Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hendiatris Clues*

Eight o'clock, Thursday morning, December 31. Through the wide bank of plate glass doors in the kitchen, I could see snow beginning to fall gently on the broad expanse of lawn. "How pretty," I thought. "If this keeps up, we'll have an amazing scene to view by the time everyone arrives." Two hours and two inches later I'm in a state of high anxiety worrying that folks won't take to the roads in these conditions, or worse, might be stranded for hours on the side of the road in a snow bank. I mean, I had a refrigerator bursting at the seams with food. Who was gonna eat it all??? But worrying is what I do instead of watching TV. By noon, the snow had tapered off and Suffolk County's finest were out plowing the major thoroughfares. The Hamptons Jitney worked as dependably as its US Postal Service third-cousin-twice-removed, delivering C-Hart relatively close to schedule. The Young Marrieds from New England and Westchester showed up within minutes of one another, and Long Island native, Jean-9 brought up the rear loaded down with goodies from home under one arm. It was time to get this party started.
I had done the bulk of the prep work the day before, so wasn't stuck in the kitchen while everyone else gathered in the living room. With the champagne poured and introductions made, former classmates caught up on the latest news and everyone commented on the Irish Lass's pregnancy, suggesting baby names that grew more and more absurd as the night wore on.
There were some last minute adjustments to the menu, but the early appetizers were ready for plating and presentation once everyone was assembled.
Phase I: Candied Jalapeños, and Bruschetta
Candied Jalapeños with soft cream cheese
Everyone ought to know how to make bruschetta. Toast sliced baguettes drizzled with olive oil in a hot oven (400° F) turning to toast on both sides. I amped up my bread with a sprinkle of garlic powder before toasting. Dice ripe tomatoes, chop fresh basil, crush garlic cloves, toss together in a mixing bowl and season lightly with salt & pepper. Mound each toasted slice of bread with tomato and basil and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. A classic. I had the candied jalapeños for the first time during my Christmas visit with Pops O'Food. He got the recipe from his grand niece last Father's Day. Proud Man Tribe members in good standing, we both agreed that one could reduce the sugar and increase the amount of chili seeds and get a real kick ass condiment.
Candied Jalapeños - adapted from
  • 1 lb jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced, half the seeds and membranes removed
  • ½ lb yellow onions, diced
  • ⅛ cup vinegar
  • ⅛ cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1½ tsp mustard seed
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • ¾ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 ½lb (8oz) block cream cheese, brought up to room temperature
Thinly slice jalapeño chiliesSoften jalapeños in boiling water and vinegarCandy jalapeños in sugar and pickling spices
Place peppers, onions, vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until chilies and onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Pour off most of the liquid and add the sugar and spices. Bring to a soft candy temperature (234° F, if you're keeping score at home) to completely dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before serving piled atop a softened block of cream cheese. Use sturdy crackers or chips for dipping. You can quadruple the recipe and put up the jalapeños in sterilized jars for houseguest gifts. Leave ¼-inch of headspace in each jar then cap.
Just as Pops and I suspected, all the peppers needed was a little less sweet, and a lot more heat! My New Year's Eve audience agreed. Even the Irish lass thought the spread had just the right amount of kick. The bubbly continued to flow, the cool kids smoked cigarettes on the patio, and folks elbowed for room on the iPod or in the kitchen, where major love was being performed by BOF and the ever awesome Jean-9.
Phase II - Crab Puff Pastry Cups, and Baked Stuffed Tomatoes
Originally, I was gonna repeat last July's Chebeague Satchels, but in actuality, those summer purses were an accident of miscommunication. I had intended on using puff pastry as the wrapper for my sausage mix. With crossed signals, phyllo dough was delivered to Cottage Road, and like all things in Maine, one makes due. The results spoke for themselves, but while in the frozen food section of the Southampton Waldbaum's, inspiration struck and I picked up a couple packages of puff pastry instead, knowing intuitively, exactly what I was gonna do with them.
Crab Puff Pastry Cups
  • 1 lb lump crab meat
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup scallions, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup celery, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup celery leaves, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • Salt & white pepper
  • 2 packages puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly
  • Butter
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil and ½ tsp salt in a large bowl. Mix in scallions, celery, celery leaves and parsley, then add crab meat and gently toss. Season with white pepper and salt, or with seafood seasoning. I stuck with salt. I wanted a cleaner taste with the crab flavor coming through. Meanwhile, on a floured surface, roll out thawed puff pastry to about ⅛" thickness. With a cookie cutter, or drinking glass, cut two 3" rounds per cup. Cut a smaller 2" hole into half the rounds to make donut shaped rounds. Place whole rounds in a buttered baking pan and brush with egg wash. Center a "donut" round on top of each whole round and wash again with egg. Spoon a bit of crab mixture inside each donut hole and bake for 6-7 minutes in a 400° F pre-heated oven.
Here was our OMG moment for the night, at least culinarily speaking. Everyone, EVERYONE was blown away by this one. Although I had a sneaking suspicion I was gonna hit this one out of the park, no one was more pleasantly surprised than I at the response. Give people butter, flour and egg, and they'll be eating out of your hands... literally! Jean-9's stuffed tomatoes were a delicious godsend, proffered to anyone a little bit preggers, as shellfish is off the menu until delivery day.
Baked Stuffed Tomatoes Provençale - The Institute of Culinary Education
  • 4 firm, ripe medium tomatoes
  • Salt
  • 1½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp finely minced shallots
  • 3-t Tbsp minced fresh basil
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup olive oil plus additional
  • ½ cup dry white bread crumbs
Cut tomatoes in half, crosswise. Using an index finger, poke seeds from the tomato cavities. Sprinkle the halves lightly with the salt and place the tomatoes upside down on a rack. Allow to drain, about 20 minutes. In a small bowl combine the garlic, shallots, basil, thyme, ¼ tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, the olive oil and the bread crumbs. Season the insides of the tomato halves with pepper and fill each with 1 or 2 spoonfuls of the stuffing. Sprinkle with a few drops of oil. Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish just large enough to accommodate them. Bake in a 400° F pre-heated oven until the tomatoes are tender but still hold their shape, 10-15 minutes; the filling should be lightly browned. Cool slightly and serve. Two words: Yuh Me.
After all the oohs and ahs, the cooks earned a little break from the kitchen. The music was cranked, we listened to tall tales spun by Bones and narrowed down our choice of baby names. Hudson was the clear front runner with everyone but the expectant mother, and hers was gonna be the only vote that counted.  Her polite silence seemed like a good time to serve up a palate cleanser before dessert.
Phase III - Chilled Soup
Ceviche - Recipe courtesy of Ted Allen
  • 1 lb fresh tilapia fillets, or other firm white fish, cut into 1' pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice, more if need to cover fish
Combine all ingredients except lime juice in a flat-bottomed baking dish. Cover with lime juice, making sure all fish is submerged. Chill 2 hours. Mine chilled overnight. Too much? It certainly was tangy, but that could have been from limes that weren't quite ripe. When I make ceviche again, I'll cut the lime with a little sesame oil (just a few drops) to reduce the acidity a bit. Otherwise, another winner. Make sure to get really fresh fish, it makes every difference. Did I say winner? Everyone except for poor Bones thought so. He didn't know what ceviche was. He assumed the fish floating in his cup was potato. You should have seen the look of shock on his face after the first mouthful! When he surreptitiously put his still-full cup down on the table, I had to call him out. He would have done the same for me!
Contented groans from the men and polite sighs from the womenfolk signaled that everyone had been well fed and watered. But there was still more to come. We cooks thought it wise to sandwich a little break from the eating between soup and dessert. Jean-9 produced strips of paper and we all wrote down topics for charades. Unbelievably, half the crew had never played before, so clues were halting at best in the opening rounds. Once people got the hang of it though, there were some pretty ingenious moments, and by the time everyone had had a chance to perform we were howling with laughter. Seemed like a good time for something sweet!
Phase IV - Dessert
I must be on some unsolicited mailing list, as I have been receiving Martha Stewart's Living magazine for a couple months now. It's all eye candy and three-sentence blurbs for those of us with attention deficit disorder. Each issue highlights indispensable advise on how to gift wrap anything, or what kind of $300 galoshes you should be buying for your kids. I don't know how I've lived without the magazine for so long! Anyway, included every month are fairly straight forward and seemingly tasty recipes, so I thought I would give one a try.
Cherry Compote with Mascarpone and Shortbread Cookie
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cherries (Martha uses cranberries)
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ½ cup brandy
  • 3 Tbsp water
  • ½ mascarpone cheese
  • Store-bought shortbread cookies
Bring fruit, sugar, brandy and water to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cherries are tender and the liquid syrupy, about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Cover, and keep warm. Just before serving, spread mascarpone onto cookies. Top each with compote and enjoy.
This one was not bad, actually. I suspect the booze was the key ingredient, but I enjoyed it, so thought we were safe. Mystifyingly, one guest never ate fruit. He thinks bananas loathsome. I had never heard of such a thing. Fruit? FRUIT??? I was stunned into silent disbelief. I would out him here for public ridicule, but he's in possession of so many other amiable qualities. This quirk just makes him all the more endearing and interesting. Desserts will always be a challenge with him, however.
The new year came and went with hugs and kissing. Guests picked at leftover dips and cheeses. Bones tried to make fun of everyone's iPod libraries. Charades got louder and longer, and things went late into the night. I thanked Jean-9 over and over for all her indispensable help and secretly patted myself on the back for pulling this one off. It was another good New Year's Eve party. If word gets out, we may have to rent space or make the guest list painfully exclusive. You decide.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food
*Answer: Friends, Food, Frivolity

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