Category Archives: Menus

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

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Menus, My Life, On the Table

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Events, Menus

On the Table: Farm Stands of Lancaster County

Posts are always best viewed on the blog site. If you are not viewing the post there, just click on the title above.

On the Road: Farm Stands of Lancaster County became On the Table for an early Sunday evening family dinner for five. Sunday home entertaining has the distinct advantage over Saturday in that it gives you an extra weekend day to spread your tasks. By doing several things on Saturday, there is less to do on Sunday.

Sunday Dinner Menu
Tomato Barn Hot Salsa with Nacho Chips
Lemon Verbena Iced Tea

Dinner
First Course
Heirloom Tomato Salad

Entree
Grilled Paillard of Chicken with Garlic, Cilantro & Lime
Grilled Eggplant & Banana Peppers
Arugula

Corn & Pepper Salad
Beet & Red Onion Salad
Wax Bean Salad

Dessert
Lemon Verbena Sorbet
Nectarines and Golden Raspberries
Market Day Canele – from Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market

Dinner began as a buffet.

But with only five of us, we opted to serve dinner family style at the table. The heirloom tomato salad became a first course. We served an inexpensive Pink Truck California Rose with dinner.

I learned flower arranging from Peter von Starck when I was a busboy at La Panetiere in the early 70’s. Here is seventeen dollars worth of farm stand flowers from the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market turned into a lovely flower arrangement for dinner and days after. There is a wonderful two-page spread in At Home on “Simplified Flower Arranging” that I highly recommend.  Flower arranging involves technique that is quite straightforward. It all starts by building a “web” or armature of stems. Once you get the hang of it, you can easily make your own “florist-worthy” arrangements.

A simple hors d’oeuvres of prepared Tomato Barn hot salsa with store-bought nacho corn chips.

Dinner began with an heirloom tomato salad — from nature’s paintbox comes one of summer’s glorious tastes. Tomorrow’s post will be Assembling and Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad.

Our dinner’s centerpiece were Grilled Paillards of Chicken marinated in garlic, cilantro and lime topped with a little arugula and served with grilled baby eggplant and mildly hot banana peppers. (I just love that mix of sweet and hot!)

A simple corn salad with sweet red peppers, jalapenos, corn, red onion and dressed with a bit of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

A simple beet salad of boiled beets, peeled and sliced with just red onion and a but of red wine vinegar and olive oil.

Blanched yellow beans, lots of thin-sliced torpedo red onions plus scallions for more color.

Dessert was a Lemon Verbena sorbet with tree-ripened nectarines cut into small pieces, combined with golden raspberries and a little sugar — all allowed to sit a few hours to macerate and adorned with a Market Day Canele. The lemon verbena sorbet is very simple to make though requires an ice cream maker. The recipe for this sorbet will be posted on Saturday.

Market Day Canale — available in the small size pictured here and a larger size — are a sort of baked caramel-custard. Ingredients are whole milk, eggs, sugar, flour, rum, butter, Tahitian vanilla and orange zest. Market Day’s Canale are available at area Farmers’ Markets including Calark Park, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square and Headhouse Square. Metropolitan Bakery also sells wonderful canele.

Behind the scenes.

To facilitate the absorbing of the brushed olive oil and grilling, I made a cross-hatching of slits in the eggplant.

Using my ever-trusty grill pan, the eggplant start with flesh side down. When well marked, they are turned.

There is a recipe for in At Home for Charred Chicken Paillards with Citrus-Cilantro Salad on Page 192 that is a variation of this farm stand dinner. I use a knife I bought in Kyoto many years ago, but any sharp slicing knife will work. The key is sharp.

By cutting chicken breasts into thin “paillards” you expose much more of the chicken’s surface to the wonders of the grill compared to simply grilling whole breasts and slicing. In addition, the thin-sliced breast absorbs more of the marinade’s flavor — an altogether superior way to grill chicken breasts. You begin by making lateral slices of the breast. Then, place these slices on parchment paper — plastic wrap also works — leaving space between slices. Cover with an additional sheet of parchment paper and lightly pound with a meat pounder or bottom of a small pot to further flatten slices. Take care not to pound so hard that the paillards fall apart.

Here are the pounded paillards. These are transferred to a bowl with a marinade of garlic, cilantro, fresh lime juice, olive oil and salt and pepper.

They grill quickly. Turn as you see the edges turn opaque. My objective was to serve them just warm so I was content to grill them in small batches in my little grill pan.

Do Ahead Strategy

I have said again and again, home entertaining is more a matter of aspiration, planning, spreading tasks over time and organization than any culinary skills. Here everything is ready to go. The chicken is marinated and ready to grill by the stove, the grilled eggplant and sweet and hot pepper grilled earlier in the day, heirloom tomatoes sliced and ready to platter (see tomorrow’s post on Assembling and Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad), the corn salad, yellow beans and beets ready to bowl, iced tea made and arugula at the ready. It’s not rocket science.

The only item served warm were the grilled chicken paillards. The platter was ready with the room temperature elements with the arugula for topping adjacent. Everything else was plattered and bowled and in the dining room.

Do Ahead Prep If you leave everything to the last minute you only have a minute to do everything.
The key to relaxed and enjoyable home entertaining is to spread your tasks over time.  Here was the schedule for this dinner.

Thursday evening

Prepared corn salad except for dressing. It sat happily in the refrigerator through Sunday and by blanching corn that I had bought only several hours earlier, I captured the corn’s full sweetness.
Boiled, peeled and sliced beets
Blanched yellow string beans
Prepared base for lemon verbena sorbet

Friday
Froze lemon verbena sorbet

Saturday
Bought and chilled wine
Bought canele
Prepared chicken paillards
Finished beet salad
Bought and arranged flowers

Sunday — early
Marinated chicken
Cut and grilled eggplant and peppers
Dressed corn salad
Added onions and scallions to yellow bean salad and dressed
Cut nectarines and macerated with golden raspberries
Cut tomatoes for heirloom tomato salad
Cut lime wedges
Made lemon verbena iced tea
Pulled all platters and bowls
Set table

Sunday

Shortly before guests arrived
Salsa and chips out on coffee table
Platter and bowled everything and put out on buffet — except for chicken
Plattered heirloom tomato salad — See tomorrow’s post for how to do this
Open wine

Just before sitting down to dinner
Grilled chicken paillards and plattered
Transferred sorbet from freezer to refrigerator to temper (soften) before serving

It was a relaxed Sunday and easy dinner. Not because the dinner was so simple, but because I spread my tasks — tasks that I enjoy if I don’t feel under pressure — over time. Reminder that At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking and Entertaining is loaded with tips and strategies to make home entertaining easier. For more information.

Coming
Friday: Assembling and Plattering a Heirloom Tomato Salad
Saturday: Lemon Verbena Sorbet Recipe
Next week’s On the Road begins a series of posts focused on Philadelphia’s major neighborhood farmers’ markets. Also ahead are trips to New York’s Hudson River Valley and Long Island’s South Fork.

To access all At Home’s Blog Recipes, click here.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

3 Comments

Filed under Menus, On the Table

On the Table: Farm Stands of Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties, PA

At dinner’s end, with guests gone and a tired me sitting on the couch, Christina nicely extolled a wonderful dinner. While I appreciated her compliments, I expressed that this dinner was not a culinary triumph that required any great skill. I asserted, as I often do, that preparing a nice meal is more a matter of aspiration and planning than it is any great skill. You could have prepared this dinner.

Here is the slightly ridiculous haul from my drive through Northern Chester & Montgomery Counties. My farm stand shopping is a matter of faith. I have faith that when I get home I will find good uses for all that I have purchased over the week.

Here was my mostly Northern Chester & Montgomery County Menu:

Hors d’oeuvres
Roast marinated sweet & hot peppers with grilled bread
Deviled eggs
Soppressetta from DiBruno’s
Cerviche of diver scallops with coriander

Dinner
Cold Beet Soup with Cucumbers, Sour Cream & Dill

Tomato & Red Leaf Lettuce Salad

Grilled Shiso-marinated Swordfish
Creamy Corn Salad
Grilled Wax Beans

Cherry Grove Farm Toma Primavera

Peach Sorbet with Blackberries & Doughnut Peaches

Dinner began at 7 PM with the Blanc de Blanc Champagne from J.Maki’s Chester County winery. Everyone agreed it was excellent by any standard — not just excellent for being a local champagne.

