A very Special Dinner

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?





56 thoughts on “A very Special Dinner”

  1. Did you choose that shirt to coordinate with the tablecloth?
    I followed your pheasant pie recipe right up to the point where you put the crust over the dumplings. My mother used to make a similar chicken and dumplings with whole peppercorns in the sauce and Bisquick biscuit batter spooned on top, but the idea of overtopping the biscuits with a crust wouldn’t have occurred to me.

    I consider pheasant to be just about the tastiest fowl. When I was a kid, I accompanied my Dad on pheasant hunting trips. His uncle and family lived in Herman, Minnesota and, as locals, had permission to hunt on several surrounding farms. Traditional to the hunt, my great aunt would prepare a dinner of pheasant dredged in flour and, I assume, fried or maybe baked, with creamed potatoes, corn, etc. One thing I remember and which I would think would be slightly problematic with a casserole made from hunted pheasant is that you had to chew very carefully because every so often you would come upon a shot pellet, which at that time were lead. You didn’t want to bite down hard on one and you certainly didn’t want to swallow one. The dinner would be punctuated by the occasional plink of one of the diners dropping a lead BB on his or her plate.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I had not noticed the shirt. You are observant! Meanwhile the pheasant with pellets was my childhood experience, too, and it was the only thing that I did not like about it, because when you hit the BB it really hurt.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. About the shirt, yeah. What can I say? It was The Seventies. You’re right about the hazards of lead shot in cooked pheasant. Very early on I switched to a line of shells that covered each pellet with bright copper. While that did nothing to alleviate the threat to dentistry, the pellets were far prettier than the usual dull lead.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. I had that exact same reaction to the shirt versus the tablecloth, Bill. Perhaps that’s why I spewed a mouthful of Scottish breakfast tea all over my laptop when I read your opening line.

      Is one of those two towheads Molly?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I made Chicken Renoir for Husband on one of our first dates. I don’t think he ever had a girlfriend who could cook. He says it completely entranced him. It is pieces of chicken braised in onions, tomatoes, black olives, and parsley. I got the recipe from Jean Renoir’s book about his father.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That is one of those “stewish” dishes where you cannot go wrong. Sounds wonderful. My grandma made such dishes from her “Stewing hens”—the chickens who were too old to lay eggs and the meat was somewhat tough. But stewing recipes were delicious with them. She told me, “You never fry those hens—too tough and stringy.”

      She used every scrap of food she grew.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Good comment, Jacque. I once wrote a pheasant cookbook. The central point I tried to make was it was unwise to simply cook pheasants with chicken recipes. Pheasants live strenuous lives. They are tougher and leaner than chickens, which means it is generally smart to cook pheasant meat in some sort of liquid.


        1. The only one of your books that I haven’t read, Steve. I didn’t think it would be at my alley although I do see that you can still find a couple of copies of it on Amazon.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I wrote the pheasant cookbook after working in the Minnesota legislature. That experience made my canny. I wrote a letter to the governors of several states with good pheasant populations. My letter asked, “Would Governor ____ be willing to share his favorite pheasant recipe?” That was something close to blackmail. I knew perfectly well that the governors ate meals prepared by their chefs. Minnesota’s governor at the time was Arne Carlson (from New York City), and it is likely he had never eaten pheasant. But he couldn’t say that! No governor in a midwest state wanted to admit he didn’t have a special pheasant dish. What the governors did–which is exactly what I hoped they would do–was to hand my letter to an aide who handed it to the governor’s chef, who then pretended the dish he described was a big favorite of the governor. I got several great recipes with that little scam.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. I love the annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition that was started by Al Franken. I’m sure it was a lot more fun when he was hosting it, but it looks like the event is popular enough that they are carrying it on Franken-less. I love the creative names they come up with for their creations, though I wouldn’t make a steady diet of most of them. But you’d almost have to a little of Emmer’s “Sunday Beer Run and Brat Hotdish,” wouldn’t you?

