Friday, November 30, 2007

Terrific Thursday!

Normally Thursdays are just like any other day ~ shop, cook, clean, repeat the next day. But this week's Thursday was the best! Shane Graham, Cincinnati Bengals 2006 Pro Bowl kicker extraordinaire and a great client, wrote an article for the Cincinnati Post about his Thanksgiving dinner from Yummy~issimo! Personal Chef Service.

Thanksgiving at Shayne's a Blast
Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to spend the day together and count their blessings.

Some of us on the team are not from the area so our families are back in our hometowns. I have not been home for Thanksgiving in about eight years. We have games that week and practice so making it home is impossible for most players.

Sometimes players' families come to visit, but it's not easy to plan that every year when players sometimes move to a different city each year.

So this year I hosted a dinner for my teammates without family in town and those with family visiting but who live in a hotel and couldn't serve a traditional dinner.

I love to cook but being a single guy I don't cook every night just for myself. I have a chef that prepares a few healthy meals a week for me, so I'm not tempted to eat out every night.

Things worked out for my chef, Debbie Spangler, of YUMMY~ISSIMO! Personal Chef Service, to prepare the entire meal from scratch. Usually she does three meals on Thanksgiving and then has her family meal the day after. This year she spent the whole day at my home.

I had 20 people over for dinner. I had rookies, veterans who just moved to town, other players and their wives and children and staff members for the team that had family out of town.

We watched football, ate a great meal and enjoyed each other's company. It was very nice to be a part of it. I would like to thank Debbie for her time, my teammates and friends for making it a great Thanksgiving. The only downer was my family wasn't there and I missed them. I love all of them.

Thanksgiving was great but Tuesday was the exact opposite. I woke up to the news that Redskins safety Sean Taylor died after being shot in his home. It's a senseless tragedy and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family, teammates, friends. I'll especially pray for a little girl who will have to grow up without knowing her father.

In case you're not lucky enough to personally know Shayne, let me tell you he's a class act and a great human being. I'm the one who is thankful for having him as a client. To learn more about Shayne Graham and his numerous charitable endeavors in Cincinnati, check his website.

As if that wasn't enough to make my Thursday terrific, sweet husband Tim and I were invited to a VIP party on Thursday night that included an open bar, amazing food and a concert. I'll write about it tomorrow. I hope the photos turned out ~ I'm not sure if they were looking blurry from moving around or if I was blurry from unlimited champagne.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Disappointing Dinner!

Met my friends Janeen and Nancy for dinner last night at Paul Sturkey's new restaurant, Mesh. With crazy schedules for all of us, it's a rare treat when we can all get together and catch up. So we braved the pouring rain and cold to meet for dinner. Chef Sturkey has owned several restaurants around Cincinnati in the past and, as a Certified Personal Chef and owner of Yummy~issimo! Personal Chef Service, I'm constantly in search of good food, prepared in new and interesting ways and beautifully served.

I'd heard both good and mediocre about Mesh, so we decided to give it a try. The bar and restaurant were filled with businessmen on expense account from the Marriott across the street. As three women together ~ without a man ~ we were seated at the table closest to the kitchen door, as in we were so close to the kitchen that the servers were constantly in and out, talking to each other as they passed, and brushing our table constantly. Oh, by the way, there were quite a few empty 4~tops with a much nicer dining location than next to the kitchen. It was quite irritating.

Our server, Lauren, was visibly annoyed that we didn't want wine for the table. As Nancy was late with the bad weather and associated terrible traffic, Janeen and I had wine at the bar. None of us wanted a full dinner and we all decided to have salad and heavy appetizers. Needless to say, Lauren's body language grew even colder.

My selections:
Marinated Beet Salad $8.00 ~ described by Lauren as marinated roasted beets topped with goat cheese, spiced pecans and an orange truffle vinaigrette. In reality, it was four paper~thin slices of beet topped with a 4" high mound of goat cheese mixed with microgreens and a couple of spiced pecans on the side. I'm not quite sure where the orange truffle vinaigrette ended up but I couldn't identify it on my plate.
Grade: C-

Vegetable Trio $23.00 ~ this was not described by Lauren at all as she was pushing the the $40 venison dinner special and the $50 steak entrees. The menu describes this entree as a trio of Curry Carrot Soup with Truffled Apples, Redskin Potato Ravioli with Tomato Artichoke Emulsion and Tofu Tempura with Toasted Paprika Vinaigrette. Sounds Yummy! The curry in the soup was overwhelming ~ and I like curry. There were a couple of microscopic apple bites and I have no idea what or where the "truffled" part was. The potato ravioli was heavy and was reminiscent a periogi topped with diced tomatoes. The tofu tempura was inedible and, once again, I like tofu. Imagine uncooked tofu covered with a crunchy coating and deep fried.
Grade D

