December 31, 2005

Before we get to dessert

4 pages of prep lists
Did we really do all that?

Here's one of the secrets to how we do this dinner. 4 pages of prep lists. Each task has a code number for which dish (the list of dishes and numbers is at the top of the prep list for reference), a brief line about what needs done, and an approximate time when that task should start. As the day goes on, we simply work down the list, task by task, crossing items off, until everything is ready to go. The above picture was taken right before the guests began to arrive, or maybe just after the souflees were served.

Some items like "10) pull from fridge" take 30 seconds to complete. Others, such as "17) make dobos sponge" which involve the separating of 30 eggs and baking the sponges in 4 batches in the oven can take over an hour to finish. I put lots of little things that I know I'll forget, such as "12) LIGHT FIRE". Since we started using this method, there have been very few things forgotten, even in the heat of battle.

If for some crazy reason you want to see all of the prep lists, they are in the full entry. Oh, and "MEP" is shorthand for "Mis en Place" which means to gather together everything you need.

1) gougères
2) foie gras, pain de mie, watercress salad, truffle oil
3) butternut squash soup, pumpkin seed oil
4) stout, sharp cheddar, onion souflee with fuzzy salad, basic vinegarette + shallots
5) mussel souflee with meyer lemon, saffron, chardonay cream sauce
6) strawberry salad with jicama, spinach, cukes, light vinegarette w/ lime
7) lobster rolls with sauce americaine
8) veg gnochi, summer squash, zuk, red onion, small tomatoes, basil chiffinade
9) mahi mahi with lime ginger cream
10) curried cauliflower gratain
11) sorbet
12) stuffed grilled quail (sliced proshutto, bread cubes, porchini, brun. MP, lemon zest), 
    asparagas, sauce foyot
13) artichokes and mushrooms in white wine sauce
14) wild mushroom cassoulet
15) racks of lamb with mustard spatzle, winter vegetables, and reduced red wine sauce
16) green beans with hazelnut beurre blanc
17) dobos tort X 2
18) fruit tart X 2
19) Clafouti/far X 2 (cherry/prune)
20) chocolates X 3

2) make foie THURS
3) make soup THURS
8) make gnocci THURS
11) make sorbet THURS
20) 3 brothers THURS
20) white chocolate fruit bark THURS
20) coffee truffles THURS

11) sorbet into sake cups, into freezer FRI
14) smoke red bell peppers FRI
14) make brown sauce FRI
15) prep lamb racks FRI
17) make dobos sponge FRI
18) pate brisee FRI
18) pastry cream FRI
14) soak beans FRI PM
10) make and put into pan day before FRI PM

17) make butter cream AM
17) make carmel and pinwheels AM
17) assemble torts AM

18) pre-bake shells AM
18) apricot jam AM
18) diplomat cream, fill tarts AM
18) fruit and glaze tarts AM

19) drain cherries AM
19) soak prunes AM
19) MEP batter X 2 AM
19) MEP powdered sugar into cheesecloth AM

0) shallots AM
0) clairified butter AM
2) make pain de mie AM
1) MEP all ingredients AM
6) cut veg for salad AM
6) make vin AM
7) prep lobster AM
7) soak morels AM
12) re-hyrdate porchini AM
12) make stuffing AM
12) stuff quail, pick AM
13) prep artichokes AM
13) cook artichokes, cool, slice AM
13) 1/4 mushrooms AM
13) MEP white wine, herbs, light veg AM
14) cook beans AM
16) prep beans AM

12) set up fire noon
7) chervil noon
7) defrost lobs stock & reduce noon
8) defrost gnocchi noon
12) MEP sauce foyot noon

12) prep asparagas, foil for cooking 2 PM
8) check gnocci (defrosted and non-sticking) 2 PM
8) cut veg, assemble entire MEP 2 PM
5) cook/clean mussles, chop 2 PM
5) MEP base 2 PM
4) MEP base 2 PM
4) separate eggs 2 PM
5) separate eggs 2 PM
9) prep fish 2 PM
9) prep veg 2 PM
9) prep seasame seeds & cornstarch 2 PM
9) MEP sauce 2 PM
9) MEP soy, butter for veg 2 PM
9) MEP garnish 2 PM
14) prep & sautee mushrooms 2 PM
14) prep & sautee MP 2 PM
14) bread crumbs 2 PM
15) defrost stock and reduce w/ wine 2 PM
16) MEP beurre blanc 2 PM
15) prep veg, blanch and shock 2 PM
7) asparagas ends, sliced, blanch and shock 2 PM
16) blanch and shock beans 2 PM
15) make spatzle, shock, oil, hold 2 PM

14) assemble 3 PM
10) pull from fridge 3 PM
7) make rolls, oil well and hold 3 PM
12) S&P quail, butter 3 PM
15) S&P lamb 3 PM

