Archive for the ‘Cooking for Friends’ Category

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January 01, 2015: NYE Seafood Gratinée

January 1, 2015
Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Teja and Barb had their annual New Year’s Eve celebration at their house. This is usually a bring-your-own affair. Dan brought his popular sous-vide beef and we both made a sauce/gravy for it. I was hoping to make a reduction with the beef juice, but time got short and we had to resort to a semi-gravy instead to get the proper “sticking” texture Dan was looking for. Katie regaled us all with her delicious, tiny, and skillfully decorated cupcakes. As always (…and how I cannot imagine, this ALWAYS happens with Teja and Barb) everyone brought the perfect balance of meats, starches, veggies, salads, and sweets to round out the meal!

My contributions were a champagne cocktail for the New Year’s toast and a Seafood Gratinée with a Champagne/Vanilla Sobayon Sauce.

The cocktail was the very same “Poinsettia” Cocktail that I served Dan for Christmas. I added orange peel to the decoration as well as a cranberry, and used a rosé champagne that I’ve never had before.

The Seafood Gratinée is a Emeril dish he had published in a Christmas & NYE themed cookbook. I duplicated the Sobayon Sauce exactly…as it is perfect. The base I changed by adding lobster and imitation crab and for the “bread” part of this I used a cranberry/sage Triscuit cracker (which I found poor as a cracker, but thought would be excellent in this dish.) I also changed the cheese to Asiago.

Seafood Gratinée with Champagne/Vanilla Sobayon Sauce:

2 C. Cranberry/Sage Triscuits (broken into crumbs)
16 oz. Imitation Crab Meat
7 oz. Lobster Meat
1 large shallot-diced
8 Tblsp. melted butter
1C. fresh parsley (1/2 coarsely, 1/2 finely, chopped)
1 small parcel (.75 oz.) fresh chives
1 C. grated Asiago cheese

6 egg yolks
1/2C. Champagne
1/2Tsp. Vanilla extract
sprinkle of salt and white pepper

In a shallow pan, melt the butter and saute the shallots until soft. In a large pan crumble the triscuits, add coarsely chopped chives and parsley. Chop lobster and crab into chunks and add butter and shallots, also. Add Asiago cheese and mix. Add the whole mixture to buttered baking dish. Top with a sprinkle more of Asiago.

Over a double boiler (medium heat) add yolks and whisk until thickened. Add vanilla, champagne, salt and pepper and continue to whisk until thick. Top seafood mixture with the Sobayon. Sprinkle with nutmeg and fine parsley and chives. Bake 400F until top is golden (about 1/2 hour.)

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December 25, 2014: “Chrome for the Hollandaise”

December 25, 2014
Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

It is interesting to me to trace the origins of meals that I have made. This one began with a  joke from social media.

Last week,I was fairly certain that I would be spending this Christmas away from family, at the same time my friend, Dan, was sending out feelers for what my plan was for this Christmas. He (kindly and humorously) sent me a post on Facebook that pictured Eggs Benedict on a hubcap, with the caption “There’s No Plate Like Chrome For The Hollandaise.”

Funny enough, I was thinking of Eggs Benedict for my Christmas breakfast, and he thought that it was a grand idea to join me. In actuality, Dan is the kind of guy that searches out us lonely former-Christians/non-denominationists to help us through the holidays. At the last count, he has netted at least three of us so far this season…and bless him for his efforts. I constructed a menu that I thought would temper the company with the season. Dan and I usually eat quite spare and wholesome. We mutually agreed to splurge on my decadent concoctions. It is testimony to our rather Spartan diets that we had to space out our decadence to stretch this meal over about four hours. I still feel the need to run a few miles to burn off the extra calories, but I feel it was worth it.

Christmas Brunch 2014: Eggs Benedict Broccoli Latkes Veggie Sausage “Poinsettia” Cocktail Fruit & Nut Dessert Crepes Espresso

Eggs Benedict: My rather untraditional (and vegetarian) approach to a classic recipe was to take  a slice of a sunflower loaf bread and to toast it under a broiler until lightly toasted. I then covered the top of the toasted bread with a slice of hickory-smoked Tofurky and then, grated Monterey-Jack cheese, and re-broiled until the cheese had melted. I then added a poached egg and topped with Hollandaise Sauce and a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Hollandaise Sauce for Two: .5C. Butter (melted) 1.5 Tblsp. Lemon Juice (warm) 3 Egg Yolks 4 Tblsp. hot H2O Over a double-boiler, melt butter, put aside. Over medium heat, whisk egg yolks until they thicken. Tblsp. by Tblsp. add hot H2O while whisking. Add lemon juice and finally butter, whisking all the while. Put Hollandaise aside and add to double-boiler just before serving to re-heat.

Broccoli Latkes: 1/2 Large Vidalia Onion. Diced, fried in 1 Tblsp. Butter until browned. 1 Washed, skinned and grated large baking potato. (I put this in a paper towel lined bowl for a while, to absorb H2O) About 1C. finely chopped Broccoli 2 Beaten Eggs 4 Tblsp. finely chopped fresh parsley 1/4C. Flour Dusting of freshly ground pepper and Italian spices. Form into patties and pan-fry in vegetable oil until browned on both sides. Top with sour cream and sprinkle with tarragon. [12/26/14 update: Tried these as leftovers this morning. The grated potatoes alone, made them too tough and chewy. I think the next time I will mix half mashed potato to half grated. It’ll take more time, of course, but it will be worth the effort to get a creamier latke. I think fresh chopped tarragon cooked with the onions would add more and better flavor, also.-SV]

I’ve prepared regular crepes many, many times before, but I’ve never made a strictly dessert crepe before, so this was an interesting derivation:

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Dessert Crepes: .5 C. + 1 Tsp. Flour 2 Beaten Eggs 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar 1 Tsp. Vanilla Extract .75C Milk 1.5 Tblsp. Butter (melted) Whisk eggs, then flour, then everything but the butter together. Rest for .5 hour. Add butter just before making crepes. On a non-stick pan, coated with melted butter, using a small ladle (a coffee scoop works well) over medium-high heat about 3 scoops in the pan. Cook each side until slightly brown. Flip. Place on a plate. Layer each crepe between a piece of parchment paper. When room temperature, cover with plastic wrap.

Crepe Filling: .25C. each, coarsely chopped pecans and walnuts. 1 Tblsp. Butter 1 Tblsp. Brown Sugar  for fruit (+ 1   Tblsp. for nuts) .25C Grand Marnier 1C. Blueberries .25C. Dried Cherries Wash blueberries. Combine with cherries, sugar, and Grand Marnier. Refrigerate. Shake occasionally. In a pan, melt butter and nuts. Lightly toast nuts. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon,  nutmeg, and sugar. Add fruit and cook (stirring often)  until fruit exudes juices. Add fruit/nut mixture to a crepe. Fold. Top with sour cream and a then a sprinkle of cardamom.

“Poinsettia” A cocktail I’ve adapted from a Christmas recipe book. My derivation substitutes vodka with Grand Marnier (my favorite liquor.) I do this glass-by-glass, when it is just a few people. In a champagne glass, fill 1/8th with Grand Marnier, then fill to almost 1/2 with champagne. Fill the rest with cranberry juice. I add a single cranberry to each glass. You may add crushed ice and/or an orange twist to this cocktail.

We also did a taste comparison between his gift of Makers 46 Bourbon vs. Regan’s gift of a regular Makers Mark. We both found the 46 to be more complex in flavor, but both quite enjoyable.

Photo by Daniel Winkler

Photo by Daniel Winkler

As a gift, I was able to give Dan my Christmas Bark and he deemed it “The best candy he’s ever had!”

As entertainment, I opted to introduce Dan to one of my favorite Christmas films, “Love, Actually.” Although Dan enjoyed the food, he detested the movie, finding the characters shallow, trite, and unrealistic. But, such is friendship. Dan and I might go back-and-forth on our opinions of this film forever, neither actually ever likely to budge. I’m dreamer…he’s a realist. C’est la notion d’amour. C’est la vie.

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November 24, 2014 Colonial Dinner for Friends

November 24, 2014

Dinner PlateMany apologies to WOO readers for my absence in the last few months. In addition to working on my company’s website after hours, most of my free time has been spent working on my article about my reenacting Henry David Thoreau’s trip up the Concord in 1839 with his brother. This will (eventually) debut my new writing blog, “Shyfox.”

I did take time this last weekend to cook a Colonial-themed dinner for friends. I used the cookbook from the nearby “Wayside Inn” (my favorite restaurant) as a springboard for the menu, but then, as always, went my own way.

A couple of years ago, when things were really bad for me, one of the few things that put me in a happy space of mind was designing the first dinner I would cook for friends when I finally had the means to do so. I remember dreaming up this menu between the rare temp jobs I had at the time. Back then, I kept the house freezing cold as I hadn’t the cash for heat and I had to remember to breath away from the computer screen so as to not cloud the screen with my breath. The warmth I derived…then, was from the knowledge that I still had a few generous souls in my life that were kind when I needed it the most. The menu I dreamed up was a hope…a promise to myself…to pay at least a few of them back, when it was, at last, possible.Colonial Dinner-Friends-sm

Colonial Menu:

Corn Chowder with Baked Rolls
Molasses/Bourbon-Glazed Ham
Wild Rice Pilaf
Brandied Wild Mushrooms
Kale and White Bean
Mixed Salad w/Blue Cheese, Toasted Pecans & Fruit
Baked Cranberry-Apple-Blueberry Crisp w/Vanilla Ice Cream
As I was building the meal I was found myself amused and even more blessed when I found at every stage, fragments of friends not present at this particular meal, infused in the very ingredients and even the tools I used: the beautiful knife set and pans given to me by my sister and brother-in-law that I use in every culinary endeavor; top-shelf spices given to my by my former student, Regan; the finest rice from Yoshio; a delightful blood-orange olive oil and cranberry-pear balsamic vinegar as the salad dressing, given by friends Chris and Sara…recently moved to Texas…gone, but not forgotten.
Salad Plate_sm
I was further amused when I remembered…oh, yes…this week is Thanksgiving.  My Thanksgivings (when I’m not actually working) are usually solitary and would seem rather Spartan to most people: a few bites of some soy-based product; maybe some stuffing, a good glass of wine, and I’m set.
As a chef and a lover of fine food, it is almost sacrilege to say, but it’s not the actual making and eating of food I’m most thankful for this Thanksgiving. It is for the honorable people I sometimes get to cook for…and for the ones that make it possible.
[…speaking of which: much thanks to the most able and charming sous-chef in the world-young Katie-for all your help on Saturday. Thanks to Dan Winkler for the photos.]Dessert Plate_sm

 

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March 24, 2014: Recipe Errors & Judgments

March 24, 2014

Crepes2

There is something about a recipe that just begs to be trusted.

I always want to trust to that someone writing a recipe has put in the necessary research, experimentation, and documentation that I myself would do (and have done for recipes featured in the blog.) Sadly, this is sometimes not the case. I now look at recipes as a guide only and tend to trust my experience and judgment to freely  amend any recipe I use.

Veggie Bisque

Veggie Bisque

I first started doing this, years ago, while this making biscotti from a recipe in a pretty good cookbook that I had come to trust and had guided me in making a number of delicious dishes. Looking at the quantity of flour required for the recipe, my first reaction was “Wow. That’s looks pretty skimpy.” Sure enough, the recipe called for roughly 1/3rd the amount of flour that made a good biscotti! I wrote a scolding comment in the margins of the cookbook and have now made it correctly many times since.

Ratatouille Nicoise

Ratatouille Nicoise

So, knowing how wrong recipes can sometimes be, I feel particularly burned when I go against my instincts and completely trust a recipe. I tend to do this only with meat recipes, as being a vegetarian for many years I feel as if I don’t always have the proper experience for meat dishes. Such was the case last week when I was asked to make a French dinner to celebrate my young friend Katie’s 11th birthday party. I pulled out all stops and made a meal which I thought might appeal to the palate of her young guests:

Zucchini Crown2Vegetable Bisque (topped with a dollop of sour cream and chives)
Crepes (with choice of grilled chicken and lemon-bechamel sauce OR Beef Bourguignon)
Ratatouille Nicoise
Minted Green-Pea Timbales
Zucchini Crowns
Salad (of lettuces with Spiced Pecans, Blood Orange, Star Fruit, and Raspberry Coulis)
Homemade Eclairs
Kiwi Slices with White Chocolate and Blackberry

Raspberry Coulis

Raspberry Coulis

The recipe slip-up for this meal was the Beef Bourguignon. It called for 3lbs. of beef to feed six people. As 18-20 people were expected at the party, I felt as if I had no choice but to double the amount, although my instinct told me that was too much. Sure enough, my instinct was correct, and I stuck the hosts with double the amount of the most expensive part of the meal. I could juxtapose this faux-pas with my own recipe for raspberry coulis which then, as ever, was just perfect.

So…I guess the general rule is: if your haven’t actually written the recipe, give it the benefit of doubt, and when in doubt….trust your instincts.

Minted Green Pea Timbales: A fine dish, yet nonetheless hated by my entire family and 11-year-old girls.

