Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Return to Victoria: A Confab Christmas Dinner

Craving a little tradition for Christmas, even if it isn't your own? For us former English majors, there's nothing as captivating as a savory description of a well-laid holiday repast--a table groaning from the strain of supporting a bulging  joint of beef, sumptuous pudding, quivering aspics, and anything with thick, fluffy mounds of cream. From Chaucer to Austen, Dickens to Woolf and beyond, English authors have known how to transform the basic annual Christmas meal into memorable culinary repasts.

Then there's real life. In San Diego. In 2012. But English expat Andrew Spurgin and his merry band of Confabularie will bring that style of sumptuous holiday dining on paper alive--in their unique way. On Sunday, Dec. 16, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Cafe Chloe's sister space, Oliver & Rose, Cooks Confab, with its extraordinary assortment of chefs and mixologists from around San Diego, will take us back to the days of Victoria and Albert--adding a bit of a French twist--and offer a Christmas meal that marries British tradition with Escoffier. Guests are even asked to arrive dressed to the nines in dinner attire, period dress, or even Steampunk-inspired ensemble. And, don't forget a Teddy Bear or some other new unwrapped plush toy that the Confab will be donating to children in need for the holidays.

"We're going to whisk you away to a forgotten era," Spurgin says. This is the style of food in which he finds great romance and he's long been fixated on even the most esoteric of traditions, like "port-iquette." For instance, Spurgin says, according to British naval custom, a decanter of port is placed in front of the host, who then serves the guest to his right, then passes the decanter to the guest of the left (port-side), at which point the port is passed to the left all the way back to the host. If the decanter doesn't make it all the way back, it's impolite to ask for it directly. Instead the host asks the guest closest to the decanter if his knows the bishop of Norwich or any other English village. This should get the decanter moving again. However, if the offender answers, "No," the response is that "the bishop is an awfully good fellow, but he never passes the port!" Even the most oblivious guest should realize then that he's hogging the decanter and will send it on its way.

Now, the menu is too long to list (mostly because I have a recipe to share with you below), but suffice to say that terrines, aspics, mince meats, Welch rarebit, rolling carvery, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas pudding, Stilton cheese--and port-- will all be involved. (There will also be a sixpence hidden in one of the puddings that will bring both good luck and a gift certificate for dinner for two.)

Surely, following dinner you'll be inspired to prepare at least one traditional English dish for your loved ones. Spurgin gave me his recipe for Yorkshire Pudding to share:

Andrew Spurgin's Yorkshire Pudding
(printable recipe here)
Serves 6

1 cup whole organic milk
1 cup hens eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted twice
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup turkey drippings

1. Drain off turkey drippings and strain through a fine strainer. If cooking a beef roast do the same. If you have no drippings, use duck fat, bacon fat, lard, or butter.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
3. With a mixer, beat the eggs into the milk and salt. Sieve the flour into the custard and get rid of any lumps. Let rest for an hour at room temperature. Pour through a strainer and stir in the rosemary.
4. Heat a 12-count muffin or pop-over pan in the oven until very hot.
5. Heat the fat if it's not liquid. Mix the cold water into the custard. Add about a teaspoon of fat into each muffin cup. It should be smoking.
6. Give the custard one quick stir, then immediately fill each muffin cup 1/3 full with the custard and pop it into the oven. Do not open the oven until they're fully cooked.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Remove from oven and serve immediately, sopping up with lots of lovely gravy.

Tickets for Cooks Confab Christmas Dinner are $175 with a percentage of the proceeds going, as always, to Slow Food Urban San Diego. You can purchase tickets at Brown Paper Tickets. Oliver & Rose is located at 726 Ninth Ave. in downtown San Diego.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Top 10 Online Thanksgiving Resources

I know. You're frantically scurrying around town to pick up all the ingredients and other supplies for your Thanksgiving extravaganza. But, how are you set for how you'll actually prepare your spread? We all know that Butterball has its inimitable hotline (800-288-8372) for freaked out turkey cooks, but where else can you turn for great recipes, advice, or inspiration. Well, here are my top 10 picks:
  • The Splendid Table: I adore Lynne Rossetto Kasper and her weekly radio show. But don't miss out on her website, which has all sorts of great advice and recipes focused on Thanksgiving this week. If you need a turkey carving primer, it's there. A change of pace for cranberries? How about a Cranberry Port Gelee? 
  • Gourmet.com: Yes, gourmet.com is an endless source for anything about food, but this specific page turned me around when it came to roasting turkey. Go with high heat. Here, this archived and priceless advice from Kemp Minifie explains how the Gourmet test kitchen tried every possible roasting scenario and returned to this method. Plus. there's advice on how to select a turkey and how to prep it.
  • The California Cook: This is renowned food writer Russ Parsons' LA Times column. This particular link, though, is utterly charming as he recounts his mother's relationship with her Thanksgiving cranberries. It's something many of us of a certain age will relate to. But, of course, click on the link for the recipe. Too many people are intimidated by the idea of making cranberry relish, but it couldn't be easier--or more tasty than the canned.
  • Food52: Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs have done a brilliant job of pulling in home cooks and curating recipes. But it goes way beyond that. Witness this wonderful, much needed piece on 5 Thanksgiving Disasters and How to Fix Them. Dry turkey? No problem. Yikes, you forgot to defrost it and it's Thanksgiving morning? There's a workaround here. Also, you must watch Amanda and Merrill making a Brown Butter and Cheddar Apple Pie with Dorie Greenspan.
  • Zester Daily: If you love to read about food and you haven't discovered Zester Daily, give this roundup of their Thanksgiving stories a look. Zester Daily's writers are food culture junkies dedicated to their craft, many with name recognition like Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Here you'll find her pumpkin risotto, but you'll also discover Martha Rose Shulman's turnips and Louisa Kasdan's examination on to brine or not to brine the big bird.
  • Dorie Greenspan: Dorie is one of America's finest bakers. Take a look at this gorgeous Cranberry Crackle Tart she developed for Thanksgiving, and then scan the site for inspiration for other sweets.
  • Dessertier: This is Michele Coulon of Michele Coulon Dessertier's peripatetic blog. She doesn't blog much, but it's always worth a look. Last year, she did a three-part post on making pumpkin pie, including homemade pumpkin puree. It's worth the effort and Michele does a beautiful job explaining the process. If you're more of an apple pie fan, take a look at the fun we had making apple pie last year. This is the pie I make for my family and friends.
  • Nourish Network: Lia Huber's innovative site that focuses on a nourishing, eco-conscious approach to food has a terrific Thanksgiving page with features that speak to the issues you'll face before, during, and after the feast, including testing your leaveners before baking, wine pairing, and dealing with leftovers.
  • Punk Domestics: This site, created by Sean Timberlake, is dedicated the art and culture of preserving. I did a quick site search on Thanksgiving and it popped up with all sorts of creative ideas, including Cranberry Conserve with Apples and Pecans, Apple Sauerkraut au Gratin, and Pumpkin Pie-Infused Liquor.
  • The New York Times Dining & Wine Section: I know, how original, huh? But where else can you get the wisdom of Bittman, Clark, Asimov, and Fabricant in one place? This special Thanksgiving section offers Jacques Pepin's Steam Powered Turkey, Melissa Clark's Breakfast Muffins, and even a "Thanksgiving-erator" quiz to help you plan your menu. 
That's it! Enjoy your meal, but more than that, enjoy the people you're with and the memories of loved ones who may no longer be with you (that's my Nana and Poppa up at the top--and while I miss them terribly, I love all this photo represents).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wee Be Little Soup for One

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a variety of pumpkins sold at Suzie's Farm booths at the local farmers markets in my Local Bounty blog on sandiegomagazine.com. Among the pumpkins I featured were petite Wee Be Littles, a lovely sugar pumpkin that can be chopped up and cooked or carefully emptied of the seeds and fibrous pulp and used as a container for everything from soup to salad to pudding.

In fact, Suzie's Farm employee Jenna Barnes gave me a wonderful quick soup idea for the Wee Be Littles that I included in the post. Then I took a couple home with the idea of making the soup--but it evolved from Jenna's very smart launching pad of a recipe into my own soup for one. I sauteed the vegetables and included a splash of Madeira. I used herbs from my garden, added some hot pepper flakes, and used gouda instead of cheddar cheese. The result was a rich, fragrant bowl of happiness. Easy to make and a splendid way to use the entire squash (and, yes, I always roast the seeds).

