Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Dinner party survivors


They did it! Cheviot newlyweds - with guidance from a chef - pull off a great party

By Chuck Martin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Guests at Sarah and Rob Schroeder's dinner party propose a toast to the cooks (Rob and Sarah are seated at left).
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
Just past 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sarah Schroeder stands at her stove, having just changed from denim overalls into a red cardigan and black skirt. A little frantically, she is melting butter for wild rice. She and her husband, Rob, have prepared much of the meal ahead - the salads, soup and apple tart - but there's rice, asparagus and chicken to cook, and so many other things to worry about.

Although she doesn't show it, Sarah's feeling the mounting pressure of feeding a small crowd in her Cheviot home. The countdown to the couple's first dinner party is almost over.

"I'm not going to get to talk to anyone tonight, am I?" Sarah wonders aloud.

From the kitchen, she hears the chatter of her seven guests, who've just come in from the cold, crisp night: Her parents, Barry and Bert Polley, and their friends, Bob and Diane Hauser; Rob's mother, Terry Schroeder, and her friend, Dennis Caylor; and Rob's grandfather, Sam Geroulis (everyone calls him "Gramps"). There was supposed to be another guest, Rob's grandmother, Dottie, but she couldn't make it because she caught the flu.

Sarah's dad pops the cork on sparkling wine and pours, while the other guests snack on olives and cheese in the living room. Rob and Sarah's beagle-mix, Prinny (Princess), greets everyone with excited yelps.

"The table looks beautiful," Rob's mother says.

The newlyweds borrowed two rectangular tables and pulled them together for dinner, then covered them with a pretty ecru cloth. Sarah created a seasonal centerpiece using faux fall leaves and colorful tiny gourds, and printed place cards from her computer.

The table is set with glasses, china, and silverware - all wedding gifts, some of it being used for the first time. All that's missing is food.

Common dilemma

Back in the kitchen, Sarah has shoved the simmering rice to a back burner and pulled the stuffed chicken roulades - the main course - out of the fridge.

Earlier in the day, Sarah and Rob pounded chicken breasts flat - as chef Meg Galvin taught them in September - then rolled the chicken over a stuffing of blanched spinach, herbs and Gruyere cheese. Now all they have to do is sear the chicken and roast it in the oven 20 minutes.

But accomplishing this means someone has to watch the chicken. It's a dilemma for many dinner party hosts: How to cook for guests, yet have time to sit at the table with them.

With a quick kiss in the kitchen, Rob and Sarah settle on a tag team approach: She would start the chicken, while he serves the salad.

FINAL INSTALLMENT
We began following the progress of newlyweds Sarah and Rob Schroeder of Cheviot on July 30 as they began cooking lessons from chef Meg Galvin of the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State. As preparation for their first dinner party, Galvin taught them basics in four classes; other experts gave tips on wine and planning.
Tips for making your party perfect
• Get organized. Gather recipes and compile master list of ingredients before shopping.
• Plan menu around several dishes that can be cooked ahead, or assembled at the last minute.
• Don't wait too late to begin cooking.
• Clean house and set table early.
• Designate volunteers to help open wine, clear the table and do other chores during the meal.
• Don't forget to spend time with your guests.
THE MENU
• Cheese and olives
"U" Cremant de Bordeaux (sparkling) ($16.99)
• Mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette
• Roasted Red Pepper Soup
Williamette Valley 2001 Riesling ($12.99)
• Chicken Roulade Stuffed with Spinach, Gruyere and Herbs
Wild Rice and Steamed Asparagus
Consentino 2001 Sangiovese ($19.99)
• Granny Smith Tart with Pecan Frangipane and Cider-Bourbon-Caramel Sauce
Coffee
MEET NEWLYWEDS AND THE CHEF
• Rob Schroeder and Sarah Polley married June 7 in Clifton. Rob, 28, grew up in Cheviot and graduated from Elder High School and the College of Mount St. Joseph. He works as marketing communications coordinator for dbaDirect Inc. in Florence, and is pursuing a master's degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Sarah, 29, graduated from Mason High School and Indiana University. She teaches Speech Communication, Media & Culture and Intercultural Communication at Northern Kentucky University. The couple lives in Cheviot.
• A Lexington native, Meg Galvin graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and Le Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London.
She is adjunct culinary instructor at the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State and the University of Cincinnati. Her honors include being named Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Foundation in 2002.
Galvin lives in Fort Wright with her husband, Mark, and their three young sons.
The guests love the mixed greens salad, and are impressed with the Schroeders' made-from-scratch balsamic vinaigrette.

Rob clears the salad plates and begins helping his wife ladle roasted red pepper soup into bowls. The couple made the soup the day before and it smells wonderfully sweet and smoky.

"I don't usually like red peppers, but I like this," Sarah's dad says.

Everyone agrees the slightly spicy, pureed soup is tasty, and it pairs well with the dry Riesling the couple chose to serve with it. Now, Rob and Sarah turn their attention to the critical main course.

Kitchen tension

There is tension in the kitchen. Dirty plates are piled in the sink. Counters are cluttered. And the chicken is taking too long to finish.

"We'll just let them linger a little longer over soup," Sarah whispers.

Using the pan in which the chicken was seared, she begins making a sauce. But she soon decides she doesn't like it because it tastes bitter - probably because melted cheese from the stuffing scorched in the bottom of the pan.

When Sarah pulls the chicken from the oven, she feels rushed and doesn't let it "rest" long enough before slicing. Some of the filling falls apart as she cuts into the chicken.

"This is not working," she says, sounding frustrated.

As Rob begins molding the wild rice onto plates with a small cup, he and his wife discover it's mushy, maybe overcooked. But even though they're disappointed, they continue to plate the food - arranging medallions of chicken roulade around the mounds of wild rice, with several spears of steamed asparagus on the side - and serve their guests one at a time.

It may seem like an eternity to the Schroeders, but it's actually less than 15 minutes before they present everyone with their main course. Sarah finally sits at the table to berate her rice and chicken.

"She's always been really tough on herself," her mother says.

Perhaps the roulade doesn't have a perfect spiral of filling, but it's moist and flavorful, with the rich flavors of Gruyere and tarragon.

And, this is no small feat from a couple who only a few months earlier admitted they could only cook dry chicken breasts on a George Foreman grill.

Dessert earns raves

The Schroeders are most confident about dessert - a Granny Smith apple tart recipe served with a caramel-cider-bourbon sauce. The couple assembled the tart ahead, froze it, then thawed it in the refrigerator. Now they only have to bake it until the pastry puffs, turns golden brown and the apple topping is bubbly.

When the tart looks right and cools slightly, Sarah slices and drizzles it with the syrupy-thick, mahogany-colored sauce. Almost as soon as she and Rob serve it, guests attack the sweet pastry with forks and the raves begin. The puff pastry is delicate and buttery, the frangipane rich and nutty with pecans, and the crisp apples are sliced perfectly thin. The Schroeders modestly explain the tart was easy - especially with instruction from the chef and the frozen puff pastry.

"I think the cooks did a great job," says Diane Hauser, who nominated the Schroeders for our series because she thought they needed cooking lessons. (We think we heard her drop a hint for more apple tart to take home.)

After dessert, guests sit a while longer at the table, sipping coffee, praising Prinny's good behavior (except for dragging an asparagus spear under the table) and listening to Gramps reminisce about his dancing days.

Soon, they call Rob's grandmother at home. The family passes the phone around to tell her about the meal she missed - and how much they missed her.

By now, no one remembers the chicken roulade that didn't look quite right, or the rice that was a little mushy.

It was all good.

Recipes from the party

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

6 large red bell peppers

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

1 cup diced carrots

1 chopped medium fennel (anise) bulb

5 cups chicken stock, or canned chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons medium-grain rice or arborio

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon fennel seed

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Roast peppers until evenly charred on all sides, using gas burner, outdoor grill or oven broiler. Immediately place charred peppers in paper or plastic bag and seal tightly. Allow peppers to sit 10 to 15 minutes to steam.

When peppers are cool enough to handle, rinse under cold running water to remove charred skin, seeds and membranes. Dry peppers and chop roughly. Set aside.

Add olive oil to soup pot over medium-low heat and saute onions, carrots and chopped fennel until soft. Stir in chicken stock or broth, chopped, roasted peppers, white wine, rice, chopped fresh basil, chopped rosemary, fennel seed and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer soup, partially covered, until rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup using food processor, blender or immersion blender until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot or cold, garnished with croutons, if desired. Makes 8 cups.

Adapted from Joy of Cooking (Scribner; $30)

Basic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons vinegar*

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 to 2 cloves chopped garlic

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, basil or parsley, or combination

Place vinegar, salt and pepper and garlic in food processor. With blade running, slowly add olive oil until vinaigrette thickens (emulsifies). Pour vinaigrette into bowl and stir in chopped herbs. Taste for salt and pepper. Store, covered, in refrigerator. Stir or shake before using. Makes 1/2 cup. (You can also make vinaigrette by slowly whisking oil into vinegar in large bowl by hand.) Recipe can be reduced or multiplied.

*Use apple cider, red or white wine or balsamic vinegar or even lemon juice. But you may have to change your 3-to-1 oil-to-vinegar ratio, depending on the tartness of vinegar used.

Chicken Roulade with Pan Sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1 tablespoon butter, divided

2 shallots, diced

6 ounces fresh spinach, washed

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as tarragon and rosemary, or combination, divided

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 ounces shredded Gruyere, Swiss or other cheese

1 cup white wine or chicken broth

Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in large saute pan. Add diced shallots and cook a few minutes, until shallots are soft. Add spinach and chopped garlic, and continue to cook, stirring often, until spinach wilts. Don't let garlic brown. Add salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon chopped herbs and stir.

Remove spinach mixture from pan and drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze dry and chop (or use food processor and pulse several times). Set aside. (If stuffing chicken to cook later, refrigerate spinach mixture until well-chilled.)

Place chicken breasts on cutting board, cover with plastic wrap and pound gently with a rolling pin or bottom of frying pan. Flatten chicken until about 3/4 inch thick. Spread thin layer of spinach mixture stopping before reaching the edges of chicken. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Starting at one long end of each flattened chicken breast, roll over 1 to 1 1/2 times to contain filling. Tie roulade several times with cotton twine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and 1/2 tablespoon olive oil in oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Sear chicken on all sides to brown.

Place pan in oven and cook, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes, until chicken juices run clear and internal temperature registers 165 degrees. Remove chicken to platter to keep warm before slicing.

To make pan sauce, place pan in which chicken was cooked over medium-high heat and add white wine and remaining 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs. Using a wooden spoon, stir bottom of pan to scrape up brown bits. Simmer wine a few minutes, until reduced slightly and flavor is concentrated. Taste sauce and add more salt and pepper, if needed. Strain sauce into another pan and keep warm until serving.

Cut twine from chicken roulade and slice into 8 to 12 medallions. Before serving, drizzle chicken with pan sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Chef Meg Galvin

Granny Smith Tart with Pecan Frangipane and Cider-Bourbon-Caramel Sauce

FRANGIPANE

2 cups shelled pecans

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 pound butter

1/2 cup cake flour

2 whole eggs

CIDER-BOURBON-CARAMEL SAUCE

2 cups apple cider

1/4 cup bourbon

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup dark corn syrup

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup heavy cream

DOUGH

1 to 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm

1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

4 firm Granny Smith apples

1/4 cup brown sugar

Spread pecans in single layer on sheet pan and toast in 350-degree oven, until nuts begin to brown at edges, about 10 minutes. Remove pecans from pan and allow to cool. Place toasted pecans in processor and pulse until finely ground. Add confectioners' sugar and pulse to form a paste.

Measure 1 cup of pecan-sugar mixture (freeze leftover pecan paste) and add to mixer bowl with 1 cup granulated sugar. Mix at low speed until evenly mixed. Add butter to bowl, and with machine running, slowly add flour and mix until smooth. Beat in eggs one at a time until well incorporated. Cover and refrigerate frangipane until needed.

To make cider sauce, combine cider, bourbon, brown sugar, corn syrup, vinegar and cinnamon stick in saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add vanilla and cream. Simmer - don't boil - until sauce thickens. Keep sauce warm or refrigerate until needed.

To make tart dough, lightly roll dough out into a 10-by-16-inch rectangle. (Depending on the brand, one or two sheets of puff pastry may be needed to create a rectangle this size. If necessary, place two sheets end to end.) Using pizza cutter, remove one 2-inch strip of dough from each side of pastry rectangle (to create about an 8-by-14-inch rectangle). Reserve dough strips.

Place pastry dough on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Beat egg-water mixture along edges of pastry. Then "glue" the cut strips on the edges to create 4 raised borders. Prick bottom of dough with fork.

Spread thin layer of cold frangipane on puff pastry sheet, allowing 2-inch margin around edges.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel and thinly slice apples. Place apple slices edge to edge facing same direction over top of pastry, pressing slightly into frangipane. Sprinkle apples with 1/4 cup brown sugar. Place on center rack of oven and bake until dough is puffed and golden brown and frangipane is bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow tart to cool briefly before slicing with pizza cutter. Serve with warm cider sauce. Makes about 6 servings.

Note: Tart can be completely assembled with apples and covered tightly with plastic before freezing. Bake as directed, allowing extra time to brown.

Chef Meg Galvin

E-mail cmartin@enquirer.com




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