14) 1st bake 4 PM
1) make pate a choux & into bag 4 PM
2) cut pain de mie 4 PM
2) clean salad 4 PM
4) make base 4 PM
5) make base 4 PM
4) prep souflee dishes 4 PM
5) prep souflee dishes 4 PM
4) MEP salad, vinegratte 4 PM
5) MEP/reduce sauce base 4 PM

1) pipe onto parchment 5 PM
1) oven to 425 5 PM
9) reduce sauce & hold 5 PM

2) toast pain de mie 5:30 PM
3) re-heat soup 5:30 PM

1) bake 15 mins/serve 5:45 PM
1) kir royal glasses and cassis 5:45 PM
2) toss salad w/ truffle oil 5:45 PM
2) cut/plate/serve 5:45 PM
2) cheese out 5:45 PM
3) cream soup 5:45 PM

16) make beurre blanc & thermos 6 PM
3) serve soup w/ pumpkin oil drizzle 6 PM
6) toss and serve 6 PM
10) cheese topping 6 PM

======================= 6 PM APS OUT ===================

4) egg whites, toss, bake 6:15 PM
5) egg whites, toss, bake 6:15 PM
4) 400->375 for 15-20 mins 6:15 PM
5) 400->375 for 15-20 mins 6:15 PM
5) reheat & cream sauce 6:15 PM

4) toss salad 6:30 PM
4) plates out, salad down 6:30 PM
5) plates out, ready for sauce 6:30 PM
4) serve 6:30 PM
5) sauce and serve 6:30 PM

======================= 6:30 PM SOUFLEE SERVICE ===================

10) oven to 450 6:30 PM
7) 450 degrees, 10-15 mins 6:30 PM
7) heat stock, cream, reduce mount with butter and lobs butter 6:30 PM
8) cook veg 6:30 PM
8) cook gnocci 6:30 PM
12) LIGHT FIRE 6:30 PM

7) plate and serve 6:45 PM
8) toss into plate, basil chiffinade 6:45 PM
8) serve 6:45 PM
9) mount sauce w/ butter & hold 6:45 PM
9) cook veg 6:45 PM
9) cook fish (6-8 mins total) 6:45 PM
10) bake 15 mins 6:45 PM

10) broil 5 mins 6:55 PM

9) plate and serve 7 PM
10) serve 7 PM
12) grill/cook quail 7 PM
14) top crumbs & 2nd bake 7 PM
15) oven to 375 7 PM

======================= 7 PM ALL FISH OUT ===================

11) serve sorbet, platter, spoons 7:15 PM

12) make sauce foyot 7:15 PM
12) asparagas on grill 7:15 PM
13) sautee mushrooms, add artichokes 7:15 PM
13) sauce and reduce 7:15 PM

12) plate and serve 7:30 PM
13) serve 7:30 PM
15) brown lamb, 5 mins, into oven 7:30 PM
15) 15 mins 7:30 PM

15) rest and slice lamb 7:45 PM
15) sautee veg 7:45 PM
15) re-heat spatzle in butter 7:45 PM
15) reheat/adjust sauce 7:45 PM
16) cook beans w/ shallots 7:45 PM

14) serve 8 PM
15) plate and serve 8 PM
16) serve 8 PM

======================= 8 PM ALL MEAT OUT ===================

19) oven to 400 8 PM
19) blend batter 8 PM
20) make coffee 8 PM

19) bake 30 mins 8:30 PM

19) powder sugar on top and serve 9 PM

======================= 9 PM ALL DESERT OUT ===================

20) serve chocolates & coffee 9:30

Posted by dowdy at 09:48 AM

December 30, 2005

Green Beans with Hazelnut Beurre Blanc

How to make a dish and not get any pictures.

1) Obtain 6 pounds of wonderful small French green beans. Have your mother cut the tops off them.
2) Prepare the beans correctly. Apparently, "Green Beans Done Correctly" is now Derrick and Melissa's description.
3) Make a beurre blanc and use some hazelnuts to provide color and flavor.
4) Plate beans, top with beurre blanc and serve.

Outcome: Entire plate eaten, no photographic evidence, even with 5 cameras at the party! I will admit, they were pretty darn good, at least the one bean that I got to eat.

I shouldn't feel bad because here's someone who didn't get any beans. Mark comes and works prep nearly every year, patiently taking on some of the more precise and exacting of tasks. He also almost always needs to leave due to prior commitments before he can taste any of the dishes!

Cherry tomatoes are prepared
Mark carefully slices the cherry tomatoes
Posted by dowdy at 09:17 AM

December 29, 2005

Mushroom Cassoulet

Cassoulet top
What lies under this crust?

I lost count of how many times I've made this dish for parties. I think it showed up at 3 or 4 of the winter feeds alone. I'm sort of proud of it because it's all mine, and it really does have that hearty and warming quality of a cassoulet, while at the same time being vegetarian. Most non-vegetarians like it, and people often accuse me of hiding meat in it. I'd never do that, and nope, the trick is all in the mushroom demiglace.

