on entertaining: stick to what you know

Last night, Nate and I had my parents and aunt over for dinner, dessert, and a mini Twilight Zone marathon.  I really love entertaining, and the more I do it, the more comfortable I get with the sometimes frenetic pace.

Now, if you consult  Mrs. Frank Learned’s The Etiquette of New York To-Day (“To-Day” being 1906),  you’ll learn all sorts of rules about entertaining and etiquette that are sometimes pretty obvious  (“Subjects to be avoided are private affairs, illness, servants, food, money, dress, household difficulties, disagreeable happenings, grievances” (206)) — I mean, what Neanderthal discusses their servants in polite company? — and sometimes just confusing (“Tea gowns are not worn at teas” (248)).  The only rule about entertaining that I’ve ever felt made a lot of sense  — though it doesn’t show up in Mrs. Learned’s text — is don’t make foods you’ve never tried before.  Because, well, they might suck.  And then you’re stuck forcing your guests to eat something you might (if cooking alone) toss in the trash.

Last night, I made Rosemary Pork Tenderloin — a fantastic recipe from Claire Robinson that I’ve tried MANY times — and Raisin-Studded Apple Bread Pudding, my first bread pudding and my first big disappointment from Smitten Kitchen.  I’ll start with the tenderloin, since it was a success per usual.  I know I’ve extolled the greatness that is Claire Robinson and her 5-Ingredient Fix show on the Food Network before, but it’s worth repeating.  Her recipes are delicious, easy, and never too time-consuming.  And, if you cook with any regularity, you probably have most of the ingredients you’ll need on hand for her creations.

I chose to try this recipe a few months ago because I love rosemary, Dijon mustard, bacon, and pork, so I figured the combination of all four (plus some garlic and pepper) couldn’t be bad.  And not only was it not bad, it was great.  The pork is incredibly moist (I think it’s the marinade and the bacon blanket you roast it under), and the flavors are delicious.  This dish was  a hit.

The bread pudding, on the other hand, was a total dud.  Before I describe what I think went wrong, I should mention that I have a very specific idea of what bread pudding should be: moist, with a custard filling, lots of sticky, brandy-based sauce, and tons of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.  It should also make me want to be a better woman (can you tell I have a “thing” for this stuff?).  When I read through this recipe, all the right ingredients (minus the brandy) seemed to be there, and it didn’t seem too difficult to pull together.  Well, I was half-way right in my assessment.

The right ingredients were there — the kitchen smelled great when I was baking this up — but it wasn’t all that easy to pull together.  And for the resulting bland, dried-out bread “pudding” (I can’t bring myself to type “pudding” without the quotes), there were definitely too many steps.

Now, to be fair, SK did mention that this did not result in a very custardy bread pudding, and to increase the milk to 4 cups and the eggs from 3 to 4 if custard was your aim.  I stayed with the original 3 cups and 3 eggs, but in my defense, I also used quite a bit less bread than she did.  Still, when this came out of the oven, the top layer of the dessert was totally dry, and the custard had withered away into almost nothingness at the bottom of the pan.  It tasted alright (though it wasn’t really sweet enough for me), but it was definitely not something I would’ve served my family had I tried it BEFORE their visit.  Luckily, they kind of have to like me, so I don’t think they’ll be holding this dessert against me for too long.

Next time, I’m trying Paula Deen’s Best Bread Pudding recipe.  Lots more sugar, lots more sauce, and lots more butter.  Just the way bread pudding should be.

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