Category Archives: Family and Friends

Thanksgiving House Cocktail: Bourbon-Rosemary Sour

Serving a “House Cocktail” as guests arrive sets a welcome and festive tone. Bourbon is the quintessential American liquor and the perfect complement to Thanksgiving, the quintessential American holiday! Rosemary provides a seasonally appropriate fall accent. Best of all, it’s an easy and delicious start to Thanksgiving. If you are a guest this Thanksgiving, consider providing this House Cocktail for your host because easy home entertaining is a team sport. You can mix it all ahead of time and bring in a pitcher along with some rosemary sprigs and lemon slices. All your host needs to provide are the glasses and ice.

There is no real substitute for fresh lemon juice though Whole Foods carries a jarred Lemon Juice product in the juice aisle that is acceptable. Under no circumstances use jarred Real Lemon available in standard supermarkets. Typically lemonade is made with equal parts lemon juice and simple syrup but this recipe backs off some of the syrup, thus the “sour.”  Caution: This spiked “lemonade” goes down very easily.

Thanksgiving Bourbon-Rosemary Sour

2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups rosemary syrup (See recipe below)
1 1/2 cups bourbon
Rosemary sprigs for garnish plus for rosemary syrup recipe below
8 lemon slices — seeds removed
Serves 8

Note: The juiciness of lemons is very variable. As a result, it is difficult to tell you exactly how many lemons you will need to make 2 cups of fresh lemon juice. I needed 8 lemons. They were unusually juicy. You may need more.

In a pitcher or other convenient pouring container, combine lemon juice, rosemary syrup and bourbon. Mix well. Fill glass with ice. Pour 1/2 cup mix into each glass. Stir well. Garnish with rosemary sprig and lemon slice. The half cup of mix per drink includes 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon so do not over-pour. Encourage your guests to savor and not slug.

Rosemary Simple Syrup
1 cup + 2 Tb sugar
1 cup + 1 oz water
4 sprigs rosemary
Yield 1 1/2 cups syrup

In a small pot, combine sugar and water. Simmer over moderate heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally, about 1–2 minutes. Add rosemary. Simmer for 3 — 5  minutes until rosemary wilts and gives up its color, then remove from heat. Cool for at least one hour or overnight. Strain out rosemary before using. Store in refrigerator.

There are six syrup recipes in At Home on Page 44 along with a tip on using Simple Syrups. One Thanksgiving dessert we are serving on Thursday is roasted pears basted with a syrup sweetened with honey as well as sugar and spiced with star anise, cardamom and coriander seed. See our complete menu below.

Five or six rosemary sprigs, about 20 to 25 total inches of rosemary. You will also need rosemary sprigs to garnish the drink.

When you start, the rosemary will be stiff and the leaves a strong green as pictured above. Simmer sprigs in syrup until they wilt and give up their bright color and turn somewhat khaki-colored. Take care to just simmer slowly. Leave the sprigs in syrup until ready to use. Strain out sprigs before using syrup.

Our 2012 Thanksgiving
Lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving — not the least of which is the recent election result. We are enjoying Thanksgiving at home with our extended family. Christina’s brother Larry and my son Noah will help with selected dishes and pitch-in with turn-out. Christina will take care of  getting our apartment ready and setting our table. We still have to do our wine shopping. I will do the flowers on Wednesday.

I am in good shape with my advance preparation — confident I will get at least one relaxed hour before guests arrive Thanksgiving Day. Probably more. Saturday I finished most of my shopping at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market and made cornbread. Since for me shopping is a pleasure, I started my Sunday at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market. Sunday is my watch football while preparing my gravy day. I prepare my do-ahead gravy with turkey legs and finish it with the pan juices after the “real turkey” comes out of the oven on Thursday.  (The food prep part was infinitely more fun than watching the Eagles!)

On Sunday, I also made the base for the ice cream that I will freeze Monday, the syrup for the roasted pears, peeled the celery root and sliced and rinsed the leeks for the gratin, prepped the turnips and carrots, peeled and sliced the kohlrabi, toasted the pinenuts for the kale, grated the cheese for the gratin, as well as made the sausage and vegetable components for the cornbread stuffing that I will combine on Wednesday. One last thing: I crumbled and toasted the cornbread to give it a nuttier flavor than simply baked cornbread.

Our At Home Thanksgiving 2012 Menu

House Cocktail
Bourbon-Rosemary Sour

Hors d’oeuvres
Larry’s Gougere
Oysters Rockefeller
Shaved Cauliflower & Fennel Salad
Diver Scallops “Sashimi” with Confetti of Granny Smith Apples
Roasted Baby Carrots & Hakurei Turnips
Raw Kohlrabi

Dinner Buffet
Roast Turkey
Tarragon Gravy
Gingered Cranberry-Onions Relish
Renaissance Chicken Sausage, Chanterelle & Cornbread Stuffing
Smashed Kubocha Squash with Confit of Onions — Larry is making this from last week’s NY Times Food Section
Gratin of Leeks & Celery Root
Sautéed Dinosaur Kale with Pinenuts & Raisins

Desserts
Ginny’s Pumpkin Pie
Commissary Pecan Pie
Roasted Pears with Star Anise, Cardamom & Coriander Seed
Burndt Orange-Caramel Ice Cream with Sea Salt

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Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Holidays, Menus, Recipes

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,

Steve

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Filed under Entertaining at Home, Events, Family and Friends, Tips

A Summer Dinner At Home for a Good Cause and Guests We Don’t Know

Early in my wife Christina’s career she was the Managing Director of The Philadelphia Theater Company and worked alongside then and now Artistic Director Sara Garonzik. We donated a Dinner for Six in our home to their annual auction to support their continued efforts to produce, develop and present “entertaining and imaginative contemporary theater focused on the American experience that ignites the intellect and touches the soul.” (From PTC’s Artistic Mission Statement.)  Tonight  six folks we have never met are coming to dinner.

