Vegetables and Sides

Black Pepper Shrimp and Zucchini “Fettuccine”

Black Pepper Shrimp and Zucchini Fettuccine

This is probably the ugliest photo of a plate I’ve ever put on this site.

But this zucchini “fettuccine” is one of the most popular vegetables I ever made as a private chef, and one that family members have loved and recreated after I’ve made it for them.

It’s ridiculously simple. With a good vegetable peeler and a flick of the wrist, zucchini gets shredded in ribbons and tossed quickly in hot olive oil until it softens to an al dente-like texture. My former boss didn’t know it wasn’t pasta the first time I served it to him. My father downed his plate in minutes. A client’s guest asked me for details at a repeat dinner visit when he couldn’t quite replicate it after his first go.

So simple, so yummy. Continue reading

Ramp and Maitake Mushroom Tartelettes (gluten free)

Ramp and Maitake Tart - Gluten-free - The Dusty Baker-3

There’s a line in the movie The Truth About Cats and Dogs where Uma Therman says something like, “It was a joke… but not funny “ha ha“…”.

That line popped into my head yesterday day.

I had carefully wrapped five beautiful pheasant eggs I’d collected from my dad’s pheasants (the boys are named Amadeus, Biff and Guiseppe; the two ladies are unnamed as of now for some reason). Nestled amongst paper towels in a fitted takeaway container, they sat in my purse while I collected Mitra, her blanket, my raincoat, a canvas bag of miscellaneous toys and booty I’d pilfered from the house, and my stuffed weekend bag. I was planning on daydreaming about what I’d pick up at Fairway back in Harlem to feature the tiny little gems during the hour-long drive home. Then, as I searched my bag for my car keys with my shoulders loaded with the rest, the container slipped from my bag and onto the cement driveway. The glass compartment was intact, but as I dropped everything else to inspect the contents… my heart broke. All but one of the eggs was a gooey mess.

It was sorta funny… but not funny “ha ha”.

The night before I had stayed up late to write my post on Living with Lyme: Staying in My Body. I was exhausted and words weren’t coming right, but I was content as I hit “save draft” until… my browser froze, or hiccuped, or coughed or something and poof… I called it a night and started from scratch the next day.

Slightly funny… but not funny “ha ha”.

The thing is, none of that really mattered. I collected my sad little mess of eggs, rinsed off the remaining darling, and kept going. I drove home in my clean car under a gray-blue sky with trees budding all around and my iPhone in my hand recording thoughts that became this blog post. Mitra lay content in her bed on the passenger seat, I had a chilled decaf Americano to sip on, and an hour to talk with Muffin.

Back in Manhattan, I decided to let Fairway source my inspiration. I usually have two options with my weekly grocery haul; buy affordable organics in Connecticut and rotate a limited stock of produce, or splurge a tad at Fairway and find something new and exciting. Today I found these… Continue reading

Summer of Salads: Jicama and Watermelon

Jicama and Watermelon Salad

Every now and then, someone comes into your life and you breathe a huge sigh of relief.

One of those such special people made me a Jicama and Watermelon salad on the 4th of July. It went scrumptiously alongside some huge langostines I fried up all spicy-like and some ridiculously fresh sea bass that took a mere ten minutes to broil to perfection. He was all achy and sore from a pulled back muscle. I was exhausted from long days of cooking for other people. We feasted with white wine I had been saving for over a year for a special occasion – until I grew up and realized that every good meal with a good person is a special occasion. Then we climbed onto the roof and watched NYC’s spectacular fireworks burst over the Hudson river.

Then I stole his recipe.

I adapted it slightly for the family I cook for, and set it on the pink-canopied backyard table with some of my garden chicken salad and grilled burgers. By the time I got around to snapping pictures of it 24 hours later it had faded in color but the flavors had developed even more fully.

