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dinner of the decade.

Maybe I'll update this more often. But I doubt it.

Elegant afternoon make-ahead fare

Cheese straws,The famous no-knead bread, potato salad, asparagus salad, poached trout, and gateau au chocolat.

Planning is trickier now that I've got a wee one, so when I had to make dinner for four to be served in a strict two-hour window with no margin for error, I opted for dishes I could make ahead and serve cold.

Much of the baking involved is at the same temperature - 425F - so it can be done concurrently, saving even more time.

As predicted, I was feeding the baby when people arrived, but I had set out the china, silver, and glasses on the hhutch already, so all I had to do was ask TG to open the wine and get stuff out of the fridge and toss the salad, and dinner was served!

Cheese straws

1/2 package frozen puff pastry
1/2 pound asiago cheese, grated

An easy classic. Thaw puff pastry. Roll out very thin. cover 2/3 with grated cheese, then fold so cheese is completely enclosed. Roll again as thin as possible, slice into 1/2" strips, twist each strip, and place on baking sheet. Bake at 425F for 10 or 15 minutes, until golden.

No-knead bread

A version of this first appeared in the New York Times, where it took the world by storm!

3 cups flour
1/2 tsp yeast
1 TBS salt
1 5/8 cup water
a handful or two of cornmeal

Combine dry ingredients. Stir in water. Cover with waxed paper and leave on counter 14 hours (or more).

Dump dough out on floured counter top. Fold in half a few times. Shape into a round, fold side down.

Sprinkle a piece of waxed paper with cornmeal. Place dough on waxed paper, sprinkle with cornmeal, and top with another sheet of waxed paper. Let rise 2 hours.

Put a heavy (I use cast iron) 6-quart dutch oven in the oven and turn heat to 425F.

After 30 minutes, dump dough fold side up in hot dutch oven. Cover and bake 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake 20 minutes more.

Potato salad

2 lbs small red new potatoes
8 french shallots, sliced
2 TBS olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup snipped fresh dill
6 slices bacon, diced and cooked crisp
salt & pepper

Try to select all bite-size potatoes, and slice each in two; slice larger potatoes in four if necessary. Toss with 1 TBS oil and 1/2 tsp salt, and spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Toss shallots with remaining oil and scatter on top of potatoes. Bake at 425F for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Combine mayonnaise and sour cream. Stir in dill.

Toss potato mixture with dressing and bacon. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.

Chill until ready to serve.

Asparagus salad

1 bunch asparagus (approximately 16 spears)
1 TBS olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 TBS pine nuts
1 head frisee
1 bunch baby spinach (approximately 10 oz)
8 oz buckwheat sprouts
dressing:
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp snipped fresh tarragon
1/2 tsp snipped fresh marjoram
1/2 tsp snipped fresh savory
2 tsp snipped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 tsp dry mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Break tough bottom ends off of asparagus spears and cut each spear into three bite-size pieces. Toss asparagus with olive oil and spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and roast 10 minutes at 425F.

Toast pine nuts in the oven for 3-5 minutes at 425F. Watch closely so that they don't burn!

Tear frisee into pieces. Rinse frisee and spinach and place in salad bowl with sprouts. Top with asparagus and pine nuts.

Make dressing by combining all ingredients in a small glass jar and shaking to combine.

Store salad and dressing separately in the fridge. When ready to serve, pour dressing over salad and toss.

Poached trout

1 whole trout (around 6-8 pounds)
1 large carrot
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
1 tsp dried tarragon
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
water
1 TBS smoked salt
2 cups white wine
1 lemon

Cut head and tail off trout, place in fish poacher.

Chop carrot, onion, and celery. Place in fish poacher and toss with herbs. Half-fill poacher with cold water and simmer over medium heat for one hour.

Remove fish head and tail, stir in salt and wine, then add fish. Add more water to cover if necessary. Cover and poach for 15 minutes.

Let fish cool in poaching liquid for 30 minutes. Remove trout from poacher, remove skin and bones, and place on serving platter. Arrange lemon wedges on platter, cover and chill until ready to serve.

Gateau au chocolat

Best made a day ahead.

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
6 eggs
6 TBS sugar
1 cup whipping cream

Melt together the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler. Allow to cool, and stir in vailla.

Beat eggs and sugar until tick and pale.

Fold chocolate mixture into eggs.

Spread the batter in a spring-form pan and bake for 20-25 minutes at 350F. It should be a little moist inside. Let cool on a rack. Chill a large mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer. When ready to serve cake, beat whipping cream until peaks form (it will go much more quickly with a chilled bowl and whisk). Serve slices of cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

for previous menus, please see the archives.

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