Pâté, and Exuberance

When I started this blog, I fully intended to post two or three times a week.  And, for a while, I was able to keep that schedule up.  Lately, though, I’ve been far less active here than I’d like, but it’s been for a very good reason, and one that I won’t bother to let remain unspoken any longer.

I’ve been starting my own business.

I like to think of it as my first business, because now that I’m working purely for myself, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work for someone else ever again.  It’s been hard work, frustrating, anxiety-inducing, uncertain, but entirely amazing.  The amount of support, love, and encouragement from my family and friends (and friends of friends!) these last few months has been nothing short of breathtaking.  It actually catches in my chest a little to think about it.

Now, when people ask me what I do, I say that I am a Personal Chef, and I say it with a pride and a happiness I never thought a simple job description could evoke.  I cook for people in their homes, for everyday meals or for parties, and I come home from each job exhausted and in bliss.  Forgive me if I wax fustian, but I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to have such a career.

So instead of blogging, I’ve been spending my days planning menus, figuring out insurance and business licenses, talking to clients, writing and testing recipes, tracking expenses, hauling pans and groceries up and down three flights of stairs, and trying to understand how on Earth I got so darn fortunate.

In the midst of all this excitement, oddly enough, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with making pâté.  It’s a little strange, since I didn’t grow up with pâté, have had no mind-blowing enlightenment after eating any particularly fine pâté, have never had any particular longing for it, and in fact never really thought much about it.

But perhaps it’s because I have no real experience with pâté that it’s lighting me up now.  Pâté always seemed to me a bit mysterious, a thing expensive, soigné, and difficult to prepare, best left to professionals.  Now that I’m confident enough in my culinary abilities to bill myself as a professional chef, perhaps I decided it was high time I tackled this final frontier.

Whatever the reason for the obsession, I am now the proud owner of two pâté-centric cookbooks, and have a few basic types of pâté now under my belt, specifically ground meat pâté, chicken liver pâté, and a seafood pâté.  The latter two are by far the easiest, requiring only pan-cooking and a quick spin in a food processor before chilling.  But the former, a ground meat pâté, for all its complex ingredient list and intimidating nature, is actually quite simple.

ground meat and moist breadcrumbs will never look pretty

I’ve heard it said that if you can make meatloaf, you can make pâté.  This is cold comfort to me, who has made meatloaf maybe twice in her life, and certainly never in recent memory.  But after trying pâté, I’d say it’s a very apt comparison.  In fact, pâté might be the easier of the two; one must take care with meatloaf, using a light hand to achieve the proper texture.  Pâté, on the other hand, is weighted and compressed after baking; a light hand is wasted here.  That, I can get on board with.

This particular pâté is a rustic style known as pâté de campagne, or “country-style pâté”.  And, as Chef Anthony Bourdain so eloquently puts it, that means “even your country-ass can make it.”  It’s not fussy or complicated by any means, but serve a platter of this with some crackers or baguette slices, and you’ll look like Chef Bourdain’s equal.

blanched bacon; don't bother with this pointless step

Just barely smoky from the bacon wrapped around the outside, the filling gains depth from onion and reduced brandy, and brightness from a judicious sprinkling of herbs.  The texture is firm enough to slice, but soft enough to coax into spreading evenly over a piece of good bread.  It’s just as fantastic with a glass of champagne as it is with a cold beer, or your favorite red or dry rosé.  I like it with pickles of any sort, and a bit of good mustard, but that’s entirely up to you.

pickled grapes and mustard in the background

I feel pâté is an appropriate match for the news I’m sharing with you.  Both making pâté and starting your own business seem moderately terrifying on the surface, but are certainly manageable with kind encouragement and taking things one small step at a time.  Both carry a deceptive air of haute exclusivity, insinuating that mere mortals need not apply — unless you’re willing to take that first bold action in pursuit.

And certainly pâté is appropriate here, because it’s a food invariably reserved for celebrations, parties, galas, bashes of all ilk.  One never sits down to pâté alone, and this recipe makes far more than could be eaten by even two or three people.  It speaks of generosity, and joy, and riches to be shared.  Pâté is a food of exuberance, and there’s no other word to describe how I feel about it all right now.

Bon appétit.

Country-Style Pâté (Pâté de Campagne)
Adapted from The Cuisinart Food Processor Pâté Cookbook, by Carmel Berman Reingold
Makes two 7 x 2 x 3 inch loaves

This recipe uses a traditional and delicious mixture of ground veal, beef, and pork, but feel free to use whatever meats you like, as long as the total weight equals 2 1/4 pounds.  As tempting as it is, do not use lean ground beef (or lean anything) here; it will make for a dry and insipid pâté.  Plan to make this a day before serving to allow it enough time to compress and chill.

Some pâté recipes direct you to blanch the bacon before using it to line the pan.  I tried this recipe with both blanched and un-blanched bacon and found no discernible difference in flavor.  The difficulty in lining a loaf pan with curling blanched bacon, however, leads me to recommend skipping that step any time you run across it.

