Friday, October 21, 2011

Celebrating Friends with Food and Enjoying Food with Friends

Last Sunday I drove up to Kingston, NY - more specifically to the mid-century home of my friends, Mark & James.  They call their place Ringtop Ranch.   On that particular Sunday they hosted a party for their friend, John.  John had lived in  the Hudson Valley for many years, beginning his association with the area while studying at the CIA (not that one - the Culinary Institute of America, instead, in nearby Hyde Park).  Last spring he left upstate New York for  sunny Florida and an exploration of life in warmer climes.  While he was on a recent trip to the Hudson Valley he organized a party and invited all his "foodie" friends in the area.  Our mutual friends, Mark & James kindly opened their stunning  ranch for the big event.   John's food, wine and CIA friends rose to the directive to contribute one their specialty foods or beverages to the feast that he prepared.    The result of the "call out" was an extraordinary variety of clever - and delicious - food and drink.

Among my favorites - a salmon and tuna tartar covered with creme fraiche and garnished  with globs of salmon roe and fields  of chopped chives that made the presentation looked like a design for Marimekko.    I don't have a recipe for it but I can guess that equal amounts of fresh salmon and tuna were coarsely chopped and flavored with lemon juice and grated zest and something spicey.  The mixture was added to an oiled 8-inch springform pan and then garnished as described.  I'm sure it was well-chilled before released onto a platter to serve - with thick, crunchy potato chips.  Rose Leblanc, the maker of the dish told me that she usually serves it with homemade waffled potato chips - but didn't have time to make them for the party.

I liked the crostini topped with white bean puree and roasted 'til limp, broccoli rabe.

I liked the lamb meatballs served with spicy mustard.

I liked seeing James, relaxing for a moment with the Ranch's guard-dog, Cicero.

And, Mark doing the same.  Even although Ciciero enviously eyed that glass of champagne - HE DID NOT IMBIBE.  Whew.

I went asolutely nuts (yes, pun intended)with Kingston's The Elephant's sweet, savory, and salty maple-bacon cracker jacks.  I couldn't stop eating it.

I thought that whole grilled snapper were a great dinner choice.  They were served with roast chicken, mouthwateringly good, macaroni and cheese with cauliflower from Red Hook's Flatiron, spinach and mushroom lasagne from John, James' roast brussels sprouts and potatoes and oher things too numberable to mention - much less remember.

Dessert choices included various flavored cupcakes; pumpkin, carrot, zucchini, and chocolate maple, all frosted with cream cheese icing, made by a local baker.  And crispy ginger snaps made by me from my mother's recipe.   She would make them for every special ocassion that our family celebrated - and then some.  There were years that she would make them as Halloween treats.  Oh, those lucky ghosts and goblins.


makes about 5 dozen 2 -3 -inch cookies or 14 dozen 1 1/2-inch cookies

1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 cup dark molasses

1.   Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F.   In a large bowl cream the shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs well.
2.   Sift the flour, baking soda, and spices together.   Add the molasses and dry ingredients to the shortening mixture.   Beat to combine.
3.   Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets.  Sprinkle with sugar.  HOWEVER - here's what I do; I make small - about 3/4-inch - balls which I roll in sugar then finish with an extra sprinkle on top.  I don't grease the baking sheets but instead line them with parchment paper.  Place the dough about 1 1/2-inches apart.  I bake my version for 12 minutes to achieve crispy cookies.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.    If you follow my mother's recipe - to make larger, chewier cookies - bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the outside edge  begins to crisp  and turns slightly darker and the middle is still soft.   Transfer to a rack to cool.

These are Kermit's Brownies.    They were just about the best brownies I've ever eaten.  Part cake, part fudge.  Light, chocolatey.  Too bad - you can't stop eating them, they slip down that easily.  Geez.   Kermit doesn't have a link yet but his brownies are for sale at various Joe coffee shop locations around NYC. 

Wait.  Did that party really happen?   Is this the same spot where 40+ people drank, ate and gossiped less than 24 hours before?   hmmmm- Allegra's wondering where those bits of cheese, lamb meatballs, frito pie, artichoke dip, and oh so many other edibles have gone.   And, the comfy chaise lounges - they're what she's really missing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hurricane Relief Dinner

I know, I know - I said that I'd post news of the dinner that my friend Roy & I put on to benefit NY state farmers who were so devastated by Hurricane Irene.   The delay is pure sloth on my part. 
 I keep telling myself that the photos are too ugly to publish, because they were taken with a flash, to make a proper story.  That's a pretty weak excuse.

It had threatened to rain on the Sunday of our dinner, but it didn't.  It was coolish and quite humid and we were able to eat outside.  Whew.  I have more room for entertaining outside than in.
Guests were invited for 6 and they all arrived in and around that time.

Here's what we served:

.    Tunisian Swiss chard tagine cut into little squares
.    Pizza with heirloom tomatoes, feta cheese, and pesto

.    Roasted and faintly smoked (with cherry wood) chickens who were called Mr. Henry and Charlotte before they were sacrificed for our meal.

      This is my go-to roast chicken.  The method - it's not really a recipe - comes from Thomas Keller.  He explains how to do to make "Mon Poulet Roti" - "My Favorite Simple Roast Chicken" on page xii, in the introduction to his book, "Bouchon" (Artisan, 2004).  
one 2- to 3- pound farm-raised chicken
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (I never put pepper on the chicken)
2 teaspoons minced thyme (optional)

unsalted butter
Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Rinse the chicken, then dry it very well with paper towels, inside and out.  The less it steams, the drier the heat, the better.
Salt (and pepper) the cavity, then truss the bird.   When you truss the bird, the wings and legs stay close to the body; the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast and keep it from drying out.  Trussing helps the chicken cook evenly, and it also makes for a more beautiful roasted bird.
Now salt the chicken - I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon).
Place the chicken in a saute pan or roasting pan and, when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven.  I leave it alone - I don't baste it, I don't add butter; you can if you wish, but I feel this creates steam, which I don't want.  Roast until it's done, 50 - 60 minutes.  Remove from the oven and add the thyme, if using, to the pan.  Baste the chicken with the juices and thyme and let it rest for 15 minutes on a cutting board.

Keller goes on to wax rhapsodic about how delicious the chicken is served - after carved - slathered with fresh butter and mustard and how "you'll start using a knife and fork, but finish with your fingers, because it's so good."

He's so right.  The recipe was worth the price of the book.    I use only salt. When I use the oven, I roast the chicken on a cast iron skillet.   When I roast it on the grill - a gas grill - I push the lava rocks to the side and top them with thoroughly soaked fragrant wood. I place a pan, fitted with a rack in the empty space.  Keep a bit of water in the pan (just enough to keep the bottom from burning) - roast until golden and the the thigh temperature is 165 degrees F.   I rarely serve it with butter and mustard.  It really doesn't need much more than a few good side dishes.

.    Sicilian-style potato gratin
.    Ratatouille
.    Stir-fried baby bok choy

.    Cornmeal Cake with early Autumn red wine poached fruits
.    Almond biscotti

Yes, there were leftovers - but not a lot.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  We raised a nice amount of money for GrowNYC 's Hurricane relief fund.  We  ate well and had a nice time.   You can do this too.