Tomorrow night we are hosting a dinner party that I donated to an auction. Our older son attended Boyer Children's Clinic for about a year for speech and classroom therapy. We all had a wonderful experience there and when it came time for their big fundraising auction, I figured I should do my part and donate a dinner. A five course dinner for eight people. Much to my delight, a couple that we knew from the classroom bought it, and having this dinner on the horizon has allowed us to start to get to know them better.
But tick-tock! I have my work cut out for me. I was late to finalize the menu because I couldn't come up with a main course. I imagine that in a meat-eating world, five courses would run something like this: appetizer, fish, poultry, beef, dessert - or at least, that is how it seems to go on Top Chef. In my world, five courses goes like this: appetizer, soup, salad, main, dessert. I don't know why this makes it seem harder to do - maybe because the "main course" doesn't necessarily have a focus like it would if it had to be meat. I don't know. Whenever I do a big dinner like this, I always get tripped up by one course, and this time it was the main one.
Whenever I plan a dinner party, I usually have some kind of starting point. Some dish that somehow caught my eye and for whatever reason, I will base the entire menu around that one dish. This time it was Borscht. I know, the whole meal hinges on beet soup? It is something I can't explain. Several weeks ago, I got it in my head that I needed to try Borscht. I had never had it and I do like beets and cold soups, so it was time to try it. I made it for my clients and they all made a special point to tell me how much they liked it. I liked it too - sweet and earthy, cold and refreshing, and the most incredible color I have ever seen occurring from natural ingredients (no red dye no. 5 here). Randy even said it wasn't "bad" which, for a confirmed beet-hater, is quite the compliment.
So yes, Borscht is my starting point for this dinner. Another point in it's favor is that beets are all over the markets now so it is seasonal, and since it is going to be warm tomorrow - hot even, a cold soup will be lovely.
Building around one dish narrows down the options for the others. Take the salad course. Since I am doing a cold and crunchy soup, a cold and crunchy salad would just taste like more of the same. So I decided to do a warm salad made with spinach and escarole hearts and roasted portabello mushrooms. Different tastes (the salad will be salty, the soup is sweet), different textures.
Because both of those dishes are vegetable heavy, I thought an appetizer with some heft to it would be a good move. But it's five courses so I don't want to knock them out before we have even really gotten started. Seeing fava beans and my beloved English peas in the markets made it clear that I would be making Halloumi with Fava Beans and Peas. Halloumi is an incredible cheese that has an extremely firm texture (it's even a little squeaky when you bite in to it) and a very salty flavor. It's claim to fame is that you can cook it and it doesn't lose it's shape. I know it doesn't seem possible, but I have used it before for this appetizer and others and it's true. It gets soft and gooey but will not ruin your grill or your pan.
In case you are losing track here, that is cheese to start (salty/crunchy and soft), Borscht (sweet/crunchy), warm salad (salty/soft), then a rich and cheesy souffle with a farro salad (salty/soft, salty/crunchy) and then, oh yes, dessert (sweeeeeet). I asked this lovely woman what she thought about dessert and she said we couldn't go wrong with chocolate. I think I love her. I decided to marry two of my all time favorite flavors and make a Chocolate Caramel Tart with Walnut Crust. It is from the Fran's Chocolate cookbook and while I had a recent disaster with a certain cake from there, I still trust her implicitly when it comes to the brown stuff.
So that's it. As of this moment, I have - oh, a ton left to do. So better get cracking. I will try to take pictures of each course and let you know how it goes!