Entertaining

Entertaining is a word that can strike fear or pure pleasure in people.

Hors d’oeuvres spoons

The prospect of entertaining need not be a burden, just have a plan of action to make everything go smoothly. Don’t be afraid to begin planning well before your party. Allow yourself time to work on the details so when your party time arrives you will be well prepared to host a spectacular event.

Choose your location

Consider using your home to host your party. Take a look around and see how many people can comfortable fit. If they are going to be seated, is there enough seating and adequate space? Is this a standing conversing party? The occupancy changes if you are doing a seated dinner vs. a cocktail style party.

If you live in a small apartment, there may be a communal area you can reserve. If you live is a temperate climate or at the beach, consider holding your event outdoors. On the beach, in a park or back yard are all great locations.

Determine your guest list

Choose a varied guest list to keep the conversations lively. If everyone had the same interests, there will be a lot of ‘shop-talk’ instead of exchanging ideas and discovery conversations.

Please be considerate and don’t invite ex’s or enemies to the same events.

Strive for a balance of genders. Be considerate of those who are couples and who are singles. Being the only single at a party full of couples can be socially odd as can being the only couple at a singles party. Strive for a good mix.

Is there a theme?

It could be Christmas or Holidays, Halloween, Valentines Day, Kentucky Derby Day, Wedding, St. Patrick’s Day or Talk Like a Pirate

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Photo credit: ParaScubaSailor)

Day or a just because.

Having a theme will make your choice of decorations and menu easier.

Plan you menu

Plan your menu

Unless you are having a dinner party, most party food should be small and able to be eaten without the use of a knife. Think about trying to balance a drink and eat while trying to impress someone you are just meeting.

My rule is 1-2 bites in size.

Make your favorite nibbles in bite size. Martha Stewart’s Hors d’ Oeuvres is one of the best references out there. If you ever see it, buy it.

Cover of "Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres...

Cover via Amazon

This post is not about menus or recipes but about how to plan a party so you don’t lose your mind in the process.

As I host a party or two this season, I will have menus and recipes.

Look at the space you have to display food. You are going to make yourself miserable if you plan more food than you can accommodate.

Decide what tables and surfaces you are going to use for what. A kitchen counter (clean and uncluttered) is nice for a beverage station.

If you need to borrow a table or two, make arrangements.

Write out your menu and make small labels. Take out your plates and dishes and decide what food is going on what plate. Put a label on each dish you decide to use. Arrange to borrow or buy or rent what you need beyond what you have.

Your menu should not require you to be in the kitchen longer than 10-15 minutes while guests are present. Plan a do ahead menu so you can spend time with your guests.

If you are planning an elegant holiday gathering and need stem-ware or nice glasses you can

A table full of glasses

go to the dollar store and see what they have. Often they have exactly what you need.

If you really don’t want to store 60 wine glasses, you can always rent them. Same with china and silverware, unless you choose to go

Rental Party Accessories

paper and plastic.

If you plan on entertaining more than once every year or so, you may want to buy a few nice display pieces. Large platters, staggered tray displays, small chafing dishes. Evaluate what you use and if it is worth storing.

Hint: If you go paper, buy a good quality. There is nothing worse than cheap paper plates and cheap plastic silverware. Same with paper napkins. Quality matters.

Plan your decor

Decor does not need to be elaborate. Use branches, pine cones, leaves, candles, berries, fruit, nuts, ribbons, even glass vases filled with Cheetos work.

Once I bought river stones and put them through the dishwasher. I lined trays with the hot rocks and placed food on the hot rocks to keep food warm. The rocks were scattered all over the table along with geodes, slabs of cut rock, and slate.

Ball and Mason jars make great candle holders for outdoor events.

Send your invitations at least two weeks ahead of time, three weeks is ideal. Ask for an RSVP so you have an idea how many to expect.

Make your shopping list.

Make your ‘need to do’ list.

Plan your activities on a calendar so you keep track and get everything done on time.

Make your parties enjoyable. If you want casual, make it casual, formal, make it formal. Make it what ever you are comfortable with hosting.

If you find you need help, either ask friends or hire one or two to clean things up and keep platters and dishes full.

Beverages

Don’t feel obligated to provide a full bar. Provide a party cocktail for everyone, red or white wine. Ask people to bring their own drinks. Be sure you have non-alcoholic beverages too.