Jicama is a root that’s a cross between a water chestnut and rhubarb, believe it or not. Watery, slightly sweet and somewhat starchy, it’s often eaten in its native Mexico with fiery spices. Because of the light sweetness and water content, it pairs extremely well with watermelon, giving a salad of both some crunch and texture. They’re found at most big grocery stores out in the east coast, but are easy to overlook.

After grunting and sweating away peeling the annoyingly large jicama, I tossed it lightly with watermelon, lime, cilantro and a bit of jalapeno for a ridiculously refreshing salad that my blew my  bosses guests away.

Happy summer, happy Friday!

– Jacqueline

Jicama and Watermelon Salad


Jicama and Watermelon Salad

Serves 6 as a side

1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/4 watermelon, cut into thin 3″ long strips (about 3 cups)
1/2 jalapeno pepper, peeled, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and chill before serving.

Pastel Tea Eggs

I admit to throwing in a little red food coloring in my red velvet creations.

Frosting? Yup, the rainbow reduced to little plastic squeeze bottles goes in there too.

But there always seemed something so off about dying eggs for Easter in such a way.  Though I’m neither a Christian nor a Jew, I grew up Catholic and have many beloved Jewish friends (and the culinary traditions are stellar).  So the holidays of this time of year still mean, to me, a bit of a fresh start.  The earth is starting to pour out beautiful things for us to eat again, and animals are popping out little ones by the baaa’ful (or neigh-ful or whatever).  It’s a time of cleansing and self-reflection.

So, I set to making an Easter egg that not only looks beautiful and delicate and natural, but actually has some flavor benefit as well.  Because why dye the outside of the egg if, when putting together a holiday plate, you can color the part that you eat and infuse some new flavors too?  My mind quickly turned to… tea.

Clockwise from top: chamomile, burdock, hibiscus and raspberry Earl Grey teas.

I drink a lot of tea.  I own several items in which to brew it.  I drink it by the potful as I type.  One whole shelf of my (teeny tiny) pantry is devoted to it.  I throw it into scones, cookies, cakes… delightfulness.

But can it dye eggs?

Various hues from the different teas.

Yes, it can.  Much more subtly (in the cracked, stain-glass versions) than bright pigments.  But the colors are so soft and delicate and would seem perfectly at home nestled in baskets on raffia amongst dark-chocolate bunnies (or whatever your tradition may be).

Perfectly cooked and colored.

My favorite (color-wise): Hibiscus

Tea Eggs

I doubled each amount of tea and let the teas sit for 20 minutes, covered, to make sure they were at full strength.

Burdock: I was disappointed that this didn’t do too much in the color department, but the deep, smoky flavor was quite lovely.  Would probably work best with completely shelled eggs rather than the cracked version I tried.

Hibiscus: Turned the shelled egg to a glorious purpley-red, and gave the cracked one dark purple/blue lines.  I wonder how it would have been had I soaked it longer…?

Raspberry Earl Grey: Gave clear, dark blue lines and an awesome flavor.  Would be great to use on a salad with slivered almonds.

Chamomile: I was surprised that it made the egg as yellow as it did! And the flavor was truly beautiful… fragrant and slightly sweet, like springtime!

Perfectly Cooked Hard Boiled Eggs

Place eggs in a pot and fill with water until it covers the eggs over by at least one inch.  Bring up to a boil, then remove from heat, cover and let sit for 12 minutes.  Immediately rinse eggs and run with cold water.

To Color Eggs

The eggs can be put directly in the cooled tea once they’ve been strained and slightly cool.  If made in a large enough mug, you can color three eggs at a time.  Play around with shelling them completely or cracking them thoroughly to give the stained-glass-window affect.  I let my eggs sit for about 75 minutes, but the longer they sit obviously the more they’ll color up.  Occasionally stir them around for even coverage.

Happy Easter!

Gluten-Free Pastry Puff Party!

photo Brent Herrig

I’ve been obsessed with a gluten-free cream puff recipe.

Having gone without gluten for almost twenty years (minus the occasional succumbing to a bowl of homemade pasta passed to me or the gloriousness of a chewy piece of bread on my family’s island in Portugal just last week), delicate, precious things like filled pastry puffs had long been far from my food thoughts.

But when I sourced a bakery for gluten-free Easy Eats magazine’s Sweet Surprise column in our most recent issue, those thoughts shifted.  As I assisted the food stylist on the shoot I fell enamored of the smooth, thick dough that puffed into crackly rounds.  I was amazed by how such seemingly simple ingredients and a rather quick process could make something so delightful.

So my proposal for FoodBuzz’s 24×24 dinner party – where 24 bloggers from around the world host and post on the same day – quickly centered around the thought: how much can I play with this in one meal?  The owner of the bakery and creator of the recipe, Geri Peacock, had mentioned that, growing up as a child, her mother and grandmother filled the shells with things both savory and sweet.  It was a bit of her heritage that she had adapted for the gluten-free community years later.

So I rounded up some friends, checked in about their dietary issues and cultural backgrounds, and set them in the living room with some cocktails and a really random mix of music, and got to stuffing.

The pastry recipe is below, with my thoughts about how to make each batch spot on.  Click on the images for links to the other recipes.

And please check out Easy Eats magazine for the original recipe and other beautiful gluten-free recipes, lifestyle tips and stunning photos – and my most recent feature of five gluten free pasta recipes! Oh, and coming out in May, my feature of six top-notch chefs give us their own food thoughts and easy-to-execute classic recipes made gluten free (two of the chefs even put gluten-free options on their menus after!).

Oh, and mucho thanks to my photographer, Brent Herrig, for plating and snapping away.  All images are his.

Brent Herrig © 2012

Gluten-Free Pastry Puffs

Makes about 36 puffs, depending on size

The original pastry recipe took a teeny tiny bit of playing with – things like the position of the oven rack and sheets used made a huge difference in how one sheet would either rise and become too thin or remain deliciously eggy but too dense.  Luckily they are rather quick to whip up, and once you get the hang of it you can start swapping flours and fats with relative ease.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, Earth Balance or lard
  • 2 cups Cherbourg Bakery flour blend
  • 8 large eggs, at room temperature
  • dash of salt

Method:

Heat oven to 400° with rack in the center / one notch down from center.  Line 3 baking sheets with Silpat (the original recipe says ungreased cookie sheets but mine continually stuck that way – could be my ancient oven).

In a small pot on high heat, bring the water and butter (once it’s melted) to a full boil.  Lower the heat, add the flour all at once, and mix thoroughly, using a combination of smearing together and folding to completely incorporate the flour into the liquid.  Cook until a smooth ball forms.  Immediately transfer to a standing mixer with the paddle attachment.  Beat in eggs one at a time, starting on a low setting then raising to incorporate.  About halfway through, beat until smooth, and then continue with the rest of the eggs.  Once all are in, beat for about one minute on medium-high speed.

Drop on sheets in smooth lumps, about one tablespoon for smaller puffs (what I used for dessert) and twice the size for larger ones.  Bake one at a time for 30 minutes (I was lucky to use a neighbor’s oven as well).  Once you put the puffs in, don’t open the oven for a good 25 minutes to check – they need the heat to rise properly.  Cool for a few minutes before removing to cooling rack.

Depending on the sturdiness of the puffs, I cut out small tops and filled them or sliced them in half and used them in a slider-type of way.  As they’re light, eggy and rather flavor-neutral, they worked well with strong savory and sweet flavors equally.

Puff Pastry Party Menu

Piri Shrimp

This is the one dish for which I’m not posting a recipe, because I totally cheated and just threw 1 pound of ethically caught shrimp (as in not from Thailand and labeled with certain standards) with 1 bottle of Very Peri Mild (I was sent some to test out and it’s quite delightful).  I marinated it overnight and then threw them in a hot pan with the juice of one fresh lemon.  YUM!