This is still Jenna's recipe, but it brings home the point that home cooks don't have to follow recipes to the letter, but instead should use them as a jumping off point to create a dish that reflects their own style of cooking.

So, with thanks to Jenna, here's my version of a Wee Be Little Soup:

Wee Be Little Soup for One
adapted from Jenna Barnes
(printable recipe here)
Serves, well, one

1 Wee Be Little pumpkin
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (plus oil to rub over the pumpkin)
Splash of Madeira or other sherry
2 teaspoons minced herbs (I used thyme and marjoram, but sage is also good here) Keep about a 1/4 teaspoon reserved.
3 tablespoons grated cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup of milk (amount depends on size of the pumpkin)
1 pat of butter

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a saute pan and add the onions and garlic. Slowly saute until golden. Add the Madeira and cook it down. Add the herbs and mix in well. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Slice off the top of the pumpkin, just taking off about an inch or so and discard. Using a grapefruit knife, carefully clean out the seeds and the pulp (save the seeds to roast). Rub the pumpkin with the extra olive oil and place on a foil-covered baking sheet.

3. Add the onion and garlic mixture to the pumpkin, followed by the cheese, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add milk, leaving about half an inch of space from the top. Gently mix together, then top with the butter.

4. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft on the inside.

5. Remove the pumpkin from the oven. Using a spoon, gently scrape the flesh from the sides of the pumpkin, taking care not to break through the skin. Stir all the ingredients together to create the soup. You're not pureeing the pumpkin so the soup will be a little chunky, but this adds some nice texture. Sprinkle the soup with the remaining herbs and/or roasted pumpkin seeds. Serve with warm crusty bread for dunking.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To Save A Child's Heart: Celebrity Chef Event for Kawasaki Disease Foundation

I'm a sucker for events that help children. Kawasaki Disease may not be something you're familiar with since it's a rare illness, but it's the leading cause of acquired heart disease among children, with 80 percent of patients being under the age of five. For my friend Beth Avant, it struck her family when her son Lucas was just nine months old. Lucas is fine, but Beth has become an advocate for research to fight the disease and find a cure. And that's what the upcoming Kawasaki Disease Foundation's "To Save a Child's Heart Gala," which takes place on Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. at the La Costa Resort and Spa, will be raising funds for.

Chef Nate Appleman
Chef Nate Appleman of Chipotle, a KD parent and winner of the James Beard Award for Rising Chef, is the gala's "honorary chef." Our own Sam "the cooking guy" Zien will be the Master of Ceremonies. His job will be made a little complicated -- in a very good way -- by the unique structure of the event. Instead of each chef cooking one dish for everyone, each chef will cook an entire meal for a single table, which Sam will be checking in on with commentary and interviews.

The feasting will be a food-lover's dream. Take a look at this line up of local and nationally renown chefs:

Scott Thomas Dolbee of Kitchen 1540 in Del Mar
Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Animal in Los Angeles
Neal Fraser of BLD in Los Angeles
Amanda Freitag of New York
Chris Gerwig of Village Idiot in Los Angeles
Matt Gordon of Solace & the Moonlight Lounge and Urban Solace in San Diego

Matt Gordon
David Hernandez of Rubicon Resources in Los Angeles
Gavin Kaysen of Cafe Boulud in New York
Mourad Lahlou of Aziza in San Francisco
Ludo Lefebvre of Ludo Bites in Los Angeles
Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana in San Diego
Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Oregon

Naomi Pomeroy
Jonathan Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland

Jonathan Sawyer
Michael Solomonov of Zahav in Philadelphia
Chad White of Counterpoint in San Diego
Tandy Wilson of City House in Nashville
Tony Quartaro of The Bristol in Chicago

Each of these chefs will prepare a stunning five-course meal. The proceeds will benefit the KD Research Center at UC San Diego and Rady Children's Hospital, San Diego. Tickets start a $300 a person and can be purchased online.

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