April: A Poker Party

Poker Dinner Book

This very simple and homey menu attracted me for a variety of reasons.  One reason is very practical, I am always needing ideas for feeding my family and no one can complain about a simple chicken, pasta and salad dinner.  The second reason for picking this menu is because of the dessert.  Many years ago my husband and I escaped to San Francisco for a couple of nights without the girls.  While we were there we had dinner at Cafe Zoetrope.  Cafe Zoetrope is one of the Coppola Family’s restaurants and we had a wonderful meal at this European style Italian cafe.  The dessert was especially memorable. We shared a Tartufo, which is a zabaglione cream center covered with chocolate gelato and rolled in chopped hazelnuts.  Food is always a fun way to celebrate and reflect on memorable moments in our life and this Poker Party menu, I felt, might resurrect that meal at Cafe Zoetrope because of its Italian theme and similar dessert.

I have to admit, the “poker” part of the theme did not really enthuse me that much, until I started making my Ebay Design Collection which you will find below.  However, I am always game for a fun theme, so in between our salad and main course we played a few rounds of poker.  That is what I love about making these menus, it allows our family to make the time to come together and have a good ol’fashioned family night of food and games.

Here is the menu:

Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper

Breadsticks

Miniature Tartufi

Wine:  Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco ’88

Wine:

Wine & Breadsticks

There were two highlights from this menu:  the wine and the tartufi.  Finding the Orvieto wine was a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort.  As you can see from the picture above, I also added a bottle of the Coppola Chardonnay to celebrate our memory of our meal at Cafe Zoetrope.  My research for the the suggested menu wine, the Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco, turned up nothing other than the Sant’ Andrea is a 12th century church in Orvieto, Umbria in central Italy.  So, perhaps that wine maker is no longer in business or only sells wine in Italy.  Orvieto, however, is a wine growing region in central Italy that primarily grows grapes for white wine.  The grapes they grow are “Grechetto and Trebbiano, which is sold under the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) Orvieto and Orvieto Classico,” (from the Wiki page on the Orvieto wine region).

I purchased my Orvieto Classico at our local market, The Nugget, for about $8.99 a bottle–very affordable.  They only offered one Orvieto and I thought it was excellent.  Apparently the wine grown in Orvieto used to be sweet wines, but today they are mainly dry, as was the one we purchased.  It was an excellent and very enjoyable light white wine.  In comparison to the Coppola Chardonnay, it looked like our Orvieto was almost effervescent, as we had bubbles in our glass.

According to Wine Sercher, the wines from the Orvieto region are decreasing in popularity in the United States.  From my observations, the Pinot Grigio is a much more popular Italian wine.  I, however, much preferred the Orvieto over the Pinot Grigios I have had. This is an excellent summer wine served chilled.  You can find some tasting notes on the La Carria, Orvieto Classico, 2014 at this web page.  I highly recommend trying this delicious and affordable wine.  If you try it, I would love to know what you think of the wines from Orvieto.

First Course:  Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper and Garlic Butter Breadsticks

Salad & Breadsticks

The arugula salad cannot be any simpler or easier.  This is a good standard Italian Restaurant oil and vinegar type salad.  The only ingredients are the ones listed in its course name, plus a leaf lettuce like red leaf lettuce, and the dressing of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper.  Simple.  I did not toss my salad, rather I made individual salads so my leftovers would not wilt.  I washed all the lettuce, dried it in a spinner and stored it in fresh clean zip lock bags.  I sliced the yellow peppers, and shredded the carrot and stored those in separate plastic containers.  That way it is easy to make this salad again and again throughout the week and you can have all the ingredients for this salad prepared a day in advance of making your menu.  I love easy salads, however, it was so simple and easy that I can’t say it was a standout, but it was certainly nice and a pleasant way to start our meal.

The breadsticks keep showing up in each photo.  They were really good and an integral part of this menu.  The strong garlic flavor was a nice complement to the simple salad and during the main course they sopped up the sauce from the chicken.  Although this menu recommends breadsticks, no recipe was given, so I made a recipe from a bread machine book called More Bread Machine Magic.  Keep an eye on your bread enthusiasts!  If you let them, they will eat these till their stomach expands. These were soft and garlicky so you can understand why they are dangerous.

I made my breadstick dough, cut it into it shapes, placed them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, and froze them about one week prior to making this menu.  Just take them out the day of your meal and pop them in the oven after they rise.  Remember if you are one cook, like me, then in order to properly execute these menus timing is very important.  Once you get the timing down, these menus can come together very easily. So take every opportunity to make as much as possible in advance.

The Main Course:  Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

The chicken cacciatora was extremely disappointing.  It was flavorless and I didn’t like the way chicken cooked in the sauce.  If  you want a chicken caccciatore meal, then make a different one, skip this recipe.  Some recipes are worth making again if they have potential, make a few tweaks here and there to the seasonings, but this was just wrong.  After I made this I looked at the reviews on Epicurious and they seem to have the same opinion.

