It’s not everyday that a girl has four fabulous boys prepare her an unbelievably delicious, multi-course dinner, but last night, I was the very lucky recipient of that exact phenomenon! Most of my friends say they feel intimidated to invite me over for dinner ( as if I’d ever turn down home cooking!!), but last night my good buddy Jimmy rounded a few friends together, andalong with Rafael, Ritchie and Tim, prepared an enchanting meal which we shared amidst much fun and laughter.
I was met at he door with a traditional Pisco Sour topped with a fluffy, creamy merengue drizzled with a splash of Angostura Bitters. I’ve had Pisco Sours before, but this one differed in that the head of the cocktail was a true merengue prepared by our head Chef for the evening, Rafael. Tart and tangy, the drink was the perfect counterbalance to a quick and easy, but intensely flavorful dip Rafael put out with cheese, crackers and nuts to hold the hungry crowd over while he put the finishing touches on our dinner. The dip consisted of a seasoning called Mapuche seasoning, a pre-Columbian condiment made from salt, ground black pepper, ground coriander seed, and ground Cacho de Cabra chile, which is then smoked. The flavor is incredible, and when stirred into 1/4 cup of olive oil, makes a perfect casual dip for crackers, cheese or even grilled chicken or fish. In addition, it can be used as a dry rub for roasts, producing a flavorful crust which is superb!
Cheese Board with Mapuche seasoning Dip
The Mapuche seasoning thing caught me completely by surprise. Rafael is of Northern Italian and Spanish descent, and he was raised in Argentina, so when this boy walks into the kitchen he brings a plethora of food memories in with him! Our first course was a Boned Roasted Cornish Game Hen stuffed with a brunoise of mire poix, wrapped in pancetta and served on Fried Polenta Triangles served alongside a delicately dressed Watercress Salad. The Cornish hens were perfectly seasoned and perfumed by the aromatic celery, onion, and carrots which contrasted daintily on the sweet corn polenta. The peppery, crisp watercress was an unexpected treat (why don’t we see more watercress on our menus?), and oh-so-good with the juicy, sagey roasted hens.
Roasted Boned Cornish Hens with Pancetta and Aromatics served on Fried Polenta Triangles with Watercress Salad
Okay, boys, you have my undivided attention! With Ritchie and Tim toiling beside him in Jimmy’s kitchen, and Jimmy keeping our glasses full, Rafael puts together an eye-poppingly gorgeous plate of freshly made Red Beet Ravioli in Butter Sauce garnished with Poppy Seeds and curls of salty, nutty Parmigiano Reggiano…GULP!!! The earthy sweetness of the beets was encased in a thin fresh pasta dough and laced with a hint of anise seed. The poppy seed added a cruchy finish that was unexpected but playful in texture. Rafael shared that this was his grandmother’s recipe, which his sister had written in Italian, and he had translated for his “sous chefs”. I vaguely remember thinking that (in the words of Bugs Bunny) this was starting to look like the beginning of a bee-yooo-tee-ful friendship!
Red Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter Sauce
When Rafael leaked that the next course was a Panna Cotta all’arancia I’m sure I swooned. I’m a lover of all things panna cotta, and I try it whenever I have an opportunity, but given even my extensive love affair with this concoction, I was not ready for our first dessert. Panna Cotta means “cooked cream” and it is a sweet that is bound by gelatin, but sadly, too often there is so much gelatin used in a recipe that the panna cotta reaches super-ball status! This dessert, (another of Rafael’s nonna’s recipes) on the other hand, was almost ethereal. It barely held together and was silk-like on the tongue. My kitchen demigods had coated the ramekins with caramel, and so the panna cotta had a lovely touch of sweetness and pretty flecks of vanilla, which balanced the slight bitter of the syrup poached kumquats he used to garnish the plate. Whew!!
Panna Cotta all’arancia
I could have died right after eating that dessert, but these boys were not quite through with me yet. Tim and Rafael had made a heartbreakingly beautiful Quince Crostata with a melt in your mouth shortbread crust which was prettily latticed on top. Jimmy and Ritchie, who had shopped for ingredients, had been instructed by Rafael to buy European butter, because of its superior flavor. I don’t know if it was the butter, but that was the most delicious tart I have ever eaten. The crust was absolutely scrumptious, and the quince filling chunky and tart…I think I just gave myself goosebumps!
What an unbelievable evening, and what a lucky girl I am to have such sweet, thoughtful and generous friends! They are certainly among the blessings I thank God for every night before I go to sleep. Did I mention I’m using a couple of those recipes in my new book? Let’s hear it for the boys!!
Jimmy, Tim, Daisy, Rafael, and Ritchie