Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Local Luxury Dinner Party: Antipasti

The next installment in the Local Luxury Dinner Party series is the first course, antipasti! My trip to Atlas Farm’s booth at the Copley Farmers Market yielded some beautiful heirloom tomatoes. These were some of the last of the season and helped preserve the feeling of summer just a little longer. I’ve shopped at Atlas Farm regularly over the past two years, so this year I decided to buy a share. They offer a great share program – prepay at the beginning of market season and shop all season until you use up your share (for $90 you get a $100 credit for the season). This lets you buy what you want and you never have to worry about bringing cash to the market. Whether it’s a farmers market, local food shop, or grocery store you can save a lot of time and headache knowing you have a reliable place to find your ingredients. Now back to the antipasti…

Since I was planning a four course meal I knew that the first course couldn’t be heavy or I would be left with a lot of leftovers. My first thought was caprese salad, but when I looked at make-your-own mozzarella recipes I quickly changed my mind. I remembered that my friend Katie over at Once Upon a Small Boston Kitchen had recently made homemade ricotta with a recipe from Barbara Lynch. I pulled up the recipe and headed out for some local milk. With just three simple ingredients, this was about keeping an eye on the thermometer and getting the texture right. The end result was a creamy fresh tasting cheese that paired wonderfully with the tomatoes.

It wouldn’t be a meal in our house without bread! To make sure I had a reliable recipe, I surfed over to the King Arthur Flour website and did a search for Italian bread. I decided on the Italian Sesame bread. Planning your time wisely is important in being a successful party host. The bread, cheese, and basil infused olive oil were items that I could make a few days in advance of the party. I started the bread dough first and made the cheese while the bread was rising. I love this bread recipe – no fussy proofing needed. Just measure, dump, and turn on the KitchenAid mixer to do its magic. It does take a few hours start to finish for the dough to rise, so plan to start early enough in the day. The loaf gets braided like a challah and then generously covered in sesame seeds. After a quick bake the loaf was light, airy and a perfect addition to the meal.

I wanted to incorporate my homegrown basil into the tomato salad, but just sprinkling it on top seemed boring. After about 20 minutes of harvesting my basil I added it to a jar and started to heat up some extra virgin olive oil. I poured the warm oil over the basil and let it infuse overnight. I strained out the basil the next day leaving lightly flavored oil.

To make preparations easier on party night, I sliced the tomatoes the night before. I also cheated on the local/homemade theme by picking up some olives and marinated beans and artichokes from the antipasto bar at Whole Foods. I wanted to have some snacks on hand for the guests in case something went horribly wrong and I needed extra time to get the meal on the table (you’ve got to prepare for anything when entertaining!)

A few minutes before the guests were due to arrive, I set up my ingredients and laid out the salad plates. As you can see, multi-tasking is also an essential skill to have for entertaining. I’ve got a few different things going at the same time. I like to get the messy stuff out of the way before the party starts and be able to spend time with my guests. So if you come over for dinner at our house, don’t be offended if I refuse to let you help in the kitchen. I like guests to come enjoy – and for you and me not to work too hard while you’re here!

After the tomatoes and cheese were arranged on the plates and drizzled with the basil olive oil, I switched to my party apron (cafĂ© style, instead of a full apron) and preset the salads while the hubby chatted with the guests in the living room. My mom gave me pearls and Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday this year, so I feel it is appropriate to always wear the pearls when cooking and entertaining.  And yes, I did arrange the tomatoes like a traffic light (red, yellow, green). Presentation is an important part of the meal! After a few twists of the peppermill and sprinkles of kosher salt, and we were ready to start the eating.

The verdict? Delicious! Each tomato had a slightly different flavor. The cheese was fresh and creamy. The oil added a subtle basil flavor into each bite. I think we all wiped our plates clean with the bread, which the hubby expertly sliced.

As we finished up the first course, I headed back into the kitchen to finish the second course. Stay tuned for the next installment: fall squash ravioli with brown butter sauce. It was an adventure!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Local Luxury Dinner Party: Planning the Party

This luxury dinner party was made in advance of the results announcement from round 2 voting in Foodbuzz’s Project Food Blog.  While I didn’t end up advancing, I had a great time in the first two rounds and the dinner party was a success!

The first step in hosting any kind of party is to pick a theme and plan a menu.  The theme for this party, as given in the challenge prompt was:

Celebrate!  You've made it this far, and the next challenge is to hold a party for your friends and family.  Whether you're an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors.  Share your hosting secrets with readers, like how to cook for a crowd, plan a menu, or involve guests in the prep.

But what does luxury really mean?  And how do new tastes and exotic flavors fit with the luxury theme?  Does luxury mean rich, over the top foods?  Does it mean sparing no expense and picking up the rarest ingredients?  For my party I decided that luxury translated to a four-course, leisurely weeknight meal with all homemade dishes.  And it also meant the luxury of being able to purchase almost all of the ingredients from local farmers markets and vendors.

Like many home cooks, I often get stuck cooking variations of the same dishes each week.  So the hubby and I did a little brainstorming about what we don’t usually cook at home.  We quickly realized that Italian was a cuisine that isn’t represented often in our menus.  Sure we cook pasta every so often, but never a four course Italian meal.

Now that we had luxury + Italian decided, the next step was menu planning.  When we have guests over for meals, I like to ask if anyone has food allergies or severe food dislikes (some people just hate cilantro!).  Since this was a set menu, I wanted to make sure that our guests would be able to eat a little of everything.  For this party the parameters were no walnuts, fish, or excessive cream.  I added these to the list of the hubby and my food quirks and started making lists and researching recipes.

Instead of taking a detailed list with me to the market, I took an outline of the courses.  This meant the menu would be full of local, seasonal delights!  I visited my regular stops at the Copley Square Farmers Market - Atlas Farms and Stillmans at the Turkey Farm – and came home with most of my ingredients.  A quick stop at Whole Foods yielded some local whole milk and a few other ingredients.  With these fresh ingredients I created my simple, yet ambitious menu.

Since the party was planned for a Thursday night at 7 (I get home at 6), advanced preparation was necessary.  I put my list making skills to work and created a game plan for the week.

I left just a few things for Thursday and gave the hubby a honey-do list.  Luxury means pulling out the fine china and crystal!  We’ve been married for five years and have not taken full advantage of the beautiful set of china that we own.  This was the perfect reason to take out the goods and create a beautifully set table.  I added my grandmother’s candlesticks and candles to finish the look.

Another entertaining tip – know your limits!  With that in mind, I’m going to split this party into a series of posts for each course.  I’ll share tips, recipes, and pictures for each.

Thanks to Eric and Jen, our gracious guests, for waiting patiently while I photographed the dishes between each course.  And thanks to Jen for picking out a delicious Italian wine pairing for the meal.

Next in the luxury dinner party series, the first course:

Atlas Farm heirloom tomato salad
Fresh ricotta cheese, basil infused olive oil
Fresh cracked pepper

Assorted olives, gigante beans, and artichokes

Italian Sesame Bread and Olive Oil

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Daring Cooks Challenge: Stuffed Grape Leaves

This fall is flying by! I missed the official posting date on the 14th, but didn’t want to skip sharing my October Daring Cooks Challenge. Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Going into this challenge I had mixed feelings about stuffed grape leaves. Every time I have ordered them in a restaurant, there is something in the flavor that doesn’t quite appeal to me. I thought that maybe it was the seasoning in filling (often thyme) or maybe the lamb. But I was willing to give them a try in my kitchen to see if I could pinpoint the flavor that I don’t like.

I decided to use a recipe from my trusty Joy of Cooking cookbook. Since I wasn’t sure how I’d like the finished product I used ground lamb (the hubby’s choice). I soaked my grape leaves, prepared my filling and started rolling!

Stuffing and rolling went much quicker than I thought and I loaded up my pot with the little cigar shaped packets. On went the lid and after a little while they were ready!

Now, for the moment of truth. Did I like my grape leaves? Did I figure out what flavor I didn’t like? The answer is yes. What is it that bugs my taste buds? The grape leaves! I loved the filling – the ground lamb mixed with rice and seasonings. It was something about the flavor of the grape leaves that just doesn’t agree with me.

The hubby liked the grape leaves and I share them with my reliable taste tester Renee, who said she really enjoyed them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What to post next? Let's start with pizza.

I have a lot of blogging to do. I’ve got my fabulous four course luxury dinner party (if I had made it to the next round of Project Food Blogger), luxury dinner party leftovers turned into a new meal, fall apple-eating adventures, stuffed grape leaves, unstuffed cabbage, and more!  While I write up some deliciously worded posts about those meals, here’s a quick and easy recipe that is going to become a standard in the Good Cook Doris kitchen.

The hubby and I were having our usual Sunday afternoon conversation at the grocery store. Me: Okay, so that’s all the food for the week, what do you want for tonight? Hubby: I don’t know….. But today, he answered: You know what we haven’t had lately? Pizza! My reply: Oooh…I have a good idea. How about breakfast pizza?

We decided to pick up goat cheese, turkey bacon, spinach, crimini mushrooms, and eggs for our toppings. I came home and did a quick search of my google reader to see if one of my fellow cooks had a good technique for eggs on pizza. A search of “breakfast pizza” brought up the perfect match from Alicia at The Clean Plate Club. Turns out she had almost exactly the same ingredients as what we picked up. Thanks Alicia for the tutorial!

This is a two-step pizza. You have to blind-bake the crust for a few minutes before topping. My order of attack was to start the bacon and spinach and mushrooms first, blind bake the crust while those are cooking, then top and bake. We used pizza dough from Whole Foods. You could also use a prebaked crust like a Boboli or naan too.

I am so excited about how this pizza turned out. The combination of flavors and textures was wonderful. Smooth goat cheese and crispy bacon. Umami mushrooms and tangy goat cheese. I can’t wait to eat the leftovers for breakfast!

Breakfast for Dinner Pizza
Makes 4 giant servings
1 ball of refrigerated prepared pizza dough
1 small log (3-4 oz.) Vermont Creamery Fresh Goat Cheese
4 slices turkey bacon
1.5 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup crimini mushrooms, diced
4 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Allow enough time for the pizza dough to come to room temperature
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Sprinkle a pizza/baking stone with corn meal and set aside
In a medium skillet, cook turkey bacon over low heat, turning frequently until crispy
When bacon is done, cut into bite-sized pieces
Heat a second skillet to medium-low, add a drizzle of olive oil, and mushrooms and spinach, cooking until spinach is just wilted
While the bacon and vegetables are cooking, roll or stretch out pizza dough on the prepared pizza stone
Drizzle with olive oil
Bake at 425 for 5 minutes, being sure not to brown the crust
Remove from the oven
Top the crust in this order:
Crumble the goat cheese and spread evenly over crust
Sprinkle the bacon pieces evenly over crust
Make four mounds of the spinach mushroom mix, one in each quadrant of the pizza
Make an indent in the spinach mushroom mounds
Carefully crack one egg into each of the four indents

Gently place the pizza back into the 425 degree oven
Bake for 15 minutes, until eggs are set
If the crust is getting too dark, tent the pizza with foil
Cut into four pieces (one egg/person)
Season with salt and pepper (or hot sauce) to taste
Savor…and dream about the leftovers for lunch!

Prep time: 5 minutes + oven preheating time
Cook time: 20-30 minutes total
Cutting board, knife, two skillets, spatulas, baking stone, pizza cutter, serving dishes and utensils

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Lovely Day for Local Food

Saturday was a beautiful day in Boston. There was a slight fall chill to the air, but the sun was shining and the sky was bright blue. The perfect weather for the Boston Local Food Festival (BLFF) at the Fort Point Channel. The festival spanned the area between the Congress Street and Northern Avenue bridges. The Harborwalk was a great space for the event - self contained yet spacious (at least before the crowds arrived!)

The festival celebrated all things related to local food. Farms, entrepreneurs, established businesses, restaurants, markets, services, local food resources and more. The festival was free and open to all, and I joined in the fun representing Local In Season. I met up with Jonathan Ross-Wiley (co-founder) and Lizzy Butler (fellow writer) to set up our booth and get ready to talk local food all day.

I've been having a blast getting involved in the local food scene over the last year. I was always interested in local foods and locally owned businesses, but have significantly changed the way we shop and eat. We shop at the farmer's markets first and use the grocery store as our second stop. It really kicked off after I started tweeting and launched my blog. I started following local food folks and one day got a tweet from @localinseason saying, "Hi there...We are wondering whether you would have interest in being a contributing writer for us."

I was so flattered and had just made a Thanksgiving feast with most of the ingredients from the farmer's market. My first 'published' article was an original recipe and celebrated a locally grown ingredients (red kuri pie). Since then I've been visiting markets, meeting farmers and vendors, and having a fantastic time! Thanks to Jon and Patrick for inviting me to be a part of the team!

Now back to the festival. There was delicious local food every where you looked. From the metch at Seta's Mediterranean Foods to salted caramel ice cream at Batch Ice Cream to fresh pasta from Nella's Pasta to Pumpkin Pie soda from Maine Root Sodas.  Here are a few culinary treats I sampled during the festival. There wasn't time (or stomach capacity) to try everything! But now I have a list of places to visit on my food adventures.

Besides the local food, the best part of the BLFF was getting to see all of these wonderful food people in one place. From fellow food bloggers to many of the local food producers and even some of my new classmates!  The crowd estimates for the day are anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000. We had a lot of those people stop by to learn about Local In Season, enter a fall recipe into our recipe contest, and sign up for the new monthly LIS newsletter.

Our booth was right next to the butchering demos - which were fascinating to watch. Although one woman was not so thrilled - and decided since I was the first person she saw that she would let me know that I should be disgusted with myself for allowing such behavior to take place at the festival (guess she thought it was the Local In Season festival?).  I had a good laugh and got a few pics of the Saveneur's team butchering the goat, which they auctioned off for charity.

It was a truly a lovely day for local food. As Mayor Menino said at the festival, this new local food wave in Boston is great to see and its great to see the little entrepreneurs and little food businesses out there.

Mayor Menino checking out the festival.

It was great to see many of my local food friends in person. If you are looking for other great reads, be sure to visit them!

Kimmy of Lighter and Local
Michelle of Fun Fearless in Beantown 
Megan of Delicious Dishings
Meghan of Travel, Wine and Dine
Robin of Doves and Figs
Amy of Poor Girl Gourmet
Brian of A Thought for Food
Katie of Once Upon a Small Boston Kitchen
Fiona of A Boston Food Diary
Kathy of Kathy can Cook

I look forward to events celebrating the local food scene in all its glory. So get out there and visit your farmers market, support locally-minded restaurants and businesses, and most importantly enjoy some delicious foods!


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