The key to success is delicious food that you are able to sit and enjoy with your guests.
My Dad turned 84 this week and I decided to host a small dinner for him at my apartment. We usually travel or go out to a restaurant for his birthday but given the times we decided it would be best to dine at home. My Dad loves his birthday so it was important to me to pick a special menu to serve for the occasion. Preparation and timing are the two most important factors in hosting a great dinner party. You want to be able to enjoy the dinner not only prepare it. It is also very uncomfortable for your guests if you keep getting up and look like you are working too hard. It is essential to choose a menu that can be prepped ahead of time. I chose to serve Fresh Perigord Black Truffles Shaved Over Pasta as the appetizer followed by Chorizo and Panko Crusted Black Cod with Beurre Blanc served with Individual Potato Gratin, Spinach Rounds and Blistered Tomatoes. The potato gratin was made 2 hours ahead of time and covered with foil so I could reheat them in the same oven as the fish. The spinach rounds were prepped in the morning and kept in the refrigerator. The Beurre Blanc was made an hour before guests arrived. The sauce was served room temperature.
So let’s sum this up: During the day, The fish was topped with the Panko and Chorizo and put on a baking sheet in the refrigerator, the Spinach Rounds were prepped and put on a baking sheet in the refrigerator and the Potato Gratin was fully cooked and left at room temperature covered with foil. The tomatoes were tossed in Olive Oil and sautéed for 5 minutes while I was making the pasta. The Black Cod, Spinach and Potatoes all required 12 minutes in a 400 oven. When the appetizer was served I put the Black Cod on the top shelf in the oven, the spinach on the middle shelf and the potatoes on the bottom shelf. I then went to sit down and eat my appetizer with my guests. After 10 minutes I returned to the kitchen to take everything out of the oven. The plates were all stacked and ready for me to place the food on. As my kids cleared the appetizer dishes, I plated the food and it was served to the guests. After that I was able to sit, have a glass of wine and enjoy my Dad’s birthday. Dessert was brought by my Step Mom so the rest was easy. I had the dessert plates and forks ready to go. The other nice thing about preparing in advance is that it makes clean up very easy. All that was needed to get done was place the plates and silverware into the dishwasher. No one wants to walk into a messy kitchen at the end of the night…
We started with Cacio e Pepe Ravioli in a Truffle Butter and Cream Sauce topped with Shaved Fresh Black Perigord Truffles. Black Perigord Truffles are found in the Winter months, November through March. In the next few days I will be posting more on Black Truffles. The appetizer pasta was very quick to make. The Cacio e Pepe Ravioli was fresh so it only took a few minutes to cook in boiling water. I had a big pot of salted water simmering on the stove when my guests arrived so all I had to do was turn up the heat and make a quick Truffle Cream Sauce when it was time for dinner. The sauce took 5 minutes to make, roughly the same amount of time it took the pasta. I quickly tossed the ravioli in the sauce, dished it into bowls and my daughter Olivia brought them to the table as people were sitting down. I then went around the table and shaved the fresh Black Perigord Truffle over the pasta. It makes a beautiful presentation to shave the Black Truffle at the table.
Try to pick a menu that is easy for you. The sides should definitely be made earlier in the day. Many vegetables are able to serve room temperature after being prepared. Try roasting zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes or sautéing string beans in shallots and serving them room temperature or give them a bit of heat in the oven before serving. Individual Potato Gratin can be made earlier in the day and quickly reheated. Fish is ready in no time which is why I love this Black Cod recipe. It is ready in 15 minutes and looks absolutely beautiful on a plate.
An elegant appetizer that is easy to make and tastes great
I love appetizers that are interesting but easy to prepare. I love serving soup or salad to start but sometimes I want something a little different so this parmesan flan makes a great alternative. When I invite friends over there are usually some dietary requirements that need to be taken into consideration when choosing a menu to serve. This parmesan flan recipe is easy to prepare and can be adapted to fit many diets. If you would like to keep it vegetarian then serve it with blistered tomatoes, roasted artichoke hearts and arugula. If your guests aren’t vegetarian then I recommend serving the flan with Prosciutto di Parma, Arugula and Blistered Tomatoes. The flans come together very quickly and then need to be baked in ramekins that are placed in a water bath for 20 minutes. To do this you will place the ramekins in a baking dish and then pour boiling water in the baking dish until ramekins are submerged half way in the water. This is a necessary way to make any flan, whether sweet or savory. It insures the the edges do not get burned and that the flan cooks evenly.
I also love the silky texture of flan. It’s almost like a spread and I have seen some of my guests use a knife to put it on a little bread before eating it. Why not? It is like a cheesy spread. The parmesan flavor is dominate in the dish but is softened by the milk and cream. It is essential to grate your own parmesan cheese and not use packaged grated cheese. I prefer Parmigiana Reggiano. Freshly grated cheese is much lighter and airier than packaged grated cheese. I like to grind some additional black pepper over the flan before serving it. I love the way the black pepper looks on top of the creamy white flan.
Should I serve the Parmesan Flan hot or cold?
I like to serve the flan a bit warm. It doesn’t have to be hot but I do not like it cold. You can time it so the flans come out of the oven 30 minutes before your guests arrive. The flan will need to cool for 15 minutes before you invert them onto the plate and add the arugula, blistered tomatoes, basil and prosciutto. You can set the plates aside so the appetizer is ready to serve when your guests arrive.
What else can I serve the Parmesan Flan with?
You can really serve the parmesan flan with a lot of things. Think of it as creamy, silky parmesan. It works well as a side dish too. You can serve it with grilled fish or chicken with some sautéed spinach. It is also delicious next to a sliced sirloin steak or filet mignon. Next time you make an antipasto plate think about making the flan to serve on the board next to the prosciutto and salami.
add whole pealed garlic clove, salt, pepper and nutmeg
warm milk on low flame until hot but not boiling
slowly add milk mixture to eggs being careful not to cook the eggs
strain through fine sieve
blend in freshly grated parmesan cheese and gently mix until cheese is melted
grease 4 ramekins with spray or butter
fill ramekins 3/4 of the way up
put ramekins in a baking dish and then pour boiling water into baking dish until water is half way up ramekins. Be careful not to get water in flan.
place on baking sheet in oven for 20 minutes until flan is set
remove from oven and remove ramekins from water bath. Allow to rest for 15 minutes then turn ramekin over plate to release flan from ramekin. If it is a little stuck use a knife to gently run around edge of flan to release it from ramekin.
Heat olive oil in pan over medium heat
add tomatoes, salt and pepper – Be careful, they wil splatter as they cook
shake tomatoes in pan until starting to brown and soften
Serve Parmesan Flan with Tomatoes, Arugula dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and slices of Prosciutto di Parma (optional)
Living in NYC I love to walk in Central Park and eat a big, hot salty pretzel. Soft pretzels are sold by street vendors all over the city and are best eaten hot with lots of mustard. The pretzel was originally created in Germany by a Monk around 610 A.D. They were called ‘pretiola’ which translates to ‘little reward’. The monk would give the pretiola to children as a reward for learning their prayers. The twisted shape of the pretzel is meant to resemble a child’s arms crossed in prayer.
I have spent a lot of time perfecting a recipe for homemade soft pretzels at home. The dough comes together very quickly but does require a rise of about an hour in order to create a pretzel with the right texture and consistency. I like to make these pretzels with my daughter Olivia. It is a lot of fun to roll out the dough and shape them into pretzels. It is essential to boil the pretzel for 30 seconds in water and baking soda before baking them in the oven. This step is what creates the slightly chewy texture to the soft pretzel and prepares the outside to crisp up in the oven. Please note that you should add the baking soda to the water first and then bring it to a boil. Adding the baking soda to boiling water will cause the water to boil over and will make a mess. Trust me on this one, it’s not pretty. After boiling the pretzels, place them on a parchment lined baking sheet and allow to dry for a few minutes before brushing with egg wash and sprinkling on pretzel salt. You can make the dough into pretzel shape or nuggets, both work well. It is important not to crowd the pretzels when boiling them. I only boil one or two at a time. Also, do not boil them for more than 30 seconds. Boiling the pretzel for too long will alter the taste because of the baking soda. These pretzels are best eaten fresh out of the oven while they are still warm. You will have freshly baked pretzels that are absolutely addicting. You can wrap them in foil and place in an airtight bag in the refrigerator for up to two days. Reheat the pretzels in a 350 oven. They will be good but they will not be as good as when you eat them the same day
Can I top my pretzels with other toppings?