It is pleasure for me to cook for others — especially so when I am able to live by what I preach… plan ahead and spread your tasks over time. So two weeks ago after my regular Saturday stroll through the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market, I came up with my initial menu plan. I think of it as seasonal and smart.  Seasonal of course. Smart because I want to enjoy my guests as well as cook for my guests. My goal in planning tonight’s menu is to serve a ridiculously elaborate and beautifully seasonal dinner and minimize what I had to do when guests were at the table. I also wanted a menu that allowed me to maximize what I could do well in advance and especially what I had to do the day of the dinner. I was going for not just one relaxed hour before guests arrive — what I believe all hosts deserve, but the better part of a reasonably relaxed and enjoyable day.

Here’s the final menu that I printed for our guests.

The Philadelphia Theater Company
Auction Dinner
Hors d’oeuvres
Squash blossoms stuffed with Hillacres Pride ricotta
Blini with crème fraiche & California hackleback caviar
Grilled Renaissance sausage with garlic scape pesto
Fire-roasted sweet peppers & white anchovy crostini
Jersey tomatoes & fresh chickpeas with crabmeat
Chinon “La Cravantine” Domaine Gasnier

Dinner
Ceviche of Barnegat scallops
Orange essence & pink peppercorns
Z Food Farm pickled beets & chilled ginger-beet soup
Arneis “Bricco delle Ciliegie” Giovanni Almondo 2011

Seared  Atlantic tuna taco
Sesame-cucumber relish
Shiso aioli
Nahe Riesling “Lenz” Weingut Emrich-Schönleber 2011

Charcoal-grilled Griggstown Farm quail
Lemongrass & coriander
Green papaya salad
“Becco Rosso” Corte Gardoni 2010

Braised veal cheeks
Ratatouille & corn cake
Morgon “Côte de Puy” Domaine de Robert

Local artisanal cheeses
Birchrun Hills Fat Cat (Chester Springs, PA)
Birchrun Hills Blue (Chester Springs, PA)
De Glae Lanchego (Lancaster, PA)
Valley Sheperd Crontin de Chevre  (Long Valley, NJ)
Shellbark Hollow Sharp Chevre (West Chester, PA)
Local honey • Apricot butter • Candied walnuts
Metropolitan Bakery breads
Terres de Fagayra Maury Blanc 2009

Cardamom-poached Three Springs Fruit Farm Peaches
Biddle Woods lavender ice cream
Gooseberries & blackberries

French Press Espresso
Saturday, July 14, 2014

What follows is a kind of home entertaining case study. I am not suggesting that you attempt to replicate this exact menu in your home. I have been doing this professionally and recreationally for more than forty years. But I do suggest that you use this as a model of planning ahead and spreading tasks over time so that you too can have at least one relaxed our before guests arrive.

Early Saturday Morning
It’s about ten hours until guests arrive. All is well. I began planning and preparation two full weeks in advance by planning the menu, scheduling my shopping and food preparation tasks. My very first task was pickling the beets that I bought two weeks ago from my friend, farmer Dave at his Z Food Farm stand in Rittenhouse Square. Z Food Farm is located in Lawrenceville, NJ. On my stroll through the market that Saturday, in addition to pink Chioggia and golden beets, I noted garlic scapes, squash blossoms, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash, early corn, the first apricots of the season, and beautiful scallops and tuna. So, my menu plan began with essentially a list of seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Since shopping in a farmer’s market is a pleasure, I looked forward to this morning’s trip to pick-up “day of” ingredients as well as flowers.

Why is it that it’s hot and sunny all week without quenching rain to water thirsty crops and on Saturday when farmers have a single day to sell the fruit and vegetables of their labors, it rains? Why in the wealthiest country in the history of civilization do 43 million people not have health insurance? These and other questions about life will be left to ponder. (Actually for more on the one about health insurance see the postscript at the end of this post.)

Suffice it to say that the best laid plans of spontaneity cooking oft go astray. No golden raspberries so I switch to blackberries. Renaissance Sausage’s stand re-emerged after a few weeks absence with no fennel-pork sausage. But the tuna is gorgeous, the scallops plump and the flowers spectacular.

Dave’s first crop of exotic cucumbers appeared today even though Dave did not. Dave left the stand to his mom and dad as he tended a fresh crop of field volunteers. That’s Dave’s stand and his mom and dad.

Late Saturday Morning
There are now about eight hours to guests. My primary tasks are to do the things I could not do days ahead — prepare the  corn cakes, the cucumber relish, the squash blossoms, slice the scallops and the various herb leaves I plan to use to garnish courses. I also make a few made a few minor revisions to the menu.

The first order of business was doing the flowers. I have been arranging flowers since 1972 when I was a busboy at La Panetiere. The late proprietor Peter von Starck, who prior to my arrival did all of La Panetiere’s arrangements, gradually taught me the art of flower arranging and so began my love affair with flowers.

Soaking wet from the Saturday down-pour, I arrived home armed — literally — with flowers. The Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market includes two flower stands including one with farm fresh flowers from an Amish farm in Lancaster.

We were given a wonderful wedding gift some years ago — about twenty-four narrow tubes, flexibly joined together a bit like a snake so that you can shape your arrangement many different ways. The tubes hold the flower stems erect and make for very easy arranging. We were using a round table for our dinner instead of our standard rectangular dining room table. A round arrangement was in order — low so people could easily see and talk over it. Since Christina wanted candles on the table, first I tried placing the candle holders and candles in the hollow center. But I didn’t want the candles too high either. The right height candles were too low to work in the center. That’s when I had the bright idea of putting votive candles in the hollow center so that they would candlelight would shine through the glass tubes. This worked to magnificent affect.

Sometimes flower arrangements are meant to be looked at from only one direction so you can make the arrangement looking at it from that direction. But often arrangements are meant to be looked at from all around including the centerpiece for our table. Here was my second bright idea. As long as I have been arranging flowers, it never occurred to me place the evolving arrangement on to a revolving platform.  There are cake decorating stands that rotate. Our bakers use them all the time to decorate cakes in the round. In preparation of making as much empty counter space as possible for dinner turn-out, I had done some re-arranging. This resulted in an empty Lazy Susan sitting on the counter. Suddenly it occurred to me to pick-up my vase and plop it on the the Lazy Susan. Viola!

