Mom’s Birthday Menu

This weekend my husband and I hosted a family gathering in honor of my mother’s 75th birthday. 75! It’s strange that 75 almost barely qualifies as “old” anymore with people living longer and longer. I’m glad both of my parents are feeling well and enjoying themselves after three quarters of a century.

I was feeling a bit challenged about the menu until very nearly the last minute. We would be hosting one pescatarian; also, I felt compelled to avoid the oven for all the reasons mentioned here. Adding to this challenge is the fact that our grill sprung a gas leak a couple of weeks ago and is in need of a visit from a repair technician before we can do any more outdoor cooking. (It ended up raining anyway so perhaps it’s better we weren’t planning to rely on the grill.)

thought I’d had a genius brainstorm when it occurred to me that I could order from Heinen’s prepared foods section, but this turned out to be the worst idea. I called two different stores to attempt to order grilled salmon and roasted pork loin but for reasons I’ll never know this proved extraordinarily difficult – in short, the people I spoke to seemed to be very confused/challenged about someone calling to order catering. Heinen’s: fantastic grocery store but maybe skip the catering.

So: I bought two and a half pounds of salmon and three one-pound pork tenderloins for nine people. The party was set for Saturday so I marinated and cooked the pork early Friday afternoon; then turned up the oven and baked the fish. For the pork I used Ina Garten’s herb-marinated pork tenderloin, a recipe I can’t believe I haven’t written about previously. It’s no-fail and gets loads of compliments each time I make it – my only caveat is to ignore her suggestion of 3/4 cup of lemon juice in the marinade. Use the juice of one lemon, plus the zest that’s called for, and that will be sufficient. For the fish, I simply salt-and-peppered the filets and cooked them about 15 minutes (due to the larger amount, for two filets I do 12 minutes) at 425 degrees).

The next day, I portioned the salmon filets and placed them in parchment cooking bags with halved grape tomatoes, parsley and a dash each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I put them, along with the pork, in a 200-degree oven for probably about 45 minutes (to be honest I lost track of time here but my husband kept an eye on things).

Everything I read about re-heating salmon says more or less one thing: don’t do it. Honestly? This was fine. I like my salmon cooked medium and this was more well-done, but it was flaky and moist like a freshly cooked filet should be. One goof I made was scoring the large filets so I could portion them more easily after cooking; the cuts basically knitted themselves back together and I did a bit of a hack job. Lesson learned, next time I’ll just portion them after they’re cooked.

We also made a large pot of Yukon Gold mashers with loads of chives and butter, and a spinach-and-strawberry salad with sweet and sour dressing. Dessert was this lime tart with strawberries and blueberries, along with a batch of what I’ve come to call The Fudge. I highly, highly recommend mastering this recipe or getting someone generous to master it. WORTH IT.

What else – we served cava with some pre-dinner snacks (cheese and crackers, grapes, soppressata, good old chips and salsa) and rosè, red and white wine with dinner. I used paper plates but real wine glasses and real flatware and it made me very happy when dishwashing time rolled around.

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