Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Avi's Delicious Dinner Party

A good friend of ours recently hosted a dinner party - great company and great food! He went online to find some recipes and put together a stellar menu. When I asked him to confirm the date, he replied with the date and jokingly said, "So - you know how to cook, right? :)". I asked if he really did want my help and he assigned me some side dishes to go with his main courses.

A quick note, I've known Avi for about 9 years. Of the time I've known him, one year was college, 2 years he was away in grad school, and 5 years he was in Israel. This was really the first time I've had the opportunity to experience his cooking skills. Now that I have, we'll be suggesting dinner at his place more often.

Avi's Dinner Party Menu
Goat Cheese in Grape Leaves with Tomato and Olive Salad

Balsamic Blue Cheese Salad
Bread and butter

Sumac Skirt Steak with Pomegranate Reduction

Eggplant Parmesan

I went to the Natick Farmers Market in the morning to get ingredients for my contribution to the menu. I picked up some baby spinach and some fresh rigatoni from Fior D'Italia. My side dishes:

Sauteed Baby Spinach with garlic and pine nuts
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat
Add garlic and cook for a few minutes, until garlic is fragrant (but not brown)
Reduce heat to low
Add 1 lb. of washed baby spinach leaves (you may need to add in batches)
Cook until spinach is just wilted
Toast pine nuts before serving and sprinkle on top

Fior D'Italia rigatoni with artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomato pesto
I cheated and used store bought ingredients to go with the pasta.

Cook pasta according to the package directions
Drain and return to the pot
Add about 1/4 cup of pesto, tossing well
Add 1 can of rinsed and roughly chopped and toss
Reheat before serving

For dessert I also cheated and used a Trader Joe's vanilla cake mix to whip up some chocolate chip cupcakes for dessert.

I asked Avi to tell me some interesting stories about cooking, and he thought that everything was pretty normal. He stopped by Christina's in Cambridge to pick up sumac for the steak, went to the grocery store to get his ingredients, and set the table before starting to cook.

A few other notes from Avi about the preparation:

If you want to cut down the expense of the dish (pomegranate juice and skirt steak are both pretty expensive), you can try to make it with pomegranate syrup. Pomegranate syrup is already reduced juice, but a lot cheaper and it will keep forever. Using it allows you to skip the whole reduction step. This will cut about 20 minutes from the preparation. It is hard to find, although Christina's had it in stock. You can also use sirloin or rib-eye steak instead of skirt-steak. If you're good, and have the steak already coated with the sumac, the grape leaves / goat cheese already dipped in oil (both can be done a day or two in advance), you can probably pull off both those dishes and the blue-cheese salad in less than 30 minutes of work.

When we arrived, he was hard at work in the kitchen finishing up the meal. The laptop was out on the counter and he was watching a video on how to properly layer the eggplant in the baking dishes. While we started on the salad course, he put the rest of the food in the oven to warm up for the main course.

Everything was absolutely delicious. The steak was cooked perfectly and I will be adding the pomegranate reduction to my favorite sauces list. It was tart, tangy, and just a little sweet. As an engineer, and probably without even thinking about it, Avi arranged everything symmetrically on the plate (or on matching plates).

I think we polished all the food, except for the giant dish of pasta I brought over. After dinner we tried out a new-to-us game called Pit (turns out it was first sold in 1904!) We traded commodities and laughed off a few of the calories from the cupcakes and icing.

It was a great evening and we're just waiting for the next invitation!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Pate and Freshly Baked Bread

Our hostesses this month, Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz, and Valerie of a The Chocolate Bunny, chose delicious pate with freshly baked bread as their June Daring Cook’s challenge! They’ve provided us with 4 different pate recipes to choose from and are allowing us to go wild with our homemade bread choice.

When I first saw this month's challenge, I wasn't quite sure what to think. When I think of pate, I think of liver, and that is not very appetizing to me. I think about my grandfather ordering steaming plates of liver and onions and happy hour at my other grandparent's club where the star dish was chopped liver. Needless to say, I was very happy to see the vegetarian choice on the recipe list! I have also been trying to bake more breads at home and this was a perfect opportunity to try out a new recipe.

I used this recipe for the pate: and this recipe for the baguette
(great step by step guide here). I started both recipes on Saturday afternoon and finished them up on Sunday. Right now I'm enjoying the results while I flip between the Tony's, the Celtics, and blogging.

