Category Archives: Tips

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

Leave a comment

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

Making Asparagus Better

In my new way of eating, unlimited vegetables are a cornerstone of my diet — along with unlimited fruit, modest amounts of protein and a maximum of two tablespoons oil daily.  (No white carbs!) An important part of dieting is maximizing the pleasure of what you eat. That sometimes means extra effort to prepare it very well. Though asparagus can be pricey, they make a welcome between meal treat, a start to a dinner in lieu of a salad or an accompaniment to dinner protein.  I have been enjoying asparagus from distant lands for months as they are usually available from somewhere much of the year. As asparagus is a cool weather crop, April into mid-June is peak asparagus season in the northeast. Local Jersey and Pennsylvania asparagus made an appearance about three weeks ago.

The simple step of peeling asparagus prior to blanching greatly enhances your enjoyment of your asparagus.

Here is a simple step-by-step guide to making asparagus better.

Snap off fibrous end
I prefer thick, substantial asparagus over thin asparagus. It’s not a matter of taste. Thick and thin asparagus taste pretty much the same. It’s the “character” of the asparagus. For me, “meaty” thick asparagus simply have more character.

Thick or thin, asparagus have a tough and fibrous bottom. Begin your asparagus prep by snapping the end off the asparagus and discarding. To do this, hold the asparagus at its bottom and bend. The asparagus will naturally snap at the point where the fibrous part ends. This will likely be about one quarter to one third of the asparagus. Discard the fibrous end.

Peel!
Next, using a vegetable peeler, gently peel the asparagus beginning about an inch below the very scaly tip portion as pictured above. Peeling is easiest with thick asparagus, but even moderately thin asparagus benefits from peeling. For thinner asparagus, lay the spear flat on the counter as you peel to avoid breaking the stalk. You will periodically need to unclog your peeler as the asparagus peel tends to clog the peeler. Peeling under running water also helps prevent peeler clog. Regardless, rinse peeled asparagus to help remove any clinging peel.

Blanch…and shock.
Blanch asparagus in a generous amount of boiling water. Asparagus should be cooked al dente. Asparagus should not feel raw, but have a pleasant firm “toothiness.” Thick asparagus take four to six minutes to cook. Cooking time depends significantly on the amount of boiling water you have relative to the amount of asparagus. More water means shorter cooking time as the water retains more of its heat when you drop in the asparagus. Thin asparagus cook in as little as about a minute. As I cook my thick asparagus I periodically remove one from the boiling water, cut off a little bit of the end and check for whether they are cooked to my liking.

After blanching, I like to “shock” my asparagus. (This is a common practice in cooking many vegetables.) Shocking involves immersing just cooked asparagus in an ice bath to immediately stop the cooking and set the emerald  green color. If you get really cold water from your sink, you can drain cooked asparagus in a colander and run under lots of cold running water. Ice water does a better job, but is a bit of a bother.

Here are my beautiful asparagus, moved from boiling pot to adjacent ice water with a skimmer. You could also use tongs for this or go from pot to colander to ice bath.

If you are going to serve hot and right away, you can skip “shocking” and go directly from blanching to serving. However, especially if you are cooking a large quantity for guests, by blanching and shocking and then re-heating, you get maximum control and are most likely to serve al dente asparagus. Given my diet, I just eat my asparagus au natural —  topped with salt. Delicious. If I want them hot, I re-heat either in the microwave or by dunking in a pot of boiling water for about a minute until hot. Drain well.

For Easter I made a large batch of asparagus for the eight of us having dinner. A goal of home entertaining is to reduce the number of things you have to worry about once guests have arrived. In my case, for Easter I was taking asparagus to Christina’s mother’s and I wanted to reduce the complexity of what I had to do in her kitchen. I cooked and shocked the asparagus on Saturday. The pre-cooking got the blanching out of the way and ensured my focus on keeping them al dente. I was not cooking the asparagus while trying to pull together other parts of Easter dinner. On Sunday I simply warmed my pre-cooked asparagus in a pan with some butter, salt and pepper.

Check the recipe from At Home for Asparagus Three Ways, an interesting salad showing off the varied aspects of asparagus. Also, check out Mark Bitman’s NY Times blog about asparagus.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

P.S. As of today I have lost 52 pounds.

Asparagus Recipes from At Home

The following is a recipe from At Home: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining by Steve Poses. Other asparagus recipes included in the book are Grilled Asparagus, Bacon & Egg Sandwich (P.353), Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus (P.70), Lemon-Scented Asparagus Risotto (P.337), Shaved Fennel & Asparagus Salad (P.132), Salad of Asparagus, Mushrooms, Goat Cheese & Pinenuts (P.146), Asparagus Soup (P.111), Stir-fried Asparagus & Shitake Mushrooms (P.310)

Asparagus Three Ways
Preparing a versatile vegetable multiple ways—in this case, grilled, blanched and thinly shaved asparagus—makes a beautiful first course presentation. If it’s too time-consuming to make all three, simply eliminate one.

do ahead Ingredients can be prepared up to six hours ahead and stored
in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.

2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 ounces Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1⁄2 cup lemon juice
2 pounds asparagus
11⁄2 tablespoons olive oil
1⁄2 cup olive oil
1⁄4 cup honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3⁄4 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 Gently bend each asparagus spear a few inches from the bottom of the stalk until the end snaps off. Then, using a peeler, gently strip the ends to remove the tough outer layer. Divide asparagus into three equal portions.
2 Shave a third of the asparagus: Hold the tip pointing toward you and use a peeler to strip away thin lengths from each spear, avoiding the tip and working until most of the spear has been shaved. Continue with remaining spears and reserve tips for blanching. Prepare a bowl of ice water and set shavings
in the water.
3 Blanch the second third of the asparagus: Prepare a bowl of ice water. Fill a pot wide enough to accommodate asparagus with salted water and bring to a boil. Add asparagus plus reserved tips and cook for 2 minutes. It should be firm, but not raw. Transfer to a strainer and immediately run asparagus
under cold water. When cooled, drain and cut into thirds. Set aside.
4 Grill the remaining asparagus: Heat a grill pan or backyard grill. Combine garlic and olive oil. Dip and coat asparagus in the mixture. Reserve mixture and transfer coated asparagus to grill. Grill until charred, turning to cook all sides, about 5 minutes. Cut into thirds and set aside.
5 Scrape remaining garlic into a medium bowl. Whisk in honey, mustard,lemon juice, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Add olive oil and whisk to combine; then add heavy cream and whisk to combine.
6 Drain shaved asparagus well, then blot with a paper towel. Toss shaved asparagus with 1⁄3 cup of dressing until well coated.
7 Mound shaved asparagus in the center of each plate. Arrange blanched and grilled asparagus on top, with tips pointing in. Drizzle each plate with dressing. Finish with Parmesan and more salt and pepper to taste.

serves 6

Leave a comment

Filed under Recipes, Tips

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, Tips

On the Table: Farm Stands of New York’s Hudson River Valley

This post is the follow-on to my On the Road: Farm Stands of Hudson River Valley. Usually these On the Table posts follow more quickly, but summer’s over and the needs of Frog Commissary and getting ready to promote At Home through the coming holiday season have made it harder to find writing time. Posts are best viewed on the blog site. If you are not viewing this post there, just click on the title above. On the blog site you can also access all back posts — nearly 200, and the blog library of more than 100 recipes.

My home away from home for my Hudson River Valley trip was the home of my brother-in-law Larry. Larry, who is also our Frog Commissary Director of Operations, still has a home in Tuxedo, NY, where he lives when not at our The Franklin institute headquarters with his wife Susan and daughter Sarah. Our plan was to meet Saturday morning to continue shopping at a few of Larry’s well-cultivated Hudson River Valley haunts. We would begin cooking together Saturday afternoon and evening in preparation for Larry’s Sunday birthday lunch.

You don’t get to pick your brother-in-law, but if I did, I’d pick Larry. We share several passions that include both loving Christina — my wife and Larry’s sister…and food. Larry is a wonderful cook and actually more a “foodie” than me. I do it and eat it whereas Larry does both those things, and also studies it. If I was the Slumdog and was down to my last “phone a friend” for my million and the subject was food, I’d call Larry! Included in At Home’s recipes are several recipes from a select group of friends and family and include Larry’s Sausage Stuffing.

After passable meal dinner in Beacon at the end of my Friday excursion and an uneventful night’s sleep in a blissfully unremarkable hotel — the name of which I cannot recall, I headed south to rendezvous with Larry. Larry’s plan was to take me to Blooming Hill Farm and Fleisher’s Meats.

This unremarkable sign by the side of the road in Blooming Grove was something akin to a faded photocopy on a pole near the Louvre announcing “Mona Lisa –> this way.” Larry had mentioned Guy Jones, the social activist and pioneering farmer behind Blooming Hill Farm. But nothing had prepared me for what was by far the finest farm stand of my long summer of farm stands. I will not write much about Blooming Hill here. My visit to Blooming Hill, and the farm dinner we attended Saturday evening, will be the second to last post in my On the Road Farm Stands Series within the next few weeks.

Blooming Hill is the first farm stand that I visited that included a small commercial kitchen and wood burning oven. Larry’s wife Susan joined us for an outdoor breakfast that included sourdough pancakes with peaches, plum sauce and yogurt, a broccoli & cheddar omelette with home fries, panini with ricotta, grilled zucchini, cherry tomatoes & caramelized onion and a frittata. Pretty good way to start the day.

For Larry’s birthday I had Padron peppers shipped from California as they are such a treat. I had never seen them at any of the hundreds of farm stands and farmers’ markets that I visited this summer so California it was. But there they were at Blooming Hill. These Padron peppers would be an accent in the squash soup we had that evening at Blooming Hill’s monthly farm dinner that we decided to join. Each month Guy invites a chef to prepare a multi-course vegetarian dinner. Saturday evening David Gould from Brooklyn’s Roman’s restaurant was preparing dinner. Gould’s squash soup was the culinary highlight of the summer. The next weekend I would make this squash soup for my brother Fred’s birthday after my South Fork of Long Island trip. I will feature my rendition of Gould’s soup for you in a recipe post paired with my Blooming Hill post.

