A Very Merry New Year


In honor of our tenth pseudo-anniversary (Paul & I met on New Year’s Eve ’98), we decided to host an intimate, fahncy dinner party. Paul’s one rule was that guests had to commit to our party for the entire evening, none of this “I’ll stop by for 45 minutes before going to my former office mate’s party in Park Slope” business. My personal mantra was “no hummus.” Not that I have anything against hummus — far from it — but New Year’s Eve is no time for the cheap and cheerful chickpea.

Happily, both of us got our wish. From 12.31.08 7:30-PM to 1.01.09 1:55 AM, Paul and I and three of our friends had a wonderful and hummus-free evening. Here’s the rundown:

We started with almonds fried in olive oil and sprinkled with paprika and salt. We dug it, although Paul thought it was a waste of olive oil. (I reminded him that it’s a Spanish recipe, and those folks practically bathe in the stuff. In Seville I once saw a guy drink olive oil out of a water glass.) Our other appetizer was rounds of cornbread with slices of country ham and chutney. The recipe called for homemade apple-melon chutney but 1)this is a no-melon household and 2)making chutney from scratch was not in the cards, given how much other stuff we had to do. Instead, Paul warmed up some mango chutney (thank you, Sahadi’s) and mixed in some minced apple. A great variation on the unbeatable country ham + starch theme. We paired them with a blood orange soda (thank you, Trader Joe’s) and Prosecco cocktail.

Dinner proper started with a little gift from the chef, aka the previous night’s roasted root vegetable and cumin soup (a Paul creation) served in assorted shot glasses. A little thick for the shot glasses — spoons were required — but otherwise, a success. The first course picked up elements of the snacks and the soup: a crab, mango, apple, and cilantro salad served between layers of cumin-spiced apple chips and drizzled with apple-cilantro-shallot dressing. This is one of those recipes that telegraphs “fancy dinner party” but is actually pretty easy to make. OK, the apple chips are a kind of a pain and require a mandolin and a Silpat — plus crabmeat is, you know, not cheap — but otherwise, it’s very easy elegance. The DVF wrap dress of cold shellfish apps. We paired it with a Sepp Moser Riesling Gebling 2005, which I’m actually sipping right now as I write this. Austrian Rieslings are dry, mouthwatering, and substantial–plus this one has some citrus, smoke and spice that all married well with the dish.

Our main course was seared venison loin with black currant sauce, spaetzle, and a “tangle of tart greens” (I’m quoting the recipe — from the Inn at Little Washington cookbook — not my own whimsical turn of phrase). So a few things. First, and most importantly, it was delicious. I mean, delicious in the way things at restaurants are delicious, where the chef is balancing tangy and meaty and soft and crunchy. The meat got a black peppercorn and juniper berry rub, which struck me as a cool northern European touch. (Plus, we used to have a juniper berry tree/bush? at our summer house, and it’s one of my favorite smells ever.) We had a spaetzle emergency earlier in the day — our local purveyors were fresh out — and our friends who live in Yorkville brought some from their ‘hood. The “T of T.G.” was tart and green, as advertised, but the key to the dish was really the black currant sauce, and the key to the black currant sauce was really the black currants.

Which brings me to a funny story. You may or may not know that black currants are completely unrelated to the kind of currants most of us are familiar with, i.e., the little raisin-like guys found in scones. In fact, those are raisins, whereas black currants are berries that come fresh and frozen and, boozily, in the form of creme de cassis. They are also nearly impossible to buy in the U.S. I tried all the usual suspects — Fresh Direct, TJ’s, Whole Foods, etc. — but no luck. Turns out black currants were illegal until a few years ago because they were a “vector of white pine blister rust,” this according to Wikipedia, but were de-criminalized in 2003 in New York thanks to the efforts of one Greg Quinn, a horticulturist, farmer, chef and black currant advocate. Something about Greg’s quixotic currant campaign appealed to me, and before I knew it, I was ordering a $15, 5-lb bag of frozen currants from Greg’s farm – plus another $15 for second-day UPS delivery. (Check out www.currants.com if you’re interested. And email me if you have any currant recipes. 5 lbs is a lot of currants.) 

I related my newfound currant knowledge to our guests as we enjoyed the venison and a few bottles of 2006 Hopler Zweigelt, which had some nice sour cherry flavors and was an appropriately Mitteleuropean choice. We had a few more laughs about it over our cheese selection (Ibores, aged Cheddar, and a Brie-like guy from the U.S.) and dessert, a flourless chocolate cake with homemade vanilla ice cream. I know, flourless chocolate cake, such a cliche, but there’s a reason why everyone does it — it’s great! At midnight we toasted with a bottle of Charles Ellner NV Brut — lemon zesty, yeasty, and peppery.  At some point in there–things started getting very fuzzy around the cheese course–we opened a 2005 Ridge Zinfandel Nervo. We sent our guests off with hugs and kisses and Ziploc bags of frozen currants. 

A crazy post-script: next day one of our guests was chatting with her father about the dinner and turns out her dad, who is neither a horticulturist nor a farmer nor a chef, is FRIENDS with Greg Quinn, the currant guy. What are the odds? Seriously. I’m taking it as a good omen for the New Year.


One Response to “A Very Merry New Year”

  1. god i love good post game. well done.

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