Note: This is the fifth 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. Part 4: Shopping, click here.
All is well. I have planned well and spread my tasks over time. It’s been a pleasure and not a chore. Only a little bit of work remains and my one relaxed hour before guests arrive is within my grasp.
My Friday shopping did not start so well. I rushed out of the house without my carefully crafted shopping list. I stopped and made a new list as I ran through my dinner menu in my head.
Friday’s Reading Terminal Shopping was a pleasure.
My first stop was Fair Food. I had a general idea as to what would be included in my Spring Vegetable Antipasti — but open to unexpected discoveries. Fair Food had beautiful fiddlehead ferns, ramps (wild spring onions), rainbow chard and asparagus — all just-picked and grown within a stone’s throw of Philadelphia. Red scallions will be added to the French lentil salad. I picked up fresh sorrel for the sorrel mayonnaise I planned for the anitipasti. Fair Food also had beautiful Jerusalem artichokes (aka Sunchokes) that I picked up for my missing hors d’oeuvres — a cold, creamy white soup topped with caviar.
A blog reader had let me know that Livengood’s was no longer at Reading Terminal Market and directed me to a wonderful website called Local Harvest. For information about where Livengood’s organic produce will be available, click here. Thank you Ken.
I found an abundance of wild mushrooms at Iovine Brothers — beautiful morels, honeycups and hens in the woods. These were supplemented by the gift of maitakes from a dear visiting friend who is a blog reader and knew of my quest for wild mushrooms. She also brought beautiful edible nasturtium blossoms that I will use with my Spring Vegetable Antipasti.
My regular fish stand was out of striped bass, but I found plenty at another stand.
At DiBruno’s I switched pastas from pappardelle to malfadine. I thought this narrower but still ample pasta would be easier to eat with the wild mushrooms. Picked up some crackers for cheese, Spanish white anchovies and caviar for my hors d’oeuvres soup.
Saturday morning I walked across Rittenhouse Square to the farm stands that line Walnut Street. It was a perfect spring day with a deep blue cloudless sky and azaleas in full bloom. My mission was to buy local cheeses for our cheese course. Cherry Grove Farm from Lawrenceville, New Jersey makes organic cheeses from their own grass-fed cows. I picked an “asiago,” a toma and a blue. I wanted a fresh goat cheese, but the neighboring stand only could offer a goat gouda. At DiBruno’s I found a fresh goat cheese from Shellbark Farm in West Chester. Cheese course complete.
I also picked up wonderful fresh lilacs, apple blossoms, sweet peas and nameless yellow and blue flowers from the Amish farm stand. I love arranging flowers. I think of it as a cross between painting and sculpture.
I don’t know about you, but I rarely have luck with honeydews. I find that if you don’t find a ripe honeydew, hell may freeze over before an unripe honeydew ripens. Fortunately, I found a ripe honeydew last Saturday at Whole Foods. Unfortunately, it had no flavor. At Reading Terminal Market I found another, pre-peeled and in a plastic bag for 99 cents. Once again, not much flavor — but marginally better than the first. With a little mint syrup mixed with champagne it will be good enough.
Sue’s $1 Packets of Fresh Herbs
My little local produce market is Sue’s on 18th Street between Sansom and Chestnut. Family-owned and well-priced, it is a welcome alternative to Whole Foods and Rittenhouse Market. Among the things I love about Sue’s are the $1 packets of fresh herbs. I only use fresh herbs, but nearly all markets sell expensive packs of herbs that provide much more than you can use before the herbs gets too old. Sue’s breaks down the large packets into small $1 packets that provides plenty of herbs for a meal or two. Sue’s also had nice looking Sicilian blood oranges — not exactly local, but a nice addition to dessert.
Perils of Internet Shopping
I ordered fennel pollen on Monday from Chefshop.com. Standard shipping. I just assumed it would get here by Friday. By mid-day Friday I started wondering where it was? I went to the email and tracking number and lo and behold, not due until Monday!!! That’s right, Monday. Not good for a Sunday dinner. A touch panicked, I called Chefshop.com who confirmed 1) it was not due until Monday and 2) it had not even arrived in Pennsylvania. It turns out that Chefshop.com ships from Redmond, Washington and my assumption about when it would arrive was profoundly wrong. It seemed my only option — if available — was to ship it overnight, Saturday delivery with a shipping cost of $55. Overhearing this, Christina said I should try our neighborhood DiBruno’s. I said, with a man’s confidence, that DiBruno’s did not carry it. They did not even show it on their website. (This is the shopping version of real men don’t ask directions when lost!) Ignoring me, Christina called DiBruno’s. Sure enough, they had it…just as I suspected. Thank you Christina.