Next it was off to Fleisher’s Meats in Kingston, NY. That’s not Fleisher’s Meats in Kingston pictured above. Rather that is Fleisher’s Meats in Brooklyn, NY circa 1901. The early 20th century Fleisher’s was opened by Wolf Fleisher. The 21st century Fleisher’s was opened by Josh and Jessica Applestone in 2004. Josh is Wolf’s great grandson. Those more foodie than me — like Larry — know that Fleisher’s is a 2010 Martha Stewart Tastemaker. Josh writes The Butcher Blog for Saveur Magaizine. As far as Josh knows, his modern day Fleisher’s is the only butcher shop that sells only local grass-fed and organic meats and poultry. Their business is both retail and wholesale to well-regarded locavare restaurants. On the retail side they also deliver to New York City.

Larry and I decided we wanted to grill, but something more interesting…and less expensive than the highly marbled aged sirloin steaks. Barbecue was more what we had in mind which is not really grilling. Some really fat beef short ribs caught my attention and so we had our meat for tomorrow’s lunch. This choice would present a problem as it was now well into the afternoon and we were far north of Tuxedo and we had decided to go to the Blooming Hill farm dinner that night and…I had to first braise these big suckers and make a barbecue sauce from the braising liquid…all before we headed to dinner. So much for one relaxed hour!!! We added a pound of ground beef and bacon — how could we resist something as decadent sounding as ground beef and bacon. To be clear, that’s ground beef with ground bacon mixed in. These sinful future little burgers would become our hors d’oeuvres sliders.

The need to by-pass a serious traffic accident southbound on the New York Thruway caused us to scurry through back roads back to Tuxedo. Pictured above is the combination of my Friday farm stand purchases and our purchases from our Saturday “supplemental” shopping. Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday, with time-out for our farm dinner, this was transformed into Larry’s Sunday birthday lunch. Christina, her mother Ginny and other brother Mike rushed up from Philadelphia early to join us for the Blooming Hill farm dinner and, of course, for Larry’s birthday.

Our narrow apartment kitchen at home is perfectly efficient and built for one. It does not lend itself to in-kitchen snacking, drinking and schmoozing. Larry and Susan’s kitchen, on the other hand, is the epicenter of their home entertaining. Our mostly room temperature hors d’oeuvres were laid out on the kitchen counter. They included counter-clockwise from center:  the wonderful Spanish white anchovies — Boquerones, that are an entertaining staple at Larry and Susan’s table, lightly roasted little tomatoes with fresh mozzarella on crostini, grilled flat beans, sautéed Padron peppers (the one’s flown in from California), pickles, grilled sweet peppers and the ground beef and bacon sliders — ketchup on the side.

Coach’s Note: This meal is not something I would suggest you try at home with limited time. My plan was a leisurely Saturday afternoon and evening of cooking and good wine. We would do some finishing Sunday after spending time with the Sunday New York Times. This is not how it worked out. I had not planned for the long excursion north or the Thruway traffic south and certainly not the last minute decision to attend the farm dinner. Preparing all this was hurried, harried and stressful. Everything I advise against. As Sunday noon approached, having been at it without rest for some hours, I was repeatedly asked by a family member I will not identify, “When are we having lunch?” It was as if a party of seven wanted to know when there table would be ready. Not the most relaxed cooking I have done — akin to a particularly hard night I remember at City Bites cooking on the line many years ago. This was the price I paid for going to Blooming Hill for dinner…and I’d do it again!

I made the these quick pickles Sunday morning — inspired by the pickles served Saturday night at Blooming Hill, using fennel flower and heirloom garlic from Blooming Hill. There is a blog recipe for Quick Pickles in the blog’s recipe index.

This was late August and I encountered all manner and color of small tomatoes. Even though there was to be an heirloom tomato salad with lunch, you can’t have too many late August tomatoes.

These broad beans were blanched, tossed with garlic and olive oil and lightly grilled and finished with flaky sea salt. There is a recipe for Grilled Green Beans in At Home.

Here’s a bowl of sautéed Padron peppers. I have also written a post about these peppers. I am having a dilemma about cooking these peppers. First, it always seems to take longer for them to puff up, lightly brown and shrivel than I expect and I have to remind myself to be patient. Second, I like them with some garlic, but you can’t add the garlic in the beginning because the garlic would burn, but when I add garlic at the end, it immediately browns and sticks together. While these clumps of browned garlic taste wonderful, garlic does not effectively infuse the oil and peppers. I could cook some garlic in oil and remove the garlic before I cook the pepper, but that feels like more trouble than it is worth. I just received two pounds of Padron peppers — probably the last of the California season. I will try again. My plan this time will be to take the cooked peppers off the heat, allow the oil to cool down a bit and toss garlic into the peppers while the oil is not so hot as to immediately brown the garlic but still hot enough that the garlic cooks, mellows and infuses the peppers. Cooking is an art…though I know there is a science behind this technique issue.

Late August is also pepper bonanza time and since the grill was stoked, we grilled rather than roasted these beauties.

As Larry grilled our little ground beef and ground bacon sliders outside, I grilled the our potato flour slider rolls inside on a grill pan. Grilling rolls — especially soft burger rolls makes them so much better. Making medium rare burgers requires a grill-cook’s attention so it’s handy to have a partner to handle the roll toasting.

Following our hors d’oeuvres grazing in the kitchen, we sat down in the dining room to a plattered, family-style lunch. Most everything was at room temperature. Above are beautiful red and yellow beets that were simply roasted while sealed in foil – essentially steamed in their own moisture, peeled, sliced and dressed with diced red onion, chives, red wine vinegar and olive oil.

