Amuse: Pecorino Romano drizzled with molasses (N.B: before today I had never served anyone an amuse-bouche! I've hardly even ever used the word, let alone made them!)
-Carrots stir-fried with ginger and hot pepper
-Udo braised in cream with lemon and ginger
-Spinach ohitashi (spinach soaked in katsuo broth)
Second course: Salmon meunière
Pallete cleanser: iceplant
Dessert: strawberry parfait
It was a lot more effort than I thought it would be to put it all together. I didn't have all the plates and dishes to even serve all this, or store the parts I could make ahead, so just buying and washing them was a chore. I'd been thinking about a lot of variations for almost all of those, and had been busy all week testing them out. (Meunière is my favorite way to do fish, so that was decided, but what fish to use? I tried about four different kinds before settling on fresh anchovy, which are delicate and delicious and in-season and relatively sustainable. But when I got to the supermarket, there were no fresh anchovies, but there were some really beautiful salmon steaks.) I spent the week trying different variations of Smitten Kitchen's butterscotch pudding (I like it with bacon and five-spice powder and the maximum amount of cream she specifies), but at the supermarket yesterday, there were some gorgeous tiny little strawberries, which led to an abrupt change of plans and me whipping cream for parfaits at 7 p.m. today. I tried the spinach ohitashi with a little lemon zest and decided that it was better without.
I'd meant to make udo kimizu ae, which is udo dressed in a sauce based on egg yolk and vinegar. Udo has a lovely aroma, a bit like fennel, but until then, had never eaten an udo dish that tasted as good as udo smells. Even raw and plain, it doesn't taste as rich and as aromatic as you think it should. So I was very happy a few weeks ago in a ryokan when I was served it in this thin yellow sauce tasting as full and as luxurious as it should. The chef said that it was in kimizu (literally, egg yolk vinegar), which is a sauce thickened with egg yolks and soured with vingar. I found a recipe for it online, and it produced a stinking yellow gloop. So I still really don't know what that chef did, and just cooked the rest of the udo in cream, like cream-braised fennel, with a little lemon and ginger at the end. It still wasn't as good as that chef's version!
I'd also meant to make truffles as a final goodbye nibble, but between one thing and another, I never had time to get them ready.
But by 7:30, I had carrots and spinach and udo chilling in the fridge (the former two completely prepared last night, which is the only way you can get the ohitashi to be the right kind of tender, but with just a bit of bite to it), cream whipped and vanilla'd, strawberries chopped and hanging out with just a spoonful of brown sugar and a drop of lemon juice, the iceplant washed, the parsley with which to garnish the salmon washed, water for tea on, and cheese and salmon and bread ready to go.
Even serving was more work than I thought it would be: all four of the vegetables and the bread had to be plated, the spinach had to be cut into chopstick-edible lengths, the salmon had to be fried, the parfaits had to be assembled (they said, "Whoah! Did you just make parfaits right now?" and I said, "Well, I'd already done all the work!"), and even though I was hanging out with friends, I kept thinking about the next course and whether or not it was time to get it ready.
Next time I do something like this, I'm going to try to avoid thinking about the menu until about a week before, and I won't try to develop more than one recipe for it-- I think all but one of the things I make should be things I'm already reasonably familiar with. Also, even if you're going somewhat crazy for the food (which I definitely want to do sometimes!) you probably don't need to have much more than this, and a lot less would've been just fine. I think I did well in choosing mostly dishes that could be largely done in advance or else cooked easily, but I also realized just how important that is. If it were possible to do everything in advance, so much the better.
Anyway, I'm so happy that I pulled this off! The food was served and enjoyed and the dishes cleaned and put away and only a few things left that didn't make it to the table. I don't know when I'll next do this, or with who, or whether I'm going to go all-out or just make it a "Come over to my place-- let's have sandwiches and watch a movie" kind of deal. But I'm looking forward to doing it again.