While I was in Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving, Michael called me and suggested that we cook a formal sit down dinner for our friends instead of our normal tradition of a group of us going out to dinner for our birthdays. Michael, Kevin and I have birthdays that come one right after another during the holidays, there are several factors during the holidays that play against our group of friends from getting together: the holidays, holiday travel, family gatherings, work gatherings, and booked restaurants! The idea of a home cooked dinner really excited me as Michael, Kevin and I love to cook! Michael and I quickly decided on what to make, a roast or turkey, green beans or potatoes, and (Oh my gosh!) we cannot forget about our vegetarian friends!!! The menu was settled: Maple and Calvados Glazed Pork Crown Roast with Apple Chestnut Puree; White Lasagna with Swiss Chard, Leeks and Gruyere; Over the Top Creamed Brussels Sprouts Gratin; Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Parsley Puree; Challah Bread with Saffron, and for dessert, after much discussion, we ended up with Michael’s creation: a Maryann Cake with Caramelized Nuts and Chocolate Ganache.
We pretty much didn’t think about it any further until around early December when I realized that we should decide on a date and send out the invites before everyone’s schedules get booked up with family and holiday parties. We agreed on January 3rd, 2015 as we wanted to get past all the holidays; I immediately sent out the invites by email. Michael, Kevin and I also met up mid-December to discuss the details of the party. We ironed out how many people we have to feed, if we have enough tableware and silverware, and who will cook what recipe. Michael had a wonderful idea to have dinner out on our front deck with lights strung above and a view of the Hillsborough River from the tables. I was worried that we couldn’t fit everyone on the deck!!
Michael would make the bread, lasagna and cake, Kevin would make the Brussels sprouts and I would make the roast. Leading up to the party, Kevin and I tried our best to remember to place an order for a sixteen rib crown roast; keep the house clean and clutter free; got our front and back decks fixed with help from my In-Laws; and cleaned up the yards as much as we could.
I have to add, there was a little bit of confusion after I placed the order for the crown roast. I told the butcher that I would pick up the meat on Friday, January 3, 2015, but I suppose with all the holiday orders they thought I wanted it on Christmas eve! Imagine my surprise when I was at a Christmas service and I got a phone call telling me my roast was ready! It wasn’t an issue, but it caused a lot of worry when I got another phone call on December 29th asking about the roast.
The day before the dinner we spent shopping for all the ingredients that we needed and I crossed my fingers about the crown roast. This was an all-day affair that took us on a personal tour of Tampa, from vegetables at Sanwa, to Cacciatore Brothers for the roast, to Cheese Please, and a small wild goose chase for gruyere. We also stopped by The Taco Bus for lunch since all the focus on food was making us ravenous. I must emphasize how important a step it was that when you plan for a party of this size, you must read the recipe beforehand and create an ingredient list for when you go shopping. This made our shopping more efficient and quick!
No turning back now! We got back to the Riverhouse (mine and Kevin’s place) to divvy up our grocery items and do one last check to make sure we have everything we needed to make the food. Michael had brought over a table so we arranged the tables that evening to make sure we can indeed sit 16 people and we did a quick inventory of chairs. We also discussed the timing of the food since more than one item required the oven and we wanted everything to come out hot or warm and we had one last discussion on decorations.
The day of the party, Kevin prepared the Brussels sprouts in the morning, and set it aside. Michael came over with the lasagna and cake that he had made the night previous and he quickly made the nuts and chocolate ganache. The meat was then removed from the fridge, seasoned, and allowed to marinate and come to room temperature. Afterward, Michael and Kevin braided the Challah dough (after a brief braiding lesson). While the dough was rising, we decided to grill the challah bread, as we did not have enough room in the oven. The meat was in the oven at 2 o’clock to be removed by 6, at which point the oven temperature will be lowered and the lasagna and Brussels sprouts gratin can warm up by 6:30 for dinner. Kevin then prepared the cheese appetizer trays and both he and Michael put the finishing touches on the tables (Kevin had a great idea to use folded paper cranes as place settings). Michael’s partner, Mark, brought flowers and arranged them with some bright pink bougainvillea cuttings from the back yard. Everything was ready.
Guests started arriving, and we could not have asked for a better night! The evening was a perfect 75 degrees with no humidity for a great dinner with friends, lights had been strung amongst the live oak’s limbs in our front yard, candles were lit, the chimnea was stoked, and dinner would be surrounded by a warm and magical glow. This was the perfect setting for the kick off dinner of this site, and our birthdays! All the recipes in this post can be found at the “Recent Recipes” tab.