Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Dinner Party

I know my regular readers have been waiting with baited breath to hear about the dinner party.  After all, if you've spoken to me personally in the past month, you are probably just thankful you won't have to talk to me about it any more. Of course I'll be more than happy to relive every detail I can remember, but at least you won't have to hear me talk about the dishes, the planning, the worries about getting it all together.  Unless, that is, you want to hear about it all now...

Dinner Party with Food Therapy
As I mentioned in a past post, my wonderful husband, Gary, has long passed his days of giving blue ear muffs and VCR tapes for gifts.  At last, he gave me the gift only I could have completely wished for: a dinner party.  And, not just any dinner party but one prepared by Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio of Top Chef fame, not to mention a string of restaurants right in the DC Metro area.

Table is set
Preparing for the party was quite an undertaking.  The menu was sent to us a month in advance.  With each course, the chefs specified the exact type of dish the food should be served on.  Square bread and butter plates, 8-inch white pasta bowls (artisan, if possible), white dinner plates with no rim, and an 8-inch glass dessert bowl.  Do you know how hard it is to find an 8-inch glass bowl? Six inches? Yes.  Eight inches, not so easy.  However, I didn't want to disappoint the chefs, right? Honestly, they probably didn't care so much about the details, but I wanted everything to be perfect.  And, as Gary can attest, I demanded that everything be perfect.

Outside lit up...and, no, the hot tub was closed for the night.
My biggest issue was having a table set for eleven people.  Our dining room table wasn't big enough for eleven, even with an extension.  So, the situation was set for what has become "The Edmonds' Great Debate" (episode 5).  Gary suggested the solution was to put some of our guests at a separate table in the kitchen.  In return, I wisely pointed out the obvious in my not-so-calm shrill: "You've got to be kidding me? What, are you going to put our guests at a kiddie table? Because you do realize that's what it is.  And, who will get the honor of being sent to said kiddie table?"  So, suffice it to say, I added a small table at the end that had to be elevated with blocks.  It was covered by a table cloth, but the blocks were still exposed.  Now, I agree that it wasn't ideal and looked pretty cheesy, but what other option did I have?  Of course, Gary hated it and would not let up.

We went back and forth and finally agreed to let the chefs decide.  Lucky for me, they thought it looked fine and was doable.  Maybe they just took one look at my face and were scared to disagree with me at the eleventh hour.  Either way, it worked and no tables were knocked off their blocks.  Thank God for that because, otherwise, I'd still be hearing about it from my dear and so understanding husband.

With the yard spruced up, flowers planted, the house clean, nails and hair done, children sufficiently threatened, we were finally ready for the big day.  I am not ashamed to say I was a nervous wreck.  I don't think the chefs had any idea how anxious I was to meet them and have them in our home.  And, now the day had arrived.

Oh, dear
Our first arrival was Angel Cervantes, head mixologist at Capella.  All smiles and warmth, Angel was a friendly presence that immediately put me at ease.  He went right to work setting up and multitasking by engaging our four-year-old, who wanted to talk to every person who entered the house.  Lucky for all concerned, we had plans for Logan to be transported away before the guests arrived.

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio cooking away

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio

The sous chefs arrived soon after.  They quickly surveyed the kitchen to plan their setup and to see what we already had.  I, of course, had to apologize for the small space but was assured that they could work in any space.  And, I guess that is the point of Top Chef, right? However, I certainly didn't want my kitchen to go down as one of the challenge rounds on the show.  Needless to say, they ended up multitasking, too,entertaining that same four-year-old by practicing soccer moves with him. At this point, I am thinking it is time for him to go.

Smoked Apple Martini with Bacon
Smoked Apple Martini with Bacon Twist

Mike and Bryan arrived about thirty minutes before our guests.  It was just enough time to change, grab an apple and smoked gin martini with bacon (yes, I did say bacon) prepared by Angel, and to sit and chat with the both chefs.  Having never met Mike and Bryan in person, I felt like my tv had been moved and placed right in my living room.  They looked and acted exactly the same as on tv.

Bryan is quiet and a little more reserved, while Mike is always smiling and laughing.  We didn't even talk much about food or restaurants.  And, of course, the next day I was kicking myself wishing I could pick their brains or get their opinions on restaurants and different chefs, not to mention ask who the biggest jerk is on Top Chef.  However, it's probably a good thing because I'm sure they get tired of answering questions about the shows.

Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio
Chefs hard at work

As our guests began to arrive, the chefs headed to the kitchen and we took it outside.  The weather was incredible with no humidity or mosquitoes to bite us. A miracle in the middle of August for these parts!
Dinner Party with Food Therapy
Some of the men

And, some of the ladies

Our first bites were passed around.  My favorite was the grilled lamb heart skewers.  I know...lamb heart! Trust me, I don't eat lamb to begin with, let alone hearts.  Yet, I had to try it on this occasion and I really couldn't help but enjoy the spicy bites matched with my ginger martini (my second martini of the night, yikes!).  Gary enjoyed the foie gras on crackers the most.  Having recently acquired a love for pate, this definitely hit the spot for him.

Hanging out with friends

By the time we sat down to dinner, we all had a few drinks under our belts and dresses.  Needless to say, the laughter and chatter was loud, and we were up for more poses and ready to see what these chefs had prepared.
Our menu...Gary insisted on using a flash. Now, you see why you don't use a flash.

The first course was created by Bryan.  Smoked beets with yellowin tuna, cured egg yolk, and tonnato.
Smoked Beets by Bryan Voltaggio
Smoked Beets
Tonnato is a creamy sauce made with tuna and lemon.  The incredible part of this dish was the beets.  They were infused with tuna and had a chewy texture with a smoky flavor, giving the beets the flavor and feel of sashimi.  I dipped mine repeatedly in the creamy tonnato, and I can only say I was sad to see my first plate empty.

Our second course was prepared by Mike, and it happened to be my favorite of the night.
Bucatini by Mike Isabella
Bucatini pasta made with maitake ash, uni, yellow tomato, and purslane.  Maitake is, of course, a mushroom, giving the pasta an earthy taste.  Uni is the edible part of a sea urchin, commonly prepared with sushi.  The presentation was beautiful, in my opinion, but as one of my guests noticed it looked like a bowl full of worms.  This was no concern to me. I loved the way the colors looked in my white artisan bowl (hah!).  Plus, the promise of an earthy mushroom flavor mixed into thick and chewy noodles was complete perfection.  I know, come the cold winter days that are not far off, I will be thinking of this satisfying bowl of pasta.  Give me a creamy Chardonnay like we were served with the dish, and now we are talking!

The third dish was prepared by Bryan and seemed to be a favorite among our guests. Lamb neck with charred yogurt, meyer lemon, and a fava bean puree. Yes, first lamb's heart and now the neck.  Yet, have you ever had lamb's neck? Well, me neither.  Honestly, though, it was delicious and tender with a hidden sweetness in the rich lamb meat.  Paired with the sweet citrus taste of the Meyer lemon and the tangy yogurt, it was a very well-rounded plate that filled the mouth with so many perfectly paired flavors.

Milk Chocolate Cremeux by Mike Isabella
Milk Chocolate Cremeux
Dessert was prepared by Mike.  I was surprised at first when watching Top Chef how many chefs are intimidated by dessert.  Desserts are for pastry chefs, but I guess I just assumed if you love to cook that means all things.  Mike did not fail us, however, in his choice of dessert.  He prepared a milk chocolate cremeux with tangerine yuzu, chestnuts, and pistachio-sesame tuile.  Cremeux is similar to a chocolate custard made with cream, milk, sugar, and eggs for its base.  This warm mixture is then poured over chocolate, which then melts, and is chilled.  Mike added the yuzu flavor, which paired nicely with the milk chocolate, of course.  The chestnuts and pistachio-sesame tuile added the perfect crunch to the creamy concoction.  To polish it off (and us), we were served a sweet dessert wine that officially sent me over the edge.

Food Therapy with Mike Isabella
Mike and Me
The chefs ended the night by posing for yet a few more pictures and signing my cookbooks.  They very quickly cleaned up and departed in a blur.  Mike had to go back to work after all of this at Kapnos, and Bryan was flying to LA for a food festival.  Knowing how busy their lives are, it meant so much to me to have them come for one evening into our little abode.

The night ended with some very happy folks, full of drinks and good food.  A small group, including the lovely Angel, hung around the fire pit until the wee morning hours.  Cigar smoke and loud voices filled the night air.  I smartly chose to switch to water.

Dinner Party with Food Therapy
Party's Over
Satisfied and relieved it went smoothly, I slept like a baby.  And, then I woke up to talk about it some more the next morning, not to mention get to work on cleaning all of those empty wine glasses.

And, with the party complete and kids back in school, it's time to post all of the many recipes I've been cooking. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies be honest many times...I am overcome by the need to bake.  I might have a dozen things on my plate, including grocery shopping, making dinner, actually feeding lunch to the kids (why are they always so hungry!), and instead I am consumed with the need to bake.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


You probably thought I'd given up on the food blogging career. Au contraire, my friend.  Life outside of the blogging world has consumed me over the past month. Breathe has become my inner chant. First, it was the final chaos with school ending: end-of-year picnics, half-days off from school, soccer season tryouts and parties.  Then, we immediately set off to our place in the Outer Banks only to be hit with a broken air conditioner, leaks in the ceiling, and of course Hurricane Arthur.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
If you're a regular reader or know me outside the blogging world, you are probably well aware that I am a devoted shopper of Trader Joe's.  I can tell you what's good, what's ok, and very rarely what isn't worth buying.  In fact, I can't think of anything I haven't liked at all. I have tried almost every product imaginable there. It is a weekly stop for me.  And, my favorite section is their "new products" display, where there is always something fun to try.