Minted Green Pea Timbales: A really fine dish, yet nonetheless hated by my entire family and now….11-year-old girls.

My other error is ever thinking that I could please an eleven-year-old with a meal of this caliber. After a weekend of hard work followed by disappointment, now I know that young American adolescents have a preternatural radar for….and aversion to…anything even remotely healthy. If it had carbs and sugars, they were all over those. The refill batch of eclairs never made it to the table, as they were snatched up on route! The dark and milk chocolate towers of Eiffel, the girls swarmed and devoured in the manner of (as one adult  put it) ” a school of piranha!” All veggies were eschewed (as opposed to chewed.) The main course was mainly eaten by grown-ups or (pathetically) went to leftovers.

So my new chef’s rule: if you aren’t old enough to partake of the wines that go with a fine French meal, it’s boxed mac and cheese all around!

[Much thanks to Teja Arboleda for the snaps taken with his IPhone]

Homemade Eclairs: Nothing but a fancy Boston Cream Donut

Homemade Eclairs: Nothing but a fancy Boston Cream Donut

The two majestic Eiffels. Dark and light chocolate.

The two majestic Eiffels. Dark and light chocolate.

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September 01, 2013: Ad-hoc Greek Dinner

September 2, 2013
Hard at work with the Greek Dinner

The chefs hard at work with the Greek Dinner. All photos by Teja Arboleda via IPhone.

Back when I had the means, it was my end-of-Summer tradition to make a full-out Greek banquet for friends. Stuffed Grape Leaves; Spankopeta, Lamb Kabobs on the grill;  Spanakouris; Greek Salad; and Baklava were the order of the day, along with Retsina, Demestica, and Ouzo to drink. Those were all perfect days, and I miss them, but I got a mini-version of my annual tradition tonight, making dinner for Teja, Barb, and Katie.

Teja had said they were available this weekend and I made a promise to make “something” for the family, but I had no concrete idea of what that might be. When I contacted Teja this morning and asked what meat he had and he said “ground lamb” I had it: a Greek meal it was to be. The rest just fell into place.

Lemon ZestThe ground lamb meant meatballs in Avgolemono Sauce (an egg-lemon-chicken stock velouté.) I had never made this before, and couldn’t find a recipe, but I knew what the essence of it should be, and that usually gets me there, so I thought I would take the leap. Rice, would be good company to the lamb, as both could be served with the Avgolemono Sauce.

I could adapt my Kohlrabi Salad to Greek easily enough by substituting Feta cheese for the goat cheese and switching the normal black olives to Greek Kalamata olives.

Making DessertFor dessert…something light and fresh. I decided on Honeydew melon pieces with fresh mint from the garden and blackberries served with Greek yoghurt.

All that I needed was to dig up a bottle of Retsina as a good wine pairing for the meal and I was set. My first (and ultimately only) setback was to NOT find Retsina at my usual supplier. If you’ve never had Retsina, it is a Greek white wine that has a hint of tree resin. If you find this sounds odd, you are not alone. It is definitely an acquired taste, but once acquired…it will haunt you forever. It’s offbeat flavor I thought would contrast the promised tartness of the Avgolomono Sauce. I had to settle for a Crete white wine, a 2010 Kretikos, while delicious by itself, did not have the contrast I was looking for.

Toasted Pine NutsAs extra veggies, Barbara surprised me with both an eggplant and a breed of heirloom tomatoes that I had never seen before: long like plum tomatoes but without the bulge at one end the plum variety have, laced with erratic and beautiful swirls of yellow running throughout, they were the most unique (and tasty) tomato I’ve ever had. I baked the eggplant  and tomato with onion, garlic and mint sautéed  in olive oil. I topped this with crumbled Feta cheese and a sprinkling of Greek seasoning.

Dinner is Served!

Dinner is Served!

My young sous-chef, Katie was again a very talented and efficient helper, although she teased me with the moniker “chef demanding” with my constant requests for getting things just right. Despite her cooking skills, her company is most appreciated.  She asks the most poignant questions. Making dessert she asked, “if they call it fruit salad, why then is it a dessert?”

