Dinner Party: Corn Soufflé for Two

My aunt Barbara is a cool lady. In reality, she’s my dad’s aunt, but she says she’s never aged a day beyond 27, and I believe her. Since I moved to New York, Barbara has been my closest relative, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to spend weekends away from the city in her East Hampton home, where she’s lived the past 45 years. At the end of last summer, however, she sold that house and bought another, smaller place. Renovations were a disaster, leaving her stranded amongst friends throughout the construction and me without my peaceful summer getaway. Finally, she was able to move in, and I joined her for the first time in her new, almost-finished home. She’s no foodie, but she indulges me, and we always have a blast seeking out new places to “lunch” (her favorite past-time) and cooking up a storm in her kitchen with local ingredients. Since corn’s in season, we bought several ears and made a lovely little dinner for two to celebrate being together.

Corn Soufflé

  • 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 
Fresh corn kernels, cut from 2 ears
  • Salt and pepper to taste
2 1/2  tbsp. Wondra flour
3/4 cup warm milk

  • 3 eggs, separated, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 450°. Butter two small soufflé dishes (6 1/2” diameter, 2 1/2” deep) and sprinkle with cheese.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, then add corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn begins to soften, 2–4 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.

Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan over medium heat. Add Wondra and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 2 minutes (do not brown) until a paste is formed. Turn off the heat. Simultaneously, warm the milk over low heat. Whisk half of the milk into the flour mixture. Return to heat and stir in remaining milk. Cook, stirring, until very thick, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl, and whisk in egg yolks one at a time.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form. Add a third of egg whites to egg yolk mixture and gently fold together. Add the corn, then gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. Do not overmix. Spoon the mixture into soufflé dish, and bake until soufflé is browned, 18–22 minutes. Serve immediately.

Adapted from SAVEUR.

Dinner Party: Middle Eastern Feast

Stevie, Alexxa, and I are attempting a bi-coastal book club. While we haven’t actually talked about anything yet, I read the first book on the list: Annia Ciezadlo’s Day of Honey. It’s an American woman’s memoir of her time in Iraq and Lebanon during the conflicts of the past decade, told from the perspective of the people she met and the food she ate amidst the bombs, checkpoints, and other dehumanizing aspects of war. I loved the book and found it so inspiring and challenging. Especially when it came to my palate.

I have very little experience eating Middle Eastern food–outside of the occasional shawarma and falafel–and even less cooking it. So, why not cook a feast dedicated to the subject for ten people? That seemed like the most logical way to me to understand more about this cuisine. I spent one entire weekend sourcing ingredients (thank you Sahadi’s); soaking lentils, beans, and bulgur; cooking onions so long that they puffed up like Rice Krispies; and creating some of the most interesting, at least texturally speaking, dishes of my life. Who knows how authentic everything was, but in the end, it was all delicious.

My Middle Eastern Feast Menu
Homemade Hummus, Babaganoush, Labne Cheese served with Croatian Olive Oil, Stuffed Grape Leaves, Leftover Caponata (I threw this in there, since I had it in my fridge and Sicilian cuisine is heavily influenced by Arabic culture)

 The bulgur and greens dish shown here was one of my favorites, perhaps because the texture was one more familiar to me… it reminded me of cous cous.

Main (served family-style):
Lebanese Wheat Berry and Dried Corn Soup with Yogurt
Bulgur and Greens with Pistachios and Yogurt
Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Rosewater and Sesame Seeds
Mjadara (Red Lentil Stew)

 These roasted for 4 hours in a 250-degree oven, dressed with a mixture of turbinado sugar, coarse salt, and cinnamon, then were topped with toasted sesame seeds and rosewater.

Greek Semolina and Yogurt Cake
Rice Pudding

The semolina cake was delicious and moist, topped with a lemon sugar syrup. 

I’ve been doing some research on Lebanese wines, so we tasted a few bottles from the portfolios of Massaya, Chateau Kefraya, and Chateau Musar.

We washed the meal down with a series of Lebanese wines,
including the 2003 Hochar Pere et Fils featured here.

Many recipes inspired by and adapted from Paula Wolfert‘s Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking and Ciezadlo’s recipes in Day of Honey. Photos by Anique Halliday.

Dinner Party: Thanksgiving in New York

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for great wine, delicious food, and wonderful friends, both new and old. A group of nine New York City “orphans” spent all day cooking, sipping, and noshing, in preparation for the big feast, which consisted of sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, collard greens, brussel sprouts, stuffing, Wondra bread rolls, and the pièce de la résistance, the beautifully-brined 20-lb. turkey that graced our table.