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
My newest find is their "Exotic Spice Tower".  It consists of four different spice blends from North Africa, the Middle East,and Latin America, including sumac, which I've been on the hunt to find for a while.  Seeing as though it is the time of year for spices and rubs, I had to pick up a stack of these flavorful blends.

The first thing I did when I brought home my lovely blends was to open each one to see how they spoke to me.  The nose is a wonderful tool.  Close your eyes, take a sniff, and ask yourself what food you think of when smelling these intoxicating scents.  If you open your senses up without knowing which spices you are smelling, chances are some sort of food will come to mind.  When you allow yourself to open up to the possibilities your aroma memory will often spawn creative food ideas that you won't even need a recipe for.  Trust your senses.  And, truth be told, it is your nose and its memory of food and food smells that needs to be tapped into most often rather than your taste buds.  Smell first, taste later.

The first spice blend I tried was the Pilpelchuma, which is a blend often found in Lybian cuisine. This blend is full of chili powder mixed with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and caraway.  
Love my George Foreman grill
One sniff and I knew I had to have it as a spicy rub for a grilled pork tenderloin I had in the refrigerator.  Brushing my tenderloin with a tablespoon of grapeseed oil, I spread the rub on and coated it using my hands on both sides.  I heated my George Foreman grill to high (yes, don't laugh because it works!), and I heated it for 7 minutes on each side.  And, it turned out fantastic.  
Pipelchuma Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

The initial bite carries a lot of heat in the front part of your mouth, not the kind of heat that makes your head sweat, but spicy enough that it makes you say "Wow".  Let it sit though because the after-taste is a heavenly smoky taste that lingers in the back of your mouth and leaves you wanting that next bite of heat.  It's a vicious cycle meant for those who can't say no to just one more bite.

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
Beautiful Colors
Having my pork set I set about to make a salad that would go perfectly with my chili flavored pork.  I had tons of corn that I'd bought in bulk last week and it needed to be used before the week was out.  I also had a can of black beans, an avocado, a red pepper, basil, and parsley from my garden.  Perfect blend!  All I needed now was a dressing that would bring all of the flavors together.  

The latest craze in cooking seems to be miso.  The Wall Street Journal recently featured this fun ingredient as a secret weapon in desserts, and David Lebovitz recently featured it in his blog while making miso ice cream.  I am finding it all over the place in many different recipes, but my favorite use so far is in salad dressings.  It kicks up the flavor very subtly and gives a nice depth of buttery saltiness in otherwise bland foods.  A little goes a long way, so you do have to be careful.  In this case, a simple blend of grapeseed oil (which is a very mild oil and won't clash with the miso fighting for the flavor trophy), white wine vinegar, and half a teaspoon of white miso. Mmmm...perfect and not overpowering.  

Check out the Pipelchuma sprinkled over top
I sprinkled it over my salad, stood back and admired all of the pretty colors.  And, then, I mixed it all up and took a bite. Perfect, except it was missing something.  I went back for my Pilpelchuma and sprinkled a bit over the top of my salad, added some lime peel, and now it was ready for consumption.

Note: I had trouble finding miso initially, thinking it would only be in specialty sections in Wegman's.  I actually found it in the international food section in our very own Harris Teeter.  And, then, I found it again in, but where else, Trader Joe's near their pre-made salads and sushi. Trader Joe's does it again!

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2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the ear
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of lime peel
1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Red Pepper, diced
1 Avocado, peeled and cubed
1 Tablespoon, fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon, fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon white miso

In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the corn kernels and saute until they are a nice yellow, no more than five minutes.  They will be slightly tender but maintain their crispy, juiciness.  Sprinkle lime peel and mix in, removing pan from heat.
Corn is nice and shiny with lime peel adding a sprinkle of green

In a medium bowl, add the black beans, red pepper, avocado, parsley and basil.  Stir to mix the ingredients together.  Add the corn and mix it in.

In a small bowl, combine the grapeseed oil, vinegar, and miso. Whisk until all of the ingredients are combined and it has a smooth and creamy appearance.  Pour your vinaigrette over the salad ingredients and stir to mix it all in together.
Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad, Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin, and Fried Grit Fingers

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad