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When I was planning my Warm Up Winter Dinner, I had no idea that Nemo was on his way! As the dinner date got closer, I carefully observed the storm predictions to understand how hard NYC would be hit. Thankfully, the worst of the storm would be through New York City by very early morning and we wouldn’t be hit very hard in comparison with areas North of us. With this information, I decided to go ahead with the dinner. So, a very special thank you to my foodie friends who came to warm up my table last Saturday.

roasted butternut squash soupAs usual, I had been cooking all day so the tempting aroma of the deliciousness to come had greeted my guests all the way down the stairs before they got to my apartment door.  The roasted butternut squash soup was served as soon as all of the guests arrived along with homemade country white bread and homemade raisin cinnamon bread. The roasting of the butternut squash gave the soup the  richness it needed to complement the cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. It was an inviting start after our intense burst of Winter.

Winter SaladIt took me an extra few minutes to get the salad on the table. I had forgotten to make the salad dressing earlier! Oops! But, I didn’t keep my guests waiting too long. I had it blended to perfection within a few minutes. The flavors of the Winter Salad were complemented with my very own pomegranate cinnamon dressing. The subtle cinnamon and pomegranate flavors in the dressing blended well with the pecans, pomegranate, provolone, and jicama in the salad. And, the fresh mint leaves added that little bit of surprise in every bite.

cranberry wild rice pilafYears ago, a friend asked me what I preferred: sweet or savory? And I answered, “Both!” This is evident in my choice for the main course of Braised Duckling with Pear Halves served with a Cranberry Wild Rice Pilaf. The key to this sweet and savory blend is to have just the right balance of sweetness and savoriness. Too much of either flavor and any supporting flavors will be overpowered.

When I haven’t made something in a long time (or ever), I usually like to have a test run before I serve it to others. It had been a busy week so I didn’t have this luxury for this meal. I was less concerned about the rice. I mean, how hard can it possibly be to make rice, right? 😉 As you can see, it turned out quite beautifully. And although I was slightly concerned about making this particular version of duck, I was at least familiar with cooking duck. My biggest concern was in making a vegetarian substitute for the duck. Although my vegetarian guest hadn’t requested that I change the menu for her, I didn’t want her to go without a main course. Therefore, during my grocery shopping trip, I searched high and low (literally) for something that was labeled mock duck to surprisingly no avail! I finally gave in and came home with something that resembled it, but was labeled as gluten-something instead. I’m glad to say that all of these dishes turned out excitingly well. The duck was nice and tender and the gentle sweetness from the pears added just the right balance to still allow the hint of cinnamon to come through.

braised duckling with pear halvesmockduck2

For dessert, I surprised my guests with a Gingerbread Pear Upside-Down Cake. None of them had heard of a pear upside-down cake before and were quite amazed with it. Neither had I until I started researching a dessert for this meal. What a great idea though! I ended up taking the concept from two different recipes and pulled the pieces I liked from each one to create this sweet treat!
gingerbread-pear-cake-mine

I’ll have to admit that it was sooo good, that while I served one whole cake as shown above during the dinner, there was a second one that my daughter and I devoured the next day in one sitting! It had pears and pecans in it. Does that count for some nutritional value? Hehe.

With so much good food and good conversation all around, I invite you to join me at my table. There are as many single diners as there are diners who come with others they know so there’s no need to be shy! Make sure to subscribe to my blog to stay current with my food happenings and send me a note if you want to be personally invited by email to the next Dinner with Foodie Friends. Hope to see you at my table soon!

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