Wrote the recipe here.

Made it in 2003.

Finally, if you want to see what a more traditional meat based Cassoulet is, I wrote about that for an IMBB entry.

Posted by dowdy at 08:00 AM

December 28, 2005

Lamb with Winter Vegetables

Final lamb plate
Completed Lamb Plating

The original idea for lamb, vegetables, and mustard spaetzle came from Charlie Trotter. I've made this so many times at this point that I think of it as one of "my dishes" however.

William, like every year before, took for himself the task of cleaning the lamb. He is an expert at it, and has (justifiably) great pride in how clean the bones come out. The trim from the lamb with more meat than fat is browned, and then reduced with red wine (we used an entire bottle of Pinot this year) and oxtail stock. If you have oxtail glace (which I do), add that to the stock as well to make it nice and thick. You can clean the lamb and make the sauce the day before (like we did).

For the vegetables, cut up whatever winter vegetables into whatever shapes you like. I think this year it was: turnips, rutabega, parsnips, celery root, and carrots. Blanch each vegetable separately in salted water until just shy of done. Shock in ice water and hold for service. If you do them from white to yellow to orange, you can use the same water.

The mustard spaetzle is any spaetzle recipe you like with the addition of whole grain mustard. Boil the spatzle (this year we formed them by piping out of a bag with cutting with a knife, but in the past we've done it with a pie tin with holes poked in it) and then cool on an oiled sheet pan. Again, hold for service.

Lamb cooling
Resting the lamb before service

To cook the lamb, salt and pepper each rack. Cook on the stovetop a few minutes on each side for color. Roast in a 375 oven for 15-20 minutes or until desired level of doneness is reached. Allow racks to rest for at least ten minutes, and then slice into individual chops for service.

We used a large roasting pan because there were 8 racks of lamb. For more normal sized dinners I usually just move the sautee pan directly into the oven and cook them there.

Lamb sides are prepared
meriko prepares the lamb sides

While the lamb is resting, re-heat and taste the sauce. It should be quite strong and heavy. If not, reduce more. The vegetables get a final cooking in butter, salt, and pepper. In another pan, the spaetzle are reheated in still more butter (please keep in mind who's blog you are reading here). Check out the airtime meriko is getting on that spaetzle! And all that without a special pan.

Posted by dowdy at 07:58 AM

December 27, 2005

Mushrooms and Artichokes

Mushrooms and Artichokes
Mushrooms and Artichokes

This dish is, I think, a pure creation of mine. It follows a common pattern of mine, things shaped the same way. I used this concept in "Vegetables Pointy and Round".

- Artichokes
- Mushrooms
- Sage (rubbed)
- White wine
- Light vegetable stock or light chicken stock

Clean the artichokes and pare down to the hearts. Keep in lemon/water to prevent browning. Simmer in salted water until just tender. Shock in ice bath to cool, then cut into "wedges" about the size and shape of a quartered mushroom. You can also use frozen artichoke hearts for this, but the shape isn't quite the same. Still tastes good, though, and avoids an hour of painful knifework.

Quarter mushrooms. The clever chef leaves this task for himself and assigns the artichoke duty to others. Hi, Tim and Derrick!

For service, sautee the mushrooms in clairified butter until brown, add artichoke parts and re-heat. Add salt, pepper, sage. Add white wine, reduce a bit, then add stock, and reduce again. You want a light glaze/coating of sauce rather than pools of it.

Posted by dowdy at 07:58 AM

December 26, 2005

Grilled Quail

Quail, Asparagas, Sauce Foyot

As we move the party from the fish courses into the meats, I like to start out with "lighter." Okay, so maybe stuffed quails served with a heavy egg based sauce doesn't sound like everyone's idea of "light", but stick with me here.

The stuffing for the quails was:
- small cubes of bread, dried
- fine dice mir poix
- sliced porchini mushrooms
- sliced (and then cut into strips) prosciutto
- lemon zest
- poultry seasonings

The vegetables were sauteed, and then along with all of the other ingredients tossed in a bowl. The mass was then moistened with the re-hydrating liquid from the porchinis, and a bit of white wine, and chicken stock. The stuffing was prepared the previous day, but kept away from the quails.

To stuff the quail, you place the stuffing within the quail body. The wings are then tucked to the sides, and a toothpick is run through the tips of the legs. This compresses the quail into a neat package for grilling, with the wings "caught" under the legs. You can see on the grill how well they kept under control.

While the quail were resting and the toothpicks being removed, the fire was used to quickly heat the asparagas, which we placed on foil so that it would not fall between the grates. Again, using the fire we already had is a trick we like to make use of at the party. This way the stove was available for other uses.

Sauce Foyot is a favorite of mine. Basically a lemon hollandaise with meat reduction added. I've written how to make it before so I won't go into all of the deails here. However, this sauce does appear to be one task that my kitchen help is more than happy to leave to me. It's okay, because I love making it, and it really only takes a few minutes to make once you have done it a few times.

