Monday, March 26, 2012

Don't forget the giveaway!!!

Between today and the end of this month, enter as many times as you wish to win Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and a chocolate bar from his line. Either "follow" this blog or Pamela's Modern Family Table, post a comment, or share a link to this or my other blog on your site for a chance to win.

Come on people, you know you love free cookbooks!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Food as the Backdrop

Last night I served a three-course plated dinner to 70 people, including dignitaries from around England. Mixed greens with julienned beets and French herb vinaigrette, followed by beef bourguignon with buttered mashed potatoes; and assorted chocolate biscuits. While plating entrees in the kitchen, I remarked to one of the many wonderful people who made the evening come together that I missed working in restaurants. 

"I doubt as much prayer goes into most restaurant meals," someone said.  

So true. 

I was not the only one praying that the meal would provide a brilliant backdrop for the young adults in attendance to interact with the guest of honor, Canon Andrew White. I would tell you how funny he is, but then you might think him shallow. I would tell you how wise he is, but then you might think him aloof. All I can tell you is, the man knows God. 

Not in that "he signs off on the correct theology" sort of way. Reverend White shared story after story of God showing up, quite literally, in his church in Baghdad.    

In the end, the meal was beautifully upstaged by the content of the evening. But I guess that's what food is all about: a context, a backdrop for meaningful interaction. Okay, you know me too well, I really do love food more than just as a backdrop. But sometimes that's the best place for it. 

I couldn't have pulled the meal off without help in the kitchen from my friends 
Annette (above) and Beth and the many volunteers who helped serve last night. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trial Run

Only 48 hours and 7 minutes until I serve a sit-down, plated dinner to at least 60 people. I chose to make beef bourguignon--yeah, I know, I'm crazy--and ordered half a cow cut into two-inch cubes before I learned that the guest of honor is mostly vegetarian. This would have been a disaster, but I also learned that he prefers to eat a very light dinner and requested a cheese platter. Perfect. So tonight I picked up some local Leicester, Manchego and vintage Gouda as well as some savory biscuits--that is what they call crackers here--some marinated olives and a pear. I think it will be delicious!

Yesterday I did a trial run of Saturday's meal when I served lunch to 30 first-term airmen. Our kitchen smelled like a tannery before I was done. I had purchased it from a different vendor who did not cube it for me. What a hassle! Fifteen pounds of meat takes forever to cut, dry, season and sear in batches.

I employed a new technique to prevent the flour from clumping: coat the seared meat with it instead of mixing it with the tomato paste and then whisking into the sauce. Many versions of the recipe call for the former variation; I just hadn't tried it yet myself. What a difference! The sauce thickened properly and with no lumps.

I skipped the cognac--a classic element of beef bourguignon--and deglazed the pans with about two litres of  a medium-bodied red wine.

Once it was all simmering happily on the stove in only two pots, I began to think doubling it this weekend might actually be doable.

I stopped by the butcher this evening to confirm my order. Fifteen kilos of beef is cut and ready for pickup. Tomorrow morning, the adventure begins!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stuffed French Toast

Some days you just want pure decadence for breakfast. This French toast provides it in spades. The key is to assemble it ahead of time, which makes it particularly lovely for a lazy morning brunch. Roll out of bed. Turn on the oven. Pop it in. Enjoy with coffee.

Serves four

8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 loaf French bread
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar

Butter and maple syrup for serving.

Slice the French bread in about one inch pieces. Schmear mascarpone on half of these slices and top with another slice, as if making a cheese sandwich.

Snuggle them down into a 9x13 glass baking dish.

In a large, liquid measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. Pour over the bread slices. After they're covered, turn each one so that the bottom slice that is soaked with egg mixture is now on top.

Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to bake, up to overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Inciting Incident

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller says an inciting incident is walking through a doorway by which you cannot return. It creates a plot. It forces you to live a good story. For Don it was flippantly suggesting to a girl he liked that they hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. She said yes. The story began.

A couple weeks ago I offered to cook dinner for an event our chapel is hosting. That wasn't the inciting incident.

Yesterday I learned that the guest list is at least 60 people, including some very distinguished visitors.
And today I visited Cherry Tree Butchers in Mildenhall where the butcher hoisted half a cow onto the counter. I ordered 15 kilos. I walked through the door.

