When you are hosting a dinner party in your home, serving coffee is an excellent way to signal guests that it is time to find their galoshes and perform the skedaddle.
The best way to do this is to prepare in advance.
To some, coffee has a catechism. Only single origin beans are accepted! Only shade grown! Only beans that have been roasted in the last forty-eight hours, and ground thirty-seven seconds before they meet 179 degree water. DECAF IS AN UNNATURAL ABOMINATION.
It is fine if you are such an aficionado. As a host, however, I find it best to consider the level of your guest’s coffee observances and meet them on their level as closely as you can. Certainly curious guests will enjoy expanding their palates a bit, though few will be excited about a treatise on the Arabica bean at the end of a lengthy meal.
The best way to serve coffee at home is with the tools you already own, whether it is French press, Espresso pot, Chemex, Pour-over, electric basket brewer, percolator. Unless you are hosting a party of forty, in which case, call your local party rental company and rent one of those silver monsters, with plenty of cups and saucers.
Amuse Bouche– [ah-myooz boosh] — is a word you may have heard bandied about in restaurants. As it is French in origin, it can sound like a bit of secret code when it falls from the lips of a discreet maitre d’ or a waistcoated server , especially when re-purposed as a verb as in “Has table twenty-two been amused?”
While it is possible these theoretical staff are wondering how the maitre d’s starchy humor landed on a group of diners, it is more likely they are discussing a bit of service business.
An amuse bouche is simply a bite-size dish from the chef meant to stimulate your palate. An amuse bouche typically appears at the beginning of a progressive tasting menu with several courses.
A great amuse is true to the origin of the french word– to cause a person to muse, to ponder. Perhaps to ponder what is in store in the meal to come, or perhaps to be amused by a particularly stunning flavor combination that they would never have imagined enjoying.
An amuse need not be overly complicated. It can be more like Ikea furniture; well designed and easy to assemble. So easy, fact, that you can easily arrange some at home.
If, for instance, you are throwing a dinner party, you can elevate your game by arranging slivers of several elements from the meal in a stack, on a spoon, or threaded on skewer.
The main difference between restaurant cooking and home cooking is preparation. Restaurant cooks plan their dishes days and weeks and in advance which gives them time to spread tasks over a few days in order to build up flavors and get the most out of each ingredient.
A few years ago, a pastry chef gave me a great tip that completely changed the way I make desserts: to get the most flavor, steep cream ingredients in advance. Making a vanilla custard, panna cotta, cream brulee? Let the vanilla steep in the cream for 24-48 hours. This works great for other reedy, seedy things (like fennel, anise, stick cinnamon, lemongrass) and subtle flavors (chamomile, lemon verbena). Shorter steeping times (30 min-2 hours) are best for more pungent flavors (rosemary, mint, lavender, citrus zests). From there, your combinations are endless. For a dinner party, how elegant (and easy) would a chamomile panna cotta with lemon curd be? Or a vanilla bean panna cotta with blueberry sauce? For an asian twist, how about a lemongrass creme brulee with ginger sugar?
Simply bring your cream, half & half, or milk to a simmer and add your flavoring agent. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. Strain the cream before using in your recipe.
This will make me sound like an unabashed nerd, but a well designed grocery store is my happy place. I love turning the corners around aisles to discover unexpected treasures on the end caps. Encountering baby vegetables of any variety can turn my day around like that Dead or Alive song.
While at Trader Joe’s the other day, picking up some fancy cheese for a Sunday dinner, I impulsively picked up a box of those deliciously addictive Speculoos cookies. I’d had them before, but in the course of my daily life of writing books and waiting tables, I had forgotten about these gingery, crispy delights.
The Gent and I proceeded to devour the box within 48 hours.
We needed more. So many more. In a cookie-craving frenzy, I pawed through my pantry and uncovered cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, molasses…. I had eggs, and butter, and flour, even Almond Meal. Then I was called off work last night and the evening unrolled before me like a blank canvas waiting to be filled.
Let us take a moment to consider Kale. That humble, sweet green with the bitter bite that has the texture of an innertube when not prepared correctly. You can’t swing a salad spinner around Los Angeles these days without hitting a restaurant with a Kale Salad on the menu. I am ever hopeful, but alas, have been burned many times by the sub-par kale salad.
Until I encountered the amazing version at Food Lab in Silverlake. I had read about it on Yelp!, Twitter, Facebook, everywhere, and when I met a friend there for lunch a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to have it. Studded with almonds, shallots, brussels sprouts and romano cheese, this salad is my new obsession.
For Thanksgiving this year, I felt like doing something different. For me, holiday cooking is not so much about cooking the same dishes year after year. No, the holidays are the time that I try over the top recipes that I would never ordinarily have an excuse to make. This is the time that I bring out the recipes with obscure spices, with several steps, with long preparation times, like this Pumpkin and Spice infused vodka.
I used pumpkin instead of butternut squash because I think it’s more seasonal.
To peel and disembowel the pumpkin, pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes on high, then place it on a cutting board and slice it in half down the middle. Scoop out the guts (reserving the seeds to toast for a yummy snack), then peel and cube the pumpkin.
For football season, I like to serve these babies up on a toasted french roll. For a tailgate, you can make them in advance, and keep them wrapped in their foil to enjoy field-side. Or, if you live in Los Angeles, fire up the grill by the pool and enjoy after a long swim…. Continue reading →