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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The "Savor the Moment" 10th Anniversary Dinner Parties!!!

As you may have heard, the "Savor the Moment" 10th Anniversary Dinner Parties were held this past Saturday, April 24th. This year's parties were in honor of the 10th Anniversary of the publication of our James Beard Award-winning cookbook, "Savor the Moment." The tasty menus were based on chapter themes from the cookbook and hostesses were asked to choose a menu, invite some willing participants and assign each person a delicious dish to prepare and bring to the party. Started in 2006 as our New Member Project, the Dinner Parties have been a great way to familiarize both League members and supporters with the exciting menus, inspirational entertaining ideas, and great recipes from our celebrated book. Having participated every year, I have to say, these parties are a lot of fun and this year was no exception!

We selected the "Casting off the Day" Menu, a delicious selection of hors d'oeuvres, desserts and cocktails including Brie in Puff Pastry, Shrimp with Cajun Rémoulade Sauce, Chicken Satay, Bali Wings, Ginger Chicken Rumaki, Toasted Coconut Cake and Fabulous Fudge Cake accompanied by Sea Breeze Cocktails and a variety of other beverages. Not a bad lineup, eh? I had made some of these recipes before, but not all; the Chicken Satay (shown here from Greta Gillis' party), Bali Wings and Fabulous Fudge Cake were new to me. I prepared the Fabulous Fudge Cake (pg. 252 ) and, while not the most beautiful cake (the icing is tricky), what it lacked in looks it more than made up for in flavor! Between the cake and the frosting, the recipe calls for 3 sticks of margarine. Now, I have never purchased margarine before and have been under the impression it's a pretty unhealthy product compared to butter. However, after doing a bit of research, it turns out that is not necessarily the case. Margarine is made from vegetable oils, so it contains no cholesterol and is also higher in "good" fats than butter is. Butter, on the other hand, is made from animal fat, so it contains cholesterol and high levels of saturated fat. I suppose as long as you're not eating this or any other chocolate cake every day, a little bit of either margarine or butter is probably ok. After making this delicious, chocolaty cake with the margarine, I have to say, it is definitely worth it!

I'm occasionally asked why I never talk about the "mishaps" or "mess ups" I've experienced during this project so far. To that, I say it's because there really haven't been any - not necessarily due to my exceptional talent in the kitchen, mind you, but because the recipes are just very well written and user friendly. Might there have been one or two that weren't to my "taste?" Yes, but any disparities such as an ingredient substitution or timing snafu I have fully disclosed! I am happy to report all of the dishes prepared by our dinner party guests were delicious - really! One of the highlights of our menu was the Toasted Coconut Cake brought by Reagan Such. Having made that cake before, I appreciate all the work that went into it. Reagan did a fabulous job, even decorating the cake with orchids from her fabulous orchid plants (you should see this girl's orchid collection)! It was also the perfect birthday cake for one of our party girls, Caroline Angstadt, who happened to be celebrating her birthday that evening.

After an evening of sampling delicious dishes, sipping Sea Breezes and other assorted libations, and sharing lots of laughs, our party drew to a close around 2am! I believe a good time was had by all and while saying goodnight to our guests, "Casting off the Day" CD in hand, I found myself savoring a very fun evening with friends. As it turns out, all the other Dinner Parties were a hit as well! Thanks again to our fabulous hostesses, especially Karin Bice, Joyce DeVita, and Greta Gillis for their help in promoting the Dinner Parties, not to mention all our adventurous attendees for rocking the recipes of "Savor the Moment." I'd also like to propose a toast to all the wonderful women who put so much time, effort and talent into creating this amazing book - cheers to all of you! The Cookbook Committee is presently at work planning our Fall event, but more about that later...I need a nap!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Exciting New Website and Wine Assignment!

As someone who enjoys learning about, indulging in and writing about wine I do a fair amount of "research" on the subject (see previous posts). I tend to gravitate towards people and resources whose approach is down to earth, unpretentious and, simply, fun. This pleasurable pursuit should be all about exploring, experiencing and enjoying! I think we've all experienced the typical "wine snob" (I know I have!) who takes things a little to seriously, making the study and enjoyment of wine seem an elitist endeavor. That's why I am pleased to introduce to you a new wine website, Cork'd, whose mission is to break down the stereotypes, myths and pretenses surrounding wine to help readers discover and drink better wines.

The Chairman of the site, Gary Vaynerchuck, is a well know figure in the wine world. With an unconventional, often irreverent commentary on wine, this born entrepreneur has built a thriving business that began with a job in his father's wine shop as a teenager. Gary is currently the Director of Operations at Wine Library in Springfield, NJ and is the star and host of Wine Library TV, "the Internet's most passionate wine program." He is also author of the recently published, New York Times bestseller, "Crush It," a guide to turning your passion into your profession. I'm definitely a fan! I met Gary in February at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival following his informative and entertaining seminar entitled "The Pulse of the Wine World" that I wrote about in March. After responding to one of his recent posts regarding Cork'd, Gary sent me an e-mail and suggested I write for them. After speaking with Senior Editor Jon Troutman, I am happy to announce my first article for Cork'd was posted on Friday. Entitled "Rethinking Your Wine Routine? Try Ribera del Duero," you can check it out by clicking here.

I look forward to reporting on more of my wine adventures at Cork'd while I continue the "Savor the Moment" Challenge here at I hope you have a chance to visit this fabulous, new website whose primary goal is to make wine accessible, approchable and fun. I'd love to know what you think - Cheers!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Savor the Moment" Cooking Demonstration at Bloomingdales with Chef John Paul

This past Saturday, the Junior League of Boca Raton held a cooking demonstration at Bloomingdales featuring fabulous recipes from "Savor the Moment." We wanted to showcase recipes that would be perfect for a delicious Spring or Summer meal. We were fortunate enough to enlist acclaimed local chef, Chef John Paul, to perform the demonstration.

An alum of Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute, Chef John Paul has cooked in kitchens from Nantucket to South Beach and explored culinary destinations around the world. He is currently a Private Chef and prepares amazing menus for local events, private dinner parties and holiday meals through his company, Custom Cuisine. He was delightful to work with and, after perusing "Savor the Moment" for a few days, he came up with a variety of creative menu ideas. After listening to them (and boy, they were gooood) we finally decided on the following menu:

Sahara Dates (p.20)
Walnut and Gorgonzola Crostini (pg. 66)
Shiitake and Warm Corn Salad (pg. 126)
Hacienda Skirt Steak (pg. 153)
Cappuccino Brownies (pg. 259)

The creamy Sahara Dates were delicious stuffed with a filling of walnuts, blue cheese, cream cheese and butter (no calories, I swear!). Chef John Paul marinated the Hacienda Skirt Steaks in a delicious Adobo marinade including fresh cilantro, garlic, white vinegar, cumin, oregano, thyme and olive oil for twelve hours before grilling. He's a fan of this particluar cut of meat since it's conducive to cooking to various temperature levels simultaneously due to the variations in thickness of the steaks. Once grilled, he plated the skirt steak on a dreamy bed of flavorful Shiitake and Warm Corn Salad consisting of fresh corn kernels, shiitake mushrooms, bacon, walnuts, arugula and aged goat cheese. It never would have occurred to me to put these two recipes together (that's why he's the Chef!) but the flavors paired beautifully. This combination is also ideal because it can be served at room temperature and seems to get more delicious the longer it "hangs out." Perfect for reducing the stress factor of having to serve it right away!

I offered to help out by making the Cappuccino Brownies and while making them is a lengthy, three step process I do believe they were worth it! With rich flavors of espresso and bittersweet chocolate, the walnut studded brownies were topped with a layer of cream cheese and cinnamon frosting and finished off with a decadent Mocha Glaze made with more espresso, bittersweet chocolate and heavy cream. I have never melted so much chocolate in my life! Even though the recipe called for melting the chocolate in a double boiler, I always use the microwave which really does a fantastic job. Seriously, if you are a chocolate and/or coffee fan - these might be your new favorite brownies!

Chef John Paul garnished the platters with beautiful, bright orange, nasturtium flowers and herbs from his personal garden which also produces a plethora of other herbs and edible greens. It made for a beautiful presentation and I thought our audience was about to rush the stage...the food smelled and looked so good (I was sooo with them!)

We also were fortunate to have some of the original Cookbook Committee members in attendance, women who were involved in the creation of the book from the beginning: Wanda Harrold who served as Cookbook Assistant Chairperson on the Original Committee as well as Cookbook Chairperson on the Post Publication Committee; Laura Stoltz, a Recipe Contributor and Tester; and Mary Lavalle a Recipe Contributor and Tester as well who, to this day, works at the League office and handles "all things cookbook." I call her the "Cookbook Goddess" because the Cookbook Committee just couldn't function without her knowledge, caring and support. After passing out samples of all the delicious dishes, a number of the attendees were impressed enough to purchase copies of "Savor the Moment." Thanks to everyone who did, especially Mrs. Yvonne Bachman who bought three copies! As I've mentioned previously, all proceeds from cookbook sales support our local community projects and I hope you all enjoy this fabulous book.

I'm also really looking forward to our 10th Anniversary "Savor the Moment" Dinner Parties next weekend. Steve and I are hosting one and if you (this means YOU) would like to participate by hosting a dinner party at your home, please let me know! It doesn't matter where you live.nd If you like to entertain it's really ideal and here's why: you select a menu from 5 of our predetermined menus including: "Casting Off the Day" Cocktails and Hors d'oeuvres, "Pastas del Sol, Dining Al Fresco", a fabulous "French Country Charm" Brunch, a "Splendor in the Grass" Pool Party or Picnic, or a "Night to Remember" Sit Down Dinner; you then invite a few friends, assign a dish to each to prepare and bring, and proceed to have a wonderful evening to support a great cause! Oh yeah, and don't forget to take plenty of photos. I'd be happy to e-mail the menus to anyone who'd be interested, and would greatly appreciate your support - thank you!

You can contact Chef John Paul of Custom Cuisine at (561)789-2799 or

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tomato Basil Seafood Stew & Talbott Chardonnay - Perfect Pairing?

If you love seafood stew, listen up because I've got a dish for you! This fabulous recipe for Tomato Basil Seafood Stew (pg. 177) from "Savor the Moment" is oh-so delicious, incredibly easy to make, and can double as a weeknight meal for the family or an al fresco dinner for four. Clams, shrimp and crab meat are simmered in a delicious tomato and white wine broth imbued with flavors of fennel, oregano, basil and garlic. Served with toasted slices of French bread drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove while still warm - what more could you ask for?

This particular night we opened a 2006 Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Chardonnay, a wine we had recently enjoyed at the Boca Bacchanal. Perhaps not an ideal pairing for the Seafood Soup but, hey, sometimes you just want what you want! Founded by the Talbott family over 25 years ago,Talbott Vineyards is dedicated to producing world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Talbott Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay, now in its 25th vintage, has become the defining wine in the Talbott portfolio of estate-grown Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

The wine was a lovely, light honey color with aromas of tropical fruit and honey emanating from the glass. Tasting it revealed rich, ripe flavors of mango, pineapple and light toasty oak with a long, honeyed finish. While delicious, this wine would pair better with a richer seafood dish such as lobster or sea bass. Next time, I'll pair this fabulous dish with a lighter-bodied wine without any oak influence, most likely a Rosé or a Sauvignon Blanc. And believe me, there will definitely be a next time!

The beautiful aqua accessories you see in the photos are from one of my favorite boutiques in town, the Linen Closet. The French tea towels by Anne de Solene are so pretty and really come in handy in the kitchen. The Isabella Adams napkin rings are one of my new favorite things as well! Linen Closet is having it's Spring Fling & Bling Event this Thursday, April 15th from 12-5pm. I'll be there selling copies of "Savor the Moment" so please stop by and say hello! Did I mention "Savor the Moment" makes the perfect Mother's Day gift? Hope to see you there - Cheers!

Tomato Basil Seafood Stew (pg. 177)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/4 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 (6 1/2 ounce) cans clams
2 1/2 cups bottles clam juice
2 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes with added puree
1 cup dry white wine
16 ounces uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
1 (6-ounce) can crab meat, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
salt, cayenne and black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, oregano and fennel seeds and saute for 8 minutes or until the onions are tender. Drain the clams, reserving the liquid. Add the reserved clam liquid, bottled clam juice, tomatoes and wine to the saucepan. Increase the heat and cook for 15 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Chop the clams and add to the saucepan with the shrimp and crab meat. Simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the basil. Simmer for 2 minutes longer or just until the shrimp are opaque in the center. Season with salt, cayenne and black pepper. Serve immediately. Serves four.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Eggcellent Easter Sunday & Birthday Dinner in One!

I just loooove Spring! The weather here in South Florida is exceptional; cheery, vibrant colors abound (prime time to break out your Lilly Pulitzer); and one of my favorite holidays, Easter Sunday, is right around the corner. Easter has added significance in our house because Steve and I got engaged on Easter Sunday a few years ago. He hid the ring in a plastic egg - clever guy! As if that wasn't enough, my birthday also falls around and, in certain years, actually on Easter - so you can see there are always plenty of reasons to celebrate!

I usually offer to host Easter dinner and I was particularly looking forward to it this year because of the "Savor the Moment" Challenge. Our fabulous James Beard Award-Winning cookbook is rife with recipes perfect for an eggs-cellent Easter meal. Recipes I chose for this year's Easter Feast included the Artichoke Cheesecake (pg. 56), The Herbed Leg of Lamb (pg. 155), Strawberry Patch Soup (pg. 113) and, one of my all-time favorites, Green Beans and Friends (pg. 216).

Upon arrival, our guests were greeted with the delicious Artichoke Cheesecake and assorted cheeses including Brie with Red Pepper Jelly and a tasty Dill Havarti. To pair with our hors oeuvres we served Veuve Clicquot NV and a 2009 Crios de Susana Balbo Torrontes from Argentina. Susana Balbo, the winemaker, selected the term "crios" meaning "offspring" to indicate these wines are meant to be enjoyed young. Torrontes is the primary white grape varietal of Argentina and I love its distinctly floral aromas, citrus flavors and pleasing acidity. It paired very nicely with both the cheeses and the Artichoke Cheesecake with it's creamy delicious flavors of garlic, pimento, feta cheese, cream cheese and artichokes. I made the Cheesecake the night before, which was super convenient. It requires the use of a springform pan which sounds intimidating but actually makes serving a breeze! As suggested, I garnished it with basil leaves and chopped pimiento and, voila! the hors oeuvres were served!

Just before dinner as an "amuse bouche," I served small glasses of "Savor the Moment's" Strawberry Patch Soup. I followed the directions as stated in the cookbook, blending together 16 ounces of fresh strawberries, 1 cup sour cream, 1 cup half and half, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons white wine and blended until smooth. I also added some Chambord, a black raspberry liqueur, which really enhanced the flavor of the strawberries. I also made this recipe the night before, chilled in the fridge and served up the next day garnished with some mint and chopped strawberries marinated in a little additional Chambord. Light and refreshing, it was the perfect palate cleanser before our Easter meal.

For the main event, we went with the dynamic duo of "Lamb and Ham" - like Batman and Robin, an unbeatable pair! The Herbed Leg of Lamb recipe was from "Savor the Moment" and the ham, one of my all-time favorite holiday indulgences, was a Honey Baked Ham. I must tell you, my name is Stephanie and I am a ham-a-holic! I'm not sure what it is about a Honey Baked Ham, maybe it's the crispy, sugary coating or the perfectly seasoned, spiral slices but I just can't get enough! I am also happy to report the Herbed Leg of Lamb, which I made for the first time on Easter Sunday, was positively delicious (whew)! Seasoned with olive oil, crushed garlic, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, salt, pepper and dusted with flour, the bone-in leg of lamb roasted in the oven for a couple hours until it reached 145 degrees for medium rare. I basted it frequently with white wine and water added to the pan prior to roasting. In addition to the "Ham and Lamb" I also served Rosemary Roasted Potatoes and, the much requested holiday staple, Green Beans and Friends. I have included the recipe for the lamb below! Just FYI I used fresh rosemary and thyme instead of dried and I roasted it based on temperature, not time.

To pair with our Easter feast we served a 2007 Domaine Palon Vacqueyras. Vacqueyras is a French wine Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône wine region of France. It lies in close proximity to the much heralded Chateauneuf du Pape AOC and is primarily a red wine region with some white and rosé wines also being produced. The Domaine Palon Vacqueyras is a blend of 75% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre, and 9% Syrah, the principal red grape varietals of the region. It had a gorgeous, deep ruby/purple color and tantalizing aromas of black cherry, cassis and licorice. This delicious, full-bodied wine complemented the lamb beautifully with its bold tannins and juicy flavors of black currants, black cherries and pepper. It had a nice long finish and could easily age for a few more years in the bottle although, I have to tell you, it is quite delicious right now!

After our fabulous Easter meal we were all sitting around the table savoring the moment when, to my surprise, Steve emerged from the house with the most beautiful birthday cake I have ever seen! It was from my new favorite place in town Cupcake Couture, a gourmet sweet boutique that specializes in fabulous cupcakes named after designers (Cocoa Chanel, Donatella Vanilla, Yves Saint Lemon). My gorgeous cake was a "Limey Pulitzer" (after Lilly Pulitzer) and consisted of delicious white cake, key lime buttercream frosting dotted with candied limes and hot pink shredded coconut - divine! It was the perfect ending to an eggcellent Easter Sunday/Birthday Dinner.

Herbed Leg of Lamb (pg. 155)
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (5-6 pound) leg of lamb
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup white wine
1 cup water
Mix the garlic, salt and olive oil in a small bowl. Spread over the lamb. Sprinkle with the thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and flour. Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan and add the wine and water to the pan. Roast at 325 degrees for 2.5 hours, basting frequently with the pan juices. Serves eight.
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