One of the things that has stumped me entirely since I've been alone (my husband died more than two years ago), is entertaining. My family comes over all the time, but that doesn't seem like the same thing.
But a few weeks ago, a good friend mentioned that they had missed seeing Frost/Nixon and I had, too. I was planning on watching it via On-Demand on my Cable network, but they don't have that premium service. So I realized that I could invite them over for dinner and a movie -- brilliant!
I got a little way out there with the dinner -- not having done this for a while I think I wanted to prove that I hadn't forgotten how. So I made homemade chopped chicken livers for the hors d'ouerves (and a block of very good sharp cheddar to replace the wrapped Brie that I immolated in the oven), followed by a Straccoto (an Italian beef roast cooked in red wine and seasoned with almonds, pine nuts, and raisins), Julia's Carrots, Pommes Dauphinoise, a Cucumber Dill Salad, and a Fruit Tarte (the bakery's -- I don't do that kind of baking, but my guests like that sort of thing).
The dinner was a great success and we all enjoyed the movie -- it took us right back to a time we passionately remembered. Now that I know I can entertain friends on my own I think I should be making a habit of it. Just not every night -- it's a lot of work.
Cut a large onion into half rings and saute it in vegetable oil until it is golden brown. Hard-boil four eggs and peel them. Spread one pound of rinsed and cleaned chicken livers on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until brown on the outside but still pink inside. Turn once during the process.
Put all of the ingredients through the food processor, adding salt and pepper as you put them in, to taste. I also grate in a teaspoon or so of raw onion. Pulse to a not-too-smooth consistency. Refrigerate until needed -- take out of refrigerator 30 minutes or so before serving.
Easily made in multiples -- I made three pounds of livers and gave two-thirds of it as gifts. Big success.
I first tasted this in a restaurant in Tuscny and fell in love. This recipe is the result of putting several recipes I found in my cookbook library and on-line together.
Brown a 4-pound rump roast in olive oil in a large stove-top covered pan (I use an 8-quart chef's pot). Remove it temporarily to a bowl and add one chopped carrot, one chopped onion, and one-half teaspoon of crushed red pepper (more or less to taste). Saute until the vegetables are softened. Add one-half cup sliced almonds, one-half cup pine nuts, one-half cup white raisins, a handful of chopped flat parsley, and two cloves of garlic, minced. Give it all a good stir and pour in a bottle of robust red wine (ideally a drinkable Chianti) and a quart of beef or chicken stock (boxed, low-salt is fine). Return the meat to the pot, bring to a simmer, and cook covered, turning the meat from time to time, until very tender (about 2.5 to 3 hours). Remove the meat and let it rest while you reduce the sauce by cooking it uncovered at high heat to about one-half of its quantity. Serve the sliced meat with the sauce with potatoes or pasta.
This is one of our favorite recipes from the original first Julia Child cookbook. The only one we use more often, I think, is her French Potato Salad. It's very easy.
Cut up carrots on the diagonal into 1/4" slices. Put into a heavy saucepan with a half cup of water, a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon of butter and lots of freshly ground pepper. (Quantities for one pound of carrots; I never make less than two pounds since everyone loves then and they are great as a leftover.)
Cook covered at a simmer until the carrots are nearly tender. Then uncover pot and cook at high heat, watching carefully, until all the water is cooked off and the carrots are covered in a syrup (the butter and sugar). These can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave.
There are dozens of ways to make these and even more variations (with and without garlic, cheese, sauteed onions, etc.). I have finally found a foolproof method that I always use. The only tricky part is making sure that the milk doesn't boil over -- it makes a mess if it does.
Cut peeled potatoes into thin (1/8"-1/4") half-slices and keep in cold water while you work (I throw in a few ice cubes). Drain into a deep pot (I use a stock pot) and half-cover with milk or half-and-half. Cook until just tender, being careful not to let the milk boil over. (I do this by leaving the pot open and watching.)
NOTES: Figure on one Russet potato per potato unless you have big eaters or want leftovers. I uade one quart of milk for six potatoes. Whole milk works fine but this will work with 2% milk. Cream is a little over the top, but luxurious.
Butter or spray a shallow large gratin dish (4-5 potatoes) or a baking dish (8x10-11x13 for 6 or more potatoes) . If I'm making a really large amount for a buffet -- more than 12 potatoes -- I use two casseroles, stagger when they go into the over -- and serve one at a time.
Drain the potatoes into the casserole (save the milk). I just dip them out with a big Chinese spider. Arrange them (but you don't have to be too fussy). Pour in enough of the cooking milk to come half way up in the pan. Dot the top with butter. Salt and pepper to taste.
You can hold the casserole at this point (the potatoes are cooked) for up to a day, refrigerated. You can just leave it out in a not-too-hot kitchen for an hour or two (I just leave the air conditioning on high when I have food out).
One hour before you're ready to serve, place the potatoes in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake until gold brown on top.
Cucumber Dill Salad
An easy salad that gets served all over Mittel-Europa (Germany, Austria, Hungary, etc.). Refreshing with heavy food -- so we always serve it with pot roast. You can also whiz it in the blender, perhaps with a bit of garlic, and make a refreshing soup for a hot night.
Peel, quarter, de-seed, and slice (1/4") two or three cucumbers. Mix a dressing of 1/2 cup of cider vinegar, 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, 4-5 splashes of Tabasco, 1/4 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika, and a handful of chopped dill. Whisk together. You can add more sugar or water if the dressing is too tart for your taste. Add the cucumbers, mix, and let marinate for an hour or two.