Monday, December 31, 2012

Gala Parfait: Feast of the Seven Fishes


You know what they say, Italians do it better.
Christmas is no exception. I had heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a coursed Christmas Eve tradition to count down the hours to Christ's midnight birth, but never have I experienced it. Until this year.
On the Table Set's holiday episode this year we decided to shake up tradition and go intimate dinner party instead of all-out Xmas bonanza like last year. Add my co-host Greg's recent collaborators Alaska Seafood graciously sharing some of their top-of-the-line sustainable seafood and our Buone Feste was heartily underway.



AND the table is set (no pun intended). In fact, Greg is such a pro I believe it was set a full day in advance.


As per usual, we had too many cooks in the kitchen — That's because some of our most talented friends were in attendance. Seven courses for seven wonderful cooks. And for extra credit, seven beverage pairings. No lazy bloggers 'round here!


To serve as guests arrived, I thought Philadelphia Fish House punch seemed a fitting choice.


Course #1: The Cuisinerd and her main squeeze are no amateurs when it comes to sea bugs, and they knocked us flat with their Grilled Alaskan Oysters and Mignonette Trio: Spicy Chipotle, Cilantro Lime, and Classic Cocktail Sauce. (Seriously, these sauces should be sold in jars.)


Their offbeat pairing choice of Cantine Elvio Tintero Grangia frizzante (90% Favorita and 10% Moscato) created a wonderfully dry and fizzy bridge to the next course.


Course #2: I volunteered for the amuse bouche. Starting with salmon roe, I got inspired by dishes from LA's Son of a Gun restaurant and in the sexy NOMA cookbook. For added depth I first cured the roe in a beer brine. I used Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel's sweet and spicy Route Des Épices rye beer brewed with black and green peppercorns.


The finished amuse comprised of a Rye Crisp with Maple Cream, Beer-cured Salmon Roe, Green Chile Sugar and Fennel Top.


Course #3: Jackie the Beeroness (also behind Domestic Fits) wowed us all with her comforting Seared Alaskan Scallops wtih Smoked Sweet Corn Puree and Stout Balsamic Reduction. A sparkling wine cocktail with fresh basil and elderflower liqueur was an elegant brace.


Course #4: Chef, artist, and former Table Set guest Brian wove a tapestry of a "soup course" with his Seared Halibut over Forbidden Rice with Miso Pork Broth. For a cleansing respite, fresh lavender-infused spa water was paired.


Course #5: It wouldn't be a Table Set supper without something showy from Andy. His "Surf 'n' Turf" entree was no exception. Here, oceany Uni Capellini with Scallop, Bonito and Nori Crumble met earthy Rye Toast with Pine Nut Porcini Butter for a unique twist on the concept.
It was paired with Kabaj Rebula, a full-bodied Slavic white wine (100% Ribolla) capable of standing up to the intense flavors of the dish.


Course #6: Salad after entree? Why not?! Salad with crab? Hit me! Joy the Baker made magic with her crisp and refreshing Alaska Crab, Apple and Pomegranate Salad — a new Insalata di Mare classic. Get her recipe here.


Six courses in, I can hardly recall what we were drinking anymore... but my blurry photo shows that it was bubbly, and that we were having fun!


Course #7: And boy, the fun wasn't over yet. Greg built a mountain of it with his festive Caffè e Frittelle Dolci (Coffee & Donuts) — Glorious rosemary glazed donuts studded with gummy Swedish Fish, a highbrow/lowbrow win. I think I had seven.

In all, a beautiful night of subtlety, skill, festivity, and togetherness. Thank you to Alaska Seafood and all of our lovely guests!


Video and additional photography courtesy of Ted Houser

Friday, December 21, 2012

Buvare: The Tart in Tartan


I've never spent a winter in Scotland, though I imagine it would be spent fireside sipping something strong. This smoky and tart holiday cocktail is all about the pull. Best to give in and let it do its thing.

The Tart in Tartan

1 oz Laphroaig Islay Scotch whisky
1 oz Irish whisky
1 oz Cranberry Shrub (recipe here)
1/2 oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients over ice and shake. Strain into a tumbler over one large fresh ice cube. Express oil from a lemon peel and garnish. Sit back and enjoy slowly.

Recettes Secrètes: Fennel Mostarda


This recipe is a great way to use up the less desirable bits of a fennel bulb, stalks and all. It is delicious with a cheese plate, served on toasts, or in a sandwich. Can it and wrap it for an intriguing epicurean gift.

Fennel Mostarda

1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 wineglass (5 oz) dry white wine
5 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1 heaping tablespoon mustard seeds

In a saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat, simmering until fennel is softened and jam-like, about 15 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. May be jarred and kept in the refrigerator for up to a week, or canned for shelf-stability.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Recettes Secrètes: Cranberry Shrub


Shrubs are all the rage, yet making them couldn't be easier. This fresh cranberry shrub syrup is festive and delicious simply mixed with sparkling water or in a cocktail.
Keep your loved ones current!