In the Volume VI compendium on the page for the chicken cacciatora there is also a recipe for a Chicken Club on Brioche Toast.  This is a much better recipe and would be a fine replacement for this family meal.  Or you can just use this menu, but make your own favorite recipes in place of the Gourmet recipes.  Not everything is going to be a hit, sometimes you get misses and this recipe is one of them.

The Dessert:  Miniature Tartufi

Tartufi in Foil cups

The tartufi were delicious, but get ready to get messy!  Put an apron on and maybe use gloves because your hands will smell like ice cream all day after making these.  The texture of these little ice cream truffles is outstanding:  crunch from the chocolate sprinkles and toasted almonds, dense and creamy from the homemade chocolate ice cream, with just a touch of chewy from the cherry inside.  When you take a bite and see the bright cherry inside against the dark chocolate, they also look beautiful.  As a consumer of these treats, they are ideal.  As the creator of these, they have their challenge.

If you decide to take on the challenge, then start making these one to two weeks in advance.  On one day I made the custard for the ice cream.  The next day I made the custard into ice cream, and I then transferred that into a container for the freezer.  The ice cream can stay in the freezer for a few days and when you have time you can start to tackle making these into little truffles.  The recipe only makes 12 tartufi, so I doubled the recipe and had plenty of ice cream for 24 tartufi and lots for just enjoying a bowl of homemade chocolate ice cream.

In making the ice cream into the little tartufi, my advice is to work quickly and in small batches. The ice cream really hardened in my freezer so you need to have it soften a little before you make it into the little balls.  I used a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop.  Pressing the cherry into half the batch is not that easy.  Use both thumbs and apply even pressure.  And remember to work fast.  Let those sit in the freezer for a a while, then once those are firm, take them out and press them together.  Let those sit for a while to harden again before doing the last step.

Once your tiny ice cream balls are frozen, then get the almonds and chocolate coating ready.  The recipe says to use shaved chocolate, but I made it easy on myself and I used dark chocolate sprinkles along with the chopped almonds.  Take the chocolate balls out of the freezer and let them sit for two minutes.  Then, working quickly roll and press in the coating.  Place in the foil cups and freeze until you are ready to serve.  The finished product can stay in the freezer for many days.

The biggest challenge to these is all the shaping of a very messy melty product.  I think you could bypass the shaping and make something like this dessert in a loaf pan with layers of chocolate ice cream and chopped cherries, then coat the outside of the ice cream loaf with the nuts and sprinkles.  Slice to serve.  They wouldn’t be as cute, nor would they be easy finger food for your guests, but for the cook, that would be far easier!

A Poker Party:  A Design Collection

Have I mentioned that I love Ebay?  You never know what you are going to find.  I thought this collection was going to be boring:  a poker table and some black and white plates.  But then I did a search on Ebay for “antique poker tables.”  Once I found a poker table from a saloon from the 1870s I knew exactly the design direction that needed to be taken for this menu.  The menu already had a cinematic connotation for me (the dessert reminding me of the cafe owned by Francis Ford Coppola), plus the menu has an Italian flair, so when I found that poker table, I couldn’t help but think of Spaghetti Westerns–one of my favorite film genres.   Have a look at my Ebay Poker Party Collection and let me know what some of your favorite items are in the collection.

This is another menu that has a great opportunity for some fantastic ambiance music to get you in the poker/western/Italian mood.  I love cooking with some great music on the stereo and a little wine in my glass!  For this menu, be sure to put on a Spaghetti Western playlist on Spotify or just bring up some great Ennio Morricone soundtracks on You Tube.  Here are a couple of “must watch” clips to also set the mood:

 

Conclusion

Not everything is going to be great, but cooking is an adventure.   So even if the food isn’t amazing, look at all the benefits of going through the “trouble” of making a family meal:

  • Everyone has a wonderful reason to gather together;
  • You can always watch a fun movie that fits the theme of your menu-food and movies are always a great combination;
  • Learn a new game or play an old family favorite
  • As the cook, you probably learned some new skills.  I know I did from working with the ice cream.  Also, you can use these family meals to work on your menu timing so when you have guests over you will be more prepared and calm as you serve your meal.
  • Remember, For a Few Dollars More sometimes you just need to cut your losses and just go out.  Here we are this month revisiting Cafe Zoetrope:Coppola lunch

Be inspired through good food!

 

Beverage Quarterly Report: Tea, Beer, and Spirits

Beer tasters

No meal is complete without your favorite beverages.  Not only have I been trying to make a menu a month from the Gourmet compendiums, but these books are chuck full of great beverage recipes too!  So, I also decided to find one beverage recipe a month.  As I explored the beverages it made me realize how important beverages are around our house, specifically tea and beer.  Therefore, I am also including in this quarterly report a review of some of our favorite beverages from the past three months.  Take a moment to let me know what you have been drinking in your household too!

Beverage Recipes

January

Not only do we love tea in our house, but my younger daughter is very interested with Morocco right now.  So, when I came across the Moroccan Mint Tea recipe in The Best of Gourmet:  1995, I thought we had to give it a try.  I am so glad we did, it is fantastic!  This recipe is so good it is now a standard around our house.  I have made it many times.  Sometimes I use fresh mint, as the original recipe calls for, and sometimes I used dried mint.  When I use dried mint I use equal parts dried 100% mint tea and gunpowder green tea and it came out just as well.  I use Twinings Gunpowder Green tea for this recipe which is widely available in many major retail stores.

The Moroccan Mint Tea recipe is from the menu called “A Moroccan Feast,” which is also found in the 1995 Gourmet compendium.  I would love to make this full menu some day as it looks amazing and like there is enough food for a week long feast!!  If you are interested in the design elements of this menu I created an Ebay collection to go with this menu.  I love the cobalt blue colors that contrast with the orange, and the Moroccan doors in this collection are amazing!  Here is the recipe:

Moroccan Mint Tea

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gunpowder green tea
  • 6 cups boiling water

Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

In a teapot combine mint, sugar, and tea and add boiling water.  Let steep 5 to 10 minutes.  Strain tea through a fine sieve into teacups and garnish with mint.  Makes 6 cups.  Enjoy!

February

Not only did I do a nice candle lit dinner for our Valentines treat, but I also made fun Valentines drinks that month too!  I again used The Best of Gourmet:  1995 for the recipe which was the Banana Rum Fizzes.  This recipe combines ice cream, banana, chocolate liqueur, rum and club soda, so go easy on these not only because of the alcohol, but also the calories too!!  Of course I had to embellish with a pink and white sugaring around the rim and a skewered Valentine Lindt chocolate ball in our drinks, which did not help with the caloric intake of this beverage!  However, it might help to know that we all thought these were actually better made with 1/2 and 1/2 or whole milk and a frozen banana in place of the ice cream.  Just add a pinch of sugar when blending everything together.

These drinks were fun and quite festive, but they are strong in alcohol so sip slowly which might be hard to do because they taste like dessert!  I used Marie Brizard Chocolate Royal and Kraken Rum .

March

I was all ready to pick out a fun beverage recipe in a Gourmet compendium for March, but then I got excited about the Ebay collection that I created.  This collection was inspired by The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI’s menu titled, “Dinner Irish Style.”  While putting that collection together I also added a few books on Irish design and Irish cooking.  This is how I came to discover the cookbook by Rachel Allen titled, “Favorite Food at Home:  Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland’s Most Famous Chef.”  As I am a fan of Irish home cooking, this was a must have for my cookbook collection!  Once I received the book in the mail from the Ebay seller, I discovered my March beverage recipe!

“Little Hot After-Dinner Shots” rose from the pages like a gift from St. Patrick himself!  I used the excuse that my husband is Irish American and of course needs a St. Patrick’s Day present, to run out and buy an expensive and premium bottle of Irish Whiskey.  I made my simple syrup and lightly whipped some whipping cream.  I put this all together and presented the drink is little cordial glasses and the end product was . . . . well, we decided we are not Irish Whiskey fans.  This, however leads me to the review of the Irish Whiskey I used for this recipe:

Redbreast

Please DO NOT report me to the Redbreast company!!  They state on their Facebook page that their whiskey is, “NOT FOR MIXING.”  Ooops.  Well, in all fairness we did drink it straight too because we needed to know what it tasted like before we mixed the whiskey.  It tastes like whiskey.  It is smooth and really has no burn, but like I said, I simply do not have adequately developed taste buds to fully appreciate the subtle flavors in whiskey.  Mixed however, it was a cute little drink and I would happily serve this on any St. Patrick’s Day event!

I used 1 1/2 ounces whiskey, 1 1/2 ounces simple syrup, 1 Tablespoon cream.  The cream should stay on the top.  Enjoy (or not)!

Tea and Beer

Tea:

We consume a LOT of tea in my house.  My younger daughter has become a tea historian and connoisseur.  I could tell you all about tea, but for now I will tell you just what we have been drinking in the first three months of 2016.

I made two major orders from tea merchants.  The first from Ghograjan Tea Estate.  I discovered Ghograjan when we attended the past two San Francisco International Tea Festivals.  Ghograjan’s teas stand out among some excellent tea merchants at the festival.  Thus, when I received an email from them letting me know their teas were now available for the retail consumer, I wasted no time and went right to my computer.  We purchased pretty much all they offered earlier in the year which included the Vintage Earl Gray, the Assam Golden Tips, and the Royal Masala Chai teas.  All are amazing!  You will not be disappointed if you order from Ghograjan.  Their teas are exceptional!  You simply can’t order too much of their Masala Chai tea, that was gone instantly in our house!

For our Easter Dinner we served the Ghograjan Vintage Earl Gray along with our meal.  It was an excellent complement to the very English inspired flavors of the Easter Dinner Menu and the tea was enjoyed by everyone.

Here is a picture of their Chai in the cup that came as a gift with purchase from them:

chai tea

I like to spread my retail dollars out, so our next purchase was from Adagio Teas.  I signed up for their “Tea of the Month Club,” specifically their six month Black tea subscription.  The first box arrived very quickly and was nicely packaged.  This box included their Irish Breakfast and the Assam Medley.  I love Assam tea with its malty, biscuity aromas and flavors, but although Adagio’s Assam was good it couldn’t hold a candle to Ghograjan’s.  The Adagio Irish Breakfast is blended with Ceylon tea which had a nice distinctive almost dusty flavor.  I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next from Adagio.

Beer:

Beer is the other important beverage in our household.  Last year my husband and I started making our own beer.  My husband and I decided we needed a team building project other than doing chores and raising kids.  We started off easy using kits, but our results have been fantastic.  Our sixth batch of beer is just finishing up and we plan to make more.  The eventual goal is to go “all grain” brewing, but for now we have no plans as of yet to change from the kits.  All-grain brewing is a goal down the road when our time becomes just a little more plentiful.

We have been ordering from Northern Brewer.  For our last order we wanted to get ready for St. Patrick’s Day, so we ordered three of their Irish style kits:  the Dry Irish Stout, the Irish Draught Ale, and the Irish Blonde.  The Blonde is still in the fermenter, so I cannot comment on that style, however the Irish Stout and Ale were excellent!  The Stout was so smooth and it had a slight bitterness which was pleasant.  The Draught Ale was a good flavorful all around beer.  Both of those styles are on our “make again” list!  We do not have a fancy or expensive set up, just a big stainless steel kettle, a plastic primary fermenter, a carboy, and a bottle capper.  I feel like since we have been making our own beer, there is always something to look forward to in my fridge!

Here is a picture of one of our delicious batches:

Homebrew

In between our homebrew we like to explore the plentiful local and micro-brew beers in the stores these days.  Around where we live there is no shortage of micro-brew style beers.  A couple of stand outs that keep reappearing in our fridge are:

Both of these French styled beers would be a nice addition to the Informal Dinner Menu from January 2016.  The Lost Abby saison is my personal favorite, but my husband’s vote goes to Boulevard’s saison.  Both are excellent.  Needless to say, our next order from Northern Brewer will be their saison style beer kits!  I can hardly wait!

Check back in three months for my next quarterly beverage report!  In the mean time look for my upcoming blog posts which will include a March cooking addendum, and my April menu!

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March: Easter Dinner

Easter Eggs

Time to have company!  My last two full menus were enjoyed by just my husband and our daughters.  March however, brings my family not only Easter, but also my daughter’s 16th birthday and my nephew’s 9th birthday.  March, then became the perfect month to celebrate with family and friends enjoying a grand full menu from The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI.  Here is the menu:

Goat Cheese and Walnut Souffles with Watercress and Frisee Salad

Herbed Roast Leg of Lamb with Roasted Onions and Potatoes

Rosemary Mint Wine Jelly

Mixed Spring Vegetables

Minted Pea Puree

Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake

Wine:  Chateau Chasse-Spleen ’85

This menu has some wonderful opportunities to enhance the ambiance by adding some seasonal media.  As guests arrived I played a spring themed Spotify playlist that included Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and Jean Sibelius’s Spring Song.  As the Easter Eggs were being hidden and the kids were waiting we put on Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and Judy Garland.  Fred Astaire’s dance routine in the toy store is sure to entertain everyone even in 2016!

Remember that immersion blender that I said you needed in February’s posting?  It will come in handy all through this menu!  You will need it for the lamb gravy, the minted pea puree, and the raspberry white chocolate mousse cake.  That little gadget is like having your own personal prep cook!  It’s that handy!

Wine:

I admit, I was so busy with planning that I really dropped the ball on the wine for this month.  We had wine with our Easter dinner, but it wasn’t reflective of the menu suggestion.  For those of you with more organizing power, the following is my research on the Chateau Chasse-Spleen.  It looks like they still produce wine and it is available in California.  This is a Bordeaux blend red wine, so if you don’t have easy access to obtaining the Chateau Chasse-Spleen, then I would suggest a Bordeaux blend from your local wine merchant.

The Food:

Goat Cheese and Walnut Souffles with Watercress and Frisee Salad:

Souffles

As I have mentioned in my earlier blog posts, I am but one person in my kitchen, so timing and prep work are very important.  Before I made these little souffles I did a little research to see if I could make them in advance and then freeze.  I found a few tips on the internet that seemed to indicate that it was possible, so I made the decision to go ahead and whip these up a week in advance.

I made a double batch, so there was plenty to try when they came out of the oven.  I think I may have overcooked mine just a little, because I thought they were a little dry.  One of my daughters really liked them a lot, but I was unimpressed.  They were good, but not very flavorful.  I think I prefer different cheeses, like feta or Asiago or something more sharp and salty.

Overall, freezing in advance worked out great!  I thawed them in the fridge the night before our party and popped them in the oven for about 6 minutes at 350 degrees.  The end presentation on the salad made an elegant first course.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the souffle salad.

Rosemary Mint Wine Jelly

mint jelly

When I mentioned to people that mint jelly was part of my Easter menu they would give me a funny look and they seemed to be skeptical.  I have to admit, I was not really looking forward to this part of the menu.  I mean mint jelly is passé.  We were all wrong.  This jelly is the stand out of this menu!  It is beautiful, tastes refreshing, and is the perfect complement to the lamb.  It was also easy to make.  I did not put them in Mason jars nor did I do the proper procedure for canning.  I simply made the jelly and placed it in the jars you see in the picture, then placed those in the fridge.  You can make this jelly days in advance, longer of course if you do the proper canning.

I was asked by my sister to please add more on the mint jelly, because she said people need to know that this jelly was “transcendental,” and she continued, “it goes with so much more than the lamb.”  Apparently, my sister felt that I did not express just how amazing the flavor is of this jelly.  It is surprising just how good this jewel like jelly turned out.  With your leftover jelly, if there is any, try it on fresh berry scones with Devonshire cream.  Or you can do like my daughters and just eat spoonfuls of it like it is jello!  I hope this paragraph impresses upon you how much this jelly was enjoyed!

The Main Course:

Lamb

The gravy that accompanies the lamb is excellent!  Roasts are usually very easy and this lamb was no exception.  I started marinating it the night before.  Once you take the lamb out of the oven and while it rests make the gravy and the Minted Pea Puree.  You might also need to do the finishing touches to the Mixed Spring Vegetables (my Mom brought this dish and finished it at my house.  It was nice to have a helper with me in the kitchen!  Thanks Mom!).

Everyone really liked the lamb and all the sides.  The minted pea puree was a fresh bright green and not super minty, very easy to make. It was a nice side, but it was also good there were other veggies on the plate too. It added variety.  Each side dish on the plate complemented each other and nothing overpowered or detracted from the other flavors.  Our lamb was incredibly tender and had a wonderful mild flavor.  Put lots of gravy on your potatoes and dig in!

Now time to serve the meal and enjoy!

The Dessert:  Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake

White chocolate cake

I made this incredibly delicious dessert three days in advance.  The picture above is from The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI, below you will see a picture of the one I made.  It may not have been as pretty, but everyone ate my cake along with a chocolate mousse cake from a local bakery called Ettore’s European Bakery.  Ettore’s is probably the best bakery in the Sacramento Area.  The verdict was that the Raspberry White Chocolate Mousse Cake was on equal footing with the Ettore’s cake.  WOW!  That is some high praise!  This cake is worth the effort and is truly special.  Following are my suggestions for the cake.

Set aside a day to make this cake.  This cake is made in many steps and you might want to make the White Chocolate Genoise many days or up to two weeks in advance and freeze.  I always find it easier to slice a cake horizontally when it is partially frozen.  Please note that the directions say to slice the genoise into thirds.  I found this impossible.  You can either slice it in half as I did, or you can make two cakes and slice as needed.  Or, and I didn’t try this, you might want to do a double recipe and bake it in one 8 1/2 inch springform pan.  That might give you the needed height for slicing into three horizontal slices.

I could not find frozen raspberries in a light syrup, so I just bought frozen raspberries and added some simple syrup.  Just make sure you do not have more than 20 ounces because otherwise you will end up with too much extra raspberry mousse and it will also not be as firm as it needs to be for forming the dessert.

For brushing the cake layers I used Chambord which enhanced the raspberry flavor perfectly.  Good luck with this cake, but even if it isn’t perfect the flavor is just amazing!!  You can always call it a “trifle” and serve it in a bowl!  Here is what my final product looked like:

White Chocolate Raspberry Cake

Easter Dinner:  A Design Collection

There are all sorts of wonderful items in this collection for designing your Easter holiday table and dining room.  The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI, shows this menu served in a conservatory with bougainvillea and colorful bouquets of spring flowers.  I could not find the exact china pattern that is pictured in Gourmet’s photo, but I love the one I picked out: Ceralene Raynaud Limoges’s Crocus.  It seemed fitting for a spring dinner.  You will also find some stunning English Ironstone platters and this little item is a perfect Easter Basket for the mint jelly:

Silver Basket

I would love to know what you are cooking and if you ever do full menu cooking yourself.  Leave me a comment so we can talk about food!

 

February: Dinner Florida Style

Florida dinner

The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI from 1991 has a menu highlighting the flavors of Florida.  This menu is fantastic!  Everything was fairly simple to prepare and the flavors were outstanding.  However, each of these menus tends to have a standout, something that will be made again and has potential to add flavor to other meals.  In this menu the standout was the papaya coriander salsa.

