I cook. I do. Not as often as I or my bank account would like, but I have been known to produce pretty unexpectedly awesome stuff from the kitchen when I put my mind to it (cinnamon burgers and Pineapple Thingie to name two).
But one thing I’ve never done is made an X-course meal, where X is some number larger than, say, 3 (appetizer, entrée, dessert. Done.)
So, Monday at noon, I emailed 6 friends and invited them to an 8-course dinner at 830PM. After sending invitations, I decided on the 8 dishes that I wanted to prepare. (Yes, I invited people to an 8-course dinner that I hadn’t planned yet. What of it? I’m an improviser; surely it couldn’t be that difficult to improvise an 8-course meal!)
The Menu:
Soup course: Green Pea Vichyssoise
Salad course: Caribbean-Chicken Salad (NOT Caribbean Chicken-Salad; ugh)
Pasta course: Creamy Bacon Carbonara
Fowl course: Grilled Chicken with Watermelon Salsa
Meat course: Maple-Bourbon Steak Tips on Roma Tomato Petals
Dessert course: Peppermint Ice Cream
Fruit course: Cranberry Relish
Cheese course: Grapes with Cubed Cheddar and That Marbly-Kind of Cheese, You Know the Kind I’m Talking About
A couple of things about these dishes:

  1. I googled ‘8-course dinner’ for the course titles themselves (soup, salad, etc), then googled ‘awesome SOUP recipe’ ‘amazing SALAD recipe’ etc.  The Google-Fu is strong with this one. Also, I find that googling adjectives is a much more reliable rating system for products and recipes than, say, the five-star system. For exactly the same reason that a lot of your friends are willing to Like a post on your Facebook wall, but only a select few will Share it and Recommend it on theirs.
  2. I had lured my friends in with promises of steak tips from The Meat House on Franklin St. (seriously, they’re the best, and you should try them tonight). So I designed one course around them using a cool plate decoration recipe I found.

The Plan:  

  • 5PM: Leave work.
  • 5-5:45PM: Buy ingredients.
  • 5:45-6PM: Drive home, unpack car.
  • 6-8:30PM: Cook everything (maybe leaving a couple dishes in holding patterns and checking on them while serving the other dishes).
  • 8:30PM: Guests arrive and ask if they can do anything to help. Smile casually and shake my head, saying, “Oh, no, everything’s already taken care of.”

Feel free to take a moment here to laugh at my naiveté.
Hubris has always been my heroic flaw.
First of all, I got out of work at 530PM. And then I spent a half-hour rushing around the produce section of Harris Teeter, cursing under my breath. At one point, I realized I had just spent 3 minutes walking up and down the organic produce aisle, mumbling, “Cilantro, cilantro, wherefore art thou, cilantro?”  
…I don’t often cook things with more than four ingredients. Don’t judge me.
And all that was before I got to the rest of my shopping list. I finally got out of the grocery store at 6:35PM, and that was only because I had to get to The Meat House before they closed at 7PM, and so I gave up on several ingredients I just couldn’t find.
COOL FACTOID: You can’t buy fresh cranberries right now at Harris Teeter OR Food Lion.
Fruit Course: CHANGED.
I got home with all of my ingredients at 7:10PM:

In my new car (a new thing I tried right before I started this column)
and on my kitchen counter. I overbought. By a lot.

No worries, I thought, I’m only 70 minutes off-schedule. How bad could it be? I pulled out my six full pages of recipes and began on the vichyssoise.
COOL FACTOID: I chose vichyssoise because I’ve been wondering about it ever since I saw this scene from Batman Returns.
A short while later, two separate guests showed up early, asking if I needed any help. And I smiled casually, shook my head, and said, “…Yes. Yes, right now, yes.”
Thus, the evening suddenly changed from Kit cooking 8 courses for his friends…to Kit cooking 8 courses WITH his friends. I have really awesome friends.
More guests showed up, and they had decided to further derail my plans by potlucking it up. Bringing a dish to an 8-course dinner? What were they thinking? Well, to make them happy (and for no other reason), I begrudgingly replaced two of my planned courses with these new additions.
Fowl course: CHANGED.
Dessert course: CHANGED.
Menu Update:
Soup course: Green Pea Vichyssoise
Salad course: Caribbean-Chicken Salad
Pasta course: Creamy Bacon Carbonara
Fowl course: Chicken Stir-Fry
Meat course: Maple-Bourbon Steak Tips with Watermelon Salsa on Roma Tomato Petals
Dessert course: Cherry Pie and Hand-whipped Cream
Fruit course: Berry-Apple Smoothies
Cheese course: Grapes with Cubed Cheddar and That Marbly-Kind of Cheese, You Know the Kind I’m Talking About
With the seven of us all collaborating, everything went smoothly (although my friend Sylvia did give me a dirty look when I asked her to blanch, peel and quarter a dozen Roma tomatoes, and my friend Ted did give me an exasperated sigh when I asked him to zest orange peels and then discovered the closest thing I own to a zester is a fruit knife, and my roommate Aaron did give me a smack upside the head when I referred to him throughout this column as ‘a friend I invited over’).
The rest of the evening was spent madly half-preparing a dish, running to the table to eat the previous course, finishing the next course, and repeating the process.  Here are the results:

Soup course: Green Pea Vichyssoise

Note: I bet I’m the only person ever to make vichyssoise in a Ninja Blender.
Secondary Note: Also, we ate the soup course so fast, I didn’t get a photo of the finished product.  These are the bowls after they’d been cleaned. It was the best I could do. It was really good. Although, due to time constraints, I didn’t serve it completely cold, which, as that clip from Batman Returns mentioned, is the entire point of vichyssoise.

Salad course: Caribbean-Chicken Salad

Note: I don’t eat salads very often, but I’d make an exception for this one.
COOL FACTOID: I’ve never had vinaigrette dressing before. It’s really good with strawberries.

Pasta course: Creamy Bacon Carbonara

Note: Probably the long-term winner of the evening. I’m sure I’ll make watermelon salsa again, and vichyssoise is definitely a keeper, but this was both delicious and the kind of easy that defines my nightly dinner choices. Also, bacon. ‘Nuff said.

Fowl course: Chicken Stir-Fry

Note: My friends Sylvia and Matt brought this. It fit very well with all the other dishes, which vaguely makes me feel like they somehow cheated. Not complaining.

Meat course: Maple-Bourbon Steak Tips
with Watermelon Salsa on Roma Tomato Petals

Note: Watermelon salsa sounds insane. Ignore that; it’s like tomato salsa without the acid. Also –a personal recommendation– use, like, a quarter of the recommended cilantro.

Secondary Note: It was, I admit, a little too much sweet for one dish. If I did it again, I’d go back to my original plan: savory grilled chicken with the sweet watermelon salsa, and sweet Maple-Bourbon Steak Tips with the salt-and-peppery Roma Tomato Petals.

Dessert course: Cherry Pie and Hand-whipped Cream

Note: My friends Colin and Julia brought pie and a carton of heavy cream. Colin whipped the cream, and he gave me a disappointed look when I told him we didn’t have vanilla. I’m buying vanilla today. Don’t judge me.

Fruit course: Berry-Apple Smoothies

Note: I make a lot of smoothies. This was one of the better ones.  My secret: Use more strawberries than seems healthy. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet.
Secondary Note: That crazy thing in the middle is the blade-stem from my Ninja Blender
…I own a thing called a Ninja Blender. Seriously, how cool is that?

Cheese course: Grapes with Cubed Cheddar and That Marbly-Kind of Cheese,
You Know the Kind I’m Talking About

Note: By this point in the evening, everybody was full and tired.  We all just had one piece of marbly cheese each (Who eats the cheddar first? Weirdos, that’s who.) and headed home (Aaron had a shorter drive than most).
Quickly, Lessons Learned:

  1. I don’t plan well.
  2. My friends are awesome and supportive.
  3. A lot of fruit went into these 8 courses. (looks back)…Wow. Like, a WHOLE lot.
  4. Things that you truly care about have a tendency to work out in the end if you push yourself hard to excel but don’t sweat the small stuff.

Now, on to a ten-course meal!

I, Kit FitzSimons, am an aspiring Experience Junkie; I’ll try anything once. Every week, something new. If you have suggestions for me, stories of your own, or want to join me on an adventure, let me know via email here.