      Cranberry Shrub

1 cup water
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
3/4 cups red wine vinegar
peel of one lemon

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, stir, cover and steep for 20 minutes. Press berries gently with the back of a wooden spoon to release juices. Strain through fine mesh and store in the refrigerator (or can for gift-friendly shelf stability).

Printable gift tag:


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recettes Secrètes: Apple Bitters


Top of my wish list this year is (once again, ah hem Santa) Brad Thomas Parsons' omnibus Bitters: A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All, with Cocktails, Recipes, and Formulas. Luckily I was able to score this recipe last year even without the book and whipped up a batch of consumable giftage gold. Trust me, your whiskey drinking friends will thank you later.


Apple Bitters
by Brad Thomas Parsons

Peels from 6 medium to large (preferably organic) apples
Zest of half a lemon, cut into strips
2 Cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp allspice berries
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cassia chips
1/2 tsp cinchona bark*
4 cloves
2 cups high-proof bourbon
1 cup water
2 tbsp rich simple syrup (two parts sugar, one part water)

Place all of the ingredients except for the bourbon, water, and rich syrup in a quart-sized Mason jar or other large glass container with a lid. Pour in the 2 cups of bourbon, adding more if necessary so that all the ingredients are covered. Seal the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 2 weeks, shaking the jar once a day.


After 2 weeks, strain the liquid through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized jar to remove the solids. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Squeeze the cheesecloth over the jar to release any excess liquid and transfer the solids to a small saucepan. Cover the jar and set aside.

Cover the solids in the saucepan with the water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover the saucepan, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool completely. Once cooled, add the contents of the saucepan (both liquid and solids) to another quart-sized Mason jar. Cover the jar and store at room temperature out of direct sunlight for 1 week, shaking the jar daily.

After 1 week, strain the jar with the liquid and solids through a cheesecloth-lined funnel into a clean quart-sized Mason jar. Repeat until all of the sediment has been filtered out. Discard the solids. Add this liquid to the jar containing the original bourbon solution.

Add the rich syrup to the jar and stir to incorporate, then cover and shake to fully dissolve the syrup.

Allow the mixture to stand at room temperature for 3 days. At the end of the 3 days, skim off any debris that floats to the surface and pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined funnel one last time to remove any solids.

Using a funnel, decant the bitters into smaller jars and label. If there’s any sediment left in the bottles, or if the liquid is cloudy, give the bottle a shake before using. The bitters will last indefinitely, but for optimum flavor use within a year.

*Can be ordered online through Tenzing Momo. Another great use for cinchona bark? Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Homemade Tonic Water.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Buvare: Sidedish


Thanksgiving and cocktail are seldom synonymous words. The holiday is one for wine, and plenty of it. But on the current episode of The Table Set we challenged ourselves to think outside of the wine box and come up with food friendly alternatives to unoaked Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
While craft beer and hard cider make great cases for themselves, I decided to also come up with a pre-dinner cocktail. As I would be spending the holiday in the Russian River Valley this year, miles from Iron Horse and Korbel, I considered a sparkling wine element, but instead dusted off a bottle of Korbel brandy as the base spirit.
A longtime fan of a Brandy Sidecar, I tinkered with the classic ratio, introducing fresh cranberry syrup and black walnut bitters, with Dry Curacao in for the orange liqueur. The result is a lively holiday drink that can last through the season, Turkey Day 'til New Year's Eve.


Listen to The Table Set: Not Talking Turkey

Monday, November 12, 2012

Buvare: Sweater Weather


They say the most dangerous food is wedding cake.
I imagine that trickles down to what's in the toasting glass... So when two of my loveliest friends recently asked me to concoct their wedding reception's signature cocktail I may have broken a small sweat whilst smiling and saying "of course!"
This would just have to be my most perfect cocktail yet.


Not one to take such challenges lightly, I drew up a lengthy survey. I would need to know every detail of the bride & groom's tastes, their vision for the wedding, guest makeup, and --most importantly-- if they like a sweet drank.
After diagramming their answers I hosted a very serious cocktail tasting consultation. A wall of jarred syrups and infusions initially separated us, but after a couple of autumnal trial rounds (November wedding = best cocktail season ever), we all loosened up and began to make some headway. The two couldn't have more disparate tastes, but factoring in a diverse group, we all agreed on vodka. I cloaked it with harvest flavors and textures, resulting in what the clever bride (and one-time ChocoMeat guest writer) christened "Sweater Weather."


Important lessons were learned on the big day (i.e. insist on specifics when a caterer is handling the shopping), but all-in-all the cocktail was well received by the party. In fact, some people forewent the wine and drank it all night.
I suppose I can file that under success.

Sweater Weather

1 1/2 oz Tito's vodka
1 oz apricot liqueur
1 oz natural unfiltered apple juice
1/2 oz cinnamon simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Reed's ginger beer

Combine all ingredients except ginger beer and shake well. Strain over fresh ice into a bucket glass. Top with ginger beer and lightly stir. Express oils from an orange peel and garnish, top with freshly-grated nutmeg.

To make cinnamon simple syrup, combine 1 cup of water with 1 cup of sugar and several cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and cool completely. Strain and bottle. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to a month.