Be a good host and NEVER allow your guests to drink and drive.

Have the number of a taxi service on hand so you can call inebriated guests a ride home. If you allow a drunk person to drive away, you could be held liable for any damages they cause if they were to get in an accident.

With December approaching, plan on having a party this season.

I always love the energy that remains in the house after a nice party, especially during the holidays.

Oatmeal Cranberry Bars or What To Do With Leftover Cranberry Sauce

Oatmeal Cranberry Bars

This recipe is a great way to use up any leftover cranberry sauce you may have from holiday meals. I find whole berry works best but if you like the jelly kind, use it too. Store bought, in a can or fresh, any cranberry sauce will work out quite well.

For the best, make your own cranberry sauce.

Oatmeal Cranberry Bars

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Cranberry Sauce 003

Cranberry Sauce 003 (Photo credit: MGF/Lady Disdain)

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Spray the bottom and sides with baking spray, line the pan with a sheet of parchment, allowing the sides of the paper to overhang on the long edge of the pan. This makes for easy removal from the pan after the bars are baked. Simply lift the paper and the whole thing can be moved to a cutting board or platter.

Spray the parchment with baking spray. Set aside until ready to use.

Make the dough:

  • 8 ounces soft  unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Using a mixer with a paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar, mix just until it comes together.

Add the eggs and vanilla.

Mix together: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and pecans in a separate bowl. Add the mixture to the butter and eggs, stirring slowly to combine, slowly add all of the oats and mix only until combined.

Press 1/2 of the dough into the bottom of the baking pan.

Top with cranberry sauce. Make sure to cover the entire surface, all the way to the edges. I added some seedless raspberry jam in dollops all over the dough too.

Dot the cream cheese over the surface of the dough.

Using the remaining half of the dough, dollop it over the top of the cranberries and cream cheese.

Bake in the pre-heated 350°F for 45 minutes or until the top is lightly golden brown.

When the bars come out, drop 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips on top. The heat from the baked bars will melt the chips, then spread the melted chocolate in swirled patterns over the top. You could drizzle some fondant icing over them too but that might be overkill.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 1 hour.

Carefully lifting the sides of the overhanging paper, lift the baked bars onto a cutting board and cut them into the desired size with a sharp knife. Sprinkle any crumbles over yogurt.

Store covered at room temperature for up to 7 days. (If they last that long!)

Plated Oatmeal Cranberry Bar

In My Kitchen October 2012

I went to the new posts reader this morning and saw Celia’s new “In My Kitchen ” post  at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and was shocked at how fast time has flown by.

Yikes! It has been over 2 weeks since I have posted anything. Guess when life gets busy, things slip by without realizing how much time has slipped by unnoticed.

turnips

turnips (Photo credit: hagerstenguy)

In my kitchen were 5#’s of fresh turnips and radishes which are being turned into Pickled Turnips. The recipe came from David Lebovitz a while back. As much as I love turnips and radishes, the recipe intrigued me, so I had to try them and fell in love immediately. A post with the recipe is in the works.

Pickled Turnips

In my kitchen is a big basket of lemons and some limes. Robert uses the limes in his drinks so I need to come up with some ways of using all these lemons we over bought. So I am planning to make lemon curd, preserved lemons, lemonade, dried zest, maybe some lemon vinegar and emulsified lemon oil and Chicken Piccata.

A Basket of Lemons

Right now, they are just a basket of lemons.

I bought a lemon squeezer just because.

Lemon Squeezer

In my kitchen is a new pan! I love this new square pan from All-Clad. I am sure they call it a griddle but I sure do like it. I have used it everyday since I got it.

Square Pan

In my kitchen is my levian. It was kept in the fridge all summer. Now that the weather is cooling down, it can come back out and hang out at room temperature. It will develop a deep rich flavor this way. Typically I make bread every week. I think September was a time warp because I didn’t make bread but once, maybe twice. And now October is also flying by. Can time be measured accurately by a levain life cycle? if so, I should read and listen to what it is telling me.

A Bowl of Levain

I have two buckwheat loaves in the oven. Next is a 10-grain loaf and an olive loaf with lemon and rosemary. I look forward to making that one!

