I recently did a dinner party for six guests, that included a chef, several foodies and an artistic gentleman that appreciated presentation. Mind you, I am not one to brag, but I wanted to share with you the menu, which was Mediterranean in influence, and the results…read for yourself.

My client writes:
“I speak for all of us….
Last evening my 5 guests and I feasted upon the following culinary delights prepared and presented in our own home and served with the utmost of tasteful, timely and most attractive of presentation upon our own dinner table in our home in Hull.
Here is the menu we selected from several suggested by Chef Laura MacDougall of Home Plate Advantage.

Anchovy and Piquillo Pepper Bruschetta
RitzCarlton chef Emmanuel Kemji’s Mediterranean inspired appetizer.
THIS WAS PREPARED AND PRESENTED as two warmed slightly crisped slices of fresh small loaf slightly wheat bread topped with white anchovy and mildly spicy and quite interestedly seasoned soft as silk delicately spindled slices of Piquillo Red Peppers. NEVER HAVE I ENJOYED AN appetizer with such heightened relish and culinary joy as did I experience upon viewing and tasting this very first course of this very special evening.

Mediterranean Fresh Fish
Baked fresh Fish covered with a topping of Black olives, Artichoke Hearts, Feta, and Tomato flavored with a hint of Garlic, Lemon. THIS COURSE FiLLED OUR PLATES WITH overflowingly luscious looking blends of delicate fall colors. The feta and tomato flavors brimming with garlic and lemon splashes topped on the softest, flakiest, tastiest white cod fillet was delicious and devoured to the tiniest of morsels. The black olives were these tiny little objects filled interesting spicy delights. Artichoke is never a favorite of mine but these were like non others. They were silky and added an unusual hint of texture.

Brown Rice Pilaf with Chickpeas and Sunflower Seeds
THIS SIDE OF MY DINNER PLATE was heaped with soft, crunchy, sparkly and interesting and extremely tasty healthful fibre rich enjoyment.

Pears Poached in Red Wine, Cardamom and Orange
A cardamom- and orange-scented syrup is spooned over warm pears and scoops of vanilla ice cream in this lovely dessert. THIS LAST COURSE PROVIDED THE SURPRISE of the evening. The Pears were of course presented peeled and firm on the outside and softly textured inside topped with freshly scraped orange zest. Pears were floating in a Red Wine sauce and the warm pears and the cold ice cream in combination danced over my tongue and tickled my palette as the final taste defining element in a dinner party to top all.

I REALLY NEED TO ADD THAT AS WE were all half way through our desserts Laura delivered a luscious disc of deeply flavored dark chocolate to each guest. Each wrapped in a gold foil imprinted wrapper. The chocolate introduced a magical heightening of red wines flavors.

WHEN LAURA DEPARTED FOUR HOURS after arriving with all of the ingredients, pots, pans, wrappings … She departed leaving every single dish washed, dried, put away in the cupboard and every spec of trash and kitchen counter and surface spotless. During her preparation except for the flavors that wafted from our kitchen Laura’s presence seemed invisible. Laura served each course with a very brief description of what we were about to ingest. Her presentation, style and skill far surpassed our highest of expectations for this most enjoyable and effortless dinner party.

ONE SMALL DETAIL I NEED TO INCLUDE is that Laura arrived with every element in the middle of the season’s first snow storm raging across the region.”

Gosh, I think I am blushing……Home Plate Advantage – for your next dinner party.

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Tart or torte?

March 7, 2011

It is time for dessert…..you are in a fancy restaurant, trying to appear worldly to your dinner mate, and you are asked to choose from a lemon tart and a chocolate torte. Which do you order?

If you like pie, you order the tart, which is a small pastry shell, usually very low sided, baked in a spring form pan, and typically filled with a custard type filling topped with fruit, or a chewy nut filling and/or whipped cream. Fruit tarts are often glazed with jam, to make it shiny and really pretty. Lemon tart is common with a lemon curd style filling. All are single crust, low profile. Pies are taller, and typically have two crusts, in case you were wondering…..

Tarts can also be savory, as in a tomato and cheese tart….but this is a conversation about dessert today.

A torte is a cake made primarily with eggs, sugar, and ground nuts instead of flour, served in one layer, unfrosted, and can also be a savory dish (see above). Chocolate torte can be a very thin multilayer loaf shaped cake, still nut based, usually filled with very rich, decadent flavored. It is baked in a special pan – think very tall, thinner loaf pan- and sliced into many layers. Then each layer is filled with a cream, curd or jam type of filling. These cakes are not frosted, but may be dusted with powder sugar or cocoa. But you are saying – hey, what about a Linzer Torte? That yummy jammed filled cookie? How does that fit in? Well it is a nut based dough, cut into a shape and then filled….so a variation on the cake version of a nut based dough.

Confused yet? Well think back to high school logic – Tart is to Torte as Pie is to cake. Better? Heck whichever you choose, eat dessert first. Dinner is so much easier…..

As the weather starts to get warmer and the days longer, the lines at our local ice cream shops get a bit longer. Not surprising as frozen desserts were already on people’s minds as early as 200 BC in China. The first published recipe for ice cream was seen in London in 1718. Frozen ices started the craze in Italy as early as the 1500’s. Ice cream was introduced to the United States by Quaker colonists who brought their ice cream recipes with them. Confectioners sold ice cream at their shops in New York and other cities during the colonial era. Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were known to have regularly eaten and served ice cream. First Lady Dolley Madison is also closely associated with the early history of ice cream in the United States, having served ice cream at her husband’s Inaugural Ball in 1813. (wikipedia)

But is it just ice cream? Or sherbet? Gelato or sorbet? Frozen custard or yogurt….too many choices and confusing for many. I would like to try to clear the air for picking the perfect cup of cool goodness this summer.

Gelato is Italy’s answer to ice cream. It is typically more flavorful than regular ice cream, has less butterfat (around 10% to ice creams 20%) and is served a little softer than ice cream. Gelato is also more dense as air is not mixed in during processing, resulting in a richer, creamier texture.

Premium ice cream has a higher fat content and less air than standard ice cream,can have higher quality ingredients and comes in small packages – think Haagen Daz. Regular ice cream can feel “puffy” and less creamy due to the added air – resulting in a cheaper sales price. (think Hoodsies) Ice cream is available as light (what was once called ice milk), fat free, no sugar, etc. This part is self explanatory, I believe.

Frozen yogurt is essentially a frozen dessert based on yogurt not cream. Similar to ice cream, true frozen yogurt is tarter and has less fat than ice cream. Frozen yogurt was introduced in New England in the 1970s as a soft serve dessert by H. P. Hood under the name Frogurt. In 1978, Brigham’s, a Boston based ice cream, candy & sandwich chain developed and introduced the first packaged frozen yogurt under the name Humphreez Yogart. It was originally intended as a healthier alternative to ice cream but consumers complained about the tart taste . Manufacturers began production of a recipe that tasted sweeter and frozen yogurt took off in the 1980s, reaching sales of $25 million in 1986. In the early 1990s, frozen yogurt was 10% of the dessert market. (fact from Wikipedia.com) Of course this means that the once healthy option of frozen yogurt can be as guilty as regular ice cream these days.

Frozen custard is similar to ice cream, but contains eggs. Frozen pudding is a chilled dessert consisting of a mixture of custard, fruit, nuts and (sometimes) liquor – typically rum.

Sherbert is made with 1-2% milk fat and is sweeter than ice cream. Sorbets have 0% dairy, based on sugar syrup and fruit, wine, chocolate or liquer. Sorbet is very similar to a granita found in Italian kitchens.
Italian ice is like sorbet, and in Philadelphia their version is called water ice, a shaved ice with a flavored syrup poured over. I called them snow cones growing up.

So their you have it – from creamy full fat goodness to guilt free icy coldness – enjoy a bite of summer! What is you favorite flavor?