Oh yeah, the lemon zest in the stuffing? Ment to parallel the lemon in the sauce. I had one person comment "Is there lemon zest in the stuffing?" Pretty good palette there, John!

Posted by dowdy at 07:57 AM

December 25, 2005

Rosemary Raspberry Sorbet

Sorbet served in the middle of a meal is kind of an old workhorse at this point. But it's not something I've ever done, and certainly comes as a surprise, especially when it isn't on the menu. I wanted something different, and had a rosemary infused sorbet a few weeks prior to the dinner, so that was the basic launching point.

I started this with a google search to get some basic formula ideas. I managed to find someone who I used to work with!

Another issue for a party is how to serve something tiny like this. You can't ask people to serve themselves, as this defeats the purpose of a surprise cleansing course such as this. I ended up finding sake cups on line for 70 cents each! They were just the right size, and cheap enough that buying 50 was no real issue. I'm sure I'll be able to use them again for other parties, so it worked out very well.

After that, it was just a matter of portioning the sorbet the day before, re-freezing until service, and finding a pretty silver platter for walking around. Oh yeah, don't forget the spoons, because up until this point the guests probably haven't been grabbing them. I actually put "spoons" on my prep list so that we wouldn't forget.

Sorbets ready for passing

- 4 stalks fresh rosemary
- 1 C water
- 2/3 C sugar
- 2 C individually quick frozen black raspberries

1) Cook rosemary, water, and sugar over medium low (should simmer, but not boil) for about 5 minutes, or until you obviously smell the herb. Remove rosemary at this point via tongs.
2) add raspberries, cook another two minutes, or until they are begining to soften
3) blend mixture well, strain through course strainer to remove all seeds
4) Refrigerate overnight
5) Freeze in ice cream machine per manufacturer's instructions

Posted by dowdy at 06:58 AM

December 24, 2005

Curry Cauliflower Gratin

Curry Cauliflower Gratin
Finished dish

I got the idea for this dish from a vegetarian Indian restaurant that we go to at lunch. One day the side dish was a creamy curry cauliflower. It had great flavor and the offsetting flavors of the cream and hot curry really worked well together. I knew, however, that I didn't want a loose cream, but instead something that could more easily be dished and eaten. A gratin is a pretty obvious answer here.

A quick google turned up a Thomas Keller (good grief! not again!) recipe from Bouchon. I made some simplifications and modifications to it in order to incorporate more curry flavor and remove what I felt were some unneeded steps. The basic idea is the same, however, which is using the stem portions of the cauliflower as part of the thickener for the cream sauce.

Another great dish for a party. The entire making was done the day ahead, and on the day of the party it needed only 20 minutes of oven time.

- 2 cauliflower
- 1 T butter
- 4 T minced shallots
- 2 C heavy cream
- 1.5 T curry powder
- grated pamasagn cheese

1) cut cauliflower into small florettes (fork sized). Chop stems into small bits
2) cook stems in butter and shallots until begining to soften, add water if needed to keep from browning
3) Add cream and heat through
4) blend mixture until very smooth, season with salt and pepper, and hold
5) blanch florettes in large pot of boiling water (add salt and vinegar to water to prevent discoloring) until just tender (about two minutes). Drain and place into final cooking pan.
6) Pour blended mixture over florettes.
7) Sprinkle with cheese. Cover and hold (in fridge) until next day
8) Bake in 450 oven for 15 minutes (or until clearly bubbling and hot).
9) Place under broiler for an additional 5 minutes to brown top

Posted by dowdy at 06:48 AM

December 23, 2005

Seasame Crusted Fish with Ginger Lime Cream

Every year I have one of my sous chefs prepare a "guest chef" dish. This means they are responsible for the idea, the recipe, getting me a list of ingredients they need, and making sure all prep and cooking takes place. We usually get together beforehand to try out the dish, and that lets me make any suggestions, and know the list of steps so that I can make sure our prep lists have ample time for the work that needs to be done.

Here's Tim's original idea

Fish cooking underway
Cooking the Fish Dish

Tim enlists William's help with the fish, while he's on sauce and veg duty. This is a pretty typical scene during the middle of service, as the various chefs step up to do cooking, plating, or even the dreaded dish washing. At times like this, I just stand off and watch. Or more often, visit with the guests and "test" the wine quality.

Final fish dish
Final Fish Presentation

This is a nice fish presentation because the sauce is light and brightly flavored because of the lime and garlic. The butter and soy that the vegetables are tossed in sort of combines with the flavors of the cream sauce while you are eating it as well.

We used mahi mahi here, but in our original tests used large filets of black sea bass. Both work well, although the mahi mahi cooks quicker due to the thinner filets. You could you any firm fleshed white fish that holds up well to the sautee.

