A Fall Dinner Party (and An Impromptu Singalong)
Just a head’s up – coming off of my last post, this one’s going to seem a bit banal. I don’t have any major confessions or profound insights. I just want to talk about how much I love endives, pears, walnuts, and blue cheese. Together, on a plate. Actually, come to think about it, maybe I do have a confession: I am a closeted Mariah Carey fan. I think the first cassette tape I ever bought was her 1993 album Music Box. (Dreamlover?! And Hero?? Amazing stuff.) And what exactly do endive salads and Mariah Carey have to do with each other? Well – as I realized in the midst of a recent dinner party – like fried chicken and Champagne, they’re kind of an unexpected, but perfect, pairing.
We celebrated our friend Nate’s 30th birthday over here recently. (Unfortunately he’s not in any of these pictures, because he was taking most them! Though I did get a few epic iPhone shots…) He invited the guests, I planned the menu, and somehow over the course of the evening, it turned into a full-on singalong. Nate and our friend Becky have an even greater love for Mariah Carey than I do, and at some point in the evening, “Always Be My Baby” was cranked up on the stereo. What could we all do but sing along (to every single word)?! That led to to “Heartbreaker,” which naturally led into Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, and then back into the ’90’s with some Boyz II Men. It was epic. I’m seriously surprised the neighbors didn’t bang on our door and tell us to shut up (considering it was midnight on a Wednesday. Ooops!).
Despite the countless dinner parties we’ve hosted around the yellow table, the singalong was a first. And definitely not the last (I just feel fortunate to have friends that share my love of early ’90’s hits!) But let’s get back to my original subject: endives. The salad I served as a first course is super simple, though it looks pretty impressive on the plate. I just tossed a few endive spears (I like using a combo of white and red endives, which you can buy at Trader Joe’s) with thinly sliced pears, crumbled blue cheese, and toasted walnuts, and drizzled each plate with a splash sherry shallot vinaigrette. Delicious, elegant, and so very fall.
For the main course, I combined a few more of my favorite fall ingredients – Brussels sprouts and bacon – with an easy carrot puree (made literally out of carrots, salt, water, and a splash of olive oil) and a piece of sear-roasted cod. (Sear-roasting, in case you were wondering, basically means you just sear a piece of fish in an ovenproof pan, flip it, then put the whole thing in the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking it. It’s my favorite way to cook fish!) I coated the cod with Merquen, a spice mixture popular in Chile, but since that can be a little hard to find, you can just season the cod with salt and pepper. This menu is simple, pretty, and perfect for a fall dinner party. Make life easier and have all of your ingredients prepped in advance, so at dinner time you can simply toss the salad, sear the fish, and reheat the puree and Brussels sprouts mixture. Just don’t forget to bust out the Mariah Carey.
Photos by Nate Poekert & Brandon Carl
ENDIVE SALAD WITH PEARS, BLUE CHEESE, AND WALNUTS
Serves 4 (as a first course)
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 to 6 small endives (red and white)
1 pear, thinly sliced
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, crumbled
In a small bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, and honey. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking constantly until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper.
Cut the tough bottoms off of each endive and separate the leaves. Squeeze the lemon juice over the pear slices to keep them from browning.
Divide the endive leaves and pear slices among four plates. Sprinkle each with blue cheese and toasted walnuts and drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
SEAR-ROASTED COD WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS, BACON, AND CARROT PUREE
Don’t be intimidated by the different components in this dish. It’s all really easy to put together, and the carrot puree can be made totally in advance.
8 large carrots, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped bacon
1 cup Brussels sprout leaves
1/4 cup white wine
4 5-ounce pieces of cod (or halibut)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Place the carrots in a medium-size pot and just cover with water. Bring to a boil and let cook until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Place the cooked carrots in a food processor with a few tablespoons of cooking water and about half a teaspoon of salt. Process until smooth and slowly add in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, with the motor running. Add more water if you want it to be smoother. Taste and adjust seasoning. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a food mill, blender, or an immersion blender.) MAKE AHEAD: You can make this the day before. Keep covered and chilled and reheat before serving.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cook the bacon in large frying pan over medium-high heat until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the Brussels sprout leaves and cook for 3 minutes or until bright green and beginning to wilt. Add the white wine and let simmer until it evaporates. Remove from heat and season the mixture with salt and pepper.
Season the cod with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large, nonstick ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering, and add the cod pieces (skin-side down). Sear the fish for 2 to 3 minutes on one side, or until a nice brown crust forms. Carefully flip the fish and place the pan in the oven. Cook for an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until the fish is opaque and flakes easily.
To serve: Place about half a cup of carrot puree in the center of each plate. Top with a piece of cod and spoon the Brussels sprout bacon mixture over each piece of fish. Serve immediately.
My name is Anna Watson Carl. In a word, I love food, I love France, and I love throwing dinner parties. Over the years, I've worked as a personal chef, taught cooking classes, edited cookbooks, written for magazines, tested and styled recipes, and traveled whenever opportunity has arisen. But at heart, there's nothing I love more than sharing a meal with friends around the yellow table.
For me, cooking has always been a way of life. As a (mildly precocious) ten-year old, I planned and prepared a four-course Valentine's dinner for my parents, birthing a lifelong passion for dinner parties. That was just the beginning. I've been cooking ever since, whipping up souffles at a chateau in Burgundy, searing filet mignon for a wealthy client's dog (bizarre, but true), butchering ducks for confit de canard in Paris, baking the night shift in Nashville, and bathing the floor of my NYC apartment in turkey brine...the story continues....more
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