EVENT: A Semi-Grown-up Dinner Party
VENUE: Jill’s Apartment, Gramercy
PARTY SIZE: 7
TYPE: Formal-ish Weeknight Sit-Down Dinner
MENU: Olives; Open-Faced Spinach Pie Bites; Dried Fruit Salad with Cara-Cara Orange Vinaigrette; Savory Beef Stew; Orzo with Parsley Butter; Crusty Bread; Lemon Tart with Cream
Jill’s been trying to move out of her current apartment, and though she doesn’t yet have an expiration date on the place, she decided that, unsure of how long she’d be there, she should mark her someday-soon departure with a dinner party of close friends. Though the apartment is a studio, the bed is hidden, unlike in mine, and it’s a really nice place to entertain. When you walk in, you immediately see the glass dining room table, which easily seats six, and then to your left the redone kitchen, whose tiny appliances make the counter space seem large to someone like me.
Jill, who very much likes to menu plan, spent a long time going over ideas with me. Every time we’d decide on something, it would get swept away by some new idea. The most notable almost-menu was braised short ribs over polenta, which I’d chosen, only to find out, by frantic text message from Jill, that one of the guests had served just that at her wedding, two weeks before.
In all, the party was meant to be one step more refined than what we normally do: you know, two sets of plates, platters appropriate to the size of the dish, actual wine glasses, a centerpiece. Jill and her friends are two or three years older than me, and though at dinner the talk was reliably girly, they are at a slightly different life stage than us. Many are married and engaged, living with boyfriends, at more advanced stages of their careers or educations, owners of apartments. I was trying to pick a menu that would go with all this, but at the same time I didn’t want it to be in a different league altogether than what I’d make for my own party. Maybe just more chairs involved and fewer paper plates.
Besides the panicked short rib message, the best of the copious texting re: dinner party was initiated by me. I had just picked out my meat at Whole Foods, and I was standing in the condiments aisle wondering if I’d bought too much beef. I overheard another shopper pick up a bottle of balsamic vinegar and say something like “That costs a lot of money.” So I wrote:
Cara: I’m getting lots of money
Cara: I mean beef
Cara: Anyway, better a little too much, right?
jill:My high school friends are eaters!
jill: They don’t say just a little
jill: Also I’m sorry you aren’t getting lots of money
jill:And really just beef
The beef stew, which I made in abundance a day ahead, was bursting with flavor, and the high school “eater” friends ate plenty of it. The open-faced spinach pies were flakey and fragrant.
Jenny, a BGSK reader through and through, poses with an open-faced spinach pie
The lemon tart was the only near disaster, the lemon curd not quite filling the tart shell. But Jill and I spread a layer of whipped cream over the top, and the resulting pie was brilliant, the cream cutting through the tartness of the citrus. My personal favorite from the evening happened to be the salad, and I’ve made it several times since then. There’s something simultaneously homey and celebratory about the confetti-ed dried fruit and nuts that sprinkle the lettuce, and the sweet vinaigrette that ties everything together.
From my kitchen, where I buy lots of beef with lots of (Jill’s) money, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
2 sheets puff pastry dough
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
2 small shallots
4 cloves garlic, in shards
pinch red pepper flakes, oregano, thyme
3 oz fresh spinach
half bunch swiss chard
1 tablespoon Greek yogurt (2% or whole)
1 egg white
1/3 cup grated gruyere
2 tablespoons grated parm
Cut the dough into 2-inch rounds.
Saute the onion, shallot, garlic in olive oil over very low heat until soft. Add the spices and a large pinch of salt. Add the spinach and chard, stir to mix, then cover to wilt for a few minutes. Uncover, stir again, tasting the greens for salt and texture. Let cool completely.
When ready to make, preheat the oven to 400°F. Stir in the yogurt, egg white, and gruyere. Place the rounds on a baking sheet. Arrange about a tablespoon of spinach mixture in the center of each. Top with parm. Bake for about 10 minutes, turning on the broiler at the very end if the cheese on top hasn’t browned. Cool for a minute or two before serving.
Dried Fruit Salad with Cara-Cara Orange Vinaigrette
I was inspired to make this salad by the creative and beautiful cookbook called How To Roast a Lamb, written by Michael Psalkis who owns Anthos and Kefi, restaurants in New York. Though I didn’t follow his recipe in the end, what I found inspiring was the quantity of dried fruit he adds to his salad. In the past, I’d add one kind–raisins or apricots–but for this salad I put in the dried fruit contents of both Jill’s and my pantries. You, too, can add the dried fruits you own and/or prefer. If you can’t find Cara Cara Oranges (I have an affinity for them), substitute regular juice oranges.
For the salad:
2 heads fresh green or red lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into large bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup pecans, toasted
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
about 12 plump dried apricots, cut into slivers
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup pickled shallots (from 1 medium shallot)
For the Cara Cara Vinaigrette:
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons mustard
1/3 cup freshly squeezed juice from a Cara Cara Orange
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola coil
salt and pepper
Layer the lettuce and the dried fruit in a large salad bowl, tossing to combine.
To make the dressing: put the shallot, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a mini food processor and process to turn into a paste. Add the mustard, vinegar, juice, and honey, and process until smooth. If you have an opening in the top, add the oils slowly though it. If not, add tablespoons of oil in between pulsing. Taste the dressing and add any more salt if needed. You can also add a bit more honey if you like.
Dress the salad, tossing with your hands to distribute the dressing evenly. Top with the pickled shallots and serve.
Savory Beef Stew
The beef stew was a variation on my new favorite recipe. I added some extra veggies, namely mushrooms and leeks, put in two anchovies with the tomato paste, and used red wine vinegar in addition to red wine. You’ll need about 4 lbs of stewing beef to feed 7 women, and I basically quardrupled the recipe I’ve linked to.
Adapted from Alice Medrich, Pure Dessert. I modified this recipe in two ways, one intentional, one not so. I added brown sugar to the crust to give it some extra umph because I think the slight caramel flavor works well with the lemon. As for the unintentional modification: when I went to fill the tart at Jill’s, I found the lemon filling didn’t spread all the way around. I topped it with the cream to repair the tart’s looks, and then it turned out we liked it better that way–it gave much needed sweetness to the puckery lemon curd.
For the crust:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoons salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the filling and cream:
Grated zest of half a washed lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 tablespoons butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Combine the crust ingredients and stir to distribute evenly. Press into a 9 1/2″ fluted tart pan. Make sure to distribute evenly, especially along the sides.
Bake for 20 minutes until firm and a deep golden brown. Set aside.
To make the filling, combine the lemon zest, juice, sugar, and butter in a small sturdy saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Meanwhile, beat the egg and egg yolk in a small heatproof bowl. Carefully ladle a little of the hot mixture over the eggs, stirring constantly. Then scrape it all back into the saucepan and stir constantly until the curd has thickened.
Pour the curd into the crust then return the tart to the oven for about 5 minutes. Remove, cool to room temperature, then spread the cream evenly across. Serve small wedges.