Hospitality @ Home: Picking a potluck dish

It’s the season for cookouts, and if you are anything like me, you cannot go to someone’s house without bringing something to contribute. But what to bring?

Here are a couple of tips for potluck and cookout dishes:

1Bring a dish that you know is delicious. Even if,  when you ask the host what you can bring, you end up with a course you don’t immediately have a dish for (salad duty when you are a baker at heart, or vice versa), don’t just wing it. Ask friends for a surefire, vetted recipe (you can hardly go wrong with anything from Cooks Illustrated or Serious Eats), or order something from a local bakery or beloved restaurant that you know is great. It doesn’t matter if a potluck dish is made by your own hands, so long as some level of care went into it’s preparation and it is tasty. Sometimes, the best thing to make is a to-go order. And that’s ok.

2Bring serving utensils for your dish. You can tie your utensils to your casserole dish with a length of twine, but don’t try to serve a tray of macaroni with a flimsy single use picnic fork. It will only end in tears, and potentially in white plastic shrapnel invading your lovely casserole.

3Bring something that can sit at room temperature for a couple of hours. If it is over 75 degrees, avoid anything with mayonnaise or shellfish or both. Alternately, you can sub vegan mayonnaise or pesto on pretty much any sandwich preparation where regular egg-based mayo gives you pause.

4Avoid icings that can melt. Like whipped cream or light butter creams. If possible, avoid icings at all if the event is outside, as they mostly serve to attract bees and wasps. But if you must use a butter cream, be sure to stiffen it with lots of confectioner’s sugar. The greater the sugar to butter ratio, the less likely it is to melt.

5When in doubt, bring beverages. Wine, beer, Sangria, a big old batch of pre-mixed margaritas. Vodka watermelon. Or go teetotal with a nice sweet tea, lemonade, or fruity minty, virgin bramble.

Here are some ideas for great Potluck/ cookout dishes that are more creative than a casserole—

Kale Salad : https://wherethesideworkends.com/2013/05/08/hospitality-home-kale-salad/#more-914

Greek salad: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/greek-salad-105279

Ribs: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2016/06/oven-barbecue-bbq-ribs-recipe.html

Pan Bagnat: https://food52.com/recipes/6896-pan-bagnat-le-french-tuna-salad-sandwich

Pressed sandwiches of any kind, like a Mufaletta

Brownies, blondes, cookies, hand pies

Pasta Salad: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/06/how-to-make-the-best-pasta-salad.html

Sangria: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2010/12/13/hospitality-home-holiday-sangrias/

Margaritas: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2012/05/25/hospitality-home-batch-margaritas/

Fresh fruit lemonade: https://wherethesideworkends.com/2012/06/21/more-than-you-ever-wished-to-know-about-lemonade/

Recipe: Cherry Clafoutis

Recipe Video here!

Cherry Clafoutis

3 cups dark, sweet cherries (fresh or frozen), pitted and halved

1 tsp lemon juice

2 tsp flour

Pinch cinnamon

3 eggs

1 1/4 cups milk

1/8 tsp salt

2/3 cup sugar, separated into 1/3 cup portions

1 tbs vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 tbs butter

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cherries on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until soft, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with lemon juice, 2 tsp flour and a healthy pinch of cinnamon. Set aside.

In the pitcher of a blender, or a large flat bowl with an immersion blender, combine milk, eggs, 1/3 cup of sugar, salt, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend on high until combined, about 1 minute. Melt 1 tbs butter in a heavy bottom, oven safe skillet. Pour in a 1/4 inch layer of custard and cook over medium heat until set. Remove from heat.

Add half of the cherries, sprinkle with 1/3 of the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar, then pour on the rest of the custard, finish with the remaining cherries and sugar.

Bake in 425 degree oven until puffed and golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving in wedges.

Restaurant Etiquette: Reservations

Reservations are more than a guarantee of a table during a busy Saturday night, there’s a lot to know to make the reservation system work for you.

 

1.Call. I’m taking a firm stance on this one, because it is something I truly believe; it is always best to call rather than book online.  Calling enables you to begin establishing a rapport with the restaurant, and if there is any additional information that needs to be delivered, the staff can alert you now. Perhaps that 8:00 reservation available online is actually a table outdoors, or perhaps there is a large party arriving at the same time as your preferred reservation time, (if you arrive before they do, your service will certainly go faster). None of these nuggets of information will be listed on Opentable or Yelp. Plus, calling gives you the chance to test-drive the place ahead of your meal. If the person on the other end of the line is surly or unhelpful, it might be a message from the ghosts of Dinner Future… advising you to avoid this place.

