30 August 2009

Who do you really need in the kitchen?

"Too many cooks spoil the broth". There is much truth to this of course (especially in the case of a few particular friends and family members - you know who you are).  But to share a secret, The Savvy Host truly likes a few extra cooks in our kitchen to guide us through preparing the menu ~ only we're a little selective about who's invited to join us.  Alice, Julia, Mario, Irma, Julee & Sheila ... maybe you know this crowd?  These are some of the folks we rely on to guide us through the meal preparation.  

Though we could dedicate a library to great cooking guides, we thought we might share the ones that we've recently decided we can't live without. (We're somewhat fickle friends, so this is likely to shift as the fall weather kicks in). This is not a list of what's new~ it's a list of dependable friends that have helped us entertain on many occasions. Here they are:
Many a last-minute dinner party or family gathering depended on the guidance of these pros in our kitchen. We needed them. And we gladly share their voices and insights with you.

Over 20 years ago,The Silver Palate gave us an introduction to real entertaining ~ complete with a sense of humor and interesting "foodtrivia" for highlighted recipes and courses. Their chatty commentary makes dishes like Pasta Puttanesca, Choucroute Garnie, and Softshell Crabs Amandine come alive.  The chapter "The Cheese Board" offers every savvy host no-fail guidelines and recommendations.

The simple, straightforward counsel of Joy of Cooking demystifies many recipes and preparations for us.  On so many occasions, the Rombauers have helped us to decipher obscure recipe terms, to figure out appropriate substitutions in an emergency and to understand the basics of any cooking technique.  We rely on their guide to cuts of meat, and cooking temperatures.  Their tzatziki, southern dry rub, Tom Yum Soup (yes!) and beef tenderloin are standards for our dinner party repertoire.

The voice of Julia Child is omnipresent in her Kitchen Wisdom, bestowing confidence and calm direction in the midst of (potential) dinner party chaos.  Her discussion of "Soups and Two Mother Sauces" outlines the basics needed to create dozens of soups and sauces.   And, if you're up for a little more of a challenge, walk with her through the preparation of eggs from the French Omelet to Souffles.

Risotto is a treasure map of options leading any cook easily to a delicious outcome with this unbelievably simple and affordable dish ~ especially for large groups.  Risotto with mushrooms or spring vegetables or red wine or the standard "Risotto Milanese" are all presented in the easy-to-follow format.  Even dessert risottos are offered (a nice shift from rice pudding!). If you've always thought that this was a very difficult dish to prepare, invite this guide into your kitchen and you will amaze yourself at the outcome.

Getting back to the basics has been a priority in our entertaining, and who better than Alice Waters in The Art of Simple Food to point out creative combinations of selected, highest quality fresh ingredients to create exceptional cuisine.  She starts with Lessons & Foundation Recipes, including an recommended list of stock for your pantry.  Her recipe for Roast Chicken is a favorite (always turns out juicy and delicious) ~ especially when accompanied this summer by any of the delicious salads perfectly suited to make the most of local farmer's market finds!  Don't miss the Sauce chapter ~ it includes how to make your own bagna cauda, aioli and even creme fraiche!

And, lastly, for the summer months especially, we love Mario's Italian Grill - full of bold flavors and minimal preparation to make the most of your al fresco entertaining.  His Grilled Lobster with Lemon Oil is now a house specialty (we've worked with many shellfish for this and they are all delicious!).  We also love the Tuna Like Fioretina (a take on the bistecca alla fiorentina).  Everyone can master the Chicken Al Mattone (cooked under a brick).  And, you can add Grilled Artichokes to the dishes that you will be surprised so easy to make for your guests.  Thanks to Mario, we have fennel pollen, porcini powder and bottarga in our pantry, Joe Bastianich's Vespa Bianco in our wine fridge, and we know how to cook "alla piastra".

These are the pros we currently welcome regularly in our kitchen. Consider inviting them into yours for your next entertaining opportunity!

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