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February 16, 2012: The War of the Roses

February 16, 2012

I have been a Titanic buff since I first saw “A Night to Remember” back when I was a kid. With that film, I fell in love with the Edwardian Era, probably reinforced by going through my Grandmother’s photos of when she was young. The elegance of dress and hairstyles, the manners, the innocence (if you will…it was before both world wars) and especially the food stuck a nerve that reverberates throughout my life. My friend Lisa tells me that her young (5 y.o.) son, Harry has suddenly turned into a Titanic buff, so now I know I’m in good company! Being a chef, when I learned that there was a book on menus from the Great Liner existed, I just HAD to get it! I was not disappointed. Rick Archbold and Dana McCauley’s book “Last Dinner on the Titanic” is not only my most favorite cookbook, it is one of my favorite reads of all time! It is rich with not only carefully reconstructed dishes from the last night of the Titanic, but it is also full of history of people and events of the cruise. It has photos from the era, good art and illustrations. It also has recommendations for how to do a Titanic-themed dinner: how to place the table, what music to play, suggestions of dress, mood, conversation and more! I’ve done about six meals using this book as a guide and I hope to have many more to come!

Oh. Every once in a while talking about Titanic Dinners, I get a reaction from someone as if I was somehow celebrating the death of the 1523 souls lost the early morning of April 15, 1912. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is with the utmost respect that I put on these meals. It is the celebration of the life of these people that is the focus of the meal…and boy, did they know how to live!

The Dinner Itself

Want to see a Titanic Dinner? Just drift over to the margin on the right and click on “A Titanic Theme Dinner.” Thanks to my friend Teja, we have clips from a dinner we did a couple of years ago for a group of friends. The dishes are mainly Escoffier, which seems to be French code for “the best food imaginable!” The dishes are quite fancy, requiring much preparation, but if you love to cook (and eat) you will love every minute. You will need help, ‘tho. Not only with prepping, cooking and execution but also with the serving and most important….the planning. My friends Carolyn, Barb and Susan were the “planners” for this meal. Serving for these meals is traditionally “à la Russe” which means that every dish is served separately (usually by servers.) Also, if you are doing First Class Menu (there are also Second Class and Steerage menus) you have a choice between menus from the First Class Dining Salon and the “À La Carte” restaurant and each of those have options at each course! I usually go over options with the people who are planning and the best answer usually is a “mix and match” between the two restaurants. Dressing up is fun, but you have to feel out your group and see what they think. My opinion: this level of food quality deserves for people to dress up! Find what is right for your group, and feel free to mix it up. The Edwardians won’t mind! Planning and execution of the meal is a bit like a wedding: give yourself a load of time, plan well, do everything you can, and on the day…let go and have fun!

The War of the Roses

My family heard about this dinner for my friends and decided they would like one as well! We were able to couple this with a Titanic Exhibition that was going on that week in Rochester, NY. My lovely family was all game and made it one of the best Titanic Dinners ever! I served:

  • Lobster Thermidor in a bed of Duchess Potatoes
  • Calvados-Glazed Roast Duckling
  • Home-made Applesauce
  • Quenelle of Carrot
  • Minted Green Pea Timbales
  • Flowerets of French Cucumber
  • Punch Romaine
  • Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette
  • Oranges en Surprise (a kind of Baked Alaska of orange sherbet served in an orange skin, topped with almond meringue and baked…yum!)

A little bit about my family: my sisters (all five) are bright, beautiful, talented, and scamps all! Most of them are accomplished chefs, so I had my work cut out for me! Sisters Joanne and Kathy each came dressed as “Rose” from the movie. Each applied their own style of dress and both were stunning, but “Who was the better Rose?” became the topic of conversation, which the family duly dubbed “The War of the Roses!”

Oh…and wise was the man who didn’t enlist in THAT war!!!

Minted Green Pea Timbales...just plain screwy or chromosomes skipping around?

I was doing pretty well with the meal preparations, but cramming too much Punch Romaine into the blender, I managed to spray it all over Joanne’s bar!!! [I cleaned it up and confessed my error. Joanne (always the gracious host) told me it was no problem and she later cleaned up the mess the right way!] So, a little on edge, I deliver the Punch to the table to find everyone a tad too quiet, with subtle smirks (always a bad sign!) Knowing, from experience, that it is pointless to drag these things out I say “OK. What’s UP?!” It is then I notice that there is a huge pile of the Minted Green Pea Timbales on my nephew’s plate! Knowing this tactic from years of abuse (oh, yes my beloved sisters…we will present THOSE stories someday!!!) I ask, “What the HELL is wrong with the timbales?” To which they reply, “We all hate it.” “OMIGOD”, I think, “I did something wrong!” So, I taste one and it was exactly correct!!!

Edwardians Like Mush

OK granted. Minted Green Pea Timbales are a tad on the odd side. Edwardians, true-blue meat-and-potatoes people, tended to over-process their vegetables. The timbales are a mixture of blanched and cooled green peas, mixed with fresh mint, salt and pepper, a tiny bit of sugar, cream, and a bit of egg white. This is put through a food processor, then into cupcake molds and they are all baked/steamed. You finish with a dab of sour cream and a fresh mint leaf. I made the timbales for the Titanic Dinner for my friends and everyone loved it! I mean, I had parents asking for the recipe after, saying they had finally found a dish they thought their kids would eat! Now, most people say kind things after a meal. Me…I would’ve complimented the éclairs and home-made ice cream, for that meal. So, what I’m saying is that with all the great food at the dinner for my friends, the unsolicited vote of “best dish” that night was the timbales!

“Odd Man Out” or The Skipped Chromosome

So…cooking is nothing without knowledge, so I ask my family “OK, EVERYONE hated the timbales?” Turns out, opinions varied. Some of my brothers in law hate veggies so much, that given the choice between asparagus and a Red Sox win, they would hem and haw. Some liked the timbales. Some deferred comment. Really, it was my sisters who really didn’t like the timbales! “Wow. I thought. At least one of us fell far from the tree, and I guess that someone is ME!” Some tastes are a very particular thing: I myself cannot stand the taste of cilantro. I choose to not eat certain foods, but I like most food. For years I thought my one food hatred to be just one of those odd anomalies. Then I found a group of cilantro-haters on-line. To them, cilantro tastes like soap! “YES!” I thought, “That’s EXACTLY right!” The group explained that there is a fairly rare gene combination that makes cilantro taste like a subtle poison to some people.

So, beloved sisters. We have to agree to disagree. I promise: no more green pea timbales. You: no cilantro for me. Personally, I’m glad I fell on that side of the tree. Mmmm…where’s the sour cream?

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3 comments

  1. The themed dinners have ALWAYS been amazing, and we have to do it again… really soon. Otherwise our appetite is going to go the way of the Titanic. Some of the powerful memories are not just the food though, but the discussion surrounding the theme – always interesting – history, food, good friends… It’s about the story.


  2. What does it mean when I think cilantro tastes somewhat soapy but I kind of like it in a perverse way?


    • Pam, Taste is a mini-adventure. As long as you’re pretty sure it won’t kill you, I think we (as humans) enjoy the challenge. I think we both have tried nato and vegemite, for the thrill of trying it. We wear these tastes as badges of honor. We only go around once. We may not LIKE everything we taste, but it’s in (most of) us to try them all (and there are SO many tastes in the world!)

      As for the cilantro thing…mmmmm..maybe it’s your version of why people love hot peppers?



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