I’ve been saving this post for a while now. For about a month, a little more even. Since the weekend before Thanksgiving actually. We had two dinner parties that week – a Friday night soup and sandwich supper, and on Sunday night, this special feast for my Grandma and Grandpa Anderson. While they’d had an open invitation since the start of this project, it wasn’t until early November (all of us suddenly under the gun, as the official SC dinner parties quickly wound down to a lingering few), that my grandma and I finally sat down, coordinated our busy schedules, and picked the one single date during the following two months that worked out for all of us. (Hectic as my schedule is these days - with not only these weekly dinner parties, but a rapidly growing number of catering and private cheffing jobs too (!) – it pales in comparison to the unbelievably busy lives of my way-too-energetic grandparents!) So we pin-pointed the one and only night that worked, and marked it in our date books with permanent marker. And a few weeks later, Grandma and Grandpa made an all-too-quick overnight trip from Toledo. And I, in honor of our extra-special guests, prepared what I do believe has been the best dinner party of the entire year.
In fact, I’ve heard through the family grapevine, that the next morning on their drive back home, Grandpa remarked to Grandma that this was the best meal he’s ever eaten. What a thing to hear! And from your grandpa of all people! I couldn’t have been more proud. But you know what, considering the combination of both incredible food and wonderful company, I just might have to say the same thing myself.
Why then, you may wonder, have I waited so long to share this meal with you? Well, I’ve just been so crazily busy in the kitchen these days, I’ve hardly had a chance to get near my computer! And this menu was so down-right amazing, I thought it would be a perfect penultimate dinner party post. Plus, it was really kinda nice to have a dinner party-free and blog-free Christmas. (Look at me, taking a break just a week before this project ends!)
But now, I’ll get back to business, and share with you this fabulous meal!
I felt a bit silly including grapes on the menu above, but they were just so gorgeous and perfect and utterly delicious, a truly essential addition to this meal, that I just had to mention them. Not only a perfect beginning bite as I finished cooking the sweetbreads, a necessarily last-minute task, but also a perfectly light, fresh and simple counterpoint to the very rich and decadent meal lying ahead. It’s amazing how often I rely on a beautiful bunch of grapes, to fill in the missing link for a dinner party. They’re one of my favorite and easiest tricks!
Sweetbreads (i.e. the thymus gland of a calf) are my grandpa’s number one favorite food. And I’ve got to say, that shows darn good taste on his part! A bit of a rare treat, if you’ve haven’t had the chance yet to try them yourself, all I can say is, you don’t yet know what you’re missing. Rich and tender and impossibly creamy, no mere written description can do justice to the magnificent deliciousness of sweetbreads. You’ll just have to take my word for it, until you get the chance to try them yourself.
Luxurious to begin with, I took the rich decadence even further, sautéing the sweetbreads with peppery pancetta and a lovely collection of rare wild mushrooms, then draping them in a velvety cream sauce. Finished with a bright squeeze of lemon juice and a smattering of fresh parsley, this luscious mixture was then spooned over thick slices of tenderly toasted, olive oil-brushed bread. Man oh man, this was tremendously good. I really am at a loss for words!
And then, a simple, simple salad. I hate to use this pretentious sounding phrase, but this bright, crunchy cluster of greens was totally a palate cleanser. Between rich sweetbreads and even richer short ribs, something fresh and light and simple was needed. This quick and tasty salad was just the perfect thing to re-set our taste buds.
And now, the short ribs. I just knew that no other main course could impress my grandparents more than this incredible cut of meat. I’ve gone on and on before about the impressive attributes of short ribs, so I’ll spare you my passionate musings today, but rest assured, I could write a book about how much I love them!
Not all that different from my last short rib recipe, I kept the cooking technique basically the same, and just substituted in a few new ingredients – sweet, plump dried prunes and briny petals of green Spanish olives. All cloaked in a dark, full sauce of deeply caramelized onions, rich beef stock and a good swig of brandy. I served this gorgeous braise atop a creamy bed of parmesan polenta, and with a side of oven-roasted baby carrots, just like last time (because I loved the combination so much). Utterly enamored with this entire dish, I’ve served it twice since at catered dinner parties, both times to rave reviews.
And finally, dessert. And as with the prelude of juicy grapes, and the fresh intermezzo of a salad, I thought it best that the final movement of this rich, undeniably indulgent meal be as bright and refreshing as possible. And so, I looked to my favorite citrus, ruby red grapefruit.
I adapted this tart from a recipe in Bon Appétit, which actually called for blood oranges instead. As luck would have it, the fruit market was out of blood oranges. And it was lucky, for it was only then, standing in front of an empty blood orange barrel, that I even thought of using grapefruit. With greater tartness, and a beautiful juicy sweetness, I knew right away that grapefruit would be an even better choice of citrus with which to end this meal.
And keeping in pattern with the rest of this feast, this tart was absolutely sensational. The crust for one was utter perfection – crisp and tender and buttery. And the grapefruit curd filling was entirely amazing - sharp in flavor and smooth in texture, bright and sweet and perfectly balanced. And then on top, beautiful rings of sliced grapefruit segments. Undeniably sophisticated, and incredibly delicious, this is one of my new favorite desserts.