So at the tender age of 65+ and feeling like a reasonably smart fellow, I discover that I’m not so smart after all. For how many years have I been walking around my flower arrangements to get an all around view or carefully turning the vase occasionally to get a different vantage point? Now, with my arrangement smartly placed on my Lazy Susan, a simple spin enabled me to simply and constantly look at my developing arrangement in the round. I assume “real florists.” like real bakers have been doing this for years. Who knew?

The finished arrangement placed on the set table.

Here are a collection of arrangements I made for the dining room breakfront, the coffee table and the bathroom. In total the flowers cost just under $50 and I thoroughly enjoyed making the arrangements.

Friday Evening
Entertaining at home is a team sport and Christina and I make-up the team. She handles, in restaurant parlance, the “front of the house” while I handle the back of the house…aka, the kitchen. Early in the week Christina began “de-cluttering” as she calls it. A ‘de-cluttered’ apartment turns out to be a residual benifit of home entertaining. People who are familiar with my At Home blog and book — At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining — know that I utilize repositionable address labels for organizing my tasks. This is something I developed many years ago for Frog Commissary Catering. So when time comes for Christina to get to work, I give her a sheet of these labels on which I have indicated everything that we will need for each course. She uses these to pull what we need and the label gets affixed. So, for instance, we needed a platter for the crostini hors d’oeuvres. Christina knows that from the label. She picks the platter and places it in the kitchen with its label so I know what it’s for. Organization is the foundation of enjoyable home entertaining and the more organized the hosts, the more enjoyable it is for both hosts and guests.

By Friday evening the table was set and plates, flatware and glassware organized for our six-course dinner.

Friday Afternoon
Shopping is certainly a big part of home entertaining, but if you don’t feel rushed, shopping can be a pleasure and not a chore. My Friday afternoon shopping objectives included picking up the wine from Moore Brothers, trying to track down a better small container for the first course’s cold gingered-beet soup than the ceramic sake cups that we had, buying the green papaya at my favorite Asian market and the fresh-made corn tortillas from Tortilleria San Roman.

Earlier in the week I had emailed the menu to Greg Moore – a Moore brother — with the request to pick a sparkling wine for cocktails and pair wines for dinner. I gave Greg a budget range of no more that $20-$25 a bottle. An email a few days later included Greg’s recommendations. While I knew of none of the wines, I knew that Greg and Moore Brothers have a deep knowledge of the wines they carefully select for their stores.

I had looked online for small glasses with a base that would fit into the cut-out in the little plate I planned to use for the first course. It was there that I discovered  Gourmet of Old City right here at 26 North 3rd Street in Philadelphia. The shop had exactly what I needed — a clear glass sake cup with a small foot.

After swinging by San Roman at 9th & Carpenter to get the best of Philly (at least I think so) fresh corn tortillas,  it was off to Hung Vuong Asian Market on the 1100 block of Washington Avenue. It is in the same shopping center as our favorite Vietnamese restaurant — Nam Phuong. (My second date with Christina some seven years ago was dinner at Nam Phuong and a tour of Hung Voung! Tres romatic.) Hung Voung carries the green papaya I needed for the green papaya slaw that would  accompany the quail and they have it and carrots pre-shredded that makes preparing this salad a snap. I shop at Hung Voung regularly and a week earlier I picked up kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass that I needed for marinating the quail. (Restaurant alert: The grilled quail that I planned to serve was inspired by the roasted quail that Nam Phuong serves.)

Friday Morning
My stroll through the farmer’s market nearly two weeks ago inspired me to serve ratatouille with the veal cheeks. Last Saturday I purchased the requisite ingredients — zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes (I decided to use little orange Sungolds), onion and garlic. They sat quietly in my refrigerator. I didn’t want to make the ratatouille too far in advance, but Friday morning seemed perfectly fine.

I also removed the quail from the marinade and carefully scraped off the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. I dried the quail and stored them between paper towels to remove any residual moisture.

Thursday Afternoon
I had a long-scheduled meeting at Reading Terminal Market on Thursday afternoon so I knew that I could pick-up cheeses from the Fair Food Farm Stand’s. Fair Food is a pioneer in championing the growing bounty of locally-sourced farm products. The prior Sunday I had picked up at the Head House Farmer’s Market a Fat Cat from Birchrun Hills. That was a start, but I had my eye on a selection of five cheese. If you have not yet discovered the world-class quality of local cheeses, Fair Food is the place to start as well as at farmer’s markets throughout the Delaware Valley.

Thursday morning
I skimmed off the fat from the veal cheek braising liquid and reduced the liquid by about two thirds until it was very concentrated. Yum.

Wednesday
I trimmed the quail and marinated them. I removed the braised veal cheeks from their braising liquid and strained the liquid and refrigerated.

Tuesday
I chopped the kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass for the quail and made the marinade. I made the dressing – essentially the same as the marinade —  for the green papaya salad.

I removed the veal cheeks from their white wine marinade, patted them dry, lightly floured and carefully browned. I divided the cheeks between two pans over a layer of chopped carrots, celery and onion, peeled garlic cloves and  parsley, rosemary and thyme. I added the wine marinade and some additional wine. Next I covered the pans with foil, poked some holes in the foil so the cheeks would braise and not steam and placed in a 250 degree oven. When finished six hours later, the cheeks had shrunk to a little more than half their former size and plumped up. After they cooled in the braising liquid, I transferred the cheeks to a smaller refrigerator-friendly container and strained the braising liquid and refrigerated.

Monday
I chopped the kaffir lime leaves and lemongraas for the quail, made the gingered-beet soup, roasted. peeled, julienned and marinated the sweet peppers for the crostini, chopped the onions, carrot and celery and peeled the garlic for braising the veal cheeks.

The Prior Weekend
I bought the peaches several days ago so that they could ripen. By Saturday weekend they were ripe. I peeled the peaches. As these were the first crop of summer peaches, they are what are called “cling” meaning that the peach flesh clings to the pit. Later in the summer “freestones” arrive. Because these were cling peaches, I had to take particular care  freeing them from their pits without bruising by cutting small wedges and nudging them. Once freed from the pits the peaches were poached in a cardamom-infused syrup. I removed the peaches when they were not quite done as they would continue to cook and I did not want them to become too soft. Once the peaches and liquid had cooled combined and refrigerated.

