I’ve got a bit of a confession to make. I’ve been harboring a crush for the past many months. No scratch that, I’ve fallen madly and deeply in love with the outrageously pretty and expensive hand-painted dinnerware from Royal Copenhagen over the past many months. With burning envy, I’ve watched food bloggers and Instagrammers post pictures of their dinners served on this iconic Danish design. I’ve cast longing glances through shop windows, lost track of how many times I’ve uttered the phrase “just looking, thanks!”, and I’ve sighed heavily many a time, wondering just what it would be like to own a set of plates with a $100 price tag each.
I’ve been particularly obsessed with the new black fluted mega design introduced in 2006. This to a point where I started telling everybody that I had to own me a set of those if, and when, they went on sale.
And, wouldn’t you know, a few weeks ago, they actually did go on sale! And what does this idiot who doesn’t know the first thing about aesthetics, design or owning nice things do? He goes out on a whim and, in less than ten minutes mind you, spends $1000+ buying six large plates, six smaller plates and six serving bowls in his beloved black fluted mega design! Fuck second thoughts, reasoning and all that jazz, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do!
Now, obviously, one does not every day simply walk out and spend $1000+ dollars on dinnerware! Well, I don’t anyway, and I’m sure a lot of people are with me on this one! It’s a pretty special occasion kind of thing for most people, and for this humble guy in particular a bit of a dream come true and a one-off kind of thing. I don’t usually spend a lot of money on anything materialistic. The odd crush on really expensive things aside, I’m actually a man of simple pleasures. Few things in this world mean as much to me as great food, great wines and great company. So, since buying a full set of Royal Copenhagen dinnerware counts as a pretty special occasion, it made sense to celebrate said special occasion with a few of the things that I love most in life: friends, food and wine!
Conveniently enough, I’d been wanting to do something for my close friends for a while now and while I don’t usually need an excuse, breaking in the newly acquired Royal Copenhagen dinnerware seemed as good an excuse as any to throw a dinner party. So I sent out invitations to my five closest friends; four of them took me up on it, one is still sort of pissed off with me for inviting on a day when she didn’t have time.
Now then, as I began planning this whole dinner ordeal, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that I had to try to make something special. I mean, here I was, for the first time, serving food on plates worth about $100 each and steeped in hundreds of years of history and tradition. The very same kind of plates that our working class grandparents used to collect but never actually ate on as they were kept for those “very special occasions” that sort of never seemed to roll around because God forbid the plates broke during use.. Yeah, no pressure!
Eventually, I ended up doing what any reasonable guy faced with tough decisions would do. I sat the fuck down, had a beer and drew up a plan, a plan that escalated kind of quickly.
For the love of friends and good food!
As far as food was concerned, I wanted, first and foremost, to do something that was homey and full of taste, love and dedication. I also wanted something that sort of defined my relationship with my friends and took into consideration some of their individual characters and preferences. I also wanted a general theme.. Again, no pressure!
Picking a theme turned out to be the easiest part. When I first sent out invitations, my good friend Tina was the first to chime in: “I want lasagna, and that’s not really up for discussion!” – “alright, fair enough,” I thought, as I sat there one evening with my beer, doing my brainstorming, “one does not argue with a hormonal blonde who has recently given birth to her firstborn son, and at least that’s the theme settled: Italian! And the main course as well: Lasagna!”
Dessert came to me rather easily as well. Well, it was forced upon me, some might say, by another friend Emelie who a few nights prior to my brainstorming, when we were hanging out on a Sunday, did what she does best which is to scoot close and softly go something along the lines of “Hey, I miss eating your food, when are you cooking panna cotta for us?” – Needless to say, I’m a sucker for this kind of behavior and it gets me every time but, hey, at least panna cotta is an Italian dessert. So, for once, the female manipulative ways worked to my advantage!
Great, now all I had to do was fill out the blanks, adding a starter and an appetizer, as well as finding some wine to go along! As it turned out, filling in the blanks turned out to be a bit of a hassle, but below is what I eventually came up with in the 11th hour. And by 11th hour, I really mean last minute. Some of these dishes were still in development when guests started arriving on the evening of our dinner.. Again, no pressure!
Appetizer: Puff pastry, salmon, ricotta and whisky
For Zascha and Tina: Years ago, Tina and I visited Zascha at her then home in Brussels. On our first night there, Zascha cooked an awesome meal consisting of amongst other things salmon and ricotta cheese.
Bite-sized smoked salmon appetizers. Photo by Zascha (@zwatz on instagram.com)
I used that very meal as an inspiration for my appetizer, combining peppered hot-smoked salmon with ricotta cheese and stirring in a bit of freshly squeezed lemon juice as well as a healthy shot of Tallisker 12-year-old Scotch Whisky. I served the mixture up in bite-sized pieces of puff pastry to rather hungry diners, paired with a glass of pretty standard, slightly sweet and delightfully fruity Prosecco.
