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Don’t Hire a Caterer: Valentine’s Day

DON'T HIRE A CATERER: VALENTINE'S DAY

By Georgette Farkas

Georgette Farkas is officially our Culinary Ambassador at Great Performances, but we’ve also crowned her our Hospitality Maven. Drawing upon her experiences working at leading restaurants and spearheading her eponymous Rotisserie Georgette, she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. In addition to everything she does at GP across all teams, she also regularly entertains at home, creating incredible dishes that have that extra special touch that makes the food even more memorable and delicious.

In this series, Georgette shares tips from the caterer’s tool kit to make entertaining at home (almost) effortless. From time saving shortcuts and grocery store secrets to garnishing hacks and presentation magic, she’ll help you host a party that’ll make your guests feel extra special and that you’ll actually be able to enjoy.

She’s also curated recipes for you, highlighting the tips she’s shared. Each month look for dishes and ideas that would be delicious on their own, but that together make up menus that will have you entertaining like a pro.

A Caterer's Tips for Entertaining: Celebrating Valentine's Day

As a longtime restaurateur, I have a special relationship with Valentine’s Day. Expectations are typically high, and more than any other, this holiday made me feel particularly responsible for my restaurant guests’ happiness. I don’t mind admitting that these days I embrace the joy of preparing Valentine’s Day dinner at home for my better half.

I begin the menu with a winter salad, all prepared in advance. This light, fresh and bright dish is an ideal lead in to the substantial main course.  Chocolate is a must for your Valentine’s Day dessert, and my pot de crème is as rich, dark and decadent as it is easy to prepare. And yes, it can be made a day ahead.

Cooking for someone I love means preparing a dish I love, and duck confit is at the top of my list of winter favorites. You might think it ambitious, but it’s one of those recipe that is far easier than its reputation suggests. I offset the duck’s richness with the acidity of cranberry braised red cabbage. While mashed potatoes would be a classic pairing, here I suggest a butternut squash puree. My trick is adding miso, lending umami to the butternut’s natural sweetness.

The duck and sides dishes meet my cardinal rule of choosing only make ahead recipes for home entertaining, even when only for two people. Both side dish recipes serve more than two, as I believe this is the most efficient way to cook, making the preparation time and effort worthwhile. The balance can be frozen for future use or enjoyed over the next several days.

Valentine’s Day Menu

Crisp Winter Salad, Spicy Lime Vinaigrette

***

Duck Confit

Cranberry Braised Red Cabbage

Butternut Squash – Miso Purée

***

Chocolate Pot de Crème

Three Ways to Think Like a Caterer

  1. Consider Contrast. Explore ways to incorporate contrasts in flavor, texture, color and even shape. This makes for menus that delight the eye as much as the palate. That said, avoid adding ingredients solely for aesthetic purposes. Everything on the plate should contribute to a dish’s flavor or texture.
  2. Shop Strategically. Don’t hesitate to incorporate “purchased” items to finish a dish, cutting back on your time in the kitchen, not to mention the number of ingredients and storage space. We want to make your home entertaining a pleasure.
  3. Create Kits. Caterers prepare each dish as a “kit” of components that can be prepared ahead and even assembled or plated in advance. This approach can facilitate your home entertaining, leaving as few steps as possible to complete just before serving.

Valentine's Day Recipes

Crisp Winter Salad, Spicy Lime Vinaigrette Recipe

This is intended as a salad with no lettuce. Instead, assemble a variety of crisp vegetables with contrasting flavors, textures and colors. At this time of year, I use cucumber, fennel and carrot, both cut in thin ribbons, celery and radish very thinly sliced, especially if you can find the colorful purple or “watermelon” varieties. Definitely include the celery leaves. For added crunch, garnish the salad with toasted sunflower or sesame seeds or some coarsely chopped roasted peanuts.

The dressing recipe is inspired by chef Shi Lin Wong, who recently completed her James Beard Fellowship. We worked with Shi Lin here at Great Performances on her Beard Box, a meal kit shipped nationwide. Shi Lin’s menu reflects her Malaysian heritage. I fell in love with her Spicy Lime dressing and have made it my winter salad go-to. Adapt the proportions to your own taste and also the potency and saltiness of the fish sauce you use. I always make more dressing than I need for any one meal and then store it in a jar for future use.

Spicy Lime Vinaigrette Recipe

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp birds eye chili or fresno chili, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup sesame oil

Procedure

Combine all ingredients except the sesame oil and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Whisk in the sesame oil. Strain out the chili pepper.

