I really thought New Years Eve was going to be a good subject for my first post – a true new years resolution. But I was dead wrong.
We spent the holiday in Binghamton, NY with our great friends, Ralph and Bill, two modern Renaissance men whose vast and varied talents both happen to include incredible kitchen skills. I seriously love staying with these guys. Whenever we visit, the itinerary always begins with a trip to the grocery store. And then we just cook and cook (and maybe watch a little Strangers with Candy) and then cook some more. And everything is always so darn delicious.
So when we came up with our grand plan for New Years Eve – Asian appetizers all day long - I assumed it would all be to-die-for like always, and make for a perfect first post. But alas, I can say always no longer. Now when referring to the fabulous food at Ralph & Bill’s, I have to use usually or maybe normally, because for some strange reason, absolutely everything was off that night. The chicken wings didn’t get roasty enough, the dipping sauce was too acidic, the pot-stickers were just meh, and on and on. Don’t get me wrong, nothing was a complete failure. But nothing was drop dead tasty either. The whole night was just a flop. (Luckily, Bill (a pastry wizard of Merlin proportions) put an end to this unlucky streak the next morning with his unbelievable homemade bagels. Thank you, dear Bill, for starting our 2010 off right!)
So why am I going on and on about New Years, if it’s not even the main topic here? Well, one, because I’m still a little bummed about it all, because I was so psyched to tell you all (i.e. shamelessly brag) about our incredible, amazing, out-of-this-world New Years Feast, and now I can’t. I guess, even though the dinner proved to be a complete dud, I can’t help but want to give it just a little bit of time in the spotlight, even if that spotlight happens to be shining a sad shade of blue.
And I expound on for another reason too. Because this New Years Eve Flop of 2009 served to remind me of another past flop, one that happened about a year ago. One too that had all the makings of a great meal, but just fell short. And so I got it in my head to re-try this once upon a time failure, to freshen up my CPR skills and breathe new life into a former fiasco that needed some major saving. And that’s what (finally!) brings us to our first ever Scrumptious Company menu. Here is is, folks:
So let’s shift gears, let’s desist with the mopey musings of past dinner duds, and let’s instead talk about a meal that was absolutely delicious, and a night that was completely fabulous. Because friends, this time round, everything turned out great.
The fabulousness of the night was due in large part to the fabulous company. When it came to inviting our first official Scrumptious Company guests, there was no question at all as to who it would be. Downstairs-Matt-and-Sara, of course! Let me tell you a little bit about our friends Matt and Sara. In our wildest dreams we couldn’t have cooler downstairs-neighbors. Sara is one of those friends who, you know, you sit down to have a ‘quick’ coffee break with, and end up in the middle of such a great conversation, that three hours later you look up to realize your afternoon has totally vanished. She, like her sweetie of a husband, is wicked smart (Notre Dame PHD’s, both of ‘em. If I can’t brag about our New Years, I’ll just have to brag about our friends.) And they’re both really, really funny too. Needless to say, time with Downstairs-Matt-and-Sara is always a blast, and this night was no different.
I could go on forever about our neat friends, but let’s talk about the food, shall we? As I was telling you before, everything tonight was just spot-on, and it’s all stuff that I think you all would really love too. The crab & artichoke appetizers, while first-time round a tad disappointing, were suddenly delicious, thanks in no small part to the bright and fragrant basil aioli served alongside. Brilliant green and oh so pretty, packed with fresh basil and a just-right level of garlic (you know, a blatant hint of it), it turned out to be one of those dipping sauces where you end up not even caring what you’re dipping in it.
Ben was certainly thrilled to hear that butternut squash risotto would be on the menu again. In the past, this gorgeous, golden, creamy rice has even earned the coveted ‘ten-out-of-ten’ status from my discerning husband. (While many a meal has reached the heights of nine-out-of-ten, it is a rare, rare day when Ben awards a true ten.) But the first time I made this butternut risotto for him, Ben wasted no time in holding up all his fingers. It’s been a dud only once – at the dinner party I was telling you about, and I seriously still have no idea what that heck was going on with me that dumb night – but every other time I’ve ever made this, it is simply glorious. Smooth and dreamy, with sweet and salty tones of roasted squash and nutty parmesan cheese, it tastes like coziness itself. No wonder Ben was thrilled.
The pork chop was a bit of a twist on the Italian dish, Pork Saltimbocca, but rather than pan-fried cutlets, I went with meatier chops, and rather than garnishing with whole sage leaves, I whipped up a quick sage-flavored compound butter. I just really like compound butters. Placing a slice atop hot food turns them instantly into aromatic sauces, so they’re a neat solution for freeing up your hands at the last minute, which is always a good thing when it comes to a dinner party.
And last but not least for our main course… the roasted radicchio! Man, I was loving this. That dreaded time when this meal flopped, I didn’t make this – in its place were roasted brussels sprouts. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Brussels sprouts! Of course it was a flop!”, but I’m telling the truth, they were the one thing that night that were really good. (Some other day I’ll tell you how I make my brussels sprouts, but for now, back to the radicchio.) Since the brussels sprouts weren’t terrible enough to warrant another go tonight, I needed something similar to take their place, something savory but a little bitter, at once crunchy and tender, a wintery sort of vegetable. Winding my cart through the produce aisles, I racked my brain, until my eyes fell on the vivid deep pink globes of radicchio. Perfect! Cut into wedges, dressed with a touch of olive oil and vinegar, and roasted until warm and tender at the core with crackly ribbons of caramelized outer leaves, it was just the side dish I was after, and one I know I’ll go to again and again from now on.
Oh yes, dessert. Well, here’s how dessert came about. You know how sometimes you suddenly become aware of something that for some strange reason you never knew existed before, and then, for some even stranger reason, you keep hearing about it again and again, just all over the place, randomly, everywhere you turn? This is what happened to me too with butterscotch pots de crème. They’ve been all over the place lately, everywhere - on other blogs and in a magazine, and twice since Christmas I saw it on restaurant menus. So I just got the bug for butterscotch, and had to make some on my own.
And I’m glad I did. These were sooooo delicious. Sara thought they were pure bliss, and needed to take a moment of silence, sitting back in her chair with closed eyes and smiling lips. Like Werther’s Originals, but in smooth and creamy pudding form, they really were remarkably impressively good. And what made them even better was a dollop of whipped cream and a crackly gingersnap cookie. Heaven, truly.
And that was it, a perfect ending to a splendid meal. After the fiasco of New Years, I was so relieved! Just as I ended the last year with everything flopping, I started it out with a slew of successes, one right after the other. Let’s toast to these successes continuing throughout the course of this blog. Cheers to that!