Part I – Menu Planning
The time has come for me to prepare, test, and deliver one of the two charity dinners I donated to a local charity’s silent auction. In this installment, I will tell you about the set up and first draft of the menu. For all those fundraising friends of mine in the audience, this is where the foundation of great relationships with the donor and his/her guests starts.
Winner number one has one of the most amazing vintage apartments I have ever seen. It is over 3,000 square feet and is perched on Lakeshore Drive, overlooking Lake Michigan. The home is adorned with gorgeous furnishings, persian rugs, and the art is everywhere. The setting is nothing short of fabulous.
I really enjoyed every detail, including the snooty, balding doorman in uniform who only allowed me into the building through the back door – and even then he was sniffy about it. Predictably, I loved it.
The table will be set for six diners – three couples and the winner selected the five-course option with a fall (non Thanksgiving) theme.
I have to pause and recognize Emily here because, I would not be able to pull this off without her support and input. So thank you Emily, I think we have composed a menu that will really delight.
Here’s what we came up with:
Course 1 – Appetizers
Olive tapenade, bacon-wrapped dates and apricots, local cheese tray, and rosemary-chipotle roasted nuts
Course 2 – Soup
Butternut squash soup with fried leek garnish, finished with rosemary olive oil
Course 3 – Pasta
Wild mushroom and green pea risotto
Palate cleanser – sorbet or granita (TBD)
Course 4 – Entree
Medallions of beef tenderloin au poivre, silky potatoes, and green vegetable (TBD)
Course 5 – Dessert
Warm apple pie and seasonal ice cream – both hand crafted by me
That’s it – right…
As you may have guessed, I do have a couple of surprises that I may try to add to the menu to amp this up a little more. Of course, this is all subject to approval from the winner.
What you have to understand is that I want to knock this out of the park. And since now is such a “dangerous” time to be looking around my kitchen and pantry for items to use to build fun and tasty add-ons, I know there will be a little something extra for the party.
If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog you may remember that I have things like bourbon cherries and pumpkin vodka just hanging out waiting to be enjoyed, so there is no telling what I might add on the night of the main event.
Part II – Menu Testing
The week leading up to the event was menu item testing week. I wanted to determine a few things:
1) how does each item taste
2) how long does each take to prepare
3) does the prep of any item raise any surprises
So, let’s start at the beginning. The appetizers that worked without any trouble were the cheese tray, the tapenade, and the rosemary nuts. The cut of bacon and size of dates made a difference in the balance of the tastes. Once I found a source of consistent sized dates, the bacon took care of itself. The other problem with the dates was over caramelization of the brown sugar. I solved this issue by mixing all of the date toppings into a marinade that I reduces over low heat to combine. When the mixture cooled, I used it to fill a zip lock bag and dropped in the, now wrapped dates.
Next course was the soup. The recipe called for finishing it with sour cream and fried leeks. While these both provided great flavors, the cream created a weird mouth-feel and the leeks lost all of their crispy texture. On Emily’s prompting I tried topping the soup with homemade roasted pumpkin seeds – perfection. To guild that lily, I added a drizzle of high-end olive oil.
The third course was mushroom risotto. We loved it from start to finish. One thing we decided to do was make it on site to build a warm aroma in the home.
Course four was the main entree. A major thanks go out to my father-in-law because he “sponsored” a test roast. At $32.75 per pound, I definitely wanted to get this right and his generosity allowed me to do a test run. I mean, I invited him over for the test meal (of course). And, we found out that this was a great exercise because it revealed that the peppercorn crust was delicious but way too coarse. It also revealed that this meat took less time to cook that I had estimated. Using a coffee grinder to pulverize the meat rub solved our problem.
Finally, we wrapped up the meal with the apple pie and cinnamon ice cream. No problems presented themselves in the test meal.
Part III – The Big Night
In a few words – IT WORKED!
Wow! Emily and I worked like crazy for six sensational guests and produced everything I wanted, almost as well as I wanted. Most importantly, the hostess said a lot of great things about the meal but the part that made me most proud and happy was “…Andy, you really exceeded my expectations…”
What else is there to say!?!
Here are a couple of the details that I want to mention:
1) Emily and I took just about every utensil and cooking vessel we own and packed our little Corolla to the gills. Thankfully, because we had everything we needed. Next time I do one of these dinners, I am definitely going to add a practice “pack up the car day” to menu testing week.
2) We arrived to the building at 5:30 PM and left at 11:30 PM. We got home dead tired and prepared to do nothing at all the next day. All in all, this was at least as much work as we thought it would be.
3) Three notes on the guests: One was a huge foodie; another, a professionally trained and retired chef; and, two of the guests were more than fashionably late.
So, how did that all go…I am happy to say that the foodie was in awe, starting with the app course and ended up being pretty fun to talk to during prep and in between courses. The affirming f-bomb he belted out (repeatedly) about how awesome the ice cream has become a fun memory.
The chef/guest sincerely applauded the risotto and went on to clean that plate and endorse its quality to his fellow guests – phew!
The late guests … I mean, sometimes I just need to chillax because waiting on starting the meat didn’t change the meal at all – it simply happened a little later on in the evening.
4) Development purposes – I met, impressed, and formed connections with everyone at that party. I learned about their interests in a safe environment and now can approach them based on their own individual personalities.
The meal was a special time for all. Everyone had fun and made a good memories that we can revisit over and over for years to come.
I think it was a complete success and look forward to the next one.