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Girls’ Night In

Girls’ Night In
September 2009

Entertaining in today’s economy calls for resourcefulness, so we’ve decided to focus our “In Good Taste” department on helping home cooks plan wallet-friendly dinner parties. Over the next few months, we’ll design different challenges for a series of local chefs. First up: Charleston Grill executive chef Michelle Weaver cooks up a champagne celebration on a house wine budget, treating her gal pals to a fancy girls’ night in at a fabulous Folly Beach house.

For these friends who have wined, dined, and traveled together, she created a four-course dinner from last-of-the-season local products made luxurious by generous lamb chops and decadent triple crème cheese. Just as Michelle carefully sets the course of action each night for the kitchen at the Charleston Grill, this evening she has planned a menu that requires her actual cooking time to be only the few minutes when the lamb chops are on the grill. Having everything else either completed or prepped to plate-ready is a smart strategy that allows the cook to enjoy her company. With good friends, good food, good wine, and rocking chairs on a porch that looks over the Folly River, this chef knew she didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen!

First Course

“Some might ask why I choose to include two tomato dishes in a fairly simple menu,” says Michelle. “I’m a huge tomato fanatic.” As September rolls in, local tomatoes make their final appearance, so Michelle likes to use them as much as possible, hence a gazpacho for the first course and a tomato salad with the lamb later in the evening. “The soup is smooth, cool, and velvety, a mellow celebration of the fruit, and the tomato salad with the main dish is a big shout-out,” she laughs. And it only takes two poached shrimp per serving to add an additional layer of luxury.

The Shopping List
• Tomatoes 2 lb. @ $3.99/lb. $7.98
• Onion 1 lb. @ $1.29/lb. $1.29
• Pepper 1 @ $2.49/ea. $2.49
• Garlic bulb 1 @ $.50/ea. $0.50
• Limes 2 @ $.69/ea. $1.38
• Shrimp in shell (extra to account for shell weight) .75 lb. @ $7.99/lb. $5.99
• Cucumber 1 @ $2.00/ea. $2.00
• Cilantro 1 bunch @ $1.69/ea. $1.69
Final Cost: $23.32

From the Pantry
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt
• Black pepper
• Old Bay seasoning (for poaching)

(see all recipes below)

Second Course

A graduate of the prestigious New England Culinary Institute and now the executive chef of the four-star, four-diamond Charleston Grill, Weaver can’t help adding a little luxury to even the simplest of salads: the peppery undertones of extra-virgin olive oil and the unmistakable richness of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (To take the salad to an even higher level, splurge and add a touch of truffle oil to the dressing.) Combine these with the short list of the salad’s very fresh ingredients and you have the components to take a budget meal from the commonplace to the sublime.

The Shopping List
• Lemon 1 @ $.44 $0.44
• Arugula 1 carton $3.99
• Parmesan .25 lb. @ 15.99/lb. $4.00
Final Cost: $8.43

From the Pantry
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Black pepper
• Sea salt

(see all recipes below)

Third Course

Pinching pennies doesn’t have to mean a dinner party menu that sends guests home hungry. After a soothing soup spiked with a lagniappe of shrimp and a flavorful riff on the classic green salad, Michelle has saved her big bucks for the entrée and its hearty helping of protein. At three and a half ounces per lamb chop, each guest’s serving of two is more than satisfying.

Although Michelle uses dry-aged American lamb at Charleston Grill, for entertaining at home, Australian lamb is more readily available and less expensive. The chops should be cut about 3/4-inch thick. Have the butcher “French” them for a nicer presentation. This is a process of removing the meat and fat from between the rib bones, and a pro can do it much faster and more easily. Because Australian lamb has a delicate flavor, Michelle keeps things simple, only rubbing the chops with olive oil and seasoning them with salt and pepper.

The Shopping List
• Rack lamb 2 lb. @ $14.99/lb. $29.98
• Tomatoes 2 pts. @ $3.99/pt. $7.98
• Shallot .25 lb. @ 2.49/lb. $0.62
• Olives .25 lb. @ $9.99/lb. $2.50
• Oregano .75 oz. pkg. $1.99
• Basil .75 oz. pkg. $1.99
• Lemon 1 @ $.44/ea. $0.44
Final Cost: $45.50

From the Pantry
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt
• Black pepper

Fourth Course

Both in the restaurant and when entertaining, Michelle feels that cheese is an excellent alternative to sugary sweet desserts. “It can be a divine finish to any dinner, offering a variety of textures and flavors,” she says. The chef plans on three to four ounces of cheese per guest and purchases it from a store that lets her taste what she’s buying. Take the cheese out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving to allow it to come to room temperature. Present it with crusty bread, such as slices of toasted French baguette, and a drizzle of honey or fresh berry syrup. Add some nuts, either candied like the Marcona almonds that Michelle chose to serve with the Saint André, or salted Marcona almonds, walnuts, or pecans. (Shorter and rounder than a traditional almond, the Marcona variety, which originated in Spain, is sweeter, softer, and more delicate in texture.) If you wish to take your cheese plate to the next level, substitute a Brillat Savarin for the Saint André.

The Shopping List
• Saint André .75 lb. @ $12.99/lb. $9.74
• French baguette $1.99
• Almonds .25 lb. @ $15.99/lb. $4.00
• High-quality maple syrup 8 oz. $6.59
Final Cost: $22.32

From the Pantry
• Unsalted butter
• Kosher Salt
(see all recipes below)

Want to splurge?
Here are suggestions for wine pairings that weren’t factored into the budget:

• First Course: Avinyó Cava “Brut” Bubbles offer just the right touch of fruit and acidity to pair with fresh ripe tomatoes. Your favorite Champagne or Prosecco would be another excellent option.

• Second Course: Glatzer Grüner Veltliner (Carnuntum, Austria) 2006
Austria’s grape of fame, Grüner Veltliner, dances easily with the spiciness and bitterness of arugula, as well as tricky food pairings like asparagus and artichokes.

• Third Course: Chateau Redortier Côtes du Rhône Villages Beaumes-de-Venise (Rhône Valley) 2001 Grenache-based wines from the Rhône Valley and Spain will have just the right balance of body and aroma to pair with Mediterranean-inspired lamb dishes.

• Fourth Course: Marenco Moscato d’Asti “Strevi” (Piedmont) 2007
There are plenty of great frothy Moscatos on the market that would be the perfect light touch to finish the evening.