          Liked by 4 people

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    A month ago, in NYC, I had a dish called Sicilian Baked Eggs. I loved it. When our N. MN friends arrive later this month for the State Fair, I will serve it to them. I found a recipe, and the dish is filled with seasonal ingredients.

    In a cast iron skillet you place a layer of spinach. Over that you place spicy red sauce (made from garden tomatoes and chili peppers mentioned yesterday). Then artichoke hearts are layered onto that, along with two eggs per person. A soft Italian cheese that is not familiar to me, Buratta, is sprinkled over it. Then you bake the entire thing until eggs are set. Serve it with baguette. I may experiment before hand.

    Other favorites: Posole (Pork and chili soup), jambalaya, Sticky Cinnamon Rolls, Baked Oatmeal, Make your Own Burrito, and on and on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OT—Now for a shameless act of promotion. My sister’s book rolls out today. She has co-written this with Gary Chapman of the “5 Love Languages”—It is ranking high on Amazon. I am a very proud sister—she has worked so hard on this. If you know families with special needs kids of any age, it is for them.


      Liked by 6 people

        1. Thank you. I will pass it along. This is her eighth or ninth book–all of them are about special needs children, medically traumatized children, or care taking people with medical needs and she is active on that speaking circuit. She has also tried her hand at a mystery, similar to yours, located in Western S. Dak. She is looking for a publisher for that one, as well, but it is so different from her other books that her track record is not helping in a different genre.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. OMG, I am drooling. I am thrilled to report that I just looked in Kitchen Congress, and the recipe is the first of the Entrees.

    I have served Chilaquilas (from our Joanne, also in Kitchen Congress) several times for company. And back in the 70s I made Stuffed Shells a lot – stuffed with ricotta and other cheeses, and you can vary the red sauce that tops it.

    Steve, if not to personal, who are the other people in the photo – is Erstwife one of them?


    1. No problem, BiR. Erstwife is the one whose eyes are closed. The guest of honor here is the guy with the bandanna and the red beard. He built and owned the Brule River Tackle Supply, the business near the Brule River where we clerked for two summers. This evening was the first time we got together, years after the time we were employees. This man was probably the most entertaining and idiosyncratic friend we ever had. The other folks in the photo are his family at the time. In an email I will send you a story I wrote about those days and that man.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Daughter insists on a cheese and onion topped butternut squash casserole for Thanksgiving. Her father makes it. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. She always asks “can we have Thanksgiving dinner for Christmas ?”. I tell her there isn’t much difference between the two.

    Last weekend we got a couple of whole New York strip roasts on sale, and plan to roast or grill one of them for a special meal, perhaps at Christmas when Daughter is home. I have done that before with a rib eye roast kosher with lots of dill and salt. The New York strip roast should be easier to roast as it is of a more uniform thickness.


  6. For some women in the 1940s and 1950s, cooking was competitive in a way I don’t see now. Wives who prided themselves on cooking well routinely hid a few choice secrets needed to cook their best dishes. My grandmother Cox wouldn’t let another woman watch while she prepared her signature dish, chicken with homemade noodles. She was such a good cook (and bossy woman) her daughter didn’t know how to cook a thing when she got married. Before cooking my mom often made a panicky call to her mother for guidance. I remember a card in her recipe file: “How to boil a potato.”

    Liked by 3 people

    1. A friend of mine has been married for 35 years. Her mother in law never liked her since it is mixed marriage (Friend is German-Hungarian and her husband is Czech). Mother in law won’t give friend her recipes because she doesn’t think the marriage will last

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It is amazing how much the Czechs disliked the German Hungarians here. Another friend of mine in the same situation said her husband’s parents sat in the back of the church and wept out of shame and anger when she and her husband got married. They are all Catholics, and they all immigrated at the same time from the Black Sea area , so it is hard to fathom their animosity.


