Category Archives: Features

THE REPERTOIRE: Rules for a Dinner Party

The third in a series on the interplay of food and style, with Blake Royer, of the exceptional culinary website The Paupered Chef. We’ve already dispatched with breakfast in bed and a working lunch. Next up: the dinner party.
To say you’re an accomplished character is putting it lightly. That time you sumitted Kilimanjaro during a snow storm. The month you took a vow of silence. The day all the stoplights turned green.

You’ve been places, you’ve seen things, and you’ve got most situations in the bag. But the thought of hosting a dinner party? Crippling. Like trying to throw a punch under water. We’re not poking fun, here; there are Nobel Prize winners who would buckle at the thought of preparing a meal for friends and having to sit there and face them while they eat it.

Maybe it’s time to learn. Or at least, have a recipe in the arsenal that’s not chili.

We present: An improvised guide to hosting.



The guests will be as calm as you are. There’s no easier way to deflate a party by being nervous, which of course makes it even harder to be relaxed. You set the tone, and if you’re unflappable, so your guests will be. Speaking of which…

On drinking: With moderation and good timing, a drink or two can take the edge off. Sip while you cook, to give yourself a head start, but then cut it off. You want the right level of alcohol to relax, but not so much that you become incompetent (or, god forbid, incontinent). When guests arrive, everything will be jolly. Give them something immediately to put in their hands to soften your lead. Then, before you get sloppy and turn into a lousy conversationalist, pull back the reins. Put another way: Drink early, but not often.


Also, wear a tie.

Roast something. Inviting people to eat requires skill, timing, and artfulness. Roasting takes tremendous pressure off one of those things; with a thermometer and a few basic tips, the timing of the meal becomes far more forgiving.

On toasting: Let’s bring it back. Toasts are a delicate alchemy. They require a strange combination of humor, sincerity and unspoken permission from your audience. They’re hard. Which is why people respect a good one. You have to make them laugh, steer a wide berth around cliches, and remain earnest. The formula: begin with something polite, transition to something clever, and end with something true. Best bet is one you’ve spent enough time preparing that it seems effortless. But really, all that’s required is a simple and genuine thanks for showing up.


Embrace the performance. Dinner parties are funny things. People are watching themselves and watching each other, and that’s okay. People are watching themselves and watching each other, and that’s okay. The cast of a dinner party will always be new (if it’s just close friends over for a meal, it’s not a dinner party), so the dynamic is unfamiliar. A little mystery is a good thing.

Never mention your own cooking. Whether you’re fishing for compliments or lamely apologizing for the “dry meat” you’re lowering the tone. Take Julia Child’s advice: “You should never apologize at the table. People will think, ‘Yes, it’s really not so good.’” If the food is great, it speaks for itself. If it sucks, don’t mention it. They won’t remember.


Greetings and farewells. Much like giving a good compliment, hellos and goodbyes are best when simple and heartfelt. You’re excited they’re here, you’re so pleased they enjoyed themselves, and you hope to see them soon.

And if you’re the guest, bring a gift. Hosting a dinner party is a sacrifice of time, money and energy, so offer something that shows you appreciate the effort. Booze always fits the bill. Though if you’d like to take it to the next level, bring something that reminds you of the host. It shows you’ve paid attention. Bonus points for a handwritten note the next day.


And now, about that roast…

In Italy, porchetta is made by stuffing a whole pig with garlic, fennel, wild herbs, and heavy amounts of salt and pepper; it’s then rolled up and spit-roasted slowly over wood. Thankfully, it’s almost as delicious on a smaller scale. Serve the pork shoulder with creamy polenta, also something than can be made in advance. A standard for the repertoire. File under: You Can’t Go Wrong With Rustic Italian.


PORCHETTA

Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers*

For the pork:
  • 1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (no white pith), from 3-4 lemons
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 12 fresh sage leaves, crushed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped
  • 2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bulbs fennel
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth
For the polenta:
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup polenta or cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

*Possibly one of the best cookbooks in the world to learn from. Highest recommendation.

