|Almond Panna Cotta with Cherry Compote|
My friend, Mark, is very special because he is so much fun, wonderfully generous, thoughtful, compassionate, beautiful, gracious, smart, occasionally bitchy, an incredible chef, and a best friend forever. So, after my friend, Ilona, and I gave Mark a surprise birthday last year (I think he has forgiven us but God forbid we ever have such thoughts again), I asked him what he wanted this year. Of course, his first response was "No surprise party." I suggested small and he narrowed it down to very small. He wanted to play games (one of his favorite party activities) and to just eat appetizers. I liked that idea. Because we celebrated this party in July, I've belatedly had to re-construct the menu from the shopping list.
I began with a special request from Mark, Angels on Horseback. Instead of wrapping the oysters in bacon, I used my Charcutepalooza pancetta. Yummy! Then followed plates of appetizers, all of which could rest at room temperature (the beauty of many cured meats) and which we could nibble all evening. The dishes were mostly skewed onto fancy, Japanese toothpicks and included several interesting combinations. Andouille sausage paired with salt and pepper shrimp (thank you Laura Caulder). Fresh mozzarella teamed up with organic cherry tomatoes and fresh basil, sprinkled with salt, pepper, and a wee bit of raspberry balsamic vinegar. Charcutepalooza fennel sausage loved the buttered, new potatoes with salt and pepper. Marinated manchego cheese, matched well with marinated mushrooms à la Grèque (Craig Claiborne) and marinated olives (lemon, fennel, red pepper). I served the Charcutepalooza smoked pork loin on crostini with my homemade pear chutney. Finally, I long-slice fresh zucchini from the garden on our mandolin, after which I spread some goat cheese mixed with fresh herbs (nepitella, oregano, basil, savory) onto the zucchini slices, rolled them up, topped them with a piece of roasted red pepper, and tied them with fresh chives. One of my favorites! Then the game(s) began!
We ended up playing Trivial Pursuit, and, being the oldest, my husband soared to first place where he remained all night. Nobody could best him no matter how hard they tried, and we did try hard. Finally, we capped off the evening with that delicious almond panna cotta (pictured above) with cherry compote freshly made from my garden cherries. It was fun and I think our dear friend, Mark, had a lovely birthday evening.