TUTTI A TAVALO
dPress < 2006 > Sebastopol
28 pp hand sewn
Every season brings new ideas to cooks and the pleasure of returning to old favorites and adding a twist. In the last few years, I have been keeping a copy of the menus from dinners and parties that David and I host along with the guest list. It helps me remember what worked well together and also the warmth and special feelings I have for our family and friends. I have gone through my cookbook collection to pull my sauce spattered notes to share some of these favorites with you.
THREE EASY APPETIZERS
AND STARTING THE PARTY
FOR A GROUP
Its always fun to start off the event with something special and delicious to stir the appetites of your guests. In Sonoma County you can't go wrong having plates of luscious seasonal fruit set out with any number of fabulous cheeses from near and afar with crackers or sliced artisan breads (get the store to slice it for you) or a combination of something sweet, tart and salty, like cashews and dried cranberries or savory like organic vegetable kettle chips with a purchased artichoke dip. For a special occasion like New Year's Eve, a platter of mini-toasts with caviar splashed with lemon next to marinated shrimp with extra long, fancy holiday toothpicks is hard to beat. (Buy holiday-theme related items like toothpicks and table décor, like gilded fall leaves, immediately following the holiday and you will always have something extra to add sparkle to your presentation at little cost to you.)
When serving a group before dinner, always remember to have hors'doevres people can help themselves to, but make sure you circulate with a platter or two that you, or helpers, bring around for guests to choose from. Even if it is a quality prepared square pizza pie cut into bite size pieces, guests will get into the festive mood as various delicacies are paraded before them as they chat. Simple, but designed to be a bouche amuse— something that amuses the mouth, adds excitement to the event.
SITTING DOWN TO THE 1st COURSE
Here are three first courses that your guests will love.
Anything can be a first course. By virtue of its special place as a small beginning that entices one's taste buds, don't be afraid to give anything you think is lovely and tasty the full attention of your guests. When I serve Pirates of the Caribbean Pork Stew, I start the meal with a first course of steamed kale with butter ( or olive oil) and garlic. It's not traditional, but it is always a hit and complements rather than overpowers the heartier dish to come.
David and I had this at Stella's Cafe on Highway 116 near Forestville one summer night on their outdoor patio and I swooned.
Rustic Sourdough Toasts: if its a small dinner party you can just pop the sliced artisan bread of your choice ( sliced by the market and bagged for you earlier in the day) into the toaster-four at a time. If its a bigger group, toast in your oven. Immediately slather with gorgonzola cheese and top with grilled, or even fresh, fig slices. Drizzle with lavender honey( available in specialty shops) and a few sprigs of fresh thyme or lavender. Two or three per person.
Artichokes with Garlic Aoli, Lemon; Manchego Cheese and Good Bread .
I always remember the time our good friends from Seattle, Paul and Judy DeBarros, came to visit on their way down to the Monterey Jazz Festival- which Paul would cover for the Seattle Times- and we tucked into this and got caught up on our lives. We had a great night...and this was just the beginning—a good one.
I always cook trimmed artichokes with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic cloves, a small handful of fresh rosemary and two tea bags (to tenderize) for 45-60 minutes (depending on the size) in medium boiling water. Drain and let rest to room temperature. Olive oil gives the artichokes a beautiful patina-give a generous splash.
To make the aoli, whisk 2 egg yolks with 6 cloves of finely minced garlic, s & p. Very gradually whisk in 1 cup of olive oil. At it thickens, add the oil more steadily. To finish, whisk in 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, ½ tsp. water—adjusting as needed for good consistency. Serve or chill.
This is a dish that is great for building camaraderie among your four to eight guests as you serve the beautiful artichokes on a large platter with lemon quarters (Meyer if you're very lucky) surrounding; pots of aioli; a couple of plates of the wonderful Spanish manchego cheese and the great sliced local bread of choice and a few bowls for the discarded leaves. Everyone digs in and gets communal.
SUNSET BEET SALAD
This dish is a feast for the senses and can easily serve as the main course for an elegant luncheon. Women, especially, love it, I've noticed. It is truly beautiful and earthy. I brought it to one of the semi-annual get-togethers of the Sonoma State University English Department Survivors and Friends dinners at Helen Dunn's & got rave reviews. Jan Haslam, wife of author Gerald, told me she has brought it to several other events and everyone always oohs and aahs.
