Monday, January 16, 2006

Feeding a Crowd and Feeling Proud

Over the past year or more, I've shared with you many tales of the cooking lessons I've given my lovely sous chef Phoenix. Her skills have grown so much in the time we've been working together that for two years in a row now she has gone home for the winter break and prepared a Winter Solstice dinner for her family (since her mother takes care of the Christmas meal).

And when you think that when I first started with Phoenix, she was unsure how to peel a carrot... well, I think you will agree that she has come a long, long, splendid way, indeed.

I'm very proud of her for pulling together this year's Solstice dinner and trying some new things. But I'll let her tell her own story, copied with permission from the email she sent me last week:

My Winter Solstice Dinner went very well. Because Mom was feeling a little more anxious and overwhelmed than usual at this time of year... I decided just to cook for the immediate family to help keep the stress level down a bit. It turned out very nice (and tasty!) nonetheless, and Aidan and Eli [younger siblings] even helped out in the kitchen.

The Menu:

French Nut Bread- which I baked that morning. It turned out a little toasty, apparently our oven bakes in about half the time that recipes call for... wish I knew that beforehand. Still, I was very proud of myself, it tasted great, and I (and I'm pleased to say everyone else) loved it.

Lemon Glazed Beets and Carrots- which I also prepared that morning and stuck in the crock pot so I would have room on the stove later that evening, and one less thing to worry about. They turned out beautifully. So pretty! The kids weren't so fond of them, but the beet lovers in the family were certainly appreciative.

Steamed Kale with Olive Oil- actually, I had very little to do with this other then to give instructions. For the most part, Aidan took care of it with a little bit of guidance. She was very excited not only to help, but to eat it, too! In fact she had been bugging me all week asking when/if we'd be having kale. It's wonderful how such a simple dish can be so satisfying!

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto- aaaaaah, yes. Very, very tasty. Since I was only cooking for seven, (hehe, ONLY seven), I went ahead and pulled out Mom's big stove pot, doubled the recipe, and didn't worry about turning it into casserole. Turned out I probably didn't need to double it. Although we ate a bunch that night, I was eating risotto for the rest of the week. Guess it's a good thing I like squash! (I did have trouble finding arborio rice and was afraid I would have to make a trip to Wooster to get some. However, with a little help, I was able to find it, and discovered a marvelous natural food store in Mt. Vernon. Apparently they've been there 30 years or so... and I never even knew they existed!)

Cardamom Glazed Pears- and what is a fine dining experience without a wonderful dessert? These went over exceptionally well. Absolutely delicious. (Wouldn't you know it, cardamom is also hard to come by in Mt. Vernon. Hooray for natural food stores!)

I really took a couple of risks, seeing as I'd never had some of these dishes before, let alone never having made them! It was worth it, and everything turned out well. But my solstice celebration didn't stop there. I took a couple of slices of bread and some of the cardamom pears to Gramma and Grampa M., which I believe they enjoyed for breakfast the next morning. After spending some quality time with them, I headed back out to the country to visit with my Gramma G. as well as bring her a pretty loaf of the wonderful nut bread.

Yes, I'm definitely proud of how Phoenix has blossomed as a chef. (Not to mention as a food writer!)

Congratulations to the best-ever no-longer-apprentice chef!

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