Countdown to Thanksgiving 4

pumpkinbacon

 

This Pumpkin Fondue is one of our absolute favorite recipes of all time. We’ve posted this one before, but in light of the demo it on TV the other day, I decided to bring it back from the archives. It’s too important to miss! If your Thanksgiving menu is still flexible, we highly encourage you to check this one out! Scroll down for the recipe and a video of the TV segment!

 

pumpkinwithmilk

pumpkinfondue cinderellapumpkin

 

 

 

Pumpkins Stuffed with Everything Good – Our Way

From: Heide Lang, Adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Ingredients:

  • 8 strips bacon (¼ cup shallots may be substituted for vegetarian version
  • ¼ pound stale bread cut into cubes
  • ¼ pound cheese, such as gruyere, emmental, cheddar, smoked gouda, asiago, parmesan, or any combination, cut into ½ inch cubes 
  • 3 cloves of garlic pressed or minced 
  • 1/8-1/4 cup fresh chives or scallions 
  • 2 teaspoons or more fresh herbs (i.e., parsley, rosemary, thyme) 
  • ½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1 sugar or Cinderella pumpkin weighing about 3 pounds 
  • 1 cup or more heavy cream 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sautee shallots until they are crispy (about 15 minutes), or fry bacon until crispy. Set aside.
  3. Combine chunks of bread and cheese, along with dried cranberries (this is optional, but will add beautiful color to the fondue). Season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Add bacon or shallots to the bread and cheese mixture. Combine well.
  5. Add any herbs you choose, along with the chives or scallions, and garlic. Toss well.
  6. Using a very sturdy knife, cut off the cap of the pumpkin, just as you would a jack-o-lantern.
  7. Scoop out the stringy pumpkin and the seeds and generously salt the inside of the pumpkin.
  8. Pack the filling tightly into the pumpkin (there shouldn’t be any air pockets).
  9. Pour in cream until the bread mixture is saturated and there is a bit of liquid on top (but be careful not to have the bread “swimming” in heavy cream).
  10. Put the cap back on and bake until the pumpkin is soft, about 60-90 minutes. Check the pumpkin after 45 minutes to see how soft it is. Continue baking until the ingredients are bubbling and the meat of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced with a fork. Do not let it burn, or the pumpkin will turn black and collapse as it cools. You don’t want all your good work ruined!
  11. Place a large spatula under your creation and move it gently to a beautiful platter.
  12. Serve as a side dish or an appetizer on small plates.

Easy Ghoulish Treats

Most people think I’m a little bit strange when I tell people that Halloween is my favorite holiday. It’s really simple. I adore the foods of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter, not to mention all the glorious casual picnic foods from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but I just love the theatre and whimsy of Halloween.

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

 

This great holiday, after all, is not about gifts or how perfect the table looks for relatives. It’s about fun, and magic, and theatre. It transcends age. We will have 8-year-olds and 16-year-olds side by side at our house all enjoying the same silly food and wearing goofy costumes. What could be better? I get to take my apron off and think solely about what would make kids of all ages happy. The pressure is off to be perfect. All anyone cares about is that the offerings are funny, maybe a little “scary” and of course colorful.

 

Clementine Pumpkins | The Road Home  – cancels out the candy right?

 

So here’s part of our line-up for All Hallow’s Eve at our house. We’ll offer our friends and fellow trick-or-treaters Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew, followed by cauliflower brain dip, and darling little “pumpkins” made of clementines and celery. There will be other things, but these are my favorites. I hope this sampling of our Halloween inspires you to think like a child even for just one day. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Halloween Cauliflower Brain with Guacamole - gruesome but great | The Road Home
Witches Brew Punch with Dry Ice – epic halloween trick/treat | The Road Home

Have you got any special halloween foods you make at your house? We’d love to hear about them! Comment below to let us know!

 

 

Clementine Pumpkins

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

  • One dozen or more Clementines
  • Several stalks celery

Directions:

  1. Peel Clementines and place on a fun Halloween platter.
  2. Cut a stalk of celery into small pieces for the pumpkin stem. Stick a celery piece into the top of each peeled Clementine and serve!

