On Saturday night Andy and I hosted our Carlisle dinner club for the very last time since we established it back in August 2005, as we are relocating to coastal Maine sometime this summer where Andy will take up his new job teaching in the Government Department at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and I will become expert at lobster dishes and blueberry desserts. I’m not changing my vote on the origin of Whoopie pies, though. It’s PA all the way on that score.
Ours is a varied group of 10 eaters (we’ve had as many as 14 over the years as we’re not the first to abandon ship) who have lived in places like Memphis and Manhattan, Norwich (England) and Naples (Florida), Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. And collectively have traveled to many more places in between.
But we’ve all called Central Pennsylvania our overlapping home for these last seven years, during which we’ve gathered every other month or so to cooperatively turn out feasts not often seen in these parts. We juggle work and family schedules to fit these dinners in because we have common bonds in addition to the shared locale: we love to eat really good food, enjoy intelligent banter fueled by good wine, and fully understand the notion that ties established at the table last long after the dishes are done.
We decided – well, Andy was really not part of that decision but he’s typically a good sport about these kinds of things – to go out with a bang up seven course tasting menu with paired wines and palate cleansing intermezzi.
As hostess, I set the theme (The Best Damn Meal You Have Ever Had In Carlisle) and the date, and prepared the two main courses, a dessert, and each intermezzo.
My friends each selected a course to bring to the table that would both fit the available time in their schedule and help expand their culinary repertoire. And they picked a wine to match.
OK, Thea is only in second grade — and since we’re not too much like Don Draper whose daughter is well schooled on how to make his evening drinks — so I’ll confess here that she made a stellar non-alcohol concoction of grapefruit juice, ginger, and coconut seltzer for her mom and dad a couple weeks ago. It was Chris and I who thought to add the Absolute Ruby Red and Domaine Canton – French ginger liqueur.
The menu started with these broiled oysters and Sriracha lime butter, a sort of bonus to amuse the bouches, if you will. (Recipe link) I did alter it a bit, though, swapping out the shallots for garlic and the cilantro for heartier Italian parsley.
Chris has always wanted to try a country pork pate. So she did (in spite of spending the whole week tending to Charlie, Thea’s little brother, who was severely under the weather), combining several recipes, adding in a bit of chicken liver (because she loves them) and omitting the pistachios (because another member is very allergic). We toasted Chris’s success with Veuve Clicquot.
We cleansed our palates with a green apple and calvados sorbet (Recipe link) – a nod to John and Ellen, also founding members of dinner club who run a wonderful apple (and peach, pear, cherry and apricot) orchard in the rolling hills of Adams County just south of Carlisle, the fruit of which has blessed our dinner club table many times over.
The Ulsh’s – John and Tonia – are smokin’. Yes, they are indeed a very attractive couple (you can learn more about them on John’s blog), but in this context my turn of phrase is due to John’s newest hobby: smoking everything in one of the two smokers he’s got rigged up to his laptop so that he can maintain a constant temp, even when he’s sleeping.
For our dining pleasure, John smoked a chicken, and together they made use of it in a creamy chowder (also cooked on John’s outdoor gear) and presented it in a heavy Lodge cast iron pot. (Recipe link.) The only complication in that dish was an artistic dispute between this couple of cooks regarding how much the tomatoes should be broken down before the soup was ready to serve.
The pasta course – provided by Katie – was a salty and peppery mix of sautéed cauliflower, capers, pine nuts, bread crumbs and barilotti: an interesting taste and textural exploration for all diners, including her husband, Todd, who complimented the dish and its cook, with “You can make that at home anytime, honey!”
Before the fish course, we cleansed with a chopeed blood orange and fennel salad with a bit of salted pine nut and rosemary brittle (Recipe link) as a garnish.
The salad is a staple for me this time of year, the latter is not, and everyone who tasted it had very similar reactions: silence and then “Oh … My … God!”
I’ve always read about talented cooks who enjoy dish out at a high-end restaurant and return to their own kitchens to recreate it there. This fish course my first attempt at that process. On our last night in Lyon in December we dined at the Michelin single starred Maison Clovis (19 bd Brotteaux F – 69006 Lyon). As part of the chef’s tasting menu, we received salmon, crab and avocado ravioli. It arrived at table with no pasta as we had expected. Rather, the smoked salmon served as the wrapper around crab, avocado, chives and lemon.
The F inrench version also at in watercress foam. My rendition included lobster (in deference to the next destination in our lives) and the green on the plate was a spinach almond pesto with creme fraiche – couldn’t find the cress and am not really a foam fan.
Our final cleansing course was this powerful white wine and herb granita. Wow, this one’s got a very pronounced finished. I used a Vouvray, my new go to white since our time in Lyon. (Recipe link.)
The meat course comprised lamb loin chops (I served those as the main course at our inaugural dinner club meal) – marinated in garlic, olive oil and fresh oregano – served with spice harissa carrot salad (Recipe link), and a really deep Shiraz. Sexist as it may seem, the ladies were getting full at this juncture and knew full well chocolate would be on offer soon, so the men got double the amount of red meat on their plates as we did. No complaints from that end of the table, for sure.
The fruit dessert – paired with an ice wine — was this simple lemon posset (Recipe link) , tarted up with a thin skim coat of meyer lemon curd (Recipe link) and a decoration of the fruit’s candied peel.
The meal ended with a bit of late bottled vintage port, and Ellen’s chocolate trio: salted chocolate covered caramels (that had absolutely perfect consistency so that when you bit into them, soft tails of caramel trailed from the candy as you pulled them away from your lip); dried sour cherry and black walnut bark; and, handmade Scottish shortbread dipped in chocolate.
It was a bittersweet ending to both this meal and our time at table with this group of friends.