Although everything was excellent, the real winner of the evening was the Avgolemono Sauce. It’s light saffron color, smooth texture and slightly tart taste was just perfect! I never thought I would find a better sauce than Hollandaise! Since I never want to forget this recipe, here it is for future reference:

Avgolemono Sauce

6 Tblsp. Butter
6 Tblsp. Flour
2 Egg Yolks
1 Pint Chicken Stock
Juice and Zest from 1+1/2 Lemons
4 Tblsp. Plain Greek Yoghurt

Over low-medium heat, melt butter and add flour. Whisk well until the mixture starts to solidify. Lower heat a bit and add lemon juice, zest and egg yolks and continue whisking for a minute. Add chicken stock and keep whisking until a you get a smooth, velvety texture. Remove from heat and whisk in yoghurt. Serve.

We finished off the evening by watching “Gnomeo and Juliet”…a “G”-rated take on the Shakespeare tale with garden gnomes instead of humans, that Katie could enjoy with the adults. A wonderful evening all around!

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August 26, 2013: Irish-American Cuisine at Showa

August 27, 2013

Showa 08.26.13Today was the third presentation of Irish-American food for Japanese students at the Showa Institute of Boston. Yoshio and I created a range of foods that show the assortment of influences on Irish-American cuisine.

I made a translation problem for Yoshio by spontaneously using the word “goofy” to describe St. Patrick’s Day celebration by Americans, compared to the Irish tradition of climbing Crough Patrick…barefoot, to honor the saint.

As in previous years, Yoshio made his wonderful Corned Beef and Cabbage. This year he omitted any additional salt and just let the corned beef  season the stew of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and onions. Tasting the veggies and broth, this was just perfect!

I made Irish Soda Bread and substituted craisins for the normal raisins for the New England touch. I also made Coddling Cream with Gala apples stewed in port. My Colcannon (mashed potatoes, leeks, and kale) was a little less smooth this year as my big mixer was broken, and was too tough for my hand mixer.

Some students surprised me by actually liking the taste of buttermilk that I usually have leftover from the soda bread recipe.

Our original recipes can be found here.

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June 20, 2013: First, Do No Harm

June 20, 2013
Photo by Teja via IPhone

Photo by Teja via IPhone

People tend to associate the phrase “First, Do No Harm'” (Latin: Primum non nocere”) with the code of ethics that the medical practitioners should adhere to. I would say that it should well apply to not only all professional fields, but also, as general ethics, trumps “the golden rule” as a good maxim in order to better treat our fellow-men. After all, if you are human you will, sooner or later through action or inaction, harm at least one other of your fellow humans. All one can do is use “First, Do No Harm” as a way to be aware of your capacity to hurt someone else.

A a chef, “First, Do No Harm” is absolutely necessary rule to make sure your patrons are safe on all accounts. These days, there are a plethora of food allergies and sensitivities that could harm a guest. Most common allergies are to milk and eggs, fish and shellfish, nuts from both trees and ground, wheat, soybean, but there are many others besides the major allergies. In addition, people can be sensitive to food. While not giving them an allergic reaction, certain foods may unsettle their stomach. There are also foods that people choose not to eat or simply don’t like.

For chefs, all these food sensitivities may be a challenge to delight guests while most importantly, keeping them safe. Before I cook for people who I have not met I do an advance poll (usually through the hosts) to find if anyone has food sensitivities and even general likes and dislikes. I always inform the hosts what I plan to make and make sure they clear it with the guests (I find this also increases anticipation for the meal.)

Last weekend I had a chance to make dinner for Teja, Barb, Katie and Teja’s mom, Marlis. I have been working on Indian food lately, so I thought I would make Aaloo Mattar (potatoes, peas and beans in a korma sauce, over basamati rice) Chicken Tandoori, and grilled veggies. Teja OK’d the meal, but later contacted me to say that his mom has lately become very sensitive to spices. I did a rethink of the meal and found I could exclude spices from her portions.

Cooking for Teja’s family includes the double-joy of having 10-year-old Katie as a helper. Not only is Katie quite adept in the kitchen, but she is wonderful company and her cheerful and industrious demeanor makes cooking twice as fun. She is also a good guardian. I almost (by habit) added spices to the rice that was going to Marlis, and Katie stopped me in time! While preparing the meal, Katie thought the meal might be too spicy for her, as well, so I gave her a small potion of the sauces I was going to include and she agreed that they did not taste too spicy….and this is where I dropped the ball.

What I should have done is discuss Katie’s tolerances to spices with the parents. It turns out Katie also has an increasing sensitivity to the more strong spices. My poor little helper could not finish the meal and went to bed a little worse for the wear, thanks to my error.

So…chefs take to heart my lesson and my adaptation of the popular medical maxim “First, Do No Harm” to the cooking world and make your guests happier, clamoring for more…but mostly, to keep them safe!

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