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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Spring Fling!

My brilliant cousin gave me a beautiful vintage table cloth with bouquets of muted pink and teal flowers against a bordered pale blue and white background. When she saw it at a flea market it struck her because she remembered from a recent visit that we had set of hand-embroidered floral napkins that would match perfectly. She also paired this with a set of blue candlesticks to wrap up the whole thing, suggesting it would be an idyllic spring table setting. But who can wait? I hastened to set up a somewhat wintry table with the promise of spring just bursting through and launched my Spring Fling!

Behold this woodland creature who stopped by!

An issue of Gourmet magazine set the stage for this one, from January of 2008. The fabulous menu for eight is quite extensive and looked absolutely exhausting and impossible to execute without staff! I just cut down on the outrageously overwrought menu and corners as well to make it as simple as I could. I prepped the sugared blackberries days before, planned my table, braised the pork in advance and had the pots and pans I would need at the ready the day of the party. Don't forget to chill lots of white wine! Biscuits were courtesy of Pillsbury.

Champagne punch was served first before we moved to the dining table for my Night and Day Souffle and hot biscuits with butter and honey. Pork hash accompanied sumptuous shrimp and grits, followed by a respite of winter lettuces with warm bacon dressing. Ambrosia, sugared blackberries and biscuits ensued with a bread pudding of sorts until we were all appropriately flung!

Sugared Blackberries
This was so nice--do take the three days to macerate your berries though, and take them out of the refrigerator to tend to them once a day by briefly stirring.

Made Braised-Pork Hash
Adding homemade vanilla extract at the end was my own invention, otherwise I would have tossed in a split vanilla bean at the start, had I not thought to do so too late. It was a great idea--and if only fortitude had won over timidity, I would have added more.

Double-checked my lists and chopped/sliced/diced whatever I could.
Made "Bread Pudding" with cubes of a Betty Crocker orange cake, added in Jell-o banana pudding, later to be drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with fresh strawberries.

SUNDAY: Spring Fling!
Champagne Punch
This was so good. Can be chilled up to 3 hours before serving; Champagne bubbles in at the end.

Night and Day Souffle
I couldn't be bothered with the timing of the creamed eggs with spinach and country ham found here. It looks really wonderful, just too much. My Night and Day Souffle is much easier. For this version, I just beat 8 eggs together with heavy cream, chopped bacon and chives, salt and pepper and a little grated Parmesan on top. It goes into a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or so and DONE. Serve it quickly though while it is puffed up and strutting; soon it naturally does collapse. Put up a side of Pillsbury biscuits with honey and butter.

Lowcountry Breakfast Shrimp
Prep your onions (just slice them and ignore the worry-work of a fine dice), garlic and scallions the night before. Cook them in butter ahead of time and add in the shrimp later, just before serving. Dredge half of the shrimp in flour and work in to create a nice creaminess that won't overcook the shrimp. Threads of thyme are a recommended (by me) addition.

Creamy Stone-Ground Grits
Use instant grits instead of all the folderol and add heavy cream, milk and butter to your liking. Enough already.

Braised-Pork Hash
LinkThis is not difficult at all. The braising just takes a lot of time so just move on to other things like laundry while the meat simmers down and falls off the bone.

Winter Lettuces with Warm Sweet-and-Sharp Dressing
Again, couldn't deal with all of this--oy, boiling vinegar, reducing? Ugh. I adapted my go-to Shallot and Champagne Vinaigrette courtesy of Michael Lomonaco, found here. And I made it the day before in the food processor and kept it in the refrigerator instead of huffing and puffing over an oven. I subbed cider vinegar for Champagne vinegar; brown sugar for regular sugar; 1/4 cup melted bacon grease with 1/2 cup olive oil instead of just 3/4 cup olive oil to create an entirely new, hassle-free dressing. Crumbled bacon was thrown in over the salad and a little extra bacon grease (warmed from the microwave) too. Jaws dropped.

