Pizza is one of those foods I have always loved. For me, that generally means tomato sauce, cheese, and crust (gluten-free of course.), and sometimes I will add some sausage. I know it isn’t all that exciting, but sometimes it really is good.
I decided to do something a little more interesting, and lighter since it is now pretty hot here. No sauce of any kind, and just sliced pear, chevre, and a little bit of parmesan. Then about a minute before it comes out of the oven I tossed a handful of arugula on it! Thinking about it, a nice gorgonzola could also work very well in a pizza like this.
I’ve been on a bit of a quest for pizza crust. So far, the winner in terms of taste, texture, and relative ease of making it happen is from Emeril Lagasse. I know, weird, right? Apparently, he has daughters who have some gluten issues. He came up with this pizza crust for their gluten-free cookbook, and it is great! It makes enough crust for four pizzas for two people. You can pop the leftover par-baked crusts in the freezer, and pull them out for a quick dinner. Just top them and bake.
Obviously, if you have a pizza crust that works well for you, go ahead and use it. Amy was a bit skeptical of this at first, but it is a fantastic flavor combo! It is always fun to try things that may not immediately spring to mind when you have a dish as iconic as pizza.
A few weeks ago I got a call from my mom, and she told me that my aunt wanted to throw a shower for my brother’s fiance. My aunt wanted me to cater it. A couple of days after that I received an email from my aunt. Of course I had a number of questions. When? Where? Did she have any ideas as far as menu? How many people? Any dietary restrictions? She really didn’t have any solid ideas, but she had decided that she would rather deal with the social aspects of throwing the party, and enjoy it rather than having to worry about the food. I can understand that, and I am certainly willing to help out. I’ve been cooking for a living for over 6 years, and for some reason most of my family members are surprised when I do things like this.
When I first started cooking I was doing cold foods. That is the general progression that you follow. Dishes, salads/sandwiches, hot line. In my case, I ended up on the sauté station. Depending on the size of a kitchen there may be more or fewer stations. Doing cold foods meant that I made a lot of hors d’oeuvres as well as salads. At that time we had dinner service for our members, and every night we would come up with a complimentary appetizer for our guests. That was was pretty much whatever we wanted to give them, and I kind of took it as challenge to do something interesting with it as often as possible. This often involved me walking the coolers and grabbing something, and making something up on the spot. Other times we would make a few extra hors d’oeuvres for a party and use them.
So, back to the party… I was more or less given free reign as far as food went, and I figured I would try to give people some things that were pretty safe, and also give them at least something that might be a bit of a challenge to them. The only real dietary restrictions came from Amy (who doesn’t really eat red meat, but likes bacon), and my sister and I who are gluten-free. Obviously, I wanted to be able to taste the food I was making so gluten-free was a goal, but I also wanted to make sure that my sister could eat whatever she wanted. The other side of the gluten-free goal was to make it so that if you didn’t need to know you would have NO idea whatsoever that you were eating gluten-free food. It turned out that there was also a mushroom allergy, but that was easy to deal with. (That person just had to avoid the stuffed mushrooms.)
My first step was to come up with a few things that pretty much everyone would be happy to eat. I decided that I wanted to make sure that even if people had already had something like what I was making they would not have had it exactly like I was going to make it.
For the people who were were really afraid I figured a crudités platter, hummus, pita chips, and some ranch dip would be a good place to start. I also wanted to give them a nice cheese platter, and some fruit. Between those two almost everyone will be happy. For the people who were just a little more adventurous I had a honeydew and cantaloupe that I skewered with a little bit of Coppa Romana that I picked up at at Salume Beddu, and then drizzled it with a little balsamic vinegar.
From there I wanted to get a little more adventurous. I decided that I would make some stuffed mushrooms, and go back to my days making complimentary appetizers. They are simple, and quite tasty, but a lot of people don’t like the texture of mushrooms. I also had an idea to combine some local chèvre and a fig jam on a cracker. I ran across Thomas Keller‘s fig jam recipe from his book Ad Hoc at Home, and it seemed like it would be perfect.
Whenever you go someplace to cook there is always a bit of an element of chance as far as equipment, and presentation goes, but if you’re told that things are there that you know you will need, figure it will be there, and be prepared to improvise if need be. In this case I was pretty sure that there would be no real problems as far as serving platters and kitchen equipment went. I always bring my own knives, and cutting boards. It just makes things easier if I don’t have to worry that the person doesn’t have a decent knife!
Some of the things I made are pretty simple, and self-explanatory. The cheese and fruit, melon cubes, and crudite you won’t have a problem doing at the drop of a hat. So, I’ll tell you about the other three!
My stuffed mushrooms have been a hit every time I have made them. What people don’t always realize is that they are very easy to make.
Crimini mushrooms (They are sold as “Baby bella” here. They are really small portobello mushrooms.)
Cream cheese 8oz block
half an onion finely diced
pancetta finely diced 2 oz (I also got this at Salume Beddu. It was made from pigs that were fed acorns!!)
Garlic 3 cloves minced
First, wash the mushrooms, remove the stems, and mince them. Hang onto the caps, because you’ll be stuffing them in a bit.
In a skillet render the pancetta over medium heat. Once the fat has more or less dissolved and the meat has crisped up a bit add the onions and garlic that you minced, and turn up the heat. Saute these until the onions are clear, then add the minced mushroom stems, and add a little salt. Cook the mushrooms until they are brown, and tender. Remove from the heat, and let cool for a few minutes. Beat the cream cheese in your mixer. I use the paddle attachment on my mixer, but if you don’t have a paddle, use what you have. Then add the mushroom mixture, and mix to combine well. Season with a little Worcestershire Sauce, to taste. Spoon the filling into the mushroom caps, and bake them on a cookie sheet for about 10 minutes at 350F. Obviously, if you want a vegetarian version leave out the pancetta, and use a little canola oil.
Now, lets tackle the fig jam and chèvre. Obviously, this one I had to start early. I had done a bit of searching for a fig jam, and ran across the recipe from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. This is not a book I own, but it is certainly on my list of things to get. Quite a few people have made this and blogged about it.
It really is very simple, but takes a bit of time and care.
2 pounds of figs stems removed, and roughly chopped (fresh if possible, soak dried ones in hot water to rehydrate them)
1½ cups sugar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp black peppercorns in a sachet
fresh lemon juice
Combine the figs, sugar, vinegar, and peppercorns in a saucepan with your candy thermometer in the pan. Simmer until the temperature reaches between 215 and 220, then stir in the lemon juice. Spoon into a container, and refrigerate.
I had decided to combine the fig jam with a nice local chèvre. Fortunately there are apparently plenty of good farmers in the area making raising goats and making cheese! A while back Amy and I threw a Halloween party, and learned about Nut Thins crackers. They’re made from rice and almonds, and are very tasty! I spread a little of the cheese on the crackers, and spooned a little of the jam on top. It was a great combination of sweet, and savory!
My final appetizer was probably the biggest challenge for many of the guests at the party, and also in some ways for me. Tuna tartar on a sushi rice round should be no problem for people who eat sushi, but not all of my family eats sushi.
Since sushi rice is a bit time consuming to prepare you should start the rice early. First, soak the rice. Place the rice in a bowl and cover with cold water, and allow it to sit until the rice is white. Then drain, and rinse a few times until the water is no longer milky. Allow to drain, and then place the rice in a pot and cover with water. The measurement is not as exact as for other types of rice. In this case you want to cover by the depth of one knuckle. Stick your finger in the pot, and pour in water. You’ll get it! Bring the water up to a boil, and then turn it down to a simmer. Simmer covered for 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat, and allow it to sit for at least another 10 minutes. At that point you need to season the rice. There are a few ways you can do that. You can buy seasoned rice vinegar, or you can use unseasoned vinegar, and add a little bit of sugar and salt to it. That is what I do, because then I can use the vinegar for whatever else I want. The easiest way to season the rice is to combine a small amount of vinegar with sugar and salt. Then sprinkle the rice with the mixture, and mix it in. Once you have the rice seasoned spread it in thin layer on a cookie sheet to cool. I used my Silpat for this because it is very non-stick, and sushi rice is very sticky! Once it was cool I used a round cookie cutter to cut circles about 1 1/2 inch across. In a very hot skillet I lightly browned the rice cakes, and set them aside.
Next I turned my attention to the tuna. I purchased some very nice sushi grade tuna from a local fish market. They sliced the fish into steaks about ¾ inches thick for me. I minced some ginger, and finely sliced some green onions, and combined that with the fish which I cut into small dice. Then, I seasoned it with gluten-free soy sauce. Obviously, tasting this as you go is very important. Very little soy sauce is needed to season this mixture. You should never be afraid to taste things that you are cooking. That is one thing that I learned early on in my career in a kitchen. You may not like what you are tasting, but it is not hard to ask yourself things like “Is there enough salt?” or “Does this taste the way it should?” These are not subjective. You can tell if something is properly made even if you don’t care to eat it. This can be a challenge, but if it is gluten-free why not taste it?
When I was ready to assemble this appetizer I simply spooned the tuna mixture onto the rice cakes, and put them on the serving platters.
Throwing a party can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun. All it takes is a bit of planning, and preparation. If you know what you want to do, and plan exactly when everything needs to be done it is easy to do. If you go in without a plan it can be quite nerve-wracking! Create things that you want to eat, and if you’re not sure, try it first. Make it once so that you aren’t trying a new recipe or technique on unwitting guinea pigs! Above all give yourself plenty of time, and have fun with things!
May 15, 2011 | Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: Ad Hoc at Home, Balsamic vinegar, cheese plate, chevre, Cooking, dinner party, fig, fig jam, figs, Fruits and Vegetables, Gluten-free diet, hors d'oeuvres, melons, Mushroom, mushrooms, pancetta, party, Salume Beddu, silpat, Thomas Keller | 1 Comment