Yes, you can top the pretzels with a variety of toppings, savory and sweet. I like to use pretzel salt on some and everything seasoning on the rest. You need to buy pretzel salt which is a specialized salt. It is not the same as coarse salt. Pretzel salt is white and has less sodium than coarse salt. You can also sprinkle grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on the pretzels when they are almost done baking so that the cheese melts on the pretzel. If you would like to make the pretzels a little sweet I would add a tablespoon of brown sugar to the dough and sprinkle the pretzels with cinnamon and sugar when they are half way through baking. You can serve the sweeter pretzels with chocolate and caramel dipping sauce.
I am so excited to share this with you! I have been experimenting with a chocolate bread recipe. I wanted to come up with one that was a combination of brioche and babka. A sweet, but not too sweet, dough layered with just the right amount of semi sweet chocolate. Of course the chocolate bread also had to have a crumb topping. If we are going to go for it well then let’s go for it. I used my cinnamon roll recipe as the base of the dough but added an additional egg yolk, some vanilla extract and a little extra butter. So should we call this Babka, Brioche or Briochka? The dough is softer and fluffier than a typical babka, more like a brioche but it is cut and twisted like a babka so really I guess Briochka is probably the best name.
The result is a buttery, sweet brioche style bread with layers of chocolate running throughout. It’s sweet but not too sweet. The chocolate filling for the babka is made by melting butter and semi sweet chocolate morsels and then mixing in confectionary sugar and cocoa powder to make a chocolate paste. The paste is then spread over the rolled out dough before the dough is rolled. The technique is very similar to cinnamon rolls but we cut the roll in half instead of slices. Each half will fit in one loaf pan. The half is cut vertically and then twisted before being placed in a loaf pan sprayed with baking spray or greased with butter.
How do I prevent gaps in my babka?
No one likes large gaps of air between their layers of babka. There are a few ways to prevent this.
Roll the dough slowly and tightly. Pull the dough slightly back as you roll forward.
Spooning a little half and half over the dough after the second rise will help keep the layers together
Brush top of dough with egg wash before sprinkling on crumb topping
Let bread cool for 15 minutes in pan before you remove babka to cut
Can I Use a Different Filling in the Babka?
Yes, you can fill the dough with several different fillings. Spread Nutella over the dough before rolling or try raspberry jam or cinnamon, butter and brown sugar. You can also add chopped walnuts or raisins if you like. Be creative.
I have been trying to perfect the cinnamon roll recipe for awhile. Some are too dry, some are too cakey, some don’t have enough cinnamon, some are too sweet. I have finally perfected the recipe. After many tries, and I’m sure a few extra pounds, I have come up with a recipe that has the perfect amount of sugary cinnamon with the right softness of dough.
This recipe does not require a lot of ingredients but it does require some time. The rising process is very important in yielding fluffy rolls that goes oh so well with the cinnamon and brown sugar filling. I also think adding a bit of half and half or milk before baking the rolls keeps the rolls moist and gooey and the filling doesn’t dry out. I use instant yeast in this recipe and bread flour. You can substitute all purpose flour and active dry yeast if that’s all you can find. If you are using active yeast you will need to dissolve it in warm (not hot) milk before adding the sugar and eggs. I think instant yeast is easier to work with because you just add it to the flour and it doesn’t need to be activated but really either is fine. Just make sure that your yeast isn’t old. I also like King Arthur bread flour instead of all purpose. King Arthur makes amazing flour. The bread flour is higher in gluten and has 12.7% protein which results in a loftier and consistent texture. I use this flour in all the bread I make. It is also great for homemade pizza dough. If you don’t have bread flour do not worry, you can use all purpose and the rolls will still be delicious. The final touch to making these rolls exceptional is spooning some half and half or milk over each roll after they have risen and before you bake them in the oven. This prevents the rolls, and filling from drying out.
I like a simple powdered sugar frosting, I do not like cream cheese frosting on my cinnamon rolls. I think its too heavy and takes away from the lightness of the rolls. The cinnamon rolls are sweet and decadent enough, the frosting should just add a bit of glaze to the top.
Can I make the dough the night before?
Yes, you can make the recipe up to when you are suppose to let the rolls rise for a second time. Cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them rise for about an hour before baking. They should be double the size as when you put in the refrigerator. After the rolls have risen pour half and half over them. Let the half and half absorb into the rolls. Gently pour out liquid that has not been absorbed and bake in oven as directed.
Beef Wellington is an absolutely beautiful dish to serve at a special dinner. It does require a little time but the results are well worth the effort. This dish always reminds me of a time long ago when people hosted formal grand dinner parties in their home. I feel that this dish always makes the dinner feel more elegant. There are many theories regarding the origin of Beef Wellington. One theory is that it is named after the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) who won the battle of Waterloo. According to foods of England there is no mention of Beef Wellington in any English cookbook until about 1970. It is therefore presumed to have French origin and then renamed. No matter the origin, we do know that it dates back to a long time ago when classic technique cooking was popular.
Beef Wellington is definitely a decadent dish. The original recipe calls for Duxelles, Foie Gras and Puff Pastry. In the recipe I was handed down by my mother the Foie Gras has been removed and sliced prosciutto has been added to help seal in the juices and prevent the puff pastry from getting soggy. The use of prosciutto is seen in many modern Beef Wellington recipes. The Duxelles is a combination of mushrooms, I like to use button, portobello and shiitake, that have been chopped and cooked down in butter with shallots and thyme. You can also add a little truffle or Chanterelle to the mix. I also add in a little fresh bread crumbs because I like the texture that it gives to the duxelles. The result is a mushroom paste that is spread over the prosciutto and then wrapped around the tenderloin.
Duxelles with fresh thyme and breadcrumbs. Choose any assorted mushrooms you like and cook down with butter and shallots before adding the thyme and breadcrumbs
You can use a 2 1/2 pound center-cut tenderloin ( will serve 6) that has been tied to retain the shape or you can use 6-8 oz portions if you would like to make individual Beef Wellington. You must sear the meat to seal in the juices before wrapping it in the duxelles, prosciutto and puff pastry. After you sear the meat, remove the string before wrapping. There’s nothing worse then getting a piece of string caught in your mouth. I have deviated from my mother’s recipe slightly after reading that Chef Gordon Ramsey rubs Dijon mustard on the meat before wrapping it. So clever, I just love that guy! After trying this I decided I really liked the flavor and spice that the Dijon mustard gave the dish. Always make sure you wrap the tenderloin securely with the puff pastry and seal the ends well. Do not leave too much dough on the end, you don’t want clumpy ends of dough. After you have wrapped the Filet in puff pastry use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes to create a beautiful design on top. This can be as easy as rolling a thin piece of pastry and creating a vine with leaves or cutting out birds like I did here for Christmas. Use your imagination, it’s your creation. Brush with egg wash before placing in oven to create a beautiful sheen on the pastry when finished. Serve the Wellington with Brandy Shallot Sauce.
How Do You Know How Long To Cook The Meat?
It will take about 35-40 minutes for a 2 1/2 pound tenderloin to reach medium rare (130-135 degrees). I recommend cooking the Wellington at 400 for 40 minutes. You can stick a meat thermometer in the center to check temperature. The ends of the meat will be more well done then the center pieces so you will have a variety of meat temperatures for your guests. Let the Beef Wellington rest for 10 minutes before slicing it. Since it will be so beautiful to look at you should place it on a platter and display it at the table while your guests are sitting down.
Can I Make The Beef Wellington Ahead of Time?
Yes, you can prepare the Beef Wellington according to the recipe up to the step before you wrap it in puff pastry. This can be done up to 12 hours before you are going to cook the Wellington. Wrap the tenderloin in plastic wrap and refrigerate.