Rewind to a few weeks ago when I received a text from a dear friend who wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by surprising HER friends with a delicious dinner. I was so lucky to be included in this group of amazing women; however, she also requested that I be the one to make said dinner.
This was incredibly humbling and awesome for multiple reasons…1. Laurie is known for her ability to be keenly aware of her friends’ gifts and talents, and for helping them find ways to cultivate those gifts. She is the ultimate connector! 2. She knows I have never made a full course meal for that many people before, but knew I would be up for the challenge…and 3. She recognizes my growing love for cooking and knew this would be a place for me to shine, and I wanted to do that for her on HER day to shine.
Needless to say, I was so honored and wanted EVERYTHING to be perfect for her special day. I reached out to my uber-talented brother-in-law who happens to be one of the BEST chefs in Atlanta (and who has graciously taught me much of what I know in the kitchen) to help me put together a menu. He sent me thoughts and ideas…enough to spark my fire and give me the confidence to forge ahead.
I’m an obsessive “To-Do List” kind of gal. I write and re-write my lists over and over until they are beautiful and without blemish. So, 10+ scratched-out lists and recipe edits later, I had everything I needed in working order. I worked through 2 different recipes for the salad and then at least 3 different ones for the main course. I liked components from each, but wanted to make this my own after testing in the kitchen.
After much deliberation, adaptations and recipe-testing with my resident taste-testers (J & A), I finalized the menu and went shopping. I felt SO accomplished when I realized I got all the ingredients for the appetizer, salad and main course for well under $200. Thank you, Costco & Trader Joe’s.
I knew I couldn’t do all the prep by myself, so Laurie and I decided to hire a former Trinity student of mine, along with her friend, to help me prep and clean in the kitchen the day of. That proved to be a fabulous idea and we got everything prepped and started before the guests arrived.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t stressed. I felt pressure, but in a good way, and I think my adrenaline kicked in at just the right time. There were a few hiccups along the way, but we powered through them. The appetizers were being passed, drinks poured, and the dinner had officially started. I was truly in my happy place.
I enjoyed every part of it…every “supreme” citrus cut, every peel of a parsnip, the searing sizzle of the chicken thighs…it was GLORIOUS. Sure, there were definitely missteps. Once things started trucking along, I totally forgot to throw in some ingredients, but it didn’t have a huge impact. No one thing proved too problematic and everything came together beautifully.
For the appetizers, I made a Butternut Squash, Sage & Goat Cheese Crostini and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in Prosciutto. The salad course was next and I was super excited about this dish: Roasted Beets with Winter Citrus over Baby Kale & Ricotta Cheese, topped with a Pistachio Vinaigrette.
The main course was one that I experimented with quite a bit, but was the most nervous about executing well for 20 guests. I made some adjustments with the pans I planned to used. Rather than cook everything in batches in a skillet (the original plan), I decided to slow-roast it all together in the oven. I seared the chicken first, then sautéed the onions, carrots and mushrooms, and finally layering with the riesling, coconut milk & herbs.
The final product was a delightful Coq Au Riesling, served on top of a Roasted Garlic & Parsnip Puree with sautéed Haricot Verts. The savoriness of the chicken and vegetables over the sweet, garlic parsnips proved to be SO. GOOD.
The whole evening was a lovely success and, for me personally, such a HUGE step forward to doing who-the-hell-knows with food. A few people have asked about my plans for this newfound love of cooking, and the only answer I have is, “Who knows?! I just LOVE cooking and LOVE cooking for people!” So for now, finding opportunities to do that is incredibly exciting.
The whole experience was a first for me, and one I hope to be the first of many. Anyone want to be a taste-tester, I’ll come cook for you ANYTIME!
Happy Saturday, friends <3