Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Cooking for Mr. Latte

I'm throwing something different at you guys this week! I had planned to review a winery over Thanksgiving weekend but after I wasn't able to get a spot on their tour I realized I really didn't have enough to write a whole post on them. Luckily something else wonderful came my way. My family spent Thanksgiving in Sebastopol (small wine country hippy town near Sonoma) with my Grandparents as we do most years. I had recently given my Grandma a whole stack of my blog posts to read and she was reminded of a book she had read a little while back that she thought I would enjoy, Cooking for Mr. Latte. Written by Amanda Hesser, a long time Food & Wine columnist and editor for the New York Times, her novel chronicles her relationship with "Mr. Latte" from their first date at a NYC chain restaurant to their eventual wedding, along with other food, friend, and family centric events of her life in the early 2000's.

First off- if you enjoy my writing style (which I assume you do since you keep reading what I post) You will absolutely love hers too. As I read this book I felt such a kindred spirit to her, the way she thinks about her menu's or the restaurants she goes to. How she likes to grocery shop. I'm uber jealous of her job as a food writer and enjoyed getting some insight on what her lifestyle is like and how she goes about forming her stories. But more over it was a wonderful realistic representation of a relationship. The highs and lows (when they move in together and she goes on a crazy cleaning spree to avoid him) the merging traditions of two families and learning what it takes to share and appreciate each others passions in a way that is unique to your relationship.

Apart from the authentic and enjoyable depiction of her romantic relationship I also thoroughly enjoyed her descriptions and stories of her relationships with her friends. Many of whom also love to cook but some who are just along for the ride. I was able to relate to her teaching some of her friends how to cook (I recently made some friends cooking lesson vouchers as a wedding gift!) or her concerns about how babies and new locations will change friendships that used to be simple and frequent. Through the intricate network of friendships, colleagues, & acquaintances she graces us with an inside look at the ebb and flow of New York life.

The book has a very "Nora Ephron"-esque feel to it (which is great because she is fabulous and also totally appropriate given that Amanda had a little feature as herself in "Julie & Julia" which was of course directed by Ms. Ephron!). I was reminded instantly of Nora's Novel "Heartburn" (which was also one of her less well known movies) which follows each story with a recipe. At the end of each chapter of "Cooking" Amanda includes the recipes for what was served or cooked in the chapter and there are a few that I can't wait to try (in particular:Mountain Honey Gingersnaps with Candied Ginger, Lemon Sables, Papardelle with Lemon, Herbs, & Ricotta Salata, Goat Cheese with Shallot Marmalade, or the Rigatoni with White Bolognese ) I'm sure I will be posting my efforts on here soon!

This is a great novel for anyone (probably more so those of the female persuasion) that enjoys the foodie world (even if you don't quite understand it). Reading the novel feels like talking to a dear friend, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

You can buy this lovely book on Amazon HERE ! Amanda is also one of the co founders of one of my favorite Foodie websites food52 , check it out!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cornbread Sausage Stuffing

It's Thanksgiving week! I know some of you might be scrambling to decide what to make this year so I thought I would share a recipe I made for my "Friends-giving" party this last weekend. We had a great time getting all the girls together for a Thanksgiving meal with everyone contributing something to share. I have been wanting to make this stuffing since my Grandma made it a couple years ago. I assumed at the time it was a recipe of her own or something she got from some interesting cookbook. Turns out it's a Tyler Florence Recipe she got out of a magazine. While not a family heirloom it is still delicious and was a big crowd pleaser! This recipe has so much more than just your average Stove Top. The sweetness and grainy texture from the cornbread, the slight sweet acidic crunch from the apple, and all the spices in the Italian sausage it's so yummy and not difficult either! Below are instructions ( I modified the ingredients some when I prepared it: Left apple skins on for color, subbed Thyme instead of Rosemary, Subbed 4 large cloves of garlic minced for one of the onions, Made the cornbread in a sheet vs using muffins. Those were just my preferences I'm sure it is equally good when sticking with Tyler's original recipe)


1/2 Stick of Butter
2 Golden Delicious Apples peeled cored and cubed
2 Tbsp Extra virgin Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Chopped Rosemary
2 Small Yellow Onions
1/2 lb loose Italian Sausage
6 Large Cornbread muffins (or 1 box) torn into bite size pieces
Kosher Salt and Fresh Black Pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup light cream
1/4 cup chicken stock

Melt butter in a pan over medium heat and toss in apple cubes. Cook for about 2 minutes to add a little bit of color then set aside in a bowl.

In the Same Pan, add the Olive oil, rosemary, and Sausage. Cook until lightly browned, then add the onions & garlic; cook for 10 minutes or until golden. Add apples back to the mix. In a large bowl alternate adding cornbread and sausage apple mixture (this way you don't have to toss it too much and the cornbread can stay better intact. If you have time buy or bake the cornbread a day or two before and leave it out uncovered so it can get a little stale. This will also help it stand up once it is mixed with the other ingredients.
In a separate bowl whisk together egg, cream, and chicken stock and pour over the cornbread mixture. Stir stuffing and season with salt and pepper
Bake in the Turkey or at 375 F in a casserole dish for 30 to 40 minutes. I found at 20 minutes that the top was getting nice and brown so I pulled it out and tossed it so more of it would get a nice crunchy toast!
All finished! Although I bought a nice bowl to serve it from it ended up being just as easy to serve it from the casserole dish.                                                                                             
Look at that spread! Everyone did such a great job with all of the food!
Thanksgiving has long been my favorite holiday. Of course for the food but I also enjoy that it doesn't require the pageantry some other holidays rely on. Costumes, or gifts, or fireworks. Thanksgiving is about coming together with those you love and appreciating all each other has brought to our lives. Be they your family by birth or family by choice I'm happy to spend this time enjoying each and every person in my life!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My very first Catering Gig

For the past two years I have been Tori's personal "Caterer" for all of our events with our friends. This usually just entails making 3-5 appetizers or something along those lines and I'm usually running behind as they arrive and sit patiently while I toss plates of things at them. After each event Tori and I always have our side chatter of someday starting a catering business together - me doing the food her the decore and rentals. Particularly after the Bridal Shower last year we felt confident that maybe somewhere down the line it would be fun. Well she and her mom decided (unbeknowst to me) that now would be a good time to start. About 3 weeks ago they proposed I cater Tori's mom's annual dinner for her friends. In the past her mom has cooked or had a pot luck but this year she really wanted to jazz it up and hire a caterer to do a full sit down meal. What better deal than your daughters friend who is just starting out? I had no choice but say yes feeling a bit thrown in the deep end but if experience has taught me anything is that this is often the best way to get started. I quickly came up with lots of menu options for her and we had a meeting to sit down and decide on what she wanted to serve. Here is the menu-

Citrus Chili Crab on Fried Won ton
Puff Pastry Cups with Mushroom, Bacon, & Feta

Butternut Squash Soup with Creme Fraiche and Ginger Snaps Crumbles
Baby Green Salad with Candied Walnuts, Dried Cranberries, & Crumbled Blue Cheese

Filet Mignon with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Brandy Cream Sauce
Black Truffle Scented Creamed Spinach
Parmesan Roasted Asparagus Spears

Individual Apple Galette's with French Vanilla Ice Cream

From the start I knew she wanted to steaks, which I will fully admit is not my specialty, and she was very adamant that she wanted them a particular way. We decided to compromise, that she would do the first stages and we would simply keep them heated and plate them. She also purchased a favorite brandy cream sauce from the restaurant By-the-Bucket that she really desired to go along with it. With 8 other things to prepare I didn't mind her taking this off my plate. In our pre discussions she also threw me another curve ball - her boss was going crabbing the morning of the party and planning to bring her fresh crab. At first I had a minor heart attack (I'm not super skilled in retrieving crab meat and all I could think was this is gonna take me hours!) but then she assured me she would have her husband crack and clean them so I would be left with just a nice bowl of the meat to work with. Woo hoo!
Still I knew I was going to need an extra set of hands to really pull off a plated dinner for 20. Thankfully I have some excellent cooks in my crew and I was able to enlist a "Sous Chef" in my friend Abbie. What a life saver. After all is said and done there was simply no way it would have gone as smoothly as it did without her.

Friday night I started to prep anything I could do in advance to save time on Saturday. I made the soup, 5 batches of pastry dough for the desserts, and the biscuit dough so I would be all set to go the next day. Saturday morning was spent assembling each of the individual Apple gallette's which required lots of dough rolling and thin apple slicing. I have made lots of gallette's before but never 20 individual ones. My plan to be at the house at 3 quickly turned to 3:30 as I realized just how time intensive each one was. But with my trusty Sous Chef in tow I wasn't worried!

We arrived at 3:30 with our supplies in tow and got down to work setting up. Tori's mom has just about every cooking apparatus you can imagine however- finding/ digging them out is another matter! We managed to get everything we needed and got right to work. It's amazing how much faster things go with two sets of hands. We were able to prep everything we could before cooking with plenty of time. Thank goodness we had it. As I pulled the crab out of the fridge I found it had been cracked however had not been taken out of it's shell! My biggest fear come true and with not nearly the time I would need to do it myself with everything else going on. Thank goodness I had an additional side kick, Tori's sister Angelina, who was able to step in and save the day. She worked tirelessly till we had plenty of crab for the appetizers.
Since our night of experimentation with my mini fryer Abbie has become a pro and she did an excellent job evenly frying the won ton crisps for this appetizer. Don't they look nice all lined up on the serving tray! I was able to prep everything for the mushroom app during our ample prep time in the afternoon so all I had to do was throw them in the oven right before guests started to arrive.
As soon as the appetizers were being passed around we started plating the salads. We decided pre setting the salads would be an excellent indicator to the guests that dinner was about to begin. Once the salad plates began coming back to the kitchen I began to ladle up the Butternut Squash soup. Tori's dad was extra excited for this course as he declared "My favorite!"

Next came the major plating feat of the night - the entrees. Thankfully we had decided to serve the green side dishes family style so it was easy to get those ready to go out however 20 plates with steak and mashed potatoes took some more doing! We set up a quick assembly line squeezing a ghandsome pile of mashed potatoes on the plate with a bag, carefully placing the steak just off set on the pile, and finishing with a generous swoop of the sauce on the opposite side of the plate.
Although I didn't take a picture of the plates (speedy timing seemed more important) I did get a picture of the spinach cooking!
Sauted down with the black truffle oil it smelled soooo good! We got to breath a bit as I put the desserts in the oven but realized that we didn't have plates! Thankfully my trusty "staff" made quick work of washing the salad dishes and we were in business. Everyone filtered in after they finished the main course to watch the fight that was on TV which ended up working out perfect because we could stagger out the desserts and coffees.
Over all we had a great time. It was a really good learning experience and I think it has really given me the confidence I need to start pursuing more opportunities like this. Of course just small things at first but you never know where your passions might lead! I'm just grateful I have so many people who believe in and support me and I can't Thank Tori's mom enough for giving me my first real shot and helping it be so successful!

Now to finish- a lovely picture of Abbie enjoying the fruits of our labor after we were finished: