May it please the palate

The essential rules of free food

By Nick Roumel

I have few rules in life. One is to never turn down free food. I will alter my schedule mightily to work in as much free food as possible.

I have another rule concerning dinner invitations. That is to never ask what is being made. To me that may imply to the host, in some unintended way, that I am reserving approval. Instead I ask, “What can I bring?”

Mainly I don’t ask what’s being served because I like being surprised. This extends into the actual eating of food. When I am confronted with something unrecognizable, my rule is to “eat first, ask questions later.” The most memorable example of this was at a “makaria” (memorial dinner) for a relative, held at a Greek restaurant in Baltimore. There was a giant mound of something on my plate next to the familiar ethnic dishes. Out of context, I couldn’t figure it out. When I took my first bite, it hit me – this was the largest, heartiest, and most delicious Baltimore crab cake I’d ever tasted. I turned to my Dad and told him, “Dad, when you die, we’re having your makaria here.” (He laughed. He’s still very much alive, and he’s vacationing in Las Vegas with his girlfriend as we speak.)

So when recently invited by a friend for dinner, I immediately accepted, cancelling my other plans. I asked “what can I bring? Wine? Dessert? Michigan asparagus?” I was told “I have the wine and vegetable, and I don’t believe in dessert.” Heresy aside, I honored the host’s wishes. This is another firm rule. When told to bring nothing, bring nothing. (I am still figuring out what to do with the beef jerky my son-in-law brought for Easter dinner.)

So I arrived for my dinner invitation, empty handed but with a full appetite, and was rewarded with something delightful – something I would never think to make myself, but was one of the most satisfying meals I’ve had in a long, long time. It was a simple but elegant roast bone-in pork loin, surrounded with sliced potatoes, served with warm homemade bread. We gorged ourselves.

My host was gracious enough to have a photocopy of the recipe for me. It is from Good Housekeeping, February 2002 and subtitled, “The roast that has won raves for 45 years.”

Rôti de Porc à la Boulangère

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp salt

1 bone-in pork loin roast (6 lbs.), trimmed

4 lbs. (or more) all-purpose potatoes (scrubbed or peeled at your option)

1 large onion

3 TBS margarine or butter, melted

2 tsp seasoned salt (use your favorite or a simple garlic-pepper blend)

1/8 tsp pepper

2 T chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat oven to 425º. Crush 1 garlic clove; mix with salt. Rub mixture over pork; place fat-side up in a 17” by 11 1/2” roasting pan. Roast 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice potatoes and coarsely chop onion. Crush remaining garlic clove; toss with potatoes, onion, margarine or butter, seasoned salt, and pepper.

3. After pork has roasted 30 minutes, spoon potatoes around meat. Roast 1 hour and 15 minutes longer, stirring potatoes twice, until temperature on meat thermometer inserted into pork reaches 150º (the temperature will rise 5º to 10º upon standing.) Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 8.

I will be serving this for my law partners at a dinner meeting on Saturday. There are five of us. Theoretically, that means I will have leftovers for three. So I will give a free serving to the the first three responders to bring me dessert. Just be sure to work it into your schedule.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor.