The first cluster dinner party, no one thought to bring a camera. The second one, I brought a camera but forgot to charge my battery. This year, I brought the camera and charged the batteries, then promptly got tipsy and started taking incredibly out of focus pictures. I apologize in advance for my shoddy camera work. Maybe you should go have a few cocktails yourself before you read this entry? Adding some blur to your vision can only help!
Anyway, the dinner party was a great success! It was our most ambitious yet - six courses, eighteen people. But except for leaving the smoked salt at home, which left my brussels sprouts swathed in marmalade but bereft of smokiness, it all went off without a hitch.
The first course was a crowd favorite: chicken liver pate topped with bacon jam and chopped green apples.
I think this might have been my favorite course, too. It's a gorgeous little fat bomb, the rich chicken liver fighting with the smoky sweet bacon jam for unctuous domination, before the crispy and tart green apple comes in and smacks them both down. Booyakasha!
Next up, my dad's super secret turkey garlic minestrone!
Every year after Thanksgiving, my pops simmers the turkey carcass into the richest, most golden turkey broth you can imagine, then freezes it until Christmas morning, when he turns it into a garlicky minestrone, slicked with olive oil and full of escarole. The whole thing is topped generously with shredded Parmesan cheese and served with fresh baked bread. I made Dad's recipe a little less hearty (keeping out the beans and pasta) and skipped the side of bread, but other than under-salting the broth a bit, I think I did it justice.
The third course was leek and dried cranberry bread pudding with a creamy mushroom gravy.
The bread pudding was basically just my adaptation of the leek bread pudding from Ad Hoc at Home, but with cranberries added before baking. The gravy was simple - just crimini mushrooms cooked with butter, olive oil, thyme and white wine then added to a roux of butter, flour, cream and milk.
Fourth course was the piece de resistance: confit turkey leg with mashed parnsips and baby brussels sprouts with marmalade.
Turkey gets such a bad rap, but when it's well-prepared it can be so delicious. Brining helps and so does sous vide cooking, but for those of us without massive immersion circulators, turkey leg confit is definitely the way to go.
I followed this recipe fairly faithfully, save for the overnight salting. (And I replaced vegetable oil with olive oil in the hopes that olive oil would contribute a little extra flavor to the turkey.) After cooking and cooling and de-boning, I popped everything into the fridge with a bit of extra duck fat on top. At the party, I melted the duck fat, chopped the confit into small pieces and re-heated the turkey chunks in the duck fat. So. Freaking. Good.
The parsnips were easy - a quick simmer in chicken stock, then they get drained and mashed with obscene amounts of butter and cream, salt and pepper. Parsnips are so underrated. They're not all that tempting in the grocery store, but once cooked, they have a surprising sweetness without any of the starchy heaviness of mashed potatoes.
And the brussels sprouts were easy, too - I heated some butter and olive oil in a skillet and let the sprouts cook in there for about five minutes. After they're a bit browned, I added half a cup of water and popped a lid on the pan - that way, the sprouts can steam in the middle but still retain some of that caramelized, buttery goodness from the initial saute. After they were tender, I stirred in a few scoops of orange marmalade and a sprinkle of sea salt. (I would have used smoked salt, but I left it at home. Womp womp!)
After this course, people were all, "So, what's for dessert?" and I was like, "one more course before you find out!"
A salad course, that is. Field greens and radicchio in a maple-balsamic dressing, maple-roasted rutabaga, green apples, pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of truffle salt. All of the important tastes were present: sweet, salty, bitter, tart, earthy. And aren't those colors gorgeous together? I think the finished product was a little bit over-salted, perhaps because of the super-salty pumpkin seeds, but with a lighter hand on the sodium, I think this was one of the best salads I've ever made.
And finally, dessert: a cinnamon meringue with pumpkin mousse and pomegranate seeds. Sort of like a pavlova and a pumpkin pie got into a fight.
I was shocked that the meringues came out as well as they did, since it was raining on both of the days that I was baking them. I attribute their success to the relentlessly dry heat of New York City apartment radiators. Antiquated heating system, I couldn't have done it without you!
And that was the dinner party! At least the food part of it. The best part, if course, wasn't the bacon jam or the parsnip mash - it was the people who came and made it amazing. My colleagues are the best ever, and everyone got up and pitched in at one point or another, pouring wine or collecting dishes. As always, though, Jenny and Danielle were the best "sous chefs" a lady could ask for, chopping veggies and expediting plates. No one can pull this off solo. I'm lucky that my friends are so willing to come together and put in work to make every dinner party we have a truly amazing evening.
Cluster 2, you da best!