11 July 2010

United Way Seafood Dinner

For our Land O’Lakes United Way drive in 2009, we had an online auction. I ended up winning two of the items on the auction. One was a case of wine from one of our executive’s wine cellar. Truth is, the highest bid was less than the retail value of the wine, and I was just trying to get it up to the retail value. but I ended up getting the case.

The other item, I really wanted. It was a selection of fresh, West Coast seafood. It was offered by an exec whose home is in Washington state. (He also happens to be my boss, but that’s not why I bid. Really.)

When I won it, I envisioned hosting a dinner at our house with several co-workers. I wanted to have my boss, not only because it was his seafood, but also ... well, you get the picture. Um, well, we invited several co-workers who we knew would enjoy the food and have a good time. That was our goal.

We finally got it all organized for July 8. I took the day off to do the prep.

So in advance, I thought about the kinds of seafood that would be available and planned a few menu options. But I didn’t want to be so prescriptive to exclude something that would be freshly available when he went to the market.

The auction specified seafood for 4-6 people. We talked about getting salmon, some kind of white fish, shrimp, scallops, crab, and maybe mussels. So, I knew that with other items, like a salad and some side dishes, I’d be able to stretch it to feed 8 people. I invited 10, and lo and behold, they all accepted. It was tight around our table, but we made it work.

So here’s what he provided: a slab of Copper River Salmon, a slab of halibut, shrimp, king crab legs, a couple of Dungeness crabs, scallops, and mussels. Not only was it great plenty for the dinner, but we had leftovers for dinner on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Overall, here are my comments. First of all, I was over-ambitious. I tried to make too many signature dishes. Most of them turned out ok. But as I’ll detail below, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with some. Second, I didn’t plan the menu appropriately so that I could participate in the festivities. So when folks arrived at the appointed hour, I still had too much cooking to do. So my wife ended up doing most of the entertaining, while I was at the stove finishing some of the food.

The menu that I planned came from a variety of sources. So the rest of this post includes the full menu and the source of each recipe, with my comments.

UnitedWaySeafood 002 We started with tray of fresh seafood. My wife did a very attractive arrangement of shrimp and king crab legs. For dipping, I prepared a very simple mayonnaise mixed with Spanish smoked paprika. It was a little spicy but very good. The other sauce was a cocktail sauce from Bobby Flay. Click here for the recipe. It turned out very well. The tarragon added a nice anise flavor to the sauce.

In addition to the seafood tray, I adapted another Bobby Flay recipe for scallops. Click here for his recipe. Instead of skewering the scallops, I seared them on my grill pan. And for the dressing, I used fresh oregano from my garden instead of fennel greens.

The final appetizer was sweet pea crostini, a Giada De Laurentiis recipe. Click here for that one. This is a fantastic appetizer. My son-in-law made it for us when we visited them in Chicago last spring. My modification is that I don’t top it with the prosciutto as the recipe calls for. And for this menu, I didn’t toast the French bread.

The salad that we served was a modified Caprese salad. My wife assembled it. She started with a layer of iceberg lettuce and then added a layer of grape tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. I sprinkled some julienned basil over the salad. We dressed it with the same dressing from the scallops in the recipe above.

For the salmon, I modified a recipe from Bon Appétit. Click here for the recipe. Instead of pan-searing the salmon, I grilled it. But everything else was pretty much the way the recipe specified.

For the UnitedWaySeafood 004halibut, I adapted another Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Ginger Sea Bass over Wilted Greens. Truth is - this is the recipe that turned me on to Giada. It is so simple and easy, and the results are delicious. Obviously, her recipe calls for sea bass, and I used halibut. But it turned out equally fantastic. Click here for her recipe.

The last recipe was another one from Giada - Fregola with Clams & Mussels. Click here for her original recipe. Her version says that it’s simple and quick. But I had numerous problems with it. First was my own timing. In order for this dish to be served fresh and hot, I had to be working on it while my guests were on the patio enjoying the appetizers. (Bad form.) Second, I was not happy with the way the mussels turned out. They smelled really funky. I did modify the recipe. Instead of clams, I mixed some crab meat from the Dungeness crabs. Also, I substituted Israeli couscous for the fregola pasta. But I don’t think that was the problem. In retrospect, I wished that I had gone with a simple couscous or pasta that could have been prepared in advance.

For dessert, I made ‘Torte di Mele’ or Lake Garda Apple Cake. The recipe is in Patricia Wells Trattoria cookbook. The recipe is posted on the Internet here. The cookbook (which I love and highly recommend) is available from Amazon here.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, I also bought a case of wine at the United Way auction. So I served some of it at our dinner. One was a Toasted Head chardonnay. The other was Fess Parker Syrah.

Anyway, even though I was probably over-ambitious with the menu, I had a lot of fun cooking, and I think everyone had a good time.

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