Lay the pork out on a cutting board and examine the natural seams in the meat. Using your fingers and the tip of a knife as needed, excavate the seams to expose as much internal surface area of the pork as possible, carefully freeing the muscles along their natural separations. Season the pork inside and out with salt.


In a small bowl, mix together the capers, lemon zest, garlic, sage, rosemary, fennel seeds, and black pepper. Pack the herb mixture into the crevices of the pork, rubbing it into the meat and ensuring the seasoning reaches all the exposed surfaces. Using kitchen string (or if your roast came with a net, use it) to tie the roast back into its original shape. It should take 4-5 strings crosswise and one lengthwise to accomplish this (for detailed tying instructions, see this post on making lamb pancetta). An even shape will also cook evenly.

Cover, refrigerate, and allow the seasoning to penetrate the meat, at least 1 day and up to 3.


When it’s time to cook:

Heat an oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large (14-inch) ovenproof skillet or roasting pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the pork (it should sizzle) and transfer to the oven. Roast, uncovered, for an hour (the pork should begin to color; if it hasn’t, up the temperature to 400.)

While the pork roasts, bring the water to boil in a large saucepan, then pour in the polenta in a slow stream while whisking to prevent clumping. Once it’s all added, add the salt and reduce heat to low, stirring often as it thickens and the cornmeal becomes creamy, 25-30 minutes. If it appears too dry and the cornmeal is not yet soft, add more water and continue cooking; you can always cook it longer to evaporate any excess water. Once soft, turn off the heat until ready to serve. To finish, reheat and stir in butter and Parmesan.

Meanwhile, halve the fennel lengthwise and cut out the core. Put the halves cut-side down and slice thinly crosswise. Toss with enough olive oil and salt to coat it nicely.

Once the pork has been in an hour, use tongs to flip it over and tuck the sliced fennel into the roasting pan around the porchetta, tossing it well in the roasting juices. Return the roast to the oven and continue cooking for another 1 to 1 1/2 hours, to an internal temperature of 145º F.

Remove the pork to a cutting board and keep it loosely covered in foil while it rests for at least 10 minutes (the meat will reabsorb the juices, ensuring it’s as moist as possible). Put the roasting pan on the stovetop (with the fennel still in it), pour or spoon off any excess fat, and turn the heat to high. Add the vermouth to the pan, using the liquid to scrape up any caramelized bits left from the pork in the roasting pan. Cook, stirring often, until the fennel is soft and caramelized and the vermouth has mostly evaporated.

Slice the pork and serve with the polenta, along with some of the caramelized fennel and rich pan juices. Finish with some of the fennel fronds that (ideally) came attached to the fennel bulb. Serve.

Prep photos by Seth Putnam. Dinner photos by Ryan Plett.

THE REPERTOIRE: Working Lunch

This is the second installment of the “tiny cookbook” Blake Royer (from The Paupered Chef) is producing for us. If you’re just joining us: The idea was born over drinks at a tucked-away Chicago bar with the idea that, in addition to knowing how to dress, a man should master a couple of go-to recipes. We’re preparing one for each meal of the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert—and styling Blake in the process. The recipes will be constrained by situation (e.g. lunch while working from home), budget (e.g. $5, or maybe what you’ve got in the fridge) and time (e.g. you’ve got 10 minutes to throw an elegant breakfast together before heading to work.)
First, we did breakfast. Now: Lunch.

On Blake in the home office: Oxford shirt purchased in Buenos Aires for 75 pesos (joke’s on them, because that’s $25 US) by Felix; belt by Cause and Effect; khaki chinos ($20 sale) by Levi’s; mocassins by Quoddy.

You’re a hard worker. Unfortunately for you, that means you don’t always give lunch its due. That, or you order something “fast” a little too often, a one-way track to needing bigger pants in a couple of years.

We get it; it’s tempting. You’ve got a good workflow going, and no time to waste on a leisurely lunch out of the office. But you need a bit of fuel to be doing your best work. But in the interests of adequate fuel (and your waistband) you should really think about whipping up something at home.