Light hors d’oeuvres included roast, marinated sweet and hot pepper, deviled eggs and a DiBruno’s house-made soppressetta. The deviled eggs includes mayonnaise, mustard, a tiny dice or cornichon, fresh chives and topped with sweet smoked Spanish paprika. Frankly, the roasted peppers were a pain to peel — but they were possibly the unexpected hit of the evening. I bought them at a stand in a residential street from a “backyard” farmer whose mode of transport was a golf cart rather than a tractor. The peppers were arrayed in little plastic baskets like we use to serve burgers at Frog Burger — $1 a basket, one red sweet and one hot green. But they were very thin-skinned peppers that were difficult to peel after I charred them in the broiler. I cut them into short, thin strips and tossed them in olive oil and garlic. They were served with grilled bread — something a bit different from fully crisp crostini. I plan to post a “How to Make Grilled Bread” Tip in the next week or so. DiBruno’s house-made dried sausages are a go-to easy hors d’oeuvres addition.

Another very easy hors d’oeuvres are sliced diver scallops — also know as dry scallops because they are not packed in that awful white liquid that lesser quality scallops can be packed. They are simply thin-sliced and “dressed” about a half hour before guests arrive with lime juice, olive oil, chives and crushed toasted coriander seed — plus a little sea salt and pepper. There is a similar recipe on page 149 of At Home using pink peppercorns.

Unlike recent weeks when dinner was served family style on the table — that is, on platters where guests helped themselves, this menu was a plated dinner.

This cold beet soup is the third cold soup I have done this month. As frequently noted, I am a fan of soups as meal starters. They are easy, do ahead and lend themselves to dressing up. Here, the soup is dressed up with a small dice of cucumber, a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill. To make the soup, I just peeled the beets, cut into similar-sized chunks, cooked in a corn stock with onion and garlic, pureed in a blender and flavored with red wine vinegar. Look for the recipe tomorrow.

The cold soup co-opted the first course that would likely included tomatoes so I added a small tomato salad to the menu. I picked up some beautiful red accented lettuce from the Z Farm stand on Rittenhouse Square in the morning. The tomatoes and sweet onion came from my trip as did the basil. So, this is just the lettuce, two slices of tomato, topped with small yellow pear and orange tomatoes — cut into half as even the smallest tomatoes should be — dressed with a little balsamic, very good olive oil, Maldon sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and topped with a basil chiffonade. Everything was ready to go to be plated well before guests arrived.

I had grilled fresh swordfish earlier in the week for Christina and she lobbied to have it again for our guests. Given my failure to locate duck or lamb or pork on my drive, I went for the swordfish. It was marinated in a little garlic, shredded shiso — a minty, grassy herb that I got from Z Farm and olive oil. It was grilled in my grill pan — good as any you would get off a backyard grill. Served with a properly trimmed lemon wedge. There is a similar recipe on page 198 in At Home. I decided to grill the yellow wax beans. Just lightly tossed in olive oil and grill. Here a grill pan is much better than an open grill as there is no place for the beans to fall. The grilling adds a dimension to the otherwise very simple beans. See At Home page 307 for Grilled Green Beans. And what’s the purpose of a summer’s dinner but for an excuse to eat corn. Here it’s shaved with just a little sweet red pepper for color and purple scallion. What was unusual about this corn salad is that I had some leftover home-made mayonnaise from the deviled eggs and felt that the plate could use something creamy so I dressed the corn salad in the mayonnaise. It was sweet and creamy with a little bite from the scallion. One does not frequently see a corn salad with a creamy dressing.

We served the J.Maki Viognier with dinner. Like the champagne, it was also excellent. If you are not familiar with Viognier’s — a varietal grape that typically not bone dry and with tropical fruit overtones. At Home owners check-out the wine chart on page 32.

Rather than a full blown and filling cheese course added to an already ample meal, I served just a little bit of a Toma Primavera from Lawrenceville, NJ’s Cherry Grove Farm. I would put this cheese up there with the world’s best cheeses. It is available at the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market. It’s served with a little grilled bread.

Weaver’s peaches were ripe, sweet, spectacular and easy to handle freestones. I made a peach sorbet by simply pureeing a mix or yellow and white peaches — skin and all – them passing the puree through a strainer to remove the larger pieces of skin — adding a ginger-scented simple syrup and then freezing in my ice cream freezer. It is important to “temper” sorbet or ice cream before serving. That means removing it from the freezer so it has a chance to soften somewhat. The peach sorbet was served with a grilled half of a yellow doughnut peach. I used an apple corer to get the pit out while accenting the “doughnut.” These were brushed with honey from Jack’s Farm Stand of two weeks ago and olive oil and grilled. Blackberries provided a color and slightly sour counterpoint.

Prep and Service Strategy
I always counsel that the ideal is to begin planning a weekend dinner at least the weekend before and spread your tasks over time. My current schedule isn’t allowing me to do this, but here’s how I would approach this meal if I were you. The sorbet and roast marinated peppers the weekend before. (Be careful not to eat those wonderful peppers during the week!)  The cold beet soup early in the week. You can also make deviled eggs mid-week though I would not stuff them until Friday or Saturday. Shop on Thursday for everything else except the swordfish and scallops. On Friday, grill bread and store in air-tight bag, dice cucumbers and chop dill for soup, slice onions for tomato salad, rinse lettuce and store in damp towel, blanch yellow beans, make corn salad, chop garlic for swordfish marinade, make lemon wedges and remove pits from doughnut peaches. Friday also set the table and chill wine.

That leaves for Saturday during the day, slice scallops, marinate swordfish, grill yellow beans, slice small tomatoes and make basil chiffonade. Grill doughnut peaches. Place hors d’oeuvres on platters or bowls. Make sure you give yourself one relaxed hour before guests arrive. If you follow this schedule that will be easy.

To turn-out dinner: dress scallops, bowl and garnish soup, arrange and dress tomato salad, grill swordfish and plate entree, cut cheese and plate with grilled bread, plate sorbet with doughnut peach and peach sorbet.

I am not suggesting this is no effort. Nor am I suggesting you try to repeat this exact meal — though I believe you could. What I am suggesting is that by planning ahead and spreading out your tasks, this can all be fun and not a chore — including the shopping.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

2 Comments

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Menus, On the Table

Company’s Coming: Part 6 — Company Came

Blog posts have come hot and heavy over the last week or so. Maybe more than you bargained for when you signed up. This has been an unusual series that seemed to require extensive blogging. I hope you have enjoyed them and found them useful. Posts will now return to their far less frequent pattern.

Note: This is the sixth post in a series.
Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here.
Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here.
Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.
Part 4: Shopping, click here.
Part 5: Countdown to Guest Arrival, click here.

Re-cap
Several months ago Christina and I contributed to the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Sweetheart Brunch Silent Auction. Our contribution was a  dinner with us in our home for four guests. We both have long connections to the Philadelphia Theater Company. Sunday evening our guests joined us.

I began planning and preparations nine days prior in keeping with At Home’s principles of spreading tasks over time — ideally beginning one full weekend prior to your party. My goals were for entertaining at home to be a pleasure and not a chore; to have one relaxed hour prior to guest arrival; and, to spend time with guests. Of course I wanted a very nice meal for our guests.

I wanted to use the occasion of our party as a model for you to encourage you to have More Parties. Better. Easier. While I am not suggesting that you tackle my menu — I do this professionally — I was hoping that in following how I approached planning and executing my party  — including my struggles, you would gain insight that you could use in planning your next party.

Sunday
Sunday morning I read the newspapers and watched the usual line-up of news shows. Late morning I headed into the kitchen to do some odds and ends — primarily around the Spring Vegetable Antipasti — and begin pulling things from the refrigerator that could sit out. We made a game time wine substitute of a wonderful chardonnay we had for the Viongier.

At 4:30 PM I was comfortable on the couch in the den alternating between the NBA play-offs and the start of the Phillies game. Our guests arrived a few minutes past six and by around 10:30 we bid them bon voyage with small boxes of chocolates that I ordered online from Recchiuti Confections in San Francisco. In between we got to know two interesting and delightful couples by, as I say in At Home, “sharing the warmth of your home (our home) and a good meal.”

Note the large flower arrangement in the background. As I was enjoying my final few minutes of relaxation on the couch, I got an alarmed call from Christina and Jill (who was our Frog Commissary helper). It turned out that the tall flower arrangement I had made on Saturday of pink apple blossoms and lavender lilacs had sprung a leak! Not a big leak, but a hairline fracture through which water leaked onto our breakfront. We had no vase of the required scale to make a quick switch and it would have made a mess to re-work the arrangement in a smaller scale — plus some lilacs were already looking none too good. I made an executive decision and banished the arrangement from the scene.


Our kitchen trash can was empty.


Empty dishwasher at the ready.


Ready to receive dishes. A bus pan to collect dirty dishes. A small container with soapy water for silverware. An empty sink because…when your sink is full, you’re sunk. Empty drain board and dish rack.


My menu with notes (on the right) and final prep tasks (on the left) were posted on a kitchen cabinet on re-positionable labels along with an admonition to myself to “KEEP PORTIONS SMALL.” As tasks get completed I move completed labels off to the side. Using re-positionable labels also enables me to group and/or re-group tasks.

Each place setting had a menu card. Toward the end of the night we all signed menu cards to keep as souvenirs of our evening together. Regardless of how elaborate or simple the dinner – menu cards take only a few minutes to make and let your guests know that they are special — a hallmark of hospitality. It’s not every day guests sit down to a dinner with a menu card! I simply typed out the menu in Word, printed it on nice heavy paper and cut it down to size. Easy.

The first course of Spring Vegetable Antipasti was laid out before guests arrived — absent last-minute touches of balsamic syrup, a wonderfully green and spicy olive oil drizzle, pink sea salt and chervil leaves.

Dinner
My menu objectives were to rely on fresh, local products and keep things reasonably light. We knew our guests were well-traveled and enjoyed wine so we wanted a series of interesting wines. Most critically, my menu was planned so that I needed to spend a minimum amount of time in the kitchen.

On Behalf of the Philadelphia Theater Company
Steve & Christina are pleased to host Lisa, John, Ken & Teresa
Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welcome
Spring Champagne Cocktail with Honeydew & Mint

Assorted Olives
Fragrant Star Anise Lotus Root Chips
Lancaster Red Radishes with Sea Salt
Dill-cured Salmon with Honey Mustard
Spanish White Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers on Crostini
Chilled Jerusalem Artichoke Bisque
with Hackelback Caviar

Dinner
Spring Vegetable Antipasti with Sorrel Mayonnaise
Grilled Asparagus, Ramps & Baby Artichokes
Rainbow Chard • Fiddlehead ferns
Roasted Beets • Fava Beans
Nasturtium Blossoms
Sorrel Mayonnaise
Prager Gruner Veltliner 2007 • Wachau Austria

Malfadine with Wild Mushrooms
Morels, Honey Cups and Miatake
Mushroom Broth
Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2008 • Martinborough New Zealand

Pan-seared Striped Bass dusted with Wild Italian Fennel Pollen
Lentils du Pay salad with roasted butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes
Kistler Durell Vineyard Chardonnay 1999 • Sonoma Valley

Assorted Cheeses from Pennsylvania & New Jersey
Shellbark Farms Fresh Goat Cheese – West Chester, PA
Cherry Grove Farm Asiago – Lawrenceville, NJ
Cherry Grove Farm Shippetaukin Blue
Cherry Grove Farm Toma Primavera
Paraduxx 2004 • Napa Valley

Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Rhubarb Relish Scented with Rosemary
Anne’s Raspberry Hearts
Felsina Vin Santo 1999 • Chianti Classico

Bon Voyage
Recchiuti Chocolates

Spring Vegetable Antipasti on over-sized plate. I had meant to get a little squeeze bottle to control adding the balsamic syrup, but never got to it. As a result, the balsamic syrup ran into places I didn’t want it. I felt this course did what I wanted — namely to be a reflection of the arrival of spring. I particularly liked my decision to decorate plate with chervil leaves. Could have used two ramps per person rather than one. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the rainbow chard, but ended up wilting it quickly in a little olive oil and folding up into little packages. The nasturtium blossom and lemon wedge made for the perfect notes of color.

