lundi 19 mars 2007

You'd think I'd be bored talking about food, but I'm not.

I have friends who tell me to drop out of school and become a party planner/caterer. While this is indeed a tempting proposition, I'm not about to do it anytime soon because 1) my advisor would kill me (maybe not kill, but I'd be as good as dead to her) and 2) I know that if I made my hobby into a job, I'd end up hating it. And really, I do enjoy school (the majority of the time), as it does give me the freedom to throw parties when I want (and spend as much time beforehand preparing for them).

Or just dinner parties. I've fallen out of the habit of having dinner parties since moving back to Los Angeles, which is really such a pity. In Providence, I had a good friend with whom I'd cook with on a fairly regular basis, and in Boston, the same situation where we were always over at each others' apartments making dinners. So maybe it's my friends. Maybe I need new ones. (I jest!)

But it's high time that I entertained on a more regular basis, and not just during my biannual (or triannual, depending on my mood and inclination) parties. While those are fun, and allow me to practice my hors d'oeuvres-making, it's the more intense dinner parties that I miss. So, I decided to start them up again (without a cooking partner, sadly).

Since this first dinner party pretty much coincided with Saint Patrick's Day (okay, it fell the evening before), I decided to make a Saint Patrick's Day dinner, using a set of dishes created for that very dinner found in Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin. Not only did she attend my same alma mater (and went to an all-girl's school in the area - not the one I attended, but an all-girl's school just the same), but I love her restaurants (Lucques and AOC) to bits and pieces. I've had this cookbook for well over a year (and even had her sign it at the last LA Times Book Festival), but had never gotten around to making anything from it. So it was high time I rectified that situation.

To start, I made a simple salad of blood oranges and fennel, both sliced thin and dressed with an olive oil + blood orange juice + pomegranate vinegar dressing, perked up with a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of roasted walnuts.

By the way, the potatoes make excellent leftovers.

I was rather happy with the main course, although since clams cook quickly, I actually couldn't prepare it beforehand and I ended up making it (though I'd finished the chopping prep work) while everyone else ate the salad. This, I was not such a fan of, but there was no other real alternative. And by the way, champ is just another way of saying mashed potatoes with onions. Don't let the fancy name fool you. Also, I was most impressed with the scones - they came out light and scone-y, and I'd definitely make them again. For breakfast, they'd be superb with some butter and jam.

And for dessert, I'd planned on a strawberry cobbler, but then at the last minute decided that the sliced strawberries macerated with some sugar and a touch of balsamic vinegar would be just fine served over ice cream. And that's what I did.

Obviously, there was alcohol throughout - there was a quick cocktail I made with leftover blood orange juice, vodka, and soda water, then some pink bubbly, then moved onto a nice sauvignon blanc and finished with several rounds of Frangelico. Because a meal's not complete until you've had a lot to drink as well.

In looking at this picture, I am oddly reminded of that scene in Alice in Wonderland with the walrus who eats all the oysters. Different type of bivalve, true, but still.

(All recipes adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.)
While substitutions weren't recommended, substitute I had to do because some of the ingredients, you can only really find at farmers' markets and I hadn't the time to run around chasing them down. Per the book, scallions can be used in place of spring onions (and, in fact, at Whole Foods, both names were on the label which is actually wrong, since they are different). And in lieu of green garlic, you can use sliced garlic cloves and sliced scallions.

Buttered cockles with peas and pea shoots
(Or, really, just peas, because I couldn't find pea shoots)
Supposedly serves six, but there was just the right amount for four of us

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 cups thinly sliced spring onions plus 1 cup thinly sliced spring onion tops
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 pounds cockles or small Manila clams
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1.75 cups peas (I used frozen, and didn't bother thawing them beforehand)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 lemon
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 ounces pea shoots
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large wide-bottomed sauté pan or Dutch oven. Swirl in the olive oil and wait 1 minute. Add the spring onions, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook until the onions are just wilted (about two minutes). Add the cockles to the pan, and stir well to coat them with the onions and oil. Cook 2 minutes, add the white wine, and cover the pan.

Steam the cockles 3 to 4 minutes, until they start to open. Remove the lid and pour in the stock. When the stock comes to a boil, add the peas. Cook for a minute and then add the butter, stirring to incorporate. Season with a squeeze of lemon juice and taste for seasoning. I think I left out the lemon juice step by accident, and it was fine.

Quickly toss the parsley, pea shoots, and spring onion tops into the pot. Stir just until the greens begin to wilt (a couple of minutes), and transfer to a large warm shallow bowl.

Oh, and remember not to eat the unopened cockles!

Green garlic champ

1.5 pounds fingerling or small yellow potatoes (I ended up using regular large white ones, and it was fine)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1.5 cups thinly sliced green garlic
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/4 cup heavy cream
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the potatoes in a large pot of heavily salted boiling water until tender (about 15 minutes, depending on the size and type of potato - you can stab the potatoes with a fork to test this). When the potatoes have just cooled, crush them slightly on a cutting board with the hell of your hand or the back of a large spoon.

Heat a medium pot. Add the butter, and when it foams, add the green garlic, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the green garlic has softened.

Add the potatoes, stirring and mashing them to incorporate all of the ingredients. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream. Taste for seasoning.

Brown scones
Makes 12 scones

2.25 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I used white whole-wheat flour)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons plus two teaspoons baking powder
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the flours, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a food processor, and process 30 seconds, until well-combined.

Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is a coarse meal (about 10 pulses)

With the machine running, quickly pour in 1 cup of the buttermilk. Stop the machine as soon as the dough comes together. Make sure to not overwork the dough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and bring it together with your hands into a large ball. Divide the dough into 3 pieces, and shape each of them into a 5-inch-wide disc. Cut each disc into quarters.

Brush the tops of the scones with a little buttermilk. Place on a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake 25 minutes, until the scones are golden brown. You'll want to serve the scones warm, so if you make them in advance, make sure to heat them back up in the oven before serving.