Category Archives: Events

Happy Thanksgiving 2012

At Home has been lying dormant for some time. But with start of the holiday season and Thanksgiving just a few days away, I thought it would be useful to re-post one in a series of Thanksgiving and holiday entertaining installments as a re-introduction to the timeless and useful at home entertaining information available here. This is one of my favorite posts as it applies to far more people than the people who cook and host Thanksgiving dinner…

Thanksgiving: At Guide for Guests  Pass it on!

A sweet Thanksgiving illustration — Apple & Cranberries — to make you smile from my friend Pascal Lemaitre.

The At Home website is currently not functioning due to a dispute that I am having with the web-host over a long-ago invoice. (Not very nice hosts.) Hopefully, we will resolve the dispute soon. If you want to purchase At Home as a gift to yourself or others, you may still do so by going to our At Home shop on Amazon.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

Your Home Entertaining Coach,


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My Thanksgiving

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving…whether you were a host or guest. Here is a postmortem with photos of and comments on my Thanksgiving — our first Thanksgiving at home in some years. Our final menu.


As guests arrive
Champagne with Cranberries
Anniversary Tangerine Kumquat Martini

Hors d’oeuvres
Noah’s Tuna Tartare “Taco”
Larry’s Gougeres

Venison Pate with Quince Relish
Brandied Chicken Liver & Bacon Pate

Amazing Acres Farm Chevre with Chives
Robiola and Camembert
Larry’s Pear, Cranberry & Blood Orange Mostarda

Kohlrabi & French Radishes with Sea Salt
Pickled Okra & Watermelon Radish

Roast Turkey
Larry’s Fennel Stuffing
Traditional Bread Stuffing — Gluten Free
Tarragon Gravy
Larry’s Traditional Cranberry Mold with Grapa

Larry’s Green Bean, Mushroom & Corn Casserole
Stir-fried Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Gracie’s Bourbon Sweet Potatoes
Noah’s Mac ‘n Cheese

2006 Chardonnay & 2004 VSP
J.Maki Winery, Elverson PA

Ginny’s Pecan Pie
Ginny’s Pumpkin Pie
Chestnut Ice Cream


So, how did it go?
Mixed. My Wednesday decision to appear on Fox 29’s Good Day Philadelphia on the day after Thanksgiving added an element of stress and a load of additional work that made this Thanksgiving less fun than ideal.

The subject of my Fox 29 appearance, two four minute spots in the 8 AM and 9 AM hours, was Thanksgiving Leftovers. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to wing these things. They may appear quite casual to the casual viewer, but when you’re “the talent” there is nothing casual about being carefully prepared. My plan was to “make” Turkey Chowder in the first segment. I say “make” because there is nothing to cook on so you’re just dumping ingredients into a cold pot — including a stick of butter and being very animated and descriptive about what would be happening if there actually was a source of heat. Fortunately, At Home already had a recipe for Turkey Chowder. In the second segment my plan was to put together a Turkey Salad with Cranberry Mayonnaise and Pecans. I had no recipe for this and I needed to get the recipes to Fox 29 to put up on their website and show. I could not do this on Thanksgiving Day so I had to spend time Wednesday evening figuring out this recipe. Oh, except I had no leftover turkey to make the salad so I had to figure out the recipe sans turkey — and factor the turkey into the recipe. See Thanksgiving Leftovers post for these recipes.

After guests left and a reasonable amount of clean-up was completed, I started the turkey stock with my leftover turkey carcass on the way to making the soup. You see, I needed a finished chowder for the Fox 29 anchors to taste. But I also needed a turkey carcass as a prop for the show and I had only one carcass. A call to my Frog Commissary staff who were at Ronald McDonald House serving Thanksgiving dinner provided the additional carcass! I also had to prepare all of the ingredients for both recipes in those little individual bowls that recipe demonstrators use. Oh, I also had to complete my Thanksgiving Leftover blog and post it so that Fox could link back to my blog. So, I was up until about 11 PM getting ready for my Friday AM appearance. That would not be so bad except I was pretty tired hours earlier — weren’t you? — and I had to get up about 5:45 AM to be at Fox 29 at 7 AM. Like I said, a less fun than ideal.

Click here to see the Fox 29 Good Day Philadelphia segments.

What follows are photos and commentary on my Thanksgiving.

Christina set the table mostly on Wednesday evening with some finishing touches on Thursday.

I did flowers on Wednesday afternoon and finished the little bit of prep work that remained for Thursday. Rather than a single “centerpiece,” I did three smaller arrangements spread across the table — fit better than a single centerpiece and spread the flowers my equitably.

Cocktail glasses were set-out along with our red dinner wine. The white wine was sitting outdoors on a chilly day that was thankfully close to refrigerator temperature. David, who was helping us, suggested that the red spend some time cooling– an excellent suggestion as people generally serve red wine too warm. Red wine should certainly not be served chilled, but something cooler than room temperature is ideal. Our wines were from the J. Maki Winery in Elverson, Pennsylvania in Northern Chester County. I discovered J.Maki — along with their neighbor Amazing Acres Goat Cheese — on one of my farm stand journeys and both have proved to be great finds. Our “house cocktails” included the Tangerine-Kumquat Martini we served at our wedding two years ago and the Champagne with Cranberry from At Home.

Counter adjacent to sink clear was clear of anything dirty. In addition, there was a bus pan adjacent to the sink for plate stacking and a small plastic tub for soaking dirty silverware. Christina came up with the excellent idea of adding this extra shelf for extra space in our narrow apartment kitchen.

The dishwasher was empty.

All of our platters were pulled and labeled.

My venison pate was removed from the refrigerator an hour early so it would not be served cold.

Hors d’ouvres were set-out on the coffee table in the living room shortly before guests arrived including a copy of our Thanksgiving dinner menu. “Souvenier” copies of the menu were also on the dinner table.

Here is my venison pate studded with pistachios and black forest ham. I was glad I made it, but I have to say that the effort was far out of proportion to the role it played in our Thanksgiving meal. If it was not there I don’t think any guest would have said “where the heck is the venison pate.” We have lots leftover pate in the freezer — ready to make an appearance later in the holiday season.

Hardly anyone touched the pickled watermelon radishes and okra and raw kohlrabi and French radishes with salt from the Great Salt Lake. But they were all pretty simple — the okra leftover from weeks ago and the watermelon radishes made last weekend — and provided nice color to the coffee table.

I love my long and thin olive bowl and again, while guests did not have lots of olives, they were a very easy addition. In the white ramekin was Amazing Acres chevre with fresh chives and the Chicken Liver and Bacon Pate from The Frog Commissary Cookbook. As with the venison pate, I have a holiday seasons worth of che chicken liver and bacon pate.