1/2 cup brandy
4 cloves garlic
1/2 medium onion
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
12 ounces ground pork
12 ounces ground veal
12 ounces ground beef (at least 85% fat)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons cream
10 strips of bacon, to line the pans
6 bay leaves

1.  Preheat oven to 350º F.  In a small saucepan, bring the brandy to a boil.  Reduce to 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.  Meanwhile, line two 7 x 2 x 3 inch loaf pans crosswise with 5 strips of bacon each, letting the ends of the bacon drape over the sides.  Set aside.

2.  In a food processor, chop the garlic, onion, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, thyme, and herbes de Provence until smooth.  (If you don’t have a food processor, chop as finely as possible.)  Transfer to a large bowl.

3.  To the onion mixture, add the pork, veal, beef, egg, cream, and reduced brandy.  Mix together thoroughly with hands until well and evenly combined.

4.  Divide the meat mixture evenly between the two prepared pans, pressing it into the corners of the pans.  Top each one with 3 bay leaves, and fold the ends of the bacon strips over the top.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil.

5.  Place the two pans in a high-sided roasting pan or baking dish large enough to hold both.  Pour warm water in the roasting pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the loaf pans.  Transfer to the oven, and bake at 350º F for 90 minutes.  If the water evaporates during baking, add extra as needed to maintain water level.

6.  Remove the pans from the roasting dish.  Place a flat surface (such as another loaf pan) on top of each pâté, and weight with something heavy (such as an unopened can or two of food from the pantry, or bottles of water).  Allow pâté to cool for a while before refrigerating overnight, leaving weights in place.  To serve, unmold, wipe away any accumulated aspic or fat from the surface of the pâté, and slice crosswise.  Wrap any remaining pâté tightly with plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  (Pâté may be wrapped and frozen, but the texture will suffer.)

World Cup Party: USA vs Algeria

I know it’s old hat by now, but I wanted to share the menu I prepared for a recent World Cup party in honor of the US game against Algeria.  (I might’ve shown you the US versus Slovenia menu, but I forgot my camera that night.)

I’m relatively new to the cuisine of Northern Africa, but the more I learn, the more I love about it.  So many spices!  (And I do love me some spices.)  Lamb!  Flatbreads!  Mint tea!  Couscous!  Honey and almonds!  So when I heard the US was playing Algeria, I got very excited.  It was a struggle to keep the number of Algerian dishes to a manageable level.

On the American food team, there was a giant Cobb salad (recipe here), as well as some gussied-up mocha Rice Krispies treats for dessert.  Representing Algeria were chakhchouka served with couscous and flatbread, stuffed dates, and mint tea.

Of course, we had orange wedges for halftime.  It may be the World Cup, but it’s still soccer.

Chakhchouka is typically a lamb and chickpea stew, served over torn bits of thin semolina flatbread called rougag, and is eaten with the hands; I took a few liberties with the idea, not wanting the decidedly American crowd to have to stray from the familiar fork or spoon.  My chakhchouka was a chicken and chickpea stew, with at least 15 different spices, served over couscous, with a thick wheat-flour flatbread known as khubz alongside.  Perhaps not precisely authentic chakhchouka, but it was close enough.

One hit of the evening was the Deglet Noor dates, stuffed with a fragrant mixture of finely-chopped nuts, brown sugar, honey, spices, and rose water.  The homely things couldn’t have been simpler to put together, but the sticky things charmed everyone with their exotic complexity.  A genius move from one guest paired a piece of bacon from the Cobb salad with a stuffed date; the smoky salt of the pork with the chewy sweet dates made me suddenly wish I had wrapped each one in proscuitto and baked until crisp and lightly caramelized.  Next time.

I couldn’t resist serving Rice Krispies treats for dessert, those most American of American sweets.  But, being the person I am, I also couldn’t resist using a markedly posh recipe for them.  (We’re all familiar with the standard Rice Krispies treat, yes?)  Here, cocoa is mixed into the cereal-marshmallow mixture, and the bars are sandwiched and drizzled with a mocha ganache.

The recipe headnotes mention a “tiny jolt of coffee flavor”.  This is wrong.  Not that it’s a bad thing, however.  Normally, a mocha ganache has a mere hint of coffee, just enough to deepen the flavor of the chocolate.  This ganache didn’t hint, it bellowed.  “COFFEE!”  Perhaps the instant coffee I used was a bit strong, but I added the full 1 tablespoon as directed.  I personally thought it was perfect, especially with the relatively bland sweetness of the cereal part of the dessert.  Proceed at your own discretion.  (A side note: I doubled the amount of marshmallow-cereal mixture, and still had ganache left over.)

Unfortunately, this is the end of the US-themed World Cup menus; but that doesn’t mean there won’t be another World Cup party in the near future.  Stay tuned for more international food battles!

this girl will be waiting for it

Chakhchouka (Chicken and Chickpea Stew)
Adapted from RecipeZaar and VitamineDZ
Serves 6 to 8

The main seasoning ingredient in this stew is ras el hanout, a seasoning blend ubiquitous in North African cooking.  Like its Indian counterpart, garam masala, ras el hanout is not a specific recipe, but a mixture that depends on the whim of the chef or spice house owner.  I mixed my own, but there are pre-mixed versions available.  A good starter recipe is found here; feel free to experiment with the blend to fit your tastes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 chicken breasts halves, patted dry
2 medium onions, chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons ras el hanout, to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
5 new potatoes (about 1/2 pound), chopped
1 (16 ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed
2 to 3 quarts chicken or vegetable stock, or water
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper, as needed
Cooked couscous, to serve

1.  In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Sprinkle the chicken breasts on both sides with salt and black pepper.  Add the chicken (skin-side down, if applicable), and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.  Turn the breasts over, and brown the other side, 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove to a plate, and let cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, chop meat into 1 inch pieces (discarding skin and bone, if applicable).