Sunday began with a trip to the Head House Farmer’s Market where I purchased frozen Griggstown quail. I would have preferred fresh, but practicality took hold as fresh would have required a two plus hour round trip to the Griggstown Farm above Princeton. I picked up the fresh ricotta from Hillacres Pride and found shiso leaves.

The Week Before
Of the six dinner courses, only two curses were hot and only one required actual last-minute cooking. The other could be prepared entirely in advance and just reheated. Before planning the menu I had checked with our dinner guests as to whether there were any food issues. Veal cheeks fit the in advance bill. I first prepared braised veal cheeks some three and a half years ago when I was working on the menu for Christina’s and my wedding at The Franklin Institute.

Unfortunately it is not easy to find veal cheeks. Calling around, I located them at Esposito’s on 9th Street — across from San Roman on Carpenter. Though veal checks are small, I needed only one per person as all the courses in the multi-course meal were meant to be small. The problem is that Esposito’s only sold veal cheeks by the 10-pound case — about 32 veal cheeks for $129. I was mentally committed so I purchased the case, reasoning that I would braise them all and freeze what I did not need for another time.

Preparing veal cheeks is a simple process. The most difficult part is trimming away the “silver skin” that covers the entire of the top side and some of bottom. It takes a very sharp knife, patience and about an hour.  with that accomplished, I rubbed the cheeks with a mixture of toasted crushed fennel and coriander seed and let it sit for two days. Next I added a white Rhone — a viognier — and let them sit another two days.  Veal cheeks are typically marinated and braised in red wine. But I wanted a light summer version. At this point I had been “working on” my veal cheeks for four days, but only about an hour and a half.

One Relaxed Hour
I enjoyed my Saturday. Inevitably there was more to do than I had anticipated but at no point did I feel hassled, out of control and resentful — all feelings that I have known when I have entertained at home without adequate planning and spreading tasks over time. Paul, our wonderful Frog Commissary waiter had arrived. Christina went over the plan for the evening, the wines and I reviewed the menu and the plating plan. By 5:30 I was taking a nap.

A Half Hour Before Guests Arrive
About a half hour before guests arrived I arranged the cold hors d’oeuvre platters, pulled things from the refrigerator, reviewed my course labels and set the charcoal in the grill. Christina appeared in the kitchen with a glass of sparkling wine to get the evening started. Shortly after seven the guests arrived. Christina and I were looking forward to an enjoyable evening.

Hors d’oeuvres and Cocktails
I have two principal dictums for guests. One is do not arrive early. Despite my pleas to plan ahead and spread tasks over time, there are still last minute things for hosts to do so one thing they don’t need to do is to begin entertaining you before the appointed hour. My second dictum is for guests to stay out of the kitchen unless invited.

Our evening began in our living room with the coffee table was invitingly set with champagne glasses, small plates, cocktail napkins and a few cold hors d’oeuvres. As guests arrived we poured the Chinon La Cravantine Vignoble Gasnier Non-vintage, a sparkling French wine (it was Bastille Day) from the Loire with a slightly pink cast. (Note: The two red velvet covered chairs in the photo background come from the Orchestra Boxes of the Academy of Music — a fundraising benefit in return for a contribution Christina made to the Academy some time ago.)

Roasted sweet peppers, marinated in olive oil and garlic on top of a small crostini cut from a ficelle (essentially a small baguette) and topped with white anchovies. White anchovies are available in specialty food stores such as DiBruno’s and online. A little sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley added some color.

Squash blossoms are a beautiful and edible by-product of growing zucchini and other summer squash. Here they are stuffed with a mix of Hillacres Pride ricotta that I picked up at the Head House Farmers Market and mascarpone with some chopped basil, mint, salt and pepper. I used a pastry bag to stuff the flowers.


Last Sunday at Head House I bought a pint of fresh chickpeas. These have a very short local season. I didn’t know what I was going to do with them and they just sat in my refrigerator. I was uninspired. As the dinner approached it was now or never. I blanched the chickpeas and removed them from their pods. This is a slow and tedious process and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert help get this done. I peeled two ripe red tomatoes, seeded and removed the juice and diced. I threw a little olive oil and garlic into a pan, lightly browned the garlic, added the chickpeas and Allepo pepper, cooking until the tomatoes broke down and thickened. I served this cold with a little fresh crab meat and some cooked tomato on top. It sits on a platter on a bed of dried beans to stabilize the little porcelain spoons.

This hors d’oeuvres’s origin was my love of the early summer arrival of garlic scapes — the long green shoots that emanate from hardneck Rocombole garlic. Garlic scapes appear for about a month beginning in late Spring. Usually I just grill them  – sometimes blanching first. But garlic scapes also lend themselves to garlic scape pesto. Ah, but what to put the pesto on? I am a big fan of our local Renaissance Sausage. I was first introduced to them when they operated a truck at Head House where their Breakfast Sausage Sandwich was a Sunday highlight for scores of Society Hill and Queen Village shoppers. I had trouble tracking down the sausage — only able to find vegetarian sausage at Green Aisle Grocery in South Philadelphia. They often have a retail stand in the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market but they had been AWOL for the past several weeks. I sent an email to them and learned that they would indeed return on Saturday as they did. But they had no Italian style pork sausage. I had to settle for their Country Pork Sausage, laden with herbs that were going to compete with my basil-infused garlic scape pesto. Not ideal, but good enough.

Caviar is always a treat. Here I serve it on blini that I had in the freezer — leftover from a Frog Commissary catered event and creme fraiche. The caviar is a California Hackelback — the best barely affordable domestic caviar. With mostly cold hors d’oeuvres, my kitchen time was kept to a minimum. We also had Paul, a wonderful Frog Commissary waiter to help with service. I fully understand that you likely will not have a waiter for your dinner for eight, but the principles of do ahead and lots of room temperature items stand. Having a waiter enabled Christina to hold down the fort with our guests while I was in the kitchen. If were were serving dinner to friends and family Christina would be more able to help serve as would friends and family!

