and salt. Stir and let the apples begin to break down, adding chicken stock or water if the liquid at the bottom evaporates. You don't want the apples to stick to the pan and burn.

When the apples have softened and broken down substantially, add the rest of the chopped apples along with more spices as needed. Add the red wine and stir. Keep the mixture simmering and let the second batch of apples soften somewhat. Once those apples are softer, though still holding their shape, add a bit more chicken stock and some butter. Stir well. Once you're happy with the consistency -- ideally the first apples will have become a chunky sauce and the second ones will be more or less intact -- take it off the heat and either keep it warm if you're planning to serve right away, or cool down and then refrigerate.

Makes approximately 4 to 6 servings.



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1 comment:

  1. Good work - with food like that I wouldn't even need you to do the host/mate thing as well!

    I often end up with my guests in the kitchen lending a hand. Kills two birds with one stone.

    Happy entertaining.