Larry’s brought bacon gougeres — little savory puffs that were warmed and passed to guests. They are sitting on a book of photos that I put together from our recent trip to Nova Scotia.

While guests were ending cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the living room, I headed to the kitchen to carve the turkey. A few words about the turkey. First, a 25 pound turkey is ridiculously large for eleven guests, but that I would certainly do again. Turkey is a wonderful meat and we just don’t roast turkey enough. Lots of turkey means lots of leftover turkey to distribute to guests and to enjoy for days…and to have for your appearance on TV! I had a careful plan as to when the turkey would go into the oven — right there on a label on my kitchen cabinet. But when my sister-in-law called to wish us a Happy Thanksgiving and discuss her own turkey roasting plans, it suddenly occurred to me that I was an hour late in getting the turkey into the oven. Our plan for a leisurely roast at 325 degrees switched to a 500 degree blast for 25 minutes and then a somewhat faster ride at 350 degrees. The turkey had been brined and it came out on time, moist, nicely browned and delicious.

On to the platter the turkey went.

Gracie’s Bourbon Sweet Potatoes and Larry’s Fennel Stuffing — both from At Home — and a small amount of gluten-free bread stuffing for Christina.

Last week I had made simply sauteed Brussels Sprouts for dinner for Christina and myself — shaved with garlic and olive oil. Christina requested these for Thanksgiving, but they were a far cry from what I had done for the two of us. There were too many Brussels sprouts for the pan and I got called away while “stir frying” them so some overcooked and they lost their bright green and fresh quality. In general, it reinforced my notion that you don;t do this sort of last-minute dish when turning out Thanksgiving dinner unless it can receive pretty much someone’s undivided attention. Live and learn.

Larry’s — whose wife Susan disdains of Brussels sprouts — made a wonderful corn and green bean casserole with chanterelles.

In addition to his tuna tartare hors d’oeuvres, my son Noah contributed an elegant Mac ‘n Four Cheeses studded with jalapeno. He’s come a long way since Kraft.

I was particularly happy with my gravy…fully completed last weekend. What began as a few gallons of rich turkey stock was distilled down to a quart of rich gravy that got a healthy amount of chopped fresh tarragon while reheating. No fussing with last minute pan gravy.

Larry’s provided a traditional cranberry mold, reminiscent of the “open a can” cranberry sauce of his youth…except this was made with fresh cranberries and grappa — an Italian brandy. While un-molding it, we left it in warm water too long and some of it melted so we un-molded it into a platter with sides that caught the liquified cranberry sauce. Larry provided these wonderful sugar-crusted cranberries and sage leaves for garnish.

Christina’s mother Ginny’s provided be excellent pumpkin and pecan pies for dessert.

The pies were served with my chestnut ice cream. The ice cream was disappointing. The graininess of the chestnuts was strange in the ice cream, creating a texture that was not altogether pleasant. As Christina said afterward, when you are always trying new things, they don’t all work. Safe to say that I will not be doing chestnut ice cream again.

Overall, I would say we had too much food. I know that this is common at many (most?) Thanksgiving tables, but I really would like to dial back the amount of food next year — both less food and fewer items. Even if you have only a little bit of so many items, you end up unpleasantly stuffed. But for the TV appearance prep, this would not have been too hard or stressful. Lots of people pitched in and there were a reasonable number of things to do Thanksgiving Day. One relaxed hour was within grasp! But just because you can do all this food without wrecking havoc does not mean you should.

At Home…This Thursday at The Residences at Two Liberty Place
There are still a few seats available for my Gershwin Y sponsored event at Two Liberty Place. For info. I’ll be doing some Home Entertaining Coaching. The event begins at 7 PM and will include my perspective on how to make home entertaining better and easier and well as some simple recipes. At Home’s Potato Latkes included. If you never have experienced the view from the top of Two Liberty Place, I can promise you that it’s breathtaking. I will be selling and signing At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Fun Facts…

What does it take to make 1,000 locally-sourced cheesesteaks?

  • 150 pounds chipped, grass-fed organic beef from Landisdale Farm
  • 50 pounds organic colby cheese from Mountain Meadows Colby
  • 25 pounds organic onions from Landisdale Farm
  • 25 pounds sweet and hot peppers from McCann Farm
  • 208 feet of bread from Sarcone’s

On Wed. August 25th, join me in LOVE Park for free cheesesteaks made with all local ingredients. Starting at 11 a.m., I will be dishing out 1,000 free cheesesteaks to promote the Philly Homegrown campaign. Click here for more details.

Credit: Photo by J. Smith for GPTMC

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On the Table: Fragrant Peach Butter Recipe

This recipe is the result of On the Road: The Farm Stands of Salem, N.J.

Fragrant Peach Butter
This All-American favorite is given a mildly exotic flavor with the addition of lemongrass, ginger and star anise. Feel free to skip these additions and make plain peach butter. It’s simple to make. The key is ripe peaches. If your peaches are not ripe, place them in a brown paper bag and leave out on your counter until ripe — usually no more than a day or two. In this recipe a syrup is infused with aromatics and the solids strained out. This syrup is combined with fruit.  Use peach butter on toast or a scone, mix into fresh ricotta or use it as a glaze on grilled chicken breasts – brushing the breasts just before removing from grill.

Do ahead Peach butter may be stored in refrigerator for four weeks.

3 pounds ripe peaches, flesh cut from pits
1/3 cup tender lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, thin sliced and bruised
1 ounce ginger cut into thin slices
4 star anise pods
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup water

1. Combine sugar, water, lemongrass, ginger and star anise in small pot, bring to simmer and simmer slowly for 30 minutes. While doing this, make sure you do not boil away liquid. Off heat and strain out solids, reserving liquid. Measure liquid and add water to bring to 1 cup if it is less than I cup. If you have more than 1 cup, don’ t worry about it. It will cook away in Step 2.
2. In a heavy bottom pot large enough to hold peaches, combine peaches and liquid. Cover and bring to simmer for about 10 minutes to soften peaches and render liquid. Remove cover and continue cooking over moderate heat to thicken. As mixture thickens and peaches begin to disintegrate, reduce heat and stir to make sure peaches do not stick to bottom. When mixture is very thick, remove from heat and allow to cool.
3. Transfer to work bowl of food processor and pulse until smooth. If butter seems too thin, you can return it to your pot to continue cooking, but be very careful not to scorch bottom. Place in storage container and refrigerate.

Yield 2 1/2 cups

Note: A fruit butter is a smooth, very thick puree – usually sweetened with sugar. This same process can be used to make other fruit butters.

Fragrant peach butter uses ripe Jersey peaches, lemongrass, ginger, sugar and water.

Early Jersey peaches are “cling,” meaning that the peach flesh clings to the pit. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the flesh away. Some flesh will be left on the pit.

