Serving Love

By Bridget Weiss
Photography by Bill Albrecht

“How was everything?”

“Delicious, thank you. Just the check, please.”

“Are you sure I couldn’t interest you in some love?”

“Why, yes…yes you could.”

Sigh. Were it this easy to simply order a heaping helping of that essential emotion so often forgotten during the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, the world might be a better place. Alas, love eschews being ordered around. She is ethereal, fickle and far above the constraints and limitations of a hotspot menu.

But don’t crumple in disappointment just yet, because love is alive and well and closer than you think—resting in home sauté pans, soup pots and ceramic platters; lingering in bottles of wine that breathe patiently on the kitchen counter; thrumming in the hearts and minds of your lucky guests.

Winter in Austin is the perfect time to begin shamelessly cooking for kisses. Don’t be fussy about sources—neighbors, family, friends, moderately hot dates, even pets (no shame in throwing a London broil on the grill for furred associates)—all are fodder for your directed mission. 

The Basics in Four Steps:
1. Read cookbooks and food magazines cover to cover. Focus on the season. Craft a flexible guideline for a starter, entrée, salad and dessert. Set the date and invite guests.

2. Allow four to eight hours for prep, cooking and presentation. Hit the farmers markets and local groceries in high spirits and with an open mind. Buy what is beautifully shaped, good-smelling, local and organic. An affordable bottle of prosecco or Cava is a gorgeous way to begin or end an evening.

3. Skim recipes for suggestions and happy pairings. Don your favorite apron and prep with joie. Turn up the music and toast yourself. Cover the serving table with votive candles and flower petals. Place main courses atop liberal bunches of fresh herbs or armies of thinly sliced fruit. Present yourself and your food like the Princess (or Prince) of Quite a Lot. This is no time to wilt or waiver. Julia Child mandated the same.

4.  Luxuriate in the love that spills over the edges of your dinner table, pours itself into bed with you after guests depart, and lingers there through the chilly days to come.
Serving Love Supper
Grilled Apple Slices, Parmesan Shavings and Cracked-Pepper Crackers

Scrub, quarter and core four apples. Toss with the juice of one lemon and a small amount of olive oil. Grill over direct heat in a perforated skillet, turning frequently until evenly browned. Slice and serve with thick Parmesan shavings and cracked-pepper soda crackers. (Leftover apples are delicious as cold snacks, added to breakfast cereal or with ice cream.)

Smoked Pork Shoulder with Broiled Sweet Potato Rounds
Rinse the shoulder and pat dry with a dishtowel. Make a rub from two tablespoons each of sea salt, ground pepper, finely chopped fresh rosemary and dried sage (brown sugar optional). Lightly coat the shoulder with olive oil then generously apply rub. Sear on four sides over direct heat. Move the shoulder from the grill to the smoker. Cook fat-side up for two hours, rotating once. Turn the shoulder fat-side down and cook for another two to four hours, depending on the weight and the temperature of the smoke box (ideally around 250°).

Scrub sweet potatoes and trim away any sprouts or blackened bits. Preheat oven to 450°. Leaving skins on, slice potatoes into ½ inch rounds and toss with olive oil and sea salt. Broil rounds for 20 minutes, or until beginning to brown and puff. Flip rounds and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes. (Make extras—these are delicious at room temperature or cold from the fridge for healthy snacks.)

Salad of Torn Romaine Lettuce with Shredded Raw Beets and Carrots
Tear one head of Romaine lettuce into large, fork-size bites. Peel and shred two beets and carrots. Toss together with a simple dressing of olive oil, raspberry vinegar and cracked black pepper.

Baked Pear Halves with Marzipan Centers and Vanilla Ice Cream
Scrub, halve and core four pears. Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a cooking sheet or casserole dish and place pears face up with a small dab of butter and marzipan in each center. Broil until steaming and lightly yielding when pressed with a finger—about 15 minutes. Serve on small plates with a side of ice cream.