Applying Our Tips

Consider Contrast.

Contrast in flavors, textures, shapes and colors are the trick to creating a salad that’s particularly enticing. A variety of crisp vegetables brings texture and color this dish. The dressing is a balanced combination of savory, tangy, sweet, and spicy and enhances the vegetables beautifully.

Shop Strategically.

Purchase sunflower seed or peanuts pre-roasted.

Make Ahead.

Clean, slice and dice vegetables early in the day. Refrigerate covered with a damp cloth. Fennel, radish and carrots can be cut a day ahead and stored refrigerated in water. Make sure to drain well and towel dry before tossing in the salad.

Pro Tip.

Always make more dressing than you need for a single salad. Store it in a jar so you’ll have it to turn to all week long.

Duck Confit

Get the recipe for cranberry braised red cabbage here

Get the recipe for pureed butternut squash with miso here

This dish is a favorite for a variety of reasons. It ticks the box for a fancy meal that you can enjoy at home, but one that’s not especially complicated. Everything can be made ahead of time and warmed up, giving you plenty of time to relax before enjoying the feast.

Should you decide to take on duck confit, here are the basic steps, rather than a formal recipe.

Ingredients

  • Duck legs (with thigh)
  • Dry salt brine (kosher salt, crushed juniper, coarsely ground pepper)
  • Garlic
  • Bay leaves
  • Fresh ginger
  • Crushed juniper berries
  • Black peppercorns
  • Duck fat

Procedure

Prick skin side of duck legs with a knife point. Prepare a dry salt brine with kosher salt, crushed juniper and coarsely ground pepper. Cover skin side of duck with a thin coat of salt mixture, refrigerate overnight and then brush off salt mixture the following day. Place duck legs skin side down in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan or dutch oven, along with several cloves of peeled garlic, a few bay leaves, a few chunks of fresh ginger, crushed juniper berries and black pepper corns. Cook at 250° approximately one hour, until duck has rendered enough of its own fat to cover the meat. Increase oven temperature to 300. Turn legs over and continue to cook skin side up until the meat is extremely tender and leg and thigh bone are easily pulled apart. Total cooking time, four to five hours. You really can’t overdo it. Let legs cool to room temperature in their rendered fat and then refrigerate. Reserve excess rendered duck fat separately in jars and refrigerate for future use to cook potatoes and more. Remove cooked duck legs from refrigerator an hour before reheating. Reheat gently at 300° for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Just before serving, place under broiler for just a few minutes to crisp the skin.

Applying Our Tips

Shop Strategically. Despite the simplicity, given the time it takes to prepare duck confit (including salting overnight and very slow roasting for four hours or more), purchasing ready made is a great option.  My preferred online sources are Dartagnan and Hudson Valley Foie Gras.

Make Ahead. Every component of this main course can be made several days ahead and will, in fact, benefit from the advance preparation. They also have the advantage of being cooked in the oven, as opposed to on the stove top, meaning they call for little or no intervention during the cooking time. All should also be heated for serving in the oven, which again, means less stove top maneuvering at dinner time.

Pro Tips

  • If preparing these recipes several days ahead, which I highly recommend, be sure to chill food to room temperature before sealing and refrigerating.
  • Warming these dishes in the oven, instead of on the stove top, will make for controlled, even heating and minimizes the risk of burning.
  • Use of a trick from the caterer’ tool kit by using a pastry bag to plate the butternut puree. It makes for a fun and clean lined geometric effect. If using a pastry bag, you can warm the butternut puree filled bag in the microwave just before heating.
  • Please, please, please serve the main course on warmed dinner plates!

Bittersweet Chocolate Pot de Crème

Get the recipe for the bittersweet chocolate pot de crème here

Make Ahead. Pots de crème can be made several days ahead. Be sure to cool to room temperature and wrap well Wrap well before refrigerating.  

Shop Strategically. Almost every dish benefits from a crunchy garnish as a finishing touch. In this case, store bought chocolate wafers, coarsely crumbled over the whipped cream will do the trick. By all means, succumb to decorating candy or chocolate hearts to add a festive note.

Pro Tips

  • Use the very best quality chocolate you can find, for example, Valrhona or Callebaut.
  • Be sure to remove pots de creme from refrigerator at least two hours before serving. The chocolate flavor shines much more brightly and the texture will be much silkier when not ice cold.
  • When garnishing with whipped cream, a rough dollop will do just fine, but smooth quenelles will elevate your game.