Category Archives: Memories

Four Weddings, a Graduation and a Funeral

Four Weddings
I have attended a fair number of weddings including two of my own. Most of the weddings I’ve attended were viewed from the perspective of the kitchen. I typically “dressed” in a white apron and not a dark suit. But this “wedding season” I was a guest at four weddings on four successive Saturdays. These were all weddings of young couples — the children of friends and family.

Young weddings are splendid moments of optimism and hope. Like planting seeds in springtime, we believe that with nurturing, our seeds will sprout, blossom and bear summer’s fruit and vegetables. I shared in the joy of these young couples and their families — as music blared and bodies of various shapes, sizes and ages writhed on dance floors. However, at each wedding I could not avoid the shadow of my middle age. By middle age (I’m 63) one cannot have escaped the knowledge that as surely as summer follows spring, fall brings frost and winter waits. Do these loving couples understand that love does not conquer all, that not every child is born in full health with unlimited potential, that parents get sick? I am not suggesting that these young people may not have had their struggles to reach their wedding days. I know that they have. But by middle age awareness of life’s struggles become a part of you – a part of the roots that hold you in place in your world.  These couple’s wedding celebrations may have been the most innocently joyful day of the rest of their lives.

In my younger days I liked milk chocolate. Now, I prefer the more complex taste of bittersweet chocolate. But not without some longing for the simpler sweetness of milk.

A Graduation
Squeezed into my weddings marathon was a Sunday graduation of an extended family member. The graduation was at a school for learning disabled children. In my early 20’s I taught cooking to learning disabled children at Philadelphia’s Green Tree School. I cite The Green Tree Cafe, where my students ran a little once-a-week “restaurant” for the school’s staff, as my first restaurant. On this Sunday, the school’s headmaster recounted how these graduates arrived at the school deeply handicapped, some with difficulty walking, some visually impaired, all struggling to learn. They often came from places where they experienced ridicule. I am aware of the debate over “main-streaming” learning disabled children – that is, not segregating them from “normal children.” But at this wonderful school, these similarly challenged children found acceptance among a group of peers that had previously been elusive outside their families. As family and friends waited inside a big, hot tent, the graduates took their final “wander” around the campus and waived good-bye to the school, a lovely ritual of passage. Then they proudly marched in, accompanied by the wail of bagpipes. It was a contrast to my son Noah’s graduation last summer from George Washington University, set on the mall with the United States Capital as the backdrop.

As these beautiful children sat together on stage and took turns accepting honors, making speeches and accepting diplomas, I found myself deeply moved by, at once, acute awareness of their struggles and joy in their success. It was a reminder that, in the end, it is our capacity to reach our potential that is the true measure of character. These kids will not run for congress, be captains of industry or push forward a cure for cancer. But by any measure that counts, they have established the foundation of a successful life.

And a Funeral
This past weekend, a dear friend died. Stuart Feldman was 73. For four years he battled multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow, that finally left him inadequately defended from infection. Stuart was a remarkable man whose civic accomplishments warranted an editorial in Thursday’s Philadelphia Inquirer and a long obituary in the Washington Post. An obituary in the Philadelphia Inquirer will appear on Sunday.

Stuart deeply loved my wife and my wife deeply loved Stuart — in ways that exemplified and transcended friendship.  Over the past year or so, Christina and I would go with Stuart to his oncologist appointments, to listen, ask questions, and weigh the treatment options. Stuart had a fierce capacity to fight without complaint.

A weak and frail Stuart went into the hospital Thursday evening. Christina and Stuart’s friend John Pierson spent much of Friday with him, leaving only to join visiting Pascal, Manou and Maelle — our friends and At Home’s illustrator and his family — and I for dinner at Sang Kee in West Philadelphia. Saturday, again was a hospital day for Christina, punctuated by another dinner, this time at home with our friends. Around 11:15 PM the hospital called to report that Stuart’s blood pressure was dropping. We rushed to HUP and I dropped Christina at the curb while I went to park. Christina rushed to Stuart’s bedside. They say that hearing is the last sense to go. While one can’t know what Stuart heard, I know that Christina made sure Stuart knew he was not alone and that she loved him..something I am sure he already knew. Within ten minutes, Stuart died. It was if he was waiting for Christina.

In their love for one another I learned forever that love is not finite or a zero sum game. Christina’s love for me is not diminished by her love of Stuart. And Stuart’s love for Christina became for me something to be marveled at and appreciated. And, in turn, I loved him for it.