I made this menu for Valentine’s Day.  In each of the Gourmet compendiums they always have a tropical menu.  I would love to make this a Valentine’s Day tradition to have a tropical meal in the cold of winter.  Although I live in California, and it never gets very cold here, it is still fun to reflect on the essence of the tropics and its exoticism and romanticism through its food.  I also love themes and you can have a lot of fun with this theme.  On Spotify there are some great funky Florida playlists or put a Cuban inspired playlist on the stereo.  Be sure to wear your Tommy Bahama clothes to this meal!  Luckily, I have a closet full.  Putting all these elements together created such a wonderful night in Florida (AKA our dining room)!

 

One last musing before I dive into the Florida Menu.  One thing I just love about these Gourmet menus is that I get to travel all over the world!  No “arm-chair” traveling for me!  I am a more active traveler–you can call me a “kitchen traveler.”  I don’t have the opportunity to travel a lot in my life, but when I do the food is what makes the trip.  So, if I can’t get that experience from actually traveling, then I will bring the world to my kitchen!  If Florida is anything like the trip I took via my kitchen, then it must be a beautiful place!  Join me as I reflect on my trip!  Here is the menu:

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup

Grilled Red Snapper with Thyme

Papaya Coriander Salsa

Grilled Marinated Zucchini

Rice and Tomatoes

Passion Fruit Mousses with Raspberry Swirl

Coconut Tuiles

White Chocolate Pecan Truffles

Wine:  Belvedere Russian River Valley Chardonnay ’87

Wine:

When I made this menu in February, I didn’t think I would be starting a blog, so I didn’t jot down the name of the wine we had with this menu.  For our wine, I simply picked out a Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley.  We really enjoyed the wine and it complemented our menu all the way through each course.  I think the Gourmet Magazine editors might have chosen a Russian River Valley Chardonnay because of the tropical notes in this wine.  On our Chardonnay bottle’s notes they stated that there were hints of mango and other tropical flavors.  I also saw this on other Chardonnays of this region.  On the wine label look for the appellation of origin to find one from the Russian River area.  The Russian River is in the Sonoma and Mendocino County area in California.

If you are interested and enjoy the challenge of getting the menu as complete as possible to the original, then you might be interested to know that the Belvedere winery does not exist, however, it looks like C.Donatiello is the current owner of the site in Healdsburg, CA.  I have no idea how their wines are, but you can check out their web page.

If I were to do this menu again, I would try to find the Russian River Chardonnay produced by C. Donatiello.  I love the food challenge of finding all these elements to a menu.  The hunt is part of my hobby.  As I go through these menus I seem to get more and more honed in on how to create these menus so they are as true to the original intent as possible.

Chilled Curried Carrot Soup:

The soup is very good.  I used more curry powder than the recipe calls for.  Be sure to taste as you add the curry, the flavor really comes through so you may not want to add too much more.  I served it warm, as I am not a huge fan of cold soups.  If  you don’t have an immersion blender, then get one now!  I think that an immersion blender might be one of my favorite kitchen tools.  It has made my life so much easier and it will make cooking this soup easier for you too!  Stop reading this and get one.

Timing is really important to me for creating these menus.  I am the only cook in my family of four and I do the majority of the clean up.  I have found that if the menu says that you can make it in advance, then take them up on that opportunity!  For this menu you will want to make the soup, and all the desserts in advance.  This frees you up for the main course on the day of the meal.  It also de-stresses the chef!  When all I have to do is a little grilling and assembly the day of the meal, then things go very smoothly and I am happy as are my guests.

The Main Course:  Grilled Red Snapper with Thyme, Papaya Coriander Salsa, Grilled Marinated Zucchini, and the Rice and Tomatoes:

The snapper is easy to prepare and absolutely amazing with the salsa.  I didn’t even know I liked papaya!  The salsa is the stand out in the recipe!  It would be good in tacos, on chicken, just with tortilla chips.  I used a football shaped papaya, probably a Mexican variety.  My papaya was large so I only used about 1/2 of it and for the rest I cut it up, put lime and honey on it and ate it for breakfast.  Everyone ate about triple the amount of salsa on their snapper as what I served in the picture above.  Set extra on the table for everyone to enjoy.

I did not make the rice according to the instructions in the book.  Although, looking at the instructions again, I see that you can make the rice one day in advance, so I might do that.  I think it would result in a flakier dryer rice.  I had a wetter rice, but the flavor was nice and a great complement to the rest of the main course.  The zucchini needs to be marinated, but it super simple.  This main course may sound like a lot to create, but it comes together with ease and is very rewarding.

The Dessert Trio:  Passion Fruit Mousses with Raspberry Swirl, Coconut Tuiles, and White Chocolate Pecan Truffles:

Florida dessert

Ok, so the picture makes my little raspberry heart look like coagulated blood, but it really was a fantastic dessert, I promise!  Who is going to refuse THREE desserts in one sitting!  This dessert is why this menu is perfect for Valentine’s Day!