Cutting up peaches into smaller pieces enables them to cook more quickly and evenly.

Trim away the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass stalks and then cut thin slices.

Bruising lemongrass with a meat pounder enables the lemongrass to more readily give up its flavor. You could use the bottom of a heavy pot or even a hammer.

After lemongrass, ginger and star anise are cooked in syrup to release their flavors, the solids are strained from syrup and discarded.

Transfer peaches and infused syrup into a thick-bottomed pot.

Cover and cook over moderate-high heat for about 10 minutes until peaches render their liquid.

It will now be more “watery” than before peaches rendered liquid. This hastens the process of removing liquid, leaving you with a thick fruit butter.

While there is still lots of liquid, you can cook over moderate heat to begin process of boiling away liquid. Take care to occasionally stir to prevent peaches from sticking to bottom and scorching.

As it thickens, reduce heat and stir more frequently.

As the peaches cook, your butter will require more attention and frequent stirring. You will have a sense that it is thick enough when you run a rubber spatula across the bottom and a bare strip of pot remains visible for a moment before filling back in. My peach butter took about an hour to cook down, but cooking times will vary based on the size of your pot — a wider pot will enable quicker evaporation of liquid — and your cooking temperature. If after you process your butter in a food processor it still seems to thin, you can return to pot to thicken it further.

Here’s the finished Fragrant Peach Butter.

Additional Peach Recipes from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining
Crispy Peach Crumble P.404
Champagne with Peach Nectar P.34
Peach Shortcake P.447
Wine-Poached Peach Sorbet P.419

See the At Home blog for this recipe and more than eighty recipes published on the blog.

Next week: On the Road: The Trenton Farmers Market and the Farm Stands of Mercer County, N.J.

This Saturday’s Chestnut Hill Book Festival
This Saturday, July 10th at 2 PM I will be at Laurel Hill Gardens as part of the Second Annual Chestnut Hill Book Festival. I will discuss the At Home Project and its mission to increase home entertaining. My focus will be working with fresh herbs and will include an “herb tasting,” talk about planting a backyard herb garden, working with fresh herbs as well as a recipe demonstration of fresh salsa, chermoula — a sort of Egyptian “pesto” we are currently featuring at Cleo’s Portico at The Franklin Institute and a simple herb marinade for grilling. Lots of things to taste. Of course, I will be happy to sell and sign books. Please help spread the word. Hope to see you there.

Thank you for visiting.

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.

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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At Home…Again and Backyard Burgers at The Franklin Institute

It has been four weeks since I last posted. The reason is no lack of enthusiasm for encouraging you to entertain at home more. It is that I still have a day job. My day job involves assisting in the management of Frog Commissary — especially our efforts at The Franklin Institute. The past six weeks have been especially busy with the opening of the Cleopatra exhibit and two new seasonal restaurants that we are operating there. These restaurants are Frog Burger and Cleo’s Portico. Starting this week I will get back to more regular posts. See the end of this blog for exciting plans for summer blogging.

Frog Burger is a no-frills hamburger and shake stand open during the summer months into fall on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute. It is near the familiar stainless steel airplane, overlooking the Parkway and Logan Square. In addition to hamburgers and turkey burgers, our menu includes Chesapeake Crab Rolls, Grilled Hot Dogs, Fries — including Garlic Fries and Jalapeno Fires — Fried Green Tomatoes, Gazpacho, Corn & Sweet Pepper Salad, Cole Slaw, the original Commissary Carrot Cake and Killer Cake Bars, thick Bassett’s ice cream milkshakes including shakes that include blended in carrot cake or killer cake plus Fresh Lemonade, Iced Tea and Hibiscus Agua Fresca. (Not bad for a little tent.)

People who remember the logo of our Frog Restaurant may remember the two dots over the “O.” It was never clear to people that those two dots represented the frog’s eyes — a very zen-looking frog. Two dots are reprising with the Frog Burger logo though we have tried to make the “eye-ness” more obvious and playful.

Part of the process of planning Frog Burger was to select a burger blend. Over a period of three weeks, at four different blind tasting sessions, our panel tasted — and often re-tasted 18 burger blends. A blind tasting means that panelists were unaware of what they were tasting. Blends ranged from supermarket-sourced to blends from New York’s premium meat supplier for restaurants. From the outset I established that we wanted a “backyard” burger that balanced “bib-worthy” juiciness, texture and taste. We also wanted “back-yard” friendly pricing.

Fundamental to a great burger is adequate fat content. An 80-20 blend — 80 percent meat to 20 percent fat — is the essential component of juiciness. So, all of our blends shared that component. Other components that affect taste and texture include the cuts used to make the blend and the manner of grinding the meat. Our more “exotic” blends included various combinations of skirt steak, brisket and oxtail, and, of course, chuck. Chuck is the humble foundation of most “supermarket” blends.

The panel consisted of myself, James and Lydia, our Executive Chef and Sous Chef, Larry, our Director of Operations, and my son Noah, with whom I am working on Frog Burger and Cleo’s Portico. We had an occasional “guest panelist.”  Our panel’s tasting sheets included columns for our three criteria — juiciness, texture and taste — and panelists were asked to rank each component of each blend from 1 to 5. At the conclusion of each session, we discussed our reactions to each blend. It was often easy to agree on what to eliminate. The poor buger usually stood out.  Usually a session ended with agreement to include two or three blends in a second round. As the process continued I came to believe that the hype about special burger blends was a bit of the kings new clothes. Here was a group of pretty serious burger tasters and it was rare to find any enthusiasm for the more expensive blends. (At the end of each tasting the blends were revealed.) Occasionally a panelist would speak in behalf of some more exotic taste that we assumed to be from the more exotic side of the ledger, but it was rare to find many allies for that burger to make it into the next round. Only one of the “better blends” hunf around through the final tasting though was on no one’s top choice.

At the conclusion of the process, a simple “house blend” from Esposito’s — located in the Italian Market was the winner.  It was actually the second least expensive of the blends that we considered and only 60% of the cost of the fanciest blends.

In the end, a great backyard burger has most to do with the fat content — an 80-20 blend, how you make the patty — the less you handle the meat the better the texture — a very hot fire to create a nice char on the burger — and the care taken to cook your burger to the correct doneness. At Frog Burger we cook burgers to medium unless specified. With anything beyond medium you can say good-bye to juicy. With regard to the fat content, remember that a fair amount of that fat cooks away. It is also worth the effort to toast the roll — a step many a backyard cook skips. The roll does not need to be warm so just lightly pre-toast the rolls to form a crust. The crust keeps the roll from absorbing too much juice and getting soggy. We use Martin’s Potato Rolls  — often available at supermarkets. Our burgers are served with lettuce, tomato and red onion on the side.

