Sunday, August 3, 2008

5 Course Dinner Party In About An Hour -Impossible

Buffet style

Food even a vegetarian can eat

I’m quite pigheaded, you know. There are times I just think I know everything. Well, on those rare occasions that I stumble back down to earth, I realize I do not. Instead of following sage advice, I’m one of those guys that just has to learn on his own. This is a bad quality that has hindered me at times but it does breed a skill that I have become quite good at: Thinking on my feet. Now this has helped me both personally and professionally. I’ve actually contemplated writing a book about it but that is a topic for an entirely different conversation.

So how is this related to a food topic, you ask? Well, in the past few weeks I have executed 4 rather successful dinner parties of 10 or so people and up until this past one, much of the planning has occurred in the grocery store a couple of hours before the dinner bell. That’s a bit risky, I think. But that skill of “on your feet” thinking kicked in and I was able to come up with some great dishes. This week, I went down a different road and created an actual Menu. I mean, pen and hotel stationary. I did some internet research for ingredients too. I actually PLANNED!!!!

Rick, another of my brilliant colleagues, offered his kitchen to me this week in exchange for my self honed cooking skills. It really is an “Iron Chef” challenge to put together a meal in someone else’s kitchen in an hour or so but I’m growing quite fond of it. Rick and I emailed back and forth a few times about what to prepare. He challenged a couple of my original thoughts because there was some consensus that 2 previous dishes needed repeating. Finally our menu was settled and we set forth with the plan. Since the challenge is to get numerous “from scratch” dishes prepared in a short time, I create a list (not my strong suit). I gave unprecedented consideration to things like “getting all of the veggies chopped in advance” and “how long will it take to get this done?” long before the 1st burner was turned on. The other huge help was that another colleague, Noel was here to help chop. I’ve decided every kitchen needs a sous-chef. Noel is a vegetarian by the way so that was carefully figured into the plan. Aside form the Swordfish, every other dish was veggie friendly.

After all of the prep work, on went the burners and we were cooking. With Rick grilling the Swordfish to absolute perfection and Noel’s expert knife skills helping chop, we plated a fantastic meal in record time. In short order, we were all eating, laughing and enjoying good company and grog under a canopy of pale sunset colors in no time. The final menu:

Grilled Swordfish with Peppers, Fennel and Peppercorn Cream Sauce
Orzo, Fennel and Radish Salad with Dill Pesto (from earlier post and adapted from Bon Apetit)
Kale with Cherry Tomatoes and Parmesan (from earlier post)
Roasted Beet and Avocado Salad
Fresh bread from local bakery

I feel really compelled to share the Pepper, Fennel and Peppercorn Cream Sauce. I must admit, it was a late thought that turned out quite well. It had such a crisp peppery complexity that pared just perfectly with a swordfish canvas that had a caramel grilled crust and meaty inner texture. This sauce is very simple and I imagine could compliment chicken or fish a variety of ways. I might try this again with pink peppercorns for their brighter overtone than their black cousin. Still, a winner all around.

Then there was the real hit of the night. The Beet and Avocado salad was heavenly. A few nights after this dinner party Noel and I were eating at Al Forno in Providence. This is the restaurant where my inspiration for this salad arose. They serve it so perfectly but Noel said he liked our dinner party’s version better. I was blown away. I’m sure he had no idea how powerful that statement was. Al Forno is, without question, in my top 3 restaurants to eat at on this planet (admittedly, I have a few more to check out). And here’s someone telling me my version of one of their dishes competes well. Of course it’s not a competition but I must say I wanted to barge into the kitchen and show the chef how to do it. I mentioned I can be pigheaded.

Roasted Beet and Avocado Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

So here are the recipes from this night and I must say, you really should consider trying this. Yummy and easy.

Grilled Swordfish with Peppers, Fennel and Peppercorn Cream Sauce

Approximately 3 lb swordfish steaks (6 oz per person)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus drizzle for the steaks
½ each red, yellow, green, orange bell peppers, thinly sliced into strips
½ Fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
1 tbsp butter
6 oz heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Begin heating a grill. I use charcoal at home. We used gas at Rick’s. I’m sure the flavor would have subtle differences but either would be fine. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper and a dash of olive oil to prevent sticking. Do not put on grill until the sauce is just about done. Overcooking this fish will change what people will say about it, I promise.

In a large sauté pan over medium high heat add the olive oil, peppers, fennel, shallot and peppercorns and liberally season with salt. Sauté until peppers and fennel are soft, about 6-7 minutes. Add the butter and garlic. Cook another 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the cream. Allow to cook another 3-4 minutes and turn heat to low.

Cook the fish on the grill for about 3 minutes per side (assuming you have steaks that are approximately ¾ inch thick and the heat is medium). They should be just slightly undercooked. Remove from heat and place on a large serving plate.

Pour the pepper, fennel and peppercorn sauce over fish and serve family style.

Serves 8

Roasted Beet and Avocado Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Rick roasted the beets the day before so pulling the final recipe together was simple. The vinaigrette could be made a day ahead as well but I made it on the fly. I’m not sure exactly how Rick did this but I’ll give it a go the way I would.

Beets and corn

2 lbs beets chopped into bite size chunks measuring about an inch
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Whole corn on the cob in the husk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the corn in aluminum foil and place in the oven. Line beets on an ungreased cookie sheet and drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven until the beets are soft throughout, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven, cool and refrigerate. Remove the corn after about 30 minutes. Shuck and remove the silk completely when cooled. Slice the corn from the cob and place in a container to refrigerate.


Juice of 1 lemon
1 shallot, finely minced
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Add the lemon, shallot and garlic then slowly drizzle the olive oil in while continuously whisking to emulsify. Season to taste.

Putting it all together

3 cups arugula
1 tbsp olive oil+ ½ tsp salt (optional)
Roasted beets
4 Avocados halved and thinly sliced
Roasted corn
Vinaigrette for drizzling

On a large serving plate for family style presentation, lay out the arugula. I like to add just a tiny bit of oil and salt directly to my arugula for an added layer of seasoning. Toss with your hands. Then lay the beets across on a single layer. With a teaspoon, lightly (very lightly) drizzle a teaspoon or 2 of the vinaigrette to this layer. Top with Avocado slices, then sprinkle with roasted corn. Another teaspoon or so of the vinaigrette, salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Serves 8.


Anonymous said...

Well, you outdid yourself this time! Everything was delicious, and in fact we just fininshed the leftovers yesterday. I really like the food photo with the chalkboard caption. Next time you're in RI lets do it again.

Anonymous said...

Well the pepper sauce for the fish proved to be absolutely reproducible as per the published recipe. Fantastic over striped bass!

Oh btw it was actually a 7 course meal. Luke had cereal and a banana (photo evidence). RFS