I collected a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes on my Hudson River Valley farm stand jaunt. This platter is a bit more crowded than I recommended in my post about plattering heirloom tomatoes.

This photo does not do justice to our barbecue beef short ribs. They were big — but in my rush to get them done Saturday afternoon before our farm dinner I did not let them cook long enough and they were a bit tough. That was a shame as Fleisher’s meat had a wonderful flavor. But it’s just a meal and hardly the end of the world. I’ll make them better next time.

Our grilled corn was inspired by corn that I had at Greensgrow’s Farmers’ Market in Kensington. The corn is slathered in a mix of butter, mayonnaise, lime juice, red pepper flakes, ancho chili powder and salt. Delicious!

Dessert included great Hudson River Valley cheeses.

And Hudson River Valley fruit that included an heirloom melon, raspberries, the best red grapes I ever tasted and fennel and honey grilled apricots, plums and white doughnut peaches. I infused the fennel flowers by heating the mix of honey and fennel flowers in the microwave before basting the fruit with honey and a little olive oil. I also grilled the fruit on a grill pan rather than the outdoor grill. On the grill pan you do not have to worry about the fruit falling through the grill grates.

Behind the Scenes

This is my brother-in-law Larry at his grill working on the corn. Naturally, Larry only uses hardwood charcoal.

Corn slather precariously balanced on the deck railing. (Note to self: Get Larry a good grill side table for his next birthday!)

The beef short ribs were fully cooked as all ribs are before glazing. In the background are the small sweet yellow peppers.

Here’s the barbecue sauce precariously balanced on the deck’s railing. (See Note to self above.)

Here’s a Photo Montage Making Pickles

Key pickle ingredients — little Kirby cucumbers, fennel flower and garlic.

Part of the farm stand adventure is that I never know what I will end up making when it’s all over. It’s like buying lots of puzzle pieces and when I’m all done, figuring out how to put the puzzle together. This is sort of like when they give those Iron Chefs ingredients and tell them to start cooking…quickly. Except my way has far better scenary, more fresh air and usually less stress. Also, the food is usually pretty good.

When I started my Hudson River Valley farm stand tour, I had no plan to make pickles — though I am a big fan of pickles of all sorts. But somewhere along the line I saw these tiny Kirby cucumbers — about the size of a big thumb. They just sort of called out to me. Likewise the garlic. Adjacent to the path leading down the hill to Blooming Hill’s farm market was a wide plot of fennel flowers — also for sale in the market. I am a big fan of fennel. The Guy Jones served pickles at the farm dinner as an hors ‘doeuvres.

I started by cutting garlic into slivers and after giving the cucumbers a quick scrub, cutting them in half.

I made an infused brine with white vinegar (depending on the pickle you can use other vinegars), sugar, salt — but not too much salt, some black peppercorns and coriander seed, garlic and fennel flower. This steeps over very low heat for about 15-20 minutes. It could be longer but as we know, I was in a rush.

When the brine has picked up the flavors, I increase the heat until the brine approaches a boil. I off the heat and add the cucumbers or pour the hot brine over the cucumbers — either way. Once it cools, I transfer to the refrigerator. We ate most of them a few hours later, but they can happily sit in the refrigerator for a month. They loose a bit of crispness, but are still great. Serve chilled.

Lightly Roasting Cherry Tomatoes

Cut tomatoes in half and combine with thin slivers of garlic and thin-sliced red onion. Lightly coat with good olive oil and roast in 350 degree oven until tomatoes just begin to soften and “melt” – maybe 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Add salt and pepper.

A Short Course in Braising Short Ribs of Beef. For a complete explanation about braising, there is a two-page “Mastering Braises” on Page 228 of At Home.

Make sure the short ribs are well-dried. I use paper towel.

Here’s sliced red onion, garlic and a quart of flame-roasted plum tomatoes from McEnroe organic farms. My plan was to make the barbecue sauce with the beef’s braising liquid.

In olive oil, brown short ribs well on all sides. Don’t rush this. The ribs were left un-floured as they were ultimately going to be removed from the braising liquid and glazed with barbecue sauce.

Remove short ribs and add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to wilt.

Add back short ribs on top.

Spread around the tomatoes – breaking them in your hands as you go. Add some thyme, a few bay leaves and some red wine.

Lightly cover — but don’t seal. You do not want the braise to steam, but to gently cook in a moist aromatic environment. Place in 225 degree oven for about 3 to 4 hours or until beef is very tender and nearly falling off the bone. This is what I did not do long enough.

Here’s the cooked short ribs.

To make the barbecue sauce, remove bay leaves and add remaining juice from flame-roasted tomatoes, brown sugar and a touch of molasses, balanced with some cider vinegar, as you want this to be slightly sour rather than sweet. Simmer slowly until very thick.

Puree in blender and add back to pot to adjust thickness and seasoning including sweet-sour balance. Add salt and pepper and as much hot sauce as you like. I use Siracha – a Thai hot sauce that has plenty of heat without the sour element present in most American hot sauces.

And of course, the birthday cake.

Susan baked a wonderful layered chocolate mousse cake decorated by edible flowers crafted by daughter Sarah.