Dinner is served
Shortly before calling guests to dinner I retreated to the kitchen where the elements of each course — what is called mis en place in kitchen parlance — were carefully arranged on an otherwise clear counter. Affixed to the cabinet above the mis en place was a little label that reminded me what went with what. My experience is that the more I have written down the less I have to remember and the more likely I am  do what I planned. (My otherwise marvelously capable late mother was known to find the salad she had prepared for guests still in the refrigerator long after the last guest departed. I am sure had she written down “serve salad she would have avoided this sad outcome.) I started the fire in the little Japanese grill that sits on our fire escape so the charcoal would be ready to grill the quail about an hour into the dinner. I removed the quail from the refrigerator. I dressed the green papaya salad. Removed the cheese from the refrigerator to temper. Placed the veal cheeks and ratatouille in a 300 degree oven to slowly warm. I quickly seared and sliced the tuna for the taco.

Our first course — preset and on the table as guests sat — was inspired by a recent trip to Berlin where at a restaurant named Bandol we had a wonderful dinner and encountered the plate pictured above. (Not that exact plate!) It is hard to understand scale in the photo. The plate, which looks like slate but is actually porcelain, is only slightly bigger than a 3 x 5 card. Upon returning home I tracked them down online at Chef’s Arsenal and ordered ten. This was my first chance to use them. The course included little wedges of pickled — the predominant pickling flavor being star anise – thin-sliced pristine sea scallops that sat for a few hours in fresh orange juice. I dressed the scallops with a little lime juice, a drizzle of peppery olive oil, fresh chives, a crunchy pink sea salt and a few pink peppercorns. The soup was a gingered red beet puree with a tiny chive blossom. All pretty as a picture.

Our wine was a 2011 Roero Arneis “Bricco delle Ciliegie” Giovanni Almonde. From the Piedmont area of Italy, it paired perfectly with the little study in beets and scallops.

I have come to love little tacos. This one was inspired by the shiso leaves that I found at Head House last Sunday. The taco is cut to about a 3 3/4″ size with a circle cutter and lightly warmed in a dry pan to soften. Next a large shiso leaf. Next a relish of two types of cucumbers from Z Food Farm dressed with rice vinegar, a little olive oil and soy sauce. On top of that was the Atlantic tuna that had been cut into 3/4″ square logs and very quickly seared, sliced and arranged on a platter into eight portions. The tuna was topped with a shiso aioli — essentially a garlicky mayonnaise with lots of crushed shiso leaves and finally topped with a  chiffonade of  and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. I know this sounds fabulously complicated but everything was prepared ahead and it took maybe two minutes to assemble these on to waiting plates.

Greg Moore suggested a Nahe Riesling “Lenz” Weingut Emrich-Schönleber 2011. In Germany we came to appreciate Reislings and loved that Greg introduced one for our dinner.

On to the Griggstown Farm quail. As noted above, these had been marinated for two days in a marinade of chopped kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, rice vinegar, palm sugar, fish sauce and a little chili garlic sauce. The green papaya slaw was dressed and ready to go. I just had to grill the quail which took about three minutes. I brush the quail with a little olive oil. In grilling I had to be careful with the quail because the sugar from the marinade which helps color the skin when it caramelizes over the coals, can easily go too far and burn. The cilantro leaves had been picked during the afternoon. To assemble a small mound of green papaya slaw went down on the plate, topped with some crushed peanuts, then the quail and a few cilantro leaves. One hot item and a simple plate.

For the quail Greg suggested a Bardolino, a light fowl-friendly Italian red  — “Becco Rosso” Corte Gardoni 2010

Here are the veal cheeks, set on a small bed of ratatouille with a little corn cake. When I served the quail I had popped the corn cakes into a 350 degree toaster oven. The veal cheeks and ratatouille were hot and sitting happily in a 200 degree oven. I had a very concentrated reduction of the braising liquid that went into the microwave for a minute just before serving. I small spoon of that glazed the veal cheeks just before serving. A few flat leaf parsley leaves — pre-picked from their stems and stored between two damp layers of paper towel — added a touch of color. The veal cheeks were meltingly soft and carried the flavor of the coriander and fennel seed rub beautifully. The plate was 12″ in diameter and had a little “belly” for the food to sit. Nice.

In keeping with the light preparation of the veal cheeks, we served a light French cru BeaujolaisMorgon “Côte de Puy” Domaine de Robert. Perfect.

Our guests loved the cheeses, all produced within fifty miles of where we were sitting. Accompanying the cheeses were Metropolitan Bakery breads, lightly toasted, candied walnuts, a few flatbreads from DiBruno’s and a wonderful apricot butter that I made from local apricots.

For a wine Greg bypassed the obvious third red in favor or a light fortified white that he suggested would work wonderfully for both the cheese and dessert course. Of course, he was right. The wine was a Terres de Fagayra Maury Blanc 2009 from the Languedoc region of southern France. It was uncanny how Greg seemed to channel the menu and select really delightful and interesting wines, perfectly complimenting the food and adding immeasurably to our dining experience.

On our very first date I made lavender ice cream for Christina and it’s always been a favorite of hers. Dessert on a triangular plate included the cardamom-poached peaches, just-picked fat and juicy blackberries from Beechwood Orchards, a gooseberry split in half and, of course, the lavender ice cream. To add a touch of chocolate, I picked up Saturday from DiBruno’s chocolate-covered figs — an unnecessary addition, but what the heck!

The Party’s Over

We certainly had lots of food and wine, but the portions were all quite small and the dinner itself paced over about three plus hours. And here’s the very best part. Having six people to your home (three couples) who you have never met is like a blind date in which you skip the part about having coffee first and go straight to a long evening with no graceful exit if the chemistry isn’t right. Well, the chemistry was as good as the food and wine. Our guests were warm, interesting and engaged. When all was said and done, six strangers who came to our home for dinner in support of a good cause left as our friends.

Election Postscript
I am devoting much of my time between now and November 6th to the Obama Campaign. I am what is called an Obama Fellow — a nice title for “very serious volunteer.” I have some time and made the decision that when I wake up on November 7th I want to feel as though I did all that I could to re-elect President Obama. While I do not agree with everything he has done, I believe the choice is simple and binary — Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Obama needs 270 electoral votes to be re-elected. Pennsylvania is one of a dozen critical battleground states that will determine the outcome of the election. With 20 votes, Pennsylvania has more electoral votes than any of the battleground states other than Florida which has 29. It is difficult to see a path to winning for Obama without winning Pennsylvania.

My focus is the area of Philadelphia called Center City West — where I have lived and worked for more than forty years. I know many blog readers live in Center City West and/or know people who do. The campaign needs volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering in Center City West or know of others, you can email me at steve@athomebysteveposes.com. Otherwise, go to barackobama.com.

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…and Happy New Year

My mother had several life-explaining sayings including: Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. Perhaps she was referring to New Year’s Eve? For most of us, New Year’s Eve is loaded with both celebratory anticipation and the ghost of disappointing New Years past. As a result, some of us become New Year’s Deniers — oh, it’s just another day. Others reject the possibility the night could possibly be anything less than the most festive of the year — the veritable night they invented champagne.

Like most things in life, New Year’s Eve is a matter of what we make of it.

Some Simple Suggestions for a Successful New Year’s Eve
So, what to make of New Year’s Eve?

First and foremost, find some personal time to reflect, notice and take account. Really. Whatever else it is, New Year’s eve is a moment of transition from what was to what will be. At the stroke of midnight 2010 is gone and 2011 is here.

What was
What was includes people we leave behind. For me, this year meant leaving behind my mother…and Izzy, my black lab of thirteen years…and Stuart, Christina’s and my dear friend. 2010 will forever be a year of loss. The passing of another year also means a step closer to the end than the beginning. Nothing imminent. But closer. It seems altogether right and proper that I spend some time being sad.

What will be?
Each new year begins with challenges and opportunities. Make some commitments. You might think of a commitment as a New Year’s resolution with a plan. Every year for as long as I can remember I have had the challenge and opportunity to get healthier…lose weight and get more fit. For me, the commitment to weight loss and fitness actually began this year. I have been spending considerable time over the past several months “positioning myself” to finally succeed with this. I have come to recognize that I cannot be successful without setting the pre-conditions including better understanding the emotional underpinnings and setting up a support system. Events during the year seem to have a opened a door to success here that somehow previously seemed closed. I feel very excited about finally doing this. I have other challenges and opportunities but this is the most important.

Spend New Year’s Eve at home.
Not necessarily at your home. Years ago a great Philadelphia food writer named Jim Quinn wrote a restaurant book called Never Eat Out on Saturday Night. His notion was that a hectic Saturday night is the worst time to visit a restaurant. Well, New Year’s Eve at most restaurants is Saturday night squared. There are great advantages to entertaining at home rather than dining out ranging from cost to the warmth of a home and the ability to actually talk and hear others talk. You could say that the disadvantage is the work involved. If you are a regular reader, you know my entertaining prescription for planning, spreading tasks over time and resources, doing less…making sure it’s fun for you. But I am fine with bowls of nuts and olives, a great salad that you make, take-out pizza, a bakery-bought dessert and box of excellent chocolates and champagne if that’s what it takes. Or maybe it’s not too late to organize an impromptu pot luck…let it be an International Take-out Pot Luck if you are really last minute. A little Chinese/Vietnamese, some Italian, maybe some Greek. Just assign meal categories and provide the home, plates and glasses. Enjoy.

A Meaningful Toast to the New Year
My dear mother — a home entertainer nearly to the end — would gather “Henny’s girls” around the table and provide some personal focus to the dinner conversation. It was always something that encouraged sharing and promoted connection and intimacy. Your New Year’s toast…started some time before the clock strikes twelve is the perfect opportunity to make the transition from what was is to what will be a moment of real meaning. I think my mother would suggest something like this: Each person, one at a time, address something they will miss about 2010 and something they look forward to in 2011? Don’t be shy about initiating this. My mother never was. You’ll be glad that you did.

Christmas at Larry’s

Christina and I — along with Noah and his new puppy — set out on our annual Christmas pilgrimage to Larry and Susan’s home in Tuxedo Park with our trunk loaded (over-loaded?) with gifts and the makings of  Deconstructed Seafood Gumbo, my small contribution to our Christmas Eve dinner…with a minimum of seven fishes.

Larry always provides a printed menu of the evening’s offerings — a table of contents and souvenir. Dinner begins in the kitchen as guests gather with mostly room temperature hors’doeuvres. Beverage choices included champagne or the Tangerine Kumquat Martini that I brought — a durable refrigerator left-over from Thanksgiving.

Spanish white anchovies – boquerones — have become a Christmas staple. Here they are on crostini with roasted pepper and garlic aioli.

This year’s gravlax — another staple — included a long bath in herb-filled olive oil after the traditional salt, sugar and dill cure. The accompaniments include honey mustard and sprigs of dill.

Regina’s, a guest at most of our Christmas eve dinners, provided little salmon tarts with caviar — an homage to her Russian heritage.

Deep-fried panko-crusted calamari with lemongrass chili sauce was our only hot hors d’oeuvres that made for a relatively stress free service for host and hostess.

Once everyone has gathered and sufficiently feasted on hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen, guests shift to the dining room and and adjacent living room, beckoned by the balance of dinner that Larry lays out as a buffet.

Confit of octopus with saffron potatoes on arugula. The octopus was slowly cooked in olive oil.

Tuna and beet tartare with golden beets.

Baccala — salt cod — is traditional Christmas fare. Here Larry served it with a wonderfully rich garlic tomato sauce topped with creme fraiche, heated and finished under the broiler. Delicious. It was Larry’s only other hot dish.

The final item was my Deconstructed Seafood Gumbo. Deconstructed means taking the elements of a dish, pulling them apart and re-organizing them. Here is the mis en place for the gumbo. The gumbo itself is in the pot on the stove. Ready to go is the crab meat and chopped shrimp in the containers in the foreground and the pickled okra and remoulade  in the background. Waiting in the refrigerator were the breaded oysters ready for the deep-fryer.

Here are the andouille risotto cakes ready to the re-heated in the oven.

Noah helped me turn out the finished product served in bowls — the andouille risotto cake on the bottom, covered with a ladle of the brown roux-thickened gumbo replete with shrimp, crab, okra, green pepper and onion, topped with a fried oyster and a dollop of remoulade with a pickled okra on the side. My verdict: I think the concept was sound. But in the name of making a very authentic Cajun-style gumbo I think I took the brown roux too far — it went over to the dark side — so that the gumbo itself tasted too much of the roux and not enough of the seafood and vegetables. If I were doing this for a restaurant I would re-work it, but this was just Christmas dinner and it was Good Enough. Good, but not great.

Christmas Morning

In past years Larry has served a substantial Christmas day mid-afternoon dinner. This year, after present exchange and opening, we sat down to an earlier and decidedly lighter Christmas brunch. This was a welcome change.

Our first course was a beet and blood orange salad with goat cheese and mint.

Served family style was a Spanish tortilla — aka fritatta — loaded with chanterelles and potatoes and scented with white truffle oil.

The piece de resistance was the slowly braised fat-laden pork belly — a stand-in for bacon — scented with star anise. Pork belly is one of life’s great guilty pleasures.

Dessert included a bread pudding made with torn croissants and a bourbon caramel custard along with a raspberry tart left for us by Regina.

It was altogether satisfying meal and the perfect follow-up to Christmas eve with nary a fish in site.

It is clear that Larry — with able assistance from his wife Susan — puts great effort into our annual holiday gathering. But he is the model of the ideal home entertainer. Larry plans carefully and spreads his tasks over time. His food is not simple, but he “invests” his efforts in things that can be done ahead with reliance on room temperature food — plattered and ready to go and/or food that can be popped in the oven and served. The only item that actually required careful last minute cooking was the calamari and even that was fully prepared requiring only a little dredging and frying. There is never a time that I am entertained in Larry’s home that I don’t learn something about how to enjoy being a home entertainer. Most importantly, Larry and Susan’s efforts bring together the family to share the warmth of their home.

Cliff Lee and Metropolitan Bakery
I have here lauded my brother-in-law Larry for his fine culinary sense. Larry can tell you the best place to get tempura in Tokyo. He guided us to the best tapas in Madrid. Larry is a New Yorker. He lives in Tuxedo Park — near West Point and works in Manhattan. He will travel far in search of an ingredient. But each Christmas Larry requests that we bring bread from our neighborhood Metropolitan Bakery because, he says, ” It’s just better than any bread I can buy in New York.” So, Philadelphia has at least two things that New York does not…Cliff Lee and Metropolitan Bakery.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year…At Home.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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At Home’s Traditional Potato Latkes & Applesauce

The first night of Hanukkah is Wednesday, December 1st.

From 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.

Traditional Potato Latkes & Applesauce
It’s a shame that potato pancakes tend to be made only for Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday that comes in December. The Hanukkah story celebrates the miracle of oil—there was reportedly just enough to burn one day in the temple, but it lasted for eight days. The fact that potato pancakes require prodigious amounts of oil to fry is surely a coincidence. The key to making them crispy is to squeeze out excess water from the grated onion and potato. Make the applesauce first so it’s ready for your hot latkes. The recipe will yield more than you will likely need for the latkes.

do ahead Applesauce may be made up to two weeks ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Latkes may be made up to three days ahead and stored, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator or frozen up to a month. Reheat in a 350° oven for 7-10 minutes, turning them over midway through.

Applesauce
1 cup apple cider
2 cinnamon sticks
21⁄2 pounds apples (for best results, use a mix of sweet and tart)
sugar to taste
Latkes
1 pound onion, peeled
11⁄2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
vegetable oil

1 Make the applesauce: In a large pot, add apple cider and cinnamon sticks and simmer slowly for 10 minutes, taking care not to boil the cider away.
2 Leaving skin on, core apples and cut them into chunks.
3 Add apples and sugar to pot. Increase heat to high and cover. After about 5 minutes, stir apples to move the top apples down into the liquid. Continue cooking until apples are soft and falling apart, about 10-15 minutes more.
4 Remove cinnamon sticks and reserve. Using a food mill or food processor, puree apples to desired texture. Add back cinnamon sticks to sauce. Chill. (Just be sure to remove cinnamon sticks before serving.)
5 Make the latkes: On the largest holes of a box grater, grate onion and potatoes. The large-holed grating disk on the food processor does a fine job too. Turn the mixture onto several layers of cheesecloth or an open kitchen towel. Gather the corners and squeeze the water from the mixture.
6 Combine eggs, flour, salt and pepper in large bowl. Add onions and potatoes and mix well.
7 Preheat oven to 200°. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels and have another unlined baking sheet ready. Heat 1⁄2 cup oil in a sauté pan over moderately high heat until very hot but not smoking. Fill a 1⁄3 cup measure with the potato mixture. Drop it into the sauté pan and push it down with the flat side of the measuring cup so you have a pancake about 3 inches in diameter and 1⁄4-inch thick. Cook pancakes until brown and crisp on one side, about 2-3 minutes, and flip, taking care not to splatter the oil. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes more. Add more oil as needed, making sure to get the oil hot before adding the pancake mixture. Adjust heat as needed so that the pancakes brown as they cook through without burning. As you get to the bottom of the mix it will be watery, so be sure to give it a stir. Transfer cooked pancakes to the prepared baking sheet to drain. Pat the top of the pancakes with another double layer of paper towels. Cook remaining batter in batches until all the pancakes are cooked, transferring cooked and drained pancakes to the unlined baking sheet.
8 Keep them warm in the oven until ready to serve. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.

yields 2 quarts applesauce and 1 dozen 3-inch pancakes

Potato Latkes…This Thursday at The Residences at Two Liberty Place
As guests arrive, I’ll be serving potato latkes with homemade applesauce. There are still a few seats available for my Gershwin Y sponsored event at Two Liberty Place. Click 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.