Among the burger condiments available are flame grill jalapenos and pickled red onions. The recipe for pickled red onions are featured in At Home. The recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and printed with permission of the publisher. The Zuni Cafe is Judy Rodgers great San Francisco restaurant. Her cookbook also has her quintessential burger recipe that involves pre-salting the burger meat. Rogers’ section on The Practice of Salting Early is among the most useful cookbook advice I have ever encountered.  Because I don’t have permission from the publisher beyond At Home, I can’t post the recipe here. I strongly recommend Zuni Cafe’s Pickled Red Onions from At Home for your next backyard barbecue…or visit Frog Burger the next time you are around 20th & The Parkway. Frog Burger is open daily from 11:30 AM to dusk.

One last note about Frog Burger.  Our “signature burger” is the LOVE Burger, a “don’t eat this too often” cholesterol-laden affair that includes a juicy burger nestled between two grilled-and-pressed cheese sandwiches — the bread and cheese fuses — and adorned with lettuce, tomato and our “special sauce” — a sort of Russian-dressing with chopped bacon — just in case you feel cholesterol deprived. Eating a Frog Burger is an amazing experience — even if you do it only once.

Here’s a favorable review from today’s  THE PHILADINING BLOG.

Look for news about Cleo’s Portico in my next blog.

Featured Chef on this Saturday, June 26th
On Saturday, June 26th I will be‘s featured Chef of the Day. is a web-based recipe source — “home of the best recipes from great cookbooks by acclaimed chefs and authors.” This is an honor and an exciting step in my efforts to spread the word about At Home. A series of At Home recipes will be featured on Check me out on Saturday.

Manou At BAC
Christina and I are on our way to New York this afternoon to attend the NY Premiere of Emmanuele Phuon’s work, Khmeropedies I + II at the Baryshnikov Art Center. Emmanuele is Manou, dear friend and wife of At Home illustrator, Pascal Lemaitre. Read At Home’s Postscript on Page 498 to learn more about the origins of this remarkable dance performance and dance troupe. The performance will be repeated Friday and Saturday. For more information.

Here’s Manou’s recipe from At Home for her Boiled Chicken with Ginger Relish & Sticky Rice. It is surprisingly refreshing on a hot summer’s eve.

Manou’s Boiled Chicken with Ginger-Garlic Relish & Sticky Rice

This is about as far from your mother’s boiled chicken as Philadelphia is from Bangkok. Manou, a friend and also the wife of this book’s illustrator, Pascal, served this to us on a visit to Brussels. The chicken is removed from the bone and served with a potent swirl of chopped ginger and garlic. Simple, humble and delicious!

do ahead Chicken is best if made shortly before serving but it can be made up to two days ahead, refrigerated and refreshed in stock. Relish can be made up to four days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Rice should be made just before serving.
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 cup small-cubed ginger
5 garlic cloves, crushed,
1 cup small-cubed garlic
1 cup fresh cilantro, rinsed and divided
2 bird’s-eye chiles or 1⁄2 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup chopped scallion
4-5 pound chicken
1⁄4 cup plus 3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
11⁄2 teaspoons salt, sea salt preferred
3 cups jasmine rice or other long-grain rice
1 To cook chicken: Rinse chicken, place in a large pot and cover with at least 2 quarts water. Add sliced ginger, crushed garlic, 1⁄2 cup cilantro, chiles and 1⁄4 cup fish sauce. Bring to a slow boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add back water as needed. Cook until meat falls off the bone, about 90 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and allow it to rest until it’s cool enough to handle. Remove skin and pull meat from bones, discarding bones. Skim fat from stock and set aside. You will use stock to make the relish and rice and to refresh chicken, so save at least 7 cups.
2 To make relish: In a small sauté pan, heat oil over moderate heat. Add cubed ginger and garlic and gently sauté to soften without browning, about 3 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce and 1⁄2 cup reserved stock. Cook over moderate heat until liquid is reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes. Set relish aside to cool.
3 To make rice: Rinse rice well in strainer until water runs clear. In a pot, combine rice with 41⁄2 cups reserved stock. Bring to a slow boil, cover, and reduce heat to very low until all water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.
4 To serve: If chicken and stock are still warm, place chicken on platter and pour a little stock over it to moisten. If you cooked chicken well in advance and it is now cold, refresh chicken in a pot with stock over moderate heat until just warm. Add salt. Garnish with scallion and remaining cilantro leaves.
Serve with relish and rice on the side.
serves 6

Summer Blogging Plans
Many of this summer’s blogs will focus on weekly visits to area farm stands and farmer’s markets. Though not a locavore zealot, I am a strong believer in using locally grown produce. Summer though early fall is the time to incorporate trips to your local farm stand or farmer’s market into your At Home plans. So, each week — more or less — I’ll visit another place and create a new recipe for the At Home blog. My posting will begin next week at Maple Acres Farm located in Plymouth Meeting. Followers of At Home will be familiar with Maple Acres. I particularly love the variety of eggplant available at Maple Acres and will provide you with an easy recipe for grilled eggplant.

Please help me identify farmer’s markets and farm stands to visit. I am looking for suggestions with 50 miles of Center City Philadelphia. Post your suggestions in Leave a Comment at the end of this At Home blog.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under At Home News, Entertaining at Home, Events, My Life, Recipes, Tips

Uncorked on Staten Island

This past Saturday I appeared at Uncorked — a food and wine festival held at Staten Island’s Historic Richmond Town. The festival was a wonderful celebration of the bounty of Staten Island restaurants. Uncorked is the brainchild of Pam Silvestri, former caterer and food editor of the Staten Island Advance.  Tents were spread around the grounds of Historic Richmond Town where guests grazed from delicious taste to taste. In addition, events included a session on food photography by New York Times photographer Andrew Scrivani, two sessions of Cheese School where students learned about cheese and wine pairings as well as food demonstrations. Demonstrating chefs included Staten Island chef Julian Gaxholli, Food Network star and cookbook author Daisy Martinez plus yours truly.

The subject of my demonstration was the Under-appreciated Chicken Thigh. I talked about At Home’s principles and demonstrated three recipes from At Home — Thai Thighs, Za’atar Marinade — also for chicken thighs — and Sweet & Sour Slaw. Just as I was about to grill the twenty pounds of Thai Thighs — plus three pounds of Za’atar thighs — that I brought, I discovered that their grill was out of gas. I suggested to the audience that they return in about 25 minutes — time enough to locate a fresh gas tank and get the grilling started. With the able assistance of three Staten Island Good Samaritans — a sister and two brothers — a hundred plus still hungry Islanders enjoyed Thai Thighs and Sweet & Sour Slaw. My hope was that I uncorked something new on Staten Island. I recommend Thai Thighs and a slaw as a welcome change to Memorial Day burgers.

