I love dinner parties... that is, I immensely enjoy attending them, but not hosting them. Throwing a party is a whole different ball game. With all planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning and of course, stressing that is inevitably involved, a simple dinner party can quickly turn into a scene from Dante's Inferno.
Yet, the problem solver inside me is determined to tackle this problem so when my good friend Laura moved into her first apartment (with no roommates—a true grown up apartment!), I started brainstorming for a less stress-filled housewarming party. After an intense session of research (aka surfing the web), the solution appeared, in the form of a toaster oven. Yes. A toaster oven.
It's all thanks to Eric Ripert, the legendary chef behind NY's celebrated Le Bernardin. Some of you may know he starred in a PBS show called "Avec Eric," where he travels to the source of his culinary inspirations to showcase where great ingredients comes from, but few know of his brief online series called "Get Toasted." With a handful of fresh ingredients, a single toaster oven and a few minutes, Eric produces simple, fast meals—it is pure brilliance... like MacGyver or Q of cooking!
Suddenly, it just all flowed, with the toaster oven as a Q invention, why not make it a James Bond theme affair? A night with James Bond (not Roger Moore, but more of the Daniel Craig variety) and a few close allies, we would channel the high stakes poker game by screening "Casino Royale," shaking up expertly crafted martinis (Vesper) and cooking up sophisticated finger foods while sporting spy-chic wear. Thanks to the good people at Foodbuzz, we were invited to participate in their 24,24,24 event this month, which showcases posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers, highlighting 24 unique meals occurring around the globe during a 24-hour period. Yes!
So in true espionage fashion, here is the debriefing.
To create a sharp 6-course menu from Ripert's repertoire that requires little time or clean-up, but of a 4-star caliber quality. Test and rate Ripert's recipes according to taste and ease of preparation. Extra credit given to introduce our hands-off friends to take a more active role in cooking by having them help out with the preparation.
1. Mission figs wrapped in bacon
2. Quail eggs and smoked salmon toasts
3. Tomatoes Provencal
4. Zucchini Carpaccio with Parmesan and Balsamic
5. Roasted Butterflied Garlic Shrimp
6. Mango foster with rum and vanilla ice cream
• 2 toaster ovens
• point-and-shoot camera with holster
The drink: Vesper martini
"3 measures of Gordon's (we used Tanqueray), one of vodka (Stoli), half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well unitl it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel." —James Bond
Speaking as a non-martini drinker, I find the drink quite enjoyable with its initial dryness which ends with a slight floral note. Careful though as it packs a punch.
Course 1: Mission Figs wrapped in bacon
The first snafu happened early on in the mission. Unbeknownst to us, figs were not in season (they start coming in at the end of March). When one of our agents called back after scouring several grocery stores with no avail, Plan B was needed.
We quickly swapped out figs with plump Medjool dates, added parmesan cheese to create AOC's inspired bacon wrapped dates. With the savory bacon crisped by the toaster, contrasted by the sticky, sweet dates and nutty cheese center, course 1 became a major success.
Bacon wrapped Medjool dates and parmesan (adapted from Ripert's Mission Figs Wrapped in Bacon)
12 Medjool dates, seeded
6 slices bacon, cut in half
12 tiny batons of parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat toaster oven to Broil.
2. Stuff each date with a baton of cheese, then wrap them with strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes until the bacon is crisp and the figs are tender.
4. Season with black pepper and serve immediately.
Taste: Can't stop at one!
Prep: Requires many trips to the sink for hand washing after deseeding the dates and wrapping the bacon.
Course 2: Quail Egg and Smoked Salmon Toasts
A double whammy obstacle here. Trader Joe's ran out of brioche and we couldn't find quail eggs anywhere in town—it seemed like we couldn't catch a break! A easy fix was at hand however—we replaced the quail eggs with medium eggs (smaller you can find, the better) and the brioche with a medium crumb filone bread. End product? Delicious and no one knew the better.
Quail Egg and Smoked Salmon Toasts
8 quail eggs (or medium eggs)
8 1/4-inch thick slices brioche (or filone), cut into small rectangles
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into 8 pieces
1/2 teaspoon cut chives (optional)
Special Equipment: 1-inch cookie cutter, paring knife
1. Preheat toaster oven to 450°F.
2. Make holes in the brioche slices with a small cookie cutter or using a small knife. Place on a foil-lined and greased toaster oven tray.
3. Carefully pierce one end of the quail egg with a sharp paring knife and gently peel away the top. Separate the yolk from the white and place the yolk in the hole of the brioche. Repeat with the remaining quail eggs. *When using normal eggs, just crack and separate*
4. Bake for 3 minutes until the brioche is lightly toasted but the yolks should still be runny.
5. Top each toast with a slice of rolled salmon and garnish with chives.
Taste: Very nice, benefited greatly with freshly cracked pepper and a sprinkling of sea salt
Prep: Easy, yet looks impressive.
Course 3: Tomatoes Provencal
This went through without a hitch. A simple preparation of roasted tomatoes elevated by the subtle lavender fragrance by herbs de Provence and an extra bite with the garlic. The fresh basil chiffonade brought a nice freshness to the entire dish. My friend, who normally abhors cooking said upon tasting she would be willing to recreate this dish at home—a major win for team Toaster!
2 tomatoes, sliced into thirds
1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced thin
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Heat toaster oven to broil.
2. Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a toaster oven tray, season with herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, and olive oil and garlic
3. Broil for about 4-5 minutes until the tomatoes are tender and a little caramelized.
4. Serve with fresh basil, making sure to pour the excess oil from the tray over the top.
Taste: Tangy and herby. Would go great on top of mixed greens and homemade garlic croutons for a quick lunch.
Prep: So simple anyone can recreate this... with their eyes closed. Ok, maybe not for the slicing part though.
Course 4: Parmesan Zucchini with Balsamic
This dish was a surprising crowd favorite, which is surprising when we had some major carnivores attending. The genius of this dish is the crystal clear flavors coming from the zucchini. Usually, zucchini's natural taste is covered in dishes as it's usually a accompaniment to a main dish or filler for breads. Yet, when it's simply roasted in good olive oil and paired with a sprinkling of parmesan, you get its true taste, which is light, yet comforting. We made 4 trays since we couldn't get enough of it.
Parmesan Zucchini with Balsamic
1 large zucchini
1/4 cup olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan
aged balsamic vinegar
1. Heat the toaster oven to Broil.
2. Line the toaster oven tray with foil and brush with olive oil.
3. Peel a few slices of the zucchini skin off, trim the ends and slice crosswise into very thin slices.
4. Arrange the zucchini slices on the tray, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil.
5. Bake for 3-4 minutes until just tender.
6. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
7. Arrange roasted zucchini on a platter. Sprinkle parsley and more parmesan on top and drizzle with a little aged balsamic vinegar.
Taste: The perfect warm spring salad.
Prep: A bit time consuming having to arrange the zucchini slices in a perfect spiral, yet the final presentation paid off at the end, don't you think?
Course 5: Butterflied Garlic Shrimp
My poor fingers and Laura's dining table... the scalding hot (albeit delicious) butter sauce nearly did me in. The prep was benigh enough as we peeled and deveined the shrimps and made the wonderful compound butter with no incident. After they were finished baking though, I nudged the tray and golden magma made contact with my skin. My immediate response was to let go of the tray, which caused the tray of shrimp and its garlicy sauce to Laura's floral table cloth.
We were able extricate all of the tasty morsels, yet the table cloth was a goner and so were the dish's rich sauce. Fortunately, we had a spare 2nd tray to which we used up all the leftover bread to sop up every last drop of the butter sauce.
Butterflied Garlic Shrimp
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 small shallot, minced
1/2 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, softened
6 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Heat toaster oven to broil. Line the toaster oven tray with foil.
2. Stir together the garlic, shallot, parsley, soft butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
3. Lay shrimp on the foil line tray and generously brush each side with garlic butter.
4. Bake for 3-4 minutes, depending on size until the shrimp just turns opaque.
5. Finish with additional fresh squeezed lemon juice. (optional)
Taste: Shrimp scampi taken to new heights.
Prep: The most involved out of all the dishes, yet worth all the extra steps. Beware of the butter magma.
Course 6: Caramelized Mango with Rum
We ended the night with bang with the caramelized mango with rum. I've always loved desserts with temperature differences and this did not disappoint. The sweet mango gets a turbo boost, not unlike Bond's Aston Martin, with the deep flavors of rum, and a caramelized sugar crust. My accomplices and I actually let it go for an extra minute too long because of a fierce photoshoot. The end product was a bit more caramelized from Ripert's recipe, but the burnt top added a favorable coffee undertone.
Caramelized Mango with Rum
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
Vanilla ice cream (or a flavor of your choice)
1. Peel the mango and cut into ¾ inch thick slices.
2. Heat toaster oven to broil. Line the toaster oven tray with foil.
3. Lay mango slices on the tray and brush soft butter evenly over the mango.
4. Sprinkle the brown sugar on top and broil for about 5 minutes or until soft.
5. To serve, place mango slices in shallow bowl, drizzle with rum and top with a scoop of ice cream (to avoid flare up, do not put rum in the toaster oven)
Taste: Wonderful. The simple recipe got me thinking of all the different variations possible... such as figs, peaches, bananas, apple. Might have to bust out the toaster oven soon!
Prep: Can't get simpler than this. The hardest part for us was scooping the ice cream.
Mission Accomplished. Thanks for reading!