I do believe that fall has finally arrived. The trees around town are turning their lovely shades of red and yellow, and I feel a slight chill in the late afternoon air. This is one of my favorite times of year – that is, until spring chases winter away. Then spring is my favorite.
But for the moment, right now is my favorite. Max and I have found a helping hand who loves to do yard work. J.D. has been coming over each weekend to help clean out the hedges and cut down the dying redbud trees, and his work shows as the yard gets ready for winter.
I want the back yard to look good because we are planning two charity dinners: one, benefiting the Boys and Girls Club, will take place next week, and the next, a benefit for SFCC, will occur on the night before Halloween. I keep thinking that it will be too cold to eat dinner outside, but I think with a fire pit and appropriate outerwear, the back yard will work for at least one course, and maybe two.
The best part of preparing for these dinners is that the recipes have to be tested. So far, among a host of other recipes, we have tested an “amuse bouche” and an appetizer, both of which I stole from Max’s friend Joane, who owns “Dish,” a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. The appetizer is a tomato panna cotta with tomato jam and bacon crumbles. Prior to trying the recipe, I had never had panna cotta, which is a cream-gelatin dish. It sounds disgusting, but it tastes delicious. I also had never tasted tomato jam, but my palate has now been happily educated. And what can be wrong with any dish that contains bacon? The “amuse bouche” is an avocado, cucumber, and almond cream that is served in a little cup and has the texture of yogurt.
Fortunately for the patrons who bought the dinners at the respective auctions, my friends Kim and Kevin bought me a new cookbook for my birthday. The chef who wrote the book now hails from Portland, Oregon, where he and his wife own a restaurant, but he is originally from Jefferson City, Missouri! From this cookbook, Max and I have prepared and eaten salmon filet cooked on a cedar plank on the grill. The salmon sits on a bed of rock salt and is laden with an herb and citrus zest mixture; the orange flavor is unexpected with salmon but is surprisingly good. This same chef gives directions for an autumn squash soup made with not only squash, but also apple cider, which renders it not quite, but almost, sweet. And the last recipe we have tried from that cookbook glazes roasted potatoes with a honey-spice mixture. That one is a keeper.
One set of diners is going to get a baked feta cheese and roasted red, yellow, and orange pepper salad. That recipe came from a cookbook designed and created by women chefs, which Max and Emily bought me several years ago when we were at the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. One menu includes a poached pear and cornmeal pound cake bread pudding. I’m going to try that out this weekend, because I think it will go well with the light salmon.
The other set of diners is going to get my favorite salad: chopped kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, dried cranberries, candied pecans, and blue cheese tossed in a light sesame-ginger dressing. Because that group is probably going to have beef – this is a wine dinner, and the Napa Valley vintner has donated Cabernet Sauvignon – I think the dessert is going to be a frozen whipped cream, pistachio nut fluff. I saw that recipe on “The Barefoot Contessa,” Ina Garten’s show on the Food Network. I will try that this weekend, too.
Just talking about this food makes my mouth water. Should you drive past our house sometime in the next couple of weeks, you will probably get a whiff of something coming out of the oven – and it will smell good. I’ll let you know if we have leftovers!
Deborah Mitchell is a a local attorney and a Municipal Court Judge.