Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Eve Feast

December 31, 2007
On New Year's Eve, six couples from our neighborhood have a progressive dinner. The tradition started when progressive dinners were a new thing, and it has continued even though it may now be passe. But why should eating good food with good friends ever be passe?
This year, we started at the Beiers' house.

Jim doesn't really like to take pictures of people, so you will not know what the Beiers look like. They are like us, a handsome couple of a certain age. And Betty is an excellent cook. For the appetizer course, Betty made marinated shrimp:

Beautiful, aren't they?
And cornbread crab cakes:

These were fabulous. Betty said that she was dubious about the crab and cornbread combination, but she needn't have been. They went together like love and marriage. (And we know whereof we speak on the love and marriage front, by the way. All six couples are still on their first marriage, and among us, we have about 250 years of marriage. A bizarre thought).
This huge wheel of brie with pecans and figs was not a bizarre thought, however, but a very happy one:

There was also a small bowl of caviar. I don't know why Jim didn't take a picture of that. Maybe he didn't want to suggest that we are caviar-eating, latte-drinking liberals. Although we are.
The second course was soup, at the Wolfs' house. That's us.

I'll admit that I worked all day on my assignment. I made white whole wheat rolls from Maggie Glezer's book:

I recently bought some white whole wheat flour, and when I saw this recipe, it seemed like kismet. Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the results. They were hearty and flavorful, but the overall effect was perhaps a little too hearty. They seemed like little discs that you might want to use in a food fight. No one did, but it was, after all, only the second course, and nobody had had enough to drink to start a food fight. Not that they would.

This is a picture of The Green Head. She comes out on New Year's Eve as a travelling prize to be awarded to the person who gets the most predictions right. I won it last year. This year I was more careful to be wrong in my predictions so I wouldn't get it again.
Back to the soup. I made a roasted yellow pepper soup and a roasted tomato soup, drizzled with serrano pepper cream. It turned out to be an all-day process, but worth every minute.

As you can tell from the recipe and the photograph, it's two different soups, both made basically the same way--lots of fresh vegetables are roasted and added to a base of shallots softened in butter, herbs, and chicken broth. This mixture is pureed and strained, and cream and more chicken broth is added. The serrano cream is made with creme fraiche, salt, garlic and a bunch of chopped serrano peppers.
The recipe warns that if you process the creme fraiche too much, it might curdle. And so it did. Curdled creme fraiche is not a pretty sight. I had to run to the grocery store and get more creme fraiche and more peppers, which I processed very, very lightly. Both soups were very good--fresh-tasting and flavorful--on their own, but dynamite together. And the presentation, which is a result of just pouring two cups from either side of the soup bowl, was quite dramatic. The serrano cream added the right punch.
We went next to the Niemiecs' house. They live on Harriet Avenue, not Garfield Avenue like the rest of us, but they are also allowed to participate because we are nothing if not inclusive.
Joan did a salad bar:

Although we had already eaten too much food, we trundled off to the Delorias' house for the main course.
Laurel is a collector.
She collects antiques, masks, and many other things, including Department 52 Snow Village houses.

It takes her and her three helpers a full day to put up these houses, and another day to take them down. Some might call this an obsession, and Laurel has hinted darkly that this is the last year she's going to put all these houses up, but no one really believes it.
Jim was quite taken with their creche-and-wine combo:

Laurel did a nice, light hunk of roast beef with horseradish cream, with a side a gooey, cheesy potatoes provided by the Papanicalaous:

So delicious! But I was in pain from all the food, and dessert was still to come.
We moved to the Logelands' house for dessert:

Note The Green Head, now in residence with the Logelands until next year. Doug is the dessert chef at the Logelands' house. Mary weighs about 20 pounds, and thinks that a nice piece of fruit is the perfect dessert. Doug--well, he weighs more than 20, and he thinks that if you're going to have fruit, you might as well make pie. And so he made these two Key Lime pies with perfect meringue.

In case anyone was disappointed with a fruit-based dessert, they also thoughtfully provided bowls of chocolates and nuts.
And that, dear friends, was how Breadbasketcase and her faithful spouse, Jim, spent New Year's Eve. It couldn't have been better. We hope that you were also surrounded by good food and good friends, and that you have a most excellent new year.


Melinda said...

I like this progressive dinner thing!
How fun, and everyone has to clean up their own messes!
It's a grand way to draw out a meal and feel like you've traveled as bit!
Everything looks delicious too. Betty's prawns and crab...well, gorgeous. My mouth is watering.
Your soup looks festive and professional. How pretty it was, with the two colours and swirls and dabs of Jackson Pollack serrano pepper cream. So flash! The bread rolls looked great.
Happy New Year! It's a good start, as you don't have to live with the green head!

mary said...

HI, Marie:

Thanks for recording the menu of the 2007 Progressive Dinner. Every course - both the description and the picture - are great, perhaps even better than the real thing.

I can't believe that we have 250+ years of marital bliss among us. If we've survivied that long, I think our marriages will last at least as long as our future progressive dinners. I can't image life without Doug - how would I find another New Year's Eve date who can fit in and make such delicious pies?

The soup was excellent!


Doughadear said...

I've of three coarse progessive dinners but six sound like even more fun. What a better way to end the new year than to spend it eating great food and in the company of wonderful friends. You are blessed! Wishing you a year of good food shared with great friends.

pinknest said...

what a splendid idea!! do you all walk to the houses or drive? it must be a good way to help digest, no? everything looks spectacular. and the all-da soup you made is gorgeous.

breadbasketcase said...

You would love the food and the people, I'm sure. I was aiming for something less Jackson Pollock-y and more professional looking, but it's very kind of you to suggest that the serrano splatters were deliberate.

Not better than the real thing! And you will notice that I never claimed marital BLISS--just marriage.

And the same to you!

We walked--we live in four neighboring houses, plus one house across the street, and then there's the odd couple one block away. Even when it's twenty below zero, nobody could justify starting a car just to go next door.
I hadn't really thought about the digestion aspect. I have a feeling that the digestion part doesn't start until we get home and flop into bed.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That sounds like magic. Wonderful to see all the houses and decorations!
Your soups sounds and looks totally wonderful! I'm liking the KA white whole wheat but I haven't been able to substitute all for white like it suggests. But I do like it. Sorry bout the rolls. I think the soup more than took center stage!

breadbasketcase said...

The rolls weren't a disaster--they just weren't as good as I thought they'd be because the other breads I've made from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking cookbook have been so spectacular. I do like the taste of the while whole wheat flour, but I don't think you could use it as a substitute for white flour either.