Saturday Dinner Party - A Nod to the Mediterranean

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

We are in the midst of planning a trip to the South of France.  In our research, food and wine keep popping up frequently.  So much so that JuanCarlos has taken to buying only French wines at the moment.  Getting his palate ready, I guess. 
I'm getting mine ready by dreaming of Mediterranean flavors. So with plans to host a Saturday night dinner party for our friends, Donna and Jeff, it made total sense to devise the menu around that theme.  It's easy to cook for them. They are food lovers, too, and enjoy a wide variety of food.  Well, except that Jeff isn't quite that fond of spinach or squash, which believe or not, were both on my original plan. I had my heart set on making fish en papillote using carrots, zucchini and spinach. But no biggie, there are so many other ways to go.  I could still make fish en papillote, but minus those two ingredients. Thinking cap on, I would spiritually fly myself to the Mediterranean and envision some ingredients.  I had capers, olives, tomatoes which all fell right in line with that theme. It seemed even more fitting since Jeff and Donna have been to France numerous times, plus they are planning a trip to Italy in June.  Yet another cosmic nudge toward a Mediterranean mood.  So, mind made up. Plan in place. A celebration was in order, not just the flavors of the region but the style, too.
Starting with the table setting. 

I pulled out a tablecloth that had olives, sunflowers and tones of green, all of which are reminiscent of the Provence region of France.  I added deep olive green, velvet placemats and playing off the yellow tones, I used gold rimmed dishes and draped a triple pointed folded napkin slightly askew. Simple, elegant but not too fussy.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

The Plan:

  • Table setting with a Provencal tablecloth

  • Keep appetizers to a few simple bites in the bistro style

  • Main course featuring fish with Mediterranean flavors, potatoes and salad

  • Dessert: true European style - Cheese platter

For appetizers, I thought a fun intro to the meal would be small pressed sandwiches accompanied by marcona almonds, olives marinated with herbs de Provence and cornichons.  The mini sandwiches were made with a combination of cured meats/cheese and leftover pork loin & onion jam

Plus a little twist on an old classic; Pigs in a Blanket, served up by using mini spicy Spanish chorizo wrapped in puff pastry and a side of whole grain and dijon mustard mix.

 

Lastly, a bite from the sea provided by marinated boquerones served on a crisp, cool slice of English cucumber.  

These offerings were just the right amount to get us started.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

Cut strips of puff pastry

Cut strips of puff pastry

Roll 'em up in their blankets

Roll 'em up in their blankets

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

Boquerones  are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

Boquerones are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

All appetizers were prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge till right before serving. I made the sandwiches and wrapped them in plastic wrap. Then pressed them when our guests arrived.  The boquerones were assembled and plated earlier in the day. So all I needed to do was place them on the table.  My adult version of Pigs in Blanket were cooked right before they were due to arrive, so those were warm and ready to go. These small bites created a relaxing, no fuss vibe giving us a chance to sit, chat and catch up before the main meal.  Many a moon ago, Donna and I had blood orange cosmos at the Royalton NYC.  It seemed only fitting that we serve up a similar cocktail to start... just for old times' sake. As we nibbled, we sipped on Blood Orange Martinis made by the deft hand of my hubby, who lovingly squeezed all the citrus and mixed this drink to perfection.  

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

Dinner was also prepped ahead of time, stored in the fridge and then pulled together before serving.  The real nod to the Mediterranean came in the flavors used for the cod. I like using the en papillote method (cooked and served in paper wrapping) because it cooks beautifully. It's easy to prep, and each guest gets their own portion. I have made fish this way numerous times using different vegetable combinations. Not going with my original plan of zucchini and spinach, I needed some inspiration and found a recipe using grouper with capers, red pepper, tomatoes, kalamata olives and lemon.  I immediately knew that combo was the perfect way to go since I had most of the items save for the red pepper.  I took my cues from the recipe photo but used my own amounts. I also used cod because it was the freshest at the market.  I swapped the red onion for yellow, and eliminated the garlic and red pepper flakes. Although, I made modifications, this isn't my own, so if you want to follow the recipe to a tee, click here.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

