Sunday, January 18, 2009

Recent Dinner Party

Last weekend I had a great opportunity to do a dinner for around 20 people.  Thanks to my friends Chuck and Becka, who were running a B&B for a few weeks while the regular caretakers were on vacation, they invited around 20 people who they knew for a dinner for me to cater.  Chuck and Becka are the couple that had me do a dinner back in June for their board of directors, it sure is great getting repeat business!!!

Anyways, I did this dinner in much of the same fashion, of serving different courses.  I really enjoy doing it this way, as you can use a little portion control and you can really strive to make the plate look beautiful before taking it to them.  And while plate presentation can be really hard to pull off when you are really trying to get a plate out of the door to a guest while the food is still hot, I think we did OK.  And another thing that we had confirmed was that taking pictures of food can be really hard to do, so I hope any pictures that we have do justice.

You always have to make due with what equipment you have and what kind of space you have to work with, and each dinner presents it's own challenges.  So you might not be able to pull off every little nuance that you want to to make the plate look just like you want, but no matter what, the flavor is there, and that may be what really matters.  Pleasing the guy that only wants basic meat and potatoes, and if it isn't basic will just eat potato chips because he doesn't want to offend his simple palate, means it is a success when he comes to tell you how good everything was.  That is always my goal.  And I think this dinner was a success. 

The first course was one new appetizer, and a familiar one.  I made clams casino, on a crostini instead of the actual clam shell.  (We are in northern Indiana, and I think more people will eat off of bread than they will a shell).  And I also made a roasted feta appetizer where I toasted Pita bread, placed on a slice of feta and then a mixture of roasted red peppers and kalamata olives, then broiled them for a few minutes to melt everything together.  It was a very good little bite of food, and makes a great dip if you make a large quantity all together and just serve it with pita chips or something similar to dip it with.

The second course was Caprese salad.  I have done this before, but I was a little hesitant because of being winter, and tomatoes not really being in season any more, but I think that it was still good.  In this picture, you can see Chuck and I plating the salads.  Unfortunately, we did not have very good bowls for the salad, and they kind of got swallowed up by the size of the bowl, but like I said you make due with what you have, and some day I will be able to buy my own dishes.

The main course consisted Pork tenderloin with a Chimichurri, roasted New Potatoes with a garlic aioli, and green beans with tomato concasse, which is a fancy french word for chopped tomatoes.  (There may be more to the word, but it doesn't need explained here).  A big unfortunate was that we did not get a picture of the entree plate, but there are some pictures of the pork as it was being cut up.

And finally for dessert I made Port and Ginger poached pears.  After poaching the pears I reduced the poaching liquid into a syrup and that topped this dessert.  I also used a different type of pear, (I wish I could remember the name right now, it started with an "S"), it was a very small pear which visually I thought was really cool, and was something that people were not used to seeing.  I also really like to use seasonal fruit with desserts, as I think that it is something that people are not always expecting, and I think that it was the perfect cap to this dinner.  Again, big bowls make for a small looking dessert, but it was just the right size.

I am looking forward to doing another dinner this Friday for a wedding rehearsal.  I will be doing some pastas and other items for this group, and I am excited about getting to make some "basic" food in some really cool ways.  My brother will be helping me with this one, and it will be cool to be able to work with him, and have him be a part of a really good meal for a lot of people that he knows.  They will thank him for it. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Risotto....I don't know...

Ok, so I know that I said I was going to be doing recipes for the average cooker.  Recipes for anyone that can boil water, or at least knows how to cut a potato, or cook a noodle.  So at first glance, or read I guess, this dish may seem a little daunting.  It takes a lot of work, and maybe some ingredients that you wouldn't have around the house all the time, but it is worth it, and it isn't hard, just work.  So why even put this post on here if the average reader isn't going to try it?(Sorry if I am giving some of you to little credit)  But I am putting it on here because every time that I make it, Lynsey and I just want to curl up on the couch with a big bowl full of risotto and eat until we are stuffed.  It is a serious comfort food that I never even knew of and I am sure that so many of you may not know of.  So if you are up to it, try it.  I will tell you how it is traditionally done, and also how I do it.  Also, if you are to afraid, there are recipes out there that are so called "quick" recipes.  I have never tried them, but you can find them on the sites that I have linked here.

Anyways, lets get on with it.  Risotto starts with the rice.  What makes the risotto what it is, is the starch from the rice, brought out in the way that it is cooked.  So to make real risotto you need to start with Arborio rice.  This is a shorter grained rice with a higher starch content.  I only tell you this because you do not want to try and make this with the white rice that you have sitting in a bag that you never use, or the rice that only takes a minute to cook.  You will not be pleased and you will think that I am an idiot.  More and more places are caring Arborio rice, but not everywhere.  To be sure you will find it at places like Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's, but even Kroger or Marsh may carry it.  This is the main ingredient that you will have to seek out.  But it is worth it, I promise.

I like to make my risotto with carrots and sometimes peas.  I also almost always eat it with chicken, so I am going to tell you how to make it this way.  I will also give you the optional things that I do, but you don't have to.

2 tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 Onion, small dice
1 Carrot, small dice (optional)
1 cup Arborio Rice
1/2-1 cup White wine (sort of optional)
4 cups chicken broth
Saffron threads, in chicken broth (totally optional)
1/4-1/2 cup peas (optional)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Salt/Pepper to taste

First, heat olive oil in a saucepan and saute onions and carrots.  Season with salt.  Add rice to pot and stir to coat rice with oil, and lightly brown.  Add white wine just to cover the rice.  (This is where the work starts.  Also, if you don't have white wine on hand, which I don't always have, just start with the chicken broth).  At this point you will want to stir the rice almost continuously .  Stir the rice, until almost all of the liquid has been cooked out of the pot.  Once the liquid is cooked down, add more broth, just to cover the rice.  Continue stirring the rice, again, until almost all liquid has been cooked off.  You will repeat this process about four times.  Once the rice is nearly completely cooked, add your peas.  They do not take long to cook, so that is why you add them at the end.  When rice is cooked add your parmesan and stir in.  Also adjust seasoning to your liking.

I said I almost always have it with chicken as well.  To make the chicken, I just cook a boneless breast in olive oil in a separate skillet and add it to the rice on my plate.  There may be a way to do it with the chicken actually cooked with the rice, but that is not the way I know to do it.

I don't know if my instructions are clear enough to give you a good picture of how to make this, but I hope so.  It is so good, and I mean it, put it in a bowl, and curl up on the couch with your special someone and watch a good movie with some good rice.  Here are some pictures.  However, this time it is on a plate just for a picture, but I would rather have it in a bowl.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Yep that's right noodles.  Let me explain.  I was sick over the weekend and wasn't really in the mood for anything too exciting.  The night that I started getting sick we made spaghetti.  (The spaghetti had nothing to do with it).  I always seem to make either too little or too much when it comes to the pasta.  That night I was on the too much end, so I stuck the leftover plain pasta in a baggie and put it in the fridge for later. Now back to the part about being sick.

I decided that since we had the noodles left over in the fridge and I didn't really want anything with a "lot" of flavor I would heat up the pasta and eat it.  Of course, I could not just eat plain noodles; I had to throw some seasoning in it.  And this is what I did.  Oh and by the way, Lynsey and I just got done eating the same meal again for supper tonight.  (Not because I am still sick though :)

First, cook your noodles.  I like Angel Hair, or Vermicelli for this meal.  When your noodles are done, drain them, put them in a bowl and take a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and splash it over the noodles.  Then take a pinch of good sea salt (if you don't have sea salt, stop reading right now, go to the store and get some good sea salt, seriously that iodized crap isn't good enough to melt the ice on my sidewalk)....(actually that is true, that salt is not good for melting the ice on your sidewalk, it can damage your concrete)....sorry.  Anyways, take a pinch of good sea salt and sprinkle it on the pasta along with some parmesan cheese.  Now I will not tell you that you have to use freshly grated parmesan, but that is what I did, and honestly I don't think I would eat this meal if it was the green canned parmesan.  Also, if you have a little dried basil, or fresh if it is the right time of year, sprinkle a little on.  Mix all together and eat.  

Now remember what I said about not having a "lot" of flavor?  Well I was wrong, it was delicious.  And maybe it did not have flavor exploding out of it like maybe....hmmmm....well whatever you can think of that has a lot of flavor, but it was good and so so simple.  

So next time you are wondering what to have for dinner and you are feeling really bummed because you have no food in the pantry because the economy is in turmoil, and grocery prices have risen drastically, and the talking heads on TV want you to believe that our lives are going to be better than they have ever been because we are getting a new savior...uh I mean president, but you don't put your faith in government, and you aren't waiting for the next handout so that they can keep you on their leash but still don't have any ingredients with which to make dinner, remember this meal.  Chances are you will always be able to afford some noodles.