Saturday, January 26, 2008

What's Your Comfort?

What’s Your Comfort?

Wintertime always conjures up wanting comfort food. There’s nothing like a warm, delicious and comforting plate of food to ease your worries away. What’s your comfort food? Is it a slice of warm apple pie or maybe some homemade chicken soup to ease your aches and pains away?

I believe that comfort food comes from are childhood; I was lucky enough to have a mother that was a caterer, so there was always something good smelling in the air. I always wanted to help my mother in the kitchen, she taught me a lot, but the one thing that I did learn, is that uncomplicated simple food was the best!

In most households, comfort foods were the dishes we grew up with. I came from an Irish and Sicilian home, so I love potatoes and we ate a lot of Spaghetti and meatballs. There was nothing more comforting to me then coming home from a long day at school and smelling a pot of marinara sauce on the stove. I also enjoyed those quiet, special moments watching TV with a bowl of macaroni and cheese, that’s comfort with a capital “C”. As I got older I learned that this cheesy pasta concoction doesn’t just come out of a box. There is nothing better than this homemade version of a childhood favorite. I’ve served this many times as an appetizer at my events in miniature ceramic ramekins with a bamboo fork, the party guests can never have enough of them, I don’t think I’m the only one that enjoys the comfort of warm cheesy pasta with a crunchy crust; pictured above. Get a fork and dig in to your comfort…

Macaroni and cheese

Serves 6 to 8 as entrée or 8 to 10 as a side dish.
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 pound elbow macaroni
3 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1 1/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 cup Panko style Japanese bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°F. and butter a 3- to 4-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish. In heavy saucepan melt 6 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes then add flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil, whisking. Add mustard, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. In a kettle of salted boiling water cook macaroni until just al dente, about 7 minutes, and drain well. In a large bowl stir together macaroni, sauce, Cheddar, and 1 cup Parmesan and transfer to prepared dish. In a small bowl stir together breadcrumbs and remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in microwave or stovetop and mix into breadcrumb mixture and sprinkle evenly over macaroni. Bake macaroni in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Art Of Serving Cheese

Good cheese, wine, bread and friends; what more could you ask for!
I have served numerous cheese displays at my client’s events, people request it and I suggest it. I will give you some fantastic ideas on how to display cheese and what to serve. There are so many different cheeses out there in the world. A good cheese board could have up to 6 or so different cheeses. What kind of cheese do you ask? Well, I like to serve all kinds, the varieties that a lot of people may not have had a chance to try. I usually do not serve basic cheese like, Monterey Jack or Mild Cheddar and the like. Too many of us consume those kinds of cheeses on a regular basis, there is nothing wrong with domestic mild cheeses but you don’t have a chance to let ones taste buds travel around the world a bit.

Aspire for variety in taste, texture and appearance. A delicious selection might include a soft, mild cheese like triple cream Brie, a hard, mild, nutty cheese such as an Asiago, and semi-firm, sharp Stilton. You can also build your cheese selection around a theme. You could serve all goat cheeses: a Cabrales which is a semi-firm, blue cheese; a Montrachet which is a soft, fresh cheese; and a Gjetost which is a hard, whey cheese.
Select a country for your theme; for example, you could choose Spain and serve Manchego, a cured cheese from the region of La Mancha made from the milk of Manchega sheep. I love this cheese; it’s tangy, nutty and full-flavored. Sometimes this cheese is infused with rosemary. Cabrales, a Spanish blue cheese, a robust flavor produced by Astruian dairy farmers. Idiazabal with its smoky, rich tasted; it is the quintessential Sheppard’s cheese of the Basque country.

Appropriate Accompaniments: Accompany your cheese board with crackers and bread that don’t have very strong flavors that would compete with the flavor of the cheeses. Fresh fruit like, Apples, pears, grapes and figs go very well with cheese. I love to serve dried fruits and nuts with my cheeses, yum.