Here are the recipes.

Thai Thighs
Chicken thighs pack far more flavor than breasts and are much more forgiving of overcooking. They take to the grill particularly well. Given their low price and myriad assets, they’re pitifully underutilized. The sugar in this marinade makes for an extra level of caramelization-and a messy grill. You can also use any of the marinades in this chapter and follow the marinating and grilling procedure above.

do ahead Thighs can be marinated up to three days ahead. It’s best to cook them the day you are serving them.

2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 bird’s-eye chiles or 1 jalapeño, seeded, ribbed and sliced
1/3 cup lime juice
1 stalk lemongrass
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt and pepper
3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
leaves from 5-6 fresh cilantro sprigs (optional)
1 lime, cut into 6 or 8 wedges, for garnish

1 Cut the root tip and dry end of the lemongrass stalk, leaving a length of about 8-10 inches. Peel away the outer leaves, leaving the tender core. Finely chop.
2 Combine lemongrass with ginger, garlic, chiles, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, oil, salt and pepper and mix well. Add chicken. Toss well and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.
Just before grilling, add oil to marinade. Preheat grill to medium-high. Remove chicken from marinade, and allow marinade to drain off, but don’t wipe it dry. Place chicken on grill, smooth side up, and grill until nicely charred, about 4 minutes. Turn and grill the other side, about 4-5 minutes. Serve whole or thinly sliced, either hot or at room temperature. Serve with lime wedges. Tear cilantro and sprinkle it over the chicken.

Za’atar Marinade
do ahead Marinade can be made up to three days ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

Combine lemon zest and juice, garlic, thyme, za’atar, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well and let sit 5 minutes. Stir in olive oil until incorporated.

finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Sweet & Sour Slaw
This year-round slaw is simple to make. The touch of olive oil just adds a little glisten and can be skipped for a fully fat-free slaw. It pairs well with burgers and grilled chicken or pork chops. You can also add a julienned apple to the mix.

do ahead Slaw can be fully made up to a day ahead. As slaw sits, the cabbage will wilt and render water. This decreases the total volume and thins the dressing some. Re-toss before serving.
1/2 pound carrots, peeled
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh dill, loosely packed
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, loosely packed
1 medium cabbage, about 3 pounds
5 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 Cut cabbage in quarters. Remove the core and discard. Set cabbage flat side down and finely slice. Place cut cabbage in large bowl. Pick through to find any thick pieces and slice them.
2 With a box grater or the largest holes of a food processor attachment, shred carrots. Combine cabbage, carrots, scallions, dill and parsley. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, cider vinegar, salt and pepper and stir well to dissolve sugar. Add olive oil. Pour dressing over vegetables. Cabbage should sit in dressing for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Staten Island Postscript: Net Cost
An Uncorked attendee shared with me the challenge of finding ethnic ingredients on Staten Island. It seems they are few and far between. But this very same person pointed me to a “Russian” grocery store just down the road from Uncorked. Never one to pass up an interesting ethnic market, I visited Net Cost. There are Net Costs in the New York area and one in Northeast Philadelphia. Visiting ethnic markets is akin to traveling to far away places — except you get there faster.  Walking into Net Cost I knew I was not in Kansas any more — no less Staten Island. The aisles were filled with foreign speaking people and the shelves were filled with all manner of what for me were exotic products and what for the shoppers was a taste of home.

Earlier in this blog I suggested Thai Thighs as a welcome alternative to Memorial Day burgers. Well…do I have some Memorial Day burgers for you! This Saturday we open FROG BURGER, an outdoor burger stand featuring “flame-grilled backyard flavor” on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute. (Frog Commissary provides all of the food service at the Institute.) Frog Burger is the first of a one-two punch with Cleo’s Portico — offering light dining and drinking overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway  — the following weekend in conjunction with the opening of the Cleopatra exhibit on June 5th. Here’s a link to a Philadelphia Magazine blog about FROG BURGER. In particular, look for news in the Philadelphia Magazine about the soon to be notorious “Love Burger” — a creation of my son, Noah with whom I am working on FROG BURGER.

FROG BURGER has been consuming over the past several weeks which accounts for a diminished number of At Home blogs. More details about FROG BURGER to follow.  Here’s our logo.

You can find me this Memorial Day weekend on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute. By the way, At Home will be available for sale at FROG BURGER. If you need a house-gift to bring to your Memorial Day picnic, stop by FROG BURGER and pick-up a copy of At Home. And if you are looking for something new for your backyard Memorial Day, look no further than At Home‘s Chapter 8: From the Grill and Chapter 13: Room Temperature Accompaniments.

Happy Memorial Day. I hope you spend lots of time at homes!

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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

In general, I try to keep these posts focused on home entertaining. But, my “day job” revolves around Frog Commissary Catering and, on occasion, I think you may find interest in looking behind the scenes at catered events.

Last Friday and Saturday, Frog Commissary Catering had the opportunity and responsibility to cater key aspects of the Dad Vail Regatta. Held on the Schuykill River, the Dad Vail is the oldest and largest collegiate rowing regatta in the United States. It was established in 1934 and is one of Philadelphia’s premiere springtime traditions.

There was the threat that Dad Vail might move away from Philadelphia this year — a result of the city’s budgetary struggles and the ability of the Philadelphia community to provide adequate financial support. A local businessman, Herb Lotman, stepped up and lead a successful effort to energize community support for the event. That’s where Frog Commissary came in.  As part of the effort to increase corporate support, Herb developed the concept of corporate sponsorships that included a significant hospitality component. This included lead sponsor — Aberdeen Asset Management.

So, last Friday and Saturday Frog Commissary catered a series of V.I.P. tents and sky boxes set-up at the river’s edge. In addition, we catered a Friday evening reception and provided the “pasta feed” for the 3000 athletes each day. Catering this sort of “riverside” event in field kitchens is about as far from catering The Franklin Institute Awards as you can get. It is complex in different ways. And unlike The Franklin Institute Awards, an event that we grew into over many years, here we were in a whole different ballpark for the first time — with the same expectation that we hit  the ball out of the park the first time up.

Here are some behind the scenes looks:

Our plan was to begin cooking 800 pounds of pasta before noon on Thursday. Sounds pretty simple? You cook a pound of pasta at home all the time. Children can cook pasta! What could be complicated about this?

OK. Our plan was to set-up five stations. Eighty quart pots on powerful “candy burners.” Step 1: Boil salted water. Step 2: Cook about 15 pounds of pasta per batch in large colanders that fit snuggly into the pots. Step 3: Pull out colanders, drain water back into pot, place “perfectly cooked” pasta into chilling baths of water and ice. Step 4: Drain well and transfer into milk crates lined with trash bags. (Each milk crate can hold 30 quarts and we needed 1800 quarts.) Move to remote refrigerated trailer.

