A Birthday Dinner for Jimmy & Toni

A few days after Jim’s birthday, and a week or so after my dear friend Toni Canada’s, I hosted a seated dinner in their honor at The Richmond. Toni and I love to cook together. In February we collaborated on Fried Chicken and Waffles Dinner (my chicken, her waffles, and lots of fun) and the previous fall we co-hosted a Mexican Fiesta where she taught me how to make Cheese and Jalapeno Tamales from scratch and I added some of my family favorites from a lifetime spent around a lot of Mexican food. For this double birthday celebration we came together to create a four course menu – each taking the lead with two courses. We wanted to capitalize on the fresh flavors of the summer season.

The sixteen guests were broken into two tables and we switched seating mid-way through the evening to allow more people to mix and mingle. This summer for some reason I was really feeling blue ginghham – so I built the feel of the dining tables around blue check tablecloths (creating a less formal feel with the picnic pattern). And I elevated things a bit by using china and pressed white napkins for the place settings.  Hydrangeas from my garden served as the beginning for the center pieces.

For the cocktail hour my friend Jen Kim and I juiced a watermelon earlier in the day to make Watermelon Margaritas with fresh lime juice.  We also juiced a pound of summer tomatoes which served as the base for a Tomato Martini with Blue Cheese Olives (she graciously stuffed a few dozen with Maytag blue).  And for dinner we kept things simple with a case of a remarkable Rose (see post below).

Toni began her courses with a lovely Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho that had the perfect amount of heat.  She topped each bowl with a feta garnish.  I made the easiest cheese straws ever by coating two sheets of frozen puff pastry (I like Defours brand the best – available in the frozen foods section of Whole Foods) with melted butter, an egg wash and a heavy dose of parmesan cheese, before cutting them into strips with a pastry wheel and baking.  Next up Lump Crab Cakes (perfectly executed by Toni with just enough added ingredients to add flavor and hold them together) served on a giant heirloom tomato slice with Remoulade.  I made a the sauce for the crab cakes from a recipe I developed based on a salad dressing my Mississippi grandmother bottled in her kitchen and sold in the 1950s.

For the entree we had Roasted Beef Tenderloin Medallions with a Habanero BBQ Sauce served over White Corn Grits with Summer Corn (cut from the cob earlier in the day and mixed into the hot grits just before serving). My friend Matt Summy orders stone ground grits from Anson Mills in Columbia South Carolina and he is always good enough to share a few bags. The flavors mingled beautifully on the plate and I finally cooked a tenderloin to a perfect medium rare.  I began with three 3 lb tenderloins, rubbed with salt, course ground pepper and olive oil.  I let them rest and come to room temperature for about an hour before they went into the oven.  I roasted the tenderloins in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature was 125 degrees.  It is critical to check the meat often with a instant read thermometer to avoid over-cooking. Once out of the oven I tented them with foil and let them rest another 10 minutes before serving.

For dessert I made a Lemon Chiffon Pie – served with fresh whipped cream and a raspberry coulis.  The pie was the perfect light bite to end the evening. In fact I thought everyone was in a food coma until I saw the second table in the living room being broken down so guests could create a dance floor.  I’m not sure if that was inspired by the festive atmosphere or the case of Rose we kicked before dinner was half way over.  Eitherway it was a magical evening.  And as a special birthday present for Jimmy and Toni, Amanda had Tasya, a photographer, on hand to capture some of that magic. However luckily for everyone, she was long gone by the time the dancing began.

see more photos from the night

photography by Tasya Menaker – www.tasyamenaker.co