I assembled all the ingredients for each layer, prepped my new red loaf pan, and got to work. For the bean layer I opted for fresh oregano. Oregano is not really one of my favorite flavors and I especially do not like dried oregano. I also mashed and blended by hand - in the past when I've used the food processor the mixture has become too liquidy.

Not too much too report on the red pepper layer - just dump and pulse! For the pesto, it was also pretty straightforward. I toasted the pine nuts in the toaster on the light toast setting. All the ingredients went into the quickly washed food processor and pulsed and processed until I had a pesto.

As a creative touch, I decided to put a lemon slice and some oregano leaves in the bottom of the loaf pan for decoration. After making sure the layers were even and the loaf was tightly wrapped with plastic wrap, the loaf went into the refrigerator to chill overnight. Twenty-four hours of chilling later and 30 minutes in the freezer later, the loaf was ready to unmold. Now on to the baguette before I finish the story of the pate.

I started the baguette before working on the pate. Mixing up the starter was easy - though it did call for one of the only kitchen utensils I don't have (1/16 teaspoon measuring spoon). I whisked together the yeast, water, and flour and left it on the counter to work its magic while I headed out to a sorority alumni event.

When I woke up this morning I was happy to see that my starter looked like the starter in the King Arthur Flour baking blog. After a quick breakfast with farm fresh eggs from Smith's Country Cheese and uber wheat toast from B&R Artisan Breads, I started on the next steps for the baguettes.

I dumped the starter, salt, and flour into my trusty red KitchenAid mixer bowl and whisked the yeast and water in the empty starter bowl. Then it was all in to the mixer for 5 minutes of kneading.

Now the waiting. I planned to be home all day so I could check on my dough almost hourly. Here's a few looks at the bread during the 5ish hour rising process. Having no AC and warmish day was helpful to the dough during the process. After rising, gently deflating, rising, gently deflating, dividing, flattening, folding, and more rising the baguettes were ready for the oven!

I followed the tip to spritz the dough with warm water to create a crispy crackly crust. After 25 minutes the baguettes were golden brown, crispy and maybe just a little too dark on the bottom (almost, but not quite burned).

Now the fun part - putting it all together! I took the loaf out of the freezer and decided on using my cake stand for a dramatic presentation. I sliced up one of the baguettes and flipped the pate. Success! It stood up on the plate (don't mind my off-center decoration)!

Now for the review.... The flavors are great. Although as I sit here snacking, it does taste much better at room temperature (as opposed to ice cold right out of the mold). I also thought that the bean layer was way too big relative to the other two layers. I think next time I would put a smaller layer of beans on the top, then the pepper and pesto, and beans on the bottom. That would also give it a more stable base.

The baguettes are fabulous! We have already polished off one of the three and the others aren't going to be around for long. Even though it was a 24+ hour recipe, it was worth it! Thanks to the Daring Kitchen ladies for picking such a fun challenge!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

One of my favorite things about the coming of spring is the start of farmers market season! Everything is in bloom and us New England local produce lovers can say hello to a new selection (no more carrots!). It also means that twice a week my friend Renee and I head down to the Copley Square Farmers Market for lunch.

Head over to Local in Season to read my full recap of our first visit this season. There was so much to cover, that I decided to add a post and share some photos here too.

We could hardly contain our excitement! For lunch we picked up buffet of goodies: a goat cheese picnic from Crystal Brook Farm, a cilantro falafel wrap from the Herb Lyceum, breadsticks from Iggy's, metch from Seta's Mediterranean Foods, and an almond macaroon from the Danish pastry house!

Last year I realized that I did a lot of shopping at Atlas Farms. Almost every week I picked up some green zebra tomatoes, cucumbers, and greens. This year I signed up for a share - put down money at the beginning of the season and charge to your 'tab' throughout the year. It's a great option if you can't commit to a full CSA because you just shop like you would normally (and don't have to remember to bring cash with you). I also picked up two green zebra tomato plants to bring the farmers market home with me. I'm happy to report that my plants are growing big and strong in their suburban location.

I planted a few pots with lime basil, genovese basil, and chives. Hopefully they will grow just as beautifully as these herbs at the Herb Lyceum booth.

I hope to see you at the market on Tuesdays and Fridays from now through Thanksgiving. We'll be there around 12:15 p.m. picking up lunch and new ingredients to take home to the kitchen.


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