Repeat 53 times. Except, add water back to the pots each time to compensate for the water absorbed by the pasta and re-boil. And every third or fourth batch, change the water fully as the repeated pasta cooking turns the water starchy. And discard all the water that has been “used up.” But where?  There is no sanitary drain on the banks of the Schuykill. And we weren’t about to empty our pots into the Schuykill. So we rented two 250 gallon holding tanks and to get the discarded water int the holding tanks we needed to transfer the water to large open containers and then, with a sump pump, pump the water into the holding tanks.

We started with forty cases and here we are down to 13 cases. As with nearly everything in life, it took us longer than we expected. At 7 PM the city cut our power which meant no sump pump and with the setting sun, working in near darkness. By 10:30 PM all the pasta was cooked and all 60 milk crates were transferred to the Athlete’s Feed area about a half mile down river along with candy burners, pots colanders and everything else needed for Friday’s first “feed.”

This is Sarah — the Frog Commissary account manager with primary responsibility for planning and executing our Dad Vail efforts. In the foreground are nearly 1000 rolls of various shapes and sizes that have been sliced by our crew and about to be made into varieties of sandwiches.

Kitchen staff arrived on site at 6 AM to be ready for the 8 AM breakfasts. Once breakfasts are out, everyone’s focus shifts to lunch with support from the additional 9 AM dining room crew — all excellent sandwich makers.

As many people as you have, you always wish there were more!

Everything makes its way to baker’s racks labeled by location — carefully monitored by our amazing Lydia, Frog Commissary’s Executive Sous Chef.

Including lunch for lead sponsor — Aberdeen Asset Management.

Including cookie trays featuring butter cookies on to which we added an edible Dad Vail Aberdeen Asset Management logo. The logo was the “brain-child” of our Director of Operations — and my brother-in-law Larry who worked with Diem, our longtime head baker to figure out how to get the rice paper imprint off the sheet upon which it was printed and on to the cookie. It tuns out that we made the transfer on a humid day and the imprint would not come off the sheet. After a call from Larry to the California label manufacturer and some trial and error, more than one minute but less than two minutes in a 180 degree oven — fan off — did the trick! The cookies were unexpected — and a big hit.

VIPs slowly gather for breakfast. The requirement that breakfast be out at 8 AM meant that we rapidly gathered at 6 AM. Friday, the first day, is the hardest — even though we had fewer guests on Friday. That’s because the first time you do anything is the hardest and on Friday we were still battling an array of logistical challenges…and awaiting the arrival of the health department for inspection…with our rental pot sink still not working!!!

Once breakfast is out, our focus shifts to lunch. Friday we had lunch in about six different — not counting the Athlete’s Feed a half mile down the road. One of our lunch offerings was All-American Grill. Here is one of our grills being started.

Another lunch menu included a Cucumber, Tomato and Feat Salad…lots of it.

While the athlete’s begin to gather for the “Athlete’s Feed.”

Thirsty athletes.


Hungry athlete’s awaiting donated TASTYKAKES.

A choice of bananas, apples or oranges.  We had planned two bananas for every orange and apple. At the end of the first day we thought we were out of bananas so we called our supplier for the additional twenty-two cases we had on hold to get us through Friday…only to find out that the volunteer who told us we out of bananas had not seen all of the cases of bananas behind all of the cases of soda. Banana bread anyone? (Actually, our produce supplier took back the unopened cases of bananas on Monday. We also were able to return the extra 100 pounds of pasta and unused cases of Marinara Sauce — all of which we had just in case the athletes were hungrier than we thought.)

And of course pasta. Cooked pasta is set in strainers and “dunked” in boiling water to reheat.

As we had no source of water, all water had to be hauled down in five gallon bottles from our main kitchen a half mile away on a “gator” — several steps up from a standard gold cart — and then “used” water had to be brought back for proper disposal. But re-heating pasta requires only a fraction of the water required for cooking.

Hot pasta is then transferred to “hotel pans” — these are eight quart pans that fit into chafing dishes. Hot Marinara Sauce gets mixed in .

The true VIPs enjoy a bucolic pre or post race lunch.

Meanwhile, back at the main kitchen tent and VIP area, with lunch under control our focus shifts to the cocktail and barbecue dinner reception in the large VIP tent. Here slabs of barbecue rubbed ribs get cut.

And roast pork shaved and mixed with our barbecue sauce.

Zach — our chef of Moroccan heritage — made baked beans any cowboy would love — loaded with bacon and just the right balance of sweet molasses and sour vinegar.

With some crab cakes thrown in as one of the butlered hors d’oeuvres.

And, of course, our signature carrot cake included on the dessert buffet.

We had planned for a 6:00 to 8:00 PM reception and buffet dinner for about 150 volunteers and officials. Things wrapped up around 10 PM after we served more than 200 guests. Fortunately we planned for lots of extra ribs!

By Saturday morning our grill was under the tent that the health inspector requested. With many more All-American grills and nearly twice the number of venues and guests, Saturday had its challenges — but by Saturday many of the logistics issues had been worked out and we had a full days worth of practice!

Added to our Saturday event schedule was “The Corporate Challenge”  — a post-race reception for corporate teams of rowers. We were told to be ready for 300 at noon — hamburgers and hot dogs.

Here is a typical buffet.

From the time of the first ten-day forecast we were worried about predictions of rain. Serious rain would have been a serious problem for us. While we had a kitchen tent, it turned out to be way too small for our needs and we spilled out well beyond it. And all the guests had tents. But the issue would have been all the space in between and getting food to all of the areas. We followed the forecast every day as our rain odds ebbed and flowed. By Saturday there was a 40% chance of morning showers…followed by near gale-force winds. In all of our planning, wind was not on “our radar.” And while I would trade wind for rain, the wind played havoc with the race schedule. On Monday morning we received a complaint call from a corporate customer regarding “dusty food.” In my nearly forty years of doing this, that’s the first time dusty food was a customer service issue. Brief showers passed in the morning and for balance of the day the sun shown…and the wind blew.

By late afternoon we started loading our trucks…

…to the brim. It’s always remarkable that for all the food that is consumed, we still seem to have to return home with loaded trucks.

Here is our pot sink ready to be picked up by Party Rental — actually our second pot sink as we could never get the first one to give us the promised hot water — at the end of the event…

…along with two 250-gallon waste water tanks, ready to be pumped out and taken away. It ain’t pretty, but it worked.

With Noel and John — two recruits by my son, Noah — ready with the last bits of equipment — about to drive the “gator” down Kelly Drive and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to our Franklin Institute home for pick-up.

While the last of the trash waits by the side of the road for pick-up.

Over two days Frog Commissary was responsible for feeding well nearly 8000 meals from field kitchens along the Schuykill. We applied all of the principles of At Home — investment in planning and spreading tasks over time and resources. Added to that were the tireless efforts — no, actually tired and exhausted efforts — of my amazing Frog Commissary team. While on the Schuykill River, the athletes  of Dad Vail displayed grit and endurance and strength and teamwork, on the shores the Frog Commissary team did the same. Except no one fed us and we did not get one relaxed hour before guests arrived!

Next Saturday is Staten Island Day at Historic Port Richmond and I’ll Be There
This coming Saturday, May 22nd, I will be appearing at Uncorked — NYC’s Wine, Food & Fun Fest as part of Staten Island Day. Uncorked is held at Historic Richmond Town. My plan is to talk about how to make home entertaining better and easier so you will do it more — what else! I will also show you how to make and cook stuffed burgers and summer slaw. Of course, I’ll have books to sell and sign. If you have friends and family in the area, please let them know that this a wonderful way to celebrate spring and food and Staten Island — all worth celebrating.

Frog Burger and Cleo’s Portico
Within the next several weeks Frog Commissary will open two seasonal “restaurants” at The Franklin Institute. The first will be Frog Burger. At Frog Burger we plan to offer flame-grilled backyard flavor on the front lawn of The Franklin Institute. Our “stand” we be a small tent with seating at picnic tables. Parking is available in The Franklin Institute’s convenient garage. In addition to burgers and fries, our menu will include chilled , fried green tomatoes (when we can get them) and fresh grilled corn on the cob (when it’s really sweet), a fresh corn and pepper salad, slaw, hot dogs, crab rolls, Bassett’s ice cream shakes and, for the return of Commissary Carrot Cake plus Chocolate Fudge Killer Cake Bars. Wine, beer and sangria will be available. We are still working out the hours of beer and wine service. Frog Burger will be open daily from 11:30 to 8:00 PM throughout the summer.

You can also participate in our Chose the Frog Burger Logo Contest at Unbreaded.

Cleo’s Portico will open shortly after — on June 5th — in conjunction with The Franklin Institute’s fabulous new Cleopatra exhibit. During the Tut exhibit we ran “Tut’s Oasis” — a “tented” restaurant located right in the center of the Institute. Cleo’s Portico will have a similarly dramatic setting, on the second floor portico overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Its room temperature menu will feature appropriately Mediterranean Meze — like tapas. Cleopatra appropriate cocktails will be available. We are still working out when. Cleo’s Portico will be open for lunch and early dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Look for more details on each in upcoming posts.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Don’t Try This At Home: Behind the Scenes at The Franklin Institute Awards Dinner

Frog Commissary has been exclusive caterer at the venerable Franklin Institute since the 1980’s. It is the most enduring relationship between a food service provider and institution in Philadelphia and likely ranks in the top ten nationwide. Recently Frog Commissary “moved into” The Franklin Institute, leaving our Northern Liberties facility. In addition to catering, we are now operating the restaurants there with big plans in store. But that’s the subject for a future blog. From The Franklin Institute we continue to offer our outside catering services.

Each year The Franklin Institute celebrates leaders in fields of science with The Franklin Institute Awards. There is always a gala dinner. It is the most important evening in the life of our most important client. This year’s awards dinner took place last Thursday, April 27th. Included among the honorees was Bill Gates — recipient of the Bower Award for Business Leadership.

The Catering Challenge
The black tie Awards Dinner is always well attended — one of the largest annual galas in Philadelphia. This year tables were set for 800 guests. The evening begins with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the Atrium — the “town square” of the Institute. This is followed by the awards ceremony in Franklin Hall. From there, guests move to dining rooms around the Institute — as many as four different areas though this year was comparatively simple with just two areas — Upper Mandell for 600 guests and the Planetarium for 200 guests. Following dinner, guests return to a transformed Atrium for dessert buffets.

Here’s where the challenge comes in: We have created very high expectations for a delicious and flawless evening. But this evening is complex in execution and executed in spaces that were not designed for dinner for 800. This is a world-class museum — not a world-class banquet facility. But we have to deliver a world-class dinner.

Our kitchen is on the southeast corner of the Institute’s ground level, nearly a city block and one floor from cocktails and desserts and two floors from 600 guests seated in Upper Mandell. At some time during the awards ceremony — we have to make the call as to exactly when to “fire the filets”  — ie. get 800 filets in the oven, so that the entree is hot, perfectly cooked and ready to serve immediately after the first course is cleared. It’s a little like bringing an very large ship to a stop. You have to make the decision to apply the brakes well in advance of when and where you want to stop.

The Same Principles Apply
At Home’s principles are based upon 15,000 plus events over nearly 40 years of catering.

Leadership & Planning
Successful catering — like home entertaining — is much more a triumph of planning than a culinary feat. Planning for this dinner, lead by Frog Commissary Account Manager Suzanne Driscoll began immediately following last year’s dinner. Suzanne has been working with The Franklin Institute on this dinner for almost ten years. Her goal every year is to make it better than the prior year. Suzanne is the field general. She works with field officers who in turn direct combat teams in the trenches.

This year, as I addressed our assembled service staff, I made reference to the current HBO Series, The Pacific as a metaphor to what we are all about to go through in “storming the beaches” and “raising the flag on Iwo Jima.” Perhaps a little corny and here, no one dies, but I do think the metaphor is apt. Catering at this level requires a careful “war plan,” but once it starts, it’s up to the commitment and zeal of the guys and gals in the trenches to make it happen.

It’s a Team Sport
We employed nearly 120 people to deliver our deliciously flawless evening.

Do Ahead and Spreading Tasks Over Time
We began food preparation on Monday with the most intense effort taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. As I say in At Home, “if you leave everything to the last minute we would had only a minute to do everything.”

One Relaxed Hour — NOT!

Here’s a behind the scenes look with a little commentary.

The calm before the storm. Busing areas ready throughout the back halls of The Franklin Institute.

Dining rooms were completely set-up the night before.

Senior Captain Doug Howard with a last minute review of plans.

While some staff enjoy “one relaxed 15 minutes” of pizza.

Last minute prep in the ground level kitchen.

Crudite loaded and placed on racks for distribution. Lydia Byard, Executive Sous Chef lead the Atrium effort of hors d’oeuves and dessert assembly. She has a remarkable eye for style.

Pyramids of goats cheese with roasted tomatoes and pesto.

Carefully assembling thousands of hor d’eouvres. A beer cartoon provides for a little improvised tray elevation for Ron — normally leading the team in Ben’s Bistro — and a happier back. Nancy, from accounting, labors in the background. It was all-hands-on-deck!

