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Blog

Starry Starry Nights

Suzanne Pollak

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Even though my family lived in Enugu, Nigeria, for a few months before evacuating during the Biafran Civil War, we established our daily rhythm right away. Living as nomads, what kept us tethered to normalcy was structure. My all-Nigerian school had walls four feet high, red clay in the courtyard; sewing classes for the girls, gardening for the boys; scripture in the mornings with a teacher wielding a long ruler, ready to whack you on the head or hand if your pronunciation of Old Testament names was off. That’s when I learned my fainting trick. I could pass out before I got called on. I almost broke my two front teeth using this ruse one too many times. 

After school I did as the school boys, tending to my own vegetable patch in our huge backyard, or else I visited the zoo with no cages down the road. Night times were for walking down the road, skipping over snakes, drinking with the neighbors who had naughty monkeys that finished everyone's half-empty cocktails. Sometimes, after dinner, my father and I sat in his library listening to the Voice of America radio. But it was evenings on an upstairs terrace, listening to the sounds of Africa that I liked best -- the frogs, the animals, the night times sounds, the symphony of nature. Once the blackness of night descended, always at 6 p.m. sharp (no Daylight Savings Time) the stars danced across the sky and my father taught me about the constellations.

Remembering the stars and sounds makes me think of the Cole Porter song Night and Day: like the beat beat beat of the tom tom drum when the jungle shadows fall... I recall wondering where I belonged in the world, and, of course, the taste of shoe string potatoes. The only thing our cook made that was actually delicious were shoe string potatoes. To this day, I prefer those tasty fries to the plain old American French fry. They are crisper, quicker, and even good when cold. For slightly healthier version that is equally delicious, try Fried Zucchini, the Academy way.

XO, the Dean

Silence at the Table

Suzanne Pollak

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Ever watched a couple at a restaurant in total silence? Did they run out of things to talk about, or have nothing surprising or delightful to say to each other? Worse still, are they absorbed in their devices, two people together yet a globe apart?

For onlookers, it could signal a scary glimpse into the future. The Dean wonders if budding relationships which might have turned into happy marriages stopped before they could even start. Young lovers may be alarmed at such a sight and decide, Not for me! I’d rather by alone than silent with a lifetime partner. 

One way to skirt around this seemingly unsurmountable fact of many lives is to invite a third or fourth for dinner. Lonely silence that is bound to happen between two people once in a while, won’t happen with three or four. If you are in need of a conversation helper, look no further than a friend in need of a meal. Sometimes all we require is a fresh perspective to get us out of a rut of same ol' deafening silence. 

One caveat however, depending on the relationship and setting: silence can signal two people at ease. Restaurants may be for lots of two-way talking, but sitting on a sailboat, or a patio overlooking a salt marsh with flying ducks in silence is anything but awkward. It's blissful wordless communication. 

So Long Tomatoes

Suzanne Pollak

Photo by Landon Neil Phillips for CAoDP.

Photo by Landon Neil Phillips for CAoDP.

Invariably there is an abundance of tomatoes at the end of the season. Now is the time to take a day and several bushels of the fruit to make sauce and can juice for the months ahead. A classic seafood stew in tomato sauce couldn’t be easier, quicker or more delicious. It makes a fantastic weeknight, work night, school night dinner. And once you've tasted homemade tomato juice, you will be ruined for any store-bought version. Concoct the world’s most delicious Bloody Mary on football weekends or for a weekend brunch... 

Tomato Sauce

We give no amounts in this recipe because you do not need any! Only common sense. In a large pot over medium heat, sauté a chopped onion until translucent, add a few cloves of sliced garlic and continue cooking until caramelized. Fill pot halfway with coarsely chopped tomatoes and continue cooking uncovered until thick, about 45 minutes. Add course salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. When sauce is cool, pour into Ziploc bags to freeze. 

Squid Stew

Squid Stew is our new favorite go-to stew, but any shellfish or firm white fish will make it delicious. Scallops, clams, shrimp, Dungeness crab, Alaskan King Crab (flesh removed and cut into long pieces), monkfish (tastes like lobster), are all fine on their own, but if choosing is too difficult, combine for a tasty treat. This recipe is loose because it's up to you to decide how many olives you want, how much garlic you like (for us: plenty!), ditto with the capers. 

  • 2-3 cups Tomato Sauce
  • 3/4 lb. Squid tentacles 
  • 1/4 lb. Squid tubes, sliced 
  • Garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Capers in liquid
  • Black olives, pitted
  • Oregano 
  • Pepper

 In a large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat, sauté garlic, capers and black olives in olive oil. When brown, add squid tentacles and tubes, plus two or three cups of tomato sauce to cover. Turn heat down and simmer until liquid reduces and squid is done, about ten minutes. Never overcook squid! If you do, they turn to rubber bands. Serve in a shallow bowl with a large crunchy crouton on the side. 

Mrs Alice Wanner's (1869 - 1958) Tomato Juice

It was pretty radical stuff to drink tomato juice in Mrs. Alice Wanner’s day. Tomatoes weren’t eaten much before she was born, still recovering from their reputation amongst colonists as purely decorative. (Legend even has it that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson ate an entire basket of tomatoes on the steps of the local courthouse in 1830, simply to prove to onlookers that they would not send him into fatal convulsions with their poison, as expected.)  So Mrs. Wanner was obviously a domestic diva. This recipe is courtesy of her great-granddaughter, Kathy Phillips, and makes about ten quarts:

  • For the juice, you'll need thirty pounds or more tomatoes. This all depends on how juicy they are; you may need as many as fifty pounds. Wash tomatoes, trim off stems and any dark spots, quarter. Fill a large pot and bring to boil. Boil hard for ten to twenty minutes, until they are soft and liquid-y. Meanwhile, sterilize quart-sized Ball jars and heat flat lids in simmering water.
  • Put Foley food mill or a tight weave strainer over a second large pot. Ladle in tomatoes and crank mill, or use ladle in strainer to mush and push until all juice goes into pot, leaving behind skin and seeds. Keep doing in batches until juice fills pot. Bring juice to boil and then ladle into sterilized, seasoned Ball jars to about 1/2" from top. To each jar, add: 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. celery salt, 1 tsp. sugar, grind of black pepper. Remove bubbles. (Use a teaspoon and go around the edge of the top of the juice where bubbles collect. Then wipe the rim clean, plunk on the flat lid, and screw on the ring.) 
  • Place fresh lids on jars, tighten ring, and set aside to "ping." Then they are sealed and will keep up to about three years. Beyond that they start to lose flavor. This process of cooking tomatoes and making the juice will be done many times, maybe four or more depending on the size of the pots you are using. So use big pots. 

For a Bloody Mary, simply add vodka, Worcestershire, lemon wedge and dash tabasco. Top with to Ms. Wanner's fine juice!

Lamb Tagine

Suzanne Pollak

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In my African childhood, we ate dinner in Middle Eastern restaurants every single Sunday night for eighteen years. The Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish, Indian, Iranian flavors bring back memories and feelings from my childhood. Every time I smell the sweet, savory spices of tagines, I am transported to the moments when I first tasted these flavors on my tongue.

These were dark little hole-in-the-wall restaurants with beaded strings for doors; a mother or grandmother standing over a tiny stove in the back; a waiter, her relative, placing plates of food we didn’t order all over the table, family specialties. Fancier restaurants with maîtres and head waiters presented us menus and explained the various dishes and their virtues. Whatever style of place, out tables were covered with feasts ensuring we sampled the Middle Eastern world through our taste buds. 

There was no such thing as: I don’t want that, I only eat white buttered pasta, No vegetables! How did today’s children get so damn picky? Consider bringing the world into your house through nightly meals. Pay attention to what you feed your children. You are making memories, even though taste, especially through taste. 

LAMB TAGINE

  • 1-1/2 lbs. lamb shoulder 
  • 2 tbsps. ghee
  • 14 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 preserved lemon, chopped
  • 4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 small turnips, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 fennel bulb 
  • 4 dates, halved
  • Handful baby cippolini onions, peeled
  • Ras El Hanout, dry rub plus medium-sized dash
  1. Coat lamb shoulder in Ras el Hanout dry rub four hours in advance of cooking.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sear shoulder in medium skillet using ghee. Place in tagine dish and layer remaining ingredients on top.
  3. Put tagine (lid on) in the oven. After about an hour and a half of cooking, the aromas will begin to round out. The dish is done in two and a half/three hours, when meat is falling off the bone. 
  4. Enjoy adding these exotic tastes to your very own flavor bank!

Thank You Global Traveler

Suzanne Pollak

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We are delighted by the marvelous review of our private classes for the Beach Club at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, written by Becca Hensley for Global Traveler. Here's a clip:

"No visit to this centuries-old magnolia blossom of a harbor town would be complete without a visit with [Dean Pollak.] A cookbook author, socialite and expert on Lowcountry manners, she welcomes me, throws me an apron and gets me cooking the moment I walk in the door. Hoisting a glass of wine, nibbling on some fried zucchini cooked by a friend under Suzanne’s expert tutelage, I fold biscuit dough like origami animals. Suzanne swears this is the secret to flaky pastries. I chop dill for salmon flown in from Scotland that morning, and help mix an organic garden salad, composed from lettuce grown next door. Sitting down at the expertly set table for lunch, we relish our reward."

Jump to the full link HERE!

Après Eclipse

Suzanne Pollak

No need to call off the party after viewing the Total Solar Eclipse this afternoon. Make your friends a drink!

No need to call off the party after viewing the Total Solar Eclipse this afternoon. Make your friends a drink!

Q: What’s better than hosting eleven for dinner? A: Making cocktails for just a few!

This August, invite guests over for a Late Summer Old Fashioned. Serve with a platter of coppa, speck & pâté (we rely on Goat Cow Sheep) along with silver bowls full of almonds and heirloom cherry tomatoes. Easy Peasy!

Here's to make our signature cocktail, plus a tip on how to refresh your drink without overdoing it.

Late Summer Old Fashioned

  1. Fill cocktail glass with large cubes of ice. Pour in bourbon.*
  2. Sprinkle quite a few drops of peach bitters on top (five to ten according to your love of peaches) plus three or four drops Angostura bitters. 
  3. Top with soda, and garnish with a slice of peach and a cherry. 
  4. To slow down after one or too many drinks, without throwing in the towel, make this cocktail sans bourbon. In your same glass, refresh the ice, pour a speciality soda (Fever Tree or Mountain Valley), then top with a generous splattering of bitters. This concoction is as delicious as a real cocktail and will make you feel better in the morning.

*To use an old bartender's trick -- three to five second pours equal an ounce or two in the glass.

Cheers, and Happy Eclipse-ing, from the Academy's Summer School!

Pick from Your Neighborhood

Suzanne Pollak

When he walks down the steps and sees the fronds, the person living here thinks, This is my kind of house!

When he walks down the steps and sees the fronds, the person living here thinks, This is my kind of house!

Even if you must sneak out before dawn so as not to get caught, do it! Clipping fronds and ferns is not really stealing. Leaves grow back. The trick to the chicest arrangements is choosing different textures, colors and heights. Stuff your pickings into a long vase filled with water, bottom leaves stripped so as not to contaminate the water.

Think of this as an architecture project. Take a look at your space and then use your imagination. Leaving air between leaves allows imaginary butterflies to fly through. The goal is to for the width and height to fill the space on a hall table so every time you walk by, or go up and down the stairs, wherever your interior path may lead -- a jolt of jolly green pleasure hits you.

Natural, fresh, sometimes with a delicious aroma, this easy-to-DIY project breathes life into your space. The arrangement can actually make you feel different, like you are in the house that you deserve to be in. 