        1. It sounds similar to the Norwegian and Swedes of central Iowa. A mixed marriage was Norwegian Lutheran vs. Swedish Lutheran. I supposed in that world it was a big deal, but now it appears petty.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. My mother’s father’s people were German Lutherans. They were sort of nationless in South Dakota, where there were German Catholics and Scandinavian Lutherans. They did not belong.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Continuing the theme of keeping cooking secrets . . . I heard about a man who took great pride in his chili sauce (or maybe it was a pasta sauce). He had a secret ingredient, and could not be bribed to reveal it. After he died, people cleaning out his home discovered scores of empty grape jelly jars in his basement.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I guess it’s time to fess up that I don’t have a signature dish. In fact I often experiment on people when they come to my house by serving a dish that I’ve never made before. If I’m in a hurry or if it’s my best girlfriend (who’s eaten at my house a million times) I might do my vegetarian lasagna.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I don’t have, and never have had, what I’d consider a signature dish. Guess I just love exploring dishes from different cuisines too much to have ever perfected a single one. At the moment I’m marinating chicken thighs in the fridge for Chicken Adobo, the national dish of the Philipines and something I have never tried before.

    Back when my Danish bookclub held monthly meetings, we had some spectacular meals. Three of the members are incredibly adventurous and skilled cooks who didn’t shy away from testing new recipes on the group. We were fortunate to not have anyone in th group who had dietary restrictions, and only one who shied away from food she wasn’t familiar with (she has since moved back to Denmark!). I miss those dinners and fun conversations, but we’re now too far flung to pull off regular meetings.


    1. Shoot. I was particularly interested in what you would come up with as a very special dish. I knew I couldn’t guess it in advance, for you comfortably cook in so many ethnic cuisines.


      1. Sorry to disappoint you, Steve. Inspiration for any special meal for me really has to come from whatever is fresh and available from local farmer’s markets.

        At the moment our one cucumber plant is working overtime. So far we have harvested at least twelve large European cucumbers, and they have been featured in several different herbed, chilled cucumber soups. I usually also toss in some diced cucumber in tabouleh.

        The squash plant that’s taking over our back lawn has at least seven squashes right now, and in a matter of days we’ll be harvesting lots of spectacular tomatoes. (I’m sure Ben is glad he won’t be eating at our house anytime soon.)

        During hot weather I’m drawn to meals that require very little cooking. Fresh green beans and new potatoes invariably inspire Salade Niçoise. Tomatoes are beginning to ripen so panzanella and gazpacho will no doubt be featured soon. Or how about a chopped Caprese salad as a side to a roasted chicken from Costco? Eggplant, zucchini, carrots, and all kinds of herbs and greens are so lush and irresistible right now, it’s really hard to choose what all to bring home.


        1. I shelled peas last night that Husband picked on Tuesday before he left for the rez. I realized my pea shelling days are numbered due to arthritis in my thumbs. Husband will have to shell them . Like them boiled until tender, then dotted with butter. Nothing better!

          Liked by 4 people

      1. We were six, all of us Danes. Certain meals, like our annual Christmas dinner would feature traditional Danish dishes and we’d each be assigned what to bring. Ordinarily the hostess would cook whatever she fancied, and we all knew where to expect the culinary adventures.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I never really have any idea about what to prepare, or even what restaurant to go to, until I know a little about the other person’s food preferences. So many people are vegetarian or vegan or gluten free or allergic to something or other. One friend is not vegetarian but has an aversion to any meat that has bones in it. One of my nieces loves spicy foods, can’t stand fish. The other niece loves fish and seafood of all kinds but can’t tolerate spice. Having a signature dish would be risky these days – it probably wouldn’t work for everybody.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good advice, Linda. This is another indication of how I grew up in a simpler world. I used to assume other people were carnivores, and people didn’t use to have so many rules about eating. More proof–as if I needed it–that I’m growing old.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Oh, yes, my brother-in-law is lactose intolerant, too. If you have a signature dish that has wheat, meat and dairy in it, you’re really on shaky ground. Somebody is bound to be unhappy.

      I haven’t had my family over for dinner for quite awhile. We usually just go out to eat, because then everybody can just order what they desire. But I appreciate cooking for my sister, because she always eats and compliments whatever you put in front of her, as long as it’s not beets.

      Liked by 3 people

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