Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Yup, @SamSifton


LUCY BURDETTE: Down here in Key West, we are buried in our Friends of the Key West library speaker series, which has been absolutely splendid. A week ago Monday, our special guest was Sam Sifton. (In case you don’t recognize the name, he is a former New York Times restaurant critic, the founder of New York Times Cooking, and now an assistant editor of the Times.) Anyway, we were able to talk him into being our speaker that night as well as appear as the star guest at a special fundraising gala.



Sam Sifton with the greeting committee

I told my friend who persuaded him to come that John and I would love to take them to dinner the night before. She chose coming to our house for supper instead. That’s all I could think about for the next three weeks: Sam Sifton, the food critic, was coming to my house for dinner. What in the hell do you cook for Sam Sifton?? John thought I was out of my mind, but as always, he was a good sport. I told a few cooking friends, but the suggestions began to make me anxious. Instead of soliciting ideas for menus, I had a chat with the Reds, confessing that the only thing I could imagine was making homey dishes that I knew would turn out reasonably well. Here's what they said...

RHYS BOWEN: This reminds me of when my daughter found out that the friend she had invited to dinner’s husband was day chef at the French Laundry. Utter panic. I said serve pizza.

I’m sure he’ll love good homey food. Simple.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: SHRIMP. Didn't I read that in your book?

And the last thing I would try to do is impress him--can you imagine his life? Maybe ask him to pitch in.

LUCY: I was thinking about a roast chicken, macaroni and cheese and a salad. Will start with shrimp cocktail and and end with a caramel cake. That’s when I’m thinking… That’s what I’d want to eat.

HANK: He will absolutely love that menu! Absolutely.

JULIA: That sounds fabulous, Lucy. One thing I've learned from all those movies about gourmet chefs is, they deeply appreciate home cooking!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Sam Sifton!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh my gosh! I can just imagine how thrilled he would be to have a home cooked meal in your lovely flat. With drinks on the balcony.

And the menu sounds PERFECT!!

JENN MCKINLAY: You've got this, Lucy. I have no doubt he'll enjoy every bite. Also, I think I read that Anthony Bourdain loved Popeyes. LOL. They are regular people and home cooking is the best cooking.

HALLIE EPHRON: OMG - That’s insane. TAKE NOTES!

Getting ready...

LUCY: I confess I was nervous, but he and his friends were lovely and the night was a lot of fun. I made exactly what I'd proposed:



Once Upon a Chef's mac n cheese

Alison Roman's roast chicken



A salad like our fave at Clemente's Trolley Pizza



I had made the caramel cake from Southern Cakes many times, but it's always a little nerve-wracking. The kitchen gods were with me. This was my best version ever--the cake came out tall and light, the icing was to die for.

caramel cake from Southern Cakes




Sam and friends Paul, Ellen, Brendan, in terrible lighting



The Friends event was fabulous--Sam was smart and charming and personable. And we made a chunk of money for the library. Phew!

Ellen T. White grilling our guest


photo by Brendan McCarthy


What would you make for a food critic??

93 comments:

  1. How wonderful that you were able to have Mr. Sifton speak and participate in the fundraising gala. And a chunk of money for the library sounds perfect.

    What would I make for a food critic? I’d be soooooo nervous! But I’d make tried-and-true dishes.
    Definitely bread, because there’s nothing quite like fresh, warm bread. Macaroni and cheese for sure because it’s the one dish that is always wonderful. Maple glazed pork. Green and yellow squash medley. Ridiculous chocolate cake [really, that’s its name] because it is absolutely amazing.

    But I’d fret the whole time . . . .

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    2. I loved seeing the pictures of the wonderful meal you prepared, Lucy . . . it sounds as if it was a perfect evening . . . .

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  2. Look at you! You are such a rockstar! Standing ovation! endless fabulous standing ovation!

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  3. But tell us tell us tell us! What did he say? What did he talk about? What should we learn to make?

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    1. awww thanks Hank. He was a regular guy! We talked about their fishing (which was terrible--way too cold), and what it was like being a NY restaurant critic (grueling, really), and how he likes to feed a crowd, but he'd rather be in the kitchen than out entertaining.

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  4. I'm glad the night was a success. I can imagine the worries you went through. Since I don't cook, I'd be in an even worse spot than you. I think it would be pizza. Seriously.

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  5. LUCY: Wow, having Sam come to dinner is both scary and awesome!
    I'm sure he loved all your comfort food dishes...BRAVO!!

    Hmmm, although I do like cooking a range of dishes, if I was cooking for a food critic, I would stick to hearty winter dishes that I can make with my eyes closed.

