Well, for Christmas I gave my friend a cookbook*. Right away she says, “Oh, we should try some of these recipes. Let’s have some people over and try some of these recipes.” At which point I remind her of the rule of thumb to never try a recipe on guests for the first time. We agree it would be taking a risk. Somehow from that cautious moment was born our once-a-month dinners called “Take A Risk”. [ That’s how my conversations go with this friend---I am in over my head before I know it!]
We set up some rules: We will alternate hosting in my house and hers. We will each choose guests. We can only use recipes from the new cookbook or its prequel, and it has to be the first time (i.e., we can’t use the same menu month after month once I’ve finally gotten it figured out.) So the first dinner was in January at my house. Originally I had hoped to clean everything from the craft room upstairs to the basement downstairs just in case someone got curious. That plan was not realized. My carefully laid out schedule of what to clean or organize in the days and weeks before having dinner guests did not happen. Let’s face it: I am better at making lists than at doing housework. The best thing that happened was that both sets of our guests had a conflict for the Saturday night but were free for the following evening which gave me a bonus day at crunch time.
I chose to make the Sirloin Stroganoff and a Green Bean and Feta Salad. My friend was doing the bread and dessert. My grocery list had items that a well stocked kitchen might be expected to have but mine does not. I had never bought sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, or fresh thyme (hey, I have dried) or kalamata olives or, I blush to say, leeks. I have bought turnips and parsnips but am not all that familiar with the root vegetable end of the produce section. So I pick out what I think is the leek bundle and I ask the produce man “Is this a leek?” It is. But there are 3 in the bundle and I only need one. “What’ll I do with the other two?” I ask. “Repeat,” he said, and I laughed, thinking “That’s against the rules”!
The other obstacle was finding beef stock rather than beef broth at the grocery store. I didn’t know the difference until I came home and researched it, but I was honor bound to follow the recipe exactly and wondered if the cookbook being Canadian was making a semantic problem.
The last item was brandy or Cognac, neither of which I have on hand. Neither of which I have actually ever bought. So here it is on a Saturday night and the grocery store only sells wine. My husband and I think it would be a good idea just to go to the nearby pub to get a couple shots of the brandy to carry home in a paper cup so, innocents that we are, we approach the bartender who is horrified and says they could lose their liquor license for giving us liquor-to-go. Who knew? It’s 9:30 on a Saturday night and I was afraid the liquor store would be closed but the people at the bar gave directions and sent this neophyte couple into the dark night. Fortunately the liquor store was open and doing a brisk business. Unfortunately it is on a busy street in our neighborhood and quite near our church which has conservative tendencies. I felt like pulling my hood up over my face as we scurried in. We had a little lesson from the clerk about the difference between brandy and Cognac, and got out without too much damage done by buying a half-pint.
The whole truth is that I would have been a lot more comfortable making a green salad my regular old way using the 26 or so salad dressings I already have on hand and making the stroganoff my old way without the mushrooms in brandy, but getting out of our comfort zone was the goal and it ended up being very rewarding.
My old way has never been such melt-in-your-mouth-tender meat. A male guest who professed not to be a salad lover said the Green Bean and Feta salad was in the top three best salads of his life and he would love to eat it again! Score!
The best part was sitting down at the table with old and new friends and having a good time getting better acquainted. Ron had thought of some good questions to get conversation going and it led into lots of laughing and story telling. It was kind of a “He said, She said” about vacation travels past, present and future. Everyone contributed to the fun. I was really happy at the end of the evening with how jolly it had been. I woke up the next morning feeling very happy and satisfied and that it had all been worth the effort. That is a long way from where I had been 24 hours before, having an anxiety attack and ready to murder my friend for getting me into this.
But now, it is February, and she is hosting at her house and I don’t have to worry about cleaning! I am happily anticipating another evening with old and new friends and I am ready once again to TAKE A RISK with dinner for eight.
And tonight as the snow flies around outside and the ice crackles on the windows I am enjoying a wee dram of (leftover) brandy in my coffee.
* The cookbook is Mennonite Girls Can Cook ~Celebrations, a second cookbook for this group of 10 authors and friends. The first cookbook is simply Mennonite Girls Can Cook. In 2008 they began blogging and sharing recipes from their heritage, largely German and Russian. From their blogs grew this cookbook in 2011 which includes personal histories and anecdotes and beautiful photographs. It is much more than a collection of recipes. All of the proceeds go to feeding children in the Ukraine and providing clean water in African villages. The second book came out in May 2013 (just in time for my birthday gift to self) and I had to keep the secret second copy away from my friend for months!
for more information about the cookbooks and authors, go to www.mennonitegirlscancook.org