It all starts with the menu. I wanted a bunch of things that would be prepared before the guests arrived so all I had to do was finish and serve. My friend Richard was going from old, 47, to really old, 48, and I wanted to make sure this event marked the gravity of the occasion.
His daughters, nieces and friends have dietary restrictions around gluten and dairy and I also didn’t want to have to make alternate dishes. Mostly I wanted a menu with big flavor and not too much work. I settled on:
Appetizer: Grilled Steelhead Trout (looks and tastes like, but is not, mild Salmon) served room temperature with toppings & accouterment. (I used the Pesto from the other night, and made guacamole, a dill sauce and a roasted onion and garlic aioli. And served it with grilled crostini and big romaine leaves). This appetizer was a big hit!
Salad: Caprese with Burrata, Avocado and aged balsamic.
Main course: Roasted Pork with Fennel Rub, Grilled Eggplant & Goat Cheese “Lasagna” (no noodles), Gluten Free Pasta with Sun Dried Tomato and Olive Tapenade.
Desert: Ang’s brownies, with ice creams, toppings.
Wine: Lots. (all amazing).
Making the Salad: The caprese is what it appears to be. Beefsteak tomatoes (from Costco), Burrata Mozzarella (from Costco), Avocados (from my Aunt Mary and Uncle Charles’s ranch), organic basil (from trader joes), drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar and served with a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Problematic Pork!: This was one of those days when I was glad I had some extra time. I’ve made this pork recipe a hundred times and it turns out great every time. This time the pork wasn’t as tender as I like so I had to scramble to save it, essentially cutting it up and defatting the gravy and then tossing it all back into the oven to come together. It never really did. The flavor was great but it never got as tender as I like. Humph!
Luscious Lasagna: The eggplant lasagna was based on the “little lasagnas” I talk about elsewhere on this blog. Those are really rich so I just used less goat cheese for the larger dish. It was a hit. Serious yum factor. Pretty simple to make. Grill the eggplant (1/4″ slice), use that for “noodles,” starting on the bottom of a well greased baking dish stack eggplant, marinara (homemade or your favorite), and crumbled goat cheese in layers until the pan is full. Top with more of the tomato sauce. Bake at 325 until it’s bubbling (about 45 minutes), remove from oven at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve with Parmesan on the side.
To make the pasta I tossed gluten free noodles (made with brown rice) with sun dried tomatoes in oil (I used this oil as the basis for the sauce), marinaded artichoke hearts and a pre-mixed olive tapenade. Easy peasy. I would not use a kalamata based tapenade again as the olive flavor was too intense for me. However, since almost all of the dish was eaten I’d say people liked it. The gluten free noodles need to be rinsed before you mix in the sauce or the dish will get too mushy. I like these noodles because they make for a lighter pasta, though I don’t like them with anything but the hardiest sauces.
Ang is great about always making sure there is something on hand for the guests who might not like anything they see. That can be as simple as Goldfish and Hot Dogs. Obviously worked for this guy. Making sure he has fun means his parents can have fun too. And that, of course, is the whole point!