Back in July, as a "thank you," I had a housewarming party for the people who had helped me move in to my new apartment in Harlem. It was an exciting event for me because it was a) my first dinner party in my new digs, b) the first time some of my closest friends would be meeting my boyfriend, and c) an experiment in gathering some people who did not know each other well and who's only connection was mostly me.
I've always been intrigued by the challenge of throwing the perfect dinner party -- inviting the right mix of people, maintaining interesting conversation, coming up with a menu that pleases all guests, providing enough wine/cocktails, and being able to cook, socialize, mingle, and entertain all at the same time without breaking a sweat. Needless to say, I broke a sweat.
I had invited my boyfriend Andrew, my best friend from since childhood Natalie, my best friend from since high school Jan, and my college roommate (and the best penpal) Kari (theme: people from different stages of life?). Natalie brought over Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre (one of my favorites), sorbet from The Bent Spoon, and a toy for my cat. Jan, knowing the kind of wino that I am, brought me an amazing 8-glass set of Reidel wineglasses, which truly make the perfect "ting" when set down on the counter. Kari had made from scratch one of the most amazing cheesecakes I've ever had in my life and hauled it all the way from Brooklyn. Andrew provided labor, assistance, and the coolest turkey/bird of paradise constructed from two pineapple.
The menu was organic pork chops with a pineapple-honey sauce, served with brussels sprouts salad and whipped cauliflower.
To start with, I made hummus as the appetizer, just a little to whet the appetite. I usually try to keep myself stocked with cans of garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas) and tahini so if I have an unexpected visitor or hunger, I can whip up hummus real fast. I just dump a can of garbanzo beans (with the liquid) into a blender, add a ton of tahini and olive oil, a clove of garlic, a pinch of sea salt, some lime juice, and then blend away. I like to serve the hummus on a flat plate with a little well in the middle for some olive oil and then sprinkle the edges with paprika (and no, you cannot substitute chili powder for paprika). What was sad was that I had bought and cut into triangles whole wheat pita from Whole Foods and it was disappointingly stale.
I was also bummed that I hadn't had enough time or money at the time to go out and buy materials for cocktails. I like to be able to provide a gin and tonic or vodka and cranberry if one doesn't want wine or beer, but moving is hard and one has to make priorities. Unfortunately, hard liquor was not on the top priority list of "things to buy" at the time.
A few hours prior (around 2PM), I had trimmed the pork chops (when preparing meat, I always go organic; I'm uncomfortable with conventional meat) and marinated them in Yellowtail Chardonnay, crushed black pepper, slices of garlic, and a very small amount of sea salt. I marinated both sides of the meat for about 1-2 hours on each side. I pan-seared these babies in olive oil -- it took forever and I wish I had a grill or was more confident about broiling. I served the pork chops with a sauce that was made out of pineapple, wildflower amber honey, dijon mustard, and a clove or two of garlic (I had blended it altogether). I was generous with the dijon mustard which gave it a good kick and an interesting component. I would have liked to marinate the pork chops in this mixture -- I think maybe next time I would just combine the pineapple sauce with the white wine and marinade the chops for like, 2-3 hours each side.
The brussels sprouts salad is nice because it seems fancy but is the most ridiculously simple dish. I don't know why everybody hates on brussels sprouts when they are adorable and delicious! Anyhow, I quartered brussels sprouts and cooked them until they were at the cusp of tender (but still crispy) in olive oil. Then I tossed in feta cheese, chopped walnuts, and slices of cherries (if cherries are out of season, dried cranberries would work too).
Unfortunately the second causality of the night was the whipped cauliflower. The point is to cook the cauliflower and garlic in olive oil until brown and then whip it in a blender/food processor. It comes out the consistency of mashed potatoes and the cauliflower has a natural buttery taste that melta in your mouth. I've done this side dish a few times but this time it was a disappointment because I was feeling the time crunch and didn't cook the cauliflower long enough. As a result it did not whip/blend well and instead caused Andrew to battle with the blender for a while (I really need a quality food processor). Anyway, lesson learned with the cauliflower -- got to make sure it is cooked thoroughly.
Ultimately I was thrilled with the dinner party -- we ate well and then sat around talking and sharing stories. Natalie cracked us up with some hilarious tales and Kari awed us with the most delicious homemade cheesecake I have ever tasted (truly comparable to the cheesecake at Cafe Fiorello). Seriously. It was everything a cheesecake should be (creamy, cheesy, sweet, perfect graham cracker crust) and I am in awe of the Cheesecake Queen because as much as I like cooking, I'm a mediocre baker. Jan kind of just stayed quiet (suddenly shy?) and Andrew revealed some embarrassing secrets about me. It was truly good company and they were all great sports about not having a large table to sit at or an air conditioning unit to keep us from melting under the hot halogen track lighting in my living room. It was honestly one of those nights where I felt like the luckiest girl in the world and my house was truly warmed by friends, food, and the stove. Now, if only the cauliflower had been fluffier...