Tyler gets to move back into his apartment next weekend so he will be cooking again. The “How To . . .” posts will start back again soon.

And there is another White Dinner Event on October 27 and classes resume again soon. Is it true that time speeds up as you get older? Is it time to write the November IMK already?!

Baking from a Box

 

My friend Joanie asked me if I would make up a batch of cupcakes from a box mix. She was curious about whether they would live up to the name associated with the high-priced mix.

“Would it be the same if I made it vs. a professional chef?” she asked.

Presenting me with the challenge of using a boxed mix I told her I would give it a whirl.

She wants to know:

Would I make any changes to the directions?

Is it easy like baking from a box promises?

Are the results as promising as the names on the box: in this case, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa and the German Chocolate Cupcake and Frosting Mix.

The mix is distributed by Stonewall Kitchens although nowhere on the box does it say where the mix was put together.

So, here goes.

First, the mix costs $13.95 for 12 cupcakes.

My first thought is “expensive”. Is it worth the money?

I notice the frosting mix contains cornstarch which is something I wouldn’t use as in my opinion, it is a cheap way out of proper thickening techniques. But we will see.

Inside the box are three bags: one contains the chocolate cake mix, another granular frosting mix and lastly, a small bag of sweetened shredded coconut.

I need to supply:

  • 1-1/2 sticks of butter
  • 2  whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks (I see macarons in the near future!)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

The directions seem to be simple enough, so I pull the eggs and butter from the fridge and go for a run while they come to room temperature.

Instead of using plain cups for the cupcakes, I am going to use the fun flower ones I found out shopping one day.

Fast forward to finished baking these. All I can say it they are definitely NOT worth the price, let alone the extra cost of a fancy paper cup. Not only did they not turn out, they were also hard as rocks one they cooled.

They also had a funny smell as they were baking. Usually when you bake chocolate, the aroma is thick in the air. The aroma from these had you checking the bottom of your shoes.

Nice expensive cupcake mix
Don’t waste your money!

Now after that fiasco, my curiosity was up, how would the normal cake mixes found in the grocery store work out?

So I hauled up to the grocery and bought one of each kind of German Chocolate Cake Mix; there were three.

All three had me supply eggs, oil and water. That’s it. Frosting was extra, but was that tiny bag of coconut in the expensive mix worth the $13? (No)

So I made each of these mixes, each mix made 24, the expensive mix made 12.

I made a quick coconut caramel frosting from scratch to frost the cupcakes with, and I used the frosting mix from Barefoot Contessa’s box. It was OK, nothing great and it looked rather dull. I’m wondering if they ever passed this box mix by Ina to see if she approved. I can’t imagine they did.

So at the end of the day, we had so many cupcakes and bowls of coconut frosting lying around, Robert was afraid of us eating them all.

I wrapped plated of the cupcakes up in cellophane and sent Robert around the neighborhood giving them to all our neighbors.

One little boy was asking his mom why they didn’t have anything good around the house to eat, like cupcakes, the night before.

When he answered the door and Robert was standing there with an entire plate of cupcakes, all he could say was “Really! Thank you! Thank you so much!” Grinning ear to ear, he disappeared into the house with a plate of cupcakes. I could imagine him hiding them in his room so his older brothers wouldn’t get any.

I love sharing the sweets I make because if I didn’t, #1, we would weigh as much as a horse, #2 I wouldn’t make them just because of #1.

And I do love to make pastries, bread and lots of great food. Sharing it is the only way to keep from wearing it.

As a side note, I did make macarons from the egg whites, I should have given away more of them. I need to add a few more miles to my running schedule.

I did figure out that if you are going to bake cupcakes, forget the boxes and make the batter from scratch. It will be cheaper by far and you will know exactly what you are eating.

My advice? Joanie, get your money back.

If you want to use a mix Duncan Hines or Pillsbury or any of the organic mixes work just fine.

My opinion is Contessa needs to go back to the kitchen to re-work her box mix.

I never would have done this if Joanie didn’t ask.

 

How to Boil Potatoes for Making Mashed Potatoes

To make perfect mashed potatoes, you need to use the right kind of potato.

Russet potatoes are the potato of choice because of their high starch, low moisture content.

Read All about Potatoes  to learn which kind you choose for different dishes.

Wash, peel and cut potatoes into uniform sizes so they cook at the same rate.

Wash and peel to potatoes. It is advisable to use 1 potato per person plus 1. Left over mashed potatoes can be used in many ways and you will be lucky if there are any left over.

Put the cut potatoes into a sauce pan and cover them with COLD water.

Cover cut potatoes with cold water; bring to a boil.

Once the potatoes boil, add salt. Please don’t forget to add salt while boiling the potatoes. If you do, you will be left with very bland potatoes. Remember potatoes absorb flavor best while hot.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain. Process the potatoes through a ricer to produce perfect mashed potatoes.

Once the water comes to a boil. test to see how done the potatoes are. They should be almost done when they come to a boil.

Drain the potatoes when they are done.

Press the cooked potatoes through a ricer to get a fluffy lump-free texture.
A ricer is a good investment. This one belonged to Tyler’s grandmother. She used it to make spaetzle and soup noodles made with Romano cheese and lemon.

After ricing your potatoes will be light and fluffy.

In a small sauce pan, Bring 1/2-1 cup of cream to a boil. Add 2-3 tablespoons of butter to the hot cream, melt the butter. Carefully add just enough hot cream and butter to the potatoes to just moisten them and bring them together.

Be careful of over stirring which would cause the potatoes to get gluey, which isn’t very appetizing.

Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and white pepper (so you don’t see black pepper flecks in the nice white potatoes).

Fluffy Mashed Potatoes

To serve, you can mound them with a spoon, scoop or my favorite way is to pipe them out using a smooth tip, in decorative designs on the plate.

We used to do this at the restaurant and I always loved how it looked.

These are some of the ways to pipe mashed potatoes onto a plate.

So, there you have perfect mashed potatoes.

What can you do with left overs?

Make potato pancakes, add scallions and make potato scallion cakes, use them to thicken cream soups. Use left over mashed potatoes to top a casserole or to make Shepard’s Pie.

If you wanted to make them more low-fat, skip the cream and butter and use chicken stock instead. I would still use a bit of butter, but you won’t need much.

Bon Appétit!

Pecan Crusted Fried Okra

Southern Cooking has to include okra of some kind so I thought Pecan Crusted Fried Okra would be interesting.

Okra

How many of you like okra?

The most common perception of okra is that is disgustingly slimy. I have to give you that it is slimy like a world of snails would love.

I’ll never forget the first time I had stewed okra and tomatoes and all I could think was “what is wrong with you people?” It didn’t help that the person who made the dish was a terrible cook. (Bless her heart!)

Then I discovered pickled okra and fell instantly in love.

Quickly I learned there are ways of preparing okra that avoid the slimy aspects of this misunderstood vegetable.

Used in vegetable soup, okra will give the broth a nice thickness, not too thick but not watery either. I love the little balls of seed that float into the soup, yummy.

Okra

Okra (Photo credit: NatalieMaynor)

Okra is found all over the world and is used in many cultures and cooked in just about as many different ways as you can find recipes.

I am working on developing content for Charlotte Cooks which begins filming the new PBS season in August.

We are filming a segment on Southern Cooking and that must include some kind of okra dish.

Robert thought it should be fried okra. So as I researched and thought, the idea of combining the southern love of cornbread, buttermilk and pecans with okra.

This is the result of my study.

Pecan Crusted Fried Okra

1 pound fresh okra – choose young tender ones over older more sturdy okra

1 cup Martha White Self Rising Buttermilk Cornbread Mix

(Use more as needed)

1 cup buttermilk

(Use more as needed)

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Mix pecans and panko together, use more as needed

Vegetable oil as needed to fry

Fine ground sea salt

Method:

Set up a standard breading procedure with trimmed okra, cornbread mix, buttermilk, mix the pecans and panko together in the third pan.

Standard breading procedure set up:
Use cornbread mix, buttermilk, pecans and panko

Wash and dry the whole okra pods.

Trim the tops off the okra, leave the pods whole other than the top.

Bread the okra by coating in flour, then buttermilk, then pecan mix.

Have a pan with enough oil to come half way up the okra in the pan.

Only enough oil to come half way up the okra. Don’t move them around too much.
See, even mine had some drop the breading. Keep those as “cooks treats”.

