“There’s a friend seated across from you in the cozy chair, warming your heart.” Vera Nazarian
Happy Friday & Happy Weekend! Just in the last two weeks, I have come to terms with the fact that there are no longer any local tomatoes, thanks to a frost that obliterated all the warm weather produce. We also finally had to turn on the heat, something I hate to do, when the daily high was a balmy 39 degrees…I know that temperature doesn’t even phase you Northerners, but after having lived in North Carolina for over 20 years, I have become cold-intolerant. I also realized that Thanksgiving is around the corner…actually, in 6 days. Therefore, I had to have a change of heart. It was time to think in terms of cold-weather cooking…for good.
About the same time the tomato plants froze, we had asked some friends to join us for Sunday Night dinner. Now, these are not just any friends…they tend to be pretty auspicious food & wine connoisseurs, so let’s just say that if I am going to create a menu that I want them to honestly critique for the blog, then it better be good. I was also thinking about what I had not made recently, & lastly what was seasonal and beautiful in terms of color, as I really wanted the emphasis to be on autumn colors & flavors, as I had in my last menu post, A Fall Soup & Salad Menu.
Several ideas came to mind, but nothing really inspired me until I saw these…red carrots. Farlow Farm was selling these gorgeous root vegetable at our local farmers’ market that Saturday, & I knew I had to use them in something. I decided that I would combine them with butternut squash, as the carrots have a red exterior and an orange interior…the color intensifies with cooking. Then I had an epiphany…what about an roasted carrot & butternut orzo salad?
I really like orzo, & it is a shame that I never think of it. Originally, I was thinking of using rice or quinoa, but when the idea of orzo popped into my mind, the decision was made. Overall, everyone that evening liked the orzo, but I knew it needed tweaking. Initially, I prepared the salad with pistachios, Meyer lemon, rosemary, fresh parsley & cilantro, but the orzo didn’t have enough depth in terms of flavor. Ted, the chief connoisseur, suggested adding garlic, but I thought the garlic, even if I had roasted it, would overwhelm the carrots & squash. But, he was right…something from the Allium genus was certainly needed to improve the dish. A couple days later, I decided to remake the salad for another group of friends coming to dinner. This time, I added more carrots & squash, as well as roasted shallots. Adding sage, in addition to rosemary, & deleting the cilantro also made a huge difference. The orzo, this time, worked. This is a great salad to serve alone as a vegetarian main dish, but also as a side dish, as in this menu…
…with pork. Again, I hadn’t done anything with pork tenderloin in a while, so it was time to come up with another idea. Pork, for some reason, reminds me of Fall. SO, I needed a Fall marinade idea…what about maple syrup & Dijon mustard as a marinade? While the flavor of the 2 ingredients together was nice, it wasn’t great. I was going for great. Émilie, being the wise child that she is, suggested cranberry juice…better. I then thought of apple cider. The marinade was now great. I marinated the tenderloins overnight, & we grilled the pork the next evening. Both times, the Grilled Cranberry Maple Dijon Pork Tenderloins were a unanimous hit. I think, though, that what really made the dish a success was the Cranberry Mostarda…
…which, I think, may be the best thing I ever put in my mouth! I found a recipe for it in this month’s issue of Food & Wine, which I really like, but after having made the mostarda at least 6-7 times in the last 2 weeks, I really prefer my adaptation which replaces Cranberry Vanilla Vinegar…made with apple cider vinegar…for Champagne vinegar. The apple cider vinegar is fruiter & a bit bolder, which is reflected in the mostarda’s flavor. I have given away countless samplings, if you will, of the Cranberry Mostarda, & I am now making extra batches for my friends to have with Thanksgiving Turkey! Every single person who has tried it has loved it! This mustard seed-spiked condiment is so versatile! It goes with everything, from stinky cheeses to grilled everything! I no longer think of it as a condiment…it has become a staple in the Newsome household!
So, now you’re asking, what did I serve with the orzo & pork? A salad, of course! After all, the local lettuce & greens has been so stunning, what else could I serve? I really like to get a little bit of everything & mix it all together…I think a salad is more fun that way, don’t you? Because we needed a “real red color” on the plate, I added pomegranate seeds & ricotta salt, a salty, hard version of ricotta, which has a milder flavor compared to feta. The Pomegranate Fall Salad reminded me of something that might be served for the Holidays…in fact, the entire plate did. That’s when I changed the menu title to “A Holiday Supper with Friends”, because this really is a great main course to serve from Thanksgiving (if you are not a turkey lover) through New Year’s Day, as pork is considered one of the “lucky foods” to eat to ring in the New Year!
For starters, Émilie & I made Marcona Ricotta Apricot Appetizer Bites…
…& we also served Cocktail Granola.
Both appetizers are easy to eat, which makes them great cocktail party food, & neither is too heavy to have before a big dinner like the one being served in this menu. You also can hold a drink while eating both, which is key over the next several weeks of Holiday parties!
For dessert, I must tell you that this dessert was a complete accident. Truthfully, I had no idea as to what to make. Bert went to the grocery store & brought home several pints of gelato & ice cream, & Biscoff cookies, which I love. He suggested that we simply serve ice cream & the cookies. That was too simple, as I wanted to do something special, yet simple, for this particular group of friends. I looked around the kitchen & found silicone molds. “Hmmm”, I thought. I softened the sea salt caramel gelato, as we had two pints of that flavor, and spooned the softened gelato into the molds. Next, I crushed the cookies & created a cookie layer over the ice cream…after the gelato hardened, I added another layer of gelato. Voilà! For serving, I had a little Dark Chocolate Sauce in the fridge…we warmed the sauce, spooned a little onto each plate, & placed the gelato on the sauce.The dessert received high marks from the judges. Phew!
I know that this menu seems a little out of place given that everyone else is the foodie world is publishing something having to do with Thanksgiving. In fact, I almost didn’t publish it, thinking that I would wait until New Year’s Day…over the next several days, I will be sharing with you “everything you need to know” & have for a successful Thanksgiving, as well as Holiday season, this year. I just really liked this menu, as did our guests…if 8 people besides us enjoyed it, I think that you will too. Besides, not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving, and the orzo & salad may be nice additions to your Thanksgiving table. Cheers!
A Holiday Supper with Friends Menu