Serving Suggestions: I have used many different items to serve cheese on, whatever inspires me at the time, I guess. My favorite is a large piece of marble, you can also use various large pieces of dark slate, glass blocks, old wooden cutting boards with baskets of crackers, bread sticks and nuts. And one thing that I think is a must is labeling your cheese; this will keep the guesswork out of the way for your guests. I print cheese labels on my computer with address labels and stick them on bamboo skewers and then stick it in the cheese, no more guesswork and it’s so chic! You can even get small pieces of black slate and write the name of the cheese with chalk, or use place card holders with small cards with the names of the cheeses written on them.

Pairing Cheeses with Wine
Blue cheeses such as Stilton or Gorgonzola go well with dessert wines like Sauternes and Ports. To accompany fresh cheeses like a goat or feta, choose a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. Soft-ripened cheeses like Teleme or Brillat-Savarin go well with Chardonnay. For aged cheeses like Cheddars, aged Gruyeres and Parmigiano-Reggiano serve Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Burgundy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Floral Arrangement On A Budget

The life of a caterer is all about balancing budgets for food, service, rentals and sometimes décor or floral for the tabletop. Food and table presentation is very important to me at all my events, no matter how small or large the party is. Not only is my reputation at stake, but the reputation of the host or hostess that hired me. Besides reputation, I really care and have a passion for all my events. I enjoy the creative process that’s involved and I’m always learning about new ways to present and stage my food.

Floral arranging is an art in itself and a completely different ball game then catering. I am not a florist and I let my clients know that and I suggest to them that they should purchase a floral arrangement for their buffet table and/or guests tables. Sometimes in rare occasions my clients tell me they don’t want flowers or that they don’t need them, but I know perhaps their event budget was stretched a little too thin. In this case I need to be a little creative with my “art of presentation”.

At a recent holiday party, I had to think of something to “stage” or decorate the tabletop on a budget (as usual). I came up with something quick, seasonal, colorful and some of it edible. When I say quick, I mean quick-with all the other elements involved with what I do, I really don’t have the time to make elaborate floral arrangements. Since I’m always at a grocery store somewhere in my day, I look in the produce department for and inspiration on a budget. If you remember that “food” is being served, food can also be used to compliment it with style, color and texture. I saw that green apples where on sale, so I bought loads of them and then I needed a complimentary color. I found some large purple and while flowering kale, so I bought a few bunches of those. I already knew that the event location of this party had a large entertaining room with high ceiling. So, I thought I would use these large and tall cylinder shaped vases-big and dramatic always makes a statement! After that, I drove to my favorite local florist and purchased some tall bunches of curly willow, some evergreen branches and some red branchy things. I did not even arrange this until I was at the event the next day, that is how easy this is, it really only took 15 minutes to arrange.

To make the floral arrangement I put some green apples in the bottom of the vase and put in the curly willow, evergreen branches and the red branches. After putting the arrangements on the buffet table, I arranged some more evergreen branches and apples right on the tabletop and just put down the kale on the table at the base of the vase. Simple, elegant and decorative and on a budget…in some cases you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make something look great and unusual.

Sesame Tempura Green Beans with Soy Dipping Sauce

This recipe is such a hit with my clients and friends. So much so, that my friend Paula in Spokane, Washington opened a restaurant there recently called "Olive Oilz" and she serves it on the menu as an appetizer. But I have to be honest, anything deep fried is good, you can take the tire off your car and dip it in batter and fry it and it would be good!

Sesame Tempura Green Beans with Soy Dipping Sauce
4 Cups Vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 Teaspoons Fresh Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Superfine Granulated Sugar
1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
¼ Cup Sesame Seeds
1 Cup Beer (Not Dark)
¾ Lb Green Beans, Trimmed

Heat 2 inches oil in a 4-guart heavy pot over moderate
Heat until deep-fat thermometer registers 365*F.
While oil is heating, make dipping sauce by stirring
together soy sauce, lime juice, and sugar until sugar
is dissolved. Whisk together flour and sesame seeds and
whisk in beer until batter is smooth. Toss about 10 beans
in batter until coated. Add to oil 1 at a time and fry, turning
until golden, about 1 ½ min. Transfer with tongs to paper
towels to drain and sprinkle with salt to taste. Coat and
Fry remaining beans in same manner.
Serve beans with dipping sauce and enjoy!
P.S.-I’ve served this with a hot & sweet mustard for dip
And it was very good!
Makes 6 (hors d’oeuvre) servings.