2.  Add the onions to the pan, and stir to coat with the oil.  Let cook until the onions soften and turn translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the ras el hanout, paprika, cayenne, black pepper, and bay leaf.  Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and garlic, and stir to coat.  Season lightly with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon.

3.  Add the carrots, zucchini, potatoes, chickpeas, and chopped chicken.  Add enough stock or water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a simmer.  Liquid level should never drop below the top of the solids; add additional liquid as needed.

4.  Simmer for 1 hour, or until vegetables are cooked to desired softness.  Taste, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat, and stir in dried mint and balsamic vinegar.  Serve in bowls over cooked couscous.

Stuffed Dates
Inspired by Food By Country
Makes 30

Feel free to experiment with the nut and spice mixtures in this recipe.  The filling is appropriately sweet, but the amount of brown sugar may be reduced if you prefer.  For a special treat, try wrapping these in proscuitto or bacon and baking until the meat crisps.  Serve those either warm or at room temperature.

3/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup walnuts (or pecans, macadamias, cashews, pistchios, or a mixture)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 three-fingered pinch salt
1 to 2 tablespoons rosewater (or orange flower water), as needed
30 dried Deglet Noor dates, pitted

1.  If using raw nuts, toast by spreading in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet.  Bake at 350º F for 5 to 9 minutes, or until lightly golden and fragrant, stirring halfway through.  Let cool slightly.

2.  In a food processor, pulse the nuts until chopped finely.  Place in a medium bowl.  Add the sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt.  Stir until well combined.  Add 1 tablespoon rosewater, and stir to blend.

3.  Squeeze a little of the mixture together.  If it does not hold together, add additional honey or rosewater as desired until it clumps.

4.  Stuff the pitted dates with teaspoons of the nut mixture.  Dates may be served immediately, or stuffed up to two days ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

My Old Kentucky Derby Party

When I was young, my mom used to decorate our front door and our dining room table for each season and important holiday.  Down from the sweltering attic came boxes full of trappings: the box of pastel Easter eggs and bunnies, and the two papier-mâché baskets shaped like chickens (blue for me, pink for my sister); the spooky Halloween box with cheesecloth ghosts and tiny black kitten finger puppets; the purple, green, and gold box for Mardi Gras with a million plastic king cake babies and only the shiniest of beads, caught in the previous year’s parades.

But one of my favorite boxes contained a decidedly unusual decoration: the miniature Churchill Downs racetrack.  There were miniature horses and jockeys, and a few little ceramic ducks to swim in the infield pond.  What pony-obsessed little girl wouldn’t love it?  This singular tabletop decoration was for a holiday that no one else I knew celebrated, the Kentucky Derby.

Though I was born and raised in New Orleans, my parents are both originally from near Louisville.  As I would come to fully realize years later, when I myself lived in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby is far more than a two-minute race on the first Saturday in May.  The best equivalent I can give is that Derby is for Louisville what Mardi Gras is for New Orleans.  It’s far more than one party, one day, one event.  It’s a season.

The party kicks off two weeks in advance, with the largest fireworks show in North America, Thunder Over Louisville.  Attended usually by around three-quarters of a million people, it’s the sign for Louisvillians to start polishing their mint julep cups and finish selecting the perfect hat, whether or not the race itself is actually attended.

Despite having lived in Louisville for a few years, I have never actually been to the Kentucky Derby itself.  You see, I worked in the service industry; for us, Derby was a series of forced-smile 14 hour days spent in constant frenetic motion, punctuated only by the mandatory after-work Bourbon and then falling into the deepest sleep imaginable.

These days, living in Chicago, I am determined to enjoy Derby in a way I was denied during my time in Louisville.  My party starts about an hour before post time, so that all my guests can settle into a drink or two before the excitement of the race, which is over in a flash.  Pre-race hors d’oeuvres whet appetites for the more substantial food served after the horses run, and individually-sized Bourbon pecan chocolate pies wait for those with a taste for something sweet (recipe here).

Though I don’t have a miniature tabletop racetrack, I do have a hat or two in my closet,  and I can lay out a spread of classic Kentuckian foods.  And I can mix a mean mint julep.  I think my mom would approve.



Pre-Race Hors d’Oeuvres

Crudités with Benedictine Dip
Camembert with Jezebel Sauce and Sliced Baguette
Deviled Eggs


Braised Beef Shoulder with Henry Bain Sauce
Celery Root Rémoulade


Strawberries with Rebecca Sauce
Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Pies

Mint Juleps
Iced Mint Tea


Benedictine Dip
Adapted heavily from Jennie Benedictine’s original recipe
Makes about 3 cups

Benedictine is a cream cheese based spread, typically used in finger sandwiches (white bread with crusts cut off, please).  Here, I’ve re-imagined it as a slightly softer dip for crudités.  Usually a few drops of green food coloring are added to Benedictine, but I never saw the point.  Serve with whatever vegetables strike your fancy; I used carrots, celery, bell peppers, blanched green beans, and radishes.

8 ounces (1 box) cream cheese, well-softened at room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 large cucumber (seeded, if desired)
1 small yellow onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 large pinch cayenne pepper

1.  In a bowl, beat the softened cream cheese until smooth (either by hand or with an electric mixer).  Beat in the sour cream.

2.  If you have a food processor, roughly chop the cucumber and onion, add to the processor, and pulse until chopped finely.  Add, juice and all, into the bowl of cream cheese.  (Otherwise, grate the cucumber and onion directly into the bowl of cream cheese.)

3.  Stir until combined, and add salt and cayenne pepper to taste.  Benedictine will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Jezebel Sauce
Adapted from Proof on Main, Louisville
Makes 2 to 3 cups

Jezebel Sauce is an appropriately-named sauce, sweet with fruit and spicy with horseradish.  This is no shrinking violet here; this brash sauce will make you sit up and salute.  I love the combination with a soft, good cheese, spread on a slice of baguette; but it’s just as at home on a bit of grilled chicken or meat.  At the estimable Proof on Main in Louisville, it’s served on their locally-raised bison burger, where it also pairs beautifully with the side of hand-cut fries.

3/4 cup pear jam or preserves
3/4 cup apricot jam or preserves
1/2 cup prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 scant teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl; mix until smooth.  If the jam or preserves have whole chunks of fruit, you may want to purée the sauce in a food processor, or simply chop the fruit by hand.  Jezebel sauce will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

Deviled Eggs
Makes 30, which will never be enough

This is one of those recipes that is endlessly adaptable to however your personal tastes run, or whatever you happen to have in your pantry.  Throw in a little of this, and a little of that, until the filling tastes right to you.  This filling is a little spicy, but not overly so, and has a fantastically creamy texture; these eggs were gone almost immediately after serving.  I specify the use of older eggs, as they will peel far easier than will fresh eggs.  If you use large eggs, increase the cooking time to about 10 minutes.

15 medium eggs (the older the better)
1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus extra as needed
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons Pickapeppa sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Paprika, for garnish

1.  Place the eggs in a saucepan, and cover with cold water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil, and immediately remove from heat.  Cover pan, and let sit for 8 minutes.  Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water.  After 8 minutes (or 10 minutes if using large eggs), drain and transfer eggs to the ice bath to stop cooking.  Let sit for 10 minutes, or until cool.  Cooked eggs may be refrigerated at this point for up to several days.

2.  Knock eggs against a flat surface until the shell is cracked all over.  Peel, running under cool water to help wash away errant bits of shell that may stick.  Set eggs aside to dry.

3.  Cut eggs in half lengthwise, and gently remove yolks, taking care not to damage the whites.  Place yolks in a bowl, and mash with a fork.  Add remaining ingredients (except paprika), and combine with fork until thoroughly mixed.  The mixture should not be too stiff, but not runny, just firm enough to hold soft peaks.  Add additional mayonnaise by spoonfuls to thin, if required, and correct seasoning as needed.

4.  Either spoon or pipe filling back into the whites, and dust with paprika to garnish.  Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours (cover dish with a large upside-down bowl to preserve the look of the pretty filling).

you may need two roasts

Braised Beef Shoulder
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers
Makes 6 to 8 servings

A beef roast might not seem like a very traditional Derby entrée, especially when you consider the famous Hot Brown sandwich which was invented in Louisville, but smart hostesses in Kentucky know far better than to chain themselves to the kitchen with such a fussy and time-consuming dish.  Most will serve either a simple beef roast with Henry Bain sauce, or a sliced ham with biscuits.  I’ve combined the two, pairing a beef shoulder with Henry Bain sauce and biscuits.  David Lebovitz’s celery root remoulade is not a traditional side dish, but there’s enough mayonnaise in it to make any Southern lady proud.

1 beef shoulder chuck roast (preferably an eye roast), about 4 pounds
1 tablespoon kosher salt, approximately
1 bottle full-flavored red wine (such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Zinfandel)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
3 stalks celery, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large baking potato, cut into 2 inch pieces
8 to 10 cloves garlic, separated and unpeeled
2 to 3 bay leaves
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme
Black peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 to 2 cups beef or chicken stock, warmed
Henry Bain sauce for serving, recipe follows

1.  At least 24 hours and up to 3 days in advance (the earlier, the better), sprinkle the roast with about 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and rub to evenly coat.  Be sure to get salt into any crevices in the meat.  Place in a non-reactive bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to roast.

2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce the bottle of wine to 1/2 cup, 20 to 25 minutes.  Wine reduction can be refrigerated for several days.

3.  When ready to cook the roast, remove meat from the refrigerator and let it sit in the bowl at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.

4.  Preheat the broiler.  Meanwhile, trim roast of excess fat, and tie with kitchen twine to hold its shape as it cooks.  Place roast on a rimmed baking sheet, rub with olive oil, and broil 5 inches away from the broiler until just golden brown, a few minutes on each side.  Do not let burn.  Set roast aside, and preheat oven to 325º F.  Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables.

5.  Transfer browned meat to a large roasting dish, along with any accumulated juices on the baking sheet, and surround with the carrot, onion, celery, potato, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns.  Add all the wine reduction and enough stock to come 1 inch up the side of the meat.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, shiny side in to avoid reflecting heat, and transfer to oven.

6.  Roast covered for 2 hours.  Quickly remove from oven, and turn meat over.  Re-cover pan, and continue roasting for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  (When in doubt as to doneness, turn oven off, and leave dish in oven for 30 minutes.)

7.  Remove meat from the pan, place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices, and let stand for at least 20 minutes, and up to 45 minutes.  The meat should readily fall apart when cutting is attempted, though you should try to slice the roast across the grain as much as possible.  Serve with Henry Bain sauce and biscuits.  (Save roasting jus and vegetables for yourself to make les restes for breakfast [or dinner] the next day.)

...and two trays of biscuits

Henry Bain Sauce
Adapted from Henry Bain’s original recipe
Makes more than you’ll ever need

1 (8 ounce) jar Major Grey’s chutney
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) ketchup
6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) chili sauce
1 (5 ounce) bottle A-1 steak sauce
1 (5 ounce) bottle Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Pickapeppa sauce
2 tablespoons mild hot pepper sauce (such as Crystal brand; not Tabasco)

1.  Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and purée until smooth.  Henry Bain sauce will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator.

plenty of celery root remoulade in a double recipe, though

Rebecca Sauce
Inspired by the Courier-Journal
Makes about 2 cups

Rebecca sauce is typically served with, and pairs gorgeously, with strawberries, which usually come into season around Derby time.  This accounts for its ubiquity at Derby parties across Louisville.

1 1/2 cups thick Greek-style plain yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons Bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Combine all ingredients until smooth.  Rebecca sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  If liquid pools on the surface, either blot off with a paper towel, or stir back into the sauce.  Serve with strawberries, or other fresh berries.

Mint Juleps for a Crowd

This is less of a recipe and more of a drink station for guests to help themselves.  Set out as many bottles of Bourbon as you have or can procure, a bottle of mint simple syrup, a shot glass or jigger, swizzle sticks or spoons, fresh mint sprigs in a glass of water, ice, and plenty of glasses.  Print out the directions, place in a spill-resistant picture frame, and let everyone play mixologist.  True, this isn’t a classic mint julep, as there is no muddling, but it’s much faster, and no one will get green flecks of crushed mint in their teeth.  Southerners always were known for their hospitality.

To make mint simple syrup:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 large bunch mint, leaves picked from stems and crushed slightly

1.  In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring just until all sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat, add mint leaves, cover, and let steep at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.  Strain mint leaves out, and use syrup as directed.

To make 1 mint julep:
1 jigger Bourbon
1/4 jigger mint simple syrup
3 to 4 large ice cubes, or enough crushed ice to fill a short glass
Fresh mint sprig for garnish

1.  In a glass, combine Bourbon with simple syrup.  Add ice, and stir well to dilute drink slightly and chill.  Add a sprig of mint to garnish.

Valentine’s Day For Overachievers

I know it’s come and gone, but I didn’t forget about Valentine’s Day; I just haven’t gotten my thoughts together about this before now.  I hope you will forgive me.

Let’s say, for the sake of hypothesis, that you’re a culinary school graduate.  Let’s also say that you have a perfectionist streak about a mile wide, and a moderately overachieving nature that infuses you with the urge to constantly trump your own culinary efforts.  Lastly, let’s say you’re unemployed.  With aaaaaaall the time in the world.

With that framework in mind – all purely hypothetical, of course – you might better understand the dinner that I presented to my sweetheart this last Valentine’s Day.  Yes, I’m fully aware that normal people do not cook like this.  Ahem.

The inspiration for the whole menu began with a most unusual ice cream recipe.  If there’s one word for the type of food that can win over my sweetheart, it’s “unusual”.  That, combined with his love of desserts and sweets in general, meant that when I saw a recipe for a pretty gray (yes, gray!) ice cream made with soft European licorice candy, I had to serve it.

I find unusual ice creams, like this one, are a bit… well, strange if served alone, even boring.  But pair that anise-scented licorice ice cream with cumin, lemon, clove, cardamom, and ginger, and now you’ve got something interesting going on.

Armed with those flavors and little else, I solicited drink pairing recommendations from my new favorite spirits boutique.  The immediate and unhesitant suggestion – a rare and spiced Italian beer – may have scared some off, but I knew my ale-loving sweetheart would surely appreciate it, especially if it paired as well as the shopkeeper insinuated it would.  The large bottle (750 mL) meant that this beer would have to pair with the entrée as well, if either of us wanted to be at all useful the next day.

The amber ale, flavored with “anise, pepper, tandori [sic], and curry”, dictated an Indian-spiced dish, and a modest request for seafood narrowed my focus to a manageable level.  From there, an appetizer with softer flavors suggested itself; paired with an appropriate cocktail, I had the menu set.

The evening started off gently, with the subtlety of amberjack sashimi lightly dressed with a mignonette-inspired mélange of red grapefruit, cucumber, shallot, and rosé Champagne vinegar.  Fried garlic and ginger (giving a nod to the pickled ginger typically served with sushi) provided a contrasting crunch, and were used sparingly enough to not overwhelm the other delicate flavors.

