The Big Blowout    

July 4 1998
The Journey Begins
What the heck have I done?

The task of the day:

Cooking for friends

It's very likely that at least some of you reading this journal have started because of the Fourth of July party I had today. If you didn't come to the party, you missed a ton-o-fun. I'm hoping to get some pictures to post in a bit.

If you'd like you can read a bit about why I'm writing this journal. The smart-alek answer is that I'm just terrible about re-re-retelling the same stories over again, so I figure that if I write this stuff up once, I'm off the hook with all of my friends at once. Reality says that I'll probably end up talking about it lots anyway.

If you did come to the party, you can stop reading now, unless you want to hear all of the juicy bits you missed because you left early or spent the whole time holed up in the corner reading a book or something.

* * *

As usual, this party got out of hand, food-wise, pretty quickly. I had thought of having your basic 4th of July BBQ, but it spiraled out of control before I had realized. That will teach me to read Charlie Trotter's cookbook as a source of inspiration.

The menu was thus:

  • Cold Beef Tenderloin over Frisee Salad with Truffle Oil
  • Shrimp Cocktail in Tomato Water and Carrot Juice
  • Ginger Grapefruit Chicken Wings
  • Shitake and Root Vegetable Tart
  • Spinach Stuffed Tandori Leg of Lamb with Carmelized Onions
  • Knotted Dry-Fried Long Beans
  • CousCous and Basmati Rice Plate
  • Rack of Lamb with Spring Vegetables and Mustard Spaztle
  • Scallops in Garlic Butter Sauce
  • Potato Chanterelle Pave with Tomato Coulis
  • Poundcake, Fruit, and Chocolate Ganache

Thanks go, of course, to John and Carol for helping with the cooking. Carol also did the great decorating job (the theme was "Heavy Metal"). Meriko provided the cool party favors that no doubt directed some of you to this site.

* * *

The day started pretty early. I hauled myself out of bed around 8:30 to start some of the more major cooking. John and I had done prep work the day before for most of the vegetables that could stand pre-cutting. We cooked off the cold foods, started marinades going, frenched the racks of lamb, pre-made the pave, and generally tried to keep party day knifework down to a minimum. Stocks were also made and pre-reduced to cut cooking time and thought. The fridge was completely full to the point that it wasn't doing much of a job cooling down the wine or beer.

Parties like this are all about planning. I'm totally Mr. Geek about it, drawing up a list of things to be done and approximate times to do them. This time, I even had pictures of each plate next to the dishes check-off items. The working lists are posted on one of the cabinets, and as each task is done, it's checked off the list. A sample of the geekiness as it applied to the lamb racks is below.

When you are trying to coordinate the cooking and presentation of ten dishes in three courses, there is no other choice (as I see it). Your kitchen "help" can get in the way unless they actually have something to follow. The other great thing about the list is that one can actually take time out to have fun at the party while still cooking. Since you know what you need to do and when you need to do it, you don't need to panic or try to remember.

The party started officially at one, but people didn't really start showing up until around 2 or so. So, we shifted the times accordingly. We plated the aps around 2ish, and put the first courses on to cook. The mushroom tart takes about 45 minutes to fire, and the lamb was a simple hour or so on the grill with indirect heat. Caramelizing the onions was a no brainer, and a quick saute got the beans done. Plated this round around 4 or so. You can see what I mean about planning. Without it, most people would be running around like crazy trying to get three things done at the same time and onto the table. At is was, I got to have some really neat conversations. I mean, how often do you get to chat with your hairdresser's husband about the use of Real[TM] Charcoal?

Around 6 or so, we fired up the last set of dishes. First we cooked off the lamb racks in the oven. William and John were a huge help as we piled the vegetables in the middle of a huge plate and surrounded it with the 4 sliced racks of lamb. The spaztle was crispy from a butter saute and went around the lamb, and the entire dish got a red wine reduction sauce poured over it. I turned around from the table for 5 minutes and this dish was gone. Guess I'll be making this one again, if only so I can have it myself.

The potato pave was re-heated under the broiler, and we sauteed the scallops. The tomato coulis just required a quick heating as well. The heavy sauce for the day was a garlic parsley reduction of wine and mushroom stock. It was then mounted with half a pound of butter and then poured over the plated scallops. Of course, this was the best sauce, and everyone said so - even those who normally eschew butter.

* * *

I then tossed in the chef's coat and took a swim. It gets very warm standing over a stove. Part of me wonders if my body is going to hold out for three months of standing and having the front of me roasted.

All in all, it was a nice way to spend the 4th. No driving, no fireworks, just lots of talking and eating and drinking and swimming.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy