A big table, dear friends, fun drinks and lots of food are the recipe for a wonderful evening. Last night, we had all of those things- and it was absolutely perfect.
When you cook a lot- and trying new foods is one of your passions- you get REALLY excited when you are offered exotic items to try in the kitchen. A few months ago, I was given a large array of different wild game meats to experiment with. Now, I am not a hunter (big surprise) and I don’t have any hunters in my family…so, the idea of a freezer full of pheasant, quail, venison and boar was super exciting and a fun new challenge.
We decided to plan a dinner with close friends and make a night of trying exotic new foods. The night was shared with Molly and Jamie (some of our dearest friends in Atlanta) and Hannah and Jeff Heck, some new friends from our old neighborhood. Jeff and a few of his friends started an awesome brewery called Monday Night Brewing. Their beers are all the buzz in Atlanta right now- and for good reason. They are all unique and lovely…with great names, like The Drafty Kilt and Fu Manbrew! Jeff not only crafts wonderful beer- but he is also a very talented mixologist. So, I sent him the menu ahead of time and he very thoughtfully paired different drinks with each course.
The first course was one that I was really looking forward to. I have been wanting to venture into cheese making for some time now. It always seemed quite time consuming and tedious- so I haven’t ever really given it a shot. But, this dinner was a great opportunity to try something new. I decided to make a lovely, lemony ricotta cheese. It was SO easy and totally worth the effort. The comparison between fresh and store bought is remarkable! I topped the ricotta with local buckwheat honey, fresh cracked sea salt and crispy pea shoots. I served it with fresh baked bread- still warm from the oven.
The second course was a bit of a challenge for me. 1- because I know that it is very hard to keep quail moist and 2- because I decided to fry it, and my frying experience is quite limited! I topped a salad of baby arugula, fresh peas and homemade buttermilk ranch with a light and flaky fried quail. It was a little challenging to eat…but tasty none the less!
I was the most excited about course number 3. The most unique game that I received was ground wild boar. I decided to make a ragu using the boar, beautiful tomatoes that I found at Whole Foods, dry white wine, and lots of fresh garlic. Since the I knew that the ragu would be hearty- I wanted a pasta that would stand up to it. This course marked my first attempt at making pasta as well. I ventured into the land of homemade Orecchiette pasta. It too was time consuming but SO WORTH IT!! The pasta was perfectly chewy and made a great base for the boar.
This was a night of first- so I embraced my first time cooking pheasant as well. Again, this meat tends to get very dry- so I did what any good Southern girl does…I covered it in thick slices of bacon and slowly roasted it. Since the meat became nice and smoky from the bacon…I paired it with a light and refreshing corn sauce. It was made with fresh (uncooked) corn, roasted jalapeño and fire roasted corn. I topped with a small roasted red pepper salad- and with was a light, simple course!
The finale (of the savory courses) was also really exciting for me. I was given a gorgeous venison loin…and I knew that a simple sprinkling of salt and pepper and a quick sear would best highlight the amazing flavor of his loin. I served it on top of sweet potatoes and pearl onions simmered in fresh vanilla beans, lemon juice and sugar. It was perfectly simple.
After all of the meat- and 5 courses- I decided that a refreshing sorbet was the perfect end to the meal. Gavin’s mom and I found some beautiful nectarines at the store the other day and allowed them to ripen. The sorbet with tart lemon zest and pistachios with the Tarquinio family shortbread cookies ended the meal in just the right way.
Though I had so much fun making (and eating) this meal…and I absolutely LOVED getting to see Jeff’s creativity with all of the pairings (I really wish I had pictures to show you how amazing it was) the best part of this meal was getting to share it with precious friends. The night was full of laughter, story telling, dreaming and praying together- and it is a memory that I will cherish for a long time!