Seasonal Chef: Holiday Party Pot Luck, Part 1: Bringing a Dish to a Dinner Party

Mention four little words “can I bring something?” and many people shudder when the answer is “yes.” What is it about Pot Luck dinners that turn the most confident person into a quivering mess? Thoughts of creating a four-star restaurant quaility dish permeates your brain and you’re toast.

Thinly Sliced Zucchini with Ricotta and Fresh Herbs

Most likely are you are being invited by friends, so forget the stress. You have a few options available to begin with: you can pick up something that is pre-made. No one will think any less of you. (If they do, then find some new friends!) You can attempt a recipe and the host will undoubtably be grateful and pleased, or you can offer to bring the wine.

Roasted Carrots and Apples

Let’s start at the beginning: the very first thing you need to determine is the size and theme of the party and what the expectation is, if any. For example, when I do dinner parties at our house I never have the guests bring food. I take a great deal of time working out the menu and theme and having a dish arrive that is not expected throws me off. In that type of situation the host will feel obliagted to put it out, but might be a bit frazzled trying to figure out how to incorporate it. Why stress out the host for no reason? Should you find yourself being invited to a party of that nature a lovely hostess gift or bottle of wine is appropriate. A thought on wine: unless the host indicates for you to bring something specific to go with their dinner, just find a really lovely bottle of something for them to enjoy later. Don’t necessarily expect to see it opened if the host has already purchased a wine that will be paired with the dinner.

Mixed Green Salad

Some parties have pre-determined lists for people to choose from. In those cases the party planner is taking into account many different levels of participation, so if you pick the salad option rock that baby out. Pre-wash, prep and put it all together before you arrive to the party. There is nothing worse than a guest arriving and descending on the host’s kitchen looking for a cutting board and knife to deal with the tomatoes. Get your work done ahead of time – it’s only a salad right?

More after the jump …. 

If you pick one of the other options be sure to check in with the host ahead of time if your dish needs to be finished or warmed in the oven. They will need to take that into account for the overall plan of the evening.

Spinach and Bell Pepper Salad

The third type of party you might be invited to is an all out, no holds barred, Open House Pot Luck. The host makes a random list of general dishes and asks the guest to essentially bring whatever they want. Our friends Peter and Carin host a party like that every year. I recently talked to him about the ups and downs of hosting such an event. First, he said that the rsvp situation is always crazy. A great deal of the people that actually come never respond. (Frankly, that would drive me batty.) If you are planning on going to a big party let the host know. Even though a party like that borders on an open house, the host still needs to figure out plates, utensils and beverages.

Bûche de Nöel

The other hope he has, goes back to a comment I made above, and that is for the guest to bring their dish ready to set on the buffet table. Happy chaos reigns in his kitchen at that party and having someone digging around for a platter as guests are pouring in is inconvenient. If you find that you will need something to serve your dish on let the host know ahead of time so they can be ready for you. The upside to this party for he and his wife is the breadth of what does arrive from a gourmet pizza cut up in bite size pieces to a spiral ham and even a luscious Bûche de Nöel.

I find now that I cook professionally hosts tend to be apolgetic when I arrive, saying they are sure the food is not up to par. Let me let you in on a little secret: Chefs truly enjoy being invited to a friend’s house for dinner. The idea that they have the night off from cooking is a real bonus.

For me the reverse tends to happen. When I’m invited to a dinner I almost feel like doing something simple (which of course would be completely ideal after working so hard) would be perceived as taking the easy way out. So I got to thinking, what could do that is simple, yet dramatic and full of flavor, for my next Pot Luck invitation? Over the weekend I was noodling around on the internet and came across a couple of salads that had some similar themes and looked really special. First up is from my vegan buddy JL Fields. She has a delicious looking breakfast bowl using quinoa, cranberries and nuts. Then I came across a Mark Bittman recipe using sweet potatoes and quinoaI happen to have a bag of quinoa in the cabinet, so I thought about using that as my main ingredient.

After a quick check of the pantry and ‘fridge I pulled together a few other things and got to work. Quinoa is just as easy to cook as rice. You basically add it to boiling water and cover. This particular brand only took 12 minutes to cook,  and 5 minutes to rest.

