Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.
Imagine that a very special person will be visiting you soon. Maybe this is someone you were once close to, but life sent you along different paths. This is a person—or possibly a couple or a family—that you haven’t seen in a long time. Now they will become a guest at your home. You aren’t worried about the reunion. You will hug and have tons of news and memories to share. Conversation won’t be a problem!
Here is your challenge: you have to decide what meal you will prepare. You want to put out the best meal you can. You wouldn’t consider a catered meal, even if you could order a terrific restaurant meal. That just wouldn’t be personal enough. You want the meal to reflect your respect and affection for your old friend.
I used to have such a meal. The main recipe was given to me by a fascinating man I met only once. Dan Brennan was a novelist and professional tennis player who lived most of his life in Minneapolis. Before the US joined the Allies in World War Two, Dan traveled to England to volunteer as a fighter pilot for the RAF. Amazingly, he survived the war. He told me he married “a girl from the English countryside.” She was the source of the recipe for this pheasant dumpling pie.
That recipe looks a bit odd to me now. It includes a wonderful made-from-scratch white sauce with several store-bought ingredients (including Pillsbury biscuit dough from a tube, frozen broccoli from a box and a pie crust from a box mix). When I was a hunter the dish inevitably starred pheasant meat, but over the years I began substituting chicken thigh meat, and both were wonderful.
I always cooked this dish in a heavy crockery casserole dish. At the bottom of the pie was broccoli, carrots, onion and the meat. Everything floated in a white sauce made from pheasant stock, whipping cream, pimiento, flour and several whole peppercorns. (I came to regard the whole peppercorns as the secret ingredient that made the sauce work.) Chunks of raw biscuit dough were placed on top, then a double-thick pie crust went over everything. After baking, the chunks of dough puffed up and became flavorful dumplings. When I was learning to cook I saw nothing strange about the recipe. Although the cook was incompetent, the pheasant dumpling pie was never less than spectacular.
The dish was perfect for our special guests. It was something nobody could order at a restaurant. Pheasants have been prominent throughout my life, starting when I was three, so I never found a more appropriate dish to serve guests in my home. We entertained frequently. Half-jokingly, we referred to our little bungalow as Grooms Rooms, as if we were in the hospitality business. We even had that name on a signboard on the front of the house. Pheasant dumpling pie was the signature dish at Grooms Rooms.
The rest of the meal varied little over the years. We served our pheasant pie with baguettes of French bread, a good light red wine and wild rice cooked with nuts and bits of onion. You might wonder: shouldn’t poultry be served with a white wine? Yes, usually. But pheasant is not exactly a delicate meat. A light red seemed better to us. A frequent desert was pecan pie with cinnamon ice cream.
What would you serve for a really special guest?