This immodest dish of blushing pink and naked flesh was served with a cocktail that recalled the flavors on the plate, mixing red grapefruit juice with cucumber-infused Hendrick’s gin.  Rose water and lime lent a Persian air, beckoning the palate to follow along to the exotic flavors of the entrée.  The drink was well-balanced, tending towards sweet, a refreshing counterpoint to the sharp acidity of the topping on the supple fish.

Spices colored the second course, both figuratively and literally.  Turmeric and cayenne tinted the ivory of a thick piece of cod with a golden hue, while hints of cumin and black pepper warmed the blood and chased away any chill that crept in from outside the windows.  This sunny gem was decorously wrapped with a layer of grape leaves, in modest contrast to the first course.  Peeling back the leaves, crisped in the heat of an oven, the provocative scents wafted up as the fish was undressed.  A thick raita brought mustard seed, garlic, and lemon along with the creamy tang of yogurt.

On the side, minted smashed peas added a cheeky reference to Britain’s tangled history with India, while brightening the plate with a vibrant green color and flavor.  Shaved fennel, lightly tossed with olive oil and lemon juice, gave sharpness and crunch, and offered faint suggestion of the dessert course to follow.

The pièce de résistance, a licorice ice cream parfait, was simple in concept: a tuile cylinder surrounding scoops of ice cream, interlaced with a caramel syrup and toasted nuts.  But of course, the flavors weren’t so simple.  The ice cream was flavored generously with the aforementioned licorice candy and with Herbsaint (an anise-flavored liquor), while the tuile crunched with lemon zest and the smoke of cumin.  The caramel syrup was heady with cardamom, clove, ginger, and pepper; and the earthy almonds and walnuts were coated with bright allspice and a touch of cayenne.

Seemingly so disparate and disjointed, the spices of each different component blended into a seductive unity, each bite drawing a new scent, and a new taste, from the beer.  In response, the beer seemed to highlight each spice in the soft ice cream, in the snap of the tuile, in the sleek caramel.  The pairing was spot-on, and there’s no wine or cocktail that could possibly have been any better.

Valentine’s Day has at its heart a very sweet sentiment, despite the rampant commercialization that cheapens it: it’s a day to pay extra attention to your special Valentine.  Personally, I relish any opportunity to cook a special occasion dinner; so I take what I like from Valentine’s Day, and leave the saccharine store-bought sentiments behind.  There is no greater romance to me than a well-planned and well-executed meal, even more so if it’s specifically tailored to particular tastes.

This meal was a gift both from and to myself.  I dreamed it up and cooked it, true; but I also got to eat and enjoy it as well.  As much work as such a dinner entails, I find every minute is more than worth it when, at the end of the day, you look across a candle-lit table to see eyes that taste what you taste, and drink what you drink, and you both find it to be breathtakingly good.



Amberjack sashimi, red grapefruit and cucumber “mignonette”
Cardamom Rose cocktail

Indian-spiced cod wrapped in grape leaves with raita, minted smashed peas, shaved fennel
Shangrila, Birra Troll

Licorice ice cream parfait, cumin tuile, spiced clear caramel syrup, spiced almonds and walnuts
Shangrila, Birra Troll


Amberjack Sashimi With Red Grapefruit and Cucumber “Mignonette”
Serves 2

The bracing topping on this fish was inspired by a traditional mignonette, a vinegar and pepper sauce typically used on raw oysters.  For the vinegar, I used a bottle of rosé Champagne that had gone off, but was too good to throw out; store-bought vinegar will do just as well.  You can substitute any mild and firm white fish for the amberjack, depending on what’s fresh at your fishmonger.


  • 1/2 red grapefruit, cut into supremes, and diced
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole white peppercorns, crushed coarsely
  • 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar, rosé if possible
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, more or less, for frying
  • 1 small knob fresh ginger, about 1 x 2 inches in size, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 6 to 8 sprigs parsley, leaves only
  • 4 to 6 ounces amberjack, sliced thinly


  1. 1.  In a medium bowl, combine the grapefruit, cucumber, shallot, peppercorns, and Champagne vinegar.  Add a pinch of salt, to taste.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to several hours.
  2. 2.  Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a small pan until hot but not smoking.  Fry the ginger until browned and crisp, about 1 minute.  Remove to a paper towel to drain.  Fry the garlic in the same oil until browned and crisp, about 30 seconds.  Remove to a paper towel to drain.  Fry the parsley in the same oil until crisp, about 10 seconds.  Remove to a paper towel to drain.
  3. 3.  To serve, arrange the amberjack slices on a plate.  Top with the grapefruit-cucumber mixture.  Garnish with the fried ginger, garlic, and parsley.  Serve immediately, before the acidic dressing begins to “cook” the raw fish.

Cardamom Rose Cocktail
Adapted from Apothecary, via Design Sponge
Makes 2 cocktails

You can find rose water at some specialty liquor stores, spice stores, or at Middle Eastern or Indian groceries.  The syrup recipe makes more than you need for one batch, so you can re-create the cocktail several times.  You will want to do this.

Ingredients for the rose syrup:

  • 1 lime, juiced (about 2 tablespoons juice), peel reserved
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup rose water
  • 3 cardamom pods, crushed

Ingredients for the cocktail:

  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 3 ounces Hendrick’s gin
  • 1 1/2 ounces rose syrup
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ounce fresh red grapefruit juice
  • 4 dashes bitters
  • 2 long strips of grapefruit peel, for garnish


  1. 1.  To make the rose syrup, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, including the lime peel.  Heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves.  Remove from the heat, and let stand, covered, at least 30 minutes.  Strain.  Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  2. 2.  To make the cocktail, very lightly muddle (crush) the cardamom pods at the bottom of a shaker.  Add the remaining ingredients, and add ice.  Cover and shake hard.  Strain into two glasses.  Garnish with the grapefruit peel.

Indian-Spiced Cod Wrapped in Grape Leaves With Raita
Adapted from Megan Moore and David Tanis
Serves 2

Feel free to substitute the cod for whatever similarly thick and mild fish is fresh at your fishmonger.  For the raita, if you can’t find the thick Greek-style yogurt, simply drain 1 cup plain yogurt in a paper-towel-lined sieve over a bowl in the refrigerator for about 6 to 8 hours.

Ingredients for the spice rub:

  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Ingredients for the fish:

  • 8 to 10 large brined grape leaves, rinsed, patted dry, and stems trimmed
  • 2 thick cod fillets or steaks, about 6 ounces each, and about 1 inch thick
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt, to taste

Ingredients for the raita:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced or grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 small serrano chile, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt


  1. 1.  To make the spice rub, heat the cumin, coriander, fennel, and peppercorns in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes.  Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar, and grind finely.  Blend with the turmeric, cayenne, and cloves.
  2. 2.  To make the fish, preheat the oven to 400º F, and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Lay half the grape leaves out on a work surface, vein-side up, overlapping the leaves to make a solid sheet.  Repeat with remaining leaves.
  3. 3.  Drizzle the fish evenly with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and sprinkle each fillet with 1 to 2 teaspoons of the spice rub.  Sprinkle with salt.  Rub the spices onto the fish, until entirely coated.
  4. 4.  Place each piece of fish on top of one of the rounds of grape leaves.  Wrap the leaves around the fish, and transfer seam-side down to the prepared baking sheet.  Drizzle the packets with the remaining olive oil, and gently rub to coat evenly.

  5. 5.  Roast the fish at 400º F for about 20 minutes, or until the grape leaves have crisped and the fish is just cooked through.  (If your fish is thinner than 1 inch, it will take less time to cook.)
  6. 6.  While the fish cooks, make the raita.  Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat.  Add the mustard and cumin seeds.  When the seeds just begin to pop, add the garlic.  Cook for about 10 seconds, not long enough to let the garlic turn brown.  Add all the contents of the pan to the yogurt, and stir in the ginger and serrano.  Stir to combine, and add a pinch of salt to taste.
  7. 7.  The cooked fish will stand at room temperature for up to 1 hour.  When ready to serve, you can either unwrap the fish and top with the raita, or let dinner guests unwrap their own piece, passing the raita at the table.


Minted Smashed Peas
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Makes 3 or 4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 handful mint, chopped roughly (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 8 ounces frozen peas
  • 1 pat butter (1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. 1.  Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized saucepan.  Add the shallot and cook until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the mint and peas, and cover.  Let steam for 2 to 3 minutes, or until just cooked.  Uncover, add the butter, and salt and pepper to taste.  Smash with a potato masher, or by smashing against the side of the pan with the back of a spoon.  Adjust seasonings if needed, and serve warm.

Shaved Fennel
Makes 2 servings


  • 1/2 bulb fennel
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. 1.  Using a mandoline or sharp knife, shave the fennel across the grain into paper-thin slices.  Toss with the juice and zest of the lemon half, the olive oil, and salt and pepper.


Licorice Ice Cream Parfait
Inspired by the Praline Parfait served at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans

The following recipes make more than enough for two servings of dessert; but depending on how large the portions are, the serving size can vary widely.

  • Cumin tuile cylinders (recipe below)
  • Licorice ice cream (recipe below)
  • Spiced clear caramel syrup (recipe below)
  • Spiced nuts (recipe below)


  1. 1.  Place one tuile cylinder on a plate.  Fill with one scoop of licorice ice cream, and top with about 2 teaspoons caramel syrup, and a few spiced nuts.  Continue adding ice cream, syrup, and nuts, until the cylinder cannot hold any more.  Serve immediately.

Cumin Tuile Cookies
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg
Makes about 3/4 cup batter

It is very important to have all ingredients at room temperature with this recipe.  If cold, the butter will not cream properly, and cold egg whites will make the butter clump into tiny flakes; both of these outcomes will poorly affect the batter.  If all ingredients are at room temperature, this batter is quite easy to make.  I recommend using a silicon baking mat (such as a Silpat) to bake these, which eliminates any issues of the cookies sticking, and holds warmth so that the cookies remain pliable for the longest amount of time.  If that’s not available, use baking sheets that have been well greased and floured.  Additionally, you can shape these cookies without using a template, but a template cut from a sheet of plastic (available at art supply stores) will produce cookies of the most even thickness, which will bake most evenly.  I’ve used mat board here, but don’t really recommend it, as I found it a bit too thick, and entirely incapable of being re-used.

