Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dinner Party, from Soup to Nuts (except replace soup with cheese and nuts with brownies)

A dinner party stirs up so much ado and excitement. Especially when the host and her company are utterly and completely food-obsessed. Last night I went to a dinner party where the conversation covered topics like the 'to die for' crispy rice with spicy tuna at fancy schmancy Koi ("Did you go with your parents?" "Of course!"), how silly Evan Kleiman sounded on the 'hippo food' story on Good Food yesterday, and the snooty sommelier on Top Chef ("It's not called Top Sommelier!"). I was in charge of the cheese course, and knowing what I knew about who would be eating it, the bar was high -- I knew it had to be outstanding.

So, yesterday afternoon, I took a walk to Joan's. In addition to my beloved chocolate bouchon (and countless other delicious items), Joan's on Third also houses an incredible cheese counter, and a very knowledgeable cheesemonger to navigate through it. He suggested going with a cow, a sheep, and a goat cheese. I had some ideas about accompaniment -- I wanted to have one with honey, I wanted there to be fresh fruit (although, alas, no figs in the markets until next month). So, he gave me a few to taste, formally presenting each sliver of cheese on a square of white paper. Every cheese I tasted was distinctly delicious. We ended up going with:
  • sottocenere -- literally means 'under ash', an Italian cow's milk cheese, aged under ash, with specks of black truffle (oh my God, the truffle taste was so strong and so good, this did not need honey, fruit, or anything at all)
  • roncal -- a Spanish sheep's milk cheese, that the cheesemonger described as the 'loud older cousin' in the manchego family. Sound like my people. He suggested this one would be good with honey as the sweetness would contrast well with its sharp loud flavor. (I also learned that blue cheese and honey is a classic pairing for the same reason)
  • tomme de ma grand-mére -- literally means 'my grandmother's tomme' (tomme apparently refers to the type/shape of cheese), a French goat cheese, rich and creamy, and evidently, good with slices of crisp pear.
I also tried a cheese flavored with saffron and black peppers that I will have to get a chunk of one of these days -- so saffrony and delicious! He wrapped them up for me, writing a detailed description on each butcher-paper-wrapped package, and I was on my way.

So, along with the cheese went slices of baguette, slices of Asian pear, heavy bulbous red grapes, marcona almonds (note to self: the ones at Trader Joe's are too salty), and wildflower honey drizzled over the roncal. I had to put it all together as soon as I walked into the dinner party, so in the rush of getting it to the table and getting myself to the guests in the living room, I didn't get a picture. Which is a bummer because it was really pretty. It was a hit on the hors d'oeurves table, alongside sweet and savory crostini -- the former with manchego, apple, and fig preserves, the latter with corned beef, basil, tomato, and kalamata olive spread. yummy.

This was just the beginning of the gluttony. For much of the night, you could find up to 5 guests in the kitchen hustling and bustling to get all the food prepared. Dinner consisted of green beans, moist and flavorful Moroccan couscous with roasted vegetables, and really exciting chicken. Rachel made lemon roasted chicken with croutons from one of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. She dices a baguette into croutons, stirs them around in a pan with some butter, then after the chicken is cooked, places it and all its juices over the croutons so they absorb all the goodness. I could eat five hundred of these croutons. The recipe is pretty simple, only about 5 or 6 ingredients, but the chicken is so moist, and the croutons are SO good.

Finally dessert! Back to Barefoot Contessa -- Ina Garten had quite a fanbase at this party -- for brownies. Heather (who will surely be posting her own account of the night shortly)made these huge bricks of the most decadent deep fudgy chocolate, served warm with vanilla ice cream. We hadn't really saved room for dessert, but somehow managed to continue stuffing our faces with these.

So, a delicious night was had by all. I spent the rest of the night alternating between chatting on the porch and trying to chat, while slowly giving in to food coma, on the couch. Yes, this dinner party was a success!

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