I place the parchment paper right on the baking sheet and built up the flavors.  Then folded the paper into a packet and built the next packet. I put two on each pan, then placed the whole baking pan in the refrigerator.  Once we were done eating our appetizers, I placed the pans in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

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For side dishes, I made Potatoes Anna turned Potatoes Dana, crispy kale/caramelized onions and Baby Arugula salad with oranges, tangerines, red onion, chopped marcona almonds with a orange/lemon vinagrette.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Finishing off the meal with savory flavors of a full cheese board was perfect way to end the evening.  Cheese selection of Époisses, Sofia, Majorero Pimenton surrounded by fruit and sweet condiments all enjoyed in front of a roaring fire.  

fireplace.jpg

We had a wonderful time together with friends with love, savoring food that paid homage to places we all love.  Pick a country or a region and honor it by creating a menu to share with those who love it too.  We're glad we did.

 
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A Jewel of a Salad: Arugula, Orange & Pomegranate

I think I can safely say that the summer has arrived.  We waited a long time and endured rain, cold and a much drawn out winter plus a non-existent spring.  So it's time to bring on the summer and bring out the salads.  

Now you know from previous posts that salads can be made from any ingredient and are definitely not limited to summertime.  But I will admit that Summer and salads seem perfectly made for each other. As Forrest Gump once declared, "We was like peas and carrots, Jenny and me."  (I guess back in the day peas and carrots were a common combo.)  

Some summer salads can be filling like Orzo Pasta Salad, while others can be light and refreshing like Graped Up Bibb Salad or Salad Baby.  Today's salad version is the latter, a refreshing burst of both color and flavor. Although I must have winter still on my mind, since this salad I often like serving in the fall and winter, but actually works equally well for summer.  

Ingredients

6-8 c Baby Arugula
2 navel oranges, segmented
3/4 c pomegranate seeds
1/3 c red onion, thinly slice
1.5 c hearts of palm, thick slices
2/3 c Medjool Dates, sliced (optional)

Dressing
1/3 c juice from orange
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2/3 c olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Instructions

This is fairly self explanatory, so no need for any complicated directions here.  A simple assemble 'em up kinda salad.  

  1. Segment the orange, capturing the juices in a bowl as you cut them.
  2. Slice the onions.  I use a mandolin to get them super thin.
  3. Cut the hearts of palm into 1/2" slices.
  4. Remove pit and slice or dice the dates.
  5. Open the pomegranate and remove the seeds making sure to take off any of the white pith.
  6. Whisk the dressing ingredients together.

Arrange the platter in any way you see fit and drizzle the dressing over top. Recommendation: enjoy a crisp glass of white wine while you platter this up. I guarantee it will increase creativity and the overall enjoyment level of preparation.

I love the colors of this salad which is why I dubbed it 'A Jewel of a Salad', the tones are just that. What I really relish is the diverse flavors and textures that this offers.  The arugula is peppery while the orange is cool and refreshing.  The hearts of palm are mild and soft then the pomegranate offers up crunch and tang.  The red onion gives the spicy note, and if you decide to use the dates, their sweetness is a perfect counterbalance.  This is a salad that reaches all sensory notes, and shows how well sweet and savory, tangy and peppery play off one another.  BBQ's are a-calling so bring this jewel of salad along to brighten any plate, or palate for that matter.

 

Lunch with a Friend - Casual with Style

My dear friend, Donna, and I had been trying to make plans to get together for months. We had set a date to meet in the city for lunch, but alas those plans got axed.  Once we switched the day, it meant she was able to come up to my house for a 'ladies lunch'.  Does that make us sound old?  If so, then forget it.  We were just eating together.

It had been a while since we had last seen each other, so the idea was to enjoy each other's company and not have cooking occupy my time. The plan to keep it easy peasy was to create a menu where the majority of items could all be roasted in the oven and the rest could be made ahead of time.  Leaving me hands free for when she arrived.  I like starch (pasta, potatoes, rice not the kind used for ironing), and wanted to include that too. My immediate thought was polenta. However, after surveying the menu, a last minute swap out for rice felt like it paired better with the rest of the offerings, which also included a salad.  When it came to dessert, this needed to be super simple because I didn't have the time to bake.  Add to that, I wanted something that I could enjoy too. A traditionally baked item uses flour and eggs, well, no good for me. 