Melfadine pasta with wild mushrooms and mushroom broth — needed more mushroom broth, under-salted and maybe could have used some garlic in addition to shallots. Earlier in the evening I lightly sautéed the pasta in butter and shallots and let it sit in the pan until a final heating with peas. In a separate pan I sautéed the mushrooms in shallots, butter and added a little white wine. The mushroom broth was slowly heating on the stove. To turn I got everything hot, distributed the pasta between six bowls that I had heated in a 2o0 degree oven, distributed the mushrooms and ladled the broth. Finished with fresh chopped parsley.

Pan-seared striped bass dusted with fennel pollen on a salad of French lentils, roasted butternut squash and sun-dried tomatoes. Another easy turn-out: the lentil salad was cold and placed in the middle of the plate. Added four roasted grape tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil to dress up plate. Forgot to dust plate with additional fennel pollen — I had not written this down. I cooked two pieces per person, but decided that one looked better and more consistent with my goal of keeping portions small. The fish just had to go on top of the lentils with a little mound of microgreens added. Christina felt her fish was over-cooked and I hoped that only Christina got unlucky. I was rushing to get this out, started to take the fish off the flame, got concerned that it needed a little more time as I did not want to serve fish under-cooked in the middle. Overall,  I thought the course worked well.

The cheese course (I forgot to photograph) was surprisingly great. In keeping with my fresh and local theme, I bought three of my cheeses at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers’ Market from Cherry Grove Farm, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.  The fourth cheese — a fresh goat cheese from West Chester — came from DiBruno’s. The Cherry Grove cheeses included a firm “asiago,” a softer and mustier “toma” and a blue.

I forgot to temper the sorbet — meaning to let it get a little soft. When I took it from the freezer to serve it was hard as a rock. I stuck it in the microwave for one minute and it was perfect. The sorbet sat on the rhubarb relish with the addition of a heart-shaped Linzer cookie — cookies that had been given to us the week before by Anne Clark, a dear friend, my first baker, co-author of The Frog Commissary Cookbook and author of the Baking Required recipes in At Home.  Two candied Meyer lemon rinds, two blood orange segments and a tiny sprig of rosemary — homage to the fragrance added to the Rhubarb relish — finished the plate. Together they made for a wonderful mix of fresh flavors, colors and textures.

Our final gesture of hospitality was to bid Bon Voyage to our guests with little ribbon-tied boxes of chocolates from Recchuiti Confections. Michael Recchuiti is one of the world’s leading chocolatiers. Based in San Francisco, Michael used to work in The Commissary’s bakery.  Christina and I served Michael’s chocolates at our wedding along with those of famous Belgium chocolatier Pierre Marcolini.

At dinner’s end, one diner left “stuffed.”  “Pleasantly sated” the consensus of the rest.

Lessons of Company’s Coming
I don’t mean to pretend that this dinner is something you should plan. Though frankly, I believe you could do this with coaching. Home entertaining is much more a matter of aspiration and planning than unique culinary skill.

Of course, the subject of home entertaining came up during dinner. One couple did it frequently and the other infrequently. The later couple had done it more, but stopped, as it seemed reciprocation was rare — the result of people just finding it too hard. We all agreed that entertaining at home is special and that our spending this time together in a noisy restaurant would just not have provided the warmth and connection of this evening together. I reiterated what I often say: “I don’t care if you order out pizza and make a salad. Just do it at home.” I resolved to create some home entertaining menus that are easy and not just easier. Look for these in future blogs.

Postscript: Conversation with Myself
The Good Enough Entertainer: Well, how did it go?
The Entertaining Overachiever: I guess OK.
The Good Enough Entertainer: What do you mean by OK?
The Entertainer Overachiever: It wasn’t perfect. Christina’s fish was over-cooked! The balsamic syrup ran!! The pasta was under-seasoned and lacked the broth that was a key part of the dish — not just another sauteed pasta!!! And I forgot to dust the striped bass plate with fennel pollen!!!!
The Good Enough Entertainer: STOP! Perfection was not one of your goals. Your goals were for this to be a pleasure and not a chore — for you to have fun.  And not to be bound to the kitchen. Anything else was a bonus.
The Entertaining Overachiever: But…
The Good Enough Entertainer: No buts! Here’s another At Home principle. It’s similar to the Home Entertainers Deserve One Relaxed Hour thing. When all is said and done, Home Entertainers Deserve a Big Pat on the Back from Themselves. Inviting guests into your home is special…even noble. You did this and in so doing, you enhanced human connection. With that — and I don’t mean to turn overly spiritual here — you made the world a better place for yourself and for people about who you care.
The Entertaining Overachiever: Wow!

Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
Last Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.

Next: Don’t Try This At Home…Behind the Scenes at The Franklin Institute Awards Dinner
At Home’s planning principles are based upon my more than 35 years experience as leader of Frog Commissary Catering. We have catered more than 15,000 events. Thursday evening, Frog Commissary Catering will serve a great dinner to 800 guests in conjunction with The Franklin Institute Awards. These annual awards are given to individuals across a spectrum of scientific disciplines. In addition, the Bower Award is given to a business person who has made a particular contribution to science. This year’s recipient of the Bower Award is Bill Gates. We have catered this event for many years. I will provide you with a behind the scenes look of how we cater for this large group in space designed to be a museum and not a catering hall! Certainly the scale is different from my little dinner for six, but you may be surprised at its similarity to what I encourage you to do at home.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

3 Comments

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

Company’s Coming Part 4: Shopping

Note: This is the fourth post in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here. For Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.

So far, so good. But it’s still early in the game. I feel confident in my game plan, but the game is really just starting. What’s important is that I feel focused on making this fun…for me.

Plan to Entertain’s Step 4 is Shopping. On Sunday I filled out the At Home Shopping List based upon my menu plan. I had my “what” shopping plan. With At Home’s Organizing Tasks & Time Schedule, I had my “where and when” shopping plan.

Last Saturday I did a little “pre-shopping” — and picked up bread for crostini on Tuesday.
Thursday I will do a little light neighborhood shopping for a few things I want to do on Thursday evening. My preference would to have done this on Wednesday, but I had the opportunity to have dinner with a friend I only see rarely so I changed my plan. A sub-principle of planning  is to be flexible.
Friday My day for fun shopping at Reading Terminal Market.
Saturday More fun at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market for cheese, flowers and maybe a little last minute inspiration.

There are several ways to look at food shopping.

Shopping can be purely functional. You’ve got your list…milk, check…eggs, check…coffee, check.  You’re on a tight schedule, you’re in, you’re out…done. Task completed, check. I concede that with good reason, in our busy and over-committed lives, this is how we do most of our food shopping. In fact, for much of what we shop for, this works just fine.

However, not all food shopping need be the same. I invite you to look at some food shopping differently..shopping with more foreplay! It has to do with enjoying the journey and not rushing to the destination. Enjoy exploring what’s seasonally new in the produce aisles.  Rhubarb and local asparagus are as sure a sign of spring as the daffodil and robin. Shad roe has just appeared in markets — the annual evidence of shad’s life force. Shopping slowly extends beyond fresh food. Buying dried pasta? Explore its origin. Honey? There are now honeys available with all manner of natural flavor accents — the result of where the honey is from and where and on what bees fed.

I remember, as a teacher many years ago at the Green Tree School (See At Home Page 69: The Green Tree Cafe), using food shopping to teach learning-challenged inner-city children that bacon does not simply come from the supermarket, but from pigs and some is smoked and some is not and pigs are raised on farms. Food is the result of farm and farmer, ranch and rancher, fish and fisherman. Food is not just “there.” Food goes through a journey to get there and that journey is “contained” in the food itself…if you just stop to think about it.

Do your functional shopping wherever, but occasionally seek out better markets and farm stands and shop slowly and for fun.

Reading Terminal Market
Which brings me to The Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal Market is my favorite place in Philadelphia. This extends from the wonderful prepared foods your can buy — no better lunch options in the city — to the fresh fish, meat and produce. Strolling the aisles for me is akin to wandering the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

My principal objectives on Friday will be seasonal local vegetables. There are two stands in particular that I will visit. One is the Fair Food Farmstand. Fair Food is formerly a program of White Dog Community Enterprises — a program to focus community support of and access to local farm products. See www.fairfoodphilly.org. It is centrally located along the 12th Street perimeter of the market. The other produce stand specializing in local produce is Livengood’s Produce, located in the center of the market.

