Friday, October 15, 2010

A Family Reunion

Figs tossed with extra-virgin olive oil, salt & pepper

Last weekend we threw a mini family reunion of sorts, and had over for dinner the Chicago chapter of the Toledo-based Anderson clan.  Our guests were my dad’s cousin Francie (my first-cousin-once-removed) and her husband Mike (my first-cousin-once-removed-in-law) who live up in Evanston, and their niece Maggie (my second cousin), who’s a sophomore at DePaul University.  It had been a long, long time since I’d seen Francie, at least fifteen years.  And even though I was still just a kid the last time I saw her, she was still exactly how I remember her, so warm and  fun and just plain neat.  We’d never met Mike, but within minutes we knew he was as fun and cool as his wife.  As for Maggie, well, aside from a quick meet-up for lunch a few months ago, I hadn’t seen her in ages either, maybe not since she was say, eight or nine.  And now she’s suddenly all grown up, and amazingly neat herself.  And all I can say is, it’s so great having such sweet and smart and all around lovely cousins just neighborhoods away.  And man oh man, it was so good sharing the night with all three of them.  With such special family-filled evenings like this, Chicago is slowly but surely, really starting to feel like home. 

Sliced Pears & Grapes with Artisanal Cheeses & Crostini
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
Caramelized Onion & Fennel Risotto
Bitter Greens Salad
Roasted Figs
Gingerbread Cake with Golden Raisins & Crystallized Ginger

But now, let’s get to the food.  And let’s start with the hors d’oeuvres, which I admit were a bit of a cheat.  No new recipe here, just some buttery French bread crostini, two wonderful cheeses, a sharp Gorgonzola and a sweet and mellow triple crème, some luscious slices of blushing Bartlett pears, and bicolor clusters of red and concord grapes.  Perhaps I had a bit of menu-writers block, but I just couldn’t settle on an hors d’oeuvre.  And then at the market, tempted by the gorgeous cheeses, and a little bit in love with the beautiful fall fruits, I finally made up my mind, and decided on this simple and simply delicious start for the evening. 

Hors D'Oeuvres

The prosciutto-wrapped pork tenderloin was an elegant centerpiece to our main course. Scrolling through my 38 previous dinner party posts, I’m shocked that I haven’t yet served pork tenderloin.  Hugely flavorful and amazingly tender, this sensational cut of meat is an all-around knock-out choice for dinner, any night of the week.  Whether roasted or grilled, marinated or rubbed with spices and herbs, pork tenderloin has all the potential to be truly sensational.  Tonight I added a fancy twist, and wrapped the pork in paper-thin slices of salty, pink prosciutto.  A quick roast in a hot oven produced succulent slices of juicy pork enclosed in rosy rings of a crackly prosciutto crust.  It looked really lovely, and tasted even better.

Dinner Buffet


Risotto, no matter what kind really, is always a dish that’s sure to delight just about anyone.  And tonight was no different – Each of us fell head over heals for this delicious rendition of the creamy classic.  Pretty incredible to begin with, these million tender specks of short-grained rice bathing in a creamy wave of buttery sauce, rich with golden chicken stock, earthy thyme and salty Parmesan, made bright with a pleasant splash of dry white wine. And then, brought completely over the top, as a giant heap of slowly caramelized onion and fennel is folded in, weaving through in golden goodness.  Warm and sweet and mellow, these caramel hued and flavored vegetables were a divine addition to this heavenly pot of velvety, luxurious rice. 

Caramelized Onion & Fennel Risotto Thyme & Garlic

Golden brown and a bit caramelized themselves, the oven-roasted figs leant a fruity touch of sweetness to the richness of the risotto.  With nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and pepper, a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a quick roast in a hot oven, the bright, clean freshness of these immensely beautiful and all-too-charming figs still lingered.  The simple roasting just served to enhance the tenderness, boost the inherent sweetness and add an extra dimension of flavor to these wonderful autumnal fruits.  

Sliced Figs, Ready for Roasting

Fresh Figs

And then of course, my favorite staple, a simple salad of bitter greens.  I hate to keep relying on this somewhat humdrum side, but it always seems to hit that needed note.  A touch of sharp bitterness, a bright bit of cool freshness, a subtle crispness.  More often than not, and especially alongside warm, rich dishes such as the one tonight, it tends to perfectly fit the bill, and flawlessly finish a plate. 

Radicchio & Baby Arugula

Finally, dessert.  And finally, old-fashioned gingerbread cake.  Finally, because Ben and I have been waiting all summer for it.  No matter how much we craved it, I just couldn’t bring myself to make this undeniably cold weather dessert until we were at least a few good weeks into fall.  It just wouldn’t have been decent.  But now that the air is undoubtedly cool and the leaves on the trees are anything but green, I took the very first chance I got to make this warm and cozy dessert.   Moist and buttery, this luscious cake is just absolutely full of intense flavor from the rich, dark molasses, the warm spices of cinnamon and cloves, the citrusy shreds of orange zest, the sweet and plump golden raisins, and the spicy specks of sugared ginger.  And as a perfect finish to this fall dessert, the pure white glaze of orange-flavored sugar tops the deep brown brown cake, coating the warm, spicy confection with a cool and pleasing sweetness.  And now, I’m glad for our patience, because this wonderful dessert was well worth the long wait.

Crystallized  GingerGolden Raisins 

French Bread Crostini
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
French Bread Crostini
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
Serves  6-8
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin
2 medium-sized pork tenderloins
10 slices prosciutto, thinly sliced
kosher salt & freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
about 1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 425°F and arrange an oven rack in the middle position. 
Arrange five slices of prosciutto, with their long sides slightly overlapping, and the short sides facing you, over a cutting board.  Pat dry one of the tenderloins, then season generously with salt and pepper.  Lay the tenderloin across the bottom of one side of the the prosciutto slices. The tenderloin should span across each slice of prosciutto, not just sit on top of one slice.  (Sorry, but explaining this is trickier than I expected.  Why didn’t I take a picture?!)  Wrap the prosciutto entirely around the tenderloin.  Follow the same steps for the other tenderloin.  Brush with olive oil.
Arrange the prosciutto-wrapped tenderloins at least 2-inches apart on a wire rack placed over a baking sheet.  Roast in the oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat registers 150°F, about 15-20 minutes. Allow to rest about 10 minutes, then sliced into 1/2-inch thick slices and serve. 
Caramelized Onion & Fennel Risotto
Serves  8
Caramelized Onion and Fennel Risotto
1 stick butter, divided
4 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large heads fennel, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
2 cups short grained white rice (such as Arborio or Carnaroli)
2 quarts chicken stock (homemade is best, but I do really like this store-bought broth)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
First, caramelize the onions & fennel:  In a very large sauté pan (or even a large pot), melt 4 Tbl butter over medium heat.  Add the sliced onions and fennel.  (This will look like huge amount, but as the vegetables cook, they will shrink enormously!)  Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium-low (or even low, depending on the strength of your burner) and cook, stirring frequently for the first 15 minutes, and then only occasionally, about every 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are a lovely golden color, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  Once finished, transfer the caramelized vegetables to a small bowl and reserve until needed.  (Patience is key here.  And while this does take a lot of time, it happily does not require a lot of work or attention.  Remember, slow and low will give you the best results.  You don’t want to brown the vegetables right away, but let them slowly turn golden.  So adjust your stovetop temperature accordingly.)
Next, heat up the chicken stock: On a back burner, bring the stock to a boil over high heat, then immediately lower the heat to low, just in order to keep it warm.
Now, let’s get to the risotto: Melt 2 Tbl of the remaining butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.  Add the rice and cook, still stirring constantly, for 2 more minutes.  Stir in about 1-2 cups of stock, so that the rice is just covered. Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until the stock is nearly all absorbed. Continue adding more stock, a cup or two at a time, until the rice is creamy and slightly firm, but no longer hard in the center. This usually takes about 20 minutes, and you may not need to use all the stock. Add the wine, then simmer a minute or so more until the wine is absorbed.  Add the caramelized onions and fennel, and stir to fold in completely.  Cook for about two more minutes to heat through, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the grated parmesan and the remaining 2 Tbl butter.  Taste and season as needed with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Bitter Greens Salad
This recipe is a repeat from a previous dinner party.  (It’s that good!)  Check it out here.
    Bitter Greens Salad
Roasted Figs
Serves 6-8
Roasted Figs
12 fresh figs
about 1 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F. 
Trim the stems from the figs.  Slice the figs in half length-wise.  In a small mixing bowl, drizzle the olive oil over the sliced figs then season lightly with salt and pepper.  Toss gently to coat.  Arrange the figs, sliced sides up, on a parchment-lined baking sheet.   Roast until the figs are light golden brown and tender, about 12-15 minutes.  Cool slightly, and serve warm.
Gingerbread Cake with Golden Raisins & Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten
Serves  9
Gingerbread Cake   
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 stick butter, plus more for greasing the cake pan
1 cup molasses
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp grated orange zest (from about 2 small oranges)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the cake pan
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle position.  Generously butter an 8x8-inch square cake pan.  Line the pan with parchment paper, then grease again with butter and dust with flour.  Set aside.
Combine the water and raisins in a small saucepot.  Cover with a lid, and heat over medium-high until the water boils.  Turn off the heat and set aside.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt. 
In a second small saucepot, combine the butter and the molasses.  Bring to boil over medium heat, then immediately remove from the heat.  Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Cool for 5 minutes, then add the sour cream and orange zest.  Using the paddle attachment, mix on low until thoroughly combined.  With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture.  Mix only until smooth. 
Drain the raisins, then add the raisins and the crystallized ginger to the batter.  Mix with a rubber spatula to combine.  Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan.  Bake until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out lean, about 35 minutes.  Cool completely on a wire rack.
When the cake is cooled, lift it from the pan and place again on the wire rack.  Set the rack over a wide sheet of paper or foil (to catch the dripping glaze).  Wisk together the powdered sugar and orange juice.  Pour it over the gingerbread, letting it drip down the sides.  Allow the glaze to set completely, then slice the cake into 9 squares.

No comments:

Post a Comment