Monday, August 17, 2009

Formal family dinner

CB and his girlfriend, Miss Bee, are visiting from Santa Fe this week and we had the additional good luck to have her parents and sister spend a couple of nights with us over the weekend. We only had one sit-down meal together so I was determined to make it a good one.

I roasted some of Tim the farmer's new banana fingerling potatoes with a little olive oil and salt; roasted green beans also Tim's) dressed with tamari, minced garlic and rice vinegar; bunny mix (little new lettuces from Tim) with blue cheese and craisins; grilled chicken; and chocolate cake with my new old favorite frosting.

The festival cake of my childhood was red velvet cake, and it always came with a wonderful, rich, creamy, not-too-sweet frosting which I was never able to replicate. It had the consistency of butter and confectioner's sugar frosting, but was nothing like as disgustingly sweet. I have a new-fangled recipe for red velvet cake (from the NY Times and excellent) that calls for a frosting made with cream cheese and marscapone and whipping cream which is just as fabulous as it sounds but it is not the frosting of my childhood. Earlier this summer I googled red velvet cake on a whim and there it was: cooked frosting. I tried it and it was the frosting I remembered and it is not only delicious but really easy. Here it is: Cook 1 cup milk (whole milk, it's frosting for god's sake) with 1/3 c. white flour until it is very thick. Set aside to cool. Meantime, beat 1 cup butter with 1 cup granulated sugar until fluffy. Beat in the cooled (that's important) milk/ flour mixture and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Add a big pinch of salt if you used unsalted butter. Chill until ready to frost your chilled cake.

I put this on my standard chocolate cake and it was really good. Even better if you refrigerate the frosted cake for 6 or 8 hours before serving. Bring it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it.

It was interesting to meet Miss Bee's parents; they were just as congenial and pleasant and cheerful as I had expected. When I mentioned at Salon, my Friday women's group, that I had invited the Bs for the weekend and that Miss Bee was not sure she wanted that much togetherness (or at least that's what Mr. Bee, her father emailed to me) to a woman the group declared that they would never have allowed their parents to visit their boyfriends' parents and many declared they would have prevented that degree of coziness even after they were married.

I have to admit the idea of my parents overlapping with my in-laws makes me feel a little crazed, even now that both my parents are passing judgment on me only from on high. I adore my mother-in-law and always have, since long before she was my MIL, so there was the jealousy problem, and additionally there just wasn't much overlap between the two couples. My mother and my MIL could have talked about teaching school, since they both did, but I don't think there was anything my FIL and my father could have talked about. It was a constant struggle for me to figure out how to balance those relationships and stay fair and honorable and cause the least amount of trauma, and I don't think I was very good at it.

Who knows how long CB and Miss Bee will be partners (although it's been close to two years and the family pattern on both sides is pick 'em young and stick with 'em) but for the duration the two families had a fine time together.

Oh, about the rest of dinner -- really fresh beans only need to roast for about 30 minutes and they cook down to nothing. I cooked 5 pounds for 11 of us and there're only about two servings left. The new potatoes should be started covered -- I use a 11 x 13 pan covered with tin foil -- for about 25 minutes and then uncover them until they are done. Last night I wasn't so clever about starting things in the right order so I just took the beans out when they were done and served them at room temp (which was about 92 degrees) and let the potatoes finish cooking.

For the chicken I cooked two 5 pound free-range birds that I had the butcher spatchcock -- my butcher does it for me or you can do it yourself with a sharp knife. It just means removing the backbone and flattening the bird. Google it if you're confused. I once sent CB to the local market to get a spatchcocked bird and when he asked for it to be done the butcher looked up at him and said "You must be Ivy Vann's son. She's the only person who ever asks for that." Why I don't know, because it makes the birds easy to cook and easy to carve.

I brine my birds for at least an hour and as long as overnight before I cook them. If I'm grilling them (yes, the fire lit for me -- I think DH wasn't holding his mouth right the other night. Or maybe he just dried out the charcoal so it would light yesterday) I precook them in the microwave for 8 or 10 minutes first. It ensures they will cook evenly and relatively quickly and seems to reduce flare-ups, too.

We drank 3 bottles of Salmon Run Riesling with this meal -- some of which went to Kirs beforehand -- and it was pretty tasty all around.

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