Posted by dowdy at 06:47 AM

December 22, 2005

Herb Gnocci

Recipe/idea pretty much lifted directly from Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. I'll be honest and say that this is a book maybe better for ideas than actual recipes (at least for me). He provides a dizzying list of specific steps. It's much in the style of Julia Child's work. This certainly helps you if you need exact procedures, but for those of us who just need the outline, the paragraphs of reading can become maddening.

These "Gnocci" are actually a French variant on the traditional Italian Dish. Instead of potato, they are made from a Pate a Choux. The flavorings are some fresh herbs, mustard, and cheese. The pate a choux is then piped out into boiling water, with each gnocci being sliced off with a knife.

This procedure is a bit difficult to do, pretty much impossible unless you have a helper. anne lended a hand, and we were able to tear through 480 gnocci (more or less) very quickly. It certainly is much faster than forming each by hand and pressing against the back of a fork (as one does with Italian Gnocci).

Cooked Gnocci
Cooked and Cooled Gnocci

Once the gnocci have been boiled until just done, they are placed on a sheet pan to cool and tossed with a bit of oil to avoid sticking. The sheet pan is placed into the freezer, and finally the completely frozen gnocci are put into zip to bags.

We ended up with two entire half-sheet pans, which when frozen ended up filling two gallon zip-top bags. Remember: we're feeding 40 people here.

Gnocci Mis
Mis en Place for Gnocci

Preparation for the party involved thawing the gnocci in full sized hotel pans. The additional prep was some summer squash, red onion, and mini heirloom tomatoes. Final garnish was some thin sliced fresh basil. Once again, fully made ready well in advance of service.

Reheating Gnocci
Re-heating Gnocci for Service

Here you see the gnocci being re-heated (by an off camera meriko) in clarified butter, just until they beging to re-puff and take on a bit of color. The summer squash and onion likewise get a quick sautee, but the remaining ingredients just need to be tossed together with the hot pasta.

Also in the foreground is the Sauce Americaine for the Lobster Rolls, waiting to go out along with the gnocci (we generally try to take out two dishes at a time).

Plated Gnocci
Final Dish, ready for Basil Garnish
Posted by dowdy at 05:33 PM

December 21, 2005

Lobster Rolls

Lobster Rolls
Finished Lobster Rolls

For the rolls (per each roll):
- 2 sheets filo dough
- clairified butter
- 1/4 lobster tail (cooked until slightly underdone, cut lengthwise)
- 1 stalk trimmed asparagas
- 2 morel mushrooms, halved
- sprig chervil
- 1/4 tsp chopped shallots

Brush filo sheet with butter, place 2nd sheet on top, brush half with butter, fold over (final will be 4 sheets of filo with butter between each). Place remaining ingredients together in a single line at buttom of filo sheet. Fold 1 inch filo up and over filling. Brush filo again with butter. Fold both edges in, then roll filo (as when making a burrito). Place into tray, brush with butter and hold.

To bake: 400 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Slice on bias and serve with Sauce Americaine.

For the sauce:
- 2 C lobster stock
- 1 C heavy cream
- 1 lb lobster butter
- 1/2 lb butter

Reduce stock until quite strong. Add cream, reduce to desired consistancy, or slightly more runny. Whisk in lobster butter and regular butter over low or no heat as when making a beurre blanc. Do not return to additional heat or sauce will break.

Making Lobster Rolls
Tim crafts the rolls as William awaits the next sheet

This is a dish inspired by my time at the CIA. When I was there, we made quite a few dishes that involved filo dough, rolled, or folded into squares or triangles. I was inspired by late spring or early summer ingredients for these "summer rolls" as I usually call them.

Two people (in this case Tim and William) made rapid work of this repetative task (we made 24 of these). These rolls are an excellent make-ahead dish because while they take time during prep, they are then all ready to go during service. Notice as well their workstation, with all ingredients in place, and a final pan ready to receive the completed rolls.

Posted by dowdy at 02:31 PM

December 20, 2005

Dueling Souffles

Every year there is at least once insane thing we decide to do. This year it was individual plated souffles. Of course, just doing one wouldn't be crazy enough, so we did two different models: 1) Mussel Souffle with Saffron Chardonnay Sauce, and 2) Stout and Cheese Souffle with Frisee Salad.

Mis en Place
Mis en Place for One of Two Souffles

This is a pretty good shot of how we organize all of the dishes. Each dish has prep that goes into it, and everything that needs to be measured out is placed into its own container. When needed, the parts are labelled as well. When it comes time to cook, everything is there. By the end of prep, the pantry is completely full of half and full sized disposable hotel pans holding all of the parts for every single dish. Once the party starts, there really is no more chopping or cutting that needs to happen, except when finished meats need slicing.