A smarter woman would not serve a three-course plated dinner featuring beef bourguignon to what will likely be 75 guests. The story begins.

I hope it will not be a tragedy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Jamie Oliver Cookbook Giveaway

I had such a lovely time at Jamie Oliver's shop, Recipease, I've decided to share some of the experience with you! No, not just the recipes. I want to send you a copy of his cookbook Jamie's Food Revolution and a delicious chocolate bar by Jamie called Hello Sailor, a fair-trade, rich, creamy chocolate sprinkled with sea salt.

So what do you have to do?

  • Every comment received on this blog between now and March 31 is one entry. 
  • Follow this blog for another entry. 
  • Link to BonVivant Family on your web site or blog for another entry (just send an email with a link to let me know at pamela.ellgen(at)
Winner will be chosen on April 1, 2012 by  at random, of course. Good luck! 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mexican Street Food Cooking Class

Yesterday I joined a lovely group of women from RAF Lakenheath for a cooking class at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, in London. We learned how to cook a few quintessential Mexican street foods: ceviche, salsa verde, shredded chicken tacos and gorditas. Sadly, the naked chef himself was not in attendance. But our instructor, Jen, was a charming and knowledgeable substitute. 

We worked in pairs, and I lucked out with Beth because she fried the gorditas--not my favorite--and let me chop and mince all of the fresh things for our salsa verde and ceviche. Bonus, she likes her Mexican food fiery too, so we adjusted the spice to our taste. 

Our ceviche was overcooked by the time we enjoyed it--think marinated rubber bands and you get the idea--but the shredded chicken tacos turned out beautifully, especially topped with the salsa verde. And what kind of a food blogger would I be if I didn't share the recipes with you? A mean one. And I'm not mean. At least not very often.

Mexican Shredded Chicken Tacos
serves 4

4 bone-in chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground red chile
2 cups tomato passata
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
olive oil
4 flour or 8 corn tortillas
1 red onion, sliced into thin half circles
2 plum tomatoes, diced

Whisk together the tomato passata and vinegar. Set aside.

Mash the garlic, cumin seeds, oregano and red chile in a mortar and pestle until you form a smooth paste. Spread this onto the skin side of each chicken thigh.

Heat a two-count of olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. Place the thighs skin-side down in the oil and fry until well browned. Turn over, and pour in the tomato passata and vinegar. Cover and simmer for five to ten minutes, or until cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a cutting board to cool briefly and get on with the salsa.

Salsa Verde

1 spring onion, white and pale green parts only, minced
1 lime, zest and juice
1 green chile, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 sprigs fresh  cilantro
2 sprigs fresh  basil
4 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only
1 sprig fresh dill

Chop the fresh herbs, stems and all, and toss together with the lime, onion, garlic and chile.

To serve the tacos, shred the chicken with two forks, removing all of the meat from the bones. Remove some of the cooking sauce from the pan and schmear some of it on each tortilla. Top with shredded chicken, diced plum tomatoes and sliced red onions. Fold up the tortilla as you would a burrito then slice into two equal portions. Serve with salsa verde.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Tarragon and Parmigiano Reggiano Pizza

 A few days ago, we drove up to Bath with the kids. People kept telling us we really needed to go there. People without kids, I’m pretty sure. Don’t get me wrong; it’s lovely. It’s just that kids are more interested in the hole in the ground created by heavy machinery replanting a sign wrenched out by a drunk motorist than they are in seeing ancient Roman ruins.

All that to say, we arrived home after a long day hungry, tired and in no mood to futz with laborious dinner preparations. We wanted hot, good food without having to call for takeout. And seriously, I’m skeptical of any restaurant that sells burgers, pizza and kebabs all in the same place.

So, when you’re short on time but want something that didn’t come out of a freezer, try this amazing pizza. The combination of the parmigiano and tarragon is bliss. Enjoy with a robust Italian red, such as Sangiovese or Chianti. 

1 bunch tarragon, roughly chopped
4-6 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 ball fresh mozzarella, sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pizza dough, whichever recipe or store-bought variety you prefer

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stretch pizza dough or premade crust out onto a parchment lined baking pan. Bake for about 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven, drizzle with olive oil and top with mozzarella and mushrooms. Return to the oven and cook until browned and bubbling, about 10 more minutes. Shower with the tarragon and parmigiano and serve. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fresh Gluten-Free Pasta

Today I made lunch for 30 young airmen who just arrived on base here in England. Homemade basil and cheese lasagna, mixed greens with Caesar dressing, fresh garlic bread, and double chocolate brownies. The ultimate in comfort food lunches.

Unfortunately, it wasn't the immense amount of prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning up that kept me from enjoying it with them. It was the wheat.

So what's a newly gluten-free gal to do when it's time for lasagna and she can't find gf pasta in the health food section of the local market? Make my own. Sure, you can buy gluten-free lasagna noodles online. But where's the fun in that? Plus, I'll be honest, I kinda just wanted to prove it could be done.

Yields enough pasta sheets for one 9x13 pan of lasagna 

2 cups gluten-free flour blend (I use rice, potato and tapioca), plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
2 medium eggs
2 medium egg whites
cold water

Sift the dry ingredients together in a small mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, egg whites and about two tablespoons of water. With a fork, whisk together the eggs slowly incorporating more and more of the flour. Continue mixing and adding water a tablespoon at a time until you have a cohesive dough. You will have to get your hands in to fully incorporate all of the ingredients. Ultimately, you're looking for a fairly soft dough, similar to stiff play dough, but much softer than a regular fresh pasta dough.

Place the dough on a floured surface and shape into eight small balls. Roll each in flour and flatten into oblong discs. Because the dough lacks the wonderful elasticity gluten provides, it will not respond well to being stretched by a pasta maker.

Set up your pasta maker on a clean, dry and floured work surface. Make sure you've "cleaned" the machine first by running a gluten-free piece of dough through several times to remove any residue.

Run the first piece of dough through the machine on its widest setting. Fold lengthwise and repeat. You may have to flatten the dough more with your hands before running it through the machine. Adjust the pasta maker settings to produce a thinner and thinner sheet until you are satisfied with the results. Place the finished pasta on a floured surface and dust the top of it with flour.

Allow to rest until you're reading to assemble your lasagna. I do not recommend making linguine or spaghetti this way for two reasons 1) the dough is extremely temperamental and 2) most markets have a lovely selection of gluten-free versions of these pastas.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vegetarian Tikka Masala with Greek Yogurt

Since we arrived in the United Kingdom last fall, I have fallen inexplicably in love with British food, both the classic dishes and the produce and seafood available at regular open-air markets. The culinary landscape of Britain reminds me of America in many ways; they have adopted an endless array dishes from around the globe. 

My absolute favorite is Chicken Tikka Masala. Nothing like it with a cold glass of cider while watching a football match at the pub--with my kids of course--‘cause that’s how they roll here. What a country.

Sadly I cannot share my great love for this classic curry with Rich because he doesn’t eat meat.

Until today.

Today I created such a blissful vegetarian interpretation of tikka masala using squash, cauliflower, chickpeas and Greek yogurt that I may never go back. 

When cooking with yogurt, follow a few simple ground rules. First, temper the yogurt--as you would egg yolks--before adding it to a hot dish. It must warm slowly, not straight from the refrigerator into a simmering pot. Second, make sure that the hot dish isn’t too hot when you add the yogurt. Aim for around 120 degrees Fahrenheit so as not to destroy all of yogurt's lovely active cultures.

Ok, enough science. Time for the food.

Serves four
Olive oil
½  head of cauliflower, cut or broken into 1 inch pieces
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch smoked paprika
Pinch red chili flake
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 15-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 cups Greek yogurt, full fat and at room temperature
¼ bunch fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 cups cooked Basmati rice for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the cauliflower and squash out in a roasting pan and douse generously with olive oil. Roast for about 30 minutes, until fork tender.

Grind the spices, salt, ginger and garlic in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion until golden and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger and spice paste and cook for another minute. Add the plum tomatoes and break up with a wooden spoon. Add the roasted vegetables, cover and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat and remove about one half cup of the mixture, mostly liquid if possible. Fold in the chickpeas.

Place the yogurt in a mixing bowl  and stir in the hot liquid to temper the yogurt. When it is warm to the touch, add the yogurt mixture to the skillet and stir. Stir in the cilantro, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ladle over hot Basmati rice and serve.