In the present climate of informality, especially during the holiday season, friends often descend for a visit with no more notice than a call from the car on the way over if that. With so little warning, how do you entertain these sudden arrivals with something better than a bag of chips or a frozen pizza?
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While some of the ingredients may seem exotic at first blush how many of us normally keep a pound of smoked duck or a whole Maine lobster in the fridge? it's not beyond the average person's means to maintain a sophisticated larder for just such occasions in expectation of the unexpected, as it were. And most of these ingredients will already be present in any well-stocked pantry.
Lack of time is no excuse for lack of flavor or imagination. These recipes will not only dazzle your drop-in guests, they offer you the option of fine dining on your own well past the holidays, without the drudgery that many associate with complex preparation and lengthy cooking times. When you get home from a long day at work and want something better than a frozen burrito or a PB&J sandwich, but your appetite demands sustenance now, you can treat yourself to a top-shelf meal in just half an hour.
"Fast" food never tasted so good.
Pork Chops with Sweet-Hot Mustard (serves four)
by Morgen Jacobson, executive chef, Lockkeepers, Valley View
4 pork chops, each 2 inches thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper
4 tablespoons Colman's Dry Mustard
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup hot water
In a mixing bowl, combine the dry mustard, sugar and water and then whisk until smooth and the sugar has dissolved. Reserve at room temperature.
Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Meanwhile, generously season the chops with salt and pepper.
When the first wisp of smoke appears in the sauté pan, add the chops in a single layer. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the meat to brown deeply, about four minutes. Turn the chops over and cook four minutes more.
Brush the chops generously with the sweet-hot mustard and serve.
Roasted Autumn Vegetables (serves four)
1 rutabaga, trimmed of skin and cut into quarters, then 1-inch-thick slices
3 medium carrots, washed and cut into 2-inch-thick slices
2 medium sweet potatoes, washed and cut into 2-inch-thick slices
1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered
1 pint Brussels sprouts, rinsed and halved lengthwise
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper
1/2 cup sweet sherry or other sweet wine such as Madeira or Marsala
1/4 cup honey
2 stalks of fresh sage or 1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Toss the vegetables, except the Brussels sprouts, with the olive oil, 1 tablespoon of balsamic, salt and pepper.
Set the vegetables in a roasting pan, preferably in one layer. Add the water and then set the pan on the middle rack of a preheated 500-degree oven.
Meanwhile, in a heavy-bottomed pot or sauté pan, combine the honey and sage. Set the pan over medium-to-high heat. Cook the honey until it caramelizes, about four minutes. It will become darker and fragrant.
Carefully add the sherry and balsamic, stir to combine and then remove the pot from the heat.
When the vegetables can be easily pierced with a small knife, after about 20 minutes, toss the Brussels sprouts in the glaze, then toss the sprouts and glaze with the roasted vegetables. Return them to the oven to finish cooking, about six minutes. Serve immediately.
The pork chops and roasted veggies present quite a challenge for a solitary cook, so this pairing might be a good project for a couple, though Jacobson says one person could do it all as long as he or she was "pretty comfortable with a knife" to cut up all those vegetables in short order.
The chef also stresses using a pan large enough to set the chops out in a single layer without overlapping so that they're sautéed rather than steamed. Another area "where people commonly go wrong is not allowing the pan to get hot enough before putting things in it," he says, adding that you must wait for that first hint of smoke.
As wine accompaniment, Jacobson recommends a pinot noir, either a New World or a Burgundy. "The fruit and spice nuances of a pinot noir would be very nice with the pork," he says. "Or a fuller-bodied, rich California Chardonnay would probably be good with the caramelized flavors of the roasted vegetables and the sweet- spiciness of the mustard."
Barbecue Duck Lasagna (serves four)
by Matthew Mathlage, executive chef, The Leopard at the Bertram Inn and Conference Center, Aurora
1 pound smoked duck
1 leek, diced
6 shiitake mushrooms
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup barbecue sauce
12 wonton wrappers
zest of one orange
3 cups canola oil
In a medium sauce pan, sweat the leek for one minute, then add the shiitakes. Sauté for an additional two minutes. Deglaze the pot with the orange juice and reduce by half. Next, add the barbecue sauce and smoked duck, then simmer for 20 minutes. In a small sauce pan, heat the canola oil to 350 degrees and fry the wonton wrappers one at a time until crisp, then drain on a paper towel.
Layer the crisp wontons, then the duck filling; repeat, topping with the third wonton. Garnish with the orange zest.
Mathlage describes this dish, which was on The Leopard's summer menu, as "pretty simple." He suggests a light-bodied wine, such as a pinot grigio, to complement the light, "orangey" sauce in this non-pasta lasagna.
Yellow Curry Chicken Breast (serves four)
by Karen Small, chef-owner, Flying Fig, Ohio City
1 pound chicken breast, sliced (can substitute extra-firm tofu)
1 sweet potato, diced and peeled
1 bunch scallions, cut in 1-inch lengths
1 red pepper, julienned
1 shallot, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
8 slices ginger root
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons yellow curry paste
zest of 2 limes
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cans coconut milk
cilantro leaves, chopped peanuts and lime wedges for garnish
cooked basmati or jasmine rice
Sauté the shallot, garlic, ginger and lime zest. Add curry paste and brown sugar, then fry for about a minute, stirring. Add the white wine and cook to dissolve the curry paste. Add coconut milk and bring just to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes and strain.
In a separate pan, sauté the chicken breast in a small amount of oil till browned. Add the vegetables and sauté briefly. Add the strained sauce and cook until the the chicken and vegetables are done.
Serve immediately with cooked rice and garnishes.
For a wine, Small would opt for something "a little bit on the sweeter side like a Riesling or a really fruity Gewürztraminer."
Rosemary Chicken with Mushroom-Bacon-Sweet Pea-Orzo "Risotto"(serves five)
by Mike Turcola, chef, Nemo Grille, Avon
16 ounces of orzo
4 strips of bacon
2 yellow onions
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms (or one 6-ounce jar of mushrooms)
1 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 ounces of frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary)
1 1/2 cups Chardonnay or Chablis (or substitute water)
1 chicken bouillon cube (use 2 cubes if using water)
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
Cook the orzo as per box directions. Heat two large sauté pans to medium, dice the bacon and sauté it in one pan. While that is cooking, lightly pound the chicken breasts until they are of even thickness, then season with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil in the second pan and sauté the chicken on both sides until golden brown. While the chicken cooks, dice both onions and slice the mushrooms. Add one onion to each pan.
Add one teaspoon of garlic to each pan and the mushrooms to the bacon pan. Sauté for two to three minutes. Add the mushroom soup to the bacon pan, stir and bring to a simmer.
Add red pepper flakes and rosemary to the chicken. Deglaze the chicken pan with white wine or water. Add bouillon cubes and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm.
Add hot orzo to the mushroom mixture along with a 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, the parsley and the peas. Add salt and pepper to taste. Divide this orzo "risotto" onto five plates and place one chicken breast on each plate. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan as a garnish.
Turcola queried his fellow Nemo staffers to find out what they had in their refrigerators and cupboards, then based his recipe on those ingredients. He suggests serving this dish with the remaining Chardonnay or Chablis or a pinot noir.
Angel Hair Pasta with Lobster Cream Sauce(serves two)
by Benjamin Fambrough, chef, Sans Souci at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, downtown
6 ounces fresh angel hair pasta
1 whole 1 1/4-pound Maine lobster, cooked and chilled
1 small onion, chopped
1 sprig of basil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 ounces brandy
2 ounces port
12 ounces cream
salt and ground white pepper to taste
Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling, salted water until just done. Shock the pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process, drain and set aside.
Break down the lobster, removing the meat from the shell, pulling the head and body shell from the body and cleaning off all soft material, tissue and lungs. Chop the meat and set aside. Chop the body into small pieces. Crush the shells under a cloth kitchen towel, using a meat tenderizing mallet and a hard cutting board, or use heavy kitchen shears. Rinse in a fine mesh screen under cold running water and drain.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion until nearly translucent. Add all the basil stem, half the basil leaves and lobster shells and body. Cook for five minutes over medium heat. Add the tomato paste and cook for one minute more. Deglaze with brandy and let it reduce until almost dry. Then deglaze with port and reduce until almost dry. Add cream, turn the flame to medium-low and let it reduce by 1/3 or until it reaches sauce consistency. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve and season to taste.
In a small sauce pan, heat the pasta, the strained sauce, lobster meat and remaining basil (cut into ribbonlike strips) and serve immediately.
Fambrough recommends a pinot blanc to accompany this longstanding menu item that was first created by Sans Souci's beloved Claude Rodier. "There is a great Willamette Valley pinot blanc by Ken Wright Cellars that matches the dish extremely well," Fambrough says. "Its acidity and floral character perfectly balance and complement the richness of this creamy, lobstery pasta."