A little history about Tempura, it was introduced to Japan in the mid-sixteenth century by early Portuguese visitors. The word tempura may be derived from the Portuguese noun tempero, meaning a condiment or seasoning, or from the verb temperar, meaning "to season". Theree is still today a dish in Portugal very similar to tempura called peixinhos da horta, "garden fishies". An alternate explanation for the word is that it is derived from "Tempora", a Latin word used by either Spanish or Portuguese missionaries to refer to the Lenten period where they could not eat meat.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ceviche in Spoons

I catered a Mexican themed dinner party on New Year's day and for one of the passed Hor'D ouevres we served ceviche in spoons. Enjoy the recipe below....p.s. it goes down better with a margarita or two!

4-6 servings
½ day 20 min prep
1 lb halibut or sea bass fillets (or use a mixture of fish and shrimp)
5-6 limes (Enough Juice to cover fish) 1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (or more to suit your taste)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 dash hot sauce lettuce leaves (to line serving bowls)
avocados (optional)
sliced olives (for garnish) (optional)
Dice the fish (approximately 1/2-inch dice if using shrimp use cleaned shrimp).
Marinate fish in the lime juice in the fridge overnight (this step cooks the fish).
Stir often.
Pour off most of the lime juice (just leave it moist).
Add remaining ingredients except lettuce, avocado and olive. Do this preferably a few hours before serving & refrigerate.
Toss well and arrange in individual serving bowls (I used chinese spoons to serve the ceviche in, since my servers were passing this as an appetizer) that are lined with the lettuce leaves.
If you wish garnish with sliced avocado and sliced black olives.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pumpkin Waffles

For those of you that missed my last Postcard Recipe in the mail, below is the recipe!
By the way, if you are not on my mailing list please let me know and you will get a great recipe card about 3 to 4 times a year

Pumpkin Waffles- makes 12 (4-inch) waffles

2 ½ Cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed Light Brown Sugar
2 ¼ tsp. Baking Powder
½ tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Soda
2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp. Ground Ginger
¼ tsp. Ground Cloves
4 Large Eggs
1 cup Whole Milk
1 cup well-shaken Buttermilk
1 cup Canned solid-pack pumpkin
¾ stick Unsalted Butter,
melted Veggie Oil for brushing waffle iron

Preheat waffle iron, if you don’t have a waffle iron- make pancakes. Sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and spices. Whisk eggs, milk, buttermilk, pumpkin, and butter until smooth. Whisk in dry ingredients just until smooth. Brush waffle iron lightly with oil and spoon batter into waffle iron, spreading quickly. (about 2 cups for 4-inch Belgian waffle iron)Transfer waffles to warm oven. Serve with Maple Syrup and crumbled candied pecans!!!

Ladies Christmas Luncheon Menu 2007

Cooked for a fun client of mine for a "Ladies Christmas Luncheon" in December of 2007.

I have cooked for her many times before and for some of her party guests that were there that day. What a fun group! Everyone enjoyed the menu and I had many requests for some of the recipes. Below is the menu that I served that day and a photo of the main dish!

Almond Stuffed Dates wrapped with Bacon
Mini Artichoke Pesto Pizzas with Pine Nuts
Soup: Coconut Pumpkin Bisque with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Creme Fraiche
Salad: Baby Greens, Persimmons, Pomegranate seeds, Candied Walnuts, Sharp Cheddar, Pear Dijon Vinaigrette
Entrée: Roasted Pork Loin with Blackberry Sauce
Medley of baby squash
Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding
Dessert: Chocolate Crème Brulee