Master Plan.

I tried, you guys. Really, I did.

But Saveur‘s recipes only served to enlarge the Gourmet-size hole in my heart, so when I decided to throw a dinner party a few weeks ago, I pulled out back copies from the months of October and November, dating back to 2006, for my menu. I won’t pretend it wasn’t bittersweet, but in doing so, I realized just how little I’ve actually cooked from the magazine—there was enough material in each issue to keep me in meals for awhile yet, which lessens the blow of its demise ever so slightly. For this particular gathering, I chose an amalgam of dishes, unrelated except for a faint autumnal thread.

My favorite item, the one I was most excited to make and happiest to eat, was from the most recent/final issue: beet-pickled deviled eggs.

My love affair with pink eggs, as they’re called in my family, began when I was a kid; I have distinct memories of the one and only time my mother made them, though the occasion escapes me. (A birthday party, maybe?) One of the few things I have to eat when I’m home in Virginia, the traditional version is offered whole, a beet-based brine providing both sweetness and color, vinegar and light spices doing the pickling. In this take, my most preferred egg preparation met my second: halved and deviled. The element that took them over the edge, though, was a dusting of ground caraway on top, giving each bite a hint of egg salad on pumpernickel. By the time the rest of the meal was ready, I’d tasted so many dishes that I couldn’t bring myself to fill my plate, so I snacked on a bunch of these instead and didn’t regret it one bit.

The other appetizers were a bit more accident-prone. Guacamole with mango and pomegranate ended up being mango-pomegranate salsa instead, thanks to severely unripened avocados. A fortuitous modification, actually: When peeling and preparing the fruit for me, the Carnivore noted that, given their condition, they would’ve been best suited to a Trinidad-style chow, and that’s pretty much what we got. (Please excuse the sub-par picture; I snapped it while running around like a crazy person before everyone arrived.)

I also made pecan-crusted goat-cheese marbles, the cheese flavored with fresh rosemary, the pecans toasted and then ground with sugar and salt. Each little ball was supposed to be anchored with a leaf of parsley and a toothpick, but I ran out of time for such niceties.

As an accompaniment to the meal itself, I made a spinach-and-cherry-tomato tart, head and shoulders above that Tuscan-tomato version I tried a few weeks ago. I had to buy a tart pan with a removable bottom a few hours before dinner, but the extra trip to the store was worth it, I think. Simply flavored with garlic, parmesan, a tiny bit of nutmeg, and salt and pepper, it disappeared quickly, as you can see from the photo below.

Intrigued by the idea of using a leafy green as packaging, I’d dogeared the recipe for these wild-mushroom bundles last year, and I finally had a reason to make them. Though my rendering isn’t nearly as pretty as the one in the magazine, I’m 99% sure the end result was just as tasty.

The mushrooms were simmered in a mixture of melted butter, dry white wine, finely minced onion, and ever-present garlic, then wrapped in barely steamed collard-green leaves, nestled in a baking dish, covered with the strained cooking broth, and heated in the oven until bubbly. If anyone’s looking for a veggie side dish for Thanksgiving, may I recommend these? No one has to know quite how much butter they contain; it can be our secret.

In a recent interview on NPR, Ruth Reichl mentioned that one of her favorite meals is a cheese-and-broth-stuffed pumpkin, roasted into submission. That rang a bell, and, sure enough, in my leisurely perusal of the November 2008 issue, I came across a similar dish, billed as roast-pumpkin fondue. This was my first foray into actually cooking with one of these, not just hacking it up into a jack-o’-lantern, and I was pleasantly surprised.

No more difficult to work with than a butternut squash, an hour or so in the oven rendered the pumpkin, though not very photogenic, fork-soft. A scoop of the sweet flesh, the sharp cheeses, and the broth-and-cream soaked baguette could easily be mistaken for the stuff of bread-pudding dreams.

The main course, grilled pork with a port-wine and onion marmalade and an apple-pear sauce (it was supposed to be a quince sauce, but I couldn’t find that fruit at either farmers market or grocery store) was, sadly, my least favorite part of the meal, through little fault of its own. For once, my timing was going to be perfect: I’d prepared the sauce and the marmalade earlier in the day, so the only thing left to cook was the brined pork. Of course, I didn’t realize the grill was out of gas until I brought the meat outside; sautéeing each filet in a small ridged pan on top of the stove took five times as long as the grill would have, and by the time I finished the whole lot, I could barely look at the platter without resentment. I had a bite or two, just to be sure I wasn’t feeding my guests anything inedible: On its own, the pork was a bit salty, but when combined with two rich accompaniments, both of which would elevate any cut of meat, the result was fairly balanced.

Rounding out the spread was a salad of spicy greens, manchego cheese and ripe pears, dressed in a mustard-honey vinaigrette and topped with (overly) toasted pumpkin seeds; friends brought an assortment of cheeses selected from Stinky Bklyn, a duo of desserts—chocolate cake from Betty Bakery and homemade apple crumble, the makings of an amazing breakfast the next morning—and who knows how many bottles of wine.

Half of the party was relegated to the floor, a few people were squeezed sardine-style onto the couch; we ran out of silverware and plates before everyone had a chance to eat (the Borrowers have been at my cutlery drawer, apparently), so dessert was served on paper plates and with plastic forks. Not my most grown-up effort, for sure, but, as I’ve always opined, maturity is highly overrated. My guests were most gracious, at any rate, about the late hour, the seating arrangements, and the food itself, but that was my master plan all along: Get a few glasses of wine in ’em, then make sure they’re really hungry by the time they’re finally fed.

Works like a charm.

