Archive | June, 2010

Party time

28 Jun

Today was another fun catering gig. It’s getting more and more exciting getting these parties to cook for really makes me feel like culinary school was worthwhile. Today was a Christening for 75 at my client’s house. The menu was changed and debated more times than I’d care to discuss, but the end product was fantastic.

The menu was simple:

Veggies and Hummus

Carrots, celery, red peppers and cucumber with hummus

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Spinach and artichokes in a creamy Parmesan sauce served with baguette and pita chips

Stuffed Mushrooms

Baby portabellos stuffed with crab, spinach, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese

and a vegetarian option with herbs, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese

Cucumber Sandwiches

Thinly sliced cucumber with herbed borsin cheese on white bread

Napa Chicken Salad

Poached chicken with grapes, celery, and walnuts in a creamy herb dressing. Served on sourdough bread

Spanish Style Ham Sandwiches

Ham and manchego cheese with roasted red peppers and garlic aioli on italian bread

Americana Turkey Wraps

Turkey, lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese wrapped with a cranberry mayo

Spinach Salad

Baby Spinach with strawberries, candied walnuts, and blue cheese crumbles with a poppy seed vinaigrette

Caprese Pasta Salad

Curly pasta with basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and red onion with a balsamic dressing


Pineapple, coconut, marshmallow, and orange segments tossed in a sweet dressing

I was a little nervous about this party. I had just come off of another party that had a very different execution. You know when you do the same things over and over how they become second nature? Well, in my business nothing really repeats itself.

I feel like every time I do a party I learn something else and every time it’s a new experience. It really is a great thing. I know I’ll never get bored dealing with new clients or seeing the looks on people’s faces when they taste the food. Anyway that’s a tangent I could take all day.

The party started for me the night before making some of the salads and dressings. I finished things the next morning at the client’s house and had my timing just right. The biggest hit at the party were the stuffed mushrooms, and the ham sandwiches. Here are the recipes:

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 pound crab meat (I use leg meat)
Juice of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 3 more for drizzling
2 pints button mushrooms, stems removed

Combine all the ingredients except the mushrooms in a bowl. Stuff each mushroom with the filling and press down. Arrange the mushroom caps on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 375 for 35-40 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The secret to the ham sandwiches was the mayo. It was a garlic and smoked paprika mayo. Although I didn’t make the mayo base, I did roast the peppers and the garlic. And it made all the difference. This was layered with ham off the bone and manchego cheese and was packaged on ciabatta bread. Not only did they fly off the platter, people were asking for more. Too bad my clients wanted more chicken salad and less of everything else!

I can’t wait for the next party and more opportunities to have fun cooking!

Always thinking of the next meal (and party)


Karma from Caramelized Onions

13 Jun

Sometimes when I find myself in a culinary rut I make the simplest thing I can think of. I feel like when I get so caught up in trying new things that aren’t working or making dinners that are lacking magic that I sometime doubt my talent. Sometimes when I’m wondering why I choose to leave my steady desk job to take up cooking, I go back to the simple flavors that inspired me in the beginning.

There are certain things that I make that have universal appeal and tons of applications. One of my favorites is caramelized onions. To achieve the perfect caramelized onion you need 4 things. Butter, salt, onions and lots of patience. You might think that caramelized onions are easily achieved in 5 minutes flat, but the truth is that they can take up to 45 minutes to be completely perfect.

The key to melty, sweet, flavorful caramelized onions is to go low and slow. Slice your onions as thinly as you can with the grain. As long as you move your knife in a radial movement that matches the curve of the onion you will wind up with pieces of onion that are exactly the same size. If you cut your onions against the grain, your onions will have a funny shape in the end, looking more like tape worms than melted onions.

Start your pan on medium heat and add in the butter. (Yes, I realize there are no measurements listed, just keep reading) Let the butter melt and add in your sliced onions. Stir to coat the onions in the butter. Season with the salt. Stir. Don’t rush the stirring. Basically you want to keep the onions moving just enough so that they don’t brown unevenly. Keeping the temperature low will help with this. Don’t walk away too long when you are doing this or the onions will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. While stirring the onions you will at some point hit a wall where the zen of stirring will give way to impatience and hunger. Do NOT turn up the heat. Your patience will be rewarded.

Do you know what the color of caramel it? If you don’t, google it and keep that color in the back of your mind. The onions will be the color of light caramel when they are ready to be pulled. They are fine to be used as is but can be punched up to even higher heights. Whenever you cook anything in a sauté pan, you wind up with little brown bits at the bottom of your pan. Those bits are called suc or fond and are FULL of flavor. In order to release said tasty morsels, you need liquid. Sure you can use water, but why not add more flavor to your already flavorful onions. My top 2 choices are marsala wine and balsamic vinegar. Both have sweetness which ups the anti of the onions. I also add a little bit of water. The water helps to loosen up the mass of onions and mellow the bold flavor of the wine or vinegar as it reduces.

Notice that I have never said to add sugar. There is plenty of sugar in the onions to cause the caramelizing process. Adding sugar is the lazy man’s way to hurry the process along.

Once you have your glorious onion mixture, use it in a tart, on burgers, on chicken, salmon or vegetables. Caramelized onions taste great as a cheese accompaniment. They pair well with goat cheese, parmesan and gouda.

Always thinking of the next meal


Summer Dinner Party

9 Jun

So last Saturday night I catered a dinner party in Orlando. Back in April, I had donated a dinner party for 8 at a fundraiser for my Mom’s school and Saturday was the big night. I was thrilled to have had donated a prize that raised so much money for the school, but I was nervous that I had to live up to the donation.

The night started off as usual. I had my timeline prepped and my ingredients ready to go. All I had to do was show up and start cooking. I even had help. My Mom and her 2 friends were the “celebrity” guests that would be helping with dinner. I was ready. Here was the menu:

Watermelon Tomato Salad
Watermelon, tomatoes, feta cheese, red onion and white balsamic vinaigrette

Salmon with Raw Sugar Green Chili Glaze and Summer Succotash
Seared salmon with raw sugar green chili glaze and a succotash with corn, tomatoes, bacon and edamame

Cornbread with Lime Butter

Toasted Pound Cake
Toasted pound cake with topped with a cannoli cream and fresh berries

I started the night out by making the cornbread and the cannoli cream. I assigned things to my Mom and her friends as the night went on. I had my Mom make a surprise appetizers. As you can see the menu did not include nibbles to have out while the guest were arriving. We made brie stuffed dates with sliced almonds and balsamic glaze. I borrowed the recipe from Wegmans. It’s very simple…

Brie Stuffed Dates

12 dates, sliced down the center and pits removed
6 oz ripe brie (I use fromage d’affinios)
1 oz sliced almonds
3 oz balsamic vinegar, reduced by half

Stuff each date with a 1/2 oz of cheese and sprinkle with the almonds. Drizzle with balsamic and serve.

The night before the party I decided that the salmon really needed a sauce. Usually I fell like a glaze serves the purpose of a sauce, but this glaze was different. It was light, and almost caramelized on top of the salmon. It enhanced the crispiness of sear, but didn’t add that flavorful moisture to the entrée that the salmon really needed. I decided to make an aji sauce. Strangely enough, aji is pepper, but this sauce did not have any aji peppers in it. It did have anehiem and jalepeño peppers, but no aji. The sauce went perfectly with the salmon and the spicy sweet glaze.

One of the unexpected hits of the party was the cornbread. I was frantic to find a recipe that hit a happy medium between the traditional corn bread of the South and the sweet, pudding-y, corn bread of the North. I had success with this recipe:

3 cups white cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can creamed corn
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Special equipment: 9×13 in pan

Preheating oven to 375°F.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add eggs, corn, buttermilk, and 1 cup melted butter, then quickly stir together.

Bake for 50 minutes

Dessert was simple. I felt like I was cheating by using store bought pound cake, but since I made the corn bread, I thought it was a fair trade off. The cannoli cream was inspired by cannoli filling and a cake called a cassatta. The sweetened cheese tasted light and melted slightly over the warmed pound cake.

I had so much fun at this party. I can’t wait for my next one… next week!

Always thinking of the next meal