It has been a difficult year with Izzy’s death in February, my mother’s death in March and now Stuart’s death. The shadow of middle age deepened.

Wednesday’s funeral service came to its end with the rabbi’s words from Ecclesiastes 3:1:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted….

On the Road: The Farm Stands of Mercer County, NJ and Easy Pickles
A benefit of middle aged roots is a heightened desire to go slower and lead a more intentional life, informed by both spring and winter. It is summertime. Time to pluck up that which is planted. Stuart’s death made it impossible for me to write a farm stand blog this week. I am back on the road today — with Christina —  so next week look for another On the Road: The Farm Stands of Mercer County, NJ. In the meantime, I will publish an Easy Pickles recipe tomorrow. I already published a cucumber recipe — Cold Cucumber Soup with Yogurt and Dill.  I was not planning another. But I did pickle Mr. Tkach’s kirby cukes and recorded the process. So, absent another farm stand recipe this week, more cucumbers! The recipe does not require the usual “canning” — just make an aromatic brine, pour the hot brine over the cucumbers and refrigerate. Easy!

Chestnut Hill Book Festival Regrets
Last Saturday’s rain postponed my planned Chestnut Hill Book Festival appearance at Laurel Hill Gardens. Stuart’s death on Saturday night made my re-scheduled appearance on Sunday impossible. I am sorry if I disappointed anyone. I am seeing if Laurel Hill Gardens wants to re-schedule. I will keep you posted.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Grilled Lemons and Happy July 4th…At Home

Here’s wishing you a Happy July 4th weekend and hoping you spend it in a backyard with friends and family.

Grilled Lemons
Grilling lemons is simple to do. Grilling provides the tart lemon with a sweet counterpoint — the result of caramelization from the grilling. They are the perfect compliment to grilled shrimp, salmon, chicken or lamb.

I did this in my kitchen for this post. It works just fine in a stovetop grill pan as well as on a backyard grill. You will need just lemons and olive oil. Start by trimming the ends from the whole lemon to create a small flat surface so the lemon will sit securely rater than rocking that would result from a rounded end. Next, cut the lemons in half across the “equator.” With the point of a knife, poke out any obvious seeds. Brush exposed surface of lemon lightly with olive oil. (You can use the tip of your finger to save washing a brush. It’s easier to wash a finger tip.) Place lemon on grill over moderate heat and cook for two to four minutes — depending on how hot your “moderate” grill is — and remove.

Here are the grilled lemons, good lookin’ and ready to squeeze.  At Home has a very strong grill chapter that provides easy alternatives to burgers and hot dogs. See Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Caramelized Limes — an alternative to the lemons featured here — on Page 191 or the Charred Chicken Paillards with Citrus-Cilantro Salad on Page 192 — one of my favorite recipes.

Second Annual Chestnut Hill Book Festival

Another wonderful Pascal Lemaitre illustration from At Home. Pascal is visiting from Brussels and plans to join me on Saturday, July 10th at the Laurel Gardens as part of the Second Annual Book Festival.

An Invitation for one of my backyard burgers on the 4th
If you find yourself on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the 4th, for the afternoon festival or evening concert and fireworks, I’ll be at Frog Burger — our own backyard burger stand on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute.

By the way, At Home is for sale at Frog Burger. In addition to being available online, At Home is also is also available at Coopermarket in Merion where I am sure Beth is cooking up wonderful July 4th food for you to serve at home — as well as the Joseph Fox Bookstore on Sansom Street. At Home makes for the perfect gift for your host or hostess.

Next Week
As the second installment of my summer farm stand series, I will take you along on my drive through the back roads of Salem County, NJ. I look forward to introducing you to Mr. Tkach — pictured below — who began his work as a five-year-old at the family farm stand seventy-five years ago. The farm stand has been serving customers since 1928! Mr. Tkach shares his recollection of going with his father each day to retrieve the garbage to feed their pigs from the German prisoner of war camp across the road. At farm stands it’s often the farmer that leaves you with the lingering “taste.”

I couldn’t resist a giant $3 basket of kirby cukes and huge $1.50 bunch of dill seed from Tkach’s. Lots of pickles are in my future. But I’ve already did a cucumber recipe so, as of now, I plan to share a recipe using the ripe Jersey cling peaches I bought — a Peach Butter scented with Ginger and Lemongrass.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Postcript: Mark Bitman’s 101 Reasons to Light the Grill
Wednesday’s New York Times Food Section featured Mark Bitman’s great list of 101 things to do on your grill. Here’s the link.

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The Commissary’s Carrot Cake Recipe

Carrot Cake—The Commissary’s legendary dessert. Though years ago it was deemed too mundane to serve at old Frog and dropped from the menu, the recipe was resurrected and refined when The Commissary opened.

Customers immediately latched on to this special version, which boasts one of the richest fillings imaginable. It sandwiches layers of moist, spicy cake laden with raisins and pecans, which are then covered with a tangy cream cheese frosting and finished with the gilded crunch of toasted coconut.

Com­missary Carrot Cake, in fact, has become so synonymous with the restaurant that when we went to change our logo, a sprightly bunch of carrots seemed a natural motif. A mixed greens salad (which leaves plenty of room) and Carrot Cake were an often-seen Commissary luncheon choice, and the bakery long ago lost count of all the “Carrot” wedding cakes it has sent out. (And then there was the Carrot Cake Ice Cream!)

Many of us, too, will never forget the trays and trays and trays of giant Carrot Cake sheet cakes produced for the various Phila­delphia outdoor restaurant festivals, and how, at one festival, after selling out of 2,500 pieces, we were begged by the crowd still mobbing our booth to sell them the crumbs.

Do Ahead This cake is most easily made if you start it at least a day ahead, since the filling, for one thing, is best left to chill overnight. In fact, the different components can all be made even several days in advance and stored separately until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Pecan Cream Filling

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Carrot Cake

1 1/4 cups corn oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
4 cups grated carrots (about a 1-pound bag)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces soft unsalted butter
8 ounces soft cream cheese
1-pound box of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Assembly

4 ounces shredded, sweetened coconut (1 1/2 cups)
1 Make the filling: In a heavy saucepan, blend well the sugar, flour, and salt. Gradually stir in the cream. Add the butter. Cook and stir the mixture over low heat until the butter has melted, then let simmer 20-30 minutes until golden brown in color, stirring occasionally. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the nuts and vanilla. Let cool completely and then refrigerate, preferably overnight. If too thick to spread, bring to room temperature before using.
2 Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Have ready a greased and floured 10″ tube cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the corn oil and sugar. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift half the dry ingredients into the sugar-oil mixture and blend. Alternately sift in the rest of the dry ingredients while adding the eggs, one by one. Combine well. Add the carrots, raisins, and pecans. Pour into the prepared tube pan and bake for 70 minutes. Cool upright in the pan on a cooling rack. If you are not using the cake that day, it can be removed from the pan, wrapped well in plastic wrap and stored at room temper­ature.
3 Make the frosting: Cream the butter well. Add the cream cheese and beat until blended. Sift in the sugar and add the vanilla. If too soft to spread, chill a bit. Refrigerate if not using imme­diately, but bring to a spreadable temperature before using.
4 Assemble the cake. Preheat the oven to 300°. Spread the coconut on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes until it colors lightly. Toss the coconut occasionally while it is baking so that it browns evenly. Cool completely. Have the filling and frosting at a spreadable consistency. Loosen the cake in its pan and invert onto a serving plate. With a long serrated knife, carefully split the cake into 3 horizontal layers. Spread the filling between the layers. Spread the frosting over the top and sides. Pat the toasted coconut onto the sides of the cake. If desired, reserve 1/2 cup of the frosting and color half with green food coloring and half with orange. Then decorate the top of the cake with green and orange icing piped through a 1/16” wide, plain pastry tube to resemble little carrots. Serve the cake at room temperature.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute

My  mother died on March 23, 2010.  She was a remarkable women. Here are three “notes” from At Home that that illustrate ways my mother influenced my understanding of home entertaining plus her recipe for Stuffed Cabbage.

‘Tis not the Food; ‘Tis the Appetite
In 1954 in our new home in the Crestwood section of Yonkers, my mother commissioned murals painted on her kitchen and pantry walls based upon illustrations in James Beard’s Fireside Cookbook. One of those illustrations is included in this book’s dedication. Another mural’s caption would daily remind me that “’Tis not the food but ’tis the appetite that makes eating a delight.”