Savory souffles aren't very difficult, and certainly not as hard as most people make them out to be. Here's the base recipe (for 1 6-8 cup souffle dish, or about 12 3 oz ramikens, we doubled this for each kind, and made a total of 50 3 oz souffles):
- 1/2 stick butter
- 5 Tb flour
- 1 C liquid
- 4 egg yolks
- salt, pepper, seasoning
- 1/2 C solids
- 5 egg whites

1) melt butter, add flour to form roux. Add liquid, bring to boil and thicken (will be quite thick).
2) Remove from heat. Add seasonings, allow to cool a bit
3) Whisk in egg yolks, making sure not to cook them.
4) Whisk/blend in the solids.
5) Cover and hold until service time (can be several hours)
6) Butter well your souffle mold or ramikens
7) Heat oven to 375
8) Whip egg whites to medium peaks
9) Fold in egg whites to base mixture
10) Spoon into molds, bake for 20-30 minutes or until the centers are well set.
11) Serve right away.

Souflees being plated
Out they come!

For the mussel souffle, we used the cooking broth from the mussels for the liquid, and well chopped mussel meat for the solids. The sauce was reduced saffron, lemon juice, and Chardonnay. Some heavy cream was added and then additionally reduced. The sauce was drizzled over the top of the souffles via a squirt bottle.

For the stout souffle, we used Guiness as the liquid, and sharp cheddar cheese as the solids. We also added some shallots to the base for additional flavoring. Frisee was dressed simply with a mustard vinaigrette, and a small amount placed on each plate.

We used disposable foil ramikens this year. They are cheap, easy to throw away when done, and have nice vertical sides. The downside is that they don't look as nice, and do not hold heat, so the souffles will deflate quite rapidly.

We cooked the souffles in two batches, with half of each kind in each batch, starting them about 10 minutes apart. In this way, we could bring out the courses quickly, and then make another pass through with more souffles for people who missed out, or maybe even wanted a 2nd one of the other kind.

Also, you may notice that while plating we had three cameras taking pictures, and two of them were pretty high powered!

Posted by dowdy at 01:06 PM

December 19, 2005

Strawberry Salad

This is a repeat of a popular salad we had served two years ago. This year's party features both new and popular past dishes. It was, after all, a celebration of the ten years we had been doing this.

Strawberry Salad

This dish was inspired by the fact that winter strawberries are often not the sweetest and as such have a slight "cucumber" taste to them:
- baby spinach
- strawberries, hulled and sliced vertically
- English cucumbers, peeled, seeded, sliced into quarter rounds
- jicama, peeled, cut into matchsticks

The dressing is a simple vinaigrette made with some lime for the acid and olive oil. Salt and pepper.

Posted by dowdy at 10:33 AM

December 18, 2005

Butternut Squash Soup

We miss a picture of something every year. This year the soup had already been gotten into by the time a picture was taken. So I have only this action shot to show you:

Butternut Squash Soup

I'm a huge fan of soups, especially at parties. Soups can be mostly (or even sometimes completely) made ahead of time. People like soup, especially in the winter. Soup isn't served as often as it probably should be. And finally, it's a nice help-yourself, slow-arrival kind of dish as people gather.

For around a gallon of soup:
- 3 butternut squash
- 6 leeks
- 6 carrots
- 6 celery stalks
- 4 cobs of corn (either with or without corn on them)
- 1 C white wine
- thyme

Cut squash in half. Place on pan in 350 degree oven and roast until tender (about an hour and a half). Clean and slice leeks, cut carrots and celery into medium dice. Sweat in olive oil. Add wine, thyme, and water to cover. Add in corn cobs. Simmer while squash finishes cooking. Remove squash from oven and using a spoon, scoop out flesh. Throw away seeds, and skin. Add squash flesh to pot. Add additional water as needed to cover. Cook until all vegetables are soft. Remove corn cobs. Blend mixture a bit at a time until completely smooth, then pass through a coarse mesh strainer to remove any strings or large bits of pulp. At this stage, the soup freezes very well, or can be placed in the fridge for up to three days.

For service, thaw or re-heat the soup. Reduce liquid as needed to desired consistency. Add salt, pepper, and a splash of some kind of acid (we used wine vinegar, I'm pretty sure, but lemon also works). Notice that there was no seasoning when cooking above, so you really need to salt it properly. The acid is helpful to brighten the flavor -- long cooked vegetables often need this. Add a pint of heavy cream (I use Manufacturing Cream which has no stabilizers and a higher butterfat content, but any kind of cream works), re-heat until fully warm and re-taste for seasoning. We also floated some roasted pumpkin seed oil on top, which has both a nice flavor and a pretty dark greenish tinge.

Another funny trick we use for the party: the frozen blocks of soup can be put into a cooler and used to store vegetables that won't fit into your fridge. Chances are the soup will still be frozen rock solid even after a day, and you have freed up valuable space for more imortant things.

Posted by dowdy at 06:33 AM

December 17, 2005

The French Laundry

As part of the ongoing "birthday month" of December, I was taken to a very special dinner at The French Laundry by anne, Dave, and Tim.