Creepy Cauliflower Brain Dip with Guacamole

From: Heide Lang

Ingredients:

    Guacamole

    • 4 ripe avocados peeled and pitted
    • ½ cup chopped onions
    • 1/8 cup fresh lime juice
    • ¼ cup cilantro (optional)
    • 1 4 ounce can finely chopped seeded jalapeno chilies**
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • ¾ teaspoon pepper
    • 1 cup of tomatoes, diced and seeded (or canned diced tomatoes in the winter)

    Brain

    • 1 large cauliflower
    • 1 package of red licorice string

    Directions:

    1. Place all guacamole ingredients but tomatoes in a food processor or in a medium sized bowl. Puree in the food processor or puree in bowl using an immersion blender until very smooth.
    2. Drain tomatoes thoroughly through a sieve and gently blend into the avocado mixture using a spatula.
    3. Remove all of the leaves from the cauliflower and remove the stem so that there is a hollow area, but most of the florets are intact. (Use toothpicks to hold the sides together if it starts to fall apart).
    4. Put the hollowed out cauliflower into a snug fitting bowl. (For a really scary presentation, wrap the bowl in cheesecloth stained with red food coloring.)
    5. Fill in with the guacamole and decorate the florets by weaving the licorice between the florets to make the veins and arteries.  You may also sprinkle a bit of red food coloring on the “arteries” as well but be careful not to overdo it.

    Mad Scientist Bubbly Brew

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • Clear glass container or punch bowl
    • Artificial green or red drink, such as Gatorade or Hawaiian Punch (You may also use a clear liquid like seltzer or Sprite, died with food coloring, if you want)
    • Gummy worms, plastic spiders or any other creepy creatures you wish
    • Dry ice

    Directions:

    1. Fill container or punch bowl with a green or red beverage.
    2. Place gummy worms, spiders, etc, on the edge of the bowl.
    3. Add a few small pieces or pellets of dry ice, just enough to get the brew bubbling and smoky. If it comes in a big brick, you will need to chip pieces off of it. (Do NOT pick up dry ice with your bare hands. Use tongs to handle it or protective rubber gloves if you must pick it up with your hands.)
    4. Serve immediately, adding additional pieces of dry ice every 10 minutes, or as needed.

    Persian Heaven in a Stew

    Francesca is a very picky eater. She’d be happy to eat “yellow pasta,” penne with a little bit of kosher salt and olive oil, practically everyday. But like every kid, she can be unpredictable. Her eyes light up when I open the lid of the Dutch oven and she sees we’re having “fesenjoonie,” as she calls it. The actual name of this ridiculously delicious Persian khoresh (stew in Farsi) is fesenjan, and it is also one of favorite dishes of all time.

     

    Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

     

    We had the privilege of visiting Iran 10 years ago with when hubby Mark was invited to give a talk in Tehran. I foolishly thought before visiting that I had tasted all the great cuisines of the world, so I gave little thought to Persian food and spent most of the time reading about the great sites, such as the ruins of Persepolis and ancient city of Esfahan.

     

    Square in Esfahan, Iran – one of the most beautiful places on earth | The Road Home

     

    Dumb dumb me should have thought about the food. I probably had never tasted real Persian cuisine before and just assumed it would be in line with more familiar Middle Eastern foods, such as hummus and pita bread. I was so very wrong.

     

    Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

     

    We arrived in Tehran in the middle of the night, and almost instantly a whole world of spices, nuts, and fruits opened up to us. We stayed with relatives of our dear friends Vahid and Shahla Mohsenin and were greeted by mounds of perfect pistachios, dried apricots, and dates. This 3 a.m. greeting party was considered just a little nibble. The food essentially never stopped coming for the two weeks we visited this beautiful and baffling country.

     

    A Traditional Persian Restaurant in the Hills Near Tehran | The Road Home

     

    You will no doubt hear a lot about Persian food from Gabrielle and me. Persians are famous for their hospitality and it seemed there was a lavish dinner party every night once the word got out that there were Americans in town (fewer than 500 Americans were allowed to visit Iran at the time). Many dishes combine the same ingredients – saffron, rose water, orange water, nuts, pomegranates and dried fruits –in countless ways to create unforgettable dishes. Fesenjan, for me, combines all of my favorite Persian flavors. The blend of slow-cooked pureed walnuts, saffron, pomegranates, and onions with chicken creates an earth, nutty, exotic taste you can’t imagine until you’ve taken your first bite.

     

    Pomegranate Juice for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

     

    I’m not sure how Persian households eat this way all the time (and they seem to), because some Persian dishes take a little while to prepare. Not only is the investment worth it, but also keep in mind that any Khoresh, like most stews, usually tastes better a day or two later so they are perfect do-ahead company food.

     

    Saffron for Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

     

    I became a fesenjan connoisseur while we were in Iran, and sampled many interpretations of this extraordinary dish all from Teheran to Yazd. When we arrived home, I immediately bought the classic Persian cookbook available in English by Najmieh Batmanglij titled, Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies. Her version of fesenjan inspired my own, which is quite different. I’ve substituted some of the traditional pomegranate juice, God help me, with wine! Alcohol is forbidden in Iran, but I think wine adds a lovely fruitiness to this exquisite dish. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 very fine Syrah was produced in Shiraz, and so I’ve used a full-bodied Syrah in this dish. (Sadly the vines are now used to only to produce grapes.)

     

    Fesanjan – a Traditional Persian and Pomegranate Stew that will blow your mind | The Road Home

     

    Here is the recipe, and do let us know if your taste buds are as tickled as ours by this very unique dish:

    Khoresh-e Fesenjan Ba Jujeh (Chicken Pomegranate Stew)

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • ½ pound (2 cups) walnuts finely chopped
    •  5 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
    • 2 large onions peeled and thinly sliced
    • 12 chicken thighs, bone-in (approximately 5 to 5 ½ pounds)
    • 2 cups pomegranate juice
    • 2 cups Syrah wine
    • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
    • 1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 teaspoon turmeric
    • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
    • 1 ½ teaspoons saffron dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water
    • 2 tablespoons grape molasses or sugar (optional)
    • ¼ cup pomegranate seeds (optional)
    • 3 tablespoons toasted walnuts (optional)

    Directions:

    1. Toast the walnuts at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
    2. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot or Dutch oven (8 quarts is ideal) over medium heat until very hot. Sauté the onions until they are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and let cool in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
    3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Add 1-2 tablespoons of additional oil and brown the chicken (you will need to do this in two batches).
    4. Remove the chicken from the pot into a medium bowl and set aside.
    5. Puree the onions and the walnuts in a food processor. Add 1 cup of pomegranate juice, pomegranate molasses, salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, saffron water and grape molasses (or sugar) and mix well to a creamy paste.
    6. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl and add the remaining pomegranate juice and wine.
    7. Add the onion-walnut mixture to the Dutch oven and stir well. Add the chicken and gently mix again (if stirred to aggressively, the skin will come off the chicken).
    8. Bring Mixture to a boil and give the stew a good stir. If you are cooking the stew in an oven-safe Dutch oven or pot, cover and cook in the middle of the oven at 350 for one hour, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. You may also cook the stew on the stove top on low for an hour.
    9. Taste the khoresh sauce after the first hour. It should be sweet and sour and have the consistency of heavy cream. Adjust the taste by adding more pomegranate molasses for sour, and more grape molasses (or sugar) for sweetness.
    10. Stir the stew well again and place back in the oven until the chicken is thoroughly cooked the sauce is the thickness of heavy cream.
    11. Remove from the oven and let cool uncovered before refrigerating (covered) overnight. When ready to serve, re-heat in the Dutch oven at 350 degrees. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, heat on stovetop with a low-medium flame, stirring occasionally.
    12. Serve over basmati rice or, if you’re feeling ambitious, Chelow, a saffron steamed rice with a golden crust. You may also add sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and toasted walnuts (optional).

    A Better Beignet

    It doesn’t take more than a trip to a carnival (or really an imagination) to know how great fried dough is, but a really great beignet can take one of the world’s best street foods to a whole new level. Last year we went to New Orleans and visited Café du Monde, the French Quarter’s premier beignet shop, but we found it to be a bit over-hyped. Like, no question they were worth every Calorie, but fried dough generally is.

