Dinner Party Post Mortem.

Dinner Party Post Mortem.

 

As a small personal services business, sometimes we will do things to “show off” so to speak.  This last Friday I had the occasion to put on a show off event for some of my close friends and foodies.

I had a dinner party that consisted of a 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings.

The menu read as follows:

Amuse bouche

Oysters casino

Fresh Gulf oysters lightly broiled with herb casino butter and hickory smoked bacon.

First course

Chilled Avocado and cucumber soup

Lightly chilled soup with hints of citrus garnished with fresh cilantro and cucumber

Main course

Tournedos Rossini with Sauce Périgueux served with lobster potato foam and seared garlic broccolini

Seared medallions of beef tenderloin served with seared fois gras and a shaved black truffle demi glaze.  Served over warm potato foam made with lobster stock. With broccolini seared with garlic.

Cheese course

Triple cream fromage St. André on a baguette crostini with quince paste and balsamic reduction

Triple cream St. Andre cheese served warm with quince paste on a toasted baguette crostini over a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Final course

Bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with sweet ricotta filling served with amaretto crème anglaise

Fresh made bitter sweet chocolate ravioli with almond and ricotta filling served with a warm amaretto cream custard sauce

 

I figure, if you are gonna go for it, go BIG right?

What goes into such an undertaking?  Just like with any menu, planning, planning, and oh, more planning.  Mise ‘en place is HUGE in doing something like this.  For the last 3 weeks, the prep for this event has been in the works.  We started with the menu and worked from there.

What comes after the menu?  Logistics.  Can it be done in the space allotted?  Sure, but only for 8 people, that means that we have to limit the guest list.  It went from up to 15 down to 8.  Next part of planning something like this is making sure your guests are firm and confirmed.  It would be a big problem to set a purchasing list and not have the right numbers of confirmed guests show.

Next step in logistics?  Making sure you have the flatware, china and glassware needed to pull this off.  Want to be washing dishes between service courses?  Not so much.  I set this menu up in with the idea of single cook execution and simplified plating execution.  Small plates with simple garniture.  We purchased a new set of plates for each of the courses.  Good thing is that they can all be used again.

Next stop?  Shopping lists!  You have to know where to source items, where to purchase for the bang to buck ratios, best quality etc.  Experience doing catering and event as well as private client work comes in handy for this step.  How does one set up shopping for an event of this style?  Run down your mise en place list.  Go line by line with each step.  Compile your needs and check your existing inventory.

Hard part about an event like this is that running single cook means all the pressure is on me to perform.  I spent the event day doing all of the shopping, and prep.  That meant that the menu had to be set up with items that were not too heavily needed for ala minute cooking (at the time needed).  I set my menu with the only prep at time item being the primary plating items.

The break down course by course:

Amuse Bouche:

Oysters Casino.  I added an item to this course.  It went from a strict hot item to an oysters 2 ways set up.  I purchased wild caught Gulf oysters for the casino and good quality Bluepoint oysters for the cold course.

The oysters fought with me, as would be expected when the pressure is on, but the quality was top notch from Central Market, and the course executed very well.  Nice opening item.

First Course:

Chilled Avocado and Cucumber soup.

Moved from a hot to a cold item.  Traditionally a pallet cleanser from the strong flavor Amuse course.  There was a slight hint of spice from the jalapeno but nothing overwhelming because of the base of Greek yogurt.  It was a very nice addition to the menu.  Very popular item.

Main Course:

Tournedos Rossini with Lobster Potato Foam and Garlic Seared Brocolinni.

The only course that was ala minute.  The tenderloin was butchered ahead to allow the tournedos to come to room temperature.  The potato foam was based on a recipe from el Bulli.  I should have stuck with the original recipe without too much derivation, as the foam base was a little too thick and did not stand up too well.  The lobster flavor from the stock came through and the texture was nice as an accompaniment to the truffle based demi glaze but I was a little disappointed at the lack of lift.  The brocolinni turned out to be broccoli rabe as Central Market was out of the other.  No big deal.  Same prep, just blanche and toss in to sear briefly with roasted garlic.  The flavor balance was spot on, and for the most part, the steaks were done just right.  I made sure to give myself the least appealing set up with the most overdone steak.  No need to give a guest an overcooked piece of meat.

Cheese Course:

St. Andre cheese with Quince and Crostini:

Simple and creamy.  I miss planned my plating diagram and had to make quick changes based on my purchases, but no big deal, just compress down.  The crostini was a bit on the tough side, but live and learn.  The cheese with the whipped quince and balsamic glaze was a very nice balance.

Final course:

Chocolate Ravioli with Ricotta and Almond Filling:

Not being mister pastry, this was the course that caused me the most pre event distress.  I have made pasta before, I have cooked with chocolate before.  I have yet to do the two together.  Thanks to Chef Michelle Brown at Collin College for the advice regarding the 00 flour.  The texture difference with the super fine cocoa powder made a difference.  The pasta was a bit stickier that other pasta that I worked with in the past, but the smell of chocolate filled the house when I was rolling it out!  The filling was fantastic, a perfect nuttiness and creaminess with the cheese and almond paste.  The crème anglaise was just the right note to finish with.  For my own purposes?  I will cook the pasta a bit longer or crank down the roller to a slightly thinner setting, as the pasta cooked a bit tough for my tastes.

All in all, my guests were VERY pleased with the results.  I cannot complain.

 

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This Week’s Client Menu…

What’s on tap this week for my private client group?

Grilled Tilapia Veracruz (tilapia with a Mexican tomato sauce) served with grilled zucchini and yellow squash with cilantro rice

Seared NY Strip Steak with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli

Roasted Chicken Quarters with quinoa pilaf and roasted asparagus.

You curious about menus for your own family?

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Pantry Raiders 1. The Dreaded Little Jars

Venture bravely into your pantry one day and you will find a terrible and frightening things. Items so horrid, that Julia and August are ROLLING in their graves! What horrid things might they be?

Some canned this

Some tepid sauce that?

No, far worse!!! JARS OF HERBS AND SPICES!!!

Huh?

What can be so bad you may ask?

The answer can be found in a question. Do you remember during which presidential administration you purchased that uber tub of “Italian Seasoning” from your local discount mega club? How about that tiny and dusty little metal tin of ground nutmeg that hides in the back of your pantry? I bet you have no clue. Worse yet, just how much do you think you spent on those items?

Let me tell you friends. That it was too long ago and too much respectively.

Okay, reality check. There is nothing REALLY wrong with dried herbs, so long as you are not using the petrified and dead stuff that you happen to have purchased during the Carter administration. Dried herbs are a descent substitute for the fresh stuff when used properly. But what is your solution you may ask? Check out your friendly neighborhood “high end establishment”. Places like Central Market here in Dallas and Whole Foods Market on a nationwide basis, have a fantastic area of bulk bin dried herbs that you can purchase what you need as you need it. Here is the kicker. That $6 plus dollar jar of herbs will cost you cents on the dollar from bulk bin. You are paying a high premium for the fancy glass jar. I will spend no more than a dollar or two on a bag of dried herbs that can be as large as of not bigger than the glass jar “premium” brands at your local megamarts! PLUS, you know when you bought it!

Why is the when so important? Time! Open that bag of dried herbs. It smells pretty good huh? That aroma is the volatile oils that give the herb its flavor. What is volatile? It means that when exposed to air, it will dissipate into the atmosphere. In other words, your herbs will lose their flavor. Rule of thumb? I would not keep dried herbs in my pantry for any longer than 6 months. If you store them near your stove or oven, no longer than 3. Heat will speed the process of degrading the oils and flavors.

Now for their culinary bunk mates, spices….

They are a little different. When you buy the jar, 9 times out of 10 you are getting the ubiquitous brown powders. They pack a punch! The time rules that apply to dried herbs tend to play the same with pre-ground dried spices. Here is the exception. When you buy them whole, and I recommend that HIGHLY, you can keep them for almost an indefinite period of time. Why? The volatile oils are contained within the whole spice, and are not released until you break them down. Cool, huh? Added bonus? With whole spices, you can do cool stuff, like toasting! Why? Adding heat to whole spices like cumin or caraway will enhance the aromatic properties and deepen some of those wonderful substances that give those spices their depth of flavor.

Okay, so what do you DO with those whole spices? Invest in a coffee or spice grinder. They are not that expensive and can be used for most any whole spice to process down to whatever size powder you desire. Exception being nutmeg. Microplaners are handy tools that are relatively inexpensive and can be used in multiple applications OTHER than removing that fantastic fragrant powder….

Summary?

By small amounts when you need it. Don’t keep it long. Your food will thank you for it!

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How Do You Eat For Your Lifestyle?

How do You Eat For Your Lifestyle?

 

There are a HUGE number of factors involved in your weight loss journey.  What you eat, how you eat, how you exercise, when you exercise.  Did you know that there is more of a correlation between the two on a physiological level?

 

First thing you have to do to figure out how to lose weight is to get yourself a baseline.  There are any number of formulas that can be used to manually calculate these formulas.  Rather than go through that I have located a nice easy tool online that can do it for you.

 

http://www.caloriesperhour.com/index_burn.php

 

You can figure either your Resting Metabolic Rate or your Basal Metabolic Rate.  Both are essentially the same concept.  The number of calories that you burn just being you.  No exercise included.  From there you need to understand the terminology. 

 

Sedentary – 0 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.

Slightly Active – 30 minutes or less exercise 5 days per week.

Moderately Active – 30 – 60 minutes of exercise 5 days per week.

Active – 60 – 90 minutes of exercise 5 days per week

Very Active – 60-90 minutes or more exercise 5-7 days per week.

 

Understanding where you are in the activity scale will allow you to figure your caloric needs.  Clearly we are not all the same.  Someone that has a desk job, driving a cube, and does no exercise that is the same height and weight that I am has a Basal Metabolic Rate of 2,297 kCal, meaning if that person were to consume that kCal rate per day they would not gain or lose weight.  I am in the very Active category.  My Basal Metabolic Rate is 3,302 kCal per day.  If I do not eat this volume of kCal in a day, I will continue to lose weight. Using systems like my fitness pal and weight watchers you can enter those activity levels and get an effective level of calories per day that you will need to lose the amounts of weight that you desire.

 

What’s next you might ask?  I am eating what I am supposed to be eating but I am still not losing weight like I want to!

 

You could be eating one of the 5 foods that Dr. Michael and I were discussing that are absolute dietary black holes.  These foods can be caloric traps, or foods that are so processed and un-natural that they are inflammatory foods, or they are both!

 

Fruit Juice   Fruit Juice?  Really! What about all that fruit, and the vitamins?!?! Hmmm…  I can hear it already.  What is so wrong with not from concentrate juice?  When you take a piece of fruit, apple, cranberry, orange, grapefruit, etc, and squeeze the juice out, you are left with 2 things.  A glass of sweet and tasty juice, and a pile of all of the less tasty, but fiber and nutrient packed pulp, skin and flesh.  To get the full impact of a piece of fruit without dealing with empty calories that are contained in the juice, you need to eat the entire piece of fruit.  There are on average more kCal per glass of orange juice than there are in a can of soda.  Scary huh?

 

Margarine  I Can’t believe it’s not butter!!  It looks like butter, it tastes like butter, it is supposed to be more healthy right?  It does depend on what expert you talk to, but this is one chef’s opinion.  If you have to manufacture a product from a variety of fats and chemicals to replicate something that if you are lucky has 2 ingredients?  The human body has a problem with processing of processed foods.  There is recent research that suggests that manufactured foods can cause an inflammatory reaction in your body. 

 

Processed Wheat Products (GMO)  Wheat on its own is a fantastic grain.  Full of nutritional value, natural fiber, fats, and carbohydrates.  When used and or ground whole, the human body has no problems with processing what is needed and not holding on to the rest.  When you take that wheat berry and grind it, bleach it, and sift it to remove all of the germ, bran and fiber from the berry, you are left with the endosperm of the berry.  That endo-sperm is nothing more than pure starch and gluten proteins.  The bleaching and purifying process removes all of the nutritive value, so you will see “enriched” flour.  Why enrich the flour?  You are replacing the vitamin B compounds that are found naturally in the wheat.

 

Processed Soy Products (GMO)  Soy is another of those products that are touted as a super food and a fantastic human food resource.  Similar to the issues with wheat.  When you process out the good stuff, you are left with pure carbohydrate!  There is one hidden issue with Soy that has recently been discovered.  Soy contains phytoestrogens known as isoflavon.  This is a plant based estrogen compound that has a similar effect in the human body to human estrogen.  While these compounds can be effective in treating symptoms of menopause, that is not such a good thing for guys.

 

Corn (GMO)  Corn is pretty much in everything.  It has a very high ratio of calories to nutritive value, and in its current and highly processed form is a very high factory of inflammatory problems in the human body.

 

In the next day or so I will tackle the next part of this equation.  Now that you know what not to eat, and what your activity level is, its time to set this all up based on what your body type is.

 

Next week on the radio show, Dr. Michael and I will be discussing how to survive holiday eating!

 

Want to hear the long version of the radio show?  Check us out http://www.blogtalkradio.com/drmichaelharris/2013/03/21/how-do-you-eat-for-your-lifestyle

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What’s On Tap for My Clients for the Next Two Weeks:

What’s On Tap for My Clients for the Next Two Weeks:

The next two weeks have my clients choosing from some great options!  I have menus set up for Weight Watchers, I have menus set up for personal trainers, I have menus set up for your average family of four.

For the first week my clients will be enjoying the following:

Crispy Panko Crusted Chicken Breast with fresh herbs with Fresh Grilled Squash, and Peppers served with a spice roasted new potato.

Pork Carnitas Fajitas served with Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Sour Cream, Cheddar Cheese, with fresh made Spanish rice and Boracho Beans

Boeuf Bourguignon served with Seasoned Egg Noodles

For the second week my clients will be enjoying the following:

Pan Seared Atlantic Cod Fish Filet with fresh herbed butter served with seasoned wild rice and steamed broccoli.  With an option for Pan Seared Chicken Breast for my non fish eating clients.

Roasted Chicken Chili Relleno served with a cilantro rice and seasoned black beans

Roasted Pork Loin served with a Barley Pilaf and grilled asparagus.

All of the menu items prepared are fresh items, and made from scratch.  They can be modified to fit whatever dietary needs you may have.

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Phobia Free Portion Control or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Scale

Phobia-Free Portion Control

or

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Scale

 

Ever wonder just how much is enough? Have you looked down at your plate at home or in a restaurant and wondered if you REALLY needed all that food? Did you eat it all anyway?

Here is hoping I can help you figure out the how and why of the mystery of Portion Control!

First and foremost, as I have mentioned over and over again on the radio, you will need a scale. Otherwise you are playing the guessing game. That’s just not gonna help you! What do I recommend? Digital all the way. You want accuracy, especially if you are not dealing with a large number of calories per day, every partial ounce counts.

I have a couple of recommendations based on cost per unit. Click the links below to see what I recommend. I use the OXO Stainless Steel unit, but I use it every day, all the time. You may not have the same need or desire for that kind of cost unit.

            Top End: OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display

            Mid Range: OXO Good Grips 5-Pound Food Scale with Pull-Out Display, Black

            Budget Range: Cuisaid ProDigital Digital Kitchen Scale (Silver)

Once you have determined your caloric needs and the amount YOU need per person, start weighing stuff. You will be shocked when you start doing it. What will you be shocked at? Just how much the pre-cooked weights might be… Most recommended chicken servings are 4 to 6 ounces. Most commercially processed and sold chicken breasts are 8 to 16 ounces! Quick lesson? How do you trim down a chicken breast. Weigh your breast, determine how much you need for a final weight. Lay the breast on a cutting board. If you need a 4 ounce breast and you have a 12 ounce breast, you can cut down in thirds. Lay the breast out, skin side down, lay a sharp chefs knife down flat to the board, 1/3 of the way up the breast. Start slicing slowly. For safety and your own comfort, hold the chicken breast down with your hand in a plastic container to put pressure on. Cut down from the fat side to the point, trying to keep the cut even all the way to the end. Weigh your final product. Practice will make perfect on this type of application.

Not only do you have the ability to weigh your pre-cooked ingredients, you also have the ability at home to weigh your final products! You want to know how much starch and protein you are serving. Your needs will vary.

Now that Chef/Minister Jett has preached from the mountain about the use of scales, lets get to the hard stuff. How do you control what you eat when someone else is plating your food?

Over the last 20 years, restaurant plates and by the same right home plates have increased on average from 10 inches to 12 inches. That is actually a 25% increase in the amount of food that can be on a plate! You pay the bucks, you want a full plate in front of you right? We have been conditioned since youth to “clean your plate”. I remember being told about the starving kids in Africa.

How do you beat the plate growth problem?

First, don’t be afraid to leave food on your plate. There are very few restaurants that are not willing to box up or doggie bag your leftovers. Realize that there may be 3 full meals worth of food on that plate! Your average fast casual restaurant will serve the equivalent of 2 or 3 servings of protein, 2 servings of starch but usually only a single serving of vegetables.

 

Second, you can play tricks on your body. The brain has a built in time delay. It takes on average 20 minutes for the brain and the belly to communicate. This goes back to our primal scavenger nature where our ancestors were scavenging the plains for grub. You had to eat quickly and lots of food before the other predators come for either what you are eating or for you. So… Take your time. If you are eating solo, use that high tech distraction device (smart phone) and read a book between bites. Read my blog here or on ovationsculinary.com. Play Angry Birds. Whatever you need to do to slow yourself down. Put your fork down between bites. If you make the mental effort to put down your fork, you will slow down what you eat.

If you are eating with company, have a conversation! If you allow your body the time to process what you eat, and actually STOP when you are satisfied instead of when the plate is empty, you will be shocked at how much will be left on your plate.

A couple more tricks? Drink a glass of water before you eat. Your body will feel full more quickly if you drink a glass of water and eat a starchy item. Bread, or rice, or potatoes will quickly expand in your stomach, and you will feel full quickly. Similar concept to the “full bars” that were being marketed a few years back.

Last trick for this blog? Treat your plate like you would for a four year old. Cut the food into bites in advance. You will see just how much food is actually there if you cut down your proteins and starches into bites. It will allow you to take the time in eating, and will make you considerably more aware of the volume of food you are eating.

Last bits of information for you guys. Dr. Michael and I closed the show today talking about what I call free foods. American diets and eating habits have evolved to the 3 big meal per day system. Your body has a hard time processing that volume of food in any given sitting. A successful weight loss program will very often involve eating smaller meals on a more frequent basis. If you knew you were doing it or not, you were. Think about your average office day. Eat a big breakfast, eat a big lunch and likely some kind of snack in between from the vending machine, or the donuts that Jane Helpful brought for the break room. You do the same thing after lunch before you hit the road. If you are tracking your calories or points, those snacks can kill you!

Cut back on the big breakfast and lunch! Oh yeah.. Free Foods? Weight Watchers has a great system in place. They promote the use of what they call Power Foods. These are fresh fruits and vegetables and select other foods that are 0 points. These food product do contain calories, but also contain a considerable amount of fiber, which the human body cannot digest. There are lots of calories on those items that are locked up on the non-digestable fiber. I tell people that the fresh raw fruits and vegetables? Don’t count those in your calories!

Back next week to talk about basic activity levels.

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Things will be changing soon!!!

Ladies and gentleman, I have been more than a little lax in my postings of late, but soon all that will be changing. There will be a revamp in the next few weeks and LOTS of exciting things are coming!

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