Cook on medium high heat about 3 minutes on each side. The breading will be golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon or slotted spatula remove the golden brown okra from the hot oil and drain on a fresh paper towel.

Season with a light sprinkle of fine salt.

Serve with Texas Pete Hot Sauce.

Be careful, not only are these lovely morsels tasty and addicting but they will disappear before you know it!

When calculating how much to make, always make more because you will need it.

OK, now here’s the thing. Many of you will experience the breading does not really want to stay on the okra. It is hard to bread an okra and have it stay on like it should.

Following the standard breading procedure making sure to get each pod coated in flour first then coat totally in the buttermilk then pecans you will have the best chance of keeping the breading intact.

Once they hit the pan, let them cook. Don’t move them around too much or you WILL see the breading all fall off. This is why they don’t get deep-fried too. Just enough oil to come about half way up the okra while in the pan.

Make sure the oil is hot so the okra start cooking as soon as they hit the pan.

Putting them in a cold pan and cold oil will result in soggy oil filled  okra. That is disgusting. Oil and slime. Avoid it.

When they are done, pile them up on a plate and serve.

Jump back quick because they will disappear before you set the plate down.

A Heaping Plate of Pecan Crusted Fried Okra

Ya’ll come and don’t be late for dinner!

How To: Standard Breading Procedure

Dear Tyler,

You asked how to bread something to make Tonkatsu or Parmesan style dishes. So here it is!

If you want to bread something so the breading actually stays on the product, you need to follow a standard breading procedure,

It is a 5 station set-up. Breading your food using this method ensures a great finished dish.

Flour, Egg wash and Bread crumbs
(To remember the order, think of the abbreviation for the month of February: FEB)

1) Ready to go product – seasoned

2) Flour – just plain flour

3) Egg wash – make it liquid

4) Bread crumbs – You can use any bread crumbs, Panko are amazing in my opinion. Instead of bread crumbs, you can also use any kind of ground nut, crushed potato chips, corn flakes, or plantain chips, Trisket crumbs, coconut, etc.

5) Final breaded product

In this post I am using catfish, but the same method works for everything you want to bread.

Prepare the product, trim it, skin it, pound it thin, what ever you want to do, do it before it gets breaded.

Season with salt and pepper and other seasonings if desired.

Here, catfish is getting seasoned with lemon ginger seasonings before breading

Dip each piece into the flour

Then into the egg wash

Then into the bread crumbs

Place the breaded items onto a baking sheet; drizzle with oil.
Bake at 375 F for 20-30 minutes to ‘oven fry’ or pan fry in a saute pan with a small amount of oil.

The family favorite for this is to make “Katsudon”  with thin sliced pork loin or a chicken breast sliced and pounded thin. We serve it over Basmati rice with Bull Dog Brand Tonkatsu Sauce. (I usually buy this in an Asian grocery store.)

Bull Dog Sauce

When using chicken breasts, you can cut them into fingers or slice a large breast into thirds, place each slice into a zip bag (don’t zip it!) and pound gently it so it gets evenly flattened. Season and proceed with the breading procedure.

To pan fry instead of cooking the cutlets in the oven, heat a saute pan to high, add a thin-film of oil to the pan and saute until each side is golden brown.

Pan fry in a thin-film of oil until golden on each side

Add steamed broccoli to round out your meal.

You can take the plain breaded cutlets and serve them with different sauces and sides to create very different meals from breaded cutlets.

Boil some rice, add some frozen green peas when the rice is done. The peas only need to warm through.

Place the fried cutlet on top of the rice and drizzle with Bulldog sauce.

To make a “true” katsudon, place caramelized onions over the hot steamed rice, top with the cutlet and then top it all with an egg. Cover and the steam from the cutlet and the rice will gently cook the egg. Break the egg yolk and stir it in to create a wonderful sauce. Drizzle with Bull Dog Sauce .

Tonkatsu with Bull Dog Sauce

You can create Chicken Parmesan by topping the golden brown cutlet with marinara sauce and cheese – I am partial to Asiago – but Parmesan, or mozzarella are just fine too.

Melt and brown the cheese, serve over pasta and more sauce on the side. Top it all with more cheese and serve with a salad on the side.