Along with the turkey (and more), Stevie and Josiah provided a fantastic celebratory Jeroboam: a 2009 Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive, which we let evolve in the bottle and a decanter throughout the day. In addition to the Jeroboam, Bryan and Kelly provided the extensive wine selection for the day. Some of my favorites included the crisp N.V. François Pinon Vouvray Brut (2006), a delicious 2007 Weingut Hirsch Riesling Gaisberg (perfect with pumpkin bread), and a 1993 red from the Jura, an Overnoy Poulsard Arbois Pupillin.

We finished off the meal with three kinds of pumpkin pies, an apple tart, and some nutmeg ice cream. Alexxa provided a beautiful bourbon, as well as the photos of the day, featured below. A lovely day all around!

Snacks to start the day

 A roster of wine, including a Jeroboam of 2009 Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive
The 20 lb. turkey, fresh out of the oven

Serving and carving.

 A toast.

Desserts to end the night.

Dinner Party: Italian Night! Carbonara and a Twist

Stevie has mentioned a few times that she was interested in learning Italian (she comes from Italian stock), so we finally decided to do our first cena italiana this past week. The idea was simple: cook an Italian meal, drink Italian wine, and speak as much Italian as we could, pointing and miming our way through it. I enlisted Toni to join us to keep the conversation going and to be an additional teacher in the room. Lesson #1 went well, with Stevie learning and recording a few key terms and present tense verbs in a little notebook I gave her, while assuming her usual duties of chef/sous-chef combo when we cook together.

And what did we eat? We decided a simple carbonara dish would be fun and easy, allowing us to focus on the language without having to worry about too much prep work. Since her butcher didn’t have any pancetta available, Stevie picked up some thickly-sliced coppa, the muscle of the pork right behind the back of the head, at the top of the shoulder. It was an interesting, meaty alternative to the usual fatty taste of the pancetta (whose closest cousin in American is bacon).

Stevie diced the meat into little cubes and threw it in a pan with a bit of butter. In the meantime, we put some spaghetti on to boil. I had previously bought some elegant pasta from Marlow & Daughters for a dinner party a few months back but never ended up using it — this seemed like the perfect time for it. I opened up the package to find that each spaghetto was slightly curled at one end: a handmade pasta that had been hung to dry and later cut. I was ecstatic… life really is in the details. While the sea salted water boiled, I began to separate the eggs. We’d consulted several carbonara recipes and ultimately decided we only wanted to use the yolks (no worries, I saved the whites for a yummy omelette).

We put Toni to work, grating the parmigiano. Everything had to be ready for the moment when the pasta came out of the water, since the heat of the noodles is what would cook the egg and create the cheesy “sauce.”

Everything came together in the pot, lightly coating each and every spaghetto. We noshed happily on way too much pasta with a bottle of Orvieto, a white wine from the eponymous town made from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. A slightly fruity and weighty white that is balanced with the acidity from the Trebbiano juice, it was an excellent complement to the eggy, meaty pasta we were consuming.

At this point, you might be wondering what the twist was. Toni buys melons almost by the dozen, and since one was reaching a high level of ripeness, I figured it was best to try something new with it, a change from fruit salad. Summertime screams prosciutto e melone to me — the perfect, light combination of salty and sweet — but as a result of the hot days we’ve been having, I’ve been eating it all the time. So why not take the traditional antipasto dish and make it into a dessert? In preparation for the meal, I made a canteloupe sorbetto a few days before:

I had Stevie pick up a few of the thinnest slices of prosciutto she could get. I proceeded to dry the meat in the oven to give it a harder consistency:

Then, once we’d begun to digest the pasta, I served the sorbet with pieces of prosciutto sprinkled on top. The same salty-sweetness that I love in the antipasto shone through in the dessert version. Ta da! A meal in reverse!

Sorbetto di Melone

  • 1 medium-sized canteloupe, diced
  • The juice of one lemon, freshly-squeezes
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 1/2 cup sugar (shouldn’t need more if the melon is in season!)

Place the melon in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vodka, and sugar and process briefly, until blended. Place the mixture into the refrigerator until the mixture cools. Pour the chilled mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Adapted from Alton Brown.