For anyone living under a rock, The French Laundry has been wining awards, hearts, and minds in the food community since 1994 (if my memory serves). I was lucky enough to go there about three months after opening, and this makes my third visit. It was every bit as memorable and wonderful as the first time. It is difficult to talk about The French Laundry and say something that has not been said a million times before.

Three things stand out from this time:
- We got to shake hands with Thomas Keller himself, because he noticed us looking into the kitchen. He just came outside for a brief moment to say hi.

- I was able to have "Oysters and Pearls" (one of The French Laundry's signature dishes) for the first time. I'm not overly fond of either tapioca or caviar and yet this ranks as one of my favorite dishes of all time!

- I was able to wrangle us an extra desert. anne had been wanting "Coffee and Doughnuts" (another signature dish) and didn't have it the first time she and Dave went there. We also noticed that a) it wasn't on the menu and b) another table had it delivered. A few courses before desert, I called over our main waiter and stated that "The young lady is concerned that she did not see 'Coffee and Doughnuts' on the menu." "I'll see what I can do, sir."

Tim writes up and provides great photos here. He did an amazing job with low lighting and a tiny camera without flash.

Posted by dowdy at 07:19 AM

Foie Gras

Every year at my party one dish appears. And that's a basic terrine of Foie Gras (served either with thin toast made from pain de mie, or small brioche, this year it was the former).

Foie Gas

The reason why I always serve this dish is that it was the original reason for my birthday bash. When I turned 30 I was asked if there was something that I wanted to do, and my response was that I wanted to try making foie gras and maybe have some folks over to share it with. Of course, you really can't just serve foie gras, and so things started to get a bit out of hand, and before too long the party as it stands today was created.

I don't think that I've ever shared how I actually make the terrine, however, so here goes:

First, you clean two whole Grade A foie gras livers (that ends up being about 3 pounds worth, depending upon the ducks that year). Cleaning basically involves "breaking" apart the livers and following any connective tissue and blood vessels. These are edible, but make the presentation less than attractive (in fact, you can see that I missed one large one this year). This is the most time consuming and (at first) scary bit. Foie is unusual to work with and in the back of your head you keep thinking about how much money you are handling. I wear latex gloves for this process, for two reasons. It helps you avoid slipping when cleaning the foie, and also you don't contaminate the livers (because this does get cooked very little).

After cleaning, slice any still very thick pieces into "planks" no more than 1/2 an inch thick. You proably won't have too many like this. Toss all of the cleaned parts into a large work bowl and toss around with some salt, pepper, and a splash of cognac. Allow to rest in the fridge while the oven heats to 250.

Layer the prepared foie into a terrine mold. Mine is about 10" x 3" x 3", and the two foie lobes will fill it just to the top. Between the layers, you can nestle wedges of black truffle (I used two lines of truffle this year). If using truffles from jars (which are all you can get most of the time and what I normally end up using) add any packing liquid to the foie in the bowl as well.

Place the mold into a pan filled with boiling water, you want to come up the sides about half to 3/4 of the way. Place entire pan into the oven and let cook for around 20 minutes. I usually check at around 15 and I think this year ran for about 25. You want to see pooling of the fat on the top of the terrine, but don't want to actually end up cooking the foie for very long, or you will have nothing left.

While the foie is cooking, gather up any scraps or bits from the cleaning (including any blood stained bits of foie you removed) and place into a small pot. If you have any really large pieces, you can save them for something like a seared foie dish. However, as I mentioned, two lobes basically fill my particular terrine pan. Heat over medium low heat until you have rendered out all of the fat possible. Strain this fat into a clear glass vessel (so you can see any bits that end up at the bottom). Reserve.

When the foie is done, remove pan from oven, and remove terrine mold from the water bath. Allow to sit 5 to 10 minutes to cool slightly.

Place the terrine mold in some other metal pan that you will be able to fit into your fridge (I use disposable half hotel pans for this). Loosely cover the terrine mold with two layers of plastic wrap, and place some kind of flat pressing device on top of the foie (I use a 1/2 inch thick board cut to fit inside of my terrine mold that I then wrapped in many layers of foil). Bring the sides of the plastic up over the pressing device, and place some heavy object(s) on top. I use two large cans of tomato sauce most of the time. You will notice/be horrified as huge amounts of fat flood out of the terrine mold and over the side. This is OK. Press down on the top (more fat! oh no!) until you are certain that the foie has been compressed well.

Place the entire mess (pan, terrine, plastic, board, and your weights) into the fridge. Leave for about an hour, or until you are certain that the fat has completely set up. At this point, remove the terrine mold from the under-pan, scraping down any fat from the outer surface, and any that has stuck to the plastic. If any foie meat has crept up the sides during pressing, cut that off and add to the under-pan. Place the under-pan on medium-low heat and melt down the fat. Strain into the glass vessel you used to hold the reserved fat from above. If needed, re-heat the fat until it is all melted.