Starter: Goat’s cheese, figs and Parma ham on toast
For Zascha: I remember Zascha telling me a while back that she loved a good, baked goat’s cheese. I also remember Tina telling me that she absolutely hates the stuff! I created this dish not only to hopefully please Zascha, but also to prove to Tina once and for all that I know better than her when it comes to what she likes and doesn’t like.
Essentially what I did for this dish was to cut out rounds of French bread, toast them lightly and smear them with fresh goat’s cheese mixed with olive oil, pink peppercorns rosemary and thyme.. No sage nor parsley, sorry Simon and Garfunkel fans! On top of that, I placed two quarters of a fig, one of which had been wrapped in a slice of Parma ham. I subjected the whole thing to high heat in the oven, then plated and dressed with a balsamic vinegar reduction and the best quality olive oil I could manage! The result was a perfect mix of savory and sweet, crunchy and soft, tangy and mild. And, I’m happy to report, was enjoyed by all, even the girl who claimed to hate goat’s cheese with a vengeance!
The wine pairing of choice was a white wine from the Verona region in Italy made with partially dried grapes much in the style of Amarone wines, only, well, white! It added a punch of intensity, heavy fruit, character and pronounced acidity that was just lovely.
Main course: Lasagna, Caesar’s Salad, Garlic bread
For Tina, obviously, and Jeppe. While Tina was to blame for the main dish of the evening, Jeppe, her boyfriend, was to blame for the garlicky sides. I was thinking hard about what to include in the meal to make him happy, until I realized that it probably didn’t matter as long as I used enough garlic. The guy loves garlic so much he could probably eat it raw for breakfast!
So to go with a batch of my home-made lasagna from scratch, I not only pulled out my world-famous garlic bread recipe (and by that I mean loved by at least eight different people on two continents!), but also whipped up a batch of Caesar’s Salad with home-made garlic croutons and Caesar’s dressing, a side dish you may remember from such posts as Crowd sourcing dinner: The Eggs Benedict Burger.
You’ll have to take my word for this being good. Lasagna never was a particularly photogenic dish, especially not with heaping piles of salad and garlic bread on the side. But it is comfort food at its very best, and at least the really expensive plate helped! With this little not so beautiful beauty, we had a nice bottle of slightly chilled Chianti from Poderi del Paradiso, a refreshing little treat.
Dessert: Licorice panna cotta with wild berry reduction
For Emelie who always knows just how to get what she wants from me and has the healthiest appetite of any girl I know. And I mean that as a compliment, by the way!
The topic of dessert may have been set in stone from the beginning, but the procedure sure wasn’t. I started out on the night before cooking a pretty standard panna cotta but as I went along, my eyes were caught by some licorice powder I had standing around. “Hmm,” I thought, and tipped a few spoonfuls into the boiling panna cotta mixture. My eyes were then caught by a bottle of El Dorado Spiced rum. “Hmm, “ I thought, and in went another few spoonfuls (possibly more) of that. I eventually ended up with a rather tasty but strangely light brown panna cotta.
“I’d probably better cover that up somehow,” I thought, and so the idea of a wild berry reduction was born. I grabbed some mixed berries – frozen, I admit – mashed them up with some sugar and strained the juices into a small pot. I put the heat to it, added a generous splash of Crème de Cassis and reduced till thickened. My general idea was to somehow drizzle the reduction over the panna cotta in an attractive pattern before serving, but come serving time the reduction turned out to be too runny and my lovely kitchen hand Tina was having a hard time making any sort of pattern out of it. So I eventually decided to just go all in and cover the whole damn thing in sauce. The result turned out as pictured above. Not too shabby, I think, and at least no one had to wonder about the strangely brown color of the panna cotta.
Regardless, the result was quite tasty – if a bit heavy – and went surprisingly well with a glass of 2010 Domaine Maby Lirac La Fermade Rouge.
And that was it. Done. The new dinnerware had been broken in. And with some class, I’d like to think. Nothing too posh, fancy or overly expensive, just good, decent, Italian slow food with a focus on a few great main ingredients, plus a lot of time and love. Perfect for an autumn evening in the company of good friends. I really enjoy Italian food for its simplicity in everything but taste and, in this case, it allowed the new dinnerware and the great company to really shine through, that is until everybody had had a bite, anyway, and fell silent in enjoyment for a while.
The remainder of this great evening was spent chatting, drinking wine, laughing and all other things that friends do well. I love my new dinnerware and I love my friends, thank you, that is all!
The one that got away: Remember how I said one of my friends still hate me for inviting on a night when she didn’t have time? Don’t think I’ve forgotten about poor Malene. I owe her dinner, too. I guess that means I’ll have to break out the fancy dinnerware again. Oh woe is me. 😉