My Bar Mitzvah
My two primary memories of my bar mitzvah are that my knees literally shook as I recited my havtorah and that the party afterward in my parents’ home was for family and friends of my parents. Setting a nice table and cooking well were always important to my mother. It was at her table that I first understood the nature of hospitality. But it was on my first day of Jewish adulthood that I learned that parties—even your own—are for other people.

Henny’s Girls
In 1979 my father died of a stroke on The Fountain’s golf course in Lake Worth, Florida; his ashes are scattered there. My mother, 10 years his junior, had years ahead of her and a new life to build. Her first summer as a widow, she journeyed to Williamstown, Massachusetts, with friends Nora and Beatie for a month in the Berkshires. Just before they left, my mother wondered if they were going to return next year to Williamstown, and if so, if she should buy a home rather than rent. By the next day, she owned a small Victorian fixer-upper next door to the Williams Inn. Every spring through fall for the next decade, she operated A House on Main Street, a small bed and breakfast. Later, tired of making bran muffins and ready for a change, she sold the inn. The following spring, she set up her warm-weather residence in Philadelphia, where other than me and my small family, she knew no one. Ever resourceful, my mother joined a group planning a Paris trip. (My mother is probably one of the few people who’s gone to Paris to meet Philadelphians.) It was at the trip’s reunion that she scanned the group, made up primarily of younger-than-her single women, and announced that every Sunday evening—a time she perceived as most lonely for singles—her table would be set for anyone who wanted to come. Thus was founded a group of wonderful women, self-named “Henny’s Girls,” whose common point of reference is my mother. My mother has enriched their lives with good food, like her stuffed cabbage and charred eggplant dip (see page 79) and lively conversation. They have, in turn, enriched her life with affection and devotion. Most recently, back in Lake Worth, she is working on establishing a chapter of Henny’s Girls South.

Henny’s Stuffed Cabbage
The night we opened Frog in 1973, my mother prepared her delicious sweet and sour stuffed cabbage rolls as Frog’s debut special. Over the years they have become a staple on our Rosh Hashanah menu, but there is no reason to restrict these wonderful morsels to that holiday. One roll makes for a nice first course; two or three for a filling entrée. Sometimes we make thumb-sized versions and serve them as hors d’oeuvres.
do ahead Stuffed cabbage is best when made at least one day ahead and reheated before serving. It can also be stored in the freezer for up to one month. Defrost and reheat in a 325º oven.

Cabbage Rolls
1⁄3 cup cooked white rice
1 large head green cabbage
6 gingersnaps
1⁄2 cup water
1 pound ground beef
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1⁄2 cup ketchup

Sauce
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 cup sauerkraut
15-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup light brown sugar
6 gingersnaps, crumbled
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
1⁄2 cup ketchup

1 Cut out the core of the cabbage and place in a pot. Nearly cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until leaves can be parted easily, about 5 minutes. Remove cabbage, drain and peel off softer leaves. If inner leaves are still stiff, return to water and repeat. Pat leaves dry.
2 Make the filling: crumble gingersnaps in water to form a paste. In a bowl, combine paste, rice, beef, salt, brown sugar and ketchup.
3 To form the cabbage rolls, lay a leaf flat on a clean surface. Place about 3 tablespoons of mixture in the center of each leaf. Fold the two sides over the filling and then roll tightly and set aside, seam side down. Repeat with remaining ingredients, reserving the smaller leaves for the sauce.
4 Preheat oven to 350º. Chop reserved small cabbage leaves and set aside. Rinse sauerkraut well, squeeze out water and set aside. Gently squeeze tomatoes to remove some juice, then tear tomatoes apart.
5 To make the sauce, heat oil in a deep sauté pan and add onion. Cook until onion begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Chop reserved cabbage, add to pan and continue cooking until nicely browned, about 5-10 minutes more. Mix in sauerkraut, tomatoes, brown sugar, gingersnaps, salt and pepper. Continue cooking slowly for 15 minutes, adding water if it gets too thick.
6 To assemble, spoon half of the sauce into a baking dish. Place cabbage rolls in a single layer, seam side down. Cover with remaining sauce. Make a ribbon of ketchup across the top of the rolls. Cover with foil.
7 Bake for at least 2 hours. Remove foil after 1 hour and add as much as 1⁄2 cup water if cabbage appears too dry.
8 Serve hot or hold for one day and reheat in a 325º oven.
serves 6-8


After the core is removed, the whole cabbage head is briefly cooked in boiling war to soften leaves so that you can separate them from the head and roll. If removing  individual leaves becomes difficult, just return the head to boiling water again to further loosen leaves. Once removed from the head, if they are not soft enough to roll you can return them to the water to further soften.