Pour the fat over the surface of the terrine, making sure to coat the entire surface. Do not pour any cooked bits or non-fat, you want a pure yellow fat layer only. The fat will seal the terrine and keep it in good condition for a long while (I have no idea how long, but I'm pretty sure it's months). Once coated, wrap the terrine mold in several layers of plastic wrap (this is mostly to keep the greasy outer surface from making a mess) and place into the fridge. Leave at a minimum overnight, however I make my terrine 5-7 days before the party.

To serve, remove the terrine mold from the fridge about 10 minutes before you are ready to serve. Run a sharp knife around all four sides several times. Turn the terrine mold over and give a good shake over a cutting board. The foie should come out in a single block. If it doesn't come out, repeat the knife around the edge and try again. Remove the layer of fat (it should easily separate from the foie) and reserve (this can later be melted and strained to be used as a cooking fat, particularly nice with potatoes or for roasting a chicken). Slice terrine and arrange on platter.

As you can see above, I usually add some sort of green salad like item (this year, watercress) that I toss with a little black truffle oil. This amount of foie feeds around 40 people, depending upon how squeemish they are about foie to begin with. I have found that when I started these parties 10 years ago, I had foie left over. Today, it's all eaten quite quickly. How these times do change...

Posted by dowdy at 05:18 AM

December 14, 2005


Cheese Puffs

Gougeres (or Cheese Puffs) are a nice way to start a party, especially as guests arrive and imbibe their first drinks. Our first drinks this year were Kir Royale (Champagne with Cassis Liquor added), whicih always makes for a festive beginning. Champagne goes well with salty or oily foods, both of which happen to be the case for cheese puffs.

Cheese Puffs are one of those things that you can find recipes for just about anyplace. I did a quick google and came up with this one which I used as the basis. I think it's a bit high on butter and low on flour and ended up adding another 1/4 C of flour to get the right dough prior to the eggs.

Basically, you just make pate a choux, add some cheese and other flavorings (mustard is common), and then pipe and bake as normal. A few quick tips about pate a choux:
- by far the easiest, quickest, and most reliable way to incorporate the eggs is via a stand mixer with a paddle attachment

- you can easily prepare the pate a choux up to an hour in advance with no ill effect (this lets you wash up before the party). Put into the piping bag, but don't pipe or bake until the last minute. A large glass or pitcher can be used to keep the piping bag under control until you are ready to use it.

- for complex parties, it is often less cleanup work to use a zip-top bag as your piping bag either with or without a tip. For very thick pate a choux, you may (like we did) "blow out" the plastic bag and need to re-seat it within another before continuing. You can also buy disposable plastic piping bags, which will not generally suffer from this problem.

- use parchment paper for baking. This ensures quick release, and very little cleanup.

Posted by dowdy at 02:24 PM

December 13, 2005

Throwing Copper

anne threatened to get me a weird pan after this entry of mine. In fact, she said my complaining about that pan (and the pointing out of the TV ad every time it came on) just said that I wanted one of those pans.

Copper Pan

When she showed up with a rather large and heavy box, I sort of assumed that it was one of the dreaded pans to "help me cook like a pro", maybe with a brick inside of it to make it weigh so much.

I should have known. It is a beautiful copper saucier. It's shiny (but not for long) and heavy (the lid alone is 1.5 pounds!). The first thing I did the next day was to place the pan on my dirty dirty stove from the night before and take a picture.

Posted by dowdy at 07:23 AM

December 11, 2005


Wow! I just stumbled across this spice site while looking for "decorticated" about "Cardamom" (which has to do with removing the seeds from the pods, who knew?).

I'm particularly taken with the common names of each spice in a huge number of languages, as well as the relationships between the various spices. Obviously a labor of love. Joe Bob says check it out.

Posted by dowdy at 11:59 AM

December 06, 2005

Party pictures

Tom Checks Prep
Checking Prep

I'm going to use this entry to link to various other blogs/entries/photos from the party (as they start getting posted):

LeeAnn took some great images using her spiffy new bounce flash.
Melissa came to the party early in order to document the preparations
William (one of my sous chefs) doesn't have any pictures, but writes about the experience from his perspective.
meriko blogs her tasks for the day (always a fun take on the work involved)

There will be a complete write up from me along with pictures/recipes and so on in the coming days/weeks. Documenting the 20 dishes this year will no doubt take a bit longer than in the past, so hang in there.

Posted by dowdy at 10:42 AM

December 04, 2005

There was a party

Once again, there was a Poubelle Winter Feed. It was wonderful, fun, exciting, tiring, nerve wracking, and still more. Many thanks to all participants and chefs. More details to come, along with pictures.

Some special facts while you all wait:
- This is the 10th annual Poubelle Winter Feed
- I turned 40 this year
- My mother got a chance to attend for the first time
- We made 20 dishes this year (another first)
- I bought a painting (you can read about the process of the painting here, but I warn you that it is Not Safe For Work.)

Here's the menu:
2005 menu

Posted by dowdy at 09:15 PM