     

    This beignet could model, couldn't it?

     

    When we began to formulate our version of Tiana’s “man-catching beignets” for Francesca’s birthday party, we knew we had to take it to the next level. Our recipe is inspired by a Buttermilk Beignet recipe we found on epicurious.

     

     

    This one particularly struck our fancy because buttermilk gives so many Southern treats moisture with just a touch of tanginess. They’re quite easy to make (much much much easier than we expected) so we should warn you:  it will take a lot of willpower not to make this sometimes food every day.

     


    Dreams Do Come True in New Orleans

    Before we begin, I should probably warn you that this is one of our most disgraceful posts yet. It is full of scandalous Barbie cakes…

     

    Tiana, courtesy of the Moulin Rouge? Yikes....

     

    Underage gingerale…

     

    Oh dearie me...

     

    And about 12 6-year-olds on sugar highs.

     

     

    It’s just shameful. They’ll probably kick us off the internet. But seriously, when you’re throwing a Mardi Gras birthday party, what else can you expect?

     

     

     

    If you haven’t noticed by now, we tend to try a little too hard when it comes to Francesca’s birthday parties And I swear, we promised ourselves we’d be good this year, and we wouldn’t go overboard. But she told us she wanted a Princess and the Frog party a year ago, and since a) we had a year to plan it, b) New Orleans is one of our favorite cities of all time, and c) Princess and the Frog is the most food-centric Disney Princess movie (and, by extension, our absolute favorite), we were really left with no choice.

     

     

     

     

    For those of you who haven’t seen this awesome movie, Tiana is a waitress who dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. Her beignets can only be described as “man-catching,” and she can make gumbo using only the greenery of a swamp. Suffice it to say she could win any episode of Extreme Chef with her hands tied behind her back. Powerful voodoo turns her into a frog and she travels all over New Orleans and the Bayou with her slightly dysfunctional Prince Charming (also frog), all in the span of a single Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful movie because it displays all the many faces of New Orleans: it begins with her cooking with her daddy in her modest childhood home, then follows her through a fancy party in the Garden District and a journey through the surrounding swamp before culminating on Bourbon Street. We wanted all this to come through at our party.

     

     

    When the children arrived, they first sat down to make Mardi Gras masks to get everyone in a festive mood. Like all of the activities we prepared, this one is cheap and easy to assemble. All it takes are blank masks (paper ones work much better than plastic, if you can find them) and then sequins, feathers, markers, glitter glue, or whatever else you can think of to add to the mix. And kids around this age tend to get wonderfully creative. That or we just had a group of budding fashion designers. Which I suppose is possible.

     

     

     

     

    While we got the next activity ready, the kids played the one game that truly every party must have – pin-the-[something]-on-the-[something else]. Children have a wonderful way of improving on this game. Who knew pin-the-tail-on-the-easel, or pin-Cinderella’s-slipper-on-the-wall could be so entertaining? In the spirit of the story we set up pin-the-kiss-on-the-frog. We couldn’t turn him back into a prince, but the majority of them got pretty close – and they didn’t even cheat this year! We had Isabella draw our frog, but you don’t need an Isabella to try this at home… any oversized amphibian will do.

     

     

     

    Next we brought everyone back to the table to make their own gumbo, just like our favorite chef, Tiana. We simply baked little puff pastry shells, and set out a variety of “ingredients” for the kids to put inside. Some of the ingredients were a bit atypical (for example, hot dogs stood in for traditional andouille), but like any stew, gumbo is flexible, even when kids are not. Before the party we made a gumbo sauce to pour over the top, for any kids who wanted it. The kids felt so grown up “cooking” their own snack, and some even requested seconds!

     

     

    Mom read a beautiful rendition of The Frog Prince while we set up candy for the Edible Swamps, our final culinary activity. Inspired by those “cups of dirt” that were probably the highlight of everyone’s childhood, we gave each kid a mini tray of pudding, and an assortment of candies ranging from gummy frogs and gators to Cadbury Flake (for logs) and green sprinkles (for algae).

     

     

     

     

    Before the party began, Francesca told us that “nutrients” (healthy things) were against the rules. So naturally we moved straight from chocolate pudding to the Tiana-shaped chocolate fudge cake. We blew out the candles…

     

     

     

    Toasted the worlds greatest six-year-old (objectively speaking)…

     

     

    And cut the cake.

     

     

    The kids clearly hadn’t had enough sugar, so we sent everyone home with a box full of sweets from the green, gold and purple candy table.

     

     

     

    For the grownups we made a Cajun Crab Dip, Andouille Sausage with Apple Compote on Baguette, and of course Buttermilk Beignets… because we can’t have anybody, grownup or child, leaving our house if they’re not over fed (we’re Mediterranean, we can’t help it).

     

     

    When you have a year to plan a party and you have all of New Orleans to live up to, the expectations are pretty high… at least Francesca’s were. But it’s worth noting that, even a week later, all but two of her presents are still sitting, blissfully wrapped, in the living room, waiting for the day when her satisfaction wears off and she realizes what she’s missing. Mission accomplished? I think so.

     

    Ps- We have, of course, about a million recipes to share with you, which we’ll post over the next week or so. Stay tuned!

    Almost There

    We’ve been a little AWOL over the past few days, but don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten about you! We’ve just been incredibly busy getting ready for Francesca’s Princess and the Frog/New Orleans-themed birthday party! Over the past few days we’ve been perfecting our gumbo and our beignets, so that we have the perfect recipes to share with you come next week, and Isabella has been drawing some unbelievable portraits of the Princess and the Frog characters, while we’ve begun to put together a green, purple and gold candy table. We’ll have plenty of pictures, recipes, party planning tips and other surprises coming soon. Meanwhile, get yourself in the New Orleans mood by taking a look at some of our preview pictures, and checking out this awesome jazz band we found in the French Quarter last March.

     

     

    Prelim for "Pin the Kiss on the Frog Prince"

    Reese's Cups Get Fancy

    Prince Naveen is a work in progress

    Hershey's gets a Blissful makeover

     

     

     

    Strawberry Flats Forever

    One of the challenging things about cooking for large crowds is learning to order the right amount of food to feed, say, 300 people, a talent you’d certainly learn quickly in any restaurant kitchen or you’d go out of business.

     

    There used to be a lot more where these came from... but my daughters ate them all.

     

    But since my joy in life comes from teaching others to cook and I don’t own a restaurant (although I think about opening one all the time), I haven’t quite gotten that skill down. Even if I had it down, it’s really unlikely I would manage to order just the right amount. It’s in my genes to make too much food. It’s the Mediterranean in me – watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you’ll understand my views on feeding a crowd. The Romanians on my father’s side were just the same: there was never such thing as too much. If anyone left a family gathering growing up without being totally stuffed, that meant the mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen didn’t do their job. I’m the same way.

     

    Try this at home.

     

    So as per usual when I was planning for a cooking demonstration at New Haven’s Wooster Square Market last week, our hands-down favorite open air farmer’s market in our area, I ordered way too many organic strawberries to accompany the amazing vanilla-almond custard Gabrielle adeptly made before the crowd.

     

    Strawberries in water - our accidental art piece. People tried very hard to steal these.

     

    When the day was over, we had a flat and a half of extra just-picked, perfectly ripe, sweet, bright-red, wonderfully imperfect organic strawberries. Mark brought the girls down to the market to make an emergency extension cord run (long story) and stayed until we were done with our demo. And when I wondered out loud what we should with so many strawberries that wouldn’t last for days the way supermarket strawberries do, my husband just said two wonderful words: Strawberry Margaritas.

     

    Perfect.  Mark never uses many words, but what he says always matters. And that was certainly true on Saturday.

     

    I always tell the girls – and they’ve heard it so many times growing up it’s practically in their DNA – that most things in life worth experiencing – having children, a great career, friendships – require hard work and dedication. But on rare occasion that isn’t really true. Sometimes miniscule effort can bring pure joy in a ridiculously short period of time. Strawberry margaritas are like that. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to buy Tezon Añejo to get that joy, unless of course you want to be beyond overjoyed in which case, go ahead, buy the top shelf stuff. But for us it was a warm lazy Saturday afternoon and I didn’t feel like buying great tequila, so I used what we had in the house, which was entry-level.

     

    Jose Cuervo... cheap, but seriously sufficient.

     

    I’ll give you the specific recipe, but it is really better to remember the simple ratio for margaritas. You’ll want to be able to do this at the drop of a hat. Think thirds: one third a cup each of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice* in the blender. It’s that simple.

     

     

    This is almost everything that goes into them.

     

    Add a tablespoon or two of sugar if you have a really sweet tooth (otherwise leave it out) and ½ cup of ice if you want them to be slightly less strong… so you don’t get too too lazy afterwards.

     

    Just seconds away...

     

    Blend well and add a cup or so of ice, and voila! the perfect, simple margarita.

     

    So pretty... and it tastes so much better.

     

    So sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of your minor labor the way Mark did on Father’s day as he sipped perfection in a glass. Cheers!

     

    Colander of Strawberries

     

    Strawberry Margaritas

    From: Heide Lang

    Ingredients:

    • 1/3 cup triple sec
    • 1/3 cup tequila
    • 1/3 cup lime juice
    • 1 ½ cups fresh, preferably fresh picked organic strawberries
    • ½ cup ice (optional)

    Directions:

    1. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds, or until thoroughly blended. 
    2. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on whether you added ice to the blender.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe depending on your thirst and size of the crowd!

    Behind the Scenes

    The slate hides behind the scenes while we wait to shoot.

    It would be very pretentious for me to call myself a film buff, since that would imply I actually know something, but at the very least I’m a bit of a film junkie. I was blessed to grow up minutes from the most amazing video store in the whole world (seriously) so my childhood summers were full of movies. Before I realized how bad I am at acting (which took frighteningly long), I dreamed of being in one. I know every little girl dreams of putting on sparkly costumes, being on a red carpet and feigning surprise when she wins an Oscar, but I always thought being behind the scenes looked like more fun than all those things. When I was eight or so, my parents got me The Santa Clause on VHS, and a featurette at the end described how tough it is to make movies because, just like Santa’s Elves, filmmakers do so much work behind the scenes. It looked wonderful. And it is.

    Sofia, our Cinematographer, sets up the camera

    In this featurette, Bernard the Elf says filmmaking is full of waiting around. To a degree he’s right, but that’s a bit misleading. There may be a lot of time when the camera’s not rolling, but from what I can tell, it’s never dull. So much happens between takes:

    Alex B. and Sofia (Camera) tinker with the 5D

    This camera is a work of art in and of itself

    Cyrus (Actor) stretches and warms up

    Cyrus, or

    Isabel (2nd Assistant Director) plays Jenga, so the actors have a perfect half-completed game every time

    Our actors were brilliant jenga players. Brilliant. In one take, Cyrus turned the whole thing around, when it was almost entirely stacked up. It blew my mind.

    Alex L. (Director) takes a break…

    This was not typical

    (just kidding)

    … and I get to do my dishes! Ok, I know it sounds like I’m starstruck and trying to make this sound like more fun than it is, but from mistakes and mishaps – broken microphones and rogue ringtones – to last minute requests (I was the only person on set in possession of nail polish remover), to the quiet, exhausted thrill of finding the best takes at the end of the day, the process is full of awesome, exciting extremes.

    It's just like in the movies...

    But you didn’t come here to learn about film, you came to learn about food, and I’ve hijacked your time (sorry) (it’s for your own good, you know), so on to more important things. Cooking for the Cast and Crew was the most rewarding adventure I’ve had had since beginning college. Cooking for 15 people, no matter who they are, teaches the arts of efficiency and flexibility like nothing else, except perhaps making a movie. One actor turned out to be lactose intolerant, so I coordinated Banana Pancakes against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Cream of Broccoli Soup against dairy-free scrambled eggs, Bread and Butter against dairy-free scrambled eggs… you get the picture. Then, I needed to have dinner ready an hour early, and my puff pastry was still frozen, so I rearranged the recipe for  Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese so that the onions would be ready just as the puff pastry finished defrosting. Then, when I didn’t make nearly enough Caramelized Onion Squares I tossed an emergency salad to stretch dinner farther. As I cooked, I realized that these challenges weren’t unique to this job, or even to catering. Cooking nearly always comes with setbacks. This was just like throwing a dinner party.

    ––

    I remember a party where mom and I planned shrimp for dinner, only to find out, upon their arrival, that our guests kept kosher. Another time, on Thanksgiving no less, somebody (certainly nobody writing this post) pureed the mashed potatoes beyond recognition. But we found Salmon for our friends, and the mashed potatoes still tasted fine. And luckily, behind-the-scenes mishaps make great stories. Most importantly, they make the end – meal, party or film –  so much more satisfying. A lot goes into a finished product, just like Bernard the Elf said. But now I know, as I always suspected, that’s part of the fun.

    See how much they're enjoying that soup? That's because I made it.

    Of course, it never hurts when people thank you profusely and ask you for your recipes afterwards. Below is the recipe for Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese, my favorite of the day. It can be used as an appetizer, or as a main course aside a nice tossed salad (plan on 5-6 squares per person). Either way they’re addictive.

    Below that you’ll find some final pictures of the shoot. And here is a link to the film itself [Rated PG for brief tobacco references], appropriately titled The End.

    ––

    Also, a big Thank You to Alex for inviting me on set, and to the entire cast and crew of The End for letting me join you on this project! You were all so much fun to work and talk with, and such a joy to cook for.

    Yoni, producer, works out technical issues over lunch.

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    We’re All Mad Here

     

    We take parties way too seriously at our house, so when Francesca came to us and said she wanted her fifth birthday to be an Alice in Wonderland party it was almost too much excitement for us to take. We wasted no time in beginning plans for desserts and decorations. And this was in January.

     

     

    Alice in Wonderland happens to be my second favorite book, and so (since I don’t see a Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh party on the horizon anytime soon) I knew the Mad Tea Party had to be absolutely perfect. Making that happen meant handing off all decorating responsibilities to Mom and Isabella, who in recent weeks has blossomed into quite the artist. Isabella painted white roses red, Mom ordered 24 pink flamingos and a dozen hedgehogs for croquet, and together they set up a tea table that would have made the Mad Hatter and March Hare very proud. They tied ribbons to the (unlit) candles, and Bella made a beautiful runner out of butcher paper, featuring 20 or so quotes from the books. And, of course, they gave every kid got his or her own little tea cup for their iced tea.

     

     

    But of course, if we’re being honest with ourselves, really what is a tea birthday party if not just an excellent opportunity to eat dessert?

     

     

    To celebrate the black, white and red color scheme we made a red velvet trifle with the Lee Brothers’ perfect red velvet cake (but without the orange zest), cut into cubes and layered with a white chocolate mascarpone mousse (without the pear brandy for the kids) from Bon Appétit, vanilla bean whipped cream (2 cups heavy cream, 3 tbsp sugar and seeds from one vanilla bean, beaten until stiff peaks form) and chocolate chips.

     

     

    We found the Lee Brothers’ red velvet cake completely by luck. It’s the most flavorful red velvet cake we’d ever tried, with a vanilla-cocoa flavor that’s deepened by lots of buttermilk. It’s light, tender, moist and completely perfect. We liked it so much, we remade it in the form of “Eat Me” cupcakes. We wrote “Eat Me” on everything – in icing on the cupcakes, and in chocolate chip cookies on the trifle and oversized brown sugar cookies.

     

     

    For drinks we took the labels off of Izze bottles and glass Coca-Cola bottles and tied “Drink Me” tags on them…

     

     

    …and we rounded off the desserts with a candy table inspired by the graduation.

     

     

    We played croquet, had a freeze dance “caucus race,” and finished with a white rabbit-inspired bunny hop red light-green light. And of course, everybody won everything and they all got prizes!

    Francesca felt so special in her Alice costume and that night over her celebratory “Chicken Terinaki” she said she had “the best day ever.” And seriously, with trifle, croquet and pink flamingos, what day could possibly be more frabjous?