    Either roast leg of lamb (or roast chicken) with root veggies as the main.
    A similar mixed green salad to yours with a lemon/EVOO dressing.
    Apple/pear crisp served warm (with ice cream) for dessert

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    1. I was thinking of you Grace, and the amazing food you'd present!

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  6. Lucy, what would I make for a food critic?

    Hell that's easy...reservations!

    Glad your dinner and fundraising event went well.

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  7. I'd definitely go with a menu similar to yours - something homey and no fail! Roast chicken is the perfect choice (and now I'm craving it) or crockpot balsamic meatloaf with sun-dried tomatoes so the oven if free for Alton Brown's macaroni and cheese. Salad on the side for sure. Dessert? That's a toughie. Since I'm in Maine, blueberry cobbler and scoops of Gifford's vanilla ice cream. Starters? Marinated cheese. Easy and looks good in presentation.

    Glad you raised a bunch for the library. When we lived in Cujoe I loved the Friends of the Library series. Always a good time.

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    1. Yes on the blueberry cobbler! But now I want to hear about the marinated cheese...

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    2. I want to hear about the cheese, too!

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    3. Crockpot balsamic meatloaf! Can we have the recipe, Kait?

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  8. I love this so much, Lucy! And glad the event raised a lot of money for the library. Did you get any food critic ideas from him for future books? And you nailed the dinner by not trying anything new, only delicious dishes you know well how to make.

    I would probably make tapenade crostinis to have with drinks, then my trusty fish stew, with fresh bread or biscuits and a simple green salad. My famous apple pie for dessert, with excellent vanilla ice cream.

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    1. thanks Edith! I thought about a fish stew, but I'm more confident with roast chicken. Yes to food critic ideas for Hayley, though New York is a much bigger pond than Key West. I gather they had his photo pasted in a lot of kitchens around the city so the servers would know who to look for...

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    2. I want your fish stew recipe, too, Edith!

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  9. Good for you! At this time of year, hearty winter fare (pot roast, beef bourguignon), and a fussy pear salad, and something dense and chocolate for dessert.

    When we have visiting scientists from Europe, an all-American repast: grilled strip steaks, blueberry muffins, salad with avocados, and brownies or apple pie for dessert.

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  10. You were so smart to put together this menu. There's nothing more delicious than roast chicken. And actually I could eat that salad and the cake and be perfectly happy. My go-to recipe (for diners who like lamb) is a grilled butterflied leg of lamb with egg-lemon sauce and a side of kasha and asparagus. Lobster bisque if we're dining here in New England. If it's summer, a barbecued turkey. I think I need to eat breakfast.

    Lucy, are shrimp in Key West different from the US-fished frozen shrimp we get at the supermarket. I do love shrimp cocktail...

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    1. See I would never dare make your lobster bisque! And oh for sure, the Key West pinks are the best.

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  11. WOW, WOW, WOW Lucy, that is wonderful and I can imagine the panic feelings but you did it. I love SS’s columns in the NYT and he has turned the Cooking section into a powerhouse, even though I don’t approve of the fees. Dinner menu. I think you made great choices. I always make my smoked trout pate for guests. So I might start with soup, perhaps a big bowl of mussels, or lobster as he would be in Maine though I know he vacations here. Perhaps a chicken or lamb curry with rice and various raitas which can be done in advance, then local ice cream or a lemon mousse which was one of my go to catering dishes. But roast chicken is perfect always.

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    1. Oh Celia, you would have been the best host!

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    2. Celia, your menu repertoire must be impressive, just by virtue of living all over the world. Anyone would be honored to be your guest!

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    3. Celia, your menu sounds fabulous. Maybe you can share your smoked trout pate recipe with us!

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  12. This is a heroic story, from facing down your fears of cooking for a culinary superstar to raising $$ for the library. Well done!

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    1. Awww, Brenda, thanks a million! The whole set of events was amazing from our perspective!

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  13. Oh, Lucy, every woman cooks for a food critic when M-I-L comes for Thanksgiving dinner! Was it scarier than that?

    Seriously, I am so happy for you and the library! What a coup!

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    1. thanks Judy--you gave me a good laugh! For sure cooking for the MIL was scary for a few years:)

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  14. How satisfying is that? Good food, good conversation and a challenging task well delivered. Congratulations on dinner and the library fundraiser.

    I would have spent anxious days deciding between my favourite food -- Southwestern US -- and things that are locally produced. The latter would be pretty much anything but chili. Probably go with what I know. Green chili stew, cornbread, coleslaw and meringues from the bakery.

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  15. Oh my goodness, what fun...after the nerves stopped jangling! What a lovely evening, with good food and good company, you prepared for Sam, Lucy. Very impressive.

    I think I would make my chicken with oregano and garlic, mashed potatoes (rustic with butter and cream), green beans and a green salad. For dessert, I'd like to think I'd be brave enough to offer a plate of a few nice cheeses with classy crackers, along with good dark chocolate and the yummy crystallized ginger from our local organic store. But I'll never need to follow through on this menu for a NYT food critic, I'm fairly sure of that!

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    1. You never know Amanda! I love cheese plates but I hadn't thought of that...

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  16. I'd probably go your route, Lucy. Home cooking. Roast chicken, maybe served with my sour-cream/garlic mashed potatoes, green beans with shallots and bacon bits (cooked in the bacon fat), and either an apple pie or chocolate cream pie for dessert.

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    1. Oohh chocolate cream pie sounds divine. I have a chocolate cake that everyone loves, but my friend Steve convinced me that the caramel cake was better

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    2. It does look yummy. The chocolate cream pie is a bit of a pill to make, but it's also best made a day ahead, so I wouldn't have to worry about making it and dinner at the same time.

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  17. Brava, Roberta! Your presentation was superb, absolutely camera-ready. If it tasted half as good as it looked it would have been a feast.

    We used to host Audubon lecture series speakers from all over the world. Steve was one of them, and he knew how much a homecooked meal and a quiet place to sleep was appreciated. I spent years of my early married life cooking for total strangers. The worst experience was the woman who turned out to have religious objections to everything. I thought she would bust a gasket when I offered wine, and then cider! It wasn't hard cider, but she acted as if I were planning to funnel grain alcohol down her throat. Not very gracious.

    But I digress. Nowadays, if confronted with guests whose tastes I don't know I stick to my tried and true: I'd serve either grilled venison loin (like filet mignon), or a salmon pasta, depending on time of year. With the venison I'd make mashed potatoes or parsley potatoes (no gravy needed). With both a salad made with mixed greens, including the amazing tiny rainbow radish sprouts I've recently discovered. Broiled asparagus is always a hit, or the Brussels Sprouts Cockaigne from Joy of Cooking. Dessert would be either blackberry pie a la mode, or a flourless chocolate cake with raspberries. If I wanted a more casual meal for a crowd it might be chili. Served with grated cheddar, and probably homemade cornbread.

    For a food critic, the hardest part for me would be wine pairings! Yikes, that sounds the most stressful of all.

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    1. KAREN: Geez, that woman sounds like a real sourpuss!

      I love eating venison but I know some people don't like the (gamey) taste. Is the salmon pasta the one you mentioned earlier (with the squid ink pasta) or a different recipe?

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    2. Should have offered her ortolan ...

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    3. The wine pairings were John's department, so I didn't worry a lick about that! You sound like such a gracious hostess karen...

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    4. Karen, choking on the religious objections. What a PILL!
      I want to know before people come for dinner, if there are foods they won't eat. I wouldn't serve beef or lamb or fish or anything else without knowing that everyone was going to have something to eat at my house. It isn't difficult if people are honest up front. I usually ask if there are allergies or if there are preferences which would preclude serving certain foods. And nobody is forced to drink the wine!! Good GRIEF!

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    5. Seriously, Judy!

      Grace, my husband is a meat hunter, not a trophy hunter, so he almost exclusively shoots does. That means no gamey taste, which comes from the testosterone the bucks are full of during hunting season, which is also mating season. The meat of the females is much sweeter, but most hunters go for the big bucks, which is why venison has that reputation.

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    6. I ask my guests if there are allergies. Or if I know someone is vegetarian, I'll ask how strict (for example, do they eat cheese and eggs). If I know the guest is religious, I try my best (my one friend who is Jewish, I asked if she kept kosher - she didn't). But after that, if you don't want something, don't eat/drink it and don't be rude.

      I went to someone's house once on a Friday during Lent and they served beef (I'm Catholic). I ate the beef. It's worse to be rude to a hostess than to eat meat on Fridays during Lent.

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    7. Grace, the salmon pasta is the same recipe. The squid ink version is a variation I dreamed up for Halloween.

      It's super easy:
      Salmon filet, about 1/2-pound, depending on how much pasta you're making
      Grape tomatoes, halved (I use a whole package)
      Hard, aged cheese, like parmesan; I like to use peccorino romano in this dish; it adds a lot of flavor
      Pasta: angel hair works best with this recipe
      Olive oil
      Minced garlic--five or six cloves (or more, if you like)
      A good handful of fresh basil (You cannot have too much basil in this dish)
      Salt and pepper

      Broil salmon filets until not quite cooked through; let cool, and then crumble with fingers
      Cut grape tomatoes in half, finely mince garlic, and chop basil
      Grate cheese
      Cook pasta

      Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan, add garlic and sweat until it's fragrant; add tomatoes and cook until they get juicy. Add basil and cook just until it's wilted, five minutes, at most.

      Now add salmon and toss together, allowing the salmon to finish cooking for a couple more minutes. If necessary, add more olive oil (I almost always add more)

      Pour over the pasta, and mix gently. A little of the pasta water is good here, too.

      Liberally sprinkle grated cheese, ground pepper and ground sea salt, and mix again lightly; reserve some cheese to add to individual portions.

      Buon apetito!

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  18. The best part of making something you are familiar with is that it frees you up to actually talk to your guests. If you get too fussy or fidgety you end up too stressed to be of any use at all. Better to be a calm, relaxed hostess.

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    1. So true, Karen. And things that need last minute attention or have to be added at the end...no.

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    2. I've learned this one the hard way!

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    3. Karen, I've had venison loin at a Michelin starred restaurant in the Cotswolds, and it was delicious. Not gamey at all.

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    4. Absolutely agree with you. I want to be a good hostess and spend time with my guests, not worrying or fussing about minor things in the kitchen.

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  19. I would definitely choose Reservations!

    DebRo

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  20. So much fun to read about this! Like everyone else I'd love to hear more about the evening too. I subscribe to Times Cooking, so I feel like I "know" Sam Sifton. Dinner looked great. If it was me? Probably salmon. I have a lot of good salmon recipes and they never fail. (My chicken skills seem to be deteriorating) Some kind of interesting potato or rice dish, and a seasonal veg? Homemade bread or savory muffins? My most impressive cooking skill is maybe homemade blintzes but it's hard to work that into a dinner. Dessert might be my mom's famous chocolate chip cake, or strawberry shortcake if it's the right time of year. Or a Harlequin, a choc/vanilla layered mousse from a classic cookbook by Maida Heatter. Truth is I love any excuse to make a real dessert. BTW, Lucy, I made your caramel frosting for something-you posted the recipe - and it was fabulous.

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    1. Oh yes Triss, dessert is the most fun to think about! I'm glad the caramel turned out well...

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    2. Triss, I'd love your recipe for blintzes. Both my grandmothers made them, but I have never done it except buying store made wrappers or frozen blintzes that went into a casserole. Also, salmon would be a great choice if the guests eat fish. We keep kosher style and that makes it simpler for all of the goodies you serve with including appetizers, sides, desserts, even the bread I make to go with dinner.

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    3. Judy, happy to share. What's the best way? Send me your email? Or snail?

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  21. Depending on my mood, Sam would either get the central FL treatment, Pick n peel garlic shrimp, mini cubans and media noche sandwiches, flan for desert. Or baked salmon Pacific Northwest style with marionberry pie, or if I am really feeling quirky and out of time, a Tampa hand rolled cigar and a bag of pretzels..

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    1. Tee hee, you're funny. I love the central FL menu, who wouldn't?

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  22. Lucy, fabulous meal! From the looks on people's faces, it's clear you nailed it! As long as the food is good and the company relaxed, that's what counts.

    Meatloaf, mashed spuds, green beans, my B-I-L's rolls, and for dessert, a light lemony cheesecake.

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  23. Lucy Roberta, what an experience! I can't even imagine doing what you did, cooking for a critic!

    But if I had the gumption to do that, I'd do a southern menu I think, since that is what I learned to cook first.

    Fried catfish -- cornmeal dredged
    Beans and greens -- pintos and collards
    Hushpuppies of course
    Corn on the cob with slathers of butter
    Sliced cucumbers and sweet onions in cider vinegar.
    Strawberry shortcake -- served with heavy cream.
    Choice of sweet tea, beer, hard cider, or a highball -- made with bourbon of course.

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  24. First I would need a dining room table for more than four. Wash the good dishes, they are covered with dust and polish the good silver. Arrange flowers and be sure I have enough napkins to match the tablecloth. Be sure the house is cleaner than it has ever been. Mom and Grandma are definitely talking in my head right now.

    The meal would depend on the season. Winter menu would be pork tenderloin with warm apple compote and roasted Brussel sprout. Apricot brandy pound cake with raspberry sauce. Summer menu would be potato salad with either warm fried chicken or barbeque chicken. Sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and apple crisp. Or apologize profusely while making a huge salad and order a complete pizzas and lemon punch and pour cake.

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    1. Opps - that should be - order a couple of pizzas...

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    2. Deana, the pork tenderloin sounds great. What time is dinner? You don't even have to go to the trouble of cleaning!

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    3. I'd like the potato salad and fried and BBqd chicken!

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  25. I promise that Sam is telling all his friends that not only did he get to meet a famous writer in Key West, she is a FOOD COZY WRITER and she made dinner!! Your dinner sounds perfect.

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  26. Lucy: I've been thinking about the roast chicken you served, and I have to say that I think that "simple" dish is one of the very hardest to get right. Certainly, I have rarely (if ever) served a perfect one. So, mega congrats to you on achieving that feat!

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    1. Thanks Amanda! This recipe was from Alison Roman's cookbook and I've made it at least 5 times and never had a failure:)

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    2. I always have trouble getting roast chicken just right, Lucy.

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  27. Lucy, I'm so glad you gave us the update with pictures!!! Your food looks fabulous. One ting I've learned from friend-of-the-Reds Celia Wakefield is how proper plating and presentation elevates the most humble dish into something special.

    One thing I was thinking about when we were discussing Sam's visit was my late father-in-law, Victor Hugo-Vidal. Victor traveled widely and frequently as an equestrian judge, coach and instructor, and he ate out at some of the best restaurants in the US. But when he came to visit us in Maine, he loved my home cooking. (I'm basing this not on what he said, but by how much he ate of it!) It was the kind of cooking he simply didn't get to experience in his day-to-day life. His absolute favorite, that I made every time he visited. Meatloaf. Which I made from the 1960s Ann Landers recipe!

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    1. What a nice story Julia. You'll have to post that meatloaf recipe during one of your weeks.

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    2. My 6-year-old grand-nephew has requested meatloaf for his birthday dinner--which isn't until May :-)

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  28. I would LOVED to have been at your dinner, Lucy, and Sam sounds like a doll! I'm frozen just contemplating menu options. I want as much do ahead as possible so I wouldn't be as frazzled. Charcuterie board to start. If it was nice weather I'd probably grill something--salmon, or pork chops from our fabulous local butcher. Grilled veggies, sliced tomatoes. I'm terrible at desserts, so maybe a summer pudding. Meringues with macerated fresh fruit and whipped cream.

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  29. Brilliantly done.
    I'm jealous of the caramel cake. Whenever I see one, I want some!

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    1. It's to die for. https://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com/2014/01/decadent-southern-caramel-cake-offered.html

      I'll make the link live in the post...

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  30. Yeesh. If I didn't suddenly flee and hide I supposed I'd first inquire if he had any favorite foods he wanted to find at any of our restaurants. If not I might revert to a casual menu from early in our marriage. Very casual. I'd get some smoked Ekrich or similar sausage, poke it a few times with a fork so the extra water would come out, cook it outside on the grill, slice it horizontally and then across in 5 or 6 inch lengths, pop a piece on a warm flour tortilla, add some barbeque sauce, and roll it up and eat. I'd also offer three bean salad or macaroni salad, guacamole and chips, maybe a cheese plate. Perhaps a peach cobbler (cake-like version) with cream or ice cream.

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  31. What a fun event! A gracious guest will make hosts feel good, and the other kind . . . well, too bad for them. I do recall a dinner guest asking at the door if he'd remembered to tell me he was a vegetarian. He hadn't, but we had plenty of veggies and good bread on the table, so he was fine.
    I just this minute finished A DISH TO DIE FOR . . . and WOW! I'll be more articulate, and write a review, when I come back to earth. <3

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  32. Brava, Lucy/Ro! I'd be in a tizzy and dither about which type of cuisine to make, since I cook a variety of ethnic foods, including what I was brought up on, from Mom's Sicilian-NOLA, Dad's Cajun, and living so many years in Texas, eating Southern home-style MIL's good country food, and Tex-Mex. Then I remember Julia Child saying people shouldn't be intimidated to cook her plain, comfort food like meatloaf, with no apologies! I'd have gone a similar route as you, with chicken or pot roast or pork tenderloin with cranberry-onion-balsamic sauce,roasted veggies and a fruit cobbler. Your dinner was perfect! What an enjoyable post today, reading all the comments!

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  33. Love this, Lucy! And I LOVE Sam Sifton's food column in the Times. I actually saw his newsletter earlier this week where he mentioned having made a quick trip to Key West -- but I had no idea he was eating at your house! So glad both dinner and the fundraiser were a success -- esp dinner!

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  34. I love this so much, Lucy!!!! Bravo!!!! I knew you would mail it! Also, no, I wouldn’t cook for a food critic because I don’t cook. Hub would, though, and I’d make dessert.

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