There are lots of ways we could have celebrated Larry’s birthday that were easier. Certainly skipping the Blooming Hill farm dinner would have been a big step in that direction. Certainly I could have done a simpler menu and that’s something I need to work on. I have a tendency to get carried away – to be a Home Entertaining Over-achiever. We could have gone out to a restaurant. That certainly would have been easier…and noisier and more expensive. It is hard to image a nicer, more personal and memorable birthday than the one we had with Larry in his home.

Happy Birthday Larry.


Next Saturday at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market.
I am honored to be appearing next Saturday, October 23rd at the Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market. I will be doing a series of short “mini-classes” each half hour. In between “classes” I am happy to answer your questions about home entertaining. At Home will be available for sale and I would be happy to inscribe your copy. At Home is a perfect holiday gift so start thinking about your list and stock up.Check here for details.


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
On Saturday, October 23rd at 6:30 PM I will be among a long list of guests with whom you can sit at Mt. Airy USA’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Benefit. I’d love to sit with you.

Get Your Knives Sharpened at Kitchen Kapers and Contribute to Ronald McDonald House
Sharp knives are essential kitchen tools. As good as modern day knives are, they do not hold an edge indefinitely. And a honing steel can not sharpen a dull knife. A honing steel can only keep a sharp knife sharp. I guarantee that if you got your knives sharpened, it would make your prep work easier and more enjoyable. Kitchen Kapers, the local kitchenware chain, is offering in-store knife sharpening on Friday, October 29th and Saturday, October 30th. See details as to day and time at your neighborhood store. Plus, your knife sharpening will benefit the Ronald McDonald House — where Frog Commissary Catering usually spends Thanksgiving and Christmas, courtesy of a generous House benefactor.

Coming Posts
On the Road and On the Table: The Farm Stands of Long Island’s South Fork. Look for these post next week.
On the Road: Nova Scotia Farmers’ Markets – Lunenburg and Halifax.
On the Road: Blooming Hill Farm My visit to Blooming Hill’s farm market and the Saturday evening farm dinner.
The final installment of the Farm Stand Series will be reflections on and highlights of my summer’s farm stand journey and thoughts on how to make the farm stand and farmers’ market experience even better.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

Leave a comment

Filed under Entertaining at Home, Family and Friends, On the Table, Tips

Assembling & Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad: A Step-by-Step Guide

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

Eating is first a visual experience. Not foremost, but first. And food styling — a fancy name for nicely presenting food — is a combination of painting and sculpture. Really. It is. (The same is true of flower arranging.) You are working with color, shape and texture. Nature provides a paint box loaded with colors. Food also has natural variations in shape and texture though it often needs an assist from you by virtue of the shape and size you cut things. It’s your job to plan and present a menu item that shows off nature — tastefully.

Assembling & Plattering an Heirloom Tomato Salad: A Step-by-step Guide

There are lots of ways to approach this. This is just my way. You are welcome to make it yours. It may seem long and involved, but it is actually quite simple. And by following this step-by-step guide, you will see how to organize that will be of benefit far beyond this post.

Heirloom tomatoes are nature’s paintbox at its most glorious. Heirloom tomatoes are typically something less than twice the price of “standard” tomatoes. But we’re not talking big bucks here. You want to figure one to two tomatoes per person, depending on the size of the tomatoes. If you are preparing for six people. Based upon 3/4 pound per person that works out to a little over 4 1/2 pounds. Let’s round it to 5 pounds to make the math easier. At $2 a pound for peak summer “standard” tomatoes, your tomatoes will cost you $10. “Upgrading” to heirloom tomatoes, will cost you about $8.00 more — or about an additional $1.33 per guest. But you get so much more both in flavor and visual appeal.

After rinsing tomatoes under cold water, using a sharp paring knife, remove the core.

Typically, the skin of an heirloom tomato is more delicate than standard tomatoes as standard tomatoes are bred for transport and durability and heirlooms are bred for flavor and color. As a result, you need a very sharp knife to work with heirloom tomatoes. A serrated knife is often a good solution. If you are having trouble slicing tomatoes, use the tip of your knife to poke a small slit through the skin where you want the slice to get started. Then slice.

Your next step is to cut away “the first thin slice” from the top and bottom of each tomato. These is always the least appealing slices. The top has a hole in it and both have a higher proportion of skin to tomato than the interior slices. They are also more difficult to arrange by virtue of their less regular shape. Save these tops and bottoms for a little tomato salad that you will make to top the sliced heirloom tomatoes.

Next, cut each tomato in half. Cut the tomato halves into slices 3/8 to 1/4-inch thick. Your goal here is to provide your guests an easy-eating tomato salad.

If some of your tomatoes are smaller as with these torpedo-shaped tomatoes, skip the cutting them in half as the slices cut from this size tomato will be fine.

Now take your “end cuts” — the tops and bottoms you trimmed earlier and cut them into smaller pieces — about four pieces each. You are going to use these to make a “tomato salad” to top your sliced heirloom tomatoes. Transfer these tomatoes to a bowl.

Time for the onion. I know some people shy away from onions and home entertaining. But I love onions and garlic and I  think flavor trumps everything. (Feel free to add finely chopped garlic to this salad.) My preference is a farm stand sweet red onion and if you are buying heirloom tomatoes you are probably at a farm stand so pick-up one large or two medium onions.  (There are also new crops of interesting garlics currently available.) I have a video on How to Chop and Onion that you would find very useful.

