Dave Arnold Jee Park Melissa Clark Emi Macuaga read about them Rolando Beramendi www.manicaretti.com www.bellavitae.com Claudia Fleming
Cider-Braised Chicken Legs with Onion-Raisin Sauce Swiss Chard Gratin Lemon Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates
Fiery Carrot Dip
David was assigned Creamed Mussels on the Half Shell from Tom Douglas, the Seattle restaurateur and chef best known for Dahlia Lounge. Dave has never followed a recipe precisely in his life, but he figured if Tina and I gave him a recipe, we must have had a reason. Well, our reason was that we think this mussel dish is one of the best hors d'oeuvres recipes we've ever published...Dave came with his mussels all neatly arranged facing the same direction on a simple rectangle tray designed by his wife, Jennifer Carpenter from Truck Product Architecture (www.the-truck.com). The mussels were small and perfect, topped with crunchy breadcrumbs.
I made Lemon Mascarpone-Stuffed Dates. I got two different long, elegant Israeli Medjool dates, both of which had pits that needed to be removed. One of the varieties was a bit squishy (this can also depend on how the dates were stored or how dry or old they were), so I chose the firmer, more robust ones because the pits came out easily. I combined the mascarpone (a soft, buttery cow's milk cream cheese from Italy) and the honey, dropped a dollop in the date, then wrapped them in thinly sliced prosciutto and pan-fried them. We all agreed that the dates were very sweet and could have done without the honey.
Melissa got one of the most challenging assignments: we asked her to make Alain Ducasse's classic Gougères (gruyere-flavored choux pastry, which is piped or spooned into small mounds and served hot or cold as a snack). What's so hard about that? Well, Melissa herself has developed some EXCELLENT gougère recipes, and we were asking her to do something classic. That proved to be completely impossible. Melissa reinvented the gougère: she pureed some garlic, anchovy and rosemary with the milk and used cheddar instead of Gruyère.
Jee took on the Rustic Chicken Liver Mousse, which she said was a "good thing since I've never made chicken livers in my life." For that reason, she stayed pretty close to the recipe, except she didn't mince or chop the liver before putting it into the food processor. Tina kept some of the leftover mousse and thought it was much better--tastier and creamier--the next day, and it was delicious for over a week!
We stood around sampling the hors d'oeuvres, critiquing, suggesting alternatives. And then Rolando brought out amazing fresh olive oil from the 2005 harvest Verde from Sicily and Capezzana from Tuscany (www.manicaretti.com). He drowned a piece of Sullivan Street bread (www.sullivanstreetbakery.com) in this spicy green oil and sprinkled a little Trapani sea salt from Sicily on top. We were ready for our lesson.
In the next newsletter, I'll write about what we learned about green olive oil from Rolando and chocolate-caramel tarts from Claudia.
Editor in Chief, Food & Wine