Monday, March 29, 2010

Tiny Bubbles

When serving Champagne, sparkling wine or Prosecco, the presentation is critical. Most people know that a proper Champagne flute should be used (to facilitate maximum enjoyment of nose, taste and the lyrical rising of all those bubbles) but few understand how to prepare a bottle for a dinner party. Here are my rules:

1. A bottle is best presented in a silver bucket of ice and water. This bucket can be on the bar top or can be placed on a special stand to sit tableside.

2. Always remove the foil from the bottle, exposing the cork and cage. Do NOT remove the cage until ready to open the bottle. This indicates to guests that you are ready to serve them the wine and are not going to try and stick it back in the refrigerator in the hopes that no one drinks it. It's the same principle as never having an unburned candle at the looks like you are too cheap to ever light the candle. And if no one does drink the Champagne, you can always put it back in the fridge unopened, sans's not that big a deal.

3. Neither should one remove the cork prior to guests' arrival -- not even to "taste" for spoilage. Otherwise, it looks like you couldn't wait and were drinking down the wine by yourself, which is a far worse impression than serving a spoiled wine which, after all, is no fault of yours.

4. A spotlessly clean linen napkin should be tucked around the neck of the bottle to be used for holding the bottle after removal from the icy water in the bucket. The towel can also be looped through a ring on the bucket, if one exists.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Amuse-Bouche

I always admire a chef who serves an amuse-bouche to guests. The elements of confidence ("I'm going to serve you something I know you're going to like") and surprise are provocative, and create a level of interest and anticipation. The amuse-bouche also says, "I'm not too cheap to give you something for free." All salutary outcomes.

At home, for a special meal, I also enjoy serving an amuse-bouche. I find they are challenging exercises in concentrated flavor and, in particular, design. An amuse-bouche can neither bore the tongue nor the eye. It must excite -- and amuse! -- both. And in a very small amuse-bouche should never contain more than one or two bites of food.

Recently, at a dinner in honor of international style maven Albano Daminato, I prepared an amuse-bouche, served cold, consisting of shaved roast pork and roasted red sweet pepper, maple candied shallots and a wee burst of white wine dijon mustard. I prepared these hours in advance and stored them in the fridge, on their small serving plates, so they were ready to plunk down. I thought they tasted great!

What's your favorite amuse-bouche to serve or receive? Have you ever had a bad amuse-bouche? Tell me about it in the comments!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Cara Cara Lot

I'm not really one to keep a lot of fruit laying around the house -- generally a bunch of bananas is good enough for my morning yoghurt. I never seem to eat them before they spoil, and they attract those awful, annoying fruit flies! But a recent sugar imbalance-induced fainting spell inspired me to follow my friend Aphrodite's advice to eat more fruit, particularly before and after my daily workout.

Aphrodite suggested Cara Cara oranges, a navel variety that is available in the winter. I bought a few yesterday and must say, I do think they are tasty! The peel is a little difficult to remove -- coming off in bits and pieces instead of as a whole, like satsumas or tangerines. But the juicy, full-on citrus meat and juice are worth the small effort.

What fruit do you always have around the house? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Happy Birthday to Paquie!

Tonight was my friend Brian's birthday and we went to Barrio for dinner -- it was a great choice! Our server was wonderful (Nicole) and always had everything when we needed it -- including a new basket of tortilla chips the very second we ate the last one on the first basket!

I enjoyed the braised pork enchilada with wilted spinach, caramelized onion-poblano rajas, jack cheese and tomatillo sauce ($14) and the side of cornbread with honey butter ($3.50). The pork in the enchiladas was just this side of carnitas-grade...still a bit wet to be called real carnitas but undeniably slow-cooked to a spectacular oblivion.

For dessert, we all split a plate of churros with a delicious molten chocolate dip. They kindly added a candle in honor of Paquie's 53rd birthday.

My favorite Mexican food in Seattle remains Malena's Taqueria up on Queen Anne, but Barrio is hands down the place to go for a more complex culinary feast from south of the border.

Happy birthday, Paquie!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Baby Got Bisque

Last time I made a dish with lobster, my friend, who hates having her name mentioned online so let's call her Aphrodite, suggested that I should keep the shells and boil them to create a lobster stock. Not a bad idea, Aphrodite.

Flash forward to today: a cold, rainy Seattle day. I knew I was going to spend two hours of it outside playing soccer, so the thought of coming home to a rich, warm soup held no small allure. Last evening, I'd served broiled lobster tail to a friend and had put the empty shells into the refrigerator. This morning, I put 10 cups of water and a bay leaf into a deep Magnalite kettle, brought it to a boil, dropped in the shells and covered the kettle. I reduced the heat and simmered them for five hours, reducing the total liquid volume by some two cups.

I had only two guests coming this evening so I reserved four cups of the broth and froze it.

Moving on, I set the remaining broth aside and diced finely two large shallots, bringing me to tears the likes of which I had never shed for any previous event in my life. Attention bioscience industry: invent a tear-free shallot. Thank you.

I put half a cup of butter in a large skillet, melted it and threw in the shallots. Once they were generally clear, I added eight tablespoons of whole wheat bread flour, whisking it for five minutes on medium heat. To this, I added two cups of half-and-half, stirring until it was significantly thickened. Next I added two cups of sherry (NOT cooking sherry) and stirred for 10 minutes. Finally I added four cups of lobster broth, stirring for 10 more minutes, on medium heat (maintaining a slight bubbling, nothing eventful).

Then I added a large true cod filet, in 1/2 inch cubes, and 1/2 pound of medium size shrimp. Finally, I added one tablespoon of Old Bay seasoning, whisked that in thoroughly, and let it cook very low temperature for 20 minutes.

At this point, it was ready to serve. As garnish, I briefly boiled a spiced crawfish and set it in the middle of the bowl of bisque, adding freshly chopped chives as an additional garnish. At table we had crusty French baguette and butter for dredging in the liquid.

There are easier soups to make, but Aphrodite was right -- few are as good as those made with a lobster broth. And fewer still are as richly rewarding as a seafood bisque as Massive Attack plays on the stereo and rain flicks at the windows.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Get Stuffed

There's a saying that one should always count as a friend at least one doctor and one lawyer. Anyone pursuing a life of food would be wise to add an additional profession to their mix of friends...a farmer.

I'm pleased to say that my pal Steve ticks this box for me. Steve and some friends have a farm down in Olympia, Washington, on which they raise a wide variety of produce and livestock. Steve recently presented me with the world's largest roasting chicken -- weighing in cleaned and thawed at more than seven pounds.

But what he also shared was truly interesting: homemade goose chorizo. It didn't take long for me to decide to create a stuffing from the chorizo and roast it inside a chicken (in this case, a smaller one due to the smaller number of guests dining).

I prepared a simple bread stuffing, adding cracked hazelnuts and sultanas, and then about a quarter pound of the goose chorizo. I mixed it up with my hands and stuffed the chicken cavity fully with it.

Two-and-a-half hours later, a golden-skinned chicken was ready to eat, with sides of roasted multi-color baby potatoes and they wonderful stuffing, courtesy of Farmer Steve!

What's your favorite variation of a simple stuffing? Tell me about it in the comments below.

Favorite Diners

Meet Isaac (left) and Alex! This delightful couple was married this past summer on July 18, 2009, and had the incredible courage to invite me to their wedding (knowing I could have single-handedly doubled the Champagne cost). They've been friends of mine for a long time, both on the soccer pitch and off.

Alex works in Uzbekistan and is over on one of his regular leaves. Isaac lives here in Seattle and works in healthcare. I think Isaac needs to be invited to more dinners so we can be sure he's well fed and energized for Alex's visits.

Thanks for coming to dinner, you two!