The key when doing anything with an onion is to leave the root end untrimmed as you can see in the photo above. This enables you to hold the onion together as you slice and/or dice the onion. When you are all done you will discard the little bit of root that’s left.

Here you want thin half slices of a half onion. That works out to quarter slices. Cut onion in half through the root and peel onion skin back to root. Then you can either cut a vertical slice into the onion, not quite back to the root, so when you cut your thin semi-circular slices, they naturally result in quarter slices. Or you can cut full semi-circles and then cut these in half. As you get to the end of the onion it gets harder to make nice slices. Just dice the end of the onion and reserve diced onion and add it to your bowl of diced tomato ends.

The next component is a chiffonade of basil. That simply means long thin strips. Start by making stacks of basil leaves.

With a sharp knife, cut across the short dimension of your stacks to create thin strips.

Here are all your assembled components on a handy tray: the trimmed and sliced tomatoes, sliced onion, basil chiffonade and diced tomato ends.

To the bowl of diced tomato ends and diced onion, add balsamic or good red wine vinegar. As balsamic is not as sharp, you can be more generous with that than the red wine vinegar. Next add some good olive oil — not the very best — to balance the sharpness of the vinegar. Add salt and pepper and mix well. All of this can be done up to six hours before plattering. Refrigerate. But you do not want to serve this ice cold. The tomatoes’ flavor is best at nearly room temperature.

Pick an ample sized rectangular or generous oval platter. White is ideal. Your platter should have a bit of a “belly” to hold the dressing. Certainly you want a monochromatic platter. Set you platter next to your tray of “paints.” In professional kitchen parlance, this is called your “mis en place.”

Begin plattering by arranging rows of sliced tomatoes — creating a rythum of colors as you go. This is called “shingling.” In general, you want to avoid having similar colors next to one another as you shingle a row. Don’t obsess!!! As you can see above, the smaller whole tomato slices work in pairs.

Here are my completed rows.

Now add a thin “layer” of sliced onions and basil chiffonade. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes. Lightly salt and pepper.

You can certainly use standard salt, pepper and olive oil. The tomatoes will still taste great. But this is the sort of dish that really benefits from some premium ingredients. If you have very good olive oil — above is a bottle of premium extra virgin olive oil from Spain, this is the time to use it. By far my favorite salt for this is the Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. It’s just the perfect texture. At a minimum I would use Kosher salt. Avoid large crystal sea salt as it provides too much crunch and concentrated saltiness. The little box to the right is fresh ground pepper. I grind my pepper in batches in a spice grinder. You could also use a pepper mill. If all you had was store-bought pre-ground pepper, I would skip the pepper. These tomatoes deserve better and better to use no pepper than bad pepper.

The final step is to spoon the diced tomato and onion salad down the middle between the two rows of tomatoes. Use a generous amount of the dressing and rendered tomato liquid from the diced tomato salad. Add a bit of salt and pepper to this. Top with more basil and serve. Make sure you have some good bread to go with this to sop up the residual liquid. See my recent post on Grilled Bread.

So, visit your neighborhood farmers’ market or take a drive to a farm stand, buy some glorious heirloom tomatoes and serve them this weekend to friends and family.

To access all of At Home’s blog recipes, click here. You can also explore past posts by visiting the archives or clicking on the tags on the blog site.

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

1 Comment

Filed under Styling, Tips

On the Table: Farm Stands of the North Fork, L.I.

Reminder that if you are not viewing post at the blog site, it looks best there. To get to the blog site, just click on title. The blog site also gives you easy access to explore past blogs as well as the blog recipe library.

Dinner was at the Remsenberg, Long Island, home of my brother and sister-in-law. Remsenberg is about 10 minutes from the Riverhead “entrance” to the North Fork. I went there for a few days with my friend and At Home illustrator Pascal Lemaitre and his 7-year old daughter Maelle. The evening’s breeze had blown away the heat and humidity of the day so we had our Farm Stands of the North Fork dinner outside. It was my plan to divide our meal into “appetizers” and “dinner.” But it got late and we decided to enjoy everything at once on platters, “family style.”

With the exception of the shishito peppers that I picked up in Bordentown, New Jersey on the way to Long Island, and the nacho chips, everything came from my North Fork drive. As is always the case, I don’t exactly know what I will make when I start the drive. What I find leads me to a menu. The ability to use a big, outdoor grill — rather than just my trusty indoor grill pan — played a big role in determining my menu.

Our North Fork Farm Stand Menu
Garlic Sauteed Shishito Peppers
Tomatilla Salsa with Nacho Chips
My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
Sliced Pan-Seared Long Island Duck Breast
Brick-grilled Miloski’s Poultry Farm Chicken
Heirloom Tomato and Husk Tomato Salad on Leaf Lettuce
Grilled Ciabatta Bread
Creamy Roasted Corn, Sweet Pepper and Romano Bean Salad
Grilled “Fairy Tale” Eggplant and Baby Squash

Dessert
Grilled figs with Catapano Dairy Farm honey-lavender goat cheese
Cantaloupe

These are the wonderful small figs that I found.

Garlic Sauteed Shishito Peppers
These peppers came from a Bordentown, NJ farm. They simply require a quick saute in olive oil, toss in a little garlic at the end, turn on to platter and add lots of sea salt. See an upcoming post about Shishito peppers.

Tomatilla Salsa with Nacho Chips
Not the best photo. I love the sour acidity of a green salsa. Simply remove the husk from tomatilla, cut into food processor-friendly sized pieces and process until nearly a puree but still a bit chunky. Add garlic, a little jalapeno, red onion, lime juice, olive oil and lots of cilantro.

My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
The recipe for this is on page 79 in At Home. In making this, I took advantage of the grill to cook the eggplant rather than the oven as called for in recipe. Once eggplant is cooked it is scraped away from peel, coarsely chopped and combined with green pepper, scallion, garlic, lemon zest, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper. I substituted red pepper and red onion for the green pepper and scallion.

Sliced pan-seared Long Island Duck Breast
The boneless duck breast was marinated in Dansom plum juice and honey. Just before pan-searing in oil, I dried the breast well. It takes about 3-4 minutes per side to cook medium rare. As with all meats and poultry, allow five to ten minutes for it to sit before slicing. This was conceived to be a little appetizer, but joined the dinner when we decided to enjoy everything at once at the table. It was served simply and unadorned and a huge hit.

Brick-grilled Miloski’s Poultry Farm Chicken
Pascal and I had eaten swordfish and soft shells the prior two nights so I passed on seafood. Miloski’s was a little off my tour path so Pascal, Maelle and I drove there the morning of our dinner. People sometime think chicken is a little pedestrian for entertaining. But a good roasted or grilled chicken can be a treat. My notion was to brick-grill the chicken which means using a weight on top. This gets explained and shown later in this post.

Heirloom Tomato and Husk Tomato Salad on Leaf Lettuce
Last evening Christina, Larry, my brother-in-law and I had a “tomato tasting.” It is easy to get caught up in the “heirloom” hype. I wanted to compare excellent, vine ripe “Jersey tomatoes” with a variety of more expensive “heirloom” tomatoes. They all were simply dressed with olive oil and salt and pepper. Of the six varieties we tasted, with the exception of one, the heirloom tomatoes had far better flavor and a nice balance of acid and sweet than the Jersey tomatoes and totally worth the price difference. Life is short and though it sometimes feels like this hot and humid summer will never end, before you know it, summer — and farm stand heirloom tomatoes — will be just a memory. Seize the day! Go get some heirloom tomatoes this weekend and share them with friends and family.

Grilled Ciabatta Bread
Ciabatta has a good crust and spongy texture that makes it an ideal grilling bread. Grilling bread makes for an easy embellishment to a summer’s meal. See yesterday’s post on Grilled Bread.

Creamy Roasted Corn, Sweet Pepper and Romano Bean Salad
Caught up in the “roasted corn” offered at North Fork Farm Stands, I decided to do a roasted corn salad. In addition, as raw peppers do not agree with Pascal’s constitution, I decided to roast the red peppers I would typically add to a corn salad for color. I had some Roman beans left-over from the prior night’s dinner. And that’s how this salad ended up on the menu. If I was doing it again, I would stick with simply blanched corn. I think roasting robs the corn of its essential sweetness. On it’s own and simply on the cob, roasting transforms the sweetness of corn into a sweet nuttiness. But it got lost in the complicated salad. Its dressing was a fresh, olive oil based mayonnaise, though you can certainly use a good store-brand.

Grilled Variegated “Fairy Tale” Eggplant and Baby Squash
These little beauties simply got split, brushed with olive oil and grilled. Raw eggplant is unpleasant so it is important to be sure eggplant gets fully grilled including the thicker, meatier end. You can tell when eggplant is fully cooked when you have the skin-side down and you can see the eggplant flesh on top slightly “bubbling” and pushing up.

Grilled figs with Catapano Dairy Farm honey-lavender goat cheese
Cantaloupe

There certainly were lots of fresh-baked farm stand pies that would have made a great dessert — especially slightly warmed in the oven and served with good vanilla ice cream. But after a big meal, something lighter and simpler worked better. Along with the duck breast, these perfectly ripe figs — split, lightly brushed with honey and olive oil and grilled and served with a simple fresh goat cheese, were dinner stand-outs. Here Maelle tries to control her impulse to consume all of the figs herself! Because the figs were so tiny, I grilled them indoors in a grill pan. The grates of an outdoor gill would have been too small for these little wonders.

Some behind the scenes looks

Grilling eggplant for My Mother’s Eggplant Dip and peppers for the Roasted Corn, Pepper and Romano Bean Salad.

Grill-roasting corn for the corn salad.

Grilling Fairy Tale eggplant and baby squash — everything get split in half and brushed with garlic-scented olive oil.

Making the Brick-grilled Chicken from Mikowski’s Poultry Farm

Ingredients included two chickens, two limes, dried farm stand chilies, garlic and cilantro.

I removed the backbone enabling me to butterfly chicken.

I used both the lime rind and lime juice to marinate chicken as well as lots of chopped garlic, diced dried chiles, lots of cilantro and salt and pepper.

The chicken marinated for about six hours. Overnight would have been fine.

The chickens were placed on the grill over moderate heat and weighted down with a large piece of slate found by my brother when I assigned him to locate a substitute for bricks which we did not have. The slate flattens the chicken and increases its contact with the grill. A single large weight was a challenge to handle requiring two substantial grilling tongs.

