This week’s dinner party was an off-site affair. It took place in Toledo, at my favorite place in the world, my childhood home. I was there for the whole week, so I took this little show of mine on the road, and cooked dinner in my parents’ kitchen last Sunday. We celebrated Valentines day in style, with a very lovely (and very pink) three-course dinner.
This was the biggest Scrumptious Company party yet, eight of us total – me, Mom and Dad, my dad’s friend Bill, Bill’s wife and daughter, my little sister Mary and my brother-in-law Dan.
You’ll probably notice that someone was missing. Someone pretty important to the general theme of Valentines Day. Ben, of course. He was off camping in the Adirondacks. (Camping! Can you believe it? My crazy mountain man - He loves winter hiking, even sleeping out in the sub-freezing cold!) I’m hoping none of you are the sort to think it’s bad to spend Valentines Day away from your truest love. I don’t think it’s bad at all, and Ben doesn’t either. We’re just that kind of couple, you know?
I’ve always loved the color-wearing holidays: green on St. Patrick’s, orange on Halloween, red and pink on Valentines. This year, along with wearing a very cute red apron, I applied the Valentine color palate to my cooking too. Pink peppercorns, red swiss chard, radishes and raspberries. It was all quite pretty.
Our first course, Cauliflower Cream Soup, had an understated elegance, a beautiful simplicity. Pure white and achingly smooth, it was made of hardly anything more than cauliflower and cream. Its taste was not complex- just the true essence of cauliflower. Layers of flavor, and the real excitement, were added as a garnish at the end. A rich swirl of nutty browned butter, a sprinkling of crushed pink peppercorns, and a small bouquet of beautiful little cauliflower florets, caramelized to golden-brown. Like a dazzling piece of jewelry paired with a simple white dress, the garnish stole the show.
Grilled lamb chops (cooked medium-rare, with pink insides) are straightforward enough, so let’s go straight to the sides. The sautéed radishes - these are outrageously good. Not at all what you’d expect from bitter-spicy radishes. Slowly sautéed in butter, the flavors mellow out into such a rich and earthy deliciousness, you’ll wonder why you’d ever want to eat them raw. What’s more, the bright red outside color seeps deep into the white inside, turning the entire orb a vibrant, nearly neon pink. I love these.
Have you ever totally fallen in love with an obscure, all-but-unknown band, and then felt kinda sad when they suddenly hit it big. They’re not just yours anymore – you have to share them with the world. Well, I feel the same way about these sautéed radishes. I’ve been a loyal fan for a long time, but in the last year I’ve begun seeing them on menus all over the place. I guess it was bound to happen though - their talent is just too large to contain. And really, all I am is happy – I’d love for everyone to taste how truly incredible sautéed radishes are.
Now, the bread pudding. I will make any excuse to have bread pudding for any sort of meal – brunch, dinner, dessert. And I’ll add any and all sorts of ingredients too – mushrooms, nuts, leeks, artichoke hearts, all kinds of cheese. But for this red-hued dinner, I chose swiss chard, with its bright green leaves run through with veins of vibrant red. Along with goat cheese and parmesan, sautéed onions, garlic and thyme, the pretty wilted leaves and prettier sautéed stems were folded into a rich cream custard, that soaked into every nook and cranny of toasted cubes of crusty french bread. Baked until golden, you’ll pull this gorgeous casserole from the oven to a chorus of gasps and exclamations.
The last touch to this main course was the Pine Nut & Roasted Grape Gremolata, whose sweet-tart voice sung in perfect harmony with the earthy tones of the bread pudding and rich notes of the radishes. Whole red grapes are ever so slowly roasted, and as their inside juices reduce to an intensely flavorful, syrupy filling, they pucker and shrink into the most deliciously plump and juicy raisins you could ever imagine. And then these are combined with toasted pine nuts, fresh parsley and mint, a touch of lemon zest and the littlest bit of garlic, then folded into a tart green grape juice syrup. It sounds a little over the top, I know, but this interesting sauce was a favorite all around the dinner table.
And my mind races with other potential uses for these ungodly good grapes. As a toping on vanilla ice cream. Or folded into oatmeal with a little brown sugar. Maybe as a stuffing for pork loin, along with say bacon and goat cheese. Or with blue cheese – they’d be perfect for a cheese course! Or, baked in a pie! Oh my gosh, these are officially my new obsession.
And now, segued in by the giant raspberry, it’s time for us to talk about dessert. All I really need to say is this. If you are a chocolate lover, you must try this recipe! It couldn't be easier to make, but it couldn’t be more decadent either. Fresh raspberries are arranged across the base of a chocolate cookie crust. Then thick chocolate-raspberry ganache is poured over top. It fills the crust and swims between the berries. They become engulfed in the chocolaty current, and ultimately drown beneath the dark sauce. As the filling cools, it becomes the exact consistency of chocolate truffles. And really, that’s all this is, a truffle. A giant, tart-shaped truffle, with a chocolate cookie base and a filling of perfect, fresh raspberries.
Before I close this week, I’d just like to say thank you, so much, to all of you who sent such sweet messages and emails and made such kind and lovely comments this past week. And to those of you too, who became fans of Scrumptious Company on Facebook, thank you. Your warm support, enthusiasm and encouraging words mean so much to me. I can hardly find words to tell you how touched I am by your heart-felt sentiments. In just one short month, this site has become something so dear to me, and it’s all because of you, my readers. Thank you all, my virtual valentines.