Guests arrive to The Franklin Institute’s Atruim.

Gorgonzola mousse on Asian pear crisp.

Lobster salad on Belgian endive leaf. Note the way the leaves are trimmed to provide better scale and structural integrity — ie. the leaf can better hold the salad when the guest picks up the hors d’oeuvres.

Seared tuna on won ton crisp with wasabi whipped cream and tobiko…lovingly assembled one at a time!

Spiced duck “cigars” in phyllo had been made several days before and baked off just before going onto platters. They sit in little bamboo cradles. Carver was in our small upstairs kitchen firing a steady stream of hors d’oeuvres.

Salad assembly overseen by Zack and Jon. Earlier in the day, 812  wedge sof a creamy blue cheese were carefully cut by my brother-in-law and our Director of Operations, Larry Sterner. I all likelihood, Andre, our candied walnut specialist, made the 2400 whole candied walnuts needed. A few large leaves of red oak leaf lettuce…

… followed by a carefully placed mound on torn lettuce leaves. Salads ready to go to tables except for a last minute squirt of dressing from squeeze bottles. The salads were pre-set when guests arrive, but we still want to wait until the last moment to squirt the dressing so the salad looks fresh when guests site.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, Andre — of candied walnut fame — finishes the Vegetable “Wellingtons,” the evening vegetarian entree option.

Here, the filets that had been seared earlier in the evening await the call.

My primary task during the evening is to make the call as to when to “fire the filets.” The Awards program is carefully planned to the minute but the vagaries of guest movement from cocktails to Franklin Hall and then from Franklin Hall to the dining areas adds a element of high uncertainty. (This is more art than science!) We need to serve 812 perfectly cooked filets immediately after the first course is cleared.  You need to make the call one hour and fifteen minutes before that moment without actually knowing when that moment is. Being off by ten minutes could mean guests sit waiting — though we have been know to slow clearing of the first course if we are get we make the call wrong and run late — or serve over-cooked filets if we time our arrival too long before entree service — the worst of all outcomes!

It’s the big decision of the night. I always consult with Suzanne, and James Dobbins, our Executive Chef, and Larry Dubinski, the Institute’s Development head regarding the program length. (James and I have been doing this together for many years.) We also keep actual time lines from past years that among other things tells us the program runs 10 minutes longer than planned — though we are always told this year it will run on time.

Even though I consult, the final decision when to “fire the filets” is mine. If there is a problem with timing, I want the final responsibility to fall on me.

At 8:00 PM the filets all went into 350 degree ovens for their 15-20 minutes. Then they rested at room temperature. After the risotto cakes and asparagus bundles were heated and placed in their designated warmers, the filets went back into the ovens for a final “flash” of about 2 minutes at 500 degrees. Then into warmers and everything heads down hallways, on to elevators and into narrow corridors adjacent to dining areas for turn-out in lines. We do not pre-plate and hold fully assembled plates in warmers as many caterers do. We think plating at the last moment gives our clients and their  guests the very best product.

Here are our lines. We had a total of eight lines — six in the corridor adjacent to the Upper Mandell dining room where 600 guests were seated and 200 in the receiving area adjacent to the Planetarium where another 200 guests were seated. A “line” is a sequential ordering of the entree components. It always begins with plates that we warm in warming cabinets. Next, this evening, came the sauce — a small pool. I was a “sauce person” and it was no easy task to pour a perfectly sized pool of dark sauce on a black plate when just before dinner it was discovered that most of our corridor lighting was on the same circuit as Upper Mandell lighting that had to be killed for the dinner.

Next came the filet, in the foreground — carefully placed over the sauce. Then the risotto cake, followed by the asparagus bundles. The final element were two slow-roasted plum tomato halves. (Earlier in the day I went to DiBruno’s to buy some very expensive olive oil — a last moment thought to embellish the flavor of the plum tomatoes. Would anyone really notice this or miss it if it weren’t there? We didn’t get where we are by assuming we should not work to make it as good as possible.) Each plate is inspected and wiped as needed before heading on its way. We don;t think of this as serving 800 guests…rather we think of it as serving one guest at a time — 800 times. Each and every guest plate counts.

Plates keep moving down the line. At the end of the line are waiters who hand carry plates to guests. We do not use “football” trays and tray stands as we just do not think that looks good. (All this goes back to my first lessons about fine dining from Peter von Starck as a busboy at La Penetiere in 1972. We have always approached catering with that fine dining standard — and not that of your “normal” banquet caterer.)

Here is my wife Christina, Frog Commissary CEO, and her brother Larry, working the dinner line.

All this happens very quickly.

When the last guest is served I always break open a remaining filet — we never subtract enough filets to account for the vegetarians so there are always some leftover. It was still warm and perfectly cooked. A testament to a terrific team. We served hot and beautiful entrees to 800+ guests in just over twenty minutes!

While Lydia and Sultan’s crews reset the Atrium for the guests’ return for dessert, coffee and champagne. Here are “Whoppie” pie miniature with a creamy mint filling, pineapple “flowers, chocolate-dipped strawberries and pistachio cannoli. Our bakery proudly makes all of our desserts…

…including Cheesecake Lollipops sitting on a bed of wheat grass.

At evening’s end, my ever-jovial son, Noah, gives a thumbs up on the evening.

Most importantly, The Franklin Institute gave us an end of event “thumbs up” and a “best wards dinner ever.” That’s all wonderful to hear…but sets the bar still higher for next year!

The Dad Vail Regatta
This Friday and Saturday we will cater key aspects of the Dad Vail Regatta including the Athlete’s Feed each day for nearly 3000 each day and the new and impressive VIP area. The Athlete’s Feed is at the other end of the catering spectrum from The Franklin Institute Awards dinner and while the VIP area needs to be great, it is a very different great than a black-tie gala. But we approach all of this with a fanatical commitment to planning and the execution of the event with an incredible staff. I will post another Don’t Try This At Home: Behind the Scenes blog next week. Let’s hope it does not rain on Saturday.

Special Mother’s Day Blog
On Sunday I will post a special Mother’s Day blog.

Thank you for visiting.

Your Home Entertaining Coach


Filed under Events, Family and Friends, My Life

A Brief Update

The final chapter of The Good Enough Entertainer: Cooking with Rick Nichols — which you can read in the Philadelphia Inquirer — has been postponed from today, October 15 until next Thursday, October 22. The good news is that the Inquirer wanted more “real estate” for Rick’s article than was available today.

Screen shot 2009-10-15 at 12.02.30 AMWith regard for my Plan to Entertain: Halloween, I have been too consumed with getting ready for tonight’s Free Library event to work on that. I will try to get back to it tomorrow — still enough time to plan well.


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