Tag Archives: Salads

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

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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

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

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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

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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!

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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

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Avocado & Black Bean Salad Recipe

A colorful salad with a Southwestern flair combines tender beans and avocado with crisp peppers and onion and a sweet orange dressing. Be sure to pick avocados that are ripe but still firm or they will lose their shape. You can substitute red pepper if orange and yellow peppers are unavailable. You can also substitute 5 cans of beans for the dried beans and skip step 1—this might impact the texture and color of the salad but it will work in a pinch.

do ahead Salad can be made to step 3 up to one day ahead.
1 pound black beans, picked through for stones
and soaked for 6-8 hours
zest and juice of 2 oranges
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
6 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup medium chopped orange or yellow pepper
1/2 cup medium chopped red pepper
1/2 cup medium chopped red onion
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeño
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 ripe but firm avocados
1 In a medium saucepan, cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, partially cover pot and simmer gently until beans are soft, about 1 1/2-2 hours. Rinse and drain beans and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt.
2 In a small saucepan, bring orange juice to a boil and continue boiling until juice is reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Transfer reduced juice to a small bowl and allow it to cool. Make the dressing by adding garlic, rice vinegar, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper.
3 In a large bowl, combine beans, dressing, orange zest, scallions, orange pepper, red pepper, onion and jalapeño. Toss to coat evenly. Allow beans to marinate in the dressing for at least 30 minutes.
4 Just before serving, peel and cut avocado into small cubes (about 1/4-inch). If the avocado sits out undressed it will discolor. Add avocado and cilantro to salad and toss to distribute. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve salad on a platter lined with a bed of lettuce.

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Chapter 11 — Fish & Seafood

Today’s preview is Chapter 11 — Fish & Seafood.  The chapter starts with Pecan-Crusted Tilapia with Ancho Sweet Potato Wedges and concludes with Panko-Crusted Sea Scallops with Creamed Corn & Pepper Sauce. In between are thirteen home entertaining-friendly fish and seafood recipes that offer a welcome alternative to meat and poultry.

People seem afraid to serve fish at home to guests, but I find that people really love fish and welcome the change.  I think Chapter 11 will end that fear. As with preparations throughout At Home, the focus is on do ahead. Most cookbooks are restaurant-based books that tend to treat fish as though the fish just had to leap out of the pan on to the table. Caterer’s have to think about fish differently — with a do ahead perspective. This past Saturday night we served 80+ perfectly cooked striped bass to a wedding party that offered guests a choice of fennel-crusted striped bass or the Wine-Braised Shortribs of beef of that we feature in Chapter 10.

Chapter 11 includes Four Seasons of Pan-Seared Salmon where my goal is to get you comfortable with the technique of pan-searing and provide four seasonally appropriate preparations.

This evening marks the start of Rosh Hashana — the Jewish New Year. Other than Passover — a holiday that falls in early spring, Rosh Hashana is the most popular Jewish family and friends food event.  At Home is all about entertaining friends and family. I look forward to At Home and this blog being an integral part of your next Rosh Hashana with lots of easy, do ahead and Rosh Hashana-appropriate recipes including this Scallion & Ginger Poached Salmon.

Scallion & Ginger-Poached Salmon
This recipe originally came from the kitchen of the wife of a good friend for whom we planned a 60th birthday brunch. It has become our poached salmon default recipe. We serve it with a sweet and sour cucumber and red onion salad.

do ahead Salmon can be poached up to six hours ahead and served at room temperature or gently reheated in a bit of the poaching liquid on the stove.

1-ounce piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1⁄2 cup chopped scallion, plus 1 small bunch cut into 3-inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
3 pounds salmon filet, skinned

Cucumber and Red Onion Salad
2 cucumbers, peeled
1 red onion, peeled, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

1 Combine ginger, garlic, chopped scallion, salt and pepper in a deep dish or casserole large enough to hold the salmon. Coat salmon in ginger mixture and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, make cucumber salad: Cut cucumbers in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape out seeds and discard. Cut cucumbers into thin halfmoons. Combine with red onion, parsley, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before
serving.
3 Preheat oven to 400°. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with large scallion pieces to make a “raft” for the fish.
4 Set salmon on the raft. Pour white wine and water over fish. Cover pan with foil and roast until cooked through, about 20-30 minutes.

serves 6

A side note from Chapter 11:

Technique
Leave Food Irregular and Coarse
Most foods taste better when they look better, and a coarse, irregular appearance makes them look handmade, homier. Compare a salsa made —and made homogenous—in a food processor to one that’s been handchopped or made with a mortar and pestle. This principle of irregularlooking foods is true elsewhere. Bread sliced by hand is more appealing than bread sliced by machine. In a curry, torn cilantro looks more attractive than chopped, and it provides a burst of flavor that chopped cilantro does not. If you must use the admittedly very convenient food processor, do not overprocess. Pulsing will let you maintain variation and coarseness. Also, try to phase in your ingredients, adding some ingredients after you’ve processed most of the rest.

And another wonderful Pascal illustration:

Picture 1

Tomorrow: Chapter 12 — Meat & Poultry Entrees where I will feature one of my favorite recipes in At Home, Manou’s Boiled Chicken.

Regular blog readers may be getting tired of this part of the blog where I remind you of the limited amount of time to buy the book and receive a signed and numbered limited edition. Just doin’ my job! The books ship to me a week from tomorrow. We expect to begin sending them out some time between October 2 — 5. At the end of September we will end this pre-order special.

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Scallion & Ginger-Poached Salmon Recipe

This recipe originally came from the kitchen of the wife of a good friend for whom we planned a 60th birthday brunch. It has become our poached salmon default recipe. We serve it with a sweet and sour cucumber and red onion salad.

do ahead Salmon can be poached up to six hours ahead and served at room temperature or gently reheated in a bit of the poaching liquid on the stove.

1-ounce piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1⁄2 cup chopped scallion, plus 1 small bunch cut into 3-inch pieces
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
3 pounds salmon filet, skinned

Serve with Cucumber and Red Onion Salad
2 cucumbers, peeled
1 red onion, peeled, cut into quarters and thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
1⁄4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

1 Combine ginger, garlic, chopped scallion, salt and pepper in a deep dish or casserole large enough to hold the salmon. Coat salmon in ginger mixture and allow it to marinate for 30 minutes.
2 Meanwhile, make cucumber salad: Cut cucumbers in half, lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape out seeds and discard. Cut cucumbers into thin halfmoons. Combine with red onion, parsley, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before
serving.
3 Preheat oven to 400°. Line the bottom of a roasting pan with large scallion pieces to make a “raft” for the fish.
4 Set salmon on the raft. Pour white wine and water over fish. Cover pan with foil and roast until cooked through, about 20-30 minutes.

serves 6

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