  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 ounces (1/2 cup, or 56 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/4 cup egg whites (from 2 large eggs), at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) unbleached all-purpose or cake flour
  • Zest of 1 small lemon


  1. 1.  In a dry pan, toast the cumin over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar, and grind finely.
  2. 2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and powdered sugar at medium to medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Scrape the bowl as needed.  Add the egg whites and vanilla, and beat until incorporated.
  3. 3.  Add the flour, lemon zest, and ground toasted cumin.  Mix on low speed until just incorporated; do not overmix.
  4. 4.  Store batter, covered, in the refrigerator.  Batter will keep for several weeks.  Allow to soften slightly after removing it from the refrigerator, then stir until smooth and spreadable before using.  Do not let get too warm, as the edges of the tuile will be ragged if the batter is too soft.
  5. 5.  Preheat oven to 400º F, and line a baking sheet with a silicon mat (such as a Silpat).  Using an offset spatula, thinly spread the batter flat and even within a template (directions below), on the mat.  Carefully lift the template off, taking care not to disturb the shaped batter.
  6. 6.  Bake the tuile at 400º F until the cookies are evenly and well browned, 5 to 8 minutes.  Keep a close eye on them, as they can burn in a moment.
  7. 7.  Leave the pan in the oven, with the door open.  Using an offset spatula, remove one cookie at a time, and curl around a small drinking glass (or any other similarly small cylinder), shaping it into a cylinder.  This must be done fairly quickly, before the cookies start to cool and become brittle.  Repeat with remaining cookies on sheet.  If the cookies harden too soon, return to the oven for a moment until pliable again.  Let cool.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Note: The template I used was made of mat board, but I suggest a slightly thinner sheet of plastic, which may be rinsed and re-used.  Cut out a rectangle about 4 x 8 inches, which will roll up into a cylinder about 4 inches tall and 2 1/2 inches in diameter.  I found this a perfect size cylinder to hold the portion of ice cream I wanted to serve.  If you like, you can also make tuile bowls, by using a circle template, and shaping the cookies by placing in a bowl while still warm, or draping over the underside of a muffin tin.

Licorice Ice Cream
Adapted from Bake My Day and Aliza Green
Makes about 1 quart

Though my version didn’t turn out as beautifully and purely gray as Bake My Day’s version (the result of including egg yolks for a more traditional ice cream base), it was still a very lovely tan.  The Herbsaint liqueur keeps the finished ice cream very soft, even after sitting in the freezer for some time.

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 three-fingered pinch salt
  • 1 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 30 one-inch soft European-style licorice candies (such as Panda), or about 2 1/2 ounces
  • 2 tablespoons Herbsaint, or other anise-flavored liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. 1. Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together in a large bowl.
  2. 2.  In a nonreactive saucepan, heat the salt, milk, cream, and licorice candy over medium heat, stirring frequently until the candy melts.  (There may still be small clumps of licorice; these will get strained out later.)  Remove from the heat.
  3. 3.  Add a spoonful or two of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Gradually temper in more spoonfuls of the hot milk, continuing to whisk to prevent the eggs from cooking.  When about half of the milk has been added, you may combine the rest of the two mixtures together.  Return to the pan.
  4. 4.  Over medium heat, and stirring gently but constantly, cook the mixture until it reaches 165º F on an instant-read thermometer.  Immediately remove from the heat, and strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a medium bowl.  If possible, set this bowl in an ice bath to cool rapidly; otherwise, let cool at room temperature.  Stir in the Herbsaint and vanilla.  When cool, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days.  Freeze in an ice cream maker, according to manufacturer’s instructions.


Spiced Clear Caramel Syrup
Makes about 1 cup

As tempting as it is to use flavorful brown sugar here, resist the urge to do so.  For caramel, it is necessary to use granulated sugar, which has very few impurities.  Brown sugar will simply crystallize into a nasty lump.

  • 8 ounces granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons room-temperature water, divided
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • A block of fresh ginger, about 1/2 x 1 x 1 inches in size


  1. 1.  In a small saucepan, heat the sugar, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar has melted.  Immediately refrain from stirring further, though you may swirl the pan to heat evenly as needed (this will prevent unwanted crystallization).  Cook until the caramel has turned an amber color, about 5 minutes.  Do not leave unattended, as the caramel will change color and burn very quickly.
  2. 2.  Slowly add the remaining water, being very careful, as the caramel will bubble up furiously.  Heat, stirring, until all the caramel is dissolved.  Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and let stand for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
  3. 3.  Strain out the spices, and thin with additional water if needed.  Syrup will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.


Spiced Nuts
Makes 1 cup


  • 1 tablespoon egg white
  • 1/2 teaspoon water
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 pinch each: salt, ground allspice, cayenne pepper, ground ginger, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) chopped walnuts


  1. 1.  Preheat the oven to 250º F.  In a bowl, beat the egg white with the water until foamy.  Whisk in the brown sugar and spices.  Add the chopped nuts, and toss to coat.
  2. 2.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Spread the nuts out in a single layer on the prepared pan.  Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until dried out.  Let cool.  Store at room temperature in an airtight container.