Sunday, January 2, 2011

Last Night's Dinner

Last night was the 4th (and possibly final!) Annual New Year's Eve Dinner.
We brought it back to New Year's this year, as some people had problems with the mid-week/work-week dinner last year.
Four dinners and, by my count, four successful dinners! A relief as I didn't feel like we had as many new dishes this year; we've been a bit less creative, I think, in our normal dinner choices. But we've also eaten a lot of new things that just don't work as well in the large dinner party setting (pizzas, mostly, but other stuff as well, like the panisses I made a few weeks ago that were good, but require a lot of last-minute attention). With 18 people showing up, that wasn't an option. Lamb shoulder really is hard to beat for these parties.

Anyway: last night's menu:

Vin chaud (aka 'mulled wine')
Carrot-leek Soup
Arroz con pollo with olives and preserved lemons
Lamb tagine with dates and raisins
Roasted butternut squash
Chick peas 'maison'
No-knead bread
Soft Pretzels
Green salad with apples and pine nuts
Chocolate-pecan pie
Pear almond tart
Ice creams: vanilla, cinnamon, chestnut

I did want to highlight seasonal stuff this time, more than usual. In the past, I've approached this as a time of excess, of doing things that aren't everyday – so, buying strawberries in December, spending more for fancier products, and lots and lots of meat were all part of the fun. Because of that approach, I paid less attention to local/seasonal stuff than I do in our normal meals. But this time, it just seemed to all have nice fall/winter colors: browns, oranges, instead of pinks and bright reds. Large piles of meat, still, but along with squash (a first, I think) and lots of bread.

The carrot-leek soup is basic, but very good.
Basic here doesn't mean 'easy' because making it involves cleaning leeks, which is a huge hassle.

And Helen pointed out that even though the soup was good, it probably wasn't worth the complications. I think she's right. As the dinner has evolved, it's moved from more structured to less (witness the disappearance of the palate cleanser course). Probably be best to just have the soup out for people who want it...

Arroz con Pollo
The only real weakness was the arroz con pollo. I'd made it before, and liked it – it's a Mark Bittman recipe that I'd jazzed up by adding turmeric, lemons, and olives, giving it a Moroccan flair. I forgot the turmeric this time, though. I'd also tripled the broth and rice in the recipe (with 18 guests, hard not to!). I figured that once the broth reached a boil rice cooking time would be the same, but that turned out not to be the case. Either that, or problems caused by having my ginormous dutch oven off-center on one tiny little burner. So, tasty, but with some crunchy rice and not much color.

The rest went great. People liked the squash, despite it being squash, which is, well, squash. The chick peas got eaten up, too. It's a standard dish here, probably close to weekly – chick peas sauteed with cumin seeds, chipotles, tomatoes, raisins, and almonds, then simmered in beer for a bit. We don't actually call it chick peas maison, but we don't have a name for it, so there it is.
The lamb is always a big hit. I even served it in a real tagine this time.
Roasted Butternut Squash
Chick Peas
Lamb Tagine
The biggest hit, though, was probably the pretzels. People really like home made pretzels. I think we made around 30, and they were gone by morning.
They're a great dinner party food, it turns out – even better if you've got kids coming who want to help make them.
Pecan Chocolate Pie

Pear Almond Tart

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