Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A memorable meal of the past: dinner party at Mae's, July 2009

Plating desserts in Mae's kitchen, one of my favorites
During the previous two summers, I rented a room from Mae Kenrick, an amazing woman who unfortunately passed away in August 2009.  I want to write a post about Mae, her cooking, and what I learned from her about food, love, and life, but writing that post is almost certainly going to make me cry, so....not now.

Among Mae's many kindnesses toward me, she gave me free rein in her kitchen and full use of her utensils/pots/pans/dishes.  So on a weekend when she was out of town, I hosted a three-course dinner party (with her blessing, of course) for six friends.  Another friend gamely agreed to be my co-host/co-cook for this extravaganza, which I couldn't have pulled off by myself.

Our constraints for this dinner were:
- Should be entirely vegetarian
- Desserts should not be overly sweet or cloying
- No figs, honey, cantaloupe or honeydew (allergies)
- No large pieces of or whole tomatoes (chunks of tomato in sauce are ok)

After a flurry of email exchanges during which Co-Host and I debated the merits and practicalities of cream sauces vs. tomato sauces, lasagna vs. loose pasta, soups, and goat cheese pairings; trips to various supermarkets (mostly Mollie Stone's and The Milk Pail); and an evening of testing recipes and making chocolate ganache, we settled on the following menu:

Fresh goat cheese and balsamic-poached apricots on some form of crisp bread/crackers
Simple green salad with cucumbers (We had considered chilled pea soup, but as I described in an earlier post, I vetoed the soup).
Mushroom and tomato lasagna (labor intensive, but pays off)
Stuffed baked avocado
Dark chocolate ginger truffles
Lemon yogurt cake with fresh fruit and coconut-ginger sauce

Main course
On the afternoon of the party, I started roasting the tomatoes and cooking the avocado filling.  After Co-Host arrived, we prepared the rest of the lasagna components, assembled and baked the lasagna and avocados.  Co-Host spent well over half an hour patiently heating and re-heating chocolate to temper it, ensuring the shiniest shell possible for the truffles.  Our guests then arrived, helped assemble the appetizer and salad, brewed iced tea, and then we all sat down for the meal.  Everything had turned out well and deliciously.

The entire experience still might be my favorite cooking adventure so far, and also one of my happiest memories.  Great food, even better company, and plenty of laughter - it doesn't get any better than that, really.