Restaurant 101: Mignardises

December 26th– end of Year

Mignardises– [Min-yar-deez] a parting gift from the chef. small sweet bites served at the end of a meal. Usually after dessert. Typical mignardise are chocolate truffles, bitse size pates de fruit, macarons. The word derives from the french word for “cute.” The legend is that once upon a time in France, at the end of their long days in a hot kitchen, the chefs would fashion tiny treats for themselves with the bits of remaining batter and sauces that they had prepared for the guests. It then became natural for these chefs to share these treats with their friends.

Mignardises are the book end to the amuse bouche. A perfect way to end the year.

Thank you for reading and for eating with me this year. Here’s to a sweet end to 2018, and sweet beginning to 2019.

Hospitality @ Home: Home Party Set Up with Bar

At the very least, separate the bar/ beverage area from the food area. Browsing a buffet is a different speed than dashing off a martini or pouring a glass of Chianti. Plus beverage areas involve sloshing, splashing, ice, lemon wedges, and all manner of things that you wish to keep cold while you want to keep food room-temperature-to-hot. Separate the bar from the food.

If you have the room, separate the canapes and desserts from the main food area especially if your party is more of a cocktail reception affair. Spreading the different courses through the space encourages mingling with minimal effort.

But, back to the bar.

A good self-serve bar needs:

Glasses that match the offerings (wine glasses, rocks glasses, highballs, cocktail glasses, etc.)

Ice

Cocktail shakers

Garnishes

Towels

Wine

Spirits

Mixers

Bottle opener

Wine key

If you are serving cocktails, set your bar area near a sink so that cocktail shaker ice can be easily poured away. Alternately you can pre-mix a batch of a signature cocktail (Moscow Mules, Bloody Marys, Gold Rushes, Margaritas, Mojitos, Brambles, and Smashes all work beautifully), pour into a pitcher and set beside a serving a note (“Pour over ice and add a squeeze of lime”, etc.)

If you are setting a full service bar for cocktail service, place like things with like– wine with wine, spirits with spirits, mixers with mixers, garnishes with garnishes, tools with other tools. Corral your tools (bar spoons, wine key, bottle opener) to a small dish or tray so it is clear where to look for them.

In addition to an ice bucket, it is a good idea to provide a small, elegant receptacle for bottle caps, corks, wine wrapping.

Return to the bar area periodically to tidy up, refresh ice, empty the debris bin and stock with fresh glasses.

Hospitality @ Home: Dinner Party Set Up Timeline

As the weather grows colder (hopefully? In most places, though not California, *deep sigh*) we all find our revels moving indoors. When you find yourself in the mood for throwing a dinner party, as I often do, here’s a rough timeline.

Two Weeks (yes, I said Two. As in 2, go with it) Before Your Party

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither should your dinner party, ok?

– Reach out to your guests. Send em a text. Create a facebook event. Write an email. Or make everyone feel like Queen Victoria by sending them a handwritten invitation, and request RSVP’s.

One Week before your party,

– You should have heard from your invitees, but if you haven’t, reach out to the stragglers.

– As your guests joyously reply that they cannot wait to attend your fete, be sure to ask them if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies.

– Plan your menu. Choose dishes that can be cooked a day or two ahead, or dishes that come together quickly on the day. Soups make a great first course (and can be made a day ahead), Braised meats can be cooked the day before as an entree, panna cotta, mousse cakes, or enriched cakes like date or almond cakes hold well in the freezer and thaw quickly on the day.

But be aware of your limitations while menu planning. If you and your guests aren’t big on the sweets, why not offer a cheese plate as the dessert course. Alternately, if you are possession of a sweet tooth, but you are a disaster with pastry, dessert is one of the easiest things to buy in.

– Place any necessary orders. With the butcher or the local bakery for that 3-pound snapper or leg of lamb, or mirror glaze mousse cake.

2 days before

– buy groceries.

– prepare dessert (if you are cooking one. Picking one up on the day is certainly an option)- an enriched cake like a date cake or an almond cake can hold up well to freezing. Panna cotta or creme brulee need a long rest in refrigeration, and will be fine for 48 hours.

– deep clean areas guests will spend the most time in. A few toys and coasters laying around are nothing to worry over. This is the foundational layer pass, the dusting the top of the bookshelves, the vacuuming under the sofa, the discarding of the pile of magazines that have collected under the coffee table.

– re-arrange any furniture that needs to re-arranged.

1 day before

– Braise/ roast/ prepare mis en place

– make ice

– polish your glassware and silverware

– Clean and stock the bathroom that your guests will use on the night. Sometimes this is your only bathroom. In which case take this time to remove or stash any cosmetics, medications, etc, that you don’t want anyone to see. Also, remove any towels that you wouldn’t want guests to dry their hands on. It’s a nice touch to have a stain removing pen or stain removing wipes placed in a dish on the countertop, too. It’s not a party until someone spills red wine on their white shirt.

6 hours before

– Pull out any dishes that need to thaw or come to room temperature

– Do a final surface sweep of any clutter that would otherwise embarrass you in the guest areas. Set stacks of coasters or cocktail napkins on the corner of any surfaces where your guests might set a drink down.

– have a stack of clean absorbent towels (paper is fine if that is all you have) stashed in a discreet place near the dinner table and the bar so they are easily at hand for any (inevitable) spills.

– Arrange any last minute mis-en-place. If your roast is finished with a last minute pan sauce, chop the shallots and pre-measure wine for it. If your first course is a salad, wash the greens and prepare the dressing now so all you need to do is toss it together just before serving (though a hardy green like Kale can handle 6 hours in a citrusy dressing, so you can put it together well ahead….. and now you know why you see kale salads on so many restaurant menus….)

– Set table. Or if you have a partner or other household minions, this is a good task for them.

2 hours before

– Get dressed in your dinner outfit (don’t be a hero, put an apron over your couture).

– Set your lighting. Will there be candles over a zillion surfaces? Lay them out now.

– Put on music.

– Set out canapes and arrange bar, in case any guests wander in early.

– Set up coffee/ tea tray for after dinner and set aside.

1 hour before

-Whip cream for dessert- if needed.

-Put finishing touches on any dishes that need them. Wrap platters with foil and hold them in a warm (not hot!) oven until you are ready to bring them to the table.

-Pour yourself a glass of wine.

-Take the first bite of your canapes so that when your guests arrive, no one will be too self-conscious to take the first bite. Seriously. Thats just being a good host.

Restaurant 101: Planning a Party Out

when planning a private party at a restaurant, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Know your budget. You can have a fabulous Bridal shower or 60th Birthday celebration at any budget. Establishing your budget up front will save you a lot of time with venues, because it allows them to give you the best options within your budget. Beware of the old ‘champagne tastes on a beer budget’ trope, though. If you have a tight budget, don’t approach the most expensive restaurant in town for a Saturday night reservation and expect to talk them down. You will be wasting everyone’s time. It’s not a very enjoyable party if you have to watch the bottom line of the check the whole time to ensure you don’t go over budget. Set your budget first. Then pursue options that fit.

2. Know your guest count. Even if your guest count is only a ballpark, have a reasonably good idea of how many people you are hoping to entertain. Some restaurants have several options for parties of various sizes and if you book a room for 30, but in the end will have 45 guests, this may change things considerably.

3. Set a menu. Set menus are designed to speed the service of large parties and prevent long waits for food. Frequently they are multi-coursed affairs not to gouge you, but to ensure that there is food on the table while the entrees are being cooked. Before you set a menu, ask your guests if they have any dietary restrictions or food allergies that need to be accomodated to ensure that there is an option for them on the menu. Though, generally, it is a good idea to have at least one option that is vegan and/or gluten-free on your menu in order to be safe.

3. Pick a beverage package. Beverage packages are designed to prevent sticker shock at the end of your party by enabling you to plan in advance for how much your party will cost. They are not designed to gouge you. If you don’t want to spring for a full blown bar package, most restaurants are happy to run a tab on-consumption and cut it off when a certain pre-determined limit is met– i.e. “Guests can order whatever they want, but can you let me know when it hits $500 so I can cut it off then?” It behooves you, also, to specify if you would prefer tap or bottled water for the party at this time, as well. As if you prefer bottled, you’ll want to ensure that the restaurant has plenty on hand.

4. Ask about restrictions on decorations, times, etc. Restaurants love to celebrate your milestones with you; it is big part of our business! But if you plan to decorate the private room for your party, check with the venue to ensure there are not restrictions. This is not a scenario where it is better to ask forgiveness than permission, as there may be restrictions due the historic nature of some buildings. It is not sexy to talk about, but there are also places where decor cannot be placed because it would impede people escaping the building if there is an emergency like a fire or an earthquake. If you intend to decorate, find out how soon before your party you can arrive to decorate, and also find out if there is a certain time that your party is required to clear the space. Especially during the busy holiday and wedding seasons, there may be other events in the wings waiting for their party in the same space.

