If you are reading this to learn how to make lasagna or anything related to the culinary arts you will be disappointed. The Lasagna Committee are a group of people, 25 total, that gather every February at the Deer Head Inn for the purpose of commissioning music that will be performed in May at the Deer Head during the annual Ralph Hughes scholarship dinner, and again at the COTA festival in September. The members of the committee nominate an artist for the commission, and at the conclusion of the dinner a vote is taken and the winner announced. This year the award was given to piano virtuoso, Phil Markowitz. The photos were taken by Garth Woods at the dinner and by myself during the preparation the day before. The picture of the sunset is from my backyard in Delaware Water Gap. I included it not because it is relevant, but sometimes something nice is a good enough reason. Enjoy the sunset.
Mary Carrig and myself are the designated cooks for the dinner. We are not voting members of the committee. Mary is seen in the photo making the sausage for the dinner in the basement of Antelao. The machine is a male enhancement device I picked up on the internet that we use to make sausage with. (it doesn’t work). All the food for the dinner, the cheeses, the pasta, the sausage, the Tuscan rice tart you see in the photo, are all made fresh the day before.
Enjoying good food as a group is certainly a pleasure, as the members bring their own wine and enjoy each others company for the night, but paying a ridiculous amount for lasagna is not why they gather at the Deer Head. For me personally this group of people is what makes living in Water Gap a special place. The idea that supporting creativity, allowing a talented artist to offer something that all of us will enjoy and somehow be a part of is what makes this community special. Cooking is a trade where the main focus is to make people happy, bring them pleasure however short lived. My guests celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, you name it. I consider it a privilege when they give me the opportunity to make it special and memorable.
The Lasagna Committee adds another dimension to the importance of cooking for me. Even though I am not a voting member there is a level of excitement and anticipation during the preparations knowing that a deserving artist will be given the responsibility to create something that people will enjoy for a very long time. Mary transforms the dining room of the Deer Head with the table setting and atmosphere to a day and place gone by. The fresh flowers, linens, the candlelight, all bring a special feeling to the committee members, allowing us to believe that attention to detail and caring about quality still matter. In all of our occupations there are things that are repetitive in nature that sometimes seem like they dull the senses. The drudgery will outweigh the reward at times. This Lasagna Committee is special to me as a cook because as I scrub the pots, cook the pasta, make the sauce, and immerse myself in the ordinary, when the event is over and the last plate is washed I can tell myself, let there be music…
The photographs included in this article were taken by Garth Woods at the Ralph Hughes scholarship dinner, which is held annually at The Deer Head Inn every May. This was the 15th year of this event, the purpose of which is to raise funds to award a scholarship to a high school musician in the group known as the “C.O.T.A. Cats”. The award is for the musician with the highest grade point average. Now that you know the where and the why, I will try and explain the art of the buffet, and how these concepts apply when we do this event at the Deer Head.
"STYLE IS KNOWING WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY, AND NOT GIVING A DAMN." - Gore Vidal
Style is a word that means many different things depending upon what field of endeavor you wish to discuss. In the field of fashion, if you invoke the names Fendi, Versace, or Gucci, it will mean something very definite to those that concern themselves with such things. While listening to classical music you might hear the host say this piece was in the style of Mozart, Chopin, or Tchaikovsky. Even the casual listener can identify that and know what those great composers "sound like". So to use the term style in certain fields can be a catalyst to understanding. If you were to tell me a certain painter reminded you of Monet, I have a general idea of what to expect. The word style runs into trouble when it enters the world of food. To demonstrate this point I will take you on a tour of Shoprite in Stroudsburg.
The pictures enclosed are of the first Tuesday night dinner of the year. The menu was as listed:
Seared scallop over poached mushroom
Mushroom veal demi-glace
This is the first dinner club in some time. The photos tonight are of a few of the appetizers on the new winter menu. Stuffed calamari with crab, roasted beets and oranges with feta cheese, smoked duck breast with roasted pear and a dried cherry sauce. The crepe is a New Orleans inspired dish, a paprika crepe with fine herbs with shrimp and scallops in a spicy pepper sauce. It was much better on the plate than it was in my head. January was a trip to Monterey to visit family and walk around like Icabod Crane and ask people if they knew who I was.
I did not feel like I covered pasta well enough for the person who might be trying for the first time so I have included some photos of my pasta production from today and a shot of how I do it at home. The red pasta pictured is hot pepper fettuccine that was my entrée special tonight with shrimp and fresh herbs. The shot of the pasta that is being cut by my kitchen aid is the sage pasta that is on the appetizer menu. Here are some basic guides for pasta.
I know I have said in the past we will make pasta, with only two more weeks I thought I better get going. I am completely booked this weekend so this should get us started. Its two a.m. The picture of autumn on the river was too nice to keep for myself,
The endeavor of learning how to make fresh pasta will give you a peephole into one of the sensory skills required to be a decent cook. That being the sense of touch and becoming familiar with how dough should feel when it is made properly. When I say endeavor I mean that this is a skill that can not be mastered by trying the given recipe one time and hopefully succeeding.
The dinner club took a little different direction tonight. Our last edition will be on Sat. the 26th, as I will be dedicating my time to writing a book on blown sugar. My thought was to leave everyone with some recipes they can execute at home as a memento of the dinner club.
Once considered the most elegant and sophisticated dessert one could enjoy, it has just about disappeared from all but a handful of restaurants in America today. Having been in kitchens when the soufflé was popular, I think I can more closely examine its demise.
Preparing a soufflé requires concentrated effort by one person. It is time sensitive, and the service personnel need to be acutely aware of its status from when it is removed from the oven to placing it in front of the guest immediately. In short, it is a very needy dessert.
Tonight, Insight on Appetizers
Appetizer special: Fruit, Cheese, Nuts
(red anjou pear poached in red wine,peppercorns and vanilla, with a danish blue cheese souffle, served with a carmelized red wine sauce and almond bisquits)
It was pretty good.
After last weeks dismal performance of my appetizer special I thought it would be fun to take you on a little trip and show you how I go about creating whatever the appetizer special will be for the week. We have been doing this now for 10 months and the special has been different every week. Hopefully by the end of this explanation you will have some insight as to how I do it. My ultimate goal is that you may look at food a little differently yourself.
Appetizer: Basil ricotta,red pepper dufa,roast yellow pepper,fine herb and roast garlic vinaigrette
Entree: Seafood Pescatore (cod,shrimp,diver scallop,red peppers)
Nice appetizer right? Too bad tonight was one of those nights where it seemed everyone ordered "extra potatoes" with
everything. I was dressed like John Travolta ready to dance and ended up at the Polka fest. It happens, no big deal.
New fall menu
Appetizer: Cauliflower Cheesecake (goat cheese, locatelli, cauliflower, served with grapes in dijon vinaigrette)
Entree: Burgundy braised Lamb Shank (free range Australian) (herb roasted potato, green beans)
You may recognize these menu items from specials earlier in the year. That's how I develop the new menus, I always test drive new items to see how they are received and tune the recipes so I can execute when its show and tell time. October 5th was the 11th anniversary of Antelao. Not bad for a 20 seat byob given 6 months to live by the local cognoscenti upon birth.
I had a pretty good cut on my finger this week. It was one of those why am I so stupid moments. A knife that I was working with was not put into its holder properly, and when a I reached to use the hand sink it bit me. Over 41 years working in kitchens and I don’t secure a knife properly. Stupid. When you work by yourself and you open in two hours you don’t get stitches, or any sympathy for that matter, you simply wrap it as best you can and wait for the lemon juice to remind you of safety procedures. When Thomas arrived for work he asked me what happened and I explained what happens when you don’t do the most basic things….standard speech given to adolescents by adults that have just done something stupid themselves. At that point he asked me what was the stupidest thing I had ever done in a kitchen. This is not a question I was about to reply to .Sordid information about ones past is not something you share with young folks.
It did make me think about what was the worst decision I ever made working in a kitchen.
A perfect judge will read each work of wit
With the same spirit that its author writ;
(Pope, An Essay on Criticism” 1709)
Criticism, what a threatening word. If you are a person that creates anything on this planet, you will be subject to it. Instead of wrestling with this beast I have come to terms with it, and just wish to share a little bit of my perspective in this matter.
Included in the photographs tonight is my recipe book. I thought if everyone had a look at it the story behind it might make more sense. My young and observant assistant Thomas recently commented that if I had all the recipes on a hard drive I could access them faster and organize them ….. you get the picture. There is no argument there. Thomas is absolutely right, I should. Why I have not is a question worth exploring, most likely on a couch in an office that would cost me $80.00 an hour. I didn’t tell Thomas how I came about using it, I find that tedious for young folks to be burdened with old geezers obsessions. I will however say that all the recipes in the book have been recorded by myself over the last 29 years and they all work very well.
Here is why.
Tonight the format for the dinner club is a little different.
We will learn how to cook zucchini flowers and I will give you an excellent recipe for the flowers and other fried vegetables that is quite easy to master. As Elvis would have said if he could cook, “Its now or never” if we are to explore this Italian tradition that once you have done it, you will be hooked.
Appetizer: Hickory Smoked Corvina Tails (orange grape tomatoes, sage and Sherry vinaigrette)
Free Range Australian Rack of Lamb (plum tomato parmesan, rosemary and roasted garlic butter, garden vegetables)
Baked Corvina with Heirloom Tomato (sauce rossa)
Tomatoes, and more tomatoes! I walk through the garden on my way into thekitchen every morning and the basket pictured was my yield on Friday. Also tonight, you can view the first documented artichoke grown in D.W.G.!
Appetizer: Crabby shrimp en croute (Tomato puff pastry,artichoke pesto,lump crab meat with artichoke white wine
Entree: Chesapeake Stripped Bass (sun dried tomato,kalamata olives,artichoke hearts,capers,olive oil)
I made some puff pastry and put concentrated tomato paste into the butter fold, it was fun to work with and went well with the shrimp and the crab. The presentation was a little goofy but I like goofy sometimes. Goofy puts them off balance because when they taste the combination of flavors the snickering stops and the groaning begins. This with a chardonnay with no oak...
The following menu was presented on Tuesday night, July 26th, at Antelao Restaurant.
Appetizer: Chilled Pear and Mint Soup
Entree: Saute Filet of Beef and Shrimp (garden herbs and first tomato sauce)
The heat came with a vengeance this week. It took its toll on my equipment, knocking out my dairy cooler, pantry cooler in the main kitchen, and my convection oven figured everyone else was leaving and it was out of commission also.