Nicely grilled on top…

..and bottom.

Finally cut up into friendly sized pieces and ready to platter.

Do Ahead Strategy
As I contend each time, this is a dinner you could do and with some planning and getting a few things done days ahead, you can get one relaxed hour…and more before guests arrive. And you can certainly pick and choose and do a less elaborate dinner.

Up to 3 days ahead
Complete all shopping except corn
Make Tomatilla Salsa
Make My Mother’s Eggplant Salad
Chop garlic

Day before
Buy corn
Split and marinate chicken
Rinse lettuce
Roast corn and peppers, blanch Romano beans and make corn salad
Marinate duck breast
Slice melon
Trim stems and halve figs
Pull and label bowls and platters
Set table
Refrigerate wine or beer

Day of up to five hours before guests arrive
Grill fairy take eggplant and squash
Split and grill figs
Slice tomatoes, onions and platter tomato salad – cover and refrigerate

As dinner approaches
Sear and slice duck breast
Grill chicken, cut into pieces and platter
Grill bread
Dress tomatoes
Platter everything not already plattered
Put everything out

Last minute
Saute shishito peppers

Enjoy and be proud!!

In the Coming Weeks — On the Road and On the Table
A Trio of Philadelphia Neighborhood Farmers’ Markets – Clark Park, Rittenhouse Square and Headhouse Square
Farm Stands of Lancaster County, PA
Farm Stands of Hudson Valley, NY
A Backyard in Moorestown, NJ
Farm Stands of The South Fork of Long Island, NY

Thank you for visiting.

Steve
Your Home Entertaining Coach

1 Comment

Filed under On the Table, Tips

Grilled Bread for Hors d’oeuvres or Accompaniments

For access to the complete list of At Home Blog recipes, visit Recipe Index.

Grilled bread is a versatile, multi-purpose accompaniment that once you master it’s relatively simple technique, will become a crowd-pleasing stable at your table. In grilling bread, your goal is to maintain a slightly spongy interior to the bread and “wrap it” in a crunchy exterior. The charring provides a more complex flavor than simply toasting. The spongy interior enables bread to absorb liquids. Taken together, it is an altogether more compelling experience and than fully crisp cracker or oven-baked crostini.

Grilling bread is more a matter of staring with good bread and technique than it is a recipe. Good bread is critical. You want bread that has a firm crust with a spongy interior rather than a cottony interior. Sourdough is best. Ciabatta is a bread that has the sort of texture you want and is often available in supermarkets. In my experience, if you live in the Philadelphia area, the best bread comes from Metropolitan Bakery.

Here’s what you need to grill bread: Good bread, spring tongs, a bread knife — though you could use pre-sliced bread, olive oil, and, of course, a grill or grill pan. Pictured above is a Metropolitan ficelle in the foreground and a Metropolitan Country White. A ficelle is a smaller-sized baguette-style bread. Due to its smaller size, it makes for a somewhat more “mouth-friendly” sized hors d’oeuvres.

There are several ways to cut your “baguette-style” ficelle. Cutting it straight across makes more round slices.

A bias or angle cut produces longer more oval slices. The rounder sizes are on the right.

In foreground are bias cut — longer and thinner than the rounder straight cut in background.

This is a loaf of Metropolitan Bakery Country White. Larger pieces of grilled bread are better for accompaniments with dishes that have liquids that beg to be sopped up on bread.

By cutting the bread yourself rather than buying it sliced enables you to control the thickness of your bread. Cut slices about 1/2 to 1-inch thick. Cut large slices in half.

A variety of cuts. The cuts from ficelle are ideal for hors d’oeuvres or cheese. The half slices and “fingers” work best served with something that has liquid that needs something more spongy such as an amply dressed tomato salad or steamed mussels.

Pre-heat grill, or in this case, the grill pan over moderate-high heat. You may need to slightly adjust heat source if you find bread grilling too quickly or too slowly.

Place bread on grill.

Once bread is well-grilled on one side, turn it and grill on other side. Don’t hesitate to sample an occasional piece as you go to check bread’s progress — slightly crunchy exterior and lightly spongy interior. Another “tell” is bread should still be slightly pliable when you bend it rather than fully crisp. Once you do this, the “skills” and “tells” of grilling bread will become second nature for you.

Thinner bread has less room for error if you want to maintain a slightly spongy interior.

Ideally you want bread to visually “express” it’s place of cooking, ie. grill marks. The variable amounts of charring, from dark to light, produces a pleasingly complex flavor “profile.”

Once all your bread is grilled, lightly brush on both sides with olive oil. Serve immediately or within a few hours. If bread sits longer than that, it will be helpful to re-fresh in oven.

Bread can be stored for up to five days in an airtight container and refreshed before serving.

If you have stored bread, simply refresh by placing on tray and…

…place in pre-heated 350 degree oven. The smaller pieces need 3-5 minutes and larger, thicker pieces take 7-10 minutes. You goal is to restore the crunchy exterior crust while maintaining a slightly spongy interior.

Grilled bread is the ideal accompaniment to Marinated Roast Sweet & Hot Peppers. Serve a bowl of peppers along with a basket of grilled bread — including a small fork for guests to make their own.

Or make individual hors d’oeuvres and serve on a platter.

Enjoy…At Home!

4 Comments

Filed under Recipes, Tips