There is something liberating and intoxicating about planning and executing a menu for a dinner party. Getting up early and jotting down notes over a fresh cup of coffee while going through the motion in my mind. I start mentally preparing and timing out each course so there is an ebb and flow to the night. I have it running effortlessly from stage to stage before I’ve even picked up a knife and chopping board. That’s when the real fun begins.
I start by spending a few minutes sharpening my knife. There’s a beautiful connection made with the blade of my knife gliding forward and across the whetstone. Once I’ve sharpened the knife I get to work in the kitchen.
I begin by sautéing chopped onions and sage until the onions are soft and then add in and sauté cubed squash with some coarse salt. Once the squash softens up I add garlic and cook for a further minute before adding my chicken stock and simmering for 25 minutes and until the squash is very soft. Using my handheld blender, I fully purée everything until smooth and free of any large pieces. I don’t mind a bit of texture remaining but I prefer it as smooth as possible.
The great thing about making soup first is that it allows you to start something else while it’s simmering away. Also, I can cool down and chill the soup for the better part of the day and reheat it when my guests arrive. An hour-long dish is ready and at the table in 5 minutes.
While my soup is simmering I decide to get to work on my tenderloin. I spend about 10 minutes trimming and cleaning up the fat. First I separate the chain of the muscle from the beef with my fingers. It usually runs the length of the tenderloin and the parts I can’t get with my fingers I remove with my knife. Using the same paring knife I remove the silverskin next. The silverskin is the layer of fat that covers the beef, so I work in sections until it’s fully removed. Finally I can prepare the meat for dinner later that night. Since the tenderloin lacks flavour I try to enhance it as much as possible. I slather it with a good quality olive oil and generously season it before adding plenty of chopped thyme and rosemary. I rub the herbs and salt into the meat and tie it off to keep the shape through cooking. Now my beef is ready to cook later when needed.
I decide to prep the dessert next. I wanted to make individual apple crisps so I pulled out my ramekins and got to work. I cored, peeled and chopped my Granny Smith apples and squeezed some fresh lemon juice over top. I also added the zest and some sugar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and some sifted flour. I mix it together and scoop into my ramekins. For my crisp topping I combine flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt, oatmeal, cinnamon, all-spice and two sticks of softened butter. I mix it by hand until it’s soft and crumbly and doughy. I then pack the crisp topping on top of the apples in the ramekin and set aside until later. When it’s time to cook it’s 45 minutes in a 375 degree oven or until the topping is golden and oozing at the sides.
At this point in the day my wife lets my know that our dinner guests have cancelled. Unfortunately a friend of ours isn’t feeling well and can’t make the trip for a night out. At first we weren’t sure what to do. We had all this food and we didn’t want to waste a great meal so we invited some good friend’s from up the street. Luckily, they were more than willing to spend a night with us. Win-win for everybody.
I still had lots of time to play with but figured I would prep the scalloped potatoes early and make it with the beef later. So I get started by melting butter with cream, garlic and rosemary sprigs in a large pot over medium heat. I peel and slice my potatoes very thinly and add them to the pot before bringing it all to a boil. I cook everything for about 12 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the cream mixture has all but been soaked up by the potatoes. I transfer the mixture to a buttered baking dish and cover with grated aged white cheddar.
When the countdown was on I pushed myself back to work. I started on my hors d’oeuvres because I knew these would take less than 10 minutes to put together. I cut the dates in half and spread them with cream cheese that I lightly seasoned before pushing the date back together. Using a slice of prosciutto that was cut in thirds lengthwise, I rolled the date inside the cured meat until this was the finished product. These were great little treats. Some creamy cheese inside a sweet date and wrapped in a salty slice of prosciutto. The whole thing worked beautifully into a sweet and salty sensation.
The dinner and the night worked so well together. Great food and better company. Long conversations over a glass of wine and some tasty treats. This is the menu all served up.
|Cream Cheese-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Prosciutto|
|Caprese Salad with farm-fresh tomatoes and a balsamic glaze.|
|Squash and Sage Bisque with Crisp Sage Breadcrumbs
|Beef Tenderloin with Béarnaise Sauce and Creamy Scalloped Potatoes|
|Golden Apple Crisps|