Sure sandwiches would have been even easier. Sure we could have eaten at the kitchen table.  But a little extra detail is much nicer. And so...

How hard is it to keep it casual but amp it a bit to feel special?  Simply throw down a runner the opposite way to create an more intimate area on a large table, add some placemats. Toss cloth napkins on the plate and put glasses on the table.  That always ups the ante, and really it doesn't take more effort than that.

So when you want to keep it chill yet with touch of style for no fuss lunch, here's a menu that can be pulled off without a hitch. The best part of this for me was that since it was pouring out and despise schlepping in the rain, I already had everything in the house, and didn't even need to shop!!  

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

If you need some recipes guides for the below menu, the highlighted items link to previous blog posts that feature each one. Also at the very bottom, you will find printable recipe versions.  If you have any questions on how to pull this menu off, write a comment below or email me

Lunch Menu

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

For the Paella Rice Risotto style, first sauté a mixture of red, yellow onion and scallion until caramelized.  Set aside. In a medium sized pot, simply sauté some more onions in oil, salt and pepper then add the rice to toast it. Then add either hot water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable) a few ladles at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is tender then stir in the sautéd onion mixture. 

Another option, you can check out my Garlic Rice recipe.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

The skinny on how the dessert portion was pulled together with just a few ingredients: Open the fridge. Check out what you have and use your imagination.  I found strawberries and blueberries, and tucked in the back a tiny bit of left over chocolate ganache* (previously used for some profiteroles I had made).  And just like that I had a dessert.  Fresh Fruit Bark.

* Ganache is chocolate melted down by adding warmed cream to create a glaze .  When I originally made mine I used much less cream since I wanted a thicker consistency for the profiteroles.  If I had a traditional ganache, it would have never worked for this dessert.  

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Instructions

I melted down the chocolate, spread it over parchment and jammed, I mean lovingly placed, the fruit into the chocolate. For texture, I sprinkled some crushed Marcona Almonds and popped it in the fridge to set and chill until time to serve. 

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Since this was made with a semi ganache, it had a softer consistency than traditional bark.  That didn't bother either one of us, and the fresh fruit route was the perfect choice since Donna prefers fresh versus dried fruit. Phew, good call on my part.  This literally was the truest form of 'something from nothing', pulling a dessert out of the hat from whatever I had handy.  We both agreed it was quite delicious.  Bigger bonus, it gave her a new way to use up all the gorgeous summer fruit she gets at her country house.  

Starting with the lovely Shinn Estates Rosé that Donna brought, we had a relaxing time, ate well, caught up on each other's lives and travels, enjoyed a surprise yummy dessert, and of course, finished the entire bottle of wine. It ended as a perfect Lunch with a Friend.  

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Citrus Salad Bowl - Served One by One

With Easter fast approaching, you might need some ideas for dinner.  I thought now might be a good time to share a little wisdom, and fun trick I learned from hosting last year's Easter dinner.  It was a small gathering with both our immediate families and we decided to keep it really simple with a select few offerings.   When it came to the salad, I got it stuck in my thick skull to serve it individually plated instead of one big bowl.  This idea sprouted from a clear vision I had on how the salad should look. Little did I realize that the individual plating and serving before the main meal would work out even better than I could have imagined.  

Traditionally, I make a big salad and place it out with the main course.  Without fail, everyone says, "Wow, that looks amazing but I'll have salad later.' Then they dive into all the other offerings, getting too full, and thus leaving lots of yummy salad left over.  This brilliant, new plan allowed me to serve the salad before the main course came out. An added bonus was timing, as the hunger meter was beginning to tick, with our guests starting to want more after appetizers.  Perfecto mundo!  cue the individual plates and witness the entire salad course disappear.  Now, I'm no magician, but this was a nifty trick in having no left over salad and plus I got them to eat greens!!!  I wholly recommend plating your salad and forcing your guests to enjoy your nutrient rich offering.

