Cooking for Alan – Dinner #3
As regular readers know, one of my food blog projects is to attempt to cook every recipe in Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Like Ina, for the past 32 years I have shared my life with an amazingly supportive husband. I would never have been able to realize so many personal and professional dreams without his encouragement and partnership in raising our sons.
Since I started my blog just about a month ago, I’ve had several friends drop hints that they’d love to join in on one of my “Cooking for Alan” dinners. So this past weekend we invited some true blue friends to the house to share the following meal:
Limocello Vodka Collins
Maple Roasted Carrot Salad
Tuscan Roasted Potatoes and Lemon
Beef Brisket with Onions and Leeks
Limoncello Ricotta Cheesecake
Why not start and end a special dinner with Limoncello? During our visit to Italy last summer, we toured the ancient ruins of Pompeii. At the end of our mind- blowing tour, we enjoyed a Limoncello tasting. Refreshing, bright and delicious are the best ways to describe this popular Italian liqueur. Since then I’ve been trying to figure out a way to use this deliciousness in food and drinks. Thankfully Ina and I share a fondness for the stuff so I didn’t have to look far to find some recipes. Another reason for choosing lemon flavors is because the main course that I chose to make features beef and potatoes. I felt like the dinner needed something a bit light and bright to wake up and recover the palate. Plus I just really like citrus flavors.
Limoncello Vodka Collins
The great thing about this recipe is that you can make it the day before. When it’s time to serve, just take it out the the refrigerator, pour over a glass of ice and top with club soda. Ina’s book recommends dipping the rim of the glass in freshly squeezed lemon juice and then lightly dip the glass into equal parts sugar and fine salt. Click here for the online recipe.
Maple Roasted Carrot Salad
One word – YUM! This scrumptious salad wakes up your mouth with a variety of textures and flavors. You’ve got the creamy feta cheese, crunchy almonds, tender arugula and chewy cranberries. The flavor combination of sweet, salt, savory and tangy citrus is, well, YUM!
I modified Ina’s recipe in the following ways. I used baby carrots instead of taking large ones and cutting them down to a particular size. This saves time and makes it easy to eat…no need to cut them up on your plate. Since I couldn’t find Marcona almonds I used sliced. I added the leftover liquid from poaching the dried cranberries in fresh orange juice to my vinaigrette. This gave the dressing the perfect balance between sweet and tart.
Keep your sanity by planning ahead.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about hosting dinner parties is how to plan ahead so that the day of the dinner you’re not losing your mind or exhausted by the time guests arrive. I try to make as many things in advance as possible. I also do a ton of prep and then put all of the mise en place back in the fridge for when it’s time to assemble or cook. For the two recipes I’m sharing in this post I did the following:
The day before or morning of dinner party:
- Make the limoncello vodka mixture and refrigerate.
- Slice lemons for garnish. Store in plastic baggie in fridge.
- Roast the carrots. Cool them. Put in fridge. Bring back to room temp before adding to salad.
- Simmer the dried cranberries in orange juice. Cool. Place in fridge. Bring back to room temp before adding to salad. Drain off juice and add to vinaigrette.
- Make vinaigrette. Store in fridge. Bring to room temp before dressing salad.
Assemble salad just before serving. Never put vinaigrette on salad greens until right before plating. The greens will wilt and lose their lovely texture. Several years ago I quit passing salad dressing around for folks to glob on top of their greens. I always start with a big bowl, put all the salad ingredients inside and pour only a small amount of dressing on top. Then toss gently to make sure everything is coated evenly. Taste. Then add a bit more it needed. I’ve found that most salads need far less than the recommended amount of vinaigrette. No matter how good it is, nobody likes to have a pool of dressing in the bottom of their plate. That’s just wrong.