After all of the years I’ve spent working in the restaurant industry, I’m sure of two things: I really miss wads of cash in my pocket and I don’t want to be anywhere near a restaurant around Valentines weekend. It’s one of the busiest times of the year. That means rushed service, 86-ed menu items and less than stellar food from overwhelmed kitchens. Days I’d prefer to just make an extra special dinner at home instead.
Last year when we started this tradition, we were living in our interim loft in Detroit. Despite the scar splashed forever across the back of my left hand from a molten sugar mishap, (I made coffee toffee for favors.) the party was one of our best. I often wish I’d have documented that evening and its menu here. Snakes and I both decided that we need to keep better track of dinner parties, guest lists, menus, table setting, etc. Now we have a dedicated journal to hash our menu planning and I intend to do my little “scrap-booky” thing here on the blog of the final product. So…. without further ado…
We invited three other couples who were all (luckily) very understanding and flexible when I phoned them on 19th (original date of party) just hours before dinner to call the whole thing off. Snakes had just learned (by CT scan at an emergency clinic) that it wasn’t language training after all that had him feeling like a man twice his age. He wasn’t one of the one in a million people to experience incredibly adverse and painful reactions to his recent battery of vaccinations. It was pneumonia! I imagine he’d had it for a few months. I’m relieved to report that after a round of antibiotics and lots of sleep, he’s back to his old self. As a result, we rescheduled for the 26th.
I decided to try my hand at marshmallows for party favors. Snakes had gotten “Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it” by Karen Solomon as a Christmas gift from my sister. There was a simple recipe and although it does suggest using a stand mixer (of course my Kitchen Aid is in storage! ARG!!) I decided I’d give my hand mixer a run for its money. They turned out nice, if a bit softer than we’re accustomed to, but I didn’t really mind that. I tossed some in powdered sugar and some in cocoa powder. They were positively luscious! I am eager to experiment further, maybe try a little mint extract next time, as a fellow blogger suggests.
One of our guests brought some gorgeous (and pregnancy-friendly) cheeses to start us off, though I can’t recall exactly, an earthy aged manchego and a whiskey cheddar. We continued with a light salad of baby greens, juicy grapefruit segments, avocados and a citrusy vinaigrette. After came the homemade ravioli. Snakes is a genius with the pasta. I had been away at Eastern Market all day and when I got home around four, I found he had rolled out, stuffed and cut around 50 heart-shaped raviolis, swollen with roasted butternut and pecorino. We served them in a quick lemon sage butter sauce with fresh parm. I just love it when he expresses his affection in ravioli…
After the pasta course, we paused for a refreshing (and homemade) cranberry sorbet. The final course was braised lamb shanks served with a snow pea and mint risotto. This was followed by another cheese course, courtesy of the aforementioned cheese guru guest.
And finally, the tart I’d made twice in one week (see top picture for round one), lemon sabayon with a pinenut crust. It’s from Thomas Keller’s book Bouchon, but catalogued here on epicurious. This recipe is a winner through and through. I’ve made it countless times and it always turns out perfectly, the buttery lemon filling is an ideal compliment to the toasty pine nut crust. I decided to top it with berries to make it more colorful and festive.