I really need to change the name of the mousse I made.  I did not use passion fruit because I could not find any.  I went all over town, but finally gave up and I used an organic apricot nectar in place of the passion fruit.  It worked perfectly and probably made the creation of this dessert a little easier as you will skip a few steps that you would have needed for the passion fruit.  Apricot is a nice complement to the raspberries, be creative and don’t let the fact that you can’t find passion fruit keep you from making this nice dessert.  Other than the substitution the recipe is great, but I thought the raspberry swirl part could have used a touch more of sugar.  Be sure to make this a day or two in advance.

The coconut tuiles are a snap to make!  I made mine well in advance and froze them until the day I made the menu.  These will take no time at all for you to make and are a very nice complement to the dessert course.  Make sure your oven is nice and hot so the coconut gets toasted.  I used unsweetened coconut.  You might want to add a little extra sugar if you use unsweetened coconut.  I did not and they came out great, but probably could have benefited from a touch more sugar.

At first I thought the white chocolate pecan truffles were a waste of time and I was not really a fan.  But, the extras stayed in the fridge for a week or so and they started to develop more texture and flavor.  When they were finally all gone, I was a little sad.  I used Cointreau rather than Brandy and it had a nice subtle orange flavor.  Try using only one tablespoon of cream because I thought they were a little too soft.  But, make these little truffles.  Just make them about two weeks in advance.  They are quick to prepare and after two weeks, worth the effort.

Remember, if you want to cook along or love these recipes and you want they for yourself you can find the recipes on Epicurious.com.  Or you can find the book for sale on Ebay.  Please feel free to leave a comment to let me know your thoughts!

Dinner Florida Style:  A Design Collection

Batik

This was another menu in Gourmet, in which I loved the food, but I was not crazy about the design in the photos–that is until I made the collection on Ebay.  Many of the items in the photos (pg. 16 to 19 of The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI), are not available from Ebay sellers at this moment, so I chose items that I felt were in the spirit of their design.  In the process of finding and looking up these items I always learn something about textiles, silver, or china place settings.  For example, the tablecloth in the book’s picture is credited as “Hokokai.”  The items I found on Ebay with that type of fabric were beautiful!  My deduction on that fabric is that it is a type of Indonesian batik.  I hope you love the fabric I chose for this collection as much as I do!  It is vibrant, tropical, and really reflects the spirit of this Floridian menu!

This is a small collection, but some of my other favorite finds were the pirate ship etched glass decanter, the Hollywood Regency chairs, and the turquoise blue plates.  Have fun looking through this collection and I invite you to leave your design thoughts as well as your food thoughts.

Thanks for visiting my blog.  In March we won’t be doing any “kitchen traveling” but I will be reflecting on the wonderful Easter menu from Gourmet!

January: An Informal Dinner

January:  An Informal Dinner

The first menu I made from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI,” was on page 26 to 27, titled, “An Informal Dinner.  This is in intimate and, yes, informal, family-style, eat-in-the-kitchen type of meal.  After the hectic month of December, it was really nice to have a low stress, small, cozy meal with my family.  We had our table set with tons of candles and ate purely by candlelight.  If a fireplace had been in our eating area we would have had a fire going too–it is that type of menu.   The menu is as follows:

 
 
Marinated Vegetable Salad
 
 

 

Regarding Wine Pairing:
Each menu in the Gourmet compendiums recommends a wine to accompany the meal.  However since these books are from many years past, getting the wine they recommend is impractical because of age, cost or other reasons.  I try to stay as true to the spirit of the menu as possible, however.  Being that I am not a wine expert by any stretch of the imagination, I use one of my better skills in finding a perfect wine for my once a month meal–research.  

For this menu, the recommendation is Aldo Conterno Dolcetto d’ Alba 87.  Aldo Conterno was an Italian winemaker from 1931 to 2012.  The Dolcetto d’ Alba is a region in Italy that produces red wine.  Aldo Conterno is no longer a wine producer, so I would suggest trying to find a wine made with grapes from Dolcetto or a California Charbono which is similar to the Dolcetto.  I recommend you use wine-searcher for finding the Dolcetto or the Charbono.

 

Regarding the Food:
Now on to the details of the food.  Overall, the menu was fantastic with wonderful complementary flavors throughout.  I chose this meal for my first full menu because it was relatively simple, yet allowed me to really dive into how to prepare a multi-course menu.  I served the meal a little differently than how Gourmet lays out the menu.  I served it like this:
First course:  Marinated Vegetable Salad and Parmesan Rolls
 
Second course:  Braised Veal Shanks with White Bean Tomato Sauce and the Saffron Orzo
 
Third course:  Apple Walnut Crisp

I also allowed plenty of time in between courses.  In my opinion, that is one of the disadvantages of restaurant eating:  you are not allowed the proper amount of time in between courses.  This “Informal Dinner” is a very large and heavy dinner and should be enjoyed over the course of an evening.  I might add a WARNING at this point.  The Parmesan Rolls are very good.  If you have any bread enthusiasts, then I recommend serving only one roll at a time to this person.  I gave my husband free reign on the rolls and I thought he was going to explode!  He liked the rolls a little too much!!

