Cook Off Menu

Just a vintage shot of some cooks and a captain

In my post-Thanksgiving post, Week Ends… Week Begins, I promised to share my menu for our annual Cook Off,  the antithesis to the traditional Thanksgiving feast.My brother-in-law, Stefano, and dear friend, Jack, and I prepared a tasting menu for 21 people. Just little bites. My efforts included:

Appetizer: Parmesan Baskets

Basically shredded parmesan, heated, then molded into the shape of a basket. I filled the  baskets with herbed goat cheese, mixed with a little milk to soften it and then fluted through pastry bag. Topped the goat cheese with a pomegranate seed. Voila.

My recipe came from Daniel’s Dish by Daniel Boulud, but you can google parmesan baskets and find scores of variations.

Soup: Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Red Beet Chips

This came from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home. Keller is a perfectionist and following his technique is both challenging and as it turns out extremely rewarding.

The red beet chips is fun. You basically cut red beets through a mandolin, and then fry them so they come out like potato chips. In the book, he stacks the chips up one on top of another. I kinda messed up on the beets so there were no stacks. The soup itself was a crowd pleaser.

The recipe is laborious but not particularly daunting.

Salad:  Grilled Leek Vinaigrette

This came out of Maximum Flavor, by Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot. The cookbook is fascinating. Like Keller, there’s an emphasis on technique you don’t see in many cookbooks.

Any recipe with leeks is laborious. Cleaning them thoroughly in order to get all the sand out takes 30 minutes at least. The grilling technique in the book is not typical. You create a parchment basket within a foil basket.

I don’t think the outcome is worth the effort.

Entrée: Sage Brown Butter Spaghetti Squash

No recipe. Easy to do ahead of time for the most part. If you’re familiar with spaghetti squash, you might cut it in half prior to roasting. Don’t.

Instead cut the squash in rings an inch or inch and a half wide. For those of you on the metric system, I think that’s 14 liters. You may want to check my math. After you’ve cut the rings, scoop out the seeds. Then salt the rings and let them drain for a good half-hour.

Wipe most of the salt off, and put the rings on parchment and roast the rings at 400º F for 30 minutes. (I don’t know the metric equivalent for 30 minutes. Four stone? A fortnight?)

Let the squash cool a bit and then with a fork, separate the strands.

The salting before hand helps the strands remain firm. Cutting rings rather than vertically, results in substantially longer strands. Who knew?

So I made the squash the day before and threw it in the refrigerator. At the Cook Off, I put the squash in aluminum bowl which I put in a pot of boiling water and let it warm up over time.

For the sage brown butter, You take a hunk of butter and put it in a pot and cook it until the milk solids turn brown, actually the color of hazelnuts. The French call it Beurre Noisette, which literally translates to “hazelnut butter.”

Once the butter is cooked,  you throw in a bunch of finely sliced sage. I also add the juice of lemons just because I do love me lemons.

Mix well with the squash, add some parmesan and you’re good to go. It is a great alternative to real pasta if you’re trying to avoid processed carbohydrates which I am.

Dessert: Crème Fraîche Caramels

I don’t want to talk about it.

Once again, I failed miserably. Could it because I didn’t have a candy thermometer Perhaps.

Could it be because I’m not a baker or candy-maker?  Highly likely.

I will just say this isn’t the first time I have failed making caramels. It drives me crazy.

Anyhow, there you have my 2016 Cook Off menu.

Very early on, I mentioned I was going to avoid discussing food because I knew, if I started, I’d have a tough time stopping. This “little” 700 word post is confirmation of said worry.

Stay in touch. Connect. Eat well.


P.S. Whaaaaat? Another Annie Hall clip?

5 thoughts on “Cook Off Menu

  1. Yum! The spaghetti squash sounds really good. I’m going to make a pumpkin sage sauce to put over butternut squash noodles tonight. I bought a pumpkin sauce recently that I loved – 10 bucks! – so I thought I would try making it myself. The one I bought was organic, so if mine doesn’t come out as good I’ll know it wasn’t because it was lacking the chemical enhancers. Although, I know I won’t use as much salt and sugar as they did in the canned version. Wish me luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anni! Oh my gourd! Sounds wonderful. (Since this post is so off-topic from my typical posts, I’ve given myself permission to reveal the real me a bit more, particularly my silly sense of humor, hence the opening pun.)

      I have to revisit pumpkin. I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie. Maybe the texture? Not sure but as a a result I steer clear of it. You’ve inspired me to visit butternut squash noodles. I’m kinda a sucker for roasting acorn squash. A perfect cooking for one side and it reheats well.

      Regarding your last sentiment, I’ll share a chestnut my grandfather inculcated in his only grandson five decades ago. The harder you work, the luckier you get.



      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, Jon. The sauce turned out good. I added a dash of Worcestershire Sauce and Liquid Aminos that the recipe didn’t call for, and some onion. I topped the dish with crushed walnuts and broccoli. Thanks for getting sidetracked with the cooking. I love to cook. Boring veggie burgers tonight with mushrooms and Swiss on wheat sourdough roll. I’m a vegan/vegetarian – depends. LOL Maybe I’ll slice up some sweet potatoes for baked fries. How’s the writing coming? I need a support group for non-fiction. Okay, I’ll say it – memoir. I’ve written all of a few paragraphs, then felt like someone slapped my hand. Best –


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