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Big Dinner 2015

June 9, 2015

Tom posted about the BAB Art and we thought we should include the story of the meal. It is a challenging topic, for me, in this venue. It doesn’t feel like this blog should have recipes. Don’t be confused- being a  Polish Jersey girl, I can get my ‘Martha’ on with the best of the crafty folk. (My people!) But a post about food surrounded by so much rust seems out of place, or at least unhygienic. So, I’ll focus on the process of creating the evening within the context of the BAB.

We’ve done a number of orchestrated meals, small as well as big, over the years. In relaunching the Big Dinner finally in the BAB, it seemed appropriate to consider the idea of Transformation, of this BAB into our home, the stuff we found made into parts of our living space and our friends into Team BAB. We unfortunately couldn’t include every person that has passed through here in the meal, but hopefully, over time, we’ll design an evening for every one of you.

Warning– this is a long post. Go get a refreshing beverage and a snack. You might get hungry. Also, there aren’t many pictures of the actual meal. We never remember to photograph the plated food.

Everything in place, with a menu

Everything in place, with a menu. Mr. Carson would disapprove of the lopsided layout, though.


Theme: Transformation of food, how food is prepared and combined, makes the individual ingredients better than they are alone.

Each menu item reflects that idea. While thinking about this meal, I like to think about how many people have brought something (literally or figuratively) to the transformation of the BAB, making it more than we could have ever accomplished on our own. Thank you guys!

Ready to go

Ready to go


We discussed the menu a long time in advance of starting to cook. This kind of meal involves a level of theater, balancing the flavors, textures, colors and how they present themselves as courses. There needs to be variety but it all has to flow as one unified experience.

There is a practical side to this, as well. I have 4 burners and one oven to work with. With the BAB, I’ve got a lot more room and fridge space to work with than before but on the heating side, for now, I’m still constrained. The menu has to take that into consideration, with things like the temperature of the oven at the specific time required for each course. If there is something in the oven at 450 degrees, there can’t be something that needs to be in the oven at the same time at 350 degrees. Most of the courses, and components, like stock, are made well in advance. A lot of flavors actually improve when they have a chance to rest and be reheated. Plus, that means I get to enjoy the company and the meal instead of being stuck in the kitchen during the dinner.

On the drama side, preparing as much as possible in advance makes the meal seem to magically appear. The mess of the preparation and the work needed to pull it all together happens ‘back stage’.

On the ‘lessons learned’ side to planning a meal like this- don’t serve too much food. There will be plenty to satisfy a guest after an evening of eating. The worst mistake is to fill them up by the first or second course and the rest of the meal is under appreciated. Also, the food looks prettier when there is room around it on the plate, like a matted picture. The other mistake I’ve learned from is serving everything in quick succession. It is much better to spread it out over more time, to allow for conversation and rest between courses.

The kitchen is set up pre-dinner.

The kitchen is set up pre-dinner.

Here’s the menu:

Appetizers- chemical transformation: cheese, olives, smoked salmon are all changed by the chemical process of adding acids, pickling and smoke.

Potato Wheels- boiled new potato slices topped with kalamata tapanade, sauteed leeks and boursin cheese

Warm Cheese Puffs- aka Thyme Gougère, google it, they are yummy!

Smoked Salmon Chips- smoked salmon on a Billy Goat Chip, topped with crème fraîche, capers and fresh dill

Served with a signature cocktail- Tom’s version of a Cosmopolitan

Soup- processing: Cooking simple elements together and pureeing them to a unified, complex dish.

Watercress soup with fresh bread and herb butter

Wine 1

Served with Val de Mer Bourgogne Blanc 2012

Salad- layering: combining intact ingredients so that they maintain their substance, but are tasted in combination. (Think- Remy combining the strawberry with the cheese in Ratatouille- love that movie!)

Bacon pear salad rolls with shallot bacon dipping sauce

Served with Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne 2012

Served with Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne 2012

Entry- braising: a long time over low heat releases rich flavor from simple ingredients.

Boeuf Bourguignon over fresh noodles

You can't go wrong with a good beef stew

You can’t go wrong with a good beef stew

Served with the same Benjamin Leroux Bourgogne 2012

Dessert- freezing: changing the texture and flavor of a liquid by temperature and processing.

Cosmopolitan sorbet with orange tuiles

Served with Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut

Served with Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut


The key to the success of a meal like this is advanced, careful planning. I enjoy cooking, in all kinds of situations. Clean up, not so much, but that comes with the task, and it is counterproductive to try to cook in a messy kitchen. I find it fun to see what I can make from the stuff laying around. Today, (we’re on vacation) I made bread pudding out of stale donuts (throw away donuts?), chopped up Fig Newtons (no raisins), Cinnamon Chex (no spices) and an apple (so its healthy!). It was a pretty good experiment.

This kind of meal, though, is more about getting the tasks done in a realistic sequence. For that, I write everything down. All the recipes, shopping lists, schedules, starting weeks out with preparation of things like the herb butters and sauces, up to the day of the dinner, are all in one document.

I update the digital file afterwards so I can remember what worked or didn't work.

I update the digital file afterwards so I can remember what worked or didn’t work.

Sometimes, I’ll be coming up with a item that doesn’t come from a recipe or recipes, so I’ll make sure I make it at least once in advance. In addition to the food planning and preparation, there is also the furniture layout, dishes, linens and the centerpiece. Sometimes, we’ll make a playlist of music for the evening. Those are also all listed. In this case, I had to unpack our stored boxes to find the dishes and linens I wanted to use. This was a good value-added motivator to get on that task. With the power of a good list, the tasks fall into place with a minimum of worry. I love that feeling of accomplishment you get from crossing things off a list, too.

All of the dishes are arranged and ready for serving.

All of the dishes are arranged and ready for serving.

How to wrap this up

It never hurts to show an action shot of the girls.

Eager clean up crew

Eager clean up crew

I started with writing that this blog doesn’t seem to be the place for recipes, but who’s making rules about that kind of thing! Plus, this isn’t really a recipe, as such. Think of it more like an assemblage, like pipes going together to make a candlestick.

Smoked Salmon Chips

You can purchase all these items prepackaged or, go crazy and make everything from scratch. Don’t assemble everything too far in advance to keep the chip from getting soggy.

Salmon- smoked, sliced very thin, cut into chip sized strips

Chips- a sturdy kettle style is preferred. We like the local Billy Goat Chips.

Crème fraîche- this can usually be found in the deli cooler at the supermarket, sour cream is a viable substitute.

Capers, drained & fresh dill sprigs

On cookie sheets, sort out the chips to find the best salmon delivery vehicles. Top with salmon strips, a small dollop of crème fraîche, 2 or 3 capers and a dill sprig.






3 Comments leave one →
  1. Maurine Pruchnicki permalink
    June 10, 2015 6:25 pm

    Sounds yummy, especially the dessert–but no chocolate????

    Love, Mom

    • Sue permalink*
      June 10, 2015 8:29 pm

      Breaking all kinds of rules!


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