Buy organic beets. For four, buy at least one pound.. Get half red and half yellow beets. Pre-heat oven to 350. As per Joy of Cooking, leave the rootlets, trim all but 1 inch of the stems then wash. Place in a baking pan and add 1/2 cup water. Seal the pan tightly with foil and bake until the beets are easily pierced with a knife tip- about 45 minutes for small beets; an hour for larger. Slip off the skins when cooled down.
To arrange: Take a large flat platter and arrange with raw spinach leaves; place sliced red and yellow beets atop; sprinkle with the best blue cheese/gorgonzola you can afford, juices ( which will be thickened) from baking pan and champagne bottled salad dressing-not too much- and then sprinkle with sliced green onions and pan toasted walnuts. Let guests help themselves. They will!
THE BIG PARTY
What to serve 70 people for David's 70th birthday party? Well we had lots of appetizers circulating to get that special day off the ground. Lucky for us it was warm that October 25,2003 so the many good friends could spill out into the front garden where David held court for most of the afternoon. Tom and Sue Kelly, Richard Denner, Stella Monday and family, Pat Nolan and Gail King, Opal and Ellen Nations, brother Jim Belle, Jerry and Marejke Rosen, Markus Bennet, Cydney Chadwick, Elizabeth Herron, Bob Grenier, Lucia Gattone and David Walls, Joanne Kyger, Tom Sharp, Bill Vartnaw and many, many more well wishers and good sports made the day one big, long happening!
Having been deeply influenced by the release of Pirates of the Carribbean, I decided to give a pork stew a little flair. The dish was a big hit and I had it all prepared the day before. It went great with the pans of cornbread that best friend, Sue Kelly brought.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN
2 cups dried kidney beans
10 cups water
a chopped onion,bunch of celery leaves
a few cloves of garlic
1 cinnamon stick Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour.
Drain. Save 5 cups of cooking liquid. Discard the veggies and cinnamon stick.
Brown 2lbs of boneless pork cut into small cubes. In large pot, combine meat with fresh chopped onions and green peppers, more garlic and 2 cups of cubed sweet potato. While onions start to turn golden, sprinkle liberally with hot paprika. Add everything to beans and reserved liquid, adding more water as needed. Simmer for about an hour. This recipe makes about 12 servings.
(for Jim Belle)
Another dish I served that day was suggested by my brother, Jim. Seeing as he doesn't like ham, turkey, roasts etc, Teriyaki meatballs are usually served in my family alongside whatever else has been prepared for holidays meals. This was a good idea for a big party. These were also easy to make ahead of time and easy for the guests to manage. They were gone fast.
2 lbs lean ground beef
1onion chopped up fine
1/2 cup teriyaki sauce
mix and makes about 32-40 small
Brown in batches on medium high heat pouring on more teriyaki sauce as you go, it gets a nice crispiness going. I sprinkled this entree with some diced pineapple and green pepper for a festive color touch.
The third entree set out on the buffet that day was also easy to prepare that morning, so all I had to do was plate it at dinner time.
SHRIMP ISLAND SALAD
(Adjust amounts to meet your need). This would be a nice lunch for four.
Combine 1 lb fresh, deveined medium size shrimp with sliced papaya, avocado, sliced green onions with a chardonnay vinaigrette and a healthy shake of red pepper flakes. Refrigerate. Serve on butter lettuce. Luscious.
For a make ahead veggie salad, I made:
GREEN BEAN SALAD
Parboil trimmed green beans about five minutes. Run under cool water; rain. Mix with chopped red onion and lots of fresh, chopped tarragon For dressing combine 1/4 cup olive oil,1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lime juice. S&P to taste.
I rounded out the table that day with a gigantic serving bowl of couscous.
COUSCOUS A LA GREQUE
Couscous is so easy its ridiculous! I had a big pot of it ready in a few minutes right before calling everyone a tavalo. I had a bowl of fresh chopped tomatoes, lots of chopped basil and a few garlic cloves making love to each other in some olive oil on the kitchen counter . I threw that into the couscous and lastly, gently mixed in a cup of crumbled feta cheese. Sprinkled with shredded basil. Pretty and easy.
That was a great day and my mementos that I tucked into my cookbook help me relive how much fun it was. I think I've got the food ideas but we may need to move to a bigger house for David's 80th.
A WINTER'S TALE:
PORK TENDERLOIN TWO WAYS
I love pork tenderloin. Its great for Sunday dinner with the family and you can dress it up and have it for your dinner party. I've done both. Its super easy and it is always, as the name implies, tender. Like most cooks, I have always roasted the tenderloin. We like it rolled in fennel seeds, dried basil and rosemary surrounded by chunked potatoes and garlic and more rosemary. With an entree that easy, there's plenty of time to create a special salad and vegetable. At a recent dinner we gave for eight, I made a salad similar to one in Michelle Anna Jordan's A Cooks Tour of Sonoma "Winter Jewel Salad" to go with the tenderloin and potatoes. I couldnt find any persimmons so I substituted papaya and kept the avocado and watercress which I sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and Brianna's Red Blush Wine Vinagrette. It makes a striking presentation and complements the roast well. For dessert we had a ginger apple spice cake with vanilla cream.
However, apparently I have been doing so much cooking, I have killed my stove. I'm not thrilled to have people thinking I'm cooking without all my burners-but its the truth! I have replaced one burner, have a little hot plate that my mother-god bless her- gave me about a year ago, a slow cooker and on-loan from the kitchen of Tom and Sue Kelly, one large electric fryer. Now, my son Chris and his wife, Sue told me to immediately get a new stove. That was some months ago and I am sure they are shaking their heads up in Vancouver each time I tell them I just don't have the time, its a special size etc. Hey- you get creative. I think I have also found a way out of cooking a turkey this Thanksgiving, too. I did just find out recently that Chris' Mum, Joan, has also been without a stove for some time now. I'm afraid that if Chris' stove ever breaks down it may precipitate a mid-life crisis.
So the second way with pork loin. We had my parents, Tony and Terri, over for a nice, Sunday afternoon with me, David and Maggie. After dinner we played cards. Its a game they've taught us called Kings in the Corner.
I was able to send them home with some and had enough for us to get a Monday dinner, too.
PORK TENDERLOIN a LA FRYER
Take a fresh 3 lb pork tenderloin and keep it in its bag and stick in the freezer for about 30-45 minutes to firm it up. Take it out and remove from bag; slice the tenderloins into 1-1 1/2 inch "steaks". Putting it in the freezer makes it easier to slice. Pour a healthy splash of olive oil into the fryer, heat and add tenderloin slices, brown; add whole peeled garlic cloves, fresh rosemary and about half a cup of vegetable broth. Lower heat and cover. When it is almost time to serve, remove cover, liquid should have reduced. Add a few pats of butter to sauce, Serve on a platter with fresh rosemary branches drizzle with sauce and serve with fried potatoes and green beans with sautéed mushrooms or Sunshine carrots.
I boiled up a big batch of baby creamer potatoes and sautéed them in olive oil which turned them a lovely golden color and texture.
Boil up sliced carrots al dente. Melt some butter and slice in some fresh ginger and 1 tsp. brown sugar; add a little orange juice. Add carrots and toss. Serve with fresh mint sprigs.
If you go with the green beans and mushrooms, consider starting the dinner with a ginger butternut squash soup. You can buy a good organic one in a box. I served it in teacups for the first course when my parents came over.
Sprinkle with fresh chives. A little yogurt dollop is yummy too.
WHITE BEANS AND SAGE
I first had this dish at Sue Kelly's house where David and I have enjoyed many a fine dinner. I believe she nicked it from a Rachel Ray 30 Minute Dinner Show. This dish goes great with any roast—or the previous pork loin recipes, but I think it is so satisfying that it doesn't need anything else but a crispy salad with an Italian vinaigrette and hot, crusty bread to make a great vegetarian dinner. I made it the night after I had it at Tom and Sue's and then I made it for my staff at SCAYD. I got a lot of requests for the recipe- so here it is guys:
4 cans of drained and lightly rinsed white beans lots of chopped, fresh sage and garlic, 1 quart of vegetable broth ( or chicken). Splash of good olive oil, s & p. Let simmer in a big pot till it is a consistency somewhere between soup and side dish. Add more broth or water as needed to help achieve this. On a cold, rainy day, this dinner will warm everyone. Great with parmigiano reggiano atop, too.
LENTILS AND RICE
I make this because my daughter, Margaret, a vegetarian, is into Kundalini yoga and Ayurvedic nutrition. This dish fits her needs and provides us all with a very tasteful and easy dinner. My mother always told me that lentils were the most perfect food and if we had to, we could live on them. Luckily, we always had lots of food but I suppose there were some times when lentils stretched the family budget out a little further. It is a terrific bargain-especially when you consider it is the most perfect food!
Before you follow the easy recipe on the bag of lentils, chop up an onion, some carrots and celery into a small dice. Pour some olive oil in the pot, add the vegetables, cover with a good, fresh curry powder and stir till veggies start to soften. Then add your water and lentils and cook as per package direction. It smells so good! Add more curry later when you taste the finished product if it needs it. Goes great with Jasmine rice and I see some stores are now carrying "nan"— the wonderful Indian bread perfect for sopping up this dish which will literally warm you up and put a rosy bloom in your cheeks. Again, a tart salad is a nice foil.
SPRING TIME AFTERNOON TEA
with STEVE BENSON
The cover photo of this book is one of the pictures our good friend Bay Area refugee, Steve Benson took the day he came to visit us while on a poetry reading tour from his now home town state of Maine. The sun was streaming in the dining room window that afternoon as we enjoyed one of the most pleasant of dining experiences- afternoon tea.
Little bites of different tastes is always one of this Gemini's favorite ways to enjoy food. Though you can't see it in the photo there was, of course, a vase of a bunch of purple grape hyacinth, green fronds and yellow daffodils that push through in the front garden after the weeks of gray and rain that characterize Sonoma County. We left the front door open to enjoy the air and lingered and enjoyed the following:
A pot of Twinings English Breakfast Tea, milk and sugar
Sandwiches: I made a curried egg salad with green onions on good wheat bread and a sliced English cucumber sandwich on Pepperidge Farm thin sliced white bread, slathered with a low-fat garden vegetable cream cheese and sprouts topped with the merest hint of butter and fresh ground pepper. I cut one into 4 triangles and the other into squares and stacked them on my pretty peach plate I got at a thrift store for a quarter.
We had a big bowl of juicy green grapes to share and a plate of Wheatolo cookies and fig newtons. Served on a cheery yellow check tablecloth, we kept Steve till he had to head back to Berkeley. He later sent us his photos, some poems and some pictures his children had made upon his return home.
During the summer we like to eat outside in the garden and chat into the evening. When son Chris, wife Sue and two adorable grandkids, Nathan and Joni come to visit, Chris, the main chef in his household, is likely to cook us all something good on the grill and we often have a big platter of corn on the cob, which big kids and little enjoy. Last summer I made a pot of this butter which adds a new dimension to the sweetness of the corn. You can also substitute oil for the butter and it turns into a great marinade for chicken.
CECELIA'S SPECIAL BUTTER
FOR CORN ON THE COB
1/4 lb stick of softened butter
2 tablespoons lime juice/ lime zest/ lemon zest
3/4 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt / 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Put it into a little pot and refrigerate till dinner
If you want to go vegetarian, you can try grilling thick sliced portobello mushrooms that have been lightly coated with olive oil. Great with lots of fresh ground black pepper and even more fun if you serve with this little dressing.
Either on your stove or in a pot on the grill: heat up 1/4 pound stick of butter, add fresh ground nutmeg and black pepper 1 clove of garlic finely chopped; handful of fresh parsley finely chopped, 1/2 cup currants or golden raisins that have been briefly plumped in warm water and drained. When it all starts to bubble, throw in a hefty splash of sherry. Serve over the grilled mushrooms.
A great summer dinner for you and your guests is to start with the lavender honey/ grilled fig starter and then serve the mushrooms and sauce with Baby Yukon potatoes that have been tossed with a little butter, chopped basil leaves and a dash of pomegranate vinegar. Serve with the green beans in this book and finish it all off with a big bowl of cherries and nectarines and your favorite fancy cookies.
Well, its time to wrap up my little tome, even though I have lots of notes about repasts shared with Opal and Ellen Nations, Stella Monday, Ron and Krishna Silliman and sons, Bob Grenier and Susan Friedland and more-but another day, another daybook.
THANKSGIVING 2006 ITALIAN STYLE
Well, as previously reported, I cleverly procrastinated long enough to not have to cook a turkey this year and originally was tempted to call this year's dinner "Minimalist Thanksgiving" but the call to prepare something different eventually produced this menu ( despite my mother's offer to bring an entire roast turkey). I just didn't want to go to the same old place. For those of you unfortunate enough to have a functional oven this year, a whole turkey will also do. So, try this:
Appetizers: Artichoke Dip with crackers
Marinated White Asparagus Spears or Shrimp
Bowls of walnuts, dates and tangerines
Prosecco or a fun non-alcoholic party starter: Sparkling water on ice with a shot of pomegranate juice and a twist of lime. Refreshing and pretty.
First Course: Minestra Di Finoccho (Fennel Soup)or Proscuitto con Melone ( Proscuitto with Melon)
Second Course: Feta and Butternut Squash Ravioli w/Basil ( small plate)
Main Course: Platter of Roast Turkey Slices from Food for Millionaires
Roast Turkey Gravy (ditto on the source)—
garnish with a generous amount of sage leaves browned in butter.
Bietole Con Cipolle (Swiss Chard Sauteed w/ Onion or Green Beans w/ toasted pignole nuts & Funghi Mushrooms)
Your Favorite Stuffing with Browned Pancetta
Patate Lessate (Mashed potatoes w/ good olive oil instead of butter) If no one really cares about potatoes—unlikely—the white beans with sage in this book would be good, instead.
Your favorite cranberry relish (one w/ orange is nice with this meal)
Teriyaki Meatballs for your brother Jim or equivalent dish required by your regular crowd no matter what
Dessert: Pumpkin Pie w/whipped cream
and Saffron Poached Pears
Notes: Fennel Soup: 4 tbls. butter, fine chop one leek ( white part), 1 carrot, 3 cloves garlic. Sauté. Add 1 tsp thyme and 1 bay leaf. Remove green parts of fennel and stem from 3 heads fennel; chop coarsely and add to pan. Sauté 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup wine ( or water), 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock. Simmer 30-40 minutes. Remove and blend or process in batches. Pour puree into top of double boiler over simmering water. Pour a ladleful of the soup into the cream then add, the mixture back into the soup. Add 2 tbs. anise flavored liqueur (like pernod or Anisette; or extract), s&p and heat slowly till hot. Decorate with fennel fronds.
Feta and Butternut Squash Ravioli: Lots available fresh or frozen. Cook according to direction. Toss with butter and chopped fresh basil; dust with fresh parmesan.
Swiss Chard/Onion: Wash and Dry 2 lbs Swiss chard. Trim stems. Roll leaves and chop. Heat olive oil in skillet; add 2 peeled whole garlic cloves; discard when golden. Add Swiss chard and 1 chopped white onion. Cover and cook over low heat 5-10 minutes. Add two tablespoons white wine; s&p. Stir and cook until the Swiss chard is tender.
Green Beans: Add hot cooked green beans to sliced mushrooms that have been sauteed with butter, s&p and fresh ground nutmeg. When done add pine nuts you have toasted in a dry pan.
Saffron Poached Pears: 6-8 firm, peeled, ripe pears. Core bottom. Simmer in simple sugar syrup (any cookbook has) to which you have added 12 whole star anise pods, 3 tablespoons white wine; 4 cinnamon sticks and couple pinches saffron threads. 8-20 minutes (test after 8 minutes). Cool, refrigerate overnight in syrup. Serve upright in large flat serving bowl-leave anise stars and cinnamon sticks for decoration.
Whatever you prepare, make it with love and enjoy the pleasure of creating and sharing it.
And, as the familiar Italian greeting goes, my friends, "Tutti a tavalo, e mangiare!"