Here, then, is a dish that’s quick to prepare and easy on the pocketbook. This is one that will take a slight amount of foresight—which is fine, because a man should know how to plan ahead.


A few thoughts from Blake about his lunch philosophy:

I’ve worked enough days in my life, from my desk at home to mind-numbing office temp gigs, to have developed some theories on lunch. To me, the working lunch is a series of balances: it should be fast, yet not fast-food; it should be a break from work, but not so indulgent you can’t get moving again; it should be fulfilling, but not a cause of sluggishness. Lunch should work for you, but so often it’s the other way around.

Here’s the idea: Work ahead, do a little bit of planning, and go vegetarian. And above all keep in mind: Healthy doesn’t have to mean it tastes like cardboard.

Start with a hearty grain, ideally with a high protein content—like farro, brown rice, or quinoa—and pair it with a vegetable, a touch of olive oil for slickness, and some kind of dressing. Sometimes just lemon juice works. Other times I rely on my stash of homemade vinaigrette that keeps for weeks in the fridge (speaking of, you should never buy salad dressing again after learning that recipe). But I’m most proud of my secret two-punch you see here: soft goat cheese and homemade pesto. It will blow your mind.

A few tips that make this a breeze:
  • Cook all the grain at once on Sunday, and stock up your fridge with a bunch of vegetables for the week. This recipe uses zucchini, but anything will work. Whatever you choose, it can be sauteed or roasted with salt, pepper, and garlic.
  • Make tons of pesto ahead of time and freeze it in ice cube trays. It’ll keep for at least a few months and be on hand whenever you need to whip it out (for tossing with hot pasta, for stirring into a soup, or spreading on some toast for a snack).
  • Have goat cheese in the fridge. It stays fresh for a while.

Delicious, nutritious lunch is never more than ten minutes away. Now get back to work.

Farro with Pesto and Goat Cheese
  • 1/4 pound farro
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 ounce fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons pesto (recipe follows)
Cost: $2.15
Makes: One serving
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus 30 minutes or so the Sunday before)
  1. In a pot large enough to comfortably hold it, cover the farro (or other grain) with cold water. Bring to a boil and season the water with salt; it should be pleasantly briny but not overly salty. Cook until tender but still chewy, 20-30 minutes. Drain well.
  2. While the farro is cooking, halve the zucchini lengthwise and use a spoon to scrape out the seeds. Cut into half-moons.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet until it shimmers. Add the zucchini pieces and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until the garlic is golden and the zucchini is tender but not mushy, 3-5 minutes.
  4. In a bowl, combine the hot farro, pesto, half the goat cheese, and the zucchini. Toss to combine—the heat of the farro should gently melt the goat cheese. Top with the remaining goat cheese and eat.

Homemade Pesto

1 clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

A heaping handful of fresh basil

Olive oil as needed

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 cup grated hard cheese (such as Parmesan or Pecorino)

Combine one of the garlic cloves with the salt in a mortar and pestle. Mash the garlic into a paste with the salt. Roughly chop the basil leaves and add them to the mixture, pounding them into a smooth-ish paste, then pound in the olive oil a little at a time to bring everything together into a sauce. Continue with the pine nuts and cheese and pound until smooth. Taste and season with salt, if needed.


NOTES ON PESTO: Alternatively, you could do this whole process in a small food processor, or quadruple the recipe and do it in a blender. But if you do that much (which we recommend), leave out the pine nuts and cheese before freezing in small quantities. When the time comes, defrost and mix in the cheese and pine nuts fresh.

THE REPERTOIRE: Breakfast In Bed

We’re excited to bring you the first installment in our four-part series on style and food. A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Blake Royer, who runs a site called The Paupered Chef. Over drinks at our regular spot off Fullerton Avenue, we philosophized that a man should master a few recipes—ready to call upon in any situation.
Starting today, Blake will produce a tiny cookbook of sorts for us. One recipe for each meal of the day: breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. They’ll be constrained by situation (e.g. lunch while working from home), budget (e.g. $5, or maybe what you’ve got in the fridge) and time (e.g. you’ve got 10 minutes to throw an elegant breakfast together before heading to work.)

Our inaugural post would have been impossible without the help of Hannah Lea, another new Chicagoan whose elegance and poise is already catching eyes all over town. She’s got a site of her own that you should run—not walk—to check out. Hannah indulged us by agreeing to be part of the story, and it would have been a failure without her.

First up: Breakfast.


Last night was nuts. Between the dancing, the toasting and the unexpected requests to sing your famous rendition of that hit from the ’60s, you’re pretty sure your suit needs to be dry-cleaned. If you remember correctly, someone ended up in a fountain. But the time is now. You’re wide awake, and after a quick glance at the beautiful woman beside you, you realize. You had planned to spend a leisurely day together. But that meeting—the one with the big client—is this morning.
This, of course, makes you seem like an asshole. This is the classic dash. But in this case, it’s no excuse; it’s the way it is. Missing this one isn’t an option. How do you explain yourself? With breakfast in bed. You slip out from beneath the covers and heat the pan.
Introducing your new go-to: the French omelette.
The French have this concept of “to taste.” Just enough to get the flavor of the thing. It’s the opposite of the American way. It’s to savor, not to be full. And if she doesn’t like breakfast—if she doesn’t like eggs—she shouldn’t be in your home in the first place.
A few words from Blake about the art of the omelette:

The French omelette, unlike our American counterpart, isn’t about the filling. In its pure state, there’s nothing but eggs, salt and pepper. Done right, it’s tender, elegant, understated, charming…everything you wish you were as a conversationalist. Making one requires technique. A bunch of gooey cheese and ham won’t be there to help matters, so you just have to cook it well. No pressure.

It may sound counterintuitive, but cook yours first. Not only will it ensure hers is hot when you serve them, it will season the pan. Like pancakes, the second one is always better.

The technique I’ve settled on is to add a teaspoon of water for each egg, which hits the hot pan and immediately evaporates to lift the eggs and make the omelette fluffy. This is an exercise in timing. But judging from what it took to get you here, you’re already a master of that. Unlike scrambled eggs—which are all about patience and coaxing—the omelette is a 30-second, high-heat affair. You can’t hesitate. Pour in the eggs, never stop shaking the pan and have the coffee already made.

The French Omelette

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 grinds of fresh pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (optional)
Time: 2–3 minutes (prep), less than 60 seconds to cook.
Budget: $1–2. These are ingredients you should have on hand always.

(Serves one. Repeat, but don’t double, for two. Omelettes are cooked one at a time.)

1. In a mixing bowl or measuring jar, combine the eggs, salt, pepper, and water. Whisk vigorously to combine.

2. Heat a small skillet between 8 and 10 inches wide, preferably nonstick, over medium-high heat until drops of water dance on the surface. Add the butter, which will sputter and foam. When the foam subsides, and the butter just begins to color and smell nutty, add the egg mixture all at once.

3. Immediately, begin to shake the pan to distribute the eggs all over the surface and up the sides. Technique varies; some suggest pulling up the sides of the omelette and tilting the pan to let uncooked egg slide under, or using a spatula to gently break holes in the eggs to let uncooked egg run there. What’s important is to never stop shaking the pan. It helps prevent any browning, a sign that the eggs are tough and you’ve overcooked it. Remember, it will keep cooking off the heat. If desired, sprinkle the interior of the omelette with herbs or a little sharp cheese.

4. Using a spatula, fold one side of the omelette one-third of the way toward the opposite side, like the first fold of a letter. Tip the omelette out of the pan with the folded side towards the plate, then roll it onto the dish so both sides are folded under. Serve immediately with buttered toast.

On Hannah Lea: Your Gitman Vintage oxford button-down.
On you: Hanes ComfortSoft tagless v-neck. Three for $11.
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