Dinner Party: Inspired by Chenin Blanc, a Middle-Eastern Feast

I’d been waiting for some time for the epic dinner that took place at Stevie’s house with four of my favorite people (myself not included). While in South Africa at Glen Carlou, I’d tasted through their portfolio, including a sweet wine made from 100% Chenin Blanc. I bought a bottle with the express desire to share it with this group – and I was overjoyed when the day finally came.

This wine, combined with my lamb supply and Stevie’s desire for Kuku Kadoo, resulted in the following delicious menu:

Pan-fried lamb chops, scented with cumin
Kuku Kadoo
Persian zucchini frittata
Parsley and tumeric cous cous
served with lamb jus
with rosewater, strawberries, and whipped cream
We sipped on some lovely riesling provided by Stevie and Josiah while cooking, and quite soon, the boys discovered what a seamless cooking team Stevie, Alexxa, and I have become:
Stevie manning the Kuku Kadoo and the wok

Alexxa, hard at work on chopping strawberries

Whipping the meringue
The team at work
We sat down for our lovely Middle-Eastern-inspired dinner with fingers crossed, hoping that all of the elements would meld together… and they did. The use of complementary spices throughout the savory dishes was fantastic, and the various textures – from the smoothness of the Kuku Kadoo to the graininess of the cous cous and the bite of the pesto a top the crispy (and still medium rare) lamb – added a fuller dimension to the meal.

The spread.
Once the meal was complete, we assembled the tasty-but-not-so-beautiful meringues layer by layer, while Josiah, with his rippling forearms and new two-pronged wine opener (recently procured on a trip to Burgundy), opened the Chenin Blanc.
Wonderful, with its chewy texture and rosewater accent

The somm in action.
When I had tried the wine in Africa, I’d been hesitant. I am not the biggest fan of sweet dessert wines, but rather than the cloying sweetness I expected, I had been surprised – it tasted like eiswein, usually grown in the world’s coldest regions and made from frozen grapes, giving the wine a high level of acidity that cuts through the residual sugar. This wine, though from the hot growing region of Paarl, had the same effect on the palette. AND it was delicious with the nutty, floral, and fruity dessert.

Dinner Party: Lamb, Pinot, and a Summer Breeze

Cookouts are a novelty in New York City.  Growing up in Atlanta, I completely took it for granted that we had a grill and private outdoor space, where we could gather together to eat, drink, and laugh to our hearts’ content. Here, however, I can count the number of people who have the luxury of a patio or backyard on one hand. My friends Emily and Mike are some of the lucky few — in fact, they not only have a terrace but also a killer view of the Hudson River from their place on Riverside Drive. And fortunately for me (who is starting to go a little stir-crazy in this hot city), they invited a group of us over for dinner last night.

I was too busy enjoying the breeze and the view to snap a photo,
but Toni managed to get one of the table. 

After some wonderful strawberry-lemonade cocktails that Emily made, we sat down to a meal of lime-cumin-and-coriander marinated lamb chops that I brought from my stash, an herb-and-balsamic couscous filled with fresh parsley and basil from Emily and Mike’s flower pots, and some yummy sea salt kettle chips. We’d decided upon a pinot noir pairing: Bo brought a bottle of Au Bon Climat, while Alexxa and I both brought a Mark West from Sonoma County.

Ours was an ’08.

To shake things up, we decided to chill one of the West’s. The wine professed to have lots of bright cherry and raspberry notes, which were present in the chilled wine, but it wasn’t until we drank the other bottle that we noticed its spicy, dry, and dusty qualities (fairly common characteristics of Sonoma wines, I’ve found, especially their syrahs): in both cases, the wine’s high acidity went beautifully with the meat. Then, when we popped the Au Bon Climat, we experienced the real treat of wine themes – it was a totally different wine, light, fruit-forward, and with this beautiful black pepper finish.

I talk big, but this is what I actually look like when I drink wine…

As the sun was setting, we dug into Mike’s homemade ice cream sandwiches (apparently a theme this summer): M&M and chocolate chip cookies, with coffee ice cream in between. We sat around the table a bit longer, savoring the warm summer breeze and watching the red moon as it rose, before we all headed home to our stuffy apartments for the night. These moments make me love New York — this city reminds me how much joy the little pleasures bring, when you take the time to notice them.

