Entertaining cookbooks abound, but this one by veteran food pro Georgeanne Brennan stands out from the rest-a refreshing blend of practicality and style.
The chapters are first divided into seasons-which always makes perfect sense-and then into menus designed for occasions as diverse as A Neighborhood Brunch; Movie Night; An Easter Egg Decorating Party; A Housewarming; An Elegant Thanksgiving with Turkey; Christmas Eve with Carpaccio and Cracked Crab; and some very do-able recipes to celebrate Chinese New Year at home. The author eschews all those outdated ideas of stuffy, lackluster entertaining, and shares her passion to celebrate good food with friends…for just about any reason.
Ms. Brennan's respect for quality ingredients is evident throughout the book; and left me jotting down reminders for my next trip to the farmers' market. The menu for A Book Club Buffet features Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Cranberries and Almonds (see recipe below), Citrus Salad with Spicy Candied Walnuts, a silky Butternut Squash Soup with Green Herbs, and Chocolate Brownies (elevated to a higher purpose by using good dark chocolate with 62% cacao). Each element may sound deceptively ordinary, until you read through the recipe and find an unexpected twist that makes it worthy of a homestyle feast. (My book club should be so lucky.)
The recipes are clear and concise, with nearly all of them limited to one page. There are tips for advance preparation, as well as aspirational color photographs to visualize the mood.
With the chill of fall in the air, I set my sights on A Vintner's Feast, starring Pork Shoulder Braised in Zinfandel (see recipe below) and a Purée of Celery Root and Potatoes with Chanterelles. Somewhere in the recesses of my food memory, I recall a teacher once told me (in no uncertain terms) that meat would toughen if cooked entirely in wine; and that you should always blend it with stock to ensure tender meat. Well, you can forget that old wife's tale! The hefty dose of zinfandel perfumed the house as it bubbled away in the oven, and the finished pork was meltingly tender. In fact, I can't wait to serve it again.
No doubt I'll be using a lot of these recipes in the future, as I let Ms. Brennan's casual attitude and sophisticated palate influence my menus. No culinary heroics; no contrived presentations-just delicious food that is easily prepared and simply presented.
Chicken Salad Sandwiches with Cranberries and Almonds
From Gather by Georgeanne Brennan, Sasquatch Books 2009
This is a chicken salad I started making when my children were small, substituting yogurt for a portion of the mayonnaise. The salad went with us on picnics and served as a filling for sandwiches or gougères (see page 53); I've even made bite-size versions in the hundreds for parties. Here I suggest chicken breasts, but the salad is also excellent when made with a whole roasted chicken, either purchased or home-cooked.
- 3 whole bone-in, skin-on chicken breast (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 ribs (about 1/2 cup) celery, finely chopped
- 2 green onions, including lower half of green tops, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced shallots
- 1/4 cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
- 1 sheet focaccia, about 9 inches by 14 inches
- 1 cup mixed garden lettuce
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Pat the chicken breasts dry with a paper towel. Rub them with half of the salt and pepper. Place them in a pan and roast until the meat is opaque and the juices run clear when pierced with a fork, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken cool. When it is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin. Remove the meat from the bones and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
Put the celery, green onions, and shallots into a large bowl, and add the chicken. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, crème fraîche, almonds, cranberries, and the remaining salt and pepper, and turn to mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. At this point, the salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
To assemble the sandwiches, cut the focaccia into 8 equal-size rectangles, then cut each in half horizontally to make the top and bottom part for each sandwich. Spread both sides of the bread with additional mayonnaise, if desired. Generously spread the chicken salad on the bottom half of each sandwich and cover with the top half. Slip a bit of lettuce into each sandwich. Serve immediately, or cover and serve within the hour.
Makes 8 sandwiches
Pork Shoulder Braised in Zinfandel
From Gather by Georgeanne Brennan, Sasquatch Books 2009My husband makes both a zinfandel and a Rhône-style blend, so I make this dish with either wine; but at my house in Provence, I'd use one of the many local Rhône blends produced by nearby wineries. The key to this succulent dish is to let the pork cook slowly, slowly, in the wine and aromatics until it can be cut with a fork. I sometimes add fresh or dried mushrooms, or other vegetables such as carrots. I serve the pork with potatoes, pasta, or polenta.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 1/2 pounds pork shoulder (also sold as pork butt), cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 bottle (about 2 cups) zinfandel, Rhône-style, or other red wine
- 2 medium-size carrots, cut in half
- 2 ribs celery, cut in half
- 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus 1 tablespoon minced, for garnish
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, plus 1 teaspoon minced thyme, for garnish
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Put 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, ovenproof pot with a lid, and place it over medium heat. When the butter foams, increase the heat to medium-high. Season the meat with some of the salt and pepper and brown it, a few pieces at a time, on all sides. Remove the browned meat to a bowl and continue until all the meat is browned, using about half the salt and pepper.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat. Add the onion and garlic to the pot and sauté just until the onion has softened, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine, scraping up any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pot. Add the carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and the remaining salt and pepper.
Cover the pot and put it in the oven. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the pork is tender enough to cut with a fork, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.
When the pork is done, take it out of the oven and remove the carrots, celery, parsley, thyme, and bay leaves; discard. Remove the meat to a bowl. The sauce should be thickish and not watery. If it is too thin, bring the sauce to a boil and let it reduce before adding the remaining butter and the mustard, whisking to make a smooth sauce. Return the meat to the sauce, bring it to a steaming heat, then transfer to a warm serving bowl. Garnish with a sprinkling of thyme and parsley and serve.
Makes 8 servings
In this beautifully photographed cookbook, renowned chef Georgeanne Brennan brings a refreshing feeling of seasonal simplicity to the art of entertaining year-round. She invites readers to consider any occasion to gather people to the table: honoring parents in the springtime, Chinese New Year in the winter, a Summer Solstice party, or Thanksgiving two ways (traditional and vegetarian). For each season Brennan offers four complete menus with a tantalizing array of starters, finger food, entrees, and desserts. The menu for her annual summer housewarming party (even though she's lived there more than 20 years) includes Heirloom Tomato Bloody Marys, Crispy Wonton Squares Topped with Spicy Ahi Tuna, Garlic-Grilled Shrimp, and Oven-Roasted Nectarines. She includes tested tips on cutting corners and saving time. Book Club Buffet, Summer Movie Night, and a Wedding to Remember are some of the other "gather" opportunities - each with its custom menu - in this inspiring book.
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Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.