The salad I served was a variation on one that I've made many times.  This time I scaled back on some ingredients and focused on the Boston lettuce with citrus fruits to keep it clean and fresh, like a burst of Spring.  I think this is a light, colorful salad to serve for Easter or brunch during this time of year.  It is one of those salads that can actually be prepped a day in advance, making the day of your event much easier.  Each of the items below can be cut and stored in containers, then just assembled 15 minutes before serving.

Your starting line up of glorious greens and oranges colors of nutritious, deliciousness.

Your starting line up of glorious greens and oranges colors of nutritious, deliciousness.

Ingredients

(makes approx. 10)

Salad                                                                                                     
3 heads of Boston lettuce, leaves carefully separated
3-4 red grapefruits, segmented
4 oranges, segmented
3 avocados, cubed
4 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber, sliced
1 c fennel, shaved
1 c celery, sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2-3 Scallion, thinly sliced

 

Dressing * 

1/4 c chives, chopped
Fennel fronds, chopped
1/3 c Juice of grapefruit & orange
1/2 c Olive oil
Salt, pepper

* This mixture using only the citrus juices is quite mild. If you want more punch, add a splash of balsamic vinegar.

Instructions

Cut the cores from the lettuce so the leaves can be separated and kept whole.  Wash and set aside to let dry.  (If prepped the day before, make sure they are dry, then store them with a slightly damp paper towel and place them in a container or plastic bag in the fridge.)

Segment the citrus fruits, collecting all their juices and reserving for the dressing. Shave, slice and dice up the remaining ingredients and combine them in a bowl.

Chopped and ready to go. The most important part of an assembly line, having everything prepped.

Chopped and ready to go. The most important part of an assembly line, having everything prepped.

To prepare the individual plates, place 2-3 full lettuce leaves in a bowl like shape on the plates.  Then add several pieces of grapefruit and orange to each plate.  

Lettuce bowl

Lettuce bowl

Assembly line awaiting their topping and a rain of citrus juices

Assembly line awaiting their topping and a rain of citrus juices

In a separate bowl, combine the citrus juices, oil, salt, pepper and some of the fennel fronds. Whisk together. Since this will be individually plated and not all tossed in a bowl, I recommend combining all elements minus the lettuce and the citrus and lightly dress these items, reserving some of the dressing to drizzle and finish off each plate.

Top with the sliced mixture and drizzle the remaining dressing over each salad topping with some of the fronds.  Serve immediately. 

Drizzle some dressing over top as the final touch.

Drizzle some dressing over top as the final touch.

Have I mentioned just how pleased I was serving the salad this way?  Instead of praying our guests leave room for salad at the end, it was a slam dunk that they ate up every last bite.  Truly savoring this super fresh, vitamin packed salad first.  And because it is light, they had room for the rest of the meal, too. A ploy I may just employ a bit more often. I hope you do, too.

Side note:

This salad tastes equally delish if served in one large bowl.  You can decorate this any way you like. You can toss all the ingredients together for a green and orange rainbow of color.  Or you can present it similar to the individual plates, placing all the lettuce on the bottom and focusing all the other ingredients in the middle. Any way you toss it, you and your guests will get a fresh bite of salad that will brighten more than your senses.

Print Ready Recipe

 

Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad

Raw everything is all the rage these days, and shaved brussel sprout salad is so in vogue.  I get a huge belly shake of laughter seeing how vegetables are taking center stage, becoming mega stars in a social media video blitzkrieg.  It is about time that vegetables got their due.  For too long now, bacon and butter have dominated the stage, whoa-ing audiences with their fatty appeal.  I am glad to see these vibrant, nutrient packed edibles get their trophies. That said, enough with cauliflower pizza making. I’m wheat and yeast free and can tell you NOTHING replaces a yeast rising doughy bite!!  Move over cauliflower because Brussel Sprouts will soon have their own youTube channel!!

This veggie craze is a good thing.  I've been doing it for awhile now. Which is why it's funny that years ahead of the raw craze and fascination with vegetables I served a shaved broccoli and brussel sprout salad.  My attempt back then was almost successful.  I say almost because I served it without testing it first. (As usual, but the no testing in this case didn't serve me well.) I didn't quite realize just how intense, sometimes bitter these greens can be when served raw.  I can't even remember what dressing I used, but I can attest that I didn't finesse them enough.  What a novice!  I've learned a thing or two.

My recent lure back to raw brussels came when my friend, Tecla, and I were enjoying each other's company for lunch at Lure, and we ordered a shaved brussel sprout salad.  We did so to be healthy knowing that we would be consume some Rosé wine and a few other items with a higher calorie count.  Yes, that's what ladies who lunch do. The salad was good. But it awoke a definite redemption itch in me.  I needed to conquer this salad on my own terms ensuring that I calm it's intense flavors and cox it's crispy freshness to palates far and wide.  

The opportunity was ripe when I bought a bunch of enormous brussel sprouts from the new organic market by our house.   Alas, I ran out of time to make them before we left on our trip to Miami. So what did I do??  NO, I didn't throw them away.  No, I didn't give them away, as it was too early in the morning to call anyone.  So, I did the next best thing.  I packed them in Juan Carlos' bag!  

Once in Miami, more good fortune came my way.  On our way to Key Largo we happened upon a farmer's market with glorious produce.  Even though we only had a few more days in Miami, I HAD to buy some. So I picked up the biggest radishes I'd ever seen (and a few other items including the sweetest cantaloupe ever).

As I cut the brussel sprouts, I knew I wanted to add more than what I've seen in other sprout salads including the one at Lure. Since I had those radishes they got shaved in.  With these two intense flavors some sweetness was in tall order.  Call upon the carrot to do what it does best, add sweetness.  Grated that up, added scallions and red onion, some chopped parsley for that earthy herb note, and for another crisp and refreshing bite I added some celery.

The salad at Lure was just brussel sprouts and pine nuts with a creamy dressing.  But JC can't eat dairy, plus I didn't have anything like that in our Miami fridge.  Also, I really felt that this salad needed to be fresh and bright with a hint a sweetness.  Orange was my answer.

Here's the nuts and bolts of this recipe.

The vegetable line up
The dressing ingredients

Ingredients

8 c brussel sprouts, shaved
2 c carrot, shredded
3/4 c radishes, shredded
2 c celery, shaved or sliced thinly
3/4 c red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 c scallion, sliced
1/3 c fresh parsley, chopped
2 oranges, segmented (blood orange if you can find it)

 

dressing

2/3 c juice of an orange
2 T lime juice
2 t balsamic vinegar
2/3 c Olive oil
salt, pepper

 

Instructions

Prep all your vegetables as noted above.  I used a mandolin on the sprouts, the onion and celery. I used a box grater for the radishes and carrot.  If you don't have, or don't feel comfortable with a mandolin then simply thinly slice the vegetables.  

Shaved, sliced, chopped and ready to go.

Shaved, sliced, chopped and ready to go.

Place all the cut vegetables in a large serving bowl and set as you prepare the dressing.

Segment the orange.  As I mentioned, I was fortunate to find blood oranges but you can use a perfectly good navel orange.  As you cut the segments, do this over a bowl so you can catch any of the juices that may drip down.  Squeeze whatever juice you can get out of the pulp. You will most likely need one whole orange to get 2/3 of a cup.  Whisk together all the remaining ingredients and pour over the salad, tossing thoroughly.  Add the orange segments to the top and serve.  This salad is best when it is dressed at least 15-20 minutes prior to serving.

Awaiting the marriage.

Awaiting the marriage.

When I made this salad in Miami, I didn't think of using orange segments in the salad, just the juice.  Mostly because I only had one orange and that got all squeezed up for the juice. This time around back in NY I found blood oranges and had that aha moment. When I cut them open and saw the ruby red glory, I knew these needed top the salad and shine their unique sweetness on this salad.  

 

I must say, and my niece, Gianna, will confirm these added a great, bright burst of flavor.  You don't really need me to list the pairing suggestions for this one, but here is a photo of who my sister, Alyssa, served it when I brought the salad to her house.