It is important to pat dry the leaves. Dry leaves are easier to roll. Also, residue water could thin down the sauce.

Slowly saute onions until lightly browned and caramelized to bring out their maximum sweetness. Take care not to burn.


Cabbage leftover from the whole head — leaves too small to roll — get chopped and added to onions to be used in sauce.

Continue cooking until cabbage lightly browns.

The cabbage leaves will run the gamut from large outer leaves to smaller inner leaves. To make more uniform rolls you can use two small leaves together to make a larger roll. Try to keep the stuffing together and don’t worry too much of you have formed a perfect roll. As my mother used to say, “It all gets mixed up in the stomach.” If you want to make all smaller rolls, cut large leaves in half.

Here’s a very helpful tip: The outer leaves are best for making large cabbage rolls, but outer leaves tend to have very sturdy ribs that are difficult to soften without overcooking the leaves. To solve this problem, turn the leaves so that the inner side is face down and the outer side — now face up — exposes the sturdy rib. With a sharp knife, make a series of slits in the rib without cutting all the way through. Turn the leaf over and toll. The slits now make that much easier

Place a generous amount of sauce in over-proof baking dish.

Place cabbage rolls over sauce, top with move sauce and a ribbon of ketchup.

Cover with foil and bake for the initial two hours. Then remove foil, add some water if sauce appears  too thick and bake uncovered for an additional hour.

The finished product.

Next: Don’t Try This At Home: Behind the Scenes at the Dad Vail Regatta.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Henrietta Poses 1916-2010

At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining is dedicated to my mother who died yesterday.

My mother was a force of nature in disguise. There are people who when they walk into a room neither add nor subtract. Some people walk into a room and suck out the air. My mother’s entrance into a room always brought a breathe of fresh air – opinionated air, vaguely provocative air, ever interested and interesting air.

Born in Jersey City and bred in Hobocken, as a teenager she moved to Montreal to live with relatives when her parents candy store/ice cream fountain failed during the depression. I often wondered how this uprooting from the safety of mom and dad affected her. It is something she did not talk about at length. My mother was not given to introspection. She just dealt with it as she dealt with all the ups and downs of life and death.

Here is some oft-repeated wisdom according to Henny:
“Many of the things I worried about never happened.”
“Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.”
“And this too shall pass.”

A women ahead of her times, she aspired to be more than a “housewife” but convention conspired against her. Then, when my mother, still in her early sixties, lost my father, she discovered her true and independent self and began writing a new and fulfilling chapter of her life. On the last day of a summer vacation in Williamstown, Massachusetts she bought a ramshackle Victorian house and with her ever-good taste, careful eye and thirst for bargains, transformed it into the House on Main Street, a small bed and breakfast next door to the Williams Inn. She ran her B & B from Aprils to Octobers for a decade. There she welcomed spring-time families of Williams College students, summer theater-lovers attending the renowned Williamstown Theater Festival and, in the fall, wandering Berkshire leaf-lovers.

The balance of her months she spent in Lake Worth, Florida where she had moved from Harrison, NY with my father in the 1970’s. Ever the community organizer, she formed the Fountain Residents’ Club as a source of connectedness for transplants and snowbirds alike in a new community far from home.

When my mother decided she had served the last of her great bran muffins, Philadelphia replaced Williamstown as her “summer residence.”  It was in Philadelphia that she discovered “Henny’s Girls” or rather “Henny’s Girls” discovered her. She opened the door to her apartment to a remarkable collection of younger women who for years knew that her table was set for them every Sunday evening when Henny was “in residence.” It was in Henny’s Girls that she found a family of daughters for herself and in Henny that this family of daughters found a model of a women who they might become.

This Tuesday a week ago, as she lay in her hospice bed surrounded by family, my mother recounted how she and I once went to a therapist together. We did not have an easy or simple relationship. The therapist asked her if she would rather be admired or loved. My mother expressed a preference for admiration. At the end of the day and the end of her life, she was both admired and loved.

The following is from At Home:

Dedication

My Mother’s Kitchen

This book is dedicated to my mother, Henny Poses. It was in my mother’s
kitchen and at her table that I learned that entertaining is a gift that you give
to others. The illustration below, by Alice and Martin Provensen, was my first
cooking lesson. It’s from the original Fireside Cookbook by James Beard, pub-
lished in 1949. My mother had a local artist copy it onto a large wall in her
kitchen. It reads: “Four persons are wanted to make a salad. A spendthrift for
oil. A miser for vinegar. A counselor for salt. And a madman to stir it all up.”
At 93, my mother still entertains regularly. While her menus may be less
ambitious than in the past, her welcome is no less warm.

I had that illustration — from a first edition of the Beard book — framed along with the dedication. I presented it to my mother on October 16th at a dinner in the Free Library’s Rare Book Room. The dinner was for family and friends prior to At Home’s launch later that evening in the auditorium. It was a lovely evening — especially for my 93-year-old mother — who took great pride in her son.

I mourn the passing of my toughest critic, my biggest supporter and my home entertaining coach.

Henny Poses   August 15, 1916 – March 23, 2010

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Jambalaya Jam – A Really Big Event

While I work on writing up the recipes I tested last night — with assistance from my brother-in-law Larry — for At Home’s Cajun Superbowl Party and putting together the Superbowl Party Planner, I thought you might enjoy this story from At Home about Philadelphia’s first event on Penn’s Landing’s Great Plaza — the Jambalaya Jam. Look for how to get the complete Party Planner with recipes tomorrow.

A Really Big Event

The Great Plaza on Philadelphia’s Delaware River needed an appropriately scaled event to celebrate its opening in 1986. The Great Plaza was to be the cornerstone of the long-awaited riverfront development. A suitably grand festival was planned over a Memorial Day weekend. Philadelphia’s first Jambalaya Jam was modeled on and planned with the producers of New Orleans’ renown Jazz & Heritage Festival. The Crescent City’s festival was the granddaddy of all food and music events, showcasing everything from alligator to zydeco. Frog Commissary Catering was selected to provide all the food for the rain-or-shine event. Months of planning included repeated trips to Bourbon Street and environs. As the weekend approached—with clear skies forecast—we set up a giant field kitchen with appropriately sized refrigerated trailers in the parking area under the plaza and started cookin’. In order to avoid transporting resupply through the crowds, we used a giant high reach—a stage-sized platform on wheels that drove the perimeter of the elevated plaza and lifted staff and supplies to lines of hungry customers. Round and round the high reach went, with buckets of fresh-cooked jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etouffee and oyster po’ boys. Over three nights and two days we served 65,000 customers some of the best food this side of the Mississippi to the sounds of jazz, funk and Dixieland on five stages. It was a really big event.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Traditions: Latkes and Choucroute

What we cook and serve at home is an expression of from who we came, where we’ve been…and who we’ve married. Fittingly, At Home includes recipes for both Henny’s Stuffed Cabbage, from my mother, and Ginny’s Meatballs with Tomato Sauce from Christina’s mother. We are a combination of traditions old and new, inherited and borrowed. Our table is who we were, who we are today and who we aspire to be. What follows is a “bottom note” about my traditions — it is one of the autobiographical notes that pepper the pages of At Home.

Latkes and Choucroute
Many years of demanding work, single fatherhood and a reclusive social life meant I was a near-celibate when it came to home entertaining. Christina changed all that. She has a wide range of friends and family and loves having them over. A very stylish entertainer, she always has a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator and her oft-repeated and perfected salt and pepper chicken is featured on page 157.

Naturally, Christina has influenced the shape of this book, just as she’s shaped my home entertaining attitude. She is from the KISS school of entertaining: Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Her philosophy is that by keeping it simple, you’ll be inclined to host more often and maintain the focus on your guests. For too long, I thought of entertaining as my art and guests were simply a welcome excuse to practice that art.

Married on November 29th, we decided on an early December holiday gathering. Worn out from our wedding and the demands of recipe testing, I was, frankly, hardly in the mood for extracurricular cooking. Yet holiday entertaining was a long-held Christina tradition and we wanted to celebrate married life with friends and family in a season of celebrations. Potato latkes (see page 340) were de rigueur. On my list of recipes to test was choucroute garnie, the traditional pork-laden sauerkraut dish that I made for Christina for our first New Year’s Day together. So, killing two birds with one stone, the choucroute garnie complemented our latkes, making for a reasonable Hanukkah and Christmas pairing befitting our respective holiday traditions. Dessert was lavender ice cream—leftovers from the batch I’d made for our wedding.

