Note: This is the fourth post in a series. If you missed Part 1: A Conversation with Myself, click here. For Part 2: Party Parameters and Menu Planning, click here. For Part 3: Organizing Tasks & Time, click here.
So far, so good. But it’s still early in the game. I feel confident in my game plan, but the game is really just starting. What’s important is that I feel focused on making this fun…for me.
Plan to Entertain’s Step 4 is Shopping. On Sunday I filled out the At Home Shopping List based upon my menu plan. I had my “what” shopping plan. With At Home’s Organizing Tasks & Time Schedule, I had my “where and when” shopping plan.
Last Saturday I did a little “pre-shopping” — and picked up bread for crostini on Tuesday.
Thursday I will do a little light neighborhood shopping for a few things I want to do on Thursday evening. My preference would to have done this on Wednesday, but I had the opportunity to have dinner with a friend I only see rarely so I changed my plan. A sub-principle of planning is to be flexible.
Friday My day for fun shopping at Reading Terminal Market.
Saturday More fun at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market for cheese, flowers and maybe a little last minute inspiration.
There are several ways to look at food shopping.
Shopping can be purely functional. You’ve got your list…milk, check…eggs, check…coffee, check. You’re on a tight schedule, you’re in, you’re out…done. Task completed, check. I concede that with good reason, in our busy and over-committed lives, this is how we do most of our food shopping. In fact, for much of what we shop for, this works just fine.
However, not all food shopping need be the same. I invite you to look at some food shopping differently..shopping with more foreplay! It has to do with enjoying the journey and not rushing to the destination. Enjoy exploring what’s seasonally new in the produce aisles. Rhubarb and local asparagus are as sure a sign of spring as the daffodil and robin. Shad roe has just appeared in markets — the annual evidence of shad’s life force. Shopping slowly extends beyond fresh food. Buying dried pasta? Explore its origin. Honey? There are now honeys available with all manner of natural flavor accents — the result of where the honey is from and where and on what bees fed.
I remember, as a teacher many years ago at the Green Tree School (See At Home Page 69: The Green Tree Cafe), using food shopping to teach learning-challenged inner-city children that bacon does not simply come from the supermarket, but from pigs and some is smoked and some is not and pigs are raised on farms. Food is the result of farm and farmer, ranch and rancher, fish and fisherman. Food is not just “there.” Food goes through a journey to get there and that journey is “contained” in the food itself…if you just stop to think about it.
Do your functional shopping wherever, but occasionally seek out better markets and farm stands and shop slowly and for fun.
Reading Terminal Market
Which brings me to The Reading Terminal Market. The Reading Terminal Market is my favorite place in Philadelphia. This extends from the wonderful prepared foods your can buy — no better lunch options in the city — to the fresh fish, meat and produce. Strolling the aisles for me is akin to wandering the galleries of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
My principal objectives on Friday will be seasonal local vegetables. There are two stands in particular that I will visit. One is the Fair Food Farmstand. Fair Food is formerly a program of White Dog Community Enterprises — a program to focus community support of and access to local farm products. See www.fairfoodphilly.org. It is centrally located along the 12th Street perimeter of the market. The other produce stand specializing in local produce is Livengood’s Produce, located in the center of the market.
Here are some notes about some interesting ingredients I am using for our dinner.
Wild Italian fennel pollen
Wild Italian fennel pollen is a distinctly Tuscan product harvested from wild fennel plants in full bloom, dried and screened. It has the texture of a coarse powder with sweet notes of anise plus musty and floral aroma. I bought mine from chefshop.com. It’s actually from Umbria and costs $19.99 plus shipping. It is pricey but a little goes a long way and keeps well. While cooking with wild Italian fennel pollen might not make you swoon, it tastes wonderful and just saying those words are somewhat transformative! You may substitute toasted fennel seed coarsely ground in a spice grinder. Not quite fennel pollen — but a perfectly reasonable substitute. (See At Home’s Fennel-scented Striped Bass on P.260.) But if you do make the substitute you won’t get to say “wild Italian fennel pollen.”
I will use the fennel pollen to coat my striped bass before searing and maybe sprinkle a little fennel pollen “dust” on the entrée plate as a garnish.
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and Mandarin orange. They are more round than a lemon and more oval than an orange. Correspondingly, their flavor is a cross between the two – sweeter and a lemon, more sour than an orange. Same thing with color – pale orange to deep yellow.
Meyer Lemon Sorbet
Meyer lemon produces a sorbet with a distinctive flavor that results in the crossing of a lemon and mandarin orange. Remember to remove sorbet and other frozen desserts from freezer ahead of time to allow to temper and soften a bit.
Do ahead Must be made at least one day ahead and as much as two weeks ahead stored tightly covered in freezer. You may pre-scoop portions and hold in freezer to speed the process of serving.
3 cups Meyer lemon juice (about a dozen Meyer lemons)
3 cups simple syrup
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon rind
Combine Meyer lemon juice, simple syrup and Meyer lemon rind. Chill. Transfer to ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacture’s directions.
Yield About 5 1/2 cups serving 6-8
Start by getting a sense of what style/type of wine you would like to serve based on your menu. (At Home includes two terrific wine charts on Pages 32 and 33 than can help you.) If you are planning for a single wine for your dinner it should be paired with your entrée with some consideration given to what comes before. More interesting than doing one wine with a three course dinner would be to do one wine with your first course and another with your entrée. You will probably spend about the same — for example, two of the same bottles or one each of two different wines — two bottles. Rely on the store personnel to the degree that you can. Some Pennsylvania State Stores are better than others and they have all made great strides since the State Store dark ages. New Jersey is blessed with numbers of excellent wine sources including Canal’s and Moore Brothers. Moore Brothers is especially good for high value uncommon wines. Unless you are dealing with a wine store with extensive variety, it makes no sense going into the store with a specific winery and/or year in mind. The chances the store will have that particular wine are slim. They know their wines best. Give them a per bottle budget, let them know what you are serving, what you think you came in for, and trust them. You really have little choice other than making your own best guess. And they want you to be happy so you will return.
In our case, knowing that our guests are wine enthusiasts, we decided that having several wines is a way to add interest to our dinner. As a result, we planned our wines corresponding to each course. With cocktails we will serve At Home’s Spring Champagne Cocktail — champagne with a little honeydew puree and mint syrup. (Page 43)
Here’s our wine line-up
Spring Vegetable Antipasti — Gruner Leltliner, a medium dry Austrian white wine.
Pappardelle with Wild Mushrooms — New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Striped Bass with wild Italian fennel pollen – Viognier
Cheese – a red from our little “cellar” – actually a rack and two small Cuisinart wine refrigerators, TBD
Dessert – also from our little wine cellar, TBD
We bought two bottles each of the Gruner, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier, but it is unlikely we will need two. A bottle of wine typically yields five glasses, but with all this wine six per bottle seems fine – one slightly small glass for each guest. In fact, as host I have the responsibility to control the amount of wine guests drink. Alcohol is an area where the generous host is not the caring host. I am not concerned that this will be an issue with our guests, but as moderation in portion size is a goal of my dinner, that extends to wine.
Next — Step 5: Organizing Space and an Update on Thursday’s prep work
Reminder about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special
On Monday At Home blog readers received an email from me about At Home’s Mother’s Day Special. The special includes an inscribed book by me to your mother, a Pascal Lemaitre Mother’s Day Card, a recipe card with my mother’s Stuffed Cabbage Recipe, and an At Home book plate for you to inscribe your own message. Check your Monday email. Note: At Home’s Mother’s Day Special is not available from our online store. You have to use the order form that comes with the email. You can also access the At Home Mother’s Day Special and download the order form by going to the blog site. If you read the blog via email or on Facebook, just click on the blog title to get to the blog site.
Thank you for visiting.
Your Home Entertaining Coach