While that was happening on the stove I combined the rest of the ingredients on a baking sheet and put in them in the oven.

I had an orange in my fruit basket so I thought why not use that too, and make a simple vinaigrette to bring it all together?

   

I had a little arugula in the ‘fridge, but I think baby spinach would work really well with this too.

Larry and I decided that while is was quite tasty warm, it was significanty better once it got cold. What could be more ideal to take to a pot luck party? This can be made ahead and assembled just before you leave the house.

With the holiday season is in full swing I thought I would end with a fun television segment I remembered seeing. Here are some additional tips for party going from Clinton Kelly on The Chew.

Check back next week, in my second part of Holiday Pot Luck I’m going to be talking about appetizers.

Buon Appetito!

 

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She’s an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meet Our Wine Expert

If you’ve ever walked the worn wooden floors of Rochambeau Wines & Liquors in Dobbs Ferry, you’ve met Jeffrey Wooddy.

Jeffrey Wooddy of Rochambeau Wines & Liquors in Dobbs FerryHe’s the 6-foot-5 manager behind the counter who can find a perfect wine to pair with your dinner in five seconds flat, no matter whether you’re serving roast suckling pig or pigs in a blanket.

“Our job is to prepare ourselves with the best wines at various prices that we can get our hands on — and then be ready when a customer comes in,” he says. “We’re librarians and these are our stacks. And we need to be ready to say, ‘I think you should meet this wine. This will be perfect with what you’re having.’”

Wooddy — along with the shop’s owners, Dieter Kannapin and his son, Derek Kannapin — tastes between 6,000 and 7,000 wines to select the 1,700 they offer for sale at any one time, so Wooddy can tell you, for example, that Beringer Reserve Chardonnay has gone back to its original, no-oak style, or recount the time he lunched with Mount Eden Vineyards winemaker Jeffrey Patterson on his front porch, tasting every vintage of his wines going back to the 1990s.

“This is what Rochambeau does,” says Wooddy. “We don’t wait for the wine world to come to us, we go and seek it out. And that’s how we know everything that’s here.”

It’s this breadth of experience that led us to select Wooddy to be our wine expert-in-residence for the next three months. For the next 12 Wednesdays in Life&Style, he’ll choose our LoHud Wine of the Week, and include tasting notes and suggestions for pairings. (His first recommendation, a Bordeaux — 2009 Chateau L’Argentyre — is at the bottom of the page.) At the end of the 12 weeks, we’ll review our Mixed Case, and recap the choices assembled by Wooddy. Then we’ll introduce a new expert.

We’ll also turn to him for suggestions for pairing wines with meals, including for the upcoming holidays. And when we do, it’s likely he’ll go for something unexpected and delicious, which is how he describes his “best $20 bottle in the shop,” a 2009 Cartuxa Tinto Colheita, a red from Portugal that Rochambeau has carried every year since its 1993 vintage.


But getting Wooddy to part with any of his wines can sometimes be amusing.

“I think I’ve developed a kind of crazy reputation with my customers,” he says, deadpan. “One of the things that I think amuses people about the way I sell wine is that I’m very tactile. When somebody asks me for a food and wine selection, I’m known for actually carrying the bottle of wine around the store with me, occasionally stroking it as if I don’t want to let it go, but wanting to give it a good home.”

So imagine what his reaction will be when someone decides to buy the oldest wine in the store (a 1929 Domaine Bchelet Maury from the French Roussillon that sells for $149.99) or the more expensive (a $1,500 Screaming Eagle Napa Valley Cabernet)? We shudder to think!

Another wine that will be hard to let go is the 6-liter 2005 Shafer “Hillside Select” Cabernet which, at $2,200 a bottle, is the most expensive in the shop.

Large-format bottles are a specialty of Rochambeau, so Wooddy isn’t surprised when customers come looking for them.

“We think it’s fun and it’s a way we can distance ourselves from the competition,” says Wooddy. “We have as many large formats of Chateauneuf du Pape as probably some stores have regular bottles.”

Another draw? The specialty spirits. Cocktail aficionados from all over the region travel to Rochambeau to pick up their ingredients. There are 14 absinthes alone! Plus, there are nine varieties of Italian Amaro, bottles such as Creme de Violette (an ingredient in the Aviation), aperitifs with quinine (a bark) and gentian (a flower). And there’s an Evan Williams single barrel bourbon, bottled especially for Rochambeau. (Bottles costs $29.99 each and are sitting on top of the actual barrel they aged in near the front of the store.)

Maybe it’s fitting that old-fashioned spirits are among Rochambeau’s specialties. It originally opened in 1933, making it one of the New York’s oldest post-Prohibition wine shops. (The liquor license has one of the lowest numbers in the state.) Dieter Kannapin took over in 1977, and during the 1980s and 1990s, Rochambeau was among the top sellers of Bordeaux futures in the U.S.

Today, there is also a huge selection of fine scotches, whiskeys and bourbons, and, says Wooddy, “probably more specialty gin than maybe anyone outside of New York City.”

And while we’re on the topic of the metro area, we love that Rochambeau champions local and regional wines. You’ll find bottles from Connecticut, the Hamptons and upstate New York alongside the wide selection of wines from the Loire Valley, Piemonte, Tuscany, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Spain, California, and the Pacific Northwest.

“People are surprised that we know all these wines,” says Wooddy. “But we should — it’s our job. That’s why you come to us.”

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Foodie Gift Guide

[NOTE FROM LIZ: David Dallow, aka Westchester Foodie, wrote our Foodie Gift Guide, a fun, witty and informative story in today’s paper. Unfortunately, I had to trim it to fit in print. Here is the story in its entirety.]

We’ve all got one. The friend who tracks chefs and restaurants the way a sports fanatic follows trades and free agents. A cohort who’s always up on the trendiest ingredients (what the heck is salsify, anyway?). The pal who you’re slightly intimidated to invite for dinner.

With the holidays upon us, odds are good that this friend — this food connoisseur — is on your gift list. And what do we get for that person in our lives for whom food is an all-consuming passion?

Well, we’ve got a few suggestions in this foodie gift guide. And as an added bonus, many of these gifts are locally made or sold here in the Hudson Valley, so we can support our friends and neighbors while doing something our foodie friend is sure to approve of: eating local.

Food

Cheesy, in a good way

Long a staple at Hudson Valley farm markets, Sprout Creek Farm is a local maker of international award-winning cheeses. The working farm and market help support an educational center offering day, weekend and summer courses in agriculture and environmental responsibility. Plus, their goats’ and cows’ milk cheeses — such as Madeleine, Toussaint, Ouray and Barat — are delicious. What self respecting foodie can’t get behind that? Gift baskets start at $40 and can be ordered on the website at http://www.sproutcreekfarm.org, by phone at 845-485-9885, or via email at cheese@sproutcreekfarm.org.

Slick and new

Charlie Ruehr was toiling away at an investment banking job when he realized his real passion was for food, and in particular, olive oil. He and his cousin Zak opened Pure Mountain Olive Oil, with locations in Rhinebeck and Tarrytown.

Boasting a large selection of extra virgin olive oils, infused oils, balsamic vinegars and various sea salts, there are numerous gift options. Be sure to try their Olio Nuovo, the smooth peppery first press of this year’s California olives, syrupy fig balsamic vinegar and habanero sea salt. Be careful though, it packs a punch! Prepared gift baskets begin at $35, or build your own basket at the store or online. Pure Mountain Olive Oil, 11 N. Broadway, Tarrytown, 914-418-5453; 23 E. Market St., Rhinebeck, 845-876-4645; www.puremountainoliveoil.com.

Spreading good cheer

Wine and spirits are classic gift ideas, but what if you want something original to give a true food aficionado? “Holiday season is the perfect time to break out of your year-long comfort zone,” says Dean Moretta, owner of Vintology Wine & Spirits in Scarsdale.

For a warming digestif to be sipped as chestnuts roast upon an open fire, Moretta suggests the subtle Chateau de Laubade, a Bas Armagnac, which he likens to a “thinking man’s whiskey.” Bubbles are celebratory, too, and while Champagne Moutard, made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes, is great for sipping, it also “has the depth to cut into a meal,” he says. Or, surprise your cab-loving friends with a white they’ll love: a 2010 Clarendelle White Bordeaux, which Moretta calls “provocative,” with notes of melon, citrus and minerals.

Vintology, 10 Palmer Ave., Scarsdale, 914-723-2040, http://www.vintology .com. Chateau de Laubade, $79, Champagne Moutarde, $49, Clarendelle, $19.

 

A bite of bark

Trying to strike just the right tone for a corporate gift, or maybe just to find the best quality holiday sweets available? At Chocolations, owner Maria Valente, a former lawyer, started making chocolate at home with her children, eventually opening her own store.

Lucky for us: Her chocolate bark, a slab of chocolate sprinkled with decadent toppings, or award winning truffles, will impress and delight the sweetest tooth.

Truffles are $1.75 each; bark is $25 per pound; gift baskets start at $40. Chocolations, 607 E. Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck, 914-777-3600, www.chocolations.com.

Books

Books

Kingly cuisine

Got a Game of Thrones fan in your life who is also a foodie? Who doesn’t, right?

Well, perhaps he or she would like a nice warm bowl of Harrenhal gruel on a cold day. Or maybe a beef and bacon pie from the North, or the dubiously named Bowls of Brown from King’s Landing. If that is the case, then “A Feast of Fire & Ice,” the official cookbook of Game of Thrones, is the gift to buy. It’s worth it just to discover what’s in a Bowl of Brown. Random House, $21.00, www.amazon.com.

Post-‘Modernist’

When Nathan Myhrvold released the Modernist Cuisine set last year, hearts were set racing across the country. Unfortunately, the set of six books weighed in at an imposing 40 pounds and cost a prohibitive $625. Thankfully, this year sees the release of the more (relatively) reasonable “Modernist Cuisine at Home.”

Whether your foodie’s interest lies in sous vide and foams, or refining classics like hamburgers and macaroni and cheese using updated methods, this lavishly illustrated hybrid cookbook and science text will appeal to cooks of varying skill levels and anyone who aspires to be a modernist chef. The Cooking Lab, $105, www.amazon.com.

Possibly spooky, definitely delicious

Collector, connoisseur or “Mad Men” fan to please? There’s perhaps no better cookbook than “A Treasury of Great Recipes: Famous Specialties of the World’s Foremost Restaurants,” by famed actor Vincent Price and his wife, Mary, who were huge food lovers themselves.

This beautiful volume is part cookbook, part entertaining guide and part time capsule, reproducing recipes from the finest restaurants of the mid-20th century. I treasure mine, as would any aficionado of food or history. Grosset & Dunlap. Used copies start at $35.99, collectibles at $120. www.amazon.com.

 

Gadgets

Cuppa Joe

Many people with refined taste in coffee would love a single serve coffee make but the idea of being told which pods they can use is a deal breaker. If you have such a person on your list then KitchenAid’s new single serve coffee maker might be the ideal gift.

It allows its owner to use his or her own coffee (Kopi Luwak of course) and brews it directly into an insulated mug. It’s also available in four handsome colors.

$79.99. Available at Chef Central, 45 S. Central Ave., Hartsdale. 914-328-1376, www.chefcentral.com.

Four eyes

Do you have a friend who loves to cook but can never chop an onion without looking like you just watched Terms of Endearment? Well then a pair of Onion Goggles might be just what the doctor ordered.

Worried your friend won’t appreciate their aesthetic appeal? Reassure him or her that looking as if one is openly weeping with a runny nose is not the best look when guests arrive either! $21.00, www.amazon.com.

Burn, baby, burn

Induction cooking is rapidly becoming beloved by chefs who appreciate its efficiency and by home cooks who like that the cook top itself remains cool to the touch. Induction burners heat cookware via an oscillating magnetic field, so it allows instant control like a gas burner, but is much more efficient, since none of the energy is lost heating the air around the pan.

As a traditionalist, however, I find myself hard pressed to fully embrace induction at the cost of giving up my gas burners. However, The Duxtop 1800-Watt Portable Induction Cooktop Countertop Burner 8100MC single induction burner provides an inexpensive test run with the new technology. And who wouldn’t kill for an extra burner on Thanksgiving? $78.99, www.amazon.com.

Tablet tech

Is an iPad stand with integrated Bluetooth speaker a necessity? Of course not. Is it just cool as heck? Yes, yes it is. It also might be just the type of item that allows me to believe that tablets will supplant cookbooks. Imagine cooking your way through the app “Next Paris 1906,” which guides you through cooking the opening menu of Next, avant garde chef Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant, while seeing demonstrations of the more complicated techniques! (In fact, at a mere $5, the “Next” iPad app would be another gift that keeps on giving.)

$199.95, Williams-Sonoma, The Westchester-125 Westchester Ave., White Plains. Next, iPad app, $5, www.itunes.com.

 

Kitchen Geekery

Got a Walking Dead fan on your list? Got kids who aren’t easily traumatized? How about a Zombie Head Cookie Jar? Brings a whole new, and quite delicious meaning to, “Mmmmm….braaaiiinnsss……”

 

While we’re discussing television, let’s move on to the Dexter Apron. Got that crazy uncle who nobody’s quite sure about? Enjoy giving him an apron emblazoned with the logo of cable television’s favorite sociopath. Then enjoy checking under your bed before you go to sleep every night.

Next up we have Bacon Soap. Because bacon soap. Seriously, if I have to explain this one to you then you and I can’t be friends.

Zombie Head Cookie Jar, $29.99, Dexter Apron, $19.99 and Bacon Soap, $5.99 are all available at www.thinkgeek.com.

Foodie Kids

Cooking 101

Do you have any precocious future foodies on your list? Start their culinary journey properly with tools from Curious Chef.

A measure and prep kit ($24.99), complete with measuring cups and kitchen timer, oven mitts ($24.99) and a set of plastic safety knives ($9.99) with have the little tyke well on the way to whipping up masterpieces.

Curious Chef items available at Chef Central, 45 S. Central Ave., Hartsdale. 914-328-1376, www.chefcentral.com.

Sweet treats

You want happy foodie kids? Happy, wired, crazy foodie kids clutching their temples in the throes of a brain freeze? 7-Eleven now markets a home line of Slurpee makers! Just pour in juice, turn a crank and, viola!, Slurpees at home.

Of course, if you don’t mind cavities and kids who don’t fall asleep all night, just cut to the chase and buy a Waring home cotton candy machine. I’m not saying I’d get this for my own kids, but if you want to get a little passive aggressive revenge on a friend or sibling, it would make a great gift for their kids.

Slurpee maker, $44.99, www.thinkgeek.com, Cotton candy machine, $48.99 http://www.amazon.com.

Hopefully this list will help you make that special foodie in your life very happy, and may you all have a happy, healthy and food filled holiday of your own!

David Dallow blogs at WestchesterFoodie.com and is a contributor to the Small Bites blog at food.lohudblogs.com.

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A Local Saturday Night Supper on Valentine’s Day

For Saturday night supper this week, Greg headed to the Palisades Indoor Farmers Market. He came home with the makings for what ended up being a completely local meal. In February. Imagine that! Long Island scallops with potato-parsnip puree and sauteed beet greens:

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A Big Storm

On the occasion of the first big blizzard of the year, the farm did some shoveling, then headed downtown. And why not?

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Recipe: Maytag Beef and Bacon Stew

For book club suppers, which are almost always on weekends, I like to make things you can cook ahead and reheat. When I came across this recipe for Maytag Beef and Bacon Stew in James Villas’ Bacon Cookbook, I knew it would be a big hit. Especially with this book club. They are a bacon-loving crowd, for sure.

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Super Bowl and Super Food at Restaurant X

After a couple of years off from Super Bowl at OVI, it kind of got to the point where Greg was tired of watching the Super Bowl at home. After all, it’s not like I was right there cheering along with him. So this year, we decided to mix it up a little bit, and keep me entertained, too. Boo came along, and we all went to a place where the food was as important as the football: Restaurant X. Sabrett and Niman Ranch Hot Dogs on Brioche Buns with Red Onion Marmalade, anyone?

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