Janeen's selections:
Paul Sturkey's House Salad $8.00 ~ sun~dried tomatoes, toasted almonds, feta cheese and Sturkey's creamy balsamic vinaigrette. This is the same salad he served at his Encore Restaurants (all abruptly closed two weeks ago) and it has always been quite good.
Grade A

Atlantic Salmon $25.00
~ served with lobster mashed potatoes, French green beans and a sherry soy sauce. Lauren suggested the salmon be served medium and Janeen agreed. The salmon was medium~well bordering on well done and the lobster mashed potatoes, while a substantial serving, were quite heavy and overwhelmed the salmon.
Grade C

Nancy's selections:
Iceberg Salad $6.00 ~ 3/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce smothered with blue cheese dressing, a dab of diced tomatoes, onions and olives. Certainly not something that should ever be on a Sturkey menu.
Grade D

Mashed Potato "Poppers" $8.00 ~ a great way to use leftover mashed potatoes. Deep fried and dusted with Sturkey's Spice and white truffle oil. We all agreed it tasted like deep fried mashed potatoes with cayenne pepper and lemon. Once again, we weren't sure where the white truffle oil was used. Lauren didn't warn Nancy that these were quite spicy.
Grade C ~ I liked the spiciness of them while Nancy couldn't eat more than 1/2 of one.

Overall, I was extremely disappointed with the entire meal and the service. Our check was $83.00 before tip and I'm really sorry we didn't go someplace like
Ember's Restaurant or Jag's. I don't mind spending money for a great meal with good service but unfortunately that's not what I got last night.

At least my dinner companions were exceptional.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It Could Have Been a Recipe for Disaster

So I was working on Thanksgiving dinner for one of my professional athlete clients. With only 10 guests I expected an easy prep day. I had planned to be done by 5:00 and had visions of a discussion with Bacchus in front of the fire. But then whenever I expect something, it never happens the way I expect it to.

My cell phone rings. A feeling of dread, similar to the feeling you get when you hear the theme from Jaws, overcomes me.

Hi, this is Debbie.

Hi Deb, it's Shayne. I thought I better call you to let you know I invited a few more guys over.

Uh, OK. How many more did you invite?

Well, there will be about 20 now.

So do I need normal serving sizes or linebacker serving sizes?

Better count on large linebacker serving sizes.

YIKES! I'm starting to hear Jaws in stereo.
No problem. I'll have plenty of food and you don't have to worry about a thing.
It's late afternoon, the turkey has been in the brine for 8 hours already, the cornbread has been made and is crumbled ready to make dressing. Earlier in the week I fought my way through Costco and several grocery stores to get all of my supplies so I didn't have to go out on Wednesday. And here it is late Wednesday afternoon and I need to double my food production.

First things first. Send sweet husband Tim to the store. Take our turkey out of the refrigerator and add it to the one in the brine. Make more cornbread. Take a pantry inventory and see what additional side dishes I can come up with. As a Certified Personal Chef and owner of Yummy~issimo! Personal Chef Service in Cincinnati, it's not unusual (my tribute to Sir Tom Jones) to have the client change the menu or number of guests at the last minute. So I pull Plan B out of my apron pocket.

Here's the final menu and, yes, there were plenty of linebacker sized servings for everyone.

2 Roasted Turkeys (28 pounds worth) stuffed with Clementine oranges, apples, fennel and celery
Mashed Potatoes with homemade Turkey Gravy
Southern Cornbread Dressing
Roasted Root Vegetables with fresh herbs, olive oil and Parmesan cheese
My world famous Cranberry Chutney ~ for this recipe go to my
Yummy~issimo! website
Creamed Spinach Gratin
Orange Green Beans
Baked Sweet Corn Casserole
Southern Braised Collard Greens
Citrus Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Cinnamon Glazed Carrots
Spiced Pumpkin Pie
My Grandma's Bourbon Pecan Pie
Double Deep Dish Apple Pie

My butcher was out of fresh turkeys on Friday ~ go figure ~ so sweet husband Tim and I went out to dinner. You know, there's something kind of nice about somebody else cooking for you, serving you and doing all the dishes!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Yummy~issimo! Recipe for Holiday Happiness

I was at Costco today stocking up the holiday party pantry. Now, I just freaking LOVE going to Costco this time of year with all of the Christmas trees, the tacky musical reindeer, the belly dancing Santa and the screaming kids. Yeah, I just love it.

I was going through the aisles, shopping list on clipboard in hand, bluetooth in ear and eyes peeled for old people who stand in the middle of the aisles noshing their way through the entire store without buying a thing. Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea ~ I used to love the holidays just like everyone else but that was before Christmas started in mid~October. By Thanksgiving, I'm tired of the whole thing!

I've decided that this year instead of being my typical Scrooge~ette, I'm going to make an effort to relax, enjoy the season and be jolly and merry. For those of you who really know me, you know how many libations that could take on a daily basis.

Back to Costco. Have you noticed that they bring out the larger shopping carts in November? Well they do ~ and they hold about half again as much as the February through October carts hold. I passed women with carts full of toys, lots of holiday~type food like chestnuts that they have no idea how to roast, boxes of instant mashed potatoes and that world~famous stuffing in a box. Yummy!

Since Christmas is 5 weeks and 5 days away I'm going to share my personal and food recipes for holiday happiness: Spend time with the ones you love. Tell those close to you how much you love them. Open your heart to somebody who doesn't have anyone to share the holiday with ~ invite them to have dinner with you and your family. And what to have on your dinner table? A perfectly roasted turkey. Homemade cranberry chutney with Grand Marnier and spiced pecans. Country~bread dressing with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and golden raisins. Eat lots of Yummy! food and to hell with the diet.

Who needs a belly~dancing Santa with all that?

If those recipes sound good to you ~ and they are amazing ~ check out
Yummyissimo! Personal Chef Service website and you can get all three recipes to make your holiday happier.

Oh yeah, just in case I get too busy in the next few weeks: Bah Humbug!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Resting Up for the Holidays

Now I know you're going to say "But Spoiled Brat, didn't you just take a vakay?" Well, I suppose I technically did just take one, but that was six whole weeks ago! And with the holidays coming up, I need to rest as much as possible while I can ~ that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. After all, as a Personal Chef and owner of Yummy~issimo! Personal Chef Service in Cincinnati, I'm booked to cook for clients on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in addition to all of the holiday parties in December. Bah humbug!

So, back to Las Vegas and eating and drinking well. OK, gambling too but that's such a small part cuz you know that since I won many thousands of dollars two years ago, I haven't had quite the same winning streak. Back to the food and libation part of the vakay.

Went, again, to dinner at one of my favorite restaurants
Mon Ami Gabi a French bistro with sidewalk seating overlooking the fountains of the Bellagio. We've eaten there many times in the past several years, and one of their best desserts was a simple Strawberries Gabi ~ fresh strawberries in a simple syrup and served with a dab of Sour Cream Sorbet. At this time of year, they have Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bourbon Sauce instead of the strawberries. So we asked Super Server Missy if there was any way she could ask for the recipe. Missy came through like a champ and here's the recipe for Mon Ami Gabi's Sour Cream Sorbet (converted from grams):

Make a simple syrup of:
2 3/4c water (670g)
1 1/4c sugar (250g)
3/4c powdered glucose (160g)
1 1/4t sorbet stabilizer (6g)
2 1/4c sour cream (500g)
Makes 1 gallon.

And for those of you who know how much I love my libations, here are a couple new recipes:

Blackberry Smash ~ from the BOA Steakhouse at the Forum Shops at Caesars
1 1/2oz Belvedere Cytrus
1/2oz Marie Brizard Blackberry Liqueur
1 1/2oz fresh lemon sour
2 fresh blackberries
8~10 spearmint leaves
2 fresh blackberries, powdered sugar and sprig of mint, for garnish
In 16oz mixing glass muddle blackberries, mint and lemon sour. Add ice, Cytrus and Blackberry Liqueur. Shake until well blended and strain into ice~filled double Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with blackberries and a powdered sugar~dusted mint sprig.
Makes 1 large drink

And a recipe for the Oatmeal Cookie Martini ~ from the Verandah at Four Seasons
1/4oz Goldschlager
1/2oz Bailey's Irish Cream
1/4oz Butterscotch Schnapps
1/4oz Jagermeister
Combine ingredients in cocktail shaker, shake well and strain. Garnish with cinnamon dust.
Makes 1 martini

I haven't tried the Oatmeal Cookie Martini. I prefer my cookies warm and soft right out of the oven and my martinis are best left full of gin and ice. And don't even let me start about the Jager~hell!