5. Don’t move the furniture, or the lights, or adjust the sound system, or the thermostat yourself; ask a staff member. The staff of the restaurant is there to assist you. That is a large part of their job. But they are also responsible for navigating several overlapping systems that operate within the restaurant space. The thermostat you see on the wall may actually be tied to the vents in the kitchen and by adjusting it you could very well be roasting the chefs. What looks like one light switch could actually be daisy-chained to lights in other parts of the restaurant that you cannot see. Furniture placed by the staff is placed in accordance with fire exits and egress for service, and if anything needs to be moved, the staff is more familiar with the weight and dimensions of each piece of furniture and less likely to be injured in it’s moving.

6. Manage your guests. Usually, no food will come from the kitchen until the chef has the whole order from the party in her hand. So if you have hungry guests, encourage everyone to sit down and let the servers know their selections. If you need help communicating to your guests, you can always request that the service staff help you usher guests to their seats with a gentle The host has requested that everyone be seated to place their orders.

7. Set it and forget it. Order all courses at the same time. The staff will organize the timing of the courses based on the pace of your party.

8. If you plan to give toasts or speeches, let the staff know ahead of time, so they can time the courses accordingly. Try to time your toasts or speeches between the courses. Generally, between entrees and desserts are a good time, as you can be secure in the knowledge that your guests won’t be slowly starving while Uncle Owen expounds on his blessings for the guest of honor.

Recipe: Pescado Los Feliciano

It is not all pies and Mac n’ cheese molded into giant mozzarella sticks around the Sidework househould. Most of the time I try to eat healthfully.

This dish evolved out of a Pescado Veracruzano that was on the menu at a restaurant I managed several years ago. The restaurant dish featured a feared fish filet atop a bed of rice surrounded by a rich broth packed with lime, onion, olives, oregano and tomatoes. It was delicious.

So I took that idea and amped up the nutritional density by switching out the rice for quinoa and adding the ubiquitous southern california hippie brassica du jour, kale. Thus the name, Pescado Los Feliciano, after the arty-crunchy LA neighborhood where I live.

The result is a forgiving dish that is sustaining yet light, comforting yet healthful. It comes together easily for a weeknight dinner but is impressive enough to serve for company. If you are overcoming a cold, dial up the lemon and garlic and let the steamy broth carry it into your bones. This truly is a go to dish for me.

For a vegetarian version, I double the quinoa and turn it into fritters. Then serve an island of fritters in a rich vegetable stock. Continue reading

Restaurant 101: Sommelier

So Moll Yay.

So what is a so-moll-yay?

A wine expert. Some have accreditations from the Court of Master Sommeliers or the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, though some merely have battle-tested palates and an encyclopedic knowledge of oenology from the school of hard knocks.

Many sommeliers work for restaurants, actively designing a wine list that compliments the chef’s cuisine, creating accounts with wine vendors and keeping the the wine in stock. Restaurant sommeliers are active presences in the dining room during service, guiding guests through the wine list, ensuring not only that the selected wine will compliment the food that is ordered, but that it is free from flaws and served correctly (at the right temperature and in the correct stemware).

Increasingly though, sommeliers are seeking work as freelancers, creating wine lists and staff training procedures for several venues that do not employ a full time “somm.” Somms may also work for private collectors, maintaining their cellars and even sourcing wine to fill out a collection. They may also be employed at wineries or tasting rooms.

In addition to knowing an impossible amount about the daunting world of wine, somms also tend to have an expansive vocabulary that makes any bottle in their hands sound absolutely irresistible.

Hospitality @ Home: Basic Wine Knowledge

Forget all the frippery associated with the pairing of wine; I am going to let you in on a little secret.

The best wine to have with any meal is the one you most enjoy.

Most of us do not have such refined palates that we notice the unique interplay of the flavor compounds in wine with those in the food alongside. Most of us operate on the mode of food is good, wine is good, food and wine are good together.

Some folks enjoy steeping themselves in the vast ocean of wine possibilities. If you are one of those people, great! But for everyone else, here are a few wine guidelines that will rarely lead you astray:

1. Pair like with like. White meat-white wine, red meat- red wine, sweets – sweet wine.

2. Look at the body. Rich dishes, sauces- full bodied wine, light fare- light bodied wine. A handy list:

Red wine varietals from lightest to fullest bodied:

European Pinot Noir- Chianti- US & Australian Pinot Noir- Malbec- Merlot – Syrah- Zinfandel- Cabernet Sauvignon

White wine varietals from lightest to fullest bodied:

Pinot Grigio- Chenin Blanc- European Sauvignon Blanc- US & Australian Sauvignon Blanc- European Chardonnay- California Chardonnay

2. When in doubt, order champagne. Sparkling wine compliments nearly everything. (One of my favorite combinations in the world is french fries and champagne).