A Play in Four Acts
FoodBeest hosted an “over-the-top dinner party” designed to bring out the creativity and versatility of a group of pretty experienced, accomplished, albeit amateur home cooks. Each of the participants was a self-described FoodBeest. In a world where some people eat to live, for these people, food is an expression of who they are and what they have to give to the world.
This was a pot luck dinner. With a twist.
Each couple was to prepare and bring one course for the meal: starter, salad, entrée or dessert. To keep things interesting, each couple was required to include in their dish a “Surprise Required Ingredient” (SRI) selected for them a week before the dinner by another couple attending the dinner.
Here’s how the “Surprise Required Ingredients” were assigned:
Figs were the SRI for the starter course.
Maple syrup was the SRI to be included in the salad.
Oranges – in any form – were the SRI for the entrée.
Blue cheese was the dessert’s SRI.
Nothing too crazy. Nothing out-of-season or hard-to-find. No candy corn or cotton candy. No nopales. No blood sausage. No haggis.
Cast of Characters
Before the evening, everyone who participated knew someone, but no one knew everyone. There was no collaboration between the cast members. This was a totally improvised food play. They came together in their love of good food and witty conversation and their willingness to play. This was not a competition, but an expression of possibility though food.
Executive Chef Kim, a culinary school drop-out and self-admitted foodie prepared the starter course with her adoring Sous Chef Brad.
Executive Chef John, émigré from a colorful village in Yorkshire, England, prepared the salad course under the concern of his Sous Chef Ronnie.
The FoodBeest prepared the entrée while Mr. FB covered the Front Of the House (FOH).
Executive Pastry Chef Arlene prepared the dessert which good eater Michael looked forward to eating.
Figs are an enormously sensuous fruit, so this had a lot of potential. It was just the end of the fresh fig season and Kim and Brad told us that they went to several stores before they found good ones. On one side of the white rectangular plate, Brad sliced the fresh raw figs into quarters, dotted them with goat cheese and drizzled them with a really good balsamic vinegar. On the other side, Kim deep-fried beggars’ pouches: wonton skins that she had filled with chopped figs mixed with minced chicken, cream cheese, and seasonings and then garnished with honey and fresh thyme leaves. The warm crispy fried skin gave way to the sweet/savory filling, foreshadowing the rest of the meal
The presentation was extraordinary and by using both preparations, Kim managed to highlight different aspects of the figs and set dinner off to a great start.
The rest of us started to get nervous. It may not have been a competition, but this was a very auspicious start.
John put together a simple green salad with butter lettuce, mesclun and dried cranberries tossed with a dressing of olive oil, vinegar, mustard and maple syrup. His dressing hit the perfect note between acidic and sweet. Two asparagus spears garnished each plate together with walnuts that had been glazed in maple syrup and a toasted bruchetta slice topped with rubbed garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
Johnny, we hardly knew ye! Come cook for us any time.
So in looking at how to use oranges in an entrée, the first thing we thought about was ossco bucco or lamb shanks, but I wanted something that would be a little lighter and a little faster to prepare. My first bouillabaisse. I found a recipe that called for soaking the saffron in orange juice and incorporated orange peel into the broth.
There is no way in the center of the United States to prepare totally authentic Marseille bouillabaisse with its traditional seven varieties of white-fleshed fish, plus Mediterranean seafood. So I choose to incorporate cod, mussels, scallops, shrimp and crab. I topped the stew with a slice of French bread (which I forgot to char) and rouille, a mayonnaise-like topping with garlic, lemon and red pepper
The only thing I would have changed, was to be sure that as I served it, I got lots more of the fish and crab that sat near the bottom of the pot. The orange was present, but not a dominant flavor, which I suspect was intentional.
A cheese course often precedes or even replaces dessert, especially in Europe and pears or apples were an obvious pairing with blue cheese, but Arlene told us she struggled with how to create the dish so that the fruit was not dominated by the blue cheese.
She roasted the pears with butter and honey, drizzled them with balsamic and freshly grated black pepper(closing the meal in a perfect food-cycle from the first course). She then paired the pears with a slice of blue cheese and a lemon-corn meal cookie. The cookie added texture and crunch and tasting almost like a Chinese almond cookie.
The sweetness of the pear; the saltiness of the cheese and the bite of the fresh pepper came together in a perfect harmony that lent a lasting finale to the meal, giving our mouths something to really experience and savor for the rest of the evening.
The curtain came down. The guests departed and the “feedback” is good. This FoodBeest considers herself honored and privileged to have friends who are some of the most beautiful, interesting, creative people on the planet.
Fellow FoodBeest, what would you have created with figs for a starter, maple syrup for a salad, orange in an entree or blue cheese in dessert? There are no right answers, but engaging in the question is the fun part. Please use the “Comment” section below.