Happy Hanukkah,

Steve
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

Dinner
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

Dessert
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.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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Thanksgiving Redux: Game Day

This is a re-post from last Thanksgiving with added content.

With At Home I see myself as your “home entertaining coach” — not just a provider of recipes.  The central task of great coaches – and I aspire to be a great coach – is to have a good game plan and get the players mentally and physically prepared to play the game. But, it’s the players who actually take to the field. The coach stands on the sidelines. So, as you prepare to take the field, some last minute advice and a final thought.

For hosts
• The less you have to think about, the better. Tape your menu to your refrigerator or kitchen cabinet, plan and post your reheating schedule, and label all your bowls and platters with what goes in and on each. (Ideally your table was set by Wednesday evening, your wine chilled, platters and bowls pulled and labeled.)
• Clear counter tops of everything that is not related to serving your Thanksgiving meal.
• Start with an empty sink and dishwasher and set-up your bus area according to this plan. (For book owners, generally review Part 1 of At Home — Planning to Entertain.)


• Review Monday’s post for ways your guests can help and assign tasks.
• Plan one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival.
Remember, you are already a Good Enough Entertainer. Relax. Your Thanksgiving will be great.
For more on the Good Enough Entertainer, check out this previous post: A Conversation with Myself

For guests
• Do not arrive early.
• Stay out of the kitchen unless you have a clear kitchen task.
• Don’t bring anything that creates more work for your host.
• Review Monday’s post for ways you can help.

A final thought
Here’s something important you need to bring to Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is not about the food and gluttony. Way too much energy goes into what’s on the menu and not enough about what’s in your heart. Thanksgiving is a time to pause and acknowledge what we have to be thankful for…most of all the family and friends gathered at tables…at home around America. Take it as your responsibility to bring this perspective to your Thanksgiving table. You will be happy that you did.

Last Thanksgiving Day the lead editorial in the New York Times was A Thanksgiving Toast. It’s still worth reading.

Our Game Day
Christina and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year in our apartment. Two years ago this time preparations for our Thanksgiving Weekend Wedding left us no time for Thanksgiving so — slightly embarrassed to say, we just dined out with my mother, Christina’s mother and younger brother. It was at our neighborhood Smith & Wollensky’s where I enjoyed their Pork Porterhouse. Last Thanksgiving we were in the midst of assuming operation of The Franklin Institute restaurants and book promotion and…yes, we dined out again! My recollection is that I switched to their turkey dinner.

This year we are having a family Thanksgiving that includes Christina’s brother Larry and his family, her mother and brother Mike as well as my son Noah, his mother and grandmother.

The tasks are nicely spread and most of my cooking is complete. Here’s our menu with notes as to who is responsible for what.

As guests arrive
Champagne with Cranberries (See At Home Page 43) (Steve)
Anniversary Tangerine Kumquat Martini (Steve)

Hors d’oeuvres
Tuna Tartare (Noah)
Venison Pate with Gingered Quince Relish (Steve)
Brandied Chicken Liver & Bacon Pate (from The Frog Commissary Cookbook) (Steve)
Amazing Acres Chevre with Chives (Steve)
Kohlrabi & French Radishes with Sea Salt (Steve)
Pickled Okra & Watermelon Radish (See Quick Pickles At Home blog post) (Steve)

Buffet Dinner
Roast Turkey (Brined by Frog Commissary kitchen, Steve to roast)

Larry’s Sausage Stuffing (See At Home Page 332) (Larry)
Tarragon Gravy (Steve) (See At Home blog post)
Pear, Cranberry & Blood Orange Mostarda (Larry)

Sauteed shaved Brussels Sprouts (Steve)
Green Bean, Mushroom & Corn Casserole (Larry)
Bourbon Sweet Potatoes (Steve or Christina)

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

Dessert
Pecan Pie (Ginny)
Pumpkin Pie (Ginny)
Chestnut Ice Cream (Steve)

Christina is responsible for “front of the house” including wines, setting the table, and pulling platters plus general household organization. She will also be the principal host for the day.

Behind the Scenes
Here’s my Football Sunday Do Ahead No Compromise Turkey Gravy.

A generous amount of turkey parts were well roasted until nicely browned.

Vegetables were also roasted. No oil, just vegetables in the oven.

Everything went into a big pot and cooked slowly for several hours until the leg meat fell off the bone. This stock was then strained. It sat for a while until the fat rose to the top. The fat was aggressively skimmed. The strained stock went back into the pot — cleaned first — and reduced by about two thirds.

In a separate pot — in this case my favorite enamel over cast iron, I sauteed shallots and garlic in butter, added flour to make a roux and poured over the reduced stock. To this I added some white wine, rosemary, thyme and tarragon and let it simmer until it reached the consistency of heavy cream.

What began as about ten quarts of stock was is now a quart of “restaurant worthy” sauce. Tomorrow I will add some fresh chopped tarragon, heat and serve.

My signature effort this Thanksgiving was venison pate — two of them — accented with orange peel, juniper berries, coriander seed and pink and green peppercorns, Calvados and studded with Black Forest ham and pistachios  — plenty to take us deep into the holiday seasoning. Here they sit in the blessedly cool weather just outside our kitchen on the outdoor service porch. When pates come from the oven they need to be weighted overnight in order to compress their texture and transform them from an elaborate meatloaf into a pate.

My re-positionable labels sit ready to guide Christina in pulling platters and setting the table. Also my menu sits ready to tape up on the kitchen cabinet.

Christina has a good start on setting the table and will finish this today. I will get flowers and make a centerpiece for the table. If you serve your Thanksgiving meal family style on platters placed on the table, you should probably remove the centerpiece once guests are seated. We are serving as a buffet on the side board in the dining room.

The coffee table in the living room is ready to go…but for hors d’ouevres that will be placed there shortly before guests arrive.

Good Morning Philadelphia on Fox 29
As of today, I expect to be appearing on Fox 29’s Good Morning Philadelphia on Friday morning where I will provide some coaching on Thanksgiving Leftovers. On Friday I will also have a post about Thanksgiving Leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

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