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Monthly Archives: April 2013

Dinner Party Post Mortem.

Dinner Party Post Mortem.

 

As a small personal services business, sometimes we will do things to “show off” so to speak.  This last Friday I had the occasion to put on a show off event for some of my close friends and foodies.

I had a dinner party that consisted of a 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings.

The menu read as follows:

Amuse bouche

Oysters casino

Fresh Gulf oysters lightly broiled with herb casino butter and hickory smoked bacon.

First course

Chilled Avocado and cucumber soup

Lightly chilled soup with hints of citrus garnished with fresh cilantro and cucumber

Main course

Tournedos Rossini with Sauce Périgueux served with lobster potato foam and seared garlic broccolini

Seared medallions of beef tenderloin served with seared fois gras and a shaved black truffle demi glaze.  Served over warm potato foam made with lobster stock. With broccolini seared with garlic.

Cheese course

Triple cream fromage St. André on a baguette crostini with quince paste and balsamic reduction

Triple cream St. Andre cheese served warm with quince paste on a toasted baguette crostini over a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Final course

Bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with sweet ricotta filling served with amaretto crème anglaise

Fresh made bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with almond and ricotta filling served with a warm amaretto cream custard sauce

 

I figure, if you are gonna go for it, go BIG right?

What goes into such an undertaking?  Just like with any menu, planning, planning, and oh, more planning.  Mise ‘en place is HUGE in doing something like this.  For the last 3 weeks, the prep for this event has been in the works.  We started with the menu and worked from there.

What comes after the menu?  Logistics.  Can it be done in the space allotted?  Sure, but only for 8 people, that means that we have to limit the guest list.  It went from up to 15 down to 8.  Next part of planning something like this is making sure your guests are firm and confirmed.  It would be a big problem to set a purchasing list and not have the right numbers of confirmed guests show.

Next step in logistics?  Making sure you have the flatware, china and glassware needed to pull this off.  Want to be washing dishes between service courses?  Not so much.  I set this menu up in with the idea of single cook execution and simplified plating execution.  Small plates with simple garniture.  We purchased a new set of plates for each of the courses.  Good thing is that they can all be used again.

Next stop?  Shopping lists!  You have to know where to source items, where to purchase for the bang to buck ratios, best quality etc.  Experience doing catering and event as well as private client work comes in handy for this step.  How does one set up shopping for an event of this style?  Run down your mise en place list.  Go line by line with each step.  Compile your needs and check your existing inventory.

Hard part about an event like this is that running single cook means all the pressure is on me to perform.  I spent the event day doing all of the shopping, and prep.  That meant that the menu had to be set up with items that were not too heavily needed for ala minute cooking (at the time needed).  I set my menu with the only prep at time item being the primary plating items.

The break down course by course:

Amuse Bouche:

Oysters Casino.  I added an item to this course.  It went from a strict hot item to an oysters 2 ways set up.  I purchased wild caught Gulf oysters for the casino and good quality Bluepoint oysters for the cold course.

The oysters fought with me, as would be expected when the pressure is on, but the quality was top notch from Central Market, and the course executed very well.  Nice opening item.

First Course:

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber soup.

Moved from a hot to a cold item.  Traditionally a pallet cleanser from the strong flavor Amuse course.  There was a slight hint of spice from the jalapeno but nothing overwhelming because of the base of Greek yogurt.  It was a very nice addition to the menu.  Very popular item.

Main Course:

Tournedos Rossini with Lobster Potato Foam and Garlic Seared Brocolinni.

The only course that was ala minute.  The tenderloin was butchered ahead to allow the tournedos to come to room temperature.  The potato foam was based on a recipe from el Bulli.  I should have stuck with the original recipe without too much derivation, as the foam base was a little too thick and did not stand up too well.  The lobster flavor from the stock came through and the texture was nice as an accompaniment to the truffle based demi glaze but I was a little disappointed at the lack of lift.  The brocolinni turned out to be broccoli rabe as Central Market was out of the other.  No big deal.  Same prep, just blanche and toss in to sear briefly with roasted garlic.  The flavor balance was spot on, and for the most part, the steaks were done just right.  I made sure to give myself the least appealing set up with the most overdone steak.  No need to give a guest an overcooked piece of meat.

Cheese Course:

St. Andre cheese with Quince and Crostini:

Simple and creamy.  I miss planned my plating diagram and had to make quick changes based on my purchases, but no big deal, just compress down.  The crostini was a bit on the tough side, but live and learn.  The cheese with the whipped quince and balsamic glaze was a very nice balance.

Final course:

Chocolate Ravioli with Ricotta and Almond Filling:

Not being mister pastry, this was the course that caused me the most pre event distress.  I have made pasta before, I have cooked with chocolate before.  I have yet to do the two together.  Thanks to Chef Michelle Brown at Collin College for the advice regarding the 00 flour.  The texture difference with the super fine cocoa powder made a difference.  The pasta was a bit stickier that other pasta that I worked with in the past, but the smell of chocolate filled the house when I was rolling it out!  The filling was fantastic, a perfect nuttiness and creaminess with the cheese and almond paste.  The crème anglaise was just the right note to finish with.  For my own purposes?  I will cook the pasta a bit longer or crank down the roller to a slightly thinner setting, as the pasta cooked a bit tough for my tastes.

All in all, my guests were VERY pleased with the results.  I cannot complain.

 

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Culinary 101

 

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This Week’s Client Menu…

What’s on tap this week for my private client group?

Grilled Tilapia Veracruz (tilapia with a Mexican tomato sauce) served with grilled zucchini and yellow squash with cilantro rice

Seared NY Strip Steak with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli

Roasted Chicken Quarters with quinoa pilaf and roasted asparagus.

You curious about menus for your own family?

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Menu Items

 

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Pantry Raiders 1. The Dreaded Little Jars

Venture bravely into your pantry one day and you will find a terrible and frightening things. Items so horrid, that Julia and August are ROLLING in their graves! What horrid things might they be?

Some canned this

Some tepid sauce that?

No, far worse!!! JARS OF HERBS AND SPICES!!!

Huh?

What can be so bad you may ask?

The answer can be found in a question. Do you remember during which presidential administration you purchased that uber tub of “Italian Seasoning” from your local discount mega club? How about that tiny and dusty little metal tin of ground nutmeg that hides in the back of your pantry? I bet you have no clue. Worse yet, just how much do you think you spent on those items?

Let me tell you friends. That it was too long ago and too much respectively.

Okay, reality check. There is nothing REALLY wrong with dried herbs, so long as you are not using the petrified and dead stuff that you happen to have purchased during the Carter administration. Dried herbs are a descent substitute for the fresh stuff when used properly. But what is your solution you may ask? Check out your friendly neighborhood “high end establishment”. Places like Central Market here in Dallas and Whole Foods Market on a nationwide basis, have a fantastic area of bulk bin dried herbs that you can purchase what you need as you need it. Here is the kicker. That $6 plus dollar jar of herbs will cost you cents on the dollar from bulk bin. You are paying a high premium for the fancy glass jar. I will spend no more than a dollar or two on a bag of dried herbs that can be as large as of not bigger than the glass jar “premium” brands at your local megamarts! PLUS, you know when you bought it!

Why is the when so important? Time! Open that bag of dried herbs. It smells pretty good huh? That aroma is the volatile oils that give the herb its flavor. What is volatile? It means that when exposed to air, it will dissipate into the atmosphere. In other words, your herbs will lose their flavor. Rule of thumb? I would not keep dried herbs in my pantry for any longer than 6 months. If you store them near your stove or oven, no longer than 3. Heat will speed the process of degrading the oils and flavors.

Now for their culinary bunk mates, spices….

They are a little different. When you buy the jar, 9 times out of 10 you are getting the ubiquitous brown powders. They pack a punch! The time rules that apply to dried herbs tend to play the same with pre-ground dried spices. Here is the exception. When you buy them whole, and I recommend that HIGHLY, you can keep them for almost an indefinite period of time. Why? The volatile oils are contained within the whole spice, and are not released until you break them down. Cool, huh? Added bonus? With whole spices, you can do cool stuff, like toasting! Why? Adding heat to whole spices like cumin or caraway will enhance the aromatic properties and deepen some of those wonderful substances that give those spices their depth of flavor.

Okay, so what do you DO with those whole spices? Invest in a coffee or spice grinder. They are not that expensive and can be used for most any whole spice to process down to whatever size powder you desire. Exception being nutmeg. Microplaners are handy tools that are relatively inexpensive and can be used in multiple applications OTHER than removing that fantastic fragrant powder….

Summary?

By small amounts when you need it. Don’t keep it long. Your food will thank you for it!

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2013 in Culinary 101

 

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