Monthly Archives: January 2012

Value Your Veggies

Since I’m watching my cholesterol, I’m always on the lookout for vegetable dishes that can serve as more than sides, and I know that I’m not alone. This month’s batch of food magazines was filled with “meatier” vegetable recipes, and you may want to include some in your repertoire of company meals.

Stuffing vegetables (such as portabellos, squash, or peppers) is one obvious and excellent way to go. But I was intrigued by the braised carrots with lamb dish from Dan Barber, chef/owner Blue Hill at Stone Barn in Pocantico Hills, NY, that appears in February Food & Wine. He makes one big, beautiful carrot the centerpiece of each plate and relegates the lamb to more or less a meaty sauce. It’s a dramatic way to give vegetables more respect, and it’s easy on the budget, too.

Cauliflower Steaks with Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce, a recipe that appeared in January Bon Appetit, transforms an otherwise bland-looking winter staple into a brilliant company star. The recipe calls for roasting cauliflower steaks, so they look like miniature topiaries resting on pools of quick-roasted plum tomato and garlic sauce on the plate, and topping them with a colorful raw relish of chopped florets, black olives, sliced sundried tomatoes, olive oil,and parsley. Even if you don’t want to bother with every component, you may want to give the roasted steak technique a try.

After removing the leaves and trimming the stem (but leaving the core intact), stand the cauliflower on its core and moving out from the center, slice the head into four half-inch slabs. Some florets will fall away, and you can cook them along with the steaks, if you aren’t using them for the relish. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large frying pan and cook the steaks over medium-high heat in two batches until golden brown, about two minutes per side. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan between batches. Transfer the browned steaks to a large rimmed baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until tender. Since the recipe includes no protein, you may want to add some: Perhaps, a bean or lentil stew or a piece of grilled fish or poultry.

Souper Parties!

red and yellow pepper soupSoup is a comforting and warming luncheon dish or an elegant appetizer, but it can stir up some interactive fun as the theme for a winter party, too. Although I haven’t thrown a soup soiree myself, I’ve been the fortunate guest at several and have found them to be cheering during the frigid winter season. Since the food is made in advance and guests serve themselves, a soup party seems like the perfect refuge for any anxious party giver.

One of the best cooks in our country town has turned the first meeting of the town fair committee, which takes place in January, into a soup luncheon. Her strategy generates high attendance and lots of congenial controversy about which is the better soup.

She prepares two different soups, leaves big kettles of them on the stove over low lights during the meeting, and around noon time invites people to try one or both, accompanied by satisfying hunks of crusty bread. One memorable choice at the last meeting was a vibrant combination of red and yellow pepper purees, stunningly served side-by-side in each bowl, but less spectacular selections can be equally satisfying.

Another country neighbor, who wasn’t much of a cook, was nevertheless known for his frequent, fun parties. While they were partially potlucks (some guests contributed salads, meats, and desserts) the centerpiece (along with the libations) was contributed by the host: A huge kettle of hearty, homemade soup simmering on the stove.

You can easily adapt the soup concept to the needs of the group and the occasion. You’ll want to offer several options, probably one a vegetarian alternative. Then, round out the menu with more make-ahead courses: Perhaps, a salad or two and a choice of desserts.

Lifting Leftovers

Perhaps, you don’t consider leftovers as appropriate company fare, and I’ve always felt the same way. But Julia Moskin’s article, “Lucky to Be a Leftover,” The New York Times, January 4, 2012 ( has caused me to reconsider. If you’ve got weekend guests, what’s wrong with turning Friday night’s roast beef into Saturday’s meatball hors d’oeuvre or Sunday’s bell pepper stuffing?

Catering chefs have told me that they repurpose leftovers in exactly that way, and Moskin heard a similar story from restaurant chefs she interviewed for her story. “As long as the meat isn’t dry and overcooked in the first place…leftover beef, lamb, pork, veal and ham can be used in almost any dish that calls for ground meat,” she reports. (Dark meat poultry works, too, but chicken white meat is too dry, she adds.) Better yet, Moskin passes along a technique that the pros use to ensure top-notch results: “The trick is to combine the cooked meat with some raw; and although this sounds odds, it’s the key to some of the juiciest, most flavorful dishes around.”

Isn’t that the kind of food you want to serve your guests?