Winter Weekend Entertaining Menu

recipe box full size

Regular readers here know that for the past year, I've been dealing with some bad foot pain.  I am so happy to report, however, that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Things have improved so much that this weekend I got back into the kitchen for an afternoon of cooking for friends.  On the way home from the market on Saturday morning, my car packed with ingredients, I thought to myself "this is what really makes me happy."  I love the creative effort involved in planning a cohesive menu and spending time cooking up tasty food for friends.

This weekend's menu featured Italian comfort foods, or as D. said, "3 of [his] favorite things: chocolate, wine and beef." 

For munchies, we started out with Robioloa cheese and cranberry pepper jelly on 34 Degrees Natural Crispbread.  I also put out an artichoke heart and Parmesan dip that I got at Sevan Bakery, along with some grissini (long, skinny Italian bread sticks) and some pitted green olives with lemon and garlic from Whole Foods.

For dinner, we had short ribs with tagliatelle, which was rich and flavorful and worth the effort.  I didn't make any adjustments at all to this Giada recipe (but for skimming off some of the fat several times during the cooking) and it came out deliciously - the wine and bittersweet chocolate add great depth of flavor.  

These ribs are a 3+ hour endeavor, though, so this recipe's definitely a weekend special-event deal.  And although the recipe as written calls for 3 hours of cook-time, mine was closer to 4 - I had some really thick short-ribs.  If you decide to tackle these, I'd leave yourself more time because there is NO downside to having your sauce ready while you assemble the rest of your meal - it'll just get that much more flavorful as it waits. 

 This fresh salad with red leaf lettuce, radishes, toasted pine nuts and a citrus vinaigrette provided a nice counterpoint to the very rich main dish.  I found the recipe in my new Gourmet Today cookbook, but lucky for you, it's online at Epicurious as well.

I had intended to steam up some broccoli to serve with a little extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan and red pepper flakes, but that got lost in the shuffle of dinner being overdue. 

I also served up some Scali (not homemade, from Formaggio) to mop up sauce, etc.

For dessert, there were assorted amaretti and chocolate-covered butter cookies for the kids and this easy, unexpected and delicious recipe for dried figs with walnuts and mascarpone cheese.  I'd make a couple adjustments to this recipe, however.  First, if your dried figs are large, I'd halve them.  Although they do get more tender in the wine and balsamic syrup, they're still rather chewy and it'll be easier going with halves.  Next, I think that toasting the walnuts prior to assembling the mix in your baking dish is overkill - the walnuts toast up nicely in the oven.  Third, these were good cold, but I think that serving them warm as called for in the recipe would send them to over-the-top deliciousness.  The mascarpone is such a nice creamy complement to the sweet and tangy syrupy figs and toasty nuts.  It's a little party in your mouth and a relatively light way to end a rich meal.

Bon appetit!