When I first celebrated my husband’s birthday in 2009, we were dating nearly a year, so I felt I knew him pretty well, especially his love of pork. Since I love to cook, I thought a fitting gift was to cook him a really special dinner. As I was brainstorming ideas on what to serve, I had the idea to challenge myself with creating a five-course bacon-themed menu for his birthday.
The dinner went over really well and it was fun to come up with the courses and plan and make the whole menu. Little did I know at the conclusion of that dinner that this idea would still be going strong eight years later. I’ve developed a new theme each year, expanded beyond just bacon to using cuts or products from the whole pig (including butchering a whole leg of wild boar by myself one year in our tiny condo kitchen- yikes!), and the complexity and variety of each of the courses has expanded over time. Over the last few years, my husband has played a larger sous chef role in helping prepare the meal as pregnancies and mothering have taken a greater role in my life over time.
Before I post this year’s menu and pictures, I thought it would be fun to look back at the menus and themes over the past few years. All of eight these menus are displayed on the wall in our dining room with the eighth (!) year to be added soon!
2009: Divine Swine
All courses incorporated the mother of all food, bacon. And that bacon baklava? I brought the rest in to work and it was devoured within minutes.
2010: Pork and Cork
For this menu, I worked with the now-former Spirits column writer at the Washington Post, Jason Wilson, to create a beverage pairing for each item on this menu. He helped me select a cocktail, 2 wine pairings and an ice wine selection for the menu using what we had in our wine cabinet and what was locally available to purchase. This menu also featured wild boar, which I ordered from a local butcher, then had to hack the thing apart in our tiny condo kitchen to remove the massive leg bone so I could stuff it with a delicious mixture of figs, dates and walnuts and wrap it up. Considering I mostly made this recipe up, I had no idea how long to cook it for or what the proper internal temperature would be, even after consulting several different sources. In the end, I probably overcooked it slightly, but with the stuffing it was still delicious and, since it resulted in several pounds of stuffed meat, the butcher kindly offered to vacuum wrap the remaining portions for me.
2011: P.O.R.C – Presenting our Regional Comforts
I came up with a fusion menu that paired both Cantonese and American comfort foods, and incorporated pork in all the dishes. This one was a fun one to create as I got to talk to Toby about his favorite foods as a child and then figure out a way to pair them with my favorites growing up.
2012: A Day in the Life of a Virginia Pig
For this menu, I used all local pork products from vendors at the farmer’s market, as well as other products from local farms and my own garden to create a dinner menu representing breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner and dessert. This was such a fun menu to create, from making bacon marshmallows to fried pork skins. I definitely expanded my culinary abilities with this menu!
2013: The Masters
This was my most ambitious menu, by far, and I executed it while deep in the unpleasantness of my first trimester when I was pregnant with my son. This dinner lasted several hours and I relied pretty heavily on Toby’s help, despite it being for his birthday! Each course was represented by a recipe from the cookbooks of five of the Michelin-starred chefs, whose restaurants we’ve eaten at in Napa Valley, New York, Chicago and D.C. (D.C. doesn’t have Michelin-starred restaurants yet, but Jose Andres is a pretty spectacular restaurateur).
2014: Pork Redux
As I now had five years of menus under my belt and an demanding 5-month old, I decided to create a menu using favorite dishes from each of the previous five years menus. It was a bit hard to narrow down a favorite for each of the five courses, but it was a fun way to revisit the past and, truthfully, made it a bit easier to plan and execute this dinner, being a new mom.
2015: Notorious P.I.G
I think this one was my favorite of all the dinners, and its not just because I didn’t cook much for this dinner! In honor of Toby’s 40th birthday, I hosted a surprise party for about 35 friends at our house and had a whole roasted pig delivered to complete the surprise package. Toby’s friends took him out for go-karting for the day so I could prepare the house for the party and it really was truly a surprise, up until the moment he arrived in our cul-de-sac to find several of his friend’s cars and the catering delivery van! After months of planning, it felt pretty good to pull off that surprise. I used the catering company for the roasted pig, chicken wings and baked beans, supplied the remaining sides myself and requested help from my fabulous baking friend, Becky, who made piggy sugar cookies and salty chocolate bacon cake pops for dessert.