We have always enjoyed having people come to our house for dinner. Before we were married, we were in a supper club with three other couples, and our turn to host came around after our wedding on December 28, 1996. When we got married, we lived in an apartment on top of the now-closed Town & Country Barber Shop on Bellmead Drive, a shop that was owned by David Kirk for 31 years.
Abby’s mother, Georgianne Zemanek, an interior designer in Bryan, put her touches on the place. That was where we hosted our first dinner guests: Donna and Jim Doak, Susan and Tom Lucenay and Joan and Keith Randall. We don’t remember what was on the menu — although the dessert was probably White Chocolate Mousse with Brandy (aka Love Mousse), which was featured in this space in the February issue — but that began our love of hosting friends for dinner.
Later we had friends over to our first house on Austin Avenue, even though we didn’t have a dining room. We just moved living room furniture out of the way and set up a table. We lived in that house for only a couple of years before a job opportunity for me in the athletic department at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock took us to “The Rock.” Our next-door neighbors were frequent dinner guests, as were friends from church. We hosted one really big dinner for my 40th birthday party.
When we moved back to Waco 10 years ago, Sophie was just a baby, and then Brazos came along about a year later, so having guests over for dinner became a rare occurrence. We’ve tried to step up our game as the kids have gotten older, and I think we threw a pretty good shindig last month.
We looked through friend lists on Facebook to see if we could find some folks we knew who didn’t know each other. Of our eight guests — Heather and Ryan Beck, Kappy and Jason Edwards, Robert and Michelle Johnson, Liz and Bill Painter — only a couple of them were already acquainted.
We began the evening on our new front porch with drinks and appetizers — the bacon and onion tart with pear chutney. The main course was braised short ribs served over quinoa with roasted vegetables. Since all those dishes were pretty heavy, we served a small dessert: individual molten chocolate cakes. The recipe below says to use 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups, but we used 3-ounce molds, and the cakes were a perfect size to finish off an evening of laughter, friends, food and good conversation.
Quick Pear Chutney
- 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 firm, ripe pears, cored and diced
- 6 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 4 whole cloves
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
In a dry skillet, toast nuts over medium heat until fragrant. Allow to cool and then roughly chop; set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until softened, for about 2 minutes. Add pears, vinegar, honey and cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until pears are tender, for about 4-5 minutes. Discard cloves; stir in raisins and nuts.
Remove from heat and serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 6 servings.
Bacon and Onion Tart
- 6 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 medium onions, sliced lengthwise
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
In a skillet, cook bacon until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour bacon fat into a 9-by-1-inch baking dish; set aside.
Return skillet to medium-high heat and add butter. When butter is melted, add onions, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.
Heat oven to 425 F. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, dry mustard and pepper. Add milk and eggs; stir until smooth. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Place baking dish with bacon fat in oven and let heat for 10 minutes. Remove dish from oven, then pour in batter; sprinkle with cooked bacon and caramelized onions. Return dish to oven and bake until puffed and golden brown, for about 30 minutes.
Serve tart with pear chutney and crumbled blue cheese. Makes 6-8 servings.
Braised Short Ribs
- 4 pounds short ribs
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1/2 head garlic, peeled
- 3 ribs celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 large tomato, quartered
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 bunch fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 cups dry red wine
- 2 cups beef stock
Season short ribs with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil. In a skillet, brown the ribs on all sides; set aside.
Place onion, garlic, celery, carrots and tomato in a food processor and blend into a smooth, consistent pulp.
Place a large Dutch oven or skillet with a fitted lid over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and thyme; infuse the oil. Add vegetable mixture and salt and pepper to taste; cook for about 10 minutes. Pour in red wine and stock; bring to a boil.
Using tongs, nestle the ribs into the braising mix — the liquid should just about cover the meat. Place the lid loosely on top, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until meat is very tender, for about 2 1/2-3 hours.
When the ribs are about finished, remove 1-2 cups cooking liquid and strain into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Heat the sauce until slightly reduced and thickened, for about 5 minutes, and serve alongside the ribs. Makes 4-6 servings.
Quinoa with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Pesto
- 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch lengths
- 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half through the stem (If the sprouts are small, leave them whole.)
- 1 package parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup quinoa
- 3 cups water or stock
- 1/3 cup store-bought or homemade pesto
Heat oven to 425 F. Pour a little olive oil on one or two baking sheets large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer.
Place vegetables in a large bowl and toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Spread vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet. Place in the top third of the oven and bake for 20 minutes, stirring halfway through. Lower heat to 375 F and continue to bake until lightly browned and tender, for 10-20 minutes.
Rinse quinoa thoroughly with cold water. In a medium saucepan, bring water or stock to a boil. Add quinoa and salt to taste. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover; simmer for 15 minutes. Drain through a strainer and return quinoa to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean dish towel, replace the lid and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.
Before serving, toss pesto in with quinoa. The roasted vegetables and quinoa can then be tossed together and served as one dish, or they can be served separately. Makes 4-6 servings.
Individual Molten Chocolate Cakes
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2-3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 extra-large eggs at room temperature, separated
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cake flour, sifted
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
Melt 1 tablespoon butter and use a paper towel or pastry brush to butter completely the insides of 6, 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins. Using 2-3 tablespoons sugar, sprinkle the inside of each cup, then rotate the cup until the inside is coated with sugar; shake out the excess. Place the cups on a baking sheet; set aside.
Place 3 ounces of chocolate in a medium bowl; set aside. Pour cream into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour cream over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk the mixture together until very smooth. Add vanilla and blend completely.
Line a 6-inch round cake pan or other shallow pan with plastic wrap. Pour chocolate ganache into the pan, cover with plastic wrap and cool to room temperature. Chill in the freezer until firm, for about 1 hour.
Using a 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 12 disks from the cold chocolate ganache. Stack 2 disks and press so they stick together, making 6 disks. Keep disks covered with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying out and keep them chilled while preparing the cakes.
Place 6 ounces of chocolate and 12 ounces of butter in the top of a double boiler and melt over low heat. Stir frequently with a heatproof rubber spatula to help melt evenly. Remove the top pan of the double boiler and use a towel to wipe the sides and bottom very dry. (Instead of using a double boiler, you can melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each cooking time.)
Add egg yolks to chocolate mixture one at a time, stirring well after each addition; set aside.
Place egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of a stand mixer or in a large clean, dry bowl. Using the whisk attachment or a hand-held mixer, whip egg whites on medium-high speed until they are frothy. Add cream of tartar and continue to whip until egg whites hold soft peaks. Gradually sprinkle on 1/3 cup sugar; whip until egg whites hold glossy and firm peaks.
Fold a fourth of whipped egg whites into chocolate mixture and mix until combined. Continue mixing egg whites into chocolate a fourth at a time. Sprinkle cake flour over chocolate mixture and fold in completely.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 F. Fill each custard cup half full of batter. Place ganache disks in the center of each cup and fill with batter. Bake the cakes for 15-18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the top outer edge comes out moist.
Remove the pan from the oven and immediately run a sharp knife around the edge of each cup. Turn the cakes upside down on individual plates and carefully remove the cups. Dust the top of each cake with powdered sugar and serve immediately. Makes 6 cakes, which are very rich and can easily serve two.