Published September 18, 2011 by livinggraciously

Last night was the first time since the remodel that we had “company.” Oh, we’ve had people over and I’ve cooked, but they’ve all been people who’ve been here often and dinner was dished up from the kitchen and eaten in the living room. Last night, it was a couple who were here for the first time (Mike’s been here, and eaten here, before, but as part of Ferrett’s writing group; Patti was here for the first time ever.) So I wanted to actually sit down to dinner at the dining table.

Even before the remodel, we did not often sit at table. I am not sure why this is, because I used to have people to dinner and actually sit up like grownups fairly regularly. Part of the reason is simply that we are often having dinner while watching a movie, but I suspect that at least part of it is that the dining space in this house is small enough to have never been completely comfortable to me. Even before we had the breakfast bar extension that extends into the space, we frequently had the dining table pushed up against the wall. It’s another sign to me that we need to refurnish that space.

Because there are times when it’s nice to actually have dinner. Like last night.

It was tough to decide what to cook, because Mike and Patti regularly hold impressive (and intimidating) feasts at their home. I’ve been to their house when over 100 people were wandering about, and just last week they had about 50 people over for Greek food. Patty spent a week cooking for that event. I am humbled and awed by such undertakings. And can’t help feeling that my own culinary abilities leave much to be desired.

But living graciously means making the best of what you’ve got and making your guests feel at home, so I plowed forward. Consulting with Ferrett, we decided on tuna as the protein of choice. After perusing the Cook’s Illustrated website (requires a paid membership, but totally worth it for the ease of recipe hunting every recipe they’ve ever published), I decided on grilling the tuna. But firing up the barbecue for tuna, which takes about 2 minutes per side to cook, seemed like a lot of work for a very short cooking time. So we added grilled corn on the cob to the menu. Of course, I would be baking bread, and there would be salad. Desirous of one more green thing, we decided on green beans with toasted almonds. Oh,  at the grocery store they had beautiful “baby bellas,” so I added sauteed mushrooms on at the end.

Dessert was easy to decide: for Christmas last year, Ferrett bought me a creme brulee set and a torch, and I hadn’t used it yet. What better way to finish a meal than torch-it-yourself cremes brulee?

It was a reasonably simple menu, and none of its components were terribly time-consuming individually. Yet somehow it managed to consume pretty much the whole day. First there was starting bread in the morning, then I cubed and seasoned some leftover bread to make croutons for the evening’s salad, and then shopping, and then more fussing with the bread, then making the custard for the creme brulee, then trying to get the creme brulee out of the oven so that the bread could go in. Then there was prepping the corn for roasting on the grill, which consisted of peeling back the leaves and removing the silk, then folding back up the leaves and tying them around the ears and putting them to soak in cold water. Ferrett took on the task of cleaning and snapping the green beans while I finally got a shower.

(To be fair, we’d gotten a very late start on the day after being out late the night before, so it wasn’t that the cooking was slavish. We were just slow.)

We don’t grill nearly as much as I would like, and I’ve figured out why. Ferrett didn’t grow up doing the “manly man cook food over flame” thing, whereas I grew up in a household where grill night duties were split between Mom putting together all the side dishes in the kitchen and Dad attempting to burn down the neighborhood with his lighter fluid firebombs and then cooking the meat. Since Ferrett has no feel for the grill, he prefers for me to handle that part of the evening. But it’s hard to do both sides of that cooking, since one has to leave the kitchen in order to man the grill. The problem is that I still have the Mom subroutine running, so I expect to be in charge of sides. That I can’t properly watch because I’m outside. What I need to do in the future is put Ferrett definitively in charge of the sides in order to free myself up for the grilling. As it was, I was running madly in and out of the house (I’d at least had the foresight to drag the grill down near the side door instead of leaving it up by the garage) and giving Ferrett incomplete instructions when his head wasn’t in “cooking” space at all. The only bad consequence of this is that the green beans were a little underdone, since he thought they only needed a quick warmup and didn’t taste them to make sure they were properly cooked. Still, they were quite edible.

I’m very pleased with the way the tuna came out. Tuna is easy to overcook, and I managed to avoid that, while also getting the corn roasted but not dried out. The Cook’s Illustrated sauce, while tasty, was a bit of a disappointment because it didn’t really convey a lot of flavor using the instructions given. It’s an excellent sauce, though, and I saved it with the plans of making bruschetta next week. The bread – the third loaf I’ve baked this week – had such a fine, crisp crust that slicing it caused an explosion of crumbs to fly up from the knife. We enjoyed the companionship of a shared meal, and for the first time I got a feel for clearing the table and doing the dishes in the new kitchen. Since the door of the dishwasher effectively blocks the path into the dining room, it was incredibly handy to be able to stack things on the breakfast bar and have someone in the kitchen moving them to the sink and dishwasher.

After that, it was after-dinner drink and creme brulee time. I passed out the ramekins, and a glass with demarara sugar (a raw sugar like turbinado) to sprinkle atop the custard. Then we passed around the torch. I think everyone used too-thick a layer of sugar, but torching the cremes brulee was almost as fun as getting to eat them. This will definitely be a dessert that is seen again (though not too often as it is very rich). The drinks were Kahlua and milk over ice for three of us, and amaretto for Patti.

As all good evenings should, this one ended with taking our drinks into the living room and engaging in lively conversation. It was a lovely evening, and makes me look forward to seeing them again. I’ve promised Patti to give a bread-baking lesson at her lovely, recently remodeled kitchen (they were the ones who recommended the fabulous contractor who did ours, and their kitchen and family room addition are very awesome), and Mike has vowed to teach Ferrett to drive a stick-shift – but more on that when and if it actually happens.

In the meantime, today is the end of an incredibly busy week – a lengthy meeting Tuesday night, overnight company Wednesday, a Rock Band party Thursday, a concert Friday, and dinner with Mike and Patti last night. Today? Ferrett is fetching lunch from the local Middle Eastern restaurant, Aladdin’s, and I intend to sit on my butt and do next to nothing. We scheduled this as one of our rare, “no outside stuff” days.

Because tomorrow it all gets busy again.



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