Posts Tagged ‘Tyler’s Ultimate’

Auction Dinner Review and… Lemon Tart?

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

Lovely Lemon Tart in Chartres, France

This post isn’t really about the lemon tart I had in Chartres, France – but I don’t have any pictures showing what this post is really about, and I do mention lemon tart later. Let me start at the beginning…

I’ve written before about the annual auction and festival at our parish school that raises funds to offset the cost of tuition. “Dinner with the Pastor” is one of the auction items – the winning bidder brings up to six people to the parish house for a special dinner with the pastor and priests that live at the parish house, and our pastoral associate. Two of these dinners are auctioned off each year, and the first one was held last Saturday for nine people. Yours truly was the cook, and when all was over I had some reflections about menu planning and execution that I thought my readers might find useful as well.

First, no matter how much advance planning and preparation is done, there’s always a crunch time – that’s just the nature of fancy dinner parties, especially ones that aren’t given in your own kitchen! The best way to handle crunch time is to roll with it and keep focused on each step that needs doing, and to remember that eventually it will all pass! Some things can be done to minimize crunch time, and I neglected to do at least one of them . . . planning the stove top time and space.

I served a first course of French onion soup gratinee from Tyler Florence’s book Tyler’s Ultimate, and Coquillles St. Jacques (sea scallops in a mushroom cream sauce) from a Buena Vista Winery recipe. I made the soup the day before and re-heated it on the stove while the scallops were in progress. Much to my very helpful (and long suffering?) husband’s surprise, he was given the task of making the scallops while I scurried around on other things. I had prepped all the ingredients and knew he could do it – and I was right, the scallops were perfect.

So far, so good… the problem was that the one stove was taken over with making the soup and scallops, so the main course couldn’t be started until the first course was served and the leftover pans shuttled out of the way. My take-away… consider chilled dishes for the first course so the main course isn’t held up because the first course hogged the stove. Next time (in October), I’m thinking shrimp cocktail (I have a lovely recipe for cocktail sauce, and I’ll cook some beautiful shrimp in advance) along with an iceberg lettuce wedge, housemade blue cheese dressing and a few toasted spiced nuts. These dishes are kind of retro – I’d call them classics – and they’re also “in” right now. Besides, any dish that is made well is always “in”!

Some things that worked well with this first course were presentation, portion size and “user-friendliness”! I served the French onion soup in a small ramekin on the same plate as the scallops, which were served in a shell, and added a little flower for color. Instead of a solid slice of toasted bread and cheese on top of the soup, I made croutons covered with Gruyere which made eating the soup out of the smaller ramekins more manageable. I did small portions of everything so guests could enjoy a variety of dishes without exploding in overstuffed pain.

The main course was bacon-wrapped filet mignon served with a red wine reduction from the Michael Mina cookbook; scalloped potatoes from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2008 (they’re called smokey scalloped potatoes and call for smoked Gouda, which I can never find, so I just use regular Gouda – and they are great potatoes); roasted carrots; and tomato salad (cherry tomatoes and pear tomatoes halved and served with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar). This is where the stove top planning issue raised its ugly head – I first seared the bacon that was wrapped around the filets, and then seared each side of the filets – tapping my fingers on the counter, waiting for the electric stove top to do its thing to all 12 of my filets (I could count how many sides of bacon and filet searing that adds up to, but why?). Starting the searing 10 minutes earlier would have made the timing between the first and main courses better – but, those darn scallops and that blasted soup pot!

Surely, some things worked well with the main course? Yes – the red wine reduction was made the day before and then re-heated on the stove top, the scalloped potatoes were made the day before so they just had to heat up in the oven, the tomato salad was tossed an hour or so in advance and the roasted carrots took care of themselves in the oven as they roasted. In other words, these were basically “passive” cooking dishes – no one had to stand over them and baby sit them the whole time – and they could be prepped well in advance. We just had to remember at what time to put dishes in and take them out of the oven! That left us to focus on getting the filets seared on the stove top and then finished in the oven, while also clearing first course dishes and getting ready to plate the main course!

Once the main course was on the table, we could breathe for one minute before getting the coffee and tea going, and plating the dessert. Finally – the lemon tart I mentioned earlier! I served individual lemon tarts (The World’s Best Lemon Tart from Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts) with a dollop of whipped cream, along with two-bite sized dark chocolate truffles from The Truffle Kit (of course!). While I was glaring at the filets and waiting for them to develop a beautiful seared outside, I should have thought to take the lemon tarts and truffles out of the refrigerator to give them a little more time at room temperature. Plating them was a cinch, and we were basically home free.

One last thing I usually do is to make a timeline for everything that has to happen during “service”. That way, nothing gets fogotten in the heat of battle and you won’t reach to serve the hot potatoes that never actually made it into the oven an hour before!

The final good news – I don’t think the guests noticed or minded that we lagged a little between the first and main courses. They were enjoying good wine and good company, and seemed to think the food was worth the wait.

Bon Appetit!


Monday, July 13th, 2009
Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Pavlova with summer fruit from the Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

A couple nights a week, I cook dinner at our church’s parish house. Last Saturday night, I made Chicken Paillard with fresh peaches from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Tyler’s Ultimate. This is a pretty simple dish to make, and it gives big flavor and presentation; with pancetta, blue cheese, honey and peaches, you get the salty/sweet combination that’s so satisfying. Plus, a platter filled with sauteed chicken breasts topped with crispy pancetta, crumbled blue cheese and drizzled with vinaigrette is an eye-popper at the table. I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of it!

For dessert, I made Pavlova from one of my favorite cookbooks, Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax. I first learned to make Pavlova in Australia, when I worked as a pastry cook at a hotel in Sydney. Wikipedia says there is debate about whether Pavlova originated in Australia or New Zealand; it is agreed, though, that the dessert was named for a Russian ballerina who was performing in those countries in the 1920s, and the dessert was created in her honor. I saw (and made) lots of Pavlova in Australia, but I don’t think I ever saw it in New Zealand when we lived there for several months after our year and half in Australia. We made Pavlova year round, and I don’t recall it being specific to any holiday period.

Pavlova is a meringue cake topped with sweetened whipped cream and lots of fresh fruit. It’s light, soft, sweet and satisfying. A great summertime treat . . . the fruit for this Pavlova came from the Pleasant Hill Farmers’ market. It’s not a fussy cake – I didn’t have my cake spatula when I put the whipped cream on the cake pictured above, so the finish is pretty “relaxed”; I just used a rubber spatula to spread the cream, and I don’t think the cake presentation suffered one bit. This cake would be very cute to do as little individual Pavlovas – one cake per person. I’ll have to try that some time!

The basic steps to make Pavlova are shown below. Enjoy!

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Whip egg whites with sugar, vinegar and vanilla to stiff peak

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Sift cornstarch on top, fold in

Put the meringue on a baking sheet

Transfer the meringue to a baking sheet . . .

Form the meringue into a cake shape

. . . and form into a cake shape

Bake the Pavlova

Bake the Pavlova

Pavlova with Fruit from Pleasant Hill Farmers' Market

Cover the Pavlova with plenty of sweetened whipped cream and top with your favorite fruits