SUMMER PARTY PLAYLIST

Suzanne Pollak

Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, & Eddie Barclay beat the heat with style in St. Tropez. Where else?

Alain Delon, Brigitte Bardot, & Eddie Barclay beat the heat with style in St. Tropez. Where else?

Once you know what to wear to a mid- (OK maybe late) Summer eve cocktail party, you may as well just get gussied up and host one of your own. But you are going to need a signature cocktail -- perhaps a Paloma? -- and some choice tunes to make it all sing!

So we turned to our dear friend, Alex Admiral Collier, composer and music manager at Eastward Music for a summer playlist to help entertain guests and distract from the blistering heat. This playlist includes new and old songs alike, to usher in wistful memories of cooler, simpler times. Enjoy while imbibing with friends for a heightened sense of nostalgia while subconsciously creating new memories. CHEERS!

A Few Indispensable Tips on Cocktail Party Attire

Suzanne Pollak

It’s chic to wear a fantastic ‘something’ over and over to make it your signature. Just as smart hosts cook their favorite recipe again and again, no matter who comes to dinner, because they know their guests look forward to their culinary specialty; the chicest women throughout history know the style repetition secret. 

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

Even a simple ensemble can become your signature with the right attitude and accessories...

That 'thing’ can be an accessory, a dress, a shoe. The Dean learned from native and expatriate ladies swanning into her parents 1960's cocktail parties all over Africa. Women wore cigarette pants for casual affairs and jewel-toned satin mini cocktail dresses at fancier parties. Along with real hair dos (coifs, up-dos), eye liner flaring out just like Cleopatra, brilliant lips inhaling pearl or golden cigarette holders, perhaps even a huge cocktail ring or elaborate earrings...none of these beauties boasted a colossal wardrobe with unlimited choices but they had a cocktail uniform that took them anywhere. Once vital decisions are decided, brains are free to tackle life’s thornier problems: whom to invite to the party, which stranger to talk to first at someone else’s, how to grab attention, connect, ignite a fire, or tactfully end a conversation that's headed nowhere.

One Taffin ring...

One Taffin ring...

and another.

and another.

The teenage Dean appropriated the tip immediately and forever. Deciding and simplifying what to wear wherever is cheaper and quicker once you you know what suits you. Dressing becomes a snap, so be loyal and stick with your style. Adding that something extra, or taking it off, makes the outfit appropriate for the particular party and place. 

Because, of course, it makes a difference where the cocktail party is: Hollywood, California, Hollywood SC, Beirut, Tripoli or Paris; the Ambassador’s residence or your neighbor’s garden? "When in Rome," so the saying goes. You don’t want to be dramatically different than everyone else unless you can handle it. For example, a man does not wear a motorcycle jacket when he attends a soirée at Charleston’s  Yacht Club. Men there wear the proper uniform of khaki pants and a blue blazer. The Dean once knew two young American beauties visiting the south of France who were assured that everyone, absolutely everyone, went topless to parties at a certain place. Perhaps a little naïve, they showed up appropriately undressed to a party filled with elegant older couture-covered guests. Still embarrassed decades later! 

Dressing comes down to the first impression. What can a first impression tell us about someone whom we only met for a moment at a party? Of course we all know human beings are complex and contradictory, but you don’t have to live with someone to sense immediately if you want more of them or less. The package of you starts with eye contact, the smile and what is draping your body. Identify what you want out of the engagement. Something, or nothing? There to sip one bourbon, or to possibly meet your next business associate or romantic partner? You don’t want your clothes to get in the way. A woman does not want to be so flashy others are distracted from substance, but neither does she want to seem too dowdy. 

Figure out your primary assets -- cleavage, neck, arms, hair -- and choose cocktail attire accordingly. For your own engagement, you will need to move, sit and stand. As a guest you can swan around or sprawl on a sofa as you wish.

For reference, here is the Dean's summer cocktail uniform: Hart tassels, J. McLaughlin white blouse and cigarette pants, with extra pointy shoes to make legs look longer. This pair of Balenciaga mules harkens back to the time of Robin Hood! Because they are extravagant, they will be worn with jeans all fall and winter, for hosting ladies luncheons and gumbo dinner parties, with a Halloween costume, for a Thanksgiving feast and Christmas dinner, even just for hanging out at home.

MORE on How to Host a Bridal Shower (for Martha Stewart Weddings)

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean, Etiquette Expert Extraordinaire, returned to Martha Stewart Weddings with some additional tips on how to host a Summer Bridal Shower. For everything from menu suggestions (spoiler alert: no messy finger foods) to theme ideas, as well as how to hone your guest list, check out the full piece HERE...

A Case for Tarte Tatin

Suzanne Pollak

A tarte tatin is best of American pie but adds a French twist, perhaps most fitting in these days between Independence and Bastille Day. Since South Carolina peaches are at the peak of perfection, why not try using seasonal fresh fruit instead of the traditional apple?

Adding to the inherent deliciousness of caramelized fruit edges, making a tarte tatin is even easier than pie. For starters, the dough only involves two steps: making the dough and rolling the dough. No fitting dough into a pie pan, stretching it, wondering, Will go up the sides of the pie pan all the way around? Will I have enough dough to make strips for a lattice top? Then there is the chore of decorative edges on the crust using fork tines or thumb indentations. Pies are wonderful, tasty and works of art, yes, but a tarte tatin is all that and more! 

The extra sizzle comes from sautéing the tart when it emerges from its thirty minute bake so that the fruit edges crisp up and turn dark golden. To guild the lily even more, whip up a cup of heavy cream for a side spoonful. Vanilla ice cream is delicious, but if you are sticking with the French theme, then homemade whipped cream is heavenly. Bonus: your arms get a tiny bit of a work out. 

Pies and tarts say and do so much. It's the baker whispering to the eater (even when the eater is the baker herself), I love you, and all is right in the world...at least for this moment. Fruit tarts and pies satisfy, soothe, and signal Summertime. Paired with a cafe au lait, left over slices make a healthy and indulgent breakfast. What else so small can deliver so much satisfaction? 

Find the full recipe for Peach Tarte Tatin HERE...

The Dean on Bridal Showers (for Martha Stewart Weddings)

Suzanne Pollak

Betsy von Furstenberg and company ("Look" Magazine, 1950)

Betsy von Furstenberg and company ("Look" Magazine, 1950)

The Dean was pleased to offer her foolproof tips for throwing your first bridal shower, over on the Martha Stewart Weddings blog today. From how to plan and decorate, to properly introducing your guests to one another -- even how to get them to leave when the party is over -- the Academy is here to make sure the party happens without a hitch.

Read the full article, "How to Be the Ultimate First-Time Hostess," HERE!

The Makings of a Pork Chop

Suzanne Pollak

An advisor to the Academy, the Minister of Meat, maintains that a pork chop is harder to perfect than a steak.* We all know where a pork chop comes from** but not many of us know the simple secrets to cooking a chop that will blow your mind this time, and every time.

What we don’t want is a grey pork chop. A grey chop means the heat wasn’t high enough. It means that you were chicken. Don’t get chicken with the pig. The difference between chefs and home cooks is that chefs are not afraid of high heat. The pork chop goal is juicy pink inside, crispy fat on the outside. The difficulty lies between crusty on the outside and tender on the inside. The following are the Pork Chop Poobah’s exact directions for the perfect pork chop, which he follows to the letter every time: 

  • Pork chops 
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • Pears, apples or peaches, thickly sliced***
  1. For starters, buy your pork chops from the best butcher in town. It is literally impossible to make an inferior pork chop superior. In Charleston we go to Ted's.
  2. Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. When surface is hot, pour a generous slug of olive oil in pan. You are not frying the chop, but you need more oil than a bare sheen. Using enough hot oil is the reason why the fat crisps and becomes delicious. This heated oil is definitely going to splatter, so wear an apron to protect your clothes, and know you will be wiping the stove and floor near the stove during clean up time. Your stomach and loved one’s stomachs are worth that hassle. 
  3. When the oil starts to pop or "spit" (about thirty seconds), lay the pork chops in pan and leave the chop alone for exactly five minutes. Then turn the chop over. The Pork Doctor says that the second side is the creative side. Not to make you crazy, but he says listen to the vibe. The Dean’s translation: depending on the chop’s thickness, temperature of pan surface, even the humidity, the second side is done in three to five minutes. After cooking pork chops a few times you will know exactly when it is ready by touching and looking. Until that time comes, know that your chop is finished when the second side’s fat is crispy but the interior is pale pink. Stick a knife tip into middle of the meat and take a look at the color. It’s a fine line between pinky perfection and grey overtones.
  4. When you turn the chop to the second side, place sage leaves and slices of pears around the chops. Both leaves and fruit will be ready in two minutes, when browned and crispy. If the chops need another minute, remove the sage and pears with tongs onto a paper towel first, and then take the chops out.
  5. Serve pork chops with sage and pears on the side.****

*Why is a pork chop harder to cook than a steak? Steak is more forgiving. Cooking a streak properly means charring the outside and leaving the inside rare. You can guesstimate by looking at the thickness. There is more leeway between black and blue rare and overdone for a steak than there is for a pork chop. 

**A pork chop is from the loin of a pig, which runs from the hip to the shoulder and contains the small strip of meat called the tenderloin. The most common chops you see in the butcher case are from the ribs and the loin.

***Fruit and pork go together like Fred & Ginger. Use apples or pears in the fall and winter, peaches in the summer.  

****For a colorful feast, serve alongside sautéed yellow wax beans and roasted cauliflower.

 

Centerpiece for a Mother's Day Feast

Suzanne Pollak

The Dean makes it her business to meet passionate home cooks who keep salmon secrets up their sleeves. Each new way with salmon winds up being her newest excitement. Last summer, it was French -- the perfect marriage of poached salmon, fresh tarragon and heavy cream.

Now, a new salmon master has emerged to reveal an innovative, easy recipe pairing salmon with dill, making each tastier together than individually, as with any good match. How did the new King of Salmon know that combo would work? What lay at the heart of his recipe is a deep understanding of links between flavors. Dill has a nervy, clean taste that benefits rich fish. Dill is complex, demanding and opinionated, very much like the creator of this recipe. Three forks up to the newest King of Salmon.

Here is his deceptively simple recipe for Salmon with Dill:

  • Salmon (Not farmedWe use Scottish Salmon from Ted’s Butcher Shop, flown in fresh every day. Using a whole side is very impressive but you might have to cut into two pieces to fit into 9” sauté pans.)
  • Olive oil
  • Dill
  1. Preheat oven to 475. 
  2. Heat sauté pan over high heat. When hot, pour enough olive oil to cover bottom of pan. Let oil heat for twenty or thirty seconds, then place salmon skin side up for two minutes. Using a spatula turn salmon over, to skin side down, and continue cooking for another two or three minutes,  depending on thickness of the piece.  Remember, the oil will splatter, so wear an apron.
  3. Cover top of salmon with many sprigs of dill, then place sauté pan (with salmon) in oven for seven minutes. If salmon is on the thin side, check after five minutes. Dill’s feathery fronds will crisp, the salmon will be succulent and you will be a star! 

 

Porch Love

Suzanne Pollak

(Photos courtesy of G. P. Schafer)

(Photos courtesy of G. P. Schafer)

Charleston’s single and double porches have long been synonymous with hospitality. We entertain on our piazzas all year long because temperate climate offers a type of living not available in many urban environments.  These are special spaces to watch clouds move across the sky, birds fly in formation or snap to attention on a telephone wire