Lime-Cumin-and-Coriander Lamp Chops

  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 2+ Tbsp olive oil
  • 21 (1/2- to 3/4-inch thick) lamb chops

Whisk together garlic, cumin, coriander, lime juice, salt, pepper, and oil and transfer to a sealable plastic bag large enough to hold the lamb (or to several individual bags). Add lamb and seal bag, then make sure the lamb is evenly coated. Marinate at room temperature, turning bag occasionally, for about 45 minutes.

Heat charcoal grill and cook lamb in batches about 3 minutes each side for medium-rare. Transfer cooked lamb to a plate and let sit, covered with aluminum foil. Let the meat rest about five minutes then serve.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet.

Dinner Party: Cous Cous, Cocchi, and Clafoutis

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of going to the Union Square Greenmarket on a weekday. Rather than avoid the Saturday crowds, I was able to easily peruse the produce available and brainstorm the dinner I had planned with Stevie and Georgia. 
Union Square Greenmarket
Despite Stevie’s warning “I’m willing to bet the farmer’s market does not have any summer squash yet either,” I emerged victorious with beautiful yellow summer squash in tow, as well as some fantastic shell peas I couldn’t refuse. I knew I had a half of an onion and some carrots in my fridge, and suddenly my veggie dish came to life.
my pretty little shell peas
Georgia got off work a bit later, so Stevie and I started chopping and cooking. I began slicing my veggies while she split cherries into halves for a clafoutis. To sip on while we waited on Georgia (and the wine!), Stevie prepped her Cocchi Americano cocktails, made with orange slices, soda water, and Cocchi, a white wine aromatized with many herbs and spice – entirely refreshing in her very hot apartment.
mixology magic
Georgia arrived with wine and Kalamata olives in tow. For the cous cous, we heated up the water to a boil, added some salt and olive oil, and then added the grains. Once covered, the flame went off and the cous cous was left to steam for a few minutes. Stevie chopped arugula, diced olives, and zested/squeezed lemon into a bowl, which I garnished with some parmigiano. In the meantime, my little veggies were sauteeing in a pan over low low heat.  The cous cous was added to the arugula salad, and supper was served.
greenmarket goodness!
Georgia had brought a lovely Pouilly-Fuisse and a Roero (a region in Piedmont that, like Barolo, uses the Nebbiolo grape to make wine). We sipped on those, digested, then transitioned to dessert. The cherry clafoutis came out of the oven just in time, and after she’d dusted it with powdered sugar and let it sit a moment, Stevie served us. A dash of lemon juice and it was deightful, tasting like a thick, eggy crepe with the fruit inside rather than on top!
a little sweet to round out the meal

Dinner Party: Moroccan-Inspired Meal

I recently read an article all about olive oil, describing the breadth of aromas, flavors, and places of origin. It included several recipes for sauces, dips, and other miscellaneous condiments from around the world. I was especially struck by a recipe for a pistachio chutney and ended up using the recipe as the foundation for last week’s dinner party.

pistachio chutney, just out of the food processor

The chutney had a Moroccan vibe to it and called for a pairing with game birds. Since I always end up deciding what to cook at the last minute, I wasn’t able to call ahead to pre-order my pheasant, as every butcher in town suggested. So I went with the next best thing and bought a 4 lb. cockerel from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats at Chelsea Market. I spent a fair amount of time discussing preparation methods with the butcher.

spice blend

We settled on a spice rub to complement the chutney – equal parts coriander, cinnamon, cumin, and curry, with some salt thrown in for good measure – then cooked at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per pound (although I blasted it up to 425 for the last 10 minutes so the skin would get nice and crispy).

crispy little booger, resting

For the rest of the meal, I settled on a hummus with crudites as an hors d’oeuvres (made with a rich, spicy olive oil that Toni had given me from one of his neighbors in Croatia), fingerling potatoes boiled with butter and thyme as a contorno, and a strawberry rhubarb crumble with vanilla bourbon ice cream.

les ingredients

We noshed on the homemade hummus while the cockerel was cooking, sipping on my favorite summer rose, a Touraine from the Loire Valley. During dinner we moved from white to red – I’d paired a Vermentino and a Gamay (Beaujolais-Villages) with the meal, and both accented the slightly spicy dish without overpowering any of the flavors. And the fruitiness of the Beaujolais provided an excellent transition to my slightly-too-sweet-so-thank-goodness-there’s-ice-cream dessert. I shouldn’t have used a recipe that called for rhubarb only – didn’t adjust for the sugar in the strawberries!
still delicious.

Overall verdict: success. Everyone ate at least 3 helpings and walked away stuffed!