Chicken Parmesan

Breaded Cutlet with Lemon

Be careful when pan frying, place the cutlets into the pan so it splashes away from you, not towards you. Once the cutlets are golden brown, you can finish cooking them in the oven that has been pre-heated to 350°F.

Enjoy making these and think of other ways to serve them too. Change the sauce ( try Thai Green sauce!) and starch. Put a cutlet on a bun, add coleslaw and BBQ sauce to make it into a sandwich.Or make Chicken Piccata with lemon and capers.

Let me know if you come up with other ideas!

If you want to freeze the breaded cutlets, freeze them raw as soon as you finish breading them. You can cook from frozen over medium heat.

Love ya!

Mom

What is a Colander? How do you choose one?

Colanders are those strainers you use to drain larger amounts of liquid from things.

Colanders stand alone, you do not need to hold them like you do a strainer.

Here are some different types: There are some funky ones, like cow and chicken colanders;

Colander

Colander (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Colorful ones

Stylish ones

They can be made from heavy-duty plastic, ceramic, stainless steel, aluminum, copper etc.

I bought one from an artist friend once. This colander was ceramic, hand painted and unique. It had three chicken legs styled out of clay; the bottom half of the bird was all there was, it was white and the handles were the birds wings. Chickens don’t have very big wings. I couldn’t resist the cow colander either.

I like funky kitchen stuff sometimes. If it makes me smile, it gets a place in common use. This colander made me laugh so I bought it. It earned an esteemed spot on the kitchen counter for a while.

Chicken and cow colanders

Finally time to use it. I place it carefully in the bottom of the sink and drained the pasta in the colander.

I was totally beside myself and wondered why it didn’t dawn on me before that exact moment how I expected it to look.

Well, what happened was not what I thought it would be.

The chicken looked as if it were peeing all over itself; peeing like a racehorse.

That’s just not right. That imagery was all wrong.

My fun time with the chicken colander was over.

I drained the pasta, washed and dried the colander.

It holds a place in the background of my TV show set.

Now, they hold butchers twine

It is no longer used actively. Last I checked, it held several balls of butchers twine. The holes in the body (the perforations for the colander) are perfect twine guides. Thread it through a hole, pull as you need. Only on the TV show though.

I can’t have peeing animals in my kitchen.

When it comes to kitchen tools, you get what you pay for.

If you buy artisan, you can also get a show.

Stainless Steel Colanders

Over the sink colander; the handles extend to fit your sink

Here are a few pointers for evaluating a colander for purchase:

  • English: A plastic colander in a stainless kit...

    English: A plastic colander in a stainless kitchen sink. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Take a look at all the different materials. Which do you prefer? Is the chosen material durable for my lifestyle? (Enamel chips)

  • Make sure there are lots of small holes. Small enough to retain peas. Any larger and you limit the colanders use.
  • Colander

    Colander (Photo credit: paukrus)

    Make sure the sides and bottom have holes, not just the bottom.

  • Make sure it has enough holes, a few will not strain your stuff fast or well enough
  • Will it fit in your sink? If not, where are you doing to use it?
  • Will it fit into the dishwasher?

You can store the colander with the nested stainless mixing bowls.

If you tire of your colander, you can always line it with sheet moss, fill it with dirt and plant herbs or flowers in it. Of course you will need a tray under it to catch any drips from watering.

No matter what, do not allow your friends to convince you a colander makes a good party hat. It does not and you will regret any resulting photos.

Colander

Colander (Photo credit: StefZ)

  • English: A colander, photographed by DO'Neil.

    English: A colander, photographed by DO’Neil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Feed Me Chef!”

Our dear friend June had a mile marker birthday recently. Our gift to her was to go out to the “Feed Me Chef” dinner at Zink American Kitchen in Charlotte, NC.

Robert and June

What a wonderful experience! The premise of the Feed Me Chef dinner is to sit around the bar area that is right up to and nearly in the kitchen. The chef will then create a 5 course meal for you of their choosing.

You can watch the kitchen in action

Sitting there, you get a birds-eye view of the kitchen operations from gearing up, getting slammed with the dinner rush and then slowing down slightly as we left 2 hours later.

The hostess had called earlier in the day to ask about allergies, diet restrictions and if there was anything in particular we wanted. These parameters were given to Chef Amy who in turn gets to be creative and create a 5 course meal.

The kitchen crew operated very well together. There was clear communication, effective movements and great looking food. Everyone knew their job and did it well. It was great entertainment.

And you want to know something? In this open kitchen all the crew, both front and back of the house, were so polite not only to the guests, but most important, to each other.

“Please, thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me”, all used frequently amongst the staff even when they were at their slammed best. How refreshing.

Chef Amy Kumpf

Our chef this evening was Amy Kumpf who was delightful, fun, charming, very skilled and knowledgeable in her craft. If was a lot of fun to watch her and her crew work through the dinner rush, very smooth.

She planned a menu for us and paired the wine for each course. Settling in, our meal began.

Course #1

Yellow Tomato Caprese Salad

Yellow Tomato Caprese

Instead of using fresh basil, Amy fried the basil for the salad. The result was delicate umami touched with sweet tomato that danced around in your mouth with a party going on.

Amy reduced balsamic vinegar to a coating glaze which she drizzled over the assembled salad. She chose yellow tomatoes, delicious fresh mozzarella, fried basil and balsamic reduction.

Definitely whetted the appetite. It was beautiful and delicious.

To pair wine with this course, Amy chose Cooper Mountain Pinot Grigio from Willamette Vally.

Perfect pairing.

Course #2

Plancha Seared Snapper with Fire Roasted Tomatoes and Cucumber Salsa

Snapper in Tangine

This dish alone would be worthy to come back for again and again. Fabulous!

The cucumber salsa had mango, red peppers, mint, honey and other things. It was very well made, knife skills showed.

Fire roasted tomatoes are roasted and grilled with red peppers and blended to create  a lovely sauce they use on several dishes from pizza to our snapper. This was served in  crisp white Moroccan style tangine.

Tangine

Wine paring: Chamisal Vineyards 2011 Central Coast Stainless Chardonnay (unoaked) Crisp and perfect with the complex flavors of this dish.

Course #3

Hickory Salmon

Hickory Salmon with Slow Cooked Potatoes and Asparagus

Another genius dish. The potatoes went so well with the salmon, sweet 100 tomatoes are slow roasted to add a sweet acid punch to the richness of the potatoes and  salmon. Additionally on the plate were fennel confit and melted leeks. Eating this was a pure pleasure experience.

Wine pairing: For some odd reason I didn’t record the Pinot noir chosen for this dish. It was the only one we thought didn’t complement the food. We enjoyed the wine tremendously, just didn’t like the paring.

Perhaps another Pinot with a fruitier base as most US Pinots are known. This one was in the “Burgundian” style which made it rich and robust with full tannins. These rich robust wines are normally my preference. But not with this dish.

The sweet salty nature of the salmon and the delicate texture of the fish wanted something a bit milder.

Course #4

Grilled Flank Steak with Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce and Shaved Asparagus

Seasoned and grilled to perfection. The meat was tender, juicy and full of flavor.

Shaved asparagus was created by peeling asparagus length wise with a “Y” peeler. You can do a lot with a vegetable and a Y peeler. Here, Amy created ‘pasta’ for us with thin shavings of asparagus.

Grilled Flank Steak

By this time we were getting full.  So I tasted everything and then decided to bring the rest of this dish home to eat for lunch and jump into dessert.

Wine Pairing: Brazin Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, 2009

Course #5

Warm Apple Compote, Whipped Caramel Cream, Orange Confit, Dulche de Leche and Dark Chocolate

I got a pleasant surprise when the dessert chef came out. She was a student of mine. She said she was nervous but for no reason. Her dessert fit the bill perfectly. (No flour products – part of Junes diet; hence the asparagus pasta.)

Pastry Chef Sheena

Although our tummies were full, we managed to consume every bite.

Brilliant wine paring and fine ending to a great meal: Late  Harvest Mer Soliel

Apple Compote

Robert and me

All in all, we had a great meal and an outstanding evening. I could eat like that every time we go out. The idea of not knowing what your next course will be is intriguing.

We will have to do this again soon and I suggest you go find a place near you who does this kind of service. Ask at your favorite restaurant. Sometimes this style of dining is called a “Chef’s Table” and sometimes tables are in the kitchen. Depends on what the health code is in your area. You may discover such tables need to be reserved well in advance.

We had a delightful interaction with the staff. The entire evening was great fun.

Naturally, if you find yourself in Charlotte, NC, head over to South park and stop in at Zink and say “Feed Me Chef!”

You will be glad you did.

These photos were taken in low-light conditions of the restaurant with the i-phone 4.

Pickled Beets

Pickled beets jumped out at me this weekend while at the farmers market. I brought home a beautiful bunch of beets with the greens, for just $2.50 this was a real steal.

I made a list of what I could do with them: Roasted beet salad with blood orange vinaigrette, Beet chutney, beets in butter with a splash of rice vinegar and in the end, pickled beets won.

I suppose I thought the bunch of beets was larger than it really was.

The first step in all the recipes is to cook them.

There are several ways, the best method and least messy is to steam them.

Here’s the thing about beets. They will “bleed” this lovely magenta color everywhere and leave a legacy of stains behind them.

Trick of the trade: Don’t cut, nick or peel them before cooking.

Trim leaving 1-2″ of stem; soak to remove soil and sand.
Do not peel or cut.

Trim the roots from the stems by cutting at least 1-2 inches of stem remaining on the root end. Leave the tap-root end in tact also, don’t trim it, just tuck it out-of-the-way.

Gently wash the beets to remove excess soil and sand. Don’t scrub them as they have a thin skin. Soaking for a few minutes is usually good.

Keep the greens. Set them aside in a large deep bowl of cold water. Remove any yellowish or ‘spotted’ leaves you wouldn’t want to eat.

Soak the leaves in cold water. Swish the leaves in the water gently. The sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the leaves from the bowl without disturbing the bottom and repeat at least 4 times. You will be amazed how much sand and soil the leaves can hold.

Soak greens to remove dirt, and sand.
Change water 3-4 times

Lastly, rinse the leaves under running water, wrap in a towel, cover with plastic wrap or bag and store in the refrigerator until you want to use them in the next couple of days. That is another post.

How to use the beet greens is another post coming soon. The greens need to be cared for as soon as you remove the root ends so you don’t lose quality. If the greens look limp at first, they crisp up during the soaking process.

If you buy beets with greens and plan to use them later, separate the green tops and the root ends because the greens will pull nutrients, sugars and moisture from the roots during storage. (same with radishes, carrots, bulb onions etc.)

This recipe for pickled beets is simple and very flavorful. Some folks say they can eat the entire batch at once but that’s not recommended.

Steaming the beets takes the longest amount of time.

So here is how to make Pickled Beets:

Pickled Beets

  • Servings: 2 quarts
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

1 bunch of beets (8 medium size beets as close to the same size as possible)

Steam the beets by placing them in a steamer pot with a tight-fitting lid. Use good quality water to steam the beets. You will use 1/2 cup of this water in the pickling brine.

Steam the beets until tender

Steam the beets until easily pierced with a paring knife, just as you test a baked potato for doneness.

Do not pierce the beets often or all over as they will “bleed”. You want them to retain the color. Just test the biggest ones.

When the beets are done,  save the water in the bottom pot and place the beets in a big bowl of cold water. Once they are cool, underwater, using your hands, slip the skins off.The skins slip off very easily.

Set the peeled beets aside in another bowl.

Peeling underwater helps keep your hands from staining magenta.

Using a cutting board you can bleach later, trim the top and bottom, then slice the beets into thick slices and place them back into the bowl.

Make the brine and have the jars or containers you are going to store the finished beets in ready to fill.

Pickling brine

  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup water from steaming pot with beet drippings
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or any non-iodized salt)
  • 3-4 black peppercorns
  • 2-3 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 small sweet onion sliced

Bring the beet water and vinegar to a boil, add the remaining ingredients, including the onion and return to a boil. Boil for 1 minute.

Pour the hot mixture over the beets and gently stir with a rubber spatula to ensure all the beets are coated.

Pour the hot brine over beets, place in storage jars, cool. Serve cold.

Gently place the beets and all the brine into the storage jar. Allow to cool then refrigerate.

The pickled beets are ready to eat after 24 hours. One of my favorite parts are the onions that get pickled too. Slightly crunchy and  what a taste treat!

Pickled beets

Pickled Beets – I could eat the whole jar!

Serve very cold.