Choucroute Garnie
Choucroute garnie is a classic cold-weather tour de force. Making it well requires advance planning but no special skill, and you can’t help but feel proud placing this impressive display before your guests. (This is a recipe for a crowd, on the theory that if you’re going to this trouble, why not have a crowd enjoy it?) If you don’t have a very large pot, you can do the sautéing in batches in a skillet and transfer everything to a roasting pan covered with foil for the long oven cooking. The traditional accompaniment is boiled potatoes tossed with parsley.

do ahead Everything may be made up to five days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Before serving, reheat, covered, in a 350° oven until hot, about 30-45 minutes.

12 ounces sliced bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds kielbasa, cut into 1-inch pieces
11⁄2 pounds bratwurst or knockwurst, cut into 3-inch lengths
2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch slices
8 garlic cloves, crushed
4 pounds sauerkraut, rinsed well with water squeezed out
4 long lengths orange peel
3 smoked ham hocks
1⁄4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons juniper berries
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
3-4 pounds boneless pork butt or shoulder
4 bay leaves
3 fresh thyme sprigs
3 fresh parsley sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 fresh sage sprigs
31⁄4 cups white wine (ideally Riesling)
1 cups chicken stock
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1 Place ham hocks in a large pot and cover with water. Add brown sugar, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is tender, about 11⁄2-2 hours. Allow to cool. Trim away skin and fat and cut meat into bite-sized pieces. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid.
2 Make a bouquet garni by wrapping juniper berries, black peppercorns and coriander seeds in a small square of cheesecloth. Tie packet.
3 In a large Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, stir bacon over moderate heat to render fat and just cook through. With a slotted spoon, remove bacon and set it aside. In the residual fat, first brown kielbasa. Remove and brown bratwurst or other sausage. Remove and brown pork butt or shoulder. Be patient and brown everything well, leaving residual fat in the pot each time.
4 In the same pot with the same fat over moderate heat, sauté onions, carrots and garlic until onions lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Add sauerkraut, bacon, ham hocks, orange peel, bay leaves and the bouquet garni. Mix well.
5 Preheat oven to 300°. Place browned pork on top of sauerkraut mix. Place sprigs of thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage over top. Cover and bake until pork is very tender, about 3 hours. If serving right away, add kielbasa and bratwurst around the perimeter of pot to heat during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
6 Remove pork and set aside to cool. Remove and discard herbs, bouquet garni, orange peel and bay leaves.
7 To serve, cut pork into approximately 3⁄8-inch slices. Arrange sauerkraut on a large platter and arrange slices of pork down the middle; arrange sausages around pork. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. If you are serving potatoes and have a large enough platter, arrange potatoes around and just off the edge of the sauerkraut.
serves 10-12

See Recipe for Latkes.

Reading Terminal Moments – The Passing of Harry Ochs

Harry Ochs died a week ago Sunday. Harry was an un-sung hero of Philadelphia’s food renaissance. His Reading Terminal “butcher shop” — which his son Nick continues — has been the meat mecca of accomplished and aspiring Philadelphia cooks for generations.

If Harry was your butcher, you were a lucky cook. Harry’s knowledge added interest to countless Philadelphia tables. There will be a memorial service honoring Harry at 1 p.m. today in Reading Terminal Market’s Center Court.

A note on The Butcher from At Home:

Supermarket meat departments provide the most common cuts of meats and poultry. But there are wonderful uncommon cuts of meats that are often less expensive than the usual filets and steaks. If you get friendly with your supermarket butcher they may be willing to special order less common cuts. Better still, find a local butcher shop. Use your butcher’s knowledge to expand the range of cuts you use and add interest to your table.

Upcoming Book Signings

Today at Coopermarket
I will be at Beth Cooper’s Coopermarket from 3PM to 6 PM. Coopermarket is at 302 Levering Mill Road in Bala Cynwyd.

Weekends at The Reading Terminal Market
I will be at Reading Terminal Market weekends between now and the end of the year. Look for At Home’s table in Center Court across from Meze on Saturday’s and near Spataro’s Cheesesteaks — across from the pig — on Sundays.

Saturday, December 19th at Weaver’s Way
I will be at Weaver’s Way in Mt. Airy on Saturday, December 19th from 11 AM to 2 PM. Weaver’s Way’s Mt. Airy is located on 559 Carpenter Lane.

Thanks for visiting.

Steve

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