Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dinner Party Practice

The Joy of Cooking has a section devoted to Entertaining which I referred to recently for advice about dinner party etiquette. They have two simple rules when it comes to planning the menu:

Choose food that can be prepared ahead of time, so that you can spend more time at the table than over the stove, and never, ever, make a dish for company that you haven't made before and mastered.

Along those lines, I thought it was only wise to try out the Slow-Cooker Beef Burgundy (from The Best Slow & Easy Recipes) that I had planned for Saturday's dinner party.

I have barely ever cooked with meat before and I have certainly never made a stew, so the task was a bit daunting. For some reason, I feel like making stew with a slow-cooker is less intimidating than using a big pot on the stove. Avo continues to scoff at the gigantic Crock Pot that is taking up valuable space in our cupboard, but I am determined to put it to good use.

On Friday -- during the snowstorm -- Avo was sent home from work early, so I dispatched him to United Meat Market to buy 5 pounds of boneless beef chuck eye roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Why cut the meat myself when the butcher is happy to do it for me?

"Bacon!" bellowed Ruby, who is hog wild about the stuff. She begged for a taste when I cooked up the bacon (I couldn't deny her).

"How do you mince carrots?" I asked Avo.

He took one look at me trying to chop carrots with a bread knife and rolled his eyes.

"Why don't you use the Cuisinart?" he asked.

"Um, yeah, of course, good idea. In fact, can you mince the onions, carrot, garlic and thyme for me?"

Sweetheart that he is, of course, he agreed to be my "sous-chef" and prep the veggies and herbs.

After cooking the onions, carrot, tomato paste, garlic and thyme in the bacon fat, I double-checked the recipe. Oops, I forgot an essential ingredient: a bottle of Pinot Noir. I quickly got on the phone to the mom of one of Jesse's friends and made a barter arrangement -- You can drop your kid off at our house for a few hours as long as you bring me a bottle of Pinot Noir. Deal.

When I got to the end of the recipe, I panicked when I realized I didn't have any frozen pearl onions. Avo said he couldn't find them at the co-op. I decided to boldly ignore the recipe and do without them. What other option did I have?

Once I dumped the mixture to the slow cooker and stirred in the chicken broth, soy sauce, tapioca, and bay leaves, I "nestled" the beef into the crock pot.

"How do you nestle beef anyhow?" I asked Avo rhetorically.

"Beats me. I think it just means be gentle with it."

I put the lid on and set the thing on high.

"You sure it's plugged in?" asked Avo, who almost seemed as if he was hoping to catch me in a glaring mistake (he really does hate the crock pot).

Luckily, it was, in fact, plugged in.

Nearly seven hours and a roasted Brussels Sprouts tossed with bacon later and dinner was served.

The girls got a kick out of setting the table "fancy" with a table cloth and cloth napkins. It was a lot of effort for just one guest, my grown-up nephew. But it was worth the effort since now I can confidently re-create this dish on Saturday.

Even Avo had to grudgingly admit the meat was flavorful, tender and delicious. We didn't even miss the frozen pearl onions.

So I guess the crock pot has gotten a reprieve...for now.


Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - I'm sure you know, but I'll be a mom and tell you anyway. Always, always read a recipe through and make a list of the ingredients that you need at least a day before you will be cooking the dish or baking that dessert. It's a terrible feeling to be halfway there and realize you need something, i.e., frozen pearl onions. In many cases you can improvise, but it's not always possible. I'm delighted that you're persevering in your attempts at cooking and baking. Freeze some of that beef burgundy so we can taste it when we visit in May or, better yet, cook it again for us. Sounds yummy.

Dori said...

As you might have noticed, I do not take The Joy of Cooking's advice. I typically cook something I've never made and view the stove like a DJ relates to his turntables: a central post where all the action happens and where guests come to hang out.

This is not a model for good dinner party hosting, so I'm glad you're doing your homework. I'm intrigued by this recipe. It's an unusual beef stew, calling for chicken stock and tapioca. Did you have to brown the meat first? I look forward to trying it!

Anonymous said...

I sent you a suggestion on FB..for a podcast I follow called Dinner Party's lightweight..not practical but amusing....
do you like to taste your cooking along the way?? like when it says taste for seasoning? well..I don't..and that's one reason I'll never be a great cook..
also..have you noticed on food network that great chefs don't focus much on washing hands? that holds me back too...I have to wash my hands after touching raw eggs..paranoid on that

Merle said...

hey...funny...I'm using a coworker's computer and my previous comment was posted with his name..but not was from me...Merle [ classroom supervising a study hall!]

Undomesticated Me said...

I was wondering who "Jon" was, Merle. Meanwhile, I'll check out "Dinner Party Download."

Dori said...

Update on the previous comment: I mentioned what seemed like the curious addition of tapioca to my more formally trained food-editor colleague and she thought it sounded right as a thickener with the crock pot, which adds a lot of moisture. Typically, in a non crock-pot recipe you would coat the meat with flour then brown, but in the crock pot that would be a wasted step since any caramelization from browning would be lost in the wet, slow cook. So tapioca would function in place of that flour.