Lamb Stew

Garden Chicken Salad

Jerusalem Artichoke and Kohlrabi

Mini Banana Split with Dairy-Free Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Mini Strawberry Shortcakes with Dairy-Free Liquid Cheesecake


Jerusalem Artichoke and Kohlrabi Pastry Puffs

Brent Herrig © 2012

I found some Jerusalem artichokes in my market a few weeks ago, and then time got away from me and they remained… in my fridge.

So when I realized my FoodBuzz 24×24 Gluten-Free Puff Pastry Party was a little light on the veg, it went into a pot with some kohlrabi, onions, garlic and tumeric.  I’d normally use this combo as a side or puree for something extremely rich and hearty, but as I like my vegetables simple and clean, this combo still satisfied me.

For the gluten-free puff pastry recipe and this dish’s party compatriots, check out the menu.

Brent Herrig 2012

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb Jerusalem artichokes
  • 4 small kohlrabi
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • 1 2″ piece of tumeric, chopped fine
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Method:

Boil the artichokes until soft, then peel off the skins with your hands (easier than peeling).  Mash.

Peel and boil the kohlrabi until fork-tender.  Chop small.

In a small pan, heat olive oil.  Add onion, garlic and tumeric and cook until soft.  Add the butter, artichokes and kohlrabi, and mix to combine and heat through.

If desired, puree until smooth with a hand blender.

Roasted Garlic Aubergine Spread (and an NYC story)

Roasted Aubergine Garlic Spread

Hello there friends,

I had one of those mornings that tougher NYCers would laugh at but that’s left me with a scrunched up feeling in my heart.

I awoke once again just feeling off.  Not full-blown sick, but really out of whack.   I muscled to the living room to do a low-key Qi Gong DVD, which definitely had me slowing down, centering, focusing, and returning to somewhat a manageable plane of energy.  I was feeling calmer, at least, and ready to tackle my morning.

Then the parking situation came.

In my neighborhood we have alternate side-street parking where you can’t park for 90 minute blocks certain days of the week so they can be cleaned.  It’s a fun little matrix I now know well.   It’s not rocket science (shout out to my friend Tim who is actually a rocket scientist), but takes some planning and moving your car quickly when the cleaning’s done on a street, so that you have a place before your time expires.

So at 10:05 I, feeling very grounded and quiet, took Mitra for a walk around the corner, stopping to tousle with her friends Scrabble and Checkers, before jumping in the car and pulling to a street a few blocks away.  There, a few cars were doubled-parked on the narrow one-way street.  Double parked!  It normally isn’t an issue, though, because they come and move their cars when the time changes.  So… you guessed it… 10:20 rolls around, usually when people are slipping in to park and waiting in their cars until go time (like yours truly and 3 other cars), and the squatters are no where to be seen.  10:30, nothing.  Two of the other cars want to park and leave, which is now creating a pileup of passing cars, including a school bus that can’t get through.  10:35, still those cars and now the legally parked people are waiting, having pulled onto the curb so people can pass.  By 10:38, I’ve dealt with plenty of yelling and honking people who are not happy.

So when the drivers finally come out, they’re met with grumpy people including me, who gives a lady an exasperated scrunch of the shoulders.  She fires immediately, “oh, I’m 3 minutes late, kill me!” to which I respond, “actually you’re 8 minutes late and have pissed off about 20 people” to which she responds as she walks to her car “ooh, 8 whole minutes, doesn’t something ever come up for you?  Welcome to New York baby, it happens” to which I go “I’ve been here ten years, no welcome necessary, it not an excuse to those 20 people backed up for you” to which she closes “I’ll tell my sick mother you said that”.

Scene.

I park my car and get out to start walking before she can follow in my direction.

To most NYers, no big deal, right?  Neither of us were obscene, and while she was yelling at my open window and looking very pissed off it was kept at that.  It was inconvenient, and even if only for 8 minutes, those two people were basically stating that their time was more valued than others.  But still, why did I have to engage? I usually assume that people are just having a bad day, or that something came up, and it’s only 8 minutes anyway.  What if her mother is really sick and she was dealing with something important?  What if she’s having a really low day and I made it lower?

I walked back into my building assessing my actions, not so much concerned at the severity of the situation – in reality it’s not that big a deal – but because I don’t want to present myself that way to the world. I don’t want to be a city-dweller who is insensitive to the fact that there are real people everywhere around me.  I want to act respectfully first and assertively second.

Maybe I’ll go leave a note on her car.  Just in case she actually cares.

So back inside, I make some coffee and start to work on this dish.  A purple-ribboned aubergine called out to me at the market.  I don’t normally eat eggplant (they’re a deadly nightshade vegetable and so not good for people with arthritic conditions) but in these cold winter NYC months I need smooth veggies, and lots of garlic, and my apartment smelling like cooking food and love.

To serve, I tried two ways.  First, by slicing a sweet long pepper and filling each half with half of the mixture.   And just because I wanted to see how it would taste as a munchie appetizer, I piped half into Tostito Scoops and topped with a bit of the chopped pepper.  I’m not a huge chip / snack fan, but had some leftover corn chips from our Superbowl gathering (um, yeah Giants!).  And when I do eat chips, they’re corn chips.

Already in my belly...

This plate?  Yeah, gone by the time I got to typing this sentence.

The spread is both incredibly savory with a huge waft of garlic, but also sweet in the aubergine and the roasted flavor that comes from cooking the garlic in this way.  It’s warm and filling without being heavy.  And so full of flavor for such a small list of ingredients.  I’m not a huge “party snack” fan, but this is definitely high on the list now.   And I now have the rest of the head saved for something else (why do I not roast garlic more?!).

And with that, I’m going to get to some real work today.  Cooking helps when mornings are cranky, and I’m fortunate to have set up my work lifestyle in such a way that I can go to the kitchen for an hour when I most need it.

Happy Thursday folks.

– Jacqueline

Roasted Aubergine Garlic Spread

Ingredients:

Warm, soft, roasted garlic

  • 1 small aubergine / eggplant, sliced thin
  • 1 entire head of garlic
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I used fleur de sel and an awesome 5-spice pepper blend)
  • 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Place sliced aubergine on a cooking sheet and rub with about 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper.  Eggplants/aubergine absorb a lot of oil quickly, so don’t expect it to be coated like most vegetables.
  • Place about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a small ramekin.  Cut off the bottom / root part of the garlic bulb and place cut side down in ramekin, then place on cooking sheet.
  • Roast for about 30 minutes, flipping the aubergine halfway.  After 30 minutes, check to see if garlic is roasted by gently lifting slightly and pushing down on a clove: if it falls out easily, it’s done.  If not, cook entire tray another 8 minutes or so.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
  • Place entire aubergine in a food processor or blender.  Pinch out the garlic, and add a few cloves to start (I added 5 and eventually worked my way up to 8 large cloves).  Add chickpea and about 2 Tbsp olive oil.  Start to process mixture, scraping down sides as necessary and swirling in my oil to moisten as needed.  Taste, then add salt and more garlic to your level of taste.  Puree until completely smooth.

Smooth, silky, creamy...

Green and Garlic Soup (Vegan and quite scrumptious)

Green Soup - Kale, Chard, Sweet Potato

I don’t diet.  I probably should, sometimes, but I hate any negative relationship with food, having grown up in a culture and country that over-indulges and then punishes itself on a rotating basis.  And as I’ve had complications with my digestion because of Lyme Disease from the itty bitty age of 12, I embrace what foods I can eat and try to celebrate them as wholly, fully and naturally as possible.

So with the abundance of sweet things in my kitchen comes a love for incredibly clean, simple foods that are fortifying and cleansing.

Hence green soup now and then.

I love this soup.  I love soup in general, but one of my favorite things about the glory of vegetables and a hand mixer is just throwing stuff together and seeing what comes up.

So, here it is, one of my favorite staples in the particularly cold months.   I served this ladeled over millet and enjoyed with a hot mug of gyokuro, one of my favorite green teas.

Green and Garlic Soup

Ingredients:

Equipment: a hand blender.  If you don’t have one, get one.  Really. Worth it.

  • 2 Tbsp (large swirl) olive oil
  • 1 large vidalia or sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, pressed and roughly chopped
  • 2 yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (about 3 cups)
  • 2 cups water or broth (more if you need later)
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 bunch of kale, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 bunch of green chard, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley, rinsed and chopped
  • 3 Tbsp vinegar (apple cider, red or white wine)

Directions:

  • In a 5-quart heavy pot, bring olive oil to medium heat.  Reduce to low and cook garlic and onion until soft, about 6 minutes.
  • Add  yams water/broth and salt and pepper and bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the yams are slightly soft, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the kale, chard, parsley and vinegar and cook until all vegetables are soft.
  • Blend with a hand mixer until smooth (or pour progressively into a blender, being extremely careful when blending as the heat might make the top pop off!).  Add more vinegar and spices as desired.

Roasted Kabocha Squash with Cassava Bread Stuffing (vegan, gluten free) – Burwell Recipe Swap

It’s Burwell Recipe Swap time again! I must say, I was pretty excited when CM sent out this month’s recipe, something simple and savory and a good contrast to the sweets that pour out of my kitchen (and often straight into my belly).  I cook all the time, and can pretty much cook anything, but I rarely actually post what I make because I usually don’t measure, work by instinct and create as I go along.  So, jotting down numbers and results is good for me.

This month's swap recipe from Pine Tavern

I love the “foot of Oregon Avenue” in the address title.  I’m going to start to describe my apartment location in that way.

For this recipe I didn’t feel like going too crazy.  During the winter months I crave vegetables and citrus fruits, needing to fortify with vitamins and root foods.  So squash makes a regular appearance and I often omit meat from my meals.  Instead of just replacing wheat bread with gluten-free bread, I planned to use three grains that I love – jasmine rice, millet and quinoa – but then discovered cassava bread from the Dominican Republic in my local market and figured I’d try it.  On it’s own I’m not a fan – made with only yuca, I have a feeling what it tastes like originally is not what made its way to Washington Heights.  This bread is really hard, and sorta tasteless.  But it crunches well in the recipe, adding some texture.  And now I know.  If you can’t find cassava bread I suggest using gluten-free rye crackers instead, or omitting completely.

This feeds one person as a vegan, filling entree, or split between two as a side.  I’m making it for brunch. Yum.

Oh, and this is day 2 of my 3 swaps in a row! Check out my Chocolate Ginger Puer Tea Bread (gluten and dairy free) from yesterday’s Chocolate Love swap, and tune in tomorrow for Carrot Cake Truffles (gluten and dairy free) for the first Milk Bar Monday swap!

Please visit the other swappers to see what deliciousness they’ve come up with!

Cassava bread

Roasted Kabocha Squash with Cassava Bread Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 kabocha squash, seeds removed
  • 1 Tbsp each millet, quinoa and rice
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil + more to taste later
  • 1 stalk of celery, halved length-wise and slice thinly
  • 1/4 cup chopped carrot
  • 2 mushrooms, chopped thinly
  • 2 Tbsp chopped white onion
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar (or cider or red wine vinegar, even white will add something)
  • 1 tsp kosher or seasoned salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp herbs d Provence
  • 1/4 cup cassava bread crumbs (you could also use rye crackers or something similar)
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds or ground nuts
  • 1 Tbsp raisins, dried cranberries or goji berries

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Take a small slice off the curved end of the squash so that it sits flat in a baking dish.  Brush lightly with olive oil and bake while you prepare the grains and vegetables.
  • In a small pot, toast the 3 grains on medium heat until fragrant.  Add water, bring to a simmer and cook, covered, until all the water is absorbed (about 10 minutes).
  • Meanwhile, heat a large skillet on medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil, vegetables and seasonings and toss to coat.  Cook for about 5 minutes until they start to brown.  Add the vinegar and cook until soft, about 20 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, combine cooked grains, vegetables, cassava bread, nuts and dried fruits.
  • Stuff into the cavity of the half-cooked squash, drizzle with olive oil and return to oven for 20 minutes or until squash is cooked and stuffing is toasty.

Foodbuzz 24×24: A Scarborough Fair Summer Supper Party

Scarborough Fair Supper Party

Life is so delicious.  Last night, August 27th, I joined 23 other bloggers from around the world in hosting dinner parties with varying, festive themes as a part of FoodBuzz’s 24×24 dinner party.

I had crafted a dreamy, end-of-summer supper party proposal for this monthly internet party, thinking we’d be poolside at my childhood home in Connecticut.  I had envisioned bubbly, fruity cocktails, sunblock, French music and pulling herbs and vegetables fresh from the garden for cooking.  We would feast as the sun went down in bathing suits and sweaters, candles and lightening bugs lulling us into full contentment.  Each course on the menu would highlight the unique fragrance and taste of an herb that was found primarily from my father’s garden and my window boxes – rosemary, parsley, basil, chives, spearmint, chocolate mint, sage and lavender.  My guest list was assembling, I was menu-planning in my head and on paper, and things were shaping up perfectly in my little fantasy.

But reality trumped fantasy this weekend:  a hurricane walloped my perfect party plans.  The poolside fete turned morphed into an apartment party – getting to Connecticut was deemed almost impossible with Hurricane Irene running up the eastern seaboard.  Then our mayor shut down our entire transit system beginning at noon on Saturday – there went half of the guest list, who were coming from Brooklyn, Queens and various nooks in Manhattan up to my apartment near the Hudson far up on the west side.

What resulted, though, was still an incredibly fun evening.  6 locals within walking distance joined me on the rainy, humid night.  My roommate and I had spruced up the apartment, cleaning and decorating as festively as possible.  Because of the impending winds we had to move my herbs inside anyway – they made incredibly fitting center-pieces along with all those emergency candles.

We threw on some French music, lit the candles, settled in with mint juleps and champagne, and chatted away as the rain poured down.

My guests were lovely in their praises of the food and asked me to describe each course in detail – how things went together and the inspiration behind each.  Amongst the chaos that had been descending on the city in preparation for what was expected to be one hell of a storm, most of my friends over the city were huddled in their apartments with liquor and junk food.  We, on the other hand, celebrated the apocalypse with empanadas, prosciutto, roast beef, rosemary potatoes and homemade French macarons and ice cream.

Everything on the menu was homemade, planned to highlight some fabulous flavors.  And the entire menu was gluten and cow-dairy free.

And the hurricane?  Well, we didn’t lose power and the sidewalks up here are strewn with fallen leaves.  That’s just about it.

Because of the lack of light in the apartment due to the storm the pictures of the party are quiet uneven – most food shots being taken throughout the day as courses were prepped.  Recipes for what can be shared are linked to below the images.

The Menu

First Course

Melon, Basil, Proscuitto, Iberico cheese

Melon, Basil, Prosciutto, Iberico Cheese drizzled in lavender honey.

Herbs highlighted: basil and lavender

Empanadas

Gluten-free beef empanadas.

Herbs highlighted: chocolate mint

These were a huge hit. I had been dying for an empanada recipe after indulging in the gluten-full ones at my favorite restaurant recently, so these were an early thought on the menu.  Beef was sauteed in onions and garlic, then stewed down with cocoa, honey, cinnamon and hot pepper before golden raisins and olives were mixed in.  Finally the chocolate mint was blended and the mixture cooled before being filled into the flaky crust.  Click here for the recipe.

Parsley-Basil Macarons

French Macarons with Herb Filling

Herbs highlighted: parsley and basil

This was the most out-0f-the-box contribution to the evening.  I had FINALLY made macarons to perfection – it only took me five tries, interviewing macaron cookbook author Jill Colonna and taking a class at Dessert Truck Works to figure them out.

So I wanted to incorporate a savory macaron into the meal as well as using them in dessert.  Luckily Jill, in her book Mad About Macarons, had an incredibly easy filling that was basically parsley and basil blended with oil.  So I threw a non-descript amount of both in my food processor along with some bergamont-flavored olive oil, pink Himalayan sea salt and fresh lemon juice.

The result?  One guest actually said that this was her favorite of the three appetizers – the sweetness of the macaron and its gentle crunch crumbled perfectly underneath the herb mixture.  It was both salty, sweet and savory.

Unfortunately I don’t have a great picture of the final product because we were in hurricane mode lighting-wise by the time they were prepared.  But grab Jill’s book if you want the recipe and some amazing others.

Entree

Roast Beef, Rosemary Potatoes and Herbes de Provence Summer Squash

Roast Beef

Herbs highlighted: rosemary and chives

I don’t often make roast beef.  But I love using fresh rosemary on roasts, and as there was an abundance at my dad’s house this seemed only fitting.  I brought the meat to room temperature and then crusted it in olive oil, about 5 Tbsp fresh, finely chopped rosemary and 1 Tbsp of chives, as well as a little kosher salt and cracked pepper.  Then I placed it in an elevated roasting pan on top of a shallow bath of onions, garlic and lots of fresh rosemary.  Cooked to medium rare, it was quite delicious and only took an hour and a half to roast.

Rosemary Thyme Roasted Potatoes

Rosemary Thyme Roasted Baby Potatoes

Herbs highlighted: Um, rosemary and thyme?

I didn’t take a picture of the final product, again due to poor lighting.  But aren’t these tiny potatoes gorgeous!?! I love how easily they roast – they went into the oven doused in olive oil, kosher salt and fresh rosemary and thyme.  Without parboiling they were crispy and soft.  Perfection.

Summer Squash

Summer Squash with Herbes de Provence and Lavender Honey

Herbs highlighted: lavender, savory, fennel, thyme basil

Well, it wasn’t from my dad’s garden but this squash was local and deliciously sweet.  I doused it in a tiny bit of oil, a load of herbes de Provence (which in general I could never live without) and spoonfulls of lavender infused honey.  It went in the oven with the roast and potatoes, and in about thirty minutes was toasty and sweet.

Dessert

Hurrican Irene Erosion

Honeybun Ice Cream, French Macarons and Fruit Compote

Herbs highlighted: spearmint, lavender

What better way to end a summery supper party than with homemade ice cream and French Macarons with local summer fruit?  This dessert was gluten and dairy free, sweetened only with honey but oh-so satisfying.  Click here for the recipe.

The Party

Despite the rain, the threat that power-outages were coming, the lack of public transporation and the fact that we weren’t next to a pool celebrating the end of the summer, I was pretty darned pleased with my FoodBuzz Party.  No, it was not what I had planned.  But the food was still center-stage, and it was pretty damned good.  Possibly the best menu in entirety that I’ve ever made.  And I could think of no better way to spend the worst part of the storm than with some great people, some fabulous food and a festive atmosphere.  Hopefully I’ll get another shot down the road at hosting a Foodbuzz dinner party, but until then – thanks Foodbuzz.  And Irene.  And the glorious people in the pictures below for trekking out in the downpour to join me.

Place-settings

Menus decorating piano as we eat.

Friends

Amy - she also has gluten and dairy problems so this party was perfect for her!

Old-time buddy Jon - evidently he liked his dessert.

Meg - gorgeous with her dessert.

Gary enjoys spearmint. Just ignore Jon.

Empty, honey covered plate and chocolate mint.

The herbs were the focus still of the evening

Ambiance

My dog Mitra - hates rain, LOVES prosciutto

Bringing the outdoors in.

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