“Come in shorts…”. That’s my kind of dinner party. Just a few friends over for some home-cooked food, abundant wine and desserts courtesy of the guests, and hopefully enough laughter to raise your personal endorphin levels. Or whatever levels of good stuff laughter is supposed to induce. We used to have a lot more formal sit-down dinners where courses were plated and served. We’ve gotten over that phase, and we only have those dinners a few times during the Christmas holidays and for major birthday celebrations. Things are just more casual now.
I also find that I am really cooking less, and less elaborately… instead, I just “assemble” nice ingredients with a minimum of fuss. For me, a great home meal in Manila is more about having a nice selection quality ingredients… not so much the technique really. For dinner, we started off with two dips, an aubergine (eggplant) dip and a tomato dip from my favorite Moroccan food stall at the Salcedo market (formerly of the Mercato market in Fort Bonifacio) together with her substantial breads cut into triangles and heated briefly in the oven. We also had some deep-fried battered kalabasa (squash) flowers. At the table, buffet style, we started with two salads, the one in the top photo a simple but luxurious seafood salad. Briefly poached and peeled shrimp, squid, and steamed and peel crab meat and a few pan-seared scallops were dressed with a lime vinaigrette and garnished with beet sprouts and italian parsley. I put too much seafood in one platter, so it’s a bit of a mess, but had I restrained myself, the plates would have seemed lighter.
The second salad is a house favorite, but relies solely on the quality of the ingredients that go into it. First the tomatoes. We passed by the Toscana farm stand on the Santa Rosa road towards Tagaytay and I got three kinds of tomatoes, slightly under ripe beefsteaks, some deep dark cherry or cherry like tomatoes and a medium sized tomato. I laid those out on the kitchen counter and let them ripen and get more juicy for 3-4 days before the planned dinner. Without decent tomatoes, I wouldn’t attempt this salad. And until recently, decent tomatoes in September were nearly impossible to find.
We sliced the tomatoes and put them on a large platter. I ripped up two large buffalo mozzarella balls with my fingers and put those on the tomatoes. I added some small fresh basil leaves and several kinds of edible flowers and drizzled this all with some excellent extra virgin olive oil from Bacchus Epicerie and some sea salt and ground black pepper.
For the main course, we had a medium rare Australian grass-fed beef tenderloin (more on that soon). The meat was amazingly tender for its surprisingly modest price and it was served with a nice gravy with port, beef stock, butter, slow roasted onions and chopped bacon. This last photo doesn’t do the dish justice as these are some of the leftovers photographed the day after it was first served. But believe me when I say the meat was nice and pink at the center, and the sauce a real treat for the tastebuds. Some roasted baby potatoes on the side. Guests were encouraged to return for seconds or thirds… Dessert included some homemade nearly flourless brownies and some delicious store bought lemon squares.
Wine brought/sent over by friends without knowing what was for dinner included this Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru 2010, a very light, drinkable chablis. I don’t know much about wines but I do enjoy a nice glass or two picked by others who know their wines much better than I do. This wine has been rated by the experts quite highly, and it was a very pleasant wine to have with the salads.
With the beef we enjoyed this nice Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva 2001 (Compagnia Vinicola del Norte de Espana), a lighter fruitier red wine that tasted wonderful, but perhaps the beef called for a more powerful red. Having said that, on its own, it was a very nice bottle of rioja. Both bottles of wine were from the Straits Wine Company on Pasong Tamo, Makati. They were brought by a guest, so I don’t know what they cost in store…