Step 5: Organizing Space
Step 5 in my Plan to Entertain is Organizing Space. A critical early task is to clean out your refrigerator to make room for what is likely to be something than its normal line-up. By dinnertime on Sunday, my counters will be clear of everything but what I need to turn-out our dinner. That will include an empty dishwasher and dish rack. Next to my sink I will have a bus pan (like you find in restaurants) and small plastic tub filled with soapy water for flatware. My sink will be empty and I will keep it empty because I know that once my sink is full, I’m sunk.
Step 6: Setting the Table
Step 6: Setting the Table provides suggestions and tools to get your table together including a Setting the Table Worksheet. My preference is to use re-positionable labels. See At Home Page 12 for more about re-positionable labels. As I watched the Phillies loose to the Diamondbacks on Friday night, I created my re-positionable labels for setting the table. On Saturday Christina used these to pull, pile and label everything we needed to serve our guests with a need for only the occasional menu question. It seems as though Christina has worked hard getting our apartment together. I know she enjoys entertaining and likes an excuse to get things organized, but I hope she has found this to be a pleasure and not a chore.
By Friday mid-day my shopping was well in hand. My plan was to do prep work on Saturday, but I was more in the mood to cook than go back to my desk. Doing my prep work on Friday would make for an even more relaxed Saturday than I had planned. So I trimmed the mushrooms and finished the mushroom broth, portioned the striped bass, pureed the honeydew, made the Jerusalem artichoke soup, cooked and peeled the fava beans, made the sorrel mayonnaise and figured out my rhubarb relish.
I had to resolve what to do with my rhubarb. The rhubarb had been macerating in sugar since last Sunday creating a pinkish syrup. I love the crunch of raw rhubarb and despair of cooking it. But I I had never seen it used un-cooked — something about not eating raw rhubarb. I had nibbled on quite a bit and I seemed none the worse. Some internet research revealed that the prohibition extended only to rhubarb’s leaves and roots. I strained the rhubarb-infused syrup, added a few sprigs of rosemary and reduced my two cups to one cup of a fragrant syrup. After allowing the syrup to cool fully, I poured in over my rhubarb. Now I have my relish to serve with the Meyer lemon sorbet.
Rhubarb relish retains the crunchy character of raw rhubarb and is perfumed with rosemary. It’s the perfect complement to a citrus sorbet or vanilla or strawberry ice cream.
Do Ahead May be made up to one week in advance.
1 pound rhubarb, leaves and bottom trimmed and discarded
1 cup sugar
2-3 small springs rosemary
1 Cut rhubarb into long, thin strips and 1/4-3/8 thick. Line up strips and cut across creating little cubes.
2 Combine rhubarb cubes and sugar in bowl and mix well. Allow to macerate for 24 to 48 hours, stirring occasionally to make sure all sugar melts into syrup.
3 Strain syrup and reserve. You should have about 2 cups syrup. Return rhubarb to refrigerator. Place syrup and a few springs rosemary in small pot and cook over moderate heat until reduced by half to about 1 cup. Strain rosemary from syrup. When syrup is cool, pour over rhubarb and mix well.
Yield 1 1/2 cups
Looking Ahead and Looking Forward
My tasks today are primarily getting the Spring Vegetable Antipasti together plus a few other pre-dinner odds and ends. The antipasti is designed to be a celebration of our local harvest — seasonal cooking that reminds us of our place and time. This will will include baby artichokes, wild ramps, fava beans, fiddlehead ferns, rainbow chard, asparagus and beets (more homage to winter past than spring present, but some needed color). These wonderful vegetables are best left to “day-of” preparation.
I have arranged for a helper from Frog Commissary to assist in serving. Before dinner I will group the elements of each course together on the kitchen counters. I will have posted my menu and my re-positionable labels with my final tasks and reminders. I will post a sign reminding myself to “KEEP PORTIONS SMALL” as we have lots to enjoy. And enjoy has what I have done so far.
Christina and I are looking forward to meeting our guests and, as I say in At Home,” sharing the warmth of our home and a good meal. ” (OK, maybe a very good meal!)
Coming on Tuesday
On Tuesday — my day job permitting — you can read about whether I ended up getting my one relaxed hour and how the evening went including photos. More importantly, I will share with you the central lesson of Company’s Coming.
Coming Next Weekend
I know posts have been coming hot and heavy with an unusual number of pretty long blogs over an unusual few days. I hope you have enjoyed reading them and how to do More Parties. Better. Easier. After a break of several days, I will post Don’t Try This At Home, a behind the scenes look at Frog Commissary’s catering The Franklin Institute Awards dinner this Thursday where the guest of honor will be Bill Gates.
REMINDER: If you plan to order At Home’s Mother’s Day Special, Mother’s Day is only two weeks away and you need to order in time to allow for shipping.
Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach