Jill and I met Dixon a few years ago through a mutual friend, shortly before we opened the bakery. We hung out a few times and kind of lost touch, as seems to happen in these crazy days of our lives. Well guess who showed up at the bakery a few weeks ago, but none other than Dixon himself, with a few other friends. We chatted for a few minutes and a few days later he came over to our house to share a beer on the picnic table outside on a hot summer evening. Dinner plans were made for the following Sunday evening at his house, and that’s how I found out that Dixon was a amateur gourmand.
We arrived at his house, which sits right on the edge of Iona Lake, at around dusk. He invited Jill and I inside, and we talked like it hadn’t been years since we really connected. It’s funny how food and drink will induce that into happening. It wasn’t long before Dixon started preparing dinner. It was to be a multi-course affair, nothing too crazy, just a hot salad followed by filet mignon and dessert. Simple and satisfying.
Romaine hearts were removed from the fridge and onto a cutting board, where they were cut into half the long way, stem to stern. Like an accomplished dinner host, Dixon continued conversing as he prepared the first course, casually carrying on conversation as he heated up a cast iron pan and drizzled olive oil onto the cut sides of the lettuce. Salt and pepper were sprinkled on top and when Dixon waved his hand over the pan to find the proper heat level, he gingerly placed the cut side of each head of lettuce down onto the surface of the pan.
I had never seen anything like this before, but Dixon said he had done it many times before and it had become a regular in his repertoire. I was certainly curious to see how it would turn out.
As the romaine sizzled in the pan and Dixon got out plates and silverware, I sliced into a loaf of olive foccacia that I had brought from the bakery. We each took a few slices and savored the olivey bouquet while we chewed hungrily on the yeasty pieces of Italian flatbread.
Before long, the romaine was picked up to inspect and the bottoms were determined to be a satisfactory caramelized color. Dixon placed each half-head of lettuce on three plates with the cooked side up, where they teased us with their glistening caramelized color. They smelled fantastic too, and as I inspected my salad, the dressing was brought out of the fridge… a spoonful of fresh blue cheese dressing from Pegasus Diner in Malaga (Dixon’s favorite) was drizzled on each salad. Little bits of crispy bacon finished the dish, and I must say, it looked amazing.
Not only did it look amazing, it tasted it as well. The lettuce was partially cooked (normally you cook heartier greens, but why not lettuce?) and the flavors of the blue cheese and bacon didn’t overpower. It was surprisingly satisfying, and I’m going to have to follow suit and include this in my repertoire. So easy and so delicious.
Next up was the steak, which Dixon had picked up earlier in the day. The steaks were coated in black peppercorns (that Dixon had just crushed in a mortar and pestle) and were then placed into the hot pan. They sizzled with abandon, and there they sat until being flipped a few minutes later. After the rich smell of browning meat filled the kitchen, the filets were placed into the oven to finish cooking. Dixon was not done yet though.
A shot of brandy appeared and with the flair of a professional, Dixon quickly poured the shot into the pan to deglaze the little crusty bits of goodness where it erupted in flames with a big ‘whoosh!’
A little cream, some stock and a few minutes of reducing created the perfect sauce to accompany the steaks. Dixon was feeling a little adventurous though and had the desire to get out of his comfort zone, so he busted out a can of crabmeat. He popped the lid and added a few large spoonfuls to the sauce to heat through. As if this entrée couldn’t get more decadent, the crabmeat put it over the top.
The steaks were perfectly cooked, no kidding, and the crabmeat peppercorn sauce was ridiculously good. I didn’t know he had it in him! Some potato gratin and more bread finished off the dish and I couldn’t help but sop up the remaining sauce from the plate with my bread. Yum…
Fresh homemade root beer that a friend had given us provided the libation for dinner, and the bubbly, sweet, herby soda countered the spicy, rich dinner. It was lovely. We looked out of the kitchen, out of the porch and over the lake, which by this time had the feel of a movie set with the full moon shimmering on the surface of the water. Fresh pie made from local peaches, blackberries and blueberries completed our meal and we chatted for a while longer.
There’s nothing like the promise of good food and good company to bring old friends together again. If you haven’t had an old friend over for dinner lately, I suggest you look up their number on your phone, give them a call and invite them over for a shared meal… it’s the best way to reconnect.