Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our Organic Entertaining Style: Artisan Cooking with Friends as Sous Chefs and Special TasteMakers.....

Artists are considered trend setters and tastemakers. Chefs are the same. They invent using food as their paint palletes and the seasonings as their hues varied. The more I involved my friends are with my cooking, the less tired I become and more able to enjoy their company.

It used to be that I did it all: menu planning, marketing, cutting, slicing, dicing, cooking, plating, and hosting. Well, those were the days, when I was barely twenty or thirty with twice or thrice the energy reserves that I have.

I recently found a way of balancing my love for entertaining friends with teaching culinary arts to others, as well as learning from other skilled artisan, organic cooks. Of course, since I am hosting, I like the idea that I am coordinating the efforts of many artisan chefs, and I am in charge of menu planning.

For tonight, as always, since my friends are gaining in wisdom, and gaining in platinum highlights ( my polite way that we are all graying baby boomers ), I want to indulge in vegetables.

So our menu consisted of:

a. Garden mix of vegetables, a fusion of opposites: the theme of the salad was a fusion of opposites: circles with cubes, and an array of colors and a mix of red leaf lettuce and dandelion leaves. Red leaf lettuce has a neutral, bland taste, so I decided to blend it purple green dandelion leaves that are a bit bitter, almost like arugula, except a heightened version.

Two of my friends came early to be my sous chef. Since they own an organic rice farm, I thought they would enjoy harvesting what we will use today. So, we harvested our pears, our apples, the calamansi fruit, and persimmons. Manny asked me for a knife. He started to eat the fruits that were partially eaten by the birds. Of course, I immediately remarked, " My husband does the same, he takes out the parts eaten by the birds, and then, partakes of the uneaten parts. This way, I am assured it is the best fruit on the tree, he would emphasize. " Imagine that, taking our cues from Mother Earth.

So, I assigned them to cut the following, of course that included me: I cut the persian cucumbers in 1/2 inch circles, Angge peeled the jicama and sliced them into cubes. Then, we carefully arranged them in a tupperware: cucumbers ( green ) in one side, jicama ( white ) in another side, cherry tomatoes ( red and yellow ), grapes ( blue gray ).

We prepared the dressing. I like to experiment when there is company, it is like a performing stage artist on theater, who improvises what they do and varies the lines each night. I do the same, I am inspired by the presence of folks surrounding me. So, tonight, without any inkling as to how it will turn out, I decided to trust my instincts.

Yes, instincts, as i have been cooking since age six, and after five decades, I kinda know the general principles. So, combining acids is a lesson and an artsy way of flavoring dressings, without making them piquant or too acidic. So, what did we combine: a tablespoon of freshly squeezed Calaman-C juice ( harvested from our backyard ), a tablespoon of gourmet, seasoned rice vinegar, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar flavored with raisin syrup. We macerated two cloves of garlic, added a pinch of salt, the three tablespoons of acids, and twelve tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Plating is as important as the flavors inside the bowl. I decided to use my handcrafted wooden bowl that my college classmate, Reme B. bought for me, made by artisans from the Benguet Mountain. It carried a special significance for me, as you could feel the bowl had a life of its own, the multiple hours of labor of someone etching the curves on the piece of wood, until it became a bowl. I carefully laid a bed of red leaf lettuce mixed with dandelion leaves and now carefully laid on opposite sides of the bowl: the jicama, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, the persimmons in the middle, slices of heirloom tomatoes, slices of avocados, blue gray grapes.

The theme of the garden mix of salad: fusion of soft and hard textures, a fusion of circles and cubes, a trio of citruses, and a palette of colors. I have always believed, as others that one feasts with one's eyes first, then, taste follows and of course, the mouth has to crunch a lot to feel satisfied. And it was a success, folks came back for seconds of the salads..

b. Filet mignons - marinated in crushed garlic, lemon zest, juice of one lemon, Kimlan soy sauce. I marinated the filet mignons in a container, and kept them marinated for the whole day inside the fridge. When the guests arrived, I heated up the cast iron pan. I added olive oil, seared the filets on each side until well browned. The key to testing it if well browned, if the meat is no longer sticking, it is time to turn it over. Then, the rest of the cooking was done inside a pre-heated oven at 350 F for 5 minutes.

The result: folks raved about how tender the meat was, with juice still oozing and medium rare but well flavored.

c. Side entrees were brought in: steamed asparagus with shredded parmesan cheese, Piave cheese brought by Lucita and Giorgio, which blended so well with La Maison du Pain's cheese bread that I bought of course from my favorite bakery. The bread was well-heated and kept warm by a well heated pizza stone. The cheese was simply the best but nothing like pairing it with good cheese bread from La Maison du Pain.

d. Dessert was carefully planned. It was sauteed apples, sauteed pears with a side serving of chocolate rice risotto. Hmm...I think I will leave the dessert part kinda a surprise to tease the readers so they would leave me comments, if they want the recipe. And the combination of the two surprised me as well for it was a hit. The sauteed apples and pears were used the next day as topping for Greek Style plain yogurt.

e. Drinks were mojitos with Beringer Red Wine brought in by Tonette and Nick. Hmm, simply the best tasting drinks to go with the dinner.

f. Mung bean and ube hopia, directly from the Philippines, courtesy of Tess and Fred, which were heated in a toaster oven, with cups of organic coffee....

After dinner, we sat around the oblong table in the library and it became an impromptu sharing. Len started with sharing a piece she wrote at a writing workshop with 80 year old Jewish young artists, who shared their lives with candor: some with discreet love affairs, still while married, some divorced, some in very happy, unmarried relationships. She shared about the exercise: to write about their First Kiss.

Len decided to write about her Last Kiss, as she is about to be divorced. She shared the piece and we all could feel the intensity of that last encounter. Strangely, what I remember is the crush, crush, crush of the plates that were broken that night. I cannot even excerpt the story here as it is still under embargo until Len decides she is ready to share it with the world. We encouraged her that this is her path, to conduct writing workshops with folks and publish their works.

It turns out she recently edited and had published a scrapbook, actually a book of essays about Fr. Abe, a Jesuit priest who died and left such an imprint on other folks lives, including his valiant attempt to survive Stage 4 colon cancer, using his own alternative treatments of meditation, raw foods, massage, and managed to outlive another family friend with a similar ailment who undertook surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, by three more quality years with lucidity and sharpness of mind.

The lessons we had for the night: fellowship from friends and family overtakes all, love always conquers all. Love precedes, love transcends, and love will be eternal.

And for my readers, here is my offering of photos for the was truly a night to remember, like all nights when there is good food, wholesome fun, friends and genuine friendship!!

By the way, for the evening, we were joined in by 93 year - old Felisa, my husband's mother, who shared her love for God through a prayer before the meals and it was so touching and endearing....and she set the tone for our togetherness for the evening, we are all God's children and may the loving hands who prepared this food, partake of it that they may become not just nourishment for our body but for our spirits!!

And a special rendition of live violin music by my very own Mozart in residence, who played music from Constancio de Guzman. The evening was so perfect: food, wine, good violin music and authentic stories written by three artists/writers. Amen!!


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