Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Walkers - What an Epiphany!

You may recall that we were supposed to have the Walkers over on the 9th, but had to postpone, then they postponed, and here we are. The idea was to celebrate Epiphany, when the Wise Men arrived to give Baby Jesus a bouncy chair and a couple pacifiers. Really, it was an excuse to get together and I thought I might make King's Day bread for a traditional touch ... but didn't.

The Walkers are great fun. We always enjoy good conversation about child rearing, politics and religion. Matthew is their little one, and he is a whirlwind! He is so jazzed about everything and has energy that won't quit. Sam likes him quite a lot, and is always at his most enthusiastic in Matthew's presence.

I just realized that I forgot to photograph the kids' food! Sam gobbled up EB's fine meal of pesto pasta and fake chicken nuggets. The day before, he also guzzled down EB's snacks when the mommies and boys met at the zoo. Well, they were Matthew's snacks, prepared by EB. I guess whatever one's own Mommy does not make is more appetizing. Hm.

The adult menu was different. I love planning menus. I relish the time I get to spend with my cookbooks thinking of good combinations, assembling the shopping list, and making the timeline for the preparation. I get better with my timeline each dinner party. I think I was only 10 minutes late last night. Although that was after I called the Walkers to let them know that my original 5:30 dinner time needed to get pushed back to 6. The ribs had two steps, and I went to the store late, so got them in the oven late ... you get the picture. The menu: EB's fantastic and warm artichoke-spinach-camembert spread as an appetizer, then wilted kale salad, port-braised cipollini, mashed potatoes, and port-braised beef short ribs. For dessert, drunken bananas with vanilla ice cream (that Dave picked up for $1.75.) and almonds.

The onions were a disaster. Okay, that's too strong. They were an utter disappointment. Classic Jen move on this one, too. I have a port-brasied onion recipe that is really good, calling for pearl onions instead of cipollini. Is that the recipe I used? Goodness no, I went with a different one out of my new-fangled cookbook ... the cookbook that already steered me wrong on aioli. Surprise, surprise, they sucked. I think they need a caramelized flavor, and to cook longer, and the sauce needs a thickener because it was not getting thicker in the boiling down process. And, see that fat layer there? That's chicken broth and I think it thinned the port taste too much and was an ill-advised addition to the braising liquid. I didn't even finish my one onion. Oh, sorry, they're not actual onions. They are the bulbs of the grape hyacinth.

The kale salad, on the other hand, was delicious. This is a variation on a salad Josh and I have frequently. I usually make it with spinach, but I was feeling a kale vibe and went with it. You wilt the kale in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain. Saute (over barely med-high heat) four garlic cloves, sliced, with 1/2 cup golden raisins, 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes and 2 T extra virgin olive oil, until golden. Then you add your kale and turn it in the oil et. al. until it's coated, warm, and a little more wilted. Be careful not to let the garlic burn. Off the heat add 2 tsp. each sherry vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle 1/4 cup of slivered toasted almonds. Delicious every time. And I know the raisins may be a bit off-putting, but they make the salad, trust me. And they have to be golden.

I didn't photograph the mashed potatoes. We all know what they look like and I only made them to sop up the beef ribs' gravy. Mashed potatoes are the furniture of the food world: totally necessary in a room, but somewhat forgettable.

I did, however, photograph the roasting pan after the rendering process. I mentioned the two steps for the short ribs, and this was the first one. 1.5 hours at 375 to melt fat and brown meat.

This would be the browned meat. Did you know that, with meat, it is not "caramelization"? When you brown meat, you are conducting (setting in motion?) the Maillard reaction. "Caramelizing" is for food with a high concentration of carbohydrates and, therefore, sugars.

So after you brown the meat, you heat up a Dutch oven (Le Creuset), caramelize your aromatics, toss in all the liquids, throw the ribs back in, and put the whole thing in the oven for two hours. The result: Nothing short of Divine. I strained the sauce so that it was nice and smooth. The key ingredient to thicken? Minute tapioca! It worked swimmingly.

Finally, the Drunken Bananas. This dish was not a jewel in my prodigious dessert crown, but it was good. I wanted the sauce to be thicker. Perhaps a little tapioca in there would do the trick while in the oven. And next time I would like to try plantains, as the recipe calls for.
Come to think of it, Jacques Pepin has a crepes plus bananas foster recipe that I will probably try first. Since I have an entire bottle of rum, I might as well use it for something delicious. I certainly won't be drinking it. Yuck.

So the difference between PCD dinners and dinners now would be that the men don't sit at the table with glasses of whiskey while the ladies gab after the meal. Now we gauge how tired the kids are, and sign off by 8:30pm. It's a different kind of fun.

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