2014 ushers in my new project – Mrs. Bentley’s Last Saturday Supper Club. I am hosting a dinner party once a month at my home. I decided to hold the dinner party on the last Saturday of every month, thus The Last Saturday Supper Club. For now, I can only manage dinner for 8, so in addition to David and I, there is room for 6 dinner guests. I am publishing the menu for each month at the beginning of the month. The first 6 people that can get through to me have the seats.
The first dinner was held on the last Saturday of January, just a week ago. I think it was a big hit! I chose a menu that was light and fresh. I was thinking that after all the rich and plentiful holiday food, people would appreciate lighter fare. I named the menu “Refresh”. While the menu was packed with vegetables and seafood, I tried to make the dishes luscious and satisfying.
Steamed mussels with white wine and garlic. I had tested the recipe earlier in the week and it was delicious. Too bad I didn’t prepare it the same way for the dinner party. I guess I was feeling a bit anxious and I failed to double check my recipe notes. I used too much wine, too much garlic and I forgot to add the celery all together.
Thank God I decided to make my own fresh French bread to go with the mussels. The bread turned out great. Oooh but, I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I took the first taste of the broth. It was nothing like what I had tested earlier in the week. Then, one of my guests, a restauranteur and fabulous cook himself, whispered to me, “not to worry, the mussels are delicious, and don’t say a word about the broth. No one will be the wiser”. What an angel! I calmed right down and got on with the rest of the dinner, which was fabulous.
For the salad course, I served warm, wilted collard greens. I know what you’re thinking -collard greens??? Really?? I thought you said this was going to be fine dining??? Ha! They were so delicious, guests wanted to lick their plates. It’s all in the toppings. First, I made the toppings by sauteing spicy chorizo sausage and red chili peppers together. Then, I added raw cashews and toasted them in the chorizo and chili oil. I set that mixture aside and added a lemon and olive oil dressing I had made to the pan. I Added the collards and tossed until they were nicely wilted but not overly done. I served them, topped with the chorizo and cashews and with a healthy sprinkling of Pecorino Romano cheese. Oh my goodness this combo is both unexpected and delicious. Some of the guests said it was their favorite dish.
I mentioned a lemon and olive oil dressing I used for the greens. This dressing is a new discovery to me and I am crazy about it. I took a whole lemon and cut it into 8ths. I removed the seeds. Threw the rest into a blender and whizzed it up, skins, pulp and all. I got it as smooth as I could, it was still pretty chunky. I slowly added two cups of olive oil and kept blitzing until it was very smooth. I added salt and whizzed some more. It was a beautiful pale and creamy yellow color. It was tart and a little sweet, balanced by the bitter of the rind and so creamy from the emulsified olive oil. This dressing is great on a cold green salad, or drizzled on a piece of fish, or used on steamed vegetables. Try it – it is so simple and so yummy! I made extra and sent each of my guest home with a bottle.
I think the entree was the star of the show. I served Chilean Sea Bass on a bed of roasted fennel, red bell peppers, thinly sliced Meyer Lemons and Blood Oranges and fresh dill sprigs. I sprinkled some freshly ground coriander seeds over top of everything. Oh my! The visuals on this dish are stunning. The aromas of citrus, fennel, dill and coriander are swoon worthy. The recipe is perfect for entertaining because it is slow roasted in the oven first. Then, when you are ready to serve, it is put under the broiler for about 5 minutes and, voila!, everything is warm, with a nice bit of char, and ready to serve.
Since the sea bass and the fennel are both pale colored, I thought a side of black rice would balance the plate nicely. Black rice, also known as, the Emperor’s Forbidden Rice, has a nice chew, sort of like brown rice and the color is actually a very dark purple. For the cooking liquid, I used half orange juice and half chicken stock. I topped each serving with a bit of orange zest. The flavor and the color was a perfect pairing for the Sea Bass. Jonathan said this rice was his favorite dish.
So, ok, everything was nice and light, healthy, good for you food. Time to break out the chocolate! I made a tart. A chocolate tart. So rich and chocolaty. The chocolate flavor was surprisingly intense, but so smooth and silky. And just to “gild the lily”, I topped each piece with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and a drizzle of my homemade caramel sauce. Well, it wasn’t exactly a dollop of whipped cream, Jonathan made gorgeous quenelles of whipped cream. A quenelle is an elegant way to give a dollop a more formal and uniform shape. They are oblong and sort of football shaped. Well, he went to town and made each dessert plate look like it was from the finest dining establishment anywhere.
I was a little surprised that my guests made very few comments about the tart. I was wondering if maybe they didn’t care for it. After discussing it the next day with my husband, David, we decided that they were just too stunned to comment. Ha ha! I really think so. Stunned!
I started the party off with a choice of cocktails, Martinis (my personal fav), Limoncello Spritzers (in keeping with the light menu), Cosmos (in honor of my friend Tracey) or Wine. I did not serve any appetizers. I don’t believe in appetizers at a dinner party. One of my secret ingredients to any dinner is a pinch of “hunger”. Keep the guests waiting just a bit more than they expect. Bring them to the table ravenous! Not actually ravenous, but really hungry. I know it sounds mean, but it works every time. Try it.
With dinner, I served a Barone Fini Pinot Grigio Valdadige that went well with the greens and the seafood. David had the wine merchant help with this selection. It was yummy. With the chocolate tart, I served Sandeman Ruby Port. I had read that chocolate and port made an amazing pairing. I thought I might faint when I tried it. I’m no expert on the art of beverage and food pairings, but I would like to learn more about it. I would say, this pairing of chocolate and port went a long way toward giving me a good understanding. After dinner, David served up some 18 year old Dewars to a few hearty souls. There were no takers on the cigars. Maybe next time.
I like to have seat assignments for a dinner party. I like to mix up the guests, separate spouses, boy girl, boy girl, but not with their mates. For this party, I took care to seat big talkers next to great listeners. Carl and Rozan are “love birds”, and I thought Rozana might be nervous away from Carl, so I made sure they sat across from each other so they could gaze and one another all evening. Everyone had a grand time, so I guess the arrangement was a success. Odd, but there wasn’t a single photo of Jonathan. You’ll have to use your imagination…..
Thanks to everyone for making the first Last Saturday Supper a huge success. I can’t wait for the February party. Menu to be posted soon!