So easy and delicious--from jars of Del Monte supremed white and pink grapefruit and oranges, no apologies! I wasn't about to supreme 8 navel oranges. The only thing that takes any time is the chilling of this dessert in the fridge. And no, I did not roast a whole coconut in the oven and hack it apart. A bag of shredded coconut is quite serviceable. Please.

Sugared Blackberries
Served with a pillar of more biscuits, cold this round.

Our Orange Cake and Banana "Bread Pudding" is seen below.

Do you know how to spring fling?

Soundtrack: Lawrence Welk, Champagne Time; Art Van Damme Quintet, Manhattan Time; Stephan Grappelli, Shades of Django; Bossa n' Madonna; Combo; Fleetwood Mac and Annie Lennox lingered on

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Apres-Ski Fondue Party

We felt it was time to haul out our Le Creuset fondue pot and Revere ware in order to snuggle down with a few friends on a blustery evening and pretend we just got off the slopes! Fondue is such a fun throwback, all the rage when so many of our parents made it as we were growing up. As hosts, we proposed to make a night of it, with three fondue courses--and of course wine. Baby and I greeted our guests by sporting black lounging pajamas, turtlenecks, slim-fit pants and cozy slippers. Because of the 60's score, as much as our dress I suppose too, our friend commented that she felt like she had just walked onto the set of Bewitched. If I could only just do that twitching thing with my fire up your cans of sterno and get started!

So, off we go, apres the snow--with some wine pairing suggestions.

Apres-Ski Fondue Party

Cheese Fondue
Wine: crisp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc
Serve with: cubes of crusty country bread and a side plate of gooseberry compote

Our fondue made in Switzerland a few years back is here. What I remember learning the most is to not only put kirsch (cherry brandy) in the cheese fondue mixture, but to also have little glasses of it at the ready for dipping the bread chunks with skewers before plunging into the bubbly cheese. Not only is kirsch very good (and very strong, mind you), it more importantly assists in the digestion.

The four basic components of fondue involve the cheeses; liquid (wine or kirsch) to avoid burning; a balancing acid (such as lemon) to avoid curdling; and starch (cornstarch) to bring it all together in silken unity. Cutting to the chase, we tried something less involved this time--a bag of Emmi fondue with gruyere and Swiss already shredded together and cornstarch added in. Easy instructions are on the back ("just add wine!"). Most likely any prepackaged variety will suggest adding just white wine, but if you can find kirsch, add both. Rub your pot with half a clove of garlic first to impart further insidiousness.

Beef Bourguignonne
Wine: Pinot Noir with cherry notes, perfect to ride off of the kirsch
Serve with: the meat acts as the dipping component

Use grapeseed or peanut oil as it has a high smoking point, more tolerant to heat than olive oil for your meat fondue--and you'll want sirloin or tenderloin for this. Do not crowd your simmering pot with a lot of skewered meat at the same time--the oil gets angry and lets you know it! Sauces on the side such as blue cheese, steak or mustard are requisite. These are found on the link here as well as the recipe itself.

Chocolate Fondue
Wine: sensually dark Cabernet Savignon
Serve with: an easy-to-make Betty Crocker orange sheet cake, allowed to dry out a little, and then cubed; fresh bing cherries

This we did on our own. A bag of Nestle's milk chocolate morsels will melt nicely over medium low heat, before being thinned out with milk, or heavy cream, if you're feeling outrageous. Throw some Godiva chocolate liqueur in there as well and stir before introducing all to the pot on the table suspended over the can of sterno.

Stay warm and do enjoy!

Soundtrack: Martinis with Mancini; Mike Flowers Pops; Austin Powers Soundtrack; Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Foursider; Ultra Lounge Selections

Friday, January 20, 2012

Shouldn't You Just...?

Repurpose an old ladder to use as a rack for pots and pans, hanging them from its rungs on the ceiling?

Modern advice on etiquette for the not-so-new-millennium.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Artist's Way (Of Eating) - Fred Schneider's Italian Style Soba Noodles

The B-52's have been my favorite band ever since my cousin squirreled a burgeoning New Waver away into her older sister's bedroom and showed me that first iconic yellow album cover, long before their tremendous success with Love Shack. When I told her I hadn't ever heard of them she put the album on straightaway and after hearing the sounds of interplanetary signals that open Planet Claire before the Peter Gunn riff kicks in, I fell in love immediately. Fire alarms, toy pianos and bongos filled the album--I was out of my mind. We did all sixteen dances from Dance This Mess Around and shrieked during Rock Lobster and even tried calling 6060-842 on the telephone. It was only later (after she let me borrow the album) that my sister-in-law explained to me the ribald implications of Lava too. Fred's instantly recognizable voice, Kate and Cindy's exuberant, tightly entwined harmonies (oh, those girls!), and Keith's propulsive drums all worked together in such blatant originality with silent genius Ricky, who was lost way too soon. I've followed The B-52's through all the years--from albums, to tapes, to cds, and have seen them in concert innumerable times.

Here Fred goes solo, with a favorite dish that he sent to me for Evenings With Peter. Imagine? Just combine ingredients to taste and do enjoy.

Italian Style Soba Noodles
"Hey Peter. My go-to quick meal is soba noodles, Italian style. Soba, olive oil, garlic powder, soy sauce, basil, spike [a.k.a. Accent], and Parmesan. Good with chickpeas or other beans!"

Such as butter beans, Fred?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Lobster Bisque Dip

What's that quote about not knowing something from Shinola? It appears that Dave's Gourmet [note: I'm not including the link to the website] didn't care much for my wonderful, original lobster bisque dip when I entered his sauce/dip/salsa/or whatever contest, in hopes of earning a whole bunch of purported royalties. Just the same, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy my concoction, as a number of friends did, when I rolled it out New Year's Eve.

This dip is a twist on the old classic lobster bisque—think of it as an elegant cousin to clam dip. It would get any cocktail party started, delighting an intimate number of guests, when served with kettle-cooked potato chips or something of the lattice variety for dipping. If you’re not inclined to toil over the bisque, skip all that and simplify by purchasing a can of the stuff, incorporating one cup into the cream cheese. Do mix freshly chopped lobster meat into the dip and finesse the rest of it with a lobster garnish should you choose, along with the other optional toppings.

Lobster Bisque Dip
1 ¼ lb. cooked Maine lobster shell carcass, broken apart, with meat chopped
1 TB Old Bay seasoning
1 14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, strained
1 TB each garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage, chopped
2 TB olive oil for shells, 1 TB olive oil for herbs
Black pepper and white pepper to taste
1 8 oz. package softened cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon sriracha (or more, if you like it hot!)

Garnishes (optional)
1 small can of corn, strained
½ mango, ¼” diced
Chopped lobster meat
1 minor tin of paddlefish caviar

  1. Set oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Toss the broken lobster shells with the Old Bay and sauté them stovetop with olive oil in a hot skillet, turning every now and then until your shells are warmed, fragrant and raring to go, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
  3. When oven is up to heat, roast the tomatoes until they wilt, roughly 10 minutes.
  4. Back to the stovetop burner, gently sauté garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage in the oil in their own pan, stirring occasionally, on medium heat for about 5 minutes until wilted and duly fragrant as well.
  5. Return the pot of shells to the stovetop, add the sauteed herbs, roasted tomatoes, dashes of black and white pepper to taste and cover with cold water, simmering on medium heat for about an hour.
  6. Discard the shells and strain the broth, pressing down on the solids. Take two cups of the liquid and reduce it to one cup. Let cool before putting in the refrigerator for at least an hour, probably two, so everything can have a good chat.
  7. While the broth is cooling, do this: dry roast your corn in a separate skillet for a few minutes, cool and refrigerate; take care to chop your mango and refrigerate; mash the sriracha into the cream cheese.
  8. Mix together the cup of simmered down broth and cream cheese mixture and add in half of the lobster meat. Let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
  9. Find a fine, uniting serving bowl, carefully put the dip into it and top with a small blessing of the mango, a dash of the corn kernels over that, the rest of the lobster meat and a little spoonful of inexpensive paddlefish caviar over that. Give it time to adjust to room temperature and then enthrall your guests!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Asian Coleslaw

My friend told me about this recipe and as I was to bring something to my former musical comedy teacher's open house (more on that later, I'm sure), I thought this was ideal and an instance of perfect timing: to put it delicately, she is at odds with dairy and so, here we have a perfectly suitable dish to serve not only her but everyone else. The guests devoured it! An addition of sesame oil is more than a reasonable suggestion and I even ventured to cut up a few toasted seaweed sheets with abetting kitchen shears to finish the whole thing off. My friend also advised me to skip the red bell pepper and the cilantro, and rightly so, as they are hardly needed anyhow. I forgot about the julienned carrots on my own, but it didn't matter--I rather suppose that is mostly for color. This is a delish dish not to dismiss!

Asian Coleslaw
6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
5 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded napa cabbage
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 carrots, julienned
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, and garlic. In a large bowl, mix the green cabbage, red cabbage, napa cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, green onions, and cilantro. Toss with the peanut butter mixture just before serving.

Scallops and Red Cabbage

A dish of scallops and red cabbage wasn't intentional at all. I was just messing about with haphazard ingredients in the house--but when such happenstance intervenes, mere coincidence and alchemy do find themselves to be quite amiable companions in the kitchen.

Toasting the fennel seeds is the first part, a dry tablespoon for 10 seconds in a heated skillet; when you can smell their fragrance, they are done. Add in a thinly sliced half head of red cabbage and toss now and then with two tablespoons of olive oil while cooking down on a lesser flame. Add in about 1/4 cup maple syrup and when your cabbage has wilted further, add more syrup. Although the procedure is simple, it is patient work, not to be hurried.

Meanwhile, get your scallops going--just around half an eager pound will satisfy four people when accompanied by other dishes featured in a light buffet. Start by simmering a cup of white wine with 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar and a tablespoon of Penzy's Shallot Pepper until reduced down to about 3 tablespoons. Take off heat and whisk in a few tablespoons of European butter such as Lurpak to your liking and whisk in 1 tablespoon dried chives, a little salt and pepper as well. Heat up two tablespoons of olive oil in a separate skillet, add salt and pepper to your scallops and quickly sear them on both sides. Douse with juice from half of a fresh lime, and then in certain vessels, top the wilted red cabbage with our little scallop friends.

Do enjoy!

Thanks for the scallop inspiration from David Bazirgan, from The Fifth Floor restaurant in San Francisco.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Artist's Way (Of Eating) - Scott Parkinson's Cookie Trio

Surely these cookies may be enjoyed year 'round! Maybe not the Christmas trees. Scott writes:

"While I am normally suspicious of traditions and rituals, around the holidays I find myself shamelessly giving over to them, taking comfort in the continuity and meaning they provide. One of our family traditions is the Christmas cookie. Out of the many kinds my mother has made over the years (and in recent years my sister has often taken up the baking mantle when we get together), three kinds stand out as yearly favorites: the Gingersnaps, the Peanut Blossoms, and the Christmas tree-shaped “Spritz butter cookies”. The family planned to get together at my parents’ house in North Carolina for the holiday, but my sister and I would not be arriving until late on Christmas Eve. On the morning of December 23rd I called up my Dad and asked if Mom had made them. He said that she had not made any this year, which led to a split-second decision to make the cookies myself. With my sister’s supervision and the last-minute assistance from the Safeway down the street, I was able to make a batch of each of our favorite cookies before we headed out of town the following afternoon (the only substitution was a Chinese Five Spice replacing the ginger in the Gingersnaps, which were quickly dubbed “Ginger-less Snaps”). The making of the cookies helped me get more into the spirit this year and the cookies were enjoyed by all! Here are the recipes, complete with instructions from Mom (we substituted butter this year wherever shortening appears)."

¾ cup shortening 1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses (dark or light will do)
1 egg
2 cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger

Cream shortening and sugar, add molasses and egg and beat well. Blend dry ingredients and add to egg mixture slowly while blending well. Roll into balls and then roll in sugar (teaspoon size balls). Make sure you have enough flour in mix for good form – dough will pull away from the bowl into one large ball. Place cookie ball on greased cookie sheet and bake. (original recipe calls for 8- 10 minutes @ 375 – I made a note of 9-10 minutes @ 350. I like to remove them while soft).
Watch carefully and remove from oven while light colored. Cool till just slightly warm – then I place them in Tupperware with sheet of wax paper in-between layers. Store while still slightly warm.

Peanut Blossoms
½ cup sugar
½ cup shortening
½ cup packed brown sugar
Blend in:
½ cup peanut butter
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Work in:
1 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt

Chill dough, roll into balls and bake in 350 oven for about 9 mins. Remove from oven while light tan color. Push a candy kiss in center while still warm. Cool completely before storing.

Spritz Butter Cookies
1 cup of butter or margarine (I always used butter)
2/3 cups sugar
1 egg
1 tsp PURE almond extract (I put a little bit extra)
1/8 tsp salt
2 ½ cups flour
Cream butter and sugar then add extract and egg. Mix thoroughly. Blend sifted dry ingredients together. Add to cream mixture slowly (you will probably have to blend the last amount by hand unless you have a really powerful mixer). Pack dough into cookie press and make shapes on ungreased sheet. I lightly grease the sheets. Bake @ 400 for 8-10 minutes. You can sprinkle color sprinkles on before you bake them. Or you can melt 1 bag of red or green candy melts (found in the baking section of a grocery or party store) – I set a glass pyrex bowl of about ½ the bag of candies on a pot of boiled water (remove the hot water from stove then place the bowl into the hot water) over heating is not good. Stir the candies until they melt. I dip ½ side of the cooled trees into the candy mix and then put them on cooling racks until the candy sets up.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Artist's Way (Of Eating) - Bernard K. Addison's Twice Cooked Duck!

Back in the days when I was a theatrical agent, I was fortunate to represent the wonderful actor Bernard K. Addison. I recently discovered he's as equally at home in the kitchen as he is on stage. Heeeere's, Mr. Addison!

"It was a pretty long day in the kitchen. I made turkey/chicken stock with leftover turkey carcass bones and chicken necks so I could make the wild rice in the broth. For the duck, it's a Twice Cooked Duck with Asian spices. Make sure that the equipment must be large enough to steam the duck, otherwise not enough fat will be rendered."

Twice Cooked Duck
Adapted from The Cook's Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry
1 duck
4 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
8 Schezwan peppercorns (I didn't do that, just peppercorns) 2 T kosher salt
1 cup cilantro
4 pieces unpeeled ginger root
Black soy sauce

Puncture the duck in the breast in all the fatty places, making sure that you don't puncture the flesh, so the fat can be sweated/rendered out during the first cooking. Heat the spices (not the salt) in a dry skillet until it smokes; then grind it to a powder. Add salt and rub half the mixture in the cavity and on the outside of the duck. Fill the cavity with the cilantro and ginger, and place on a rack in a cool, dry place for four hours.

Using a large wok, bring water to a boil. Place duck on a rack one inch above the water, cover, and steam for 50-60 minutes, adding boiling water as needed. Skin should pull away from the legs by this point. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place duck on rack in roaster, brush with the soy sauce, and cook until brown and skin is crispy, around 40 minutes.

Make the wild rice in 2-1/4 cups broth, 1 cup rice, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for 50 minutes. For the asparagus, use 1/3 c broth, 1 T butter, and enough asparagus to cover the bottom of a pan, with pressed garlic added, and boil down the broth and brown in the remaining butter/garlic.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recipes Of Our Mothers - A Tale of Two Cakes

This delightful newspaper clipping sent from my friend Bill is a wonderful article about his mother who also moonlighted as an elegant party hostess at her own home in Pennsylvania. When word got out, she was featured in the Cook of the Week column back in 1971, as seen here.

Thank you so much for sharing, Bill and love to your sweet mother who I have the privilege to know, Mrs. Richard Conklin! What a treat!

"Mom's crab cake recipe has been in the family for many years. Mom originally got the recipe from an dear family friend. The claim to fame of the recipe is that my brother's restaurant actually adopted this recipe for their crab cakes. The cake is 99.9% Jumbo Lumb crab meat!!! The black walnut cake recipe has been in the family for at least four generations. This cake is know for its interesting complement of textures and flavors. The cake is dense, a bit sweet that is nicely contrasted by the walnuts. Make sure you use BLACK walnuts. This recipe was written up in the local newspaper in 1971. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we have."

Crab Cakes
1lb jumbo lump crab meat - sprinkled with lemon
1/4 C cracker meal
1/4 C mayo1 large egg - well beaten
1T minced onion
1/4 t Worcester sauce
1/4 t dry mustard
1/2 C butter mixed with oil to fry
1/2 C bread crumbs to coat cakes

Mix ingredients together and form into 4 generous cakes. Fry about 5 min a side or till brown.

Black Walnut Cake
3/4 C Crisco
2 C sugar
3 eggs
1 C milk
3 C sifted flour
2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 C floured
BLACK walnuts

Preheat oven to 350. Cream the shortening and sugar together with an electric beater at medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the shortening and sugar mixture. At low speed, beat in alternately the dry ingredients and milk, making sure some of the milk is added last. Flour the nuts slightly and add to the batter. Bake in a greased and floured tubular pan at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

My friend's birthday coincides with New Year's Eve, so what else to do but throw a New Year's Eve Birthday Around The World Buffet Party! Baby and I had invited somewhat of an international roster and folks from out of town were also coming, so we planned on a buffet where our friends could come and graze as they pleased instead of cramming in around the table. This was a great idea as people really did filter in and out through the evening, arriving at different times. As far as the menu was concerned, we knew we wanted to make French onion soup which served as the base before we ventured further across the globe. We also had planned to serve a different course every hour on the hour, leading to a midnight Champagne toast but things rarely work out that way.

Classic prawns in pints from England were actually easier-to-procure shrimp and the Lobster Bisque Dip I whipped up, with chunks of lobster, grilled corn, and a diced mango finish was simply from New England (more on that later). It was served with kettle crisps but the shrimp also found its way in the dip too!

The French onion soup enriched with Cognac was ladled out from a marvelous tureen with individual gruyere cheese toasts to top our guests' little cups. For our Italian pasta course, Sam Sifton's Mushroom Lasagna from the New York Times was an absolute time-consuming chore--thank goodness I made it the day before--but it should sit in refrigeration over night anyhow. I feel it was worth it though, nearly blushing over the ensuing compliments. There was barely any left and what was went to other homes, sealed in Tupperware. Baby used a recipe for ragu from Saveur to complete the course. This meaty sauce with beef chuck and pork shoulder also incorporated chicken livers and pancetta. He even made his own ricotta cavatelli for a perfect pasta foil!

Here it all deliciously came together, with a judicious shaving of Parmesan cheese:

Behold the octopus!

We wanted something lighter to serve after all that pasta, so Baby tackled this slimy sea creature with abandon to create a Greek dish, with red wine and sliced wild fennel. The olives in the dish were salty to be sure but even the squeamish amongst us tried it and I believe we had a few converts.

Before midnight we served a simple marble bundt cake to celebrate our friend's birthday. We had planned on Swiss chocolate fondue but we were just too exhausted by that point and everyone else was too tipsy to care.

Blow out the candles and make a wish...!