Well hi there. Hopefully you’re curled up on the couch in pajamas, eating something tasty and sipping something warm.
We’re in comfies on the couch, with coffee in hand. I’m already contemplating a mug of hot chocolate with one of last night’s vanilla-bean marshmallows plopped on. There’s so much time to run around like a crazy woman with my head cut off; today is for staying warm and full.
I mentioned that celebrated the new year at home, with friends. It was almost the same crowd we had over last year, and I think it’s becoming something of a tradition. We’d planned to keep things low-key, given that we’d been traveling and didn’t think we’d have much time to cook. But as it turned out, last week was a sleepy one at the office, giving me a few afternoons with enough time to plan a proper menu. Here’s how it all went down.
We almost always serve dinner family-style, but D and I decided to go more formal for NYE, so I knew I wanted to plate the salad and main course. We quickly settled on fish, and at the market, black cod really called to me, so I splurged. Miso black cod – a Nobu recipe that’s been copied by chefs worldwide – would be a sure hit, and it fit with the French-Japanese menu that had started to emerge.
I’d bought ingredients for lemon gougeres, which are probably the number one party trick up my sleeve. Gougeres mix up in a matter of minutes, bake just as quickly, and best of all, keep in the freezer indefinitely. You can make the dough and form the gougeres in advance, then freeze them raw on the baking sheet, stick’em in a bag, and stockpile them in the freezer until the unexpected guests come knocking.
Keeping with the French part of my French-Japanese menu, I bought leeks for the leeks vinaigrette recipe David Tanis published in the Times last week. Coincidentally, he’d also published a riff on that recipe using miso for Diners’ Journal, but given that the fish was coated in miso, too, I decided stick to the original.
My rule of thumb for dinner parties is that only one dish can require in-the-moment fussing. In this case, the black cod won a-la-minute attention. Leeks were boiled in advance and left to hang at room temp until dinner, when all they needed was a swipe of dressing and a sprinkle of capers. The other element on the plate was equally easy, and I can tell you right now that it’s going into the regular rotation. It was a simple sweet potato puree that tasted kind of chef-y. Anna asked me if I’d pushed them through a tamis, and given that I didn’t even bother, what a compliment that was! It’s from Martha (perfection defined) and it’s really a template, designed to tweak and tinker to your menu and your appetite. The beauty of sweet potato puree is that, unlike potatoes, you actually can make them in advance. I did that, left them at room temp until the party, and — yea, I did it — threw them in the microwave before plating. Here’s the recipe.
There was wine. There were cocktails. Of course, there was champagne. But first, there was punch: crimson bulleit punch, specifically. It was a hit. Especially fun to make and show off was the ice ring, which I made on a whim and will definitely make again. Here’s a little video I shot about the punch, using an app called Directr, which my friend Eli designed and which you positively must check out:
(If the embedding won’t work, here’s a direct link.)
The great thing about the friends who came over last night is that when you tell them 24 hours before the party that you’re planning a French-Japanese menu, they pull perfect spring rolls and a salad with a glorious ginger dressing out of nowhere. That’s not to mention a whole bag full of good drinks and a lot of cheer.
For dessert, I knew I wanted a showstopper. After tossing around Gateau St. Honore, Gateau de Crepes, and a few other Big French Desserts, I decided to depart from my theme and make Dobos Torte, which has nothing to do with either French or Japanese cuisine. It’s a serious project, but I had the time, and I couldn’t stop drooling over the pound of chocolate ganache. So it was.
Not to jinx the good karma, but last night went off without a hitch. I opted not to brown the fish on the stove before broiling it – too much fuss, too much smoke, too much smell – and that was a good decision. 12 minutes in the broiler left my beautiful, expensive fillets of black cod as luscious and perfectly cooked as any piece of fish I’ve ever had. Leo emailed me this morning to say that he dreamt about the fish last night. The leeks and sweet potatoes cooperated as needed, and I managed to plate 8 servings of food, sit for dinner with my guests, and still not serve cold food. A true victory.
D was in charge of “mood and decor,” as she put it, and of course, she delivered. Menus were printed and wrapped with alternating colors of ribbon, denoting our teams for games later in the evening. Kazoos and confetti were purchased. And we even held a round of “good, bad, ugly, 2012 edition” over dinner.
I’m feeling particularly grateful today. We’re lucky to afford good food, to splurge on black cod without thinking too much about it. We’re lucky to have a home that can fit 8 of our good friends and keep them (mostly) warm, even with a broken HVAC. We’re lucky to have those friends, who make us laugh and make us think, and are always there to celebrate or comfort. And we’re lucky to have each other, and our families.
2012 was a difficult year for so many. I’m counting our blessings from this past year, and I’m hopeful that 2013 will bring better things for everyone. And lots of delicious food.
Happy New Year, friends.