Dinner Party Menu:

Pecan and Goat-Cheese Marbles
Beet-Pickled Deviled Eggs [mine soaked overnight, but they could’ve gone longer]
Mango-Pomegranate Chow [minus the avocado]
Cheese Selection, from Stinky Bklyn

Spicy Green Salad with Manchego and Pears
Wild-Mushroom Bundles
Spinach and Cherry-Tomato Tart*

Grilled Pork with Apple-Pear Sauce and Onion-Port Marmalade*
Roast Pumpkin with Cheese “Fondue”

Nicole’s Apple Crumble
Chocolate Cake

*Spinach and Cherry-Tomato Tart
Barny Haughton, Bordeaux Quay, Bristol  |  From Gourmet, October 2007

Prebaked shortcrust savory tart case (recipe follows)
1¼ pounds fresh spinach or Swiss chard
Grated parmesan
Ripe cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic
½ lemon
Olive oil

1. Put the cherry tomatoes on a roasting tray with the crushed up garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss them around a bit and roast them in a 300° oven until they are soft, slightly caramelized, and you want to eat them immediately, about 1 hour. Keep them warm but not hot.

2. Meanwhile, cook the spinach in a tiny drop of water, some butter, a pinch of salt and a grating of nutmeg, in a 5-quart heavy pot. Squeeze dry and put it on the tray with the tomatoes. Cover with greaseproof paper or loosely cover with foil.

3. Sprinkle parmesan and drizzzle melted butter and olive oil into the tart shell, spread the spinach over this, and then the tomatoes over that. Sprink with basil leaves. A little more olive oil maybe.

4. And now a squidge of lemon juice and a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt over the tart.

Tart Shell
Makes 1 (7- to 8-inch) tart shell

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large egg, lightly beaten

1. Blend together flour, salt, and butter in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with egg and gently stir with a fork (or pulse in processor) just until a dough forms.

2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 4 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough into a ball, then flatten into a disk. Chill dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put tart pan in center of baking sheet. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin into an 11-inch round, then fit dough inside tart pan, pressing dough against bottom edge and side of pan. Run rolling pin over top edge to cut off excess dough. Prick bottom of shell in several places with a fork.

5. Line shell with parchment and fill (two-thirds full) with pie weights. Bake until edge is pale golden, about 25 minutes. Remove weights and paper and bake until golden, about 20 minutes more. Cool completely in pan on a rack before removing.

Cooks’ note: Dough can be chilled up to 2 days.

*Grilled Pork Loin with Quince Sauce and Onion-Port Marmalade
Peter Pankhurst, Savoy Cabbage, Cape Town  |  From Gourmet, October 2007

For brined pork:

6 cups water
½ cup kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
3 dried juniper berries, crushed
1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
1 sprig thyme
1 Turkish or ½ California bay leaf
6 (1-inch-thick) slices center-cut pork loin (2 lb)

For quince sauce:

2/3 cup finely chopped shallots (¼ lb)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 (½-pound) quince or ½ Fuji apple and ½ Bosc pear, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 sprig thyme
1¼ cups dry white wine (preferrably dry Riesling)
2 cups brown veal stock, or ¼ cup Demi-Glace Gold concentrate, diluted with 2 cups water
1 cup chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream

1. Brine pork: Bring water, kosher salt, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf to a boil in a pot, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved, then pour into a deep bowl and cool brine completely. Add pork and let it brine, covered and chilled at least 12 hours.

2. Make sauce: Cook shallots and garlic in oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until liquid is syrupy and reduced to about ¼ cup, about 10 minutes.

3. Add stocks and boil over medium-high heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally until fruit is tender and liquid is reduced to about 1½ cups, 10 to 15 minutes (stir more frequently toward end). Mash fruit into sauce, then add cream and bring to a boil. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. Return to saucepan and season with salt and pepper. If necessary boil until thick enough to coat back of a spoon.

4. Grill pork: If using a charcoal grill, open vents on bottom. Light a large chimney starter full of charcoal (preferably hardwood). When coals are lit, dump them out across bottom rack. When charcoal turns grayish white (start checking coals after 15 minutes), the grill will be at its hottest. It will be the right heat (medium-hot) when you can hold your hand directly over the coals for 3 to 4 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat burners on high, covered, 10 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-high.

5. Discard brine, then pat pork dry and brush with oil. Oil grill rack, then grill pork, turning once, until just cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 5 minutes.

6. Serve pork with sauce and marmalade.

Cooks’ note: Pork can be brined up to two days. Quince sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cold, then cover. Reheat over low heat. If you aren’t able to grill outdoors, pork can be cooked in a hot oiled large ridged grill pan over medium-high heat, 8 to 10 minutes.

Onion-Port Marmalade

½ stick unsalted butter
2 large Spanish onions (1½ to 2 lb total), cut into ¼-inch-thick rounds
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup ruby Port
½ cup dry red wine

1. Melt butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-low heat, then stir in onions and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Uncover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and deep golden, 25 to 35 minutes more.

2. Add sugar and cook, stirring, until onions are a dark caramel color, 10 to 15 minutes. Add Port and red wine and boil, stirring, until mixture is reduced to a syrupy mass, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool marmalade to warm.

Cooks’ note: Onion-Port Marmalade keeps, covered and chilled, 2 weeks. Reheat over low heat before serving.

**Another note: I made all of these vegetarian, except for the pork and the apple-pear sauce, by substituting vegetable broth for chicken where indicated.**

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3 thoughts on “Master Plan.

  1. elizabeth says:

    I’ve been meaning to thank you for introducing me to pickled eggs.

  2. Maya says:

    My pleasure, lady!

  3. PDXMatt says:

    Wow! Impressive. I saw those eggs in the magazine and mentally dogearred them, put the magazine in my mental trunk and left it to menatlly marinate…(is that too much?) Seriously though, nice work.

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