Parmesan Rolls
The rolls are amazing.  I tossed the ingredients into my bread maker and they came out perfect.  To give them the flower shape, I made them in a pie pan. If you need to do these ahead of time, then I might suggest making the dough and freezing it until you are ready to make the menu.  This gives you time to work on the other items on the menu.
Marinated Vegetable Salad

The marinated vegetable salad needed a little more flavor.  I would change the amounts by doubling the red-wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and the Dijon mustard.  I also might use some cauliflower in addition to the other vegetables.  I also like Kalamata olives rather than Nicoise.

Braised Veal Shanks with White Bean Tomato Sauce

I had trouble finding veal.  None of my markets seem to carry veal anymore.  I used a regular beef shank.  The beef was good, but not great.  I felt that the flavor of the sauce was too bland and a bit uninteresting.  I wish I had a French Braiser, like a Le Creuset or other cast iron cookery, that might have affected the end product.  The gremolata that topped the beef was the highlight of this dish.  It added a much needed freshness and zest that the dish was lacking.

Saffron Orzo

The saffron orzo that is served alongside the beef is an excellent accompaniment to the shank and sauce!  The color and flavor really make this dish special.  Do not skip or substitute this dish.  It brings the whole menu together.

Apple Walnut Crisp

If you haven’t eaten too many rolls, then you will want to have a big bowl of the apple walnut crisp.  A simple and humble dessert, but it will bring you close to heaven.  Is there anything better than hot apples with a crispy topping and vanilla ice cream?  The recipe says to use a pie pan—WRONG!  Use a 13″ x 9″ pan.  There are way too many apples to fit in a pie pan.  The apples do, of course, shrink down, but using a larger pan is easier and necessary.  I don’t think my husband even got any of this dessert because my girls and I ate most of it and he was too busy almost dying from the rolls expanding in his stomach!!  His loss!

Even though none of us were thrilled with the beef, we really enjoyed this meal and how it brought us all together for a very memorable family meal with just the four of us.  If you have made this menu or plan to make this menu, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments!

An Informal Dinner:  A French Bistro Inspired Collection

Each menu presented in these compendiums, is accompanied by beautiful photographs of the food and a stunning table setting and room that the editors felt these meals would best be enjoyed.  The detail of these place settings and rooms is impressive to say the least.  I was so intrigued by the place settings of some of the menus that I started looking to see if the items are available on Ebay.  Often they are and if the exact item is not available, then something similar can be found.

I started making collections on Ebay of the place settings for each menu.  The place setting and room decor for this menu can be found in this collection that I created.

What is funny is when I saw this menu, I loved the food, but was not crazy about the place setting.  I finally made the Ebay collection for this menu when I started this blog.  It was only when I created the collection did I realize that this is a heavily French inspired menu and collection.  I just fell in love with the items in this collection, from the simple brown gingham napkins to the fun antique maps.  This collection includes other items like bistro chairs and tables, French crystal, and some really fun French decor.  The combination of elegance and simplicity is what makes this collection unique and inviting.  I encourage you to take a look and get inspired both with the food and with the decor.Take a moment to let me know your thoughts on the food and the Ebay collections.

Now that I know I will be taking pictures of my food for a public blog, I promise I will spend more time and thought in photographing my food!  In the meantime, bear with me and my simple phone captured images!

Thanks for visiting!!  See you soon for the next menu!

Introduction

Introduction

When my sister gave me a box full of Gourmet Magazine’s end of year compendiums, I thought they would be fun to look at and maybe get some good ideas for things to cook.  I had no idea that they would become my new obsession!  In January 2016, I challenged myself to make one full menu from one of their compendiums each month.  Thus far, this has been a fantastic exercise in home cooking and my sister encouraged me to start a blog about my adventure through these beautiful compendiums.

First a little bit about Gourmet Magazine.  According to Wikipedia, Gourmet Magazine published their first magazine in 1941 and their last in 2009.  They were based in New York City.  Gourmet Magazine had four Editors In Chief during the lifespan of their publication.  You can also check out Gourmet’s web page as well.  Their recipes are found on Epicurious.

Looking at their end of year compendiums is like listening to an old LP record:  This is what this group of people was able to produce in that time span.  It shows the food in the context of the era, shows the direction of the editor, and highlights what type of rooms these meals were to be enjoyed.  That context is something that really is absent from epicurious.com.  Although I use Epicurious all the time for the ease of finding a recipe and reading all the very useful reviews, just like I use Spotify for ease of listening to music.  But, going back to the original source for context can be a more complete experience.  Complete, whole menus and dining experiences is what I am trying to achieve this year.

I decided to cook full menus from only one of the compendiums, but I am constantly cooking and using the others for ideas and inspiration.  In this blog I will share many experiences and ideas that inspire me from these books, but I will focus mainly on “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI,” published in 1991 by Conde Nast Books.  You can find this book from Ebay sellers if you want to start cooking from this compendium.

Please join me as I dive into these books and into great food!!