 

2.Special circumstances. On the phone call when you book your reservation, advise the restaurant of any special circumstances. Birthdays, anniversaries, food allergies, wheelchair or other accessibility needs, if you have plans after dinner and need to leave at a particular time. Even dropping a comment that “this is a meal with friends that haven’t seen one another in ten years!” is helpful. Such a party will have a lot of catching up to do, and I wouldn’t book another party on that table for at least three hours.

3.Don’t reserve if your plans are not solid. And if your plans fall through, please call ahead to cancel. It might free up a table in time for guests that would otherwise be turned away, and the restaurant always appreciates the gesture.

 

  1. Remember; the computer is watching. If you have a pattern of failing to respect your reservations (i.e. “No Showing”) most reservation systems track this. No one is going to hold a good table on a busy Friday dinner for a guest who has No-showed for several reservations. If you have a habit of no-showing, don’t be surprised if you see a trend of being seated at tables near kitchens and bathrooms, (or, in the worst cases, consistent rebuffs that the restaurant is already fully booked at every time you request).

  1. Sometimes, there is still a wait. Anticipating the time it will take a party to enjoy their meal and close their check is not a science. From time to time guests linger, or the kitchen gets backed up, or a busser had to leave suddenly because his wife went into labor. No one enjoys making guests wait for their table. And while every effort is made to have your table ready precisely at 7:30, circumstances might be such that it is not available until 7:53. When faced with this frustrating scenario, a person might feel compelled to huff “Guess I didn’t need that reservation.” But you did! You did! Because without a reservation, you would have been turned away at the door! There would be no table for you, not even in twenty-three minutes! And while certainly the restaurant ought to acknowledge your patience in graciously waiting until your table is ready by offering a complimentary appetizer or a glass of wine, no one is lying when they say that sometimes waits are simply unavoidable.

 

  1. The Large Party Reservation— Many restaurants have begun requiring a credit card to secure a reservation for parties larger than 6 (or 8, or 12). This policy may be a total bummer for you. But these policies have been established for a reason (see: No-Showing). Yes, just like when we were in elementary school, a few jerks misbehaving can change the rules for everyone. There is no use wheedling the host when she delivers this information on the phone. If such a policy truly bothers you, book a reservation elsewhere. Or, if you are granted an exception, don’t abuse it. It is typically the guests that exceptions are made for that tend to reinforce why the policy was made in the first place. Don’t be that guy.

 

  1. Another guy not to be. Don’t be the guy who, upon arriving in an empty or sparsely filled restaurant at the beginning of the evening say “We have a reservation, but looks like we didn’t need one!” More than likely the tables are empty precisely because they are being held for reservations that are arriving within the next 45 minutes. Or the tables are empty because the restaurant just opened.
  2. It is cool to have a reservation. On a related note, it is cool to have a reservation. You have a reservation! Your arrival is anticipated! Everyone is excited to see you! And everyone is grateful that you made a reservation, because reservations are about so much more than merely assuring that there is a seat for your derrière. Reservations enable the chef to know how many steaks to stock in the walk-in for the weekend. They help the dining room manager schedule enough bartenders so you don’t wait thirty minutes for a cocktail.

 

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.

Continue reading

Restaurant Etiquette: Pre Fixe Menus

On special occasions such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years Eve–and *ahem* Valentine’s Day–restaurants tend to rely on pre fixe menu.

This can be irritating. You have chosen a restaurant that you love based on the food you typically enjoy there! Why are they changing it up? Do they really expect you to order a $75 four course meal for your three-year old?

The main reason restaurants offer a pre-fixe menu on a holidays and special occasions is the same reason that they frequently require parties larger than twelve to select a set menu; it makes the service faster and more efficient so you and all the other guests filling the dining room can get their food in a reasonable amount of time.

Typically, the menu will include mouthwatering dishes from succulent pastas, unctuous roasts, cracklingly grilled steaks and seared fish…. It is in the chef’s interest to make everything tempting because she knows that if she doesn’t, forty-seven people are going to order the grilled ribeye simultaneously and her grill cook is going to get overloaded while the pasta cook’s lovingly handmade noodles disintegrate in a pool of congealing cream sauce waiting for the steaks that are on the same ticket.

If you have Pre Fixe Menu Anxiety (PFMA), here are some things to consider : Continue reading

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!

Recipes after the jump…. Continue reading

Restaurant 101: Amuse Bouche

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.

Think tiny, and think piquant flavors that will make an impression. Continue reading