Hospitality @ Home: Table Settings

It begins with a plate. One plate per person, set directly in front of her chair, about an inch away from the edge of the table.

Next, the entree fork and knife join the party. Fork on the left, knife on the right, with the blade opening toward the plate. The Gent was once a protocol officer in the Air Force, and he told me a story he learned at protocol school about knife blades. According to service mythology, there once lived a King who loved to feast. He loved to drink and tell stories almost as much as he loved feasting, and as a drunken storyteller is wont to do in the middle of a feast, the king flung his hand wildly as he regaled his guests with a tale of recent adventure. His hand brushed the the blade of his knife, which was pointing away from his plate, and the king sliced his hand open.

I have no idea if that story is true, but it is a good way to remember which way to set knives on a dinner table.

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Recipe: (Heart) Beet Wellington

When I was a kid, my mother treated Valentine’s Day with the same attention as most people give Easter. Valentine’s breakfast would feature heart studded socks tucked in my juice glass and conversation hearts in my cereal bowl. This was, of course, after sitting with me a few days prior to design and create an elaborate valentine’s box in which to stow all of the cards and candy I was sure to receive on the Big Day.

Now that I am a grown up, nothing says Holiday like a beautiful meal with an impressive culinary centerpiece. And nothing says ‘I Love You’ quite so well as ‘I made fresh puff pastry for you, with my very own hands.

I wanted to post this in plenty of time for Valentine’s Day, in case you ant to give it a test drive.

Buckle up, kids this one is an epic!

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Restaurant 101: Prep Tip

vanilla half and half

 

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.

vanilla half and half
this will be the vanilla base in a vanilla bean and citrus Charlotte Russe for a Downton Abbey viewing party this Sunday night

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.

Hospitality @ Home: Kale Salad

shaved brussels sprouts
kale salad ingredients
the beginnings of a beautiful salad

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.

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Pumpkin & Spice Infused Vodka

pumpkin sugar pumpkin pumpkin vodka recipe

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.

It’s adapted from this recipe on Food52.

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.

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Pumpkin Spice Latte Syrup

Living in Los Angeles, few things truly invoke the feeling of Autumn.  The palms trees that frame the avenues, swaying ever so violently in the Santa Ana winds, do not burn with orange and gold leaves.  Even at night, temperatures rarely dip below sixty degrees.  So, in addition to strident insistence on wearing sweaters because it is October, guys, the thing that signals the beginning of Fall in the modern era is … the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte.

When I managed a restaurant at the base of an office building in downtown LA, we would get requests frequently for our version of the beverage, and so I (a former Starbucks barista myself) developed a Pumpkin spice syrup for our bar, that I will happily share with you now, in consideration of the current Pumpkin Spice syrup shortage of 2012

I do something a little differently with my syrup, cutting the amount of sugar in the base mix and adding sweetened condensed milk, but I like the body that the sweetened condensed milk gives to the final product.  The cinnamon/pumpkin/condensed milk combo adds creamy richness and warmth to whatever you add this syrup to– coffee, latte, hot chocolate, a little brandy and creme de cocao shaken over ice…

If you don’t want to use the sweetened condensed milk, then just increase the brown sugar to 1 1/2 cups.

Recipe after the jump

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