Here are some notes about some interesting ingredients I am using for our dinner.

Wild Italian fennel pollen
Wild Italian fennel pollen is a distinctly Tuscan product harvested from wild fennel plants in full bloom, dried and screened. It has the texture of a coarse powder with sweet notes of anise plus musty and floral aroma. I bought mine from chefshop.com. It’s actually from Umbria and costs $19.99 plus shipping. It is pricey but a little goes a long way and keeps well.  While cooking with wild Italian fennel pollen might not make you swoon, it tastes wonderful and just saying those words are somewhat transformative! You may substitute toasted fennel seed coarsely ground in a spice grinder. Not quite fennel pollen — but a perfectly reasonable substitute.  (See At Home’s Fennel-scented Striped Bass on P.260.) But if you do make the substitute you won’t get to say “wild Italian fennel pollen.”

I will use the fennel pollen to coat my striped bass before searing and maybe sprinkle a little fennel pollen “dust” on the entrée plate as a garnish.

Meyer Lemons
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and Mandarin orange. They are more round than a lemon and more oval than an orange. Correspondingly, their flavor is a cross between the two – sweeter and a lemon, more sour than an orange. Same thing with color – pale orange to deep yellow.

Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Meyer lemon produces a sorbet with a distinctive flavor that results in the crossing of a lemon and mandarin orange. Remember to remove sorbet and other frozen desserts from freezer ahead of time to allow to temper and soften a bit.

Do ahead Must be made at least one day ahead and as much as two weeks ahead stored tightly covered in freezer. You may pre-scoop portions and hold in freezer to speed the process of serving.

3 cups Meyer lemon juice (about a dozen Meyer lemons)
3 cups simple syrup
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon rind

Combine Meyer lemon juice, simple syrup and Meyer lemon rind. Chill. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacture’s directions.

Yield About 5 1/2 cups serving 6-8

Wine Shopping
Start by getting a sense of what style/type of wine you would like to serve based on your menu. (At Home includes two terrific wine charts on Pages 32 and 33 than can help you.) If you are planning for a single wine for your dinner it should be paired with your entrée with some consideration given to what comes before. More interesting than doing one wine with a three course dinner would be to do one wine with your first course and another with your entrée. You will probably spend about the same — for example, two of the same bottles or one each of two different wines — two bottles. Rely on the store personnel to the degree that you can. Some Pennsylvania State Stores are better than others and they have all made great strides since the State Store dark ages. New Jersey is blessed with numbers of excellent wine sources including Canal’s and Moore Brothers. Moore Brothers is especially good for high value uncommon wines. Unless you are dealing with a wine store with extensive variety, it makes no sense going into the store with a specific winery and/or year in mind. The chances the store will have that particular wine are slim. They know their wines best. Give them a per bottle budget, let them know what you are serving, what you think you came in for, and trust them. You really have little choice other than making your own best guess. And they want you to be happy so you will return.

In our case, knowing that our guests are wine enthusiasts, we decided that having several wines is a way to add interest to our dinner. As a result, we planned our wines corresponding to each course. With cocktails we will serve At Home’s Spring Champagne Cocktail — champagne with a little honeydew puree and mint syrup. (Page 43)

Here’s our wine line-up
Spring Vegetable Antipasti — Gruner Leltliner, a medium dry Austrian white wine.
Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms —  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Striped Bass with wild Italian fennel pollen – Viognier
Cheese – a red from our little “cellar” – actually a rack and two small Cuisinart wine refrigerators, TBD
Dessert – also from our little wine cellar, TBD

We bought two bottles each of the Gruner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but it is unlikely we will need two. A bottle of wine typically yields five glasses, but with all this wine six per bottle seems fine – one slightly small glass for each guest. In fact, as host I have the responsibility to control the amount of wine guests drink. Alcohol is an area where the generous host is not the caring host. I am not concerned that this will be an issue with our guests, but as moderation in portion size is a goal of my dinner, that extends to wine.

Next — Step 5: Organizing Space and an Update on Thursday’s prep work

Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
On Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

3 Comments

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Menus, Recipes, Tips