This was an very challenging week at home and at work, but the bright spot was having my friend Amy over for dinner on Thursday Night. With only one guest and much of my preparation done before hand, I was not scrambling at the end like I usually do. Also, having someone over for dinner gave my week a weird sense of normalcy. It was great to actually catch up in depth with Amy, which is what D4D is all about. We chatted for so long that it was too late for dessert so I made a to-go version for her to take home.
When I was first out of college and working in an office, I used to work with a woman who would bring her lunch almost everyday. I was fascinated by this since I was just navigating how to get to work on time with my hair brushed and my clothes clean. I asked her how she managed to do this and she told me that she cooked on Sunday for the week. I have adopted this Sunday cooking strategy whenever my week allows it. This is not a strategy for people who do not like leftovers. (BTW- I have tried to accept this in people but I am a bit distrustful of people who don’t like leftovers) I will typically make something that tastes better the second day like soup or roast vegetables or protein. This type of preparation is not only good for lunches but especially good for entertaining during the week.
Lately, I have been preparing what I call Salad Bar. I cut and prep vegetables, make salad dressing, and clean lettuce on Sunday night. In NYC ( and probably everywhere) you can buy your vegetables already chopped but there is something very therapeutic about chopping vegetables, relieves that Sunday anxiety. I keep the lettuce in the salad spinner and put all the vegetables in the Tupperware, so when I get home at night during the week, I can make a salad or stir fry instead of eating chips for dinner. The vegetables usually keep fresh for about three or four days. Having this mise en place can give you a head start on dinner prep during a busy week and will definitely be employed this week in preparation for my D4D.
This time of year always seems very busy. I know everyone always says they are SO BUSY but the few weeks before Thanksgiving seem to be packed with deadlines, last minute trips, and social events. In honor of this frenzy, I want to explore dinner during the work week during this next cycle of D4D. Of course, I am not going to elaborate on my favorite, but somewhat unsatisfying, default mid-week meals after a 12 hour day (like PB&J and beer) for myself. Or am I going to catalog how to have a dinner party by way of take-out. (have you tried www.SeemlessWeb.com? not using the phone for take out seems weird)
I am leaning more towards the meal that can be prepared within a short time of your arrival home from work that you can share with a friend, colleague or neighbor during the week. This does take a bit of advance preparation which allows you to be creative but not overwhelmed for a communal meal. There is something profoundly satisfying about taking the time to enjoy the process of making dinner during a busy week for yourself and others and I hope to do that twice during this next stint on D4D.
From the time the challenge was set down by one of our guests, we cogitated long and hard on the right way to approach this particular halloween candy transformation. The end result seemed to have just the right combination of chocolate goodness and flaky crunchiness, and the hazelnuts gave a nice little smoky sweetness to it all.
Prep phyllo sheets according to package directions. Clear a work area and spread out a sheet of parchment paper larger than the phyllo sheets. Lay out one sheet of phyllo, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar and hazelnuts, Lay on another sheet of phyllo, brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar and hazelnuts. Repeat with more layers until all 5 sheets are used; do not butter top layer of phyllo.
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter four pots of a muffin pan. Using a 6″ dish or plate as a template, cut four 6″ circles of the phyllo stacks. Press each stack into a muffin pot to create a phyllo bowl. Bake the phyllo bowls for 10-12 minutes, or until crisp and just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Make the chocolate sauce according to the product directions: In a heat-safe container, add 1 cup of Mariebelle Hot Chocolate powder to 1 1/4 cup of boiling water. Stir until smooth and well melted. If chocolate pieces do not melt completely, steam, simmer, or microwave, for 30 seconds. Set to cool in the fridge.
When ready to serve, remove phyllo cups from muffin pan and place on plates. Divide chocolate sauce among the four cups. Top with a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts and an orange supreme. Serve. [Somehow, in our eagerness to eat this, we forgot to take photos of the finished product...use your imagination!]
Ok, we’ll concede that butterscotch candies in your trick-or-treat sack were about as desirable as those individually-wrapped orange and black taffy candies, or a toothbrush, for that matter. But for our D4D, the main event was going to have to be butterscotch….or should I say butter and scotch! That’s right, this grown-up trick-or-treat includes a dish inspired by the haunted moors and firths we sampled on our recent trip to Scotland. Wrap it up in parchment paper with just the right twists at the ends, and the less desirable butterscotch candies become a surprising mouth-watering savory main dish.
Filet and skin the salmon, and cut into individual portions. Set aside. Set a double-boiler up with an inch of water in the bottom, and heat the water to just below boiling; remove from heat and add three egg yolks and lime juice to the top section of the double-boiler. Whisk until smooth, then add the butter in 1/2″ cubes. Melt while constantly stirring with whisk. When butter is incorporated and the mixture is smooth, remove top section and add scotch whiskey and stir until smooth.
Preheat oven to 425°. Cut four 16″ lengths of parchment. Spread a dollop of the sauce in the center of one sheet. Lay the salmon on top, dress with three morels, a sprig of rosemary, another dollop of sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Wrap up by folding the parchment lengthwise around the salmon; generally you want to have at least two layers of parchment on each side. Twist the ends for the wrapped-candy effect, and set on a cookie sheet. Repeat for each piece of salmon. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve as a wrapped package, and let your guests cut them open at the table…the blast of butter•scotch aroma is intoxicating.
The Lollipop Lollipop course was a fairly simple transformation project: Come up with a spherical outer casing or something that can be made to hold the shape of a ball, and stuff it with something chewy/gooey at the center, just like your favorite Tootsie Pop. Poke a stick into it, and presto. While the different potential combinations are limited only by your imagination, the expectation for this dinner was that each would be savory, each would provide a slight differentiation in texture, and each would provide a complementary color palette.
The three versions became progressively more involved in preparation, but each is still a relatively simple concoction.
Stem the Cremini mushrooms and carefully scoop out a bit more from the inside of the cap, leaving a good-sized indentation. Reserve the stems and other leftovers for the Risotto Pops. Heat a skillet on high and melt a dollop of bacon grease. Just before the grease starts to smoke, set in the scallops and sear until almost opaque. Turn once and sear a bit longer until fully opaque, and remove to a bowl. Set the mushrooms in the pan next, sear for a couple of minutes, turn once, and sear for a minute more. Remove and let cool slightly. Sandwich one scallop between two facing mushrooms, and run a skewer through it to form a lollipop.
Cut into the tomatoes around the stem and carefully remove the core and seeds (a small grapefruit knife is helpful for this). Drizzle a bit of balsamic and olive oil inside,sprinkle in some salt and pepper, then stuff with the basil leaf and mozzarella. Skewer to form a lollipop.
Bring the water to just below boiling, reduce heat to low. Add saffron threads to water. Melt 1/2 tbls butter in a heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add rice and stir to coat and continue stirring for 3-4 minutes. Add a ladle-full of the saffron water to the rice, stir and simmer until absorbed; repeat with more water, one ladle-full at a time, until the rice is just al dente (about 12-15 minutes). While the rice is cooking, set a saute pan over medium heat, add olive oil, and saute onions and mushrooms until soft. Add tomatoes and tomato paste and 1/4 cup hot water, saute down to a dry sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Add to rice.
Beat two eggs with parmesan. Stir the remaining butter and the egg/parmesan mixture into the rice. Simmer two more minutes, or until absorbed. Remove from heat and spread out in a roasting pan to cool.
Best the remaining egg in a shallow bowl, and pour breadcrumbs into a separate shallow bowl. Scoop a tablespoon of the rice mixture into your palm, form into a ball, and make a depression in it with your index finger. Insert a cube of mozzarella, and close rice ball around it. Coat in beaten egg and roll in breadcrumbs to coat. Repeat once more in egg and breadcrumbs, then set onto a plate. Repeat to make as many pops as you need. Cover plate of finished rice balls with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator for one hour or more.
When ready to serve, heat oil to 325°. Remove rice balls from fridge, and set into hot oil, turning as necessary until crispy and lightly browned. Remove to drain on paper towels. Skewer to form a lollipop. Serve with a dollop of Slather-brand sauce, or other compatible sauce.
You remember the experience when you were a kid…after an afternoon/evening of trick or treating, you race back home and first thing you dump out your largess to see what you got. Then the swapping begins, as you try to trick your friends/siblings into trading some of your less desirable treats for their more delectable ones.
Well, for our two guests Kristen and Brian, their plastic pumpkin contained a wild array of twisted Halloween treats:
Because the southern tradition of Sweet Potato Casserole would have probably confused the Brits (pudding for a side dish?), I decided that something that played the ‘sweet’ notes a bit more subtly would provide a nice foil for the crispy fried chicken.
Melt the butter in a lidded pot over medium heat. Add diced sweet potatoes and stir to coat. Cover pot and let cook for 5 minutes, shaking pan occasionally. Add orange juice, brown sugar and salt, stir and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook until just tender and sauce reduces to a glaze. If mixture dries out, add a bit of water to keep it moist. Serves 6-8.
Addenda: After making this for the British D4D, I got the bright idea of experimenting with transforming this dish into a gelato. I looked online to see if there were any recipes I could adapt, and was surprised that there were none….and having made up my own recipe, I now know why: potatoes do not make good gelato. Fluffy, beautiful pale orange color, nice subtle sweet flavor, and awful grainy/starchy texture. Oh well.
After all, is it really appropriate for a Wisconsin boy that learned to make fried chicken in New York to call his recipe “Southern Fried Chicken”? I think not, but my wife insists that the fried chicken I make is good old-fashioned Southern Fried Chicken, so I will defer to her expertise. Regardless, the Brits were in for a full-fledged southern-style meal, and fried chicken was at the top of the list.
Butcher the chicken; do it right in front of your dinner guests if you really want to make an impression!
Combine buttermilk, mustard, thyme, poultry seasoning and salt and pepper. Add chicken to buttermilk mixture to coat, and let marinate overnight.
Heat oil in a large frying pan to 375 (oil should be about 1” deep). Preheat oven to 350.
Mix flour, cayenne, Old Bay in a wide dish. Dredge the marinated chicken pieces in the mixture to coat; let sit for a few minutes and dredge again. Transfer to the frying pan and pan-fry until golden brown on both sides.
Transfer chicken to a wire rack on a shallow pan, and place in the oven. Continue cooking until meat reaches internal temperature of 170 (for white meat) or 180 (for dark meat). Serve with appropriate sides.
Dinner went well last night in Chestertown, Maryland. It was a really pretty night and good day to be with family. There weren’t too many glitches in our preparation, but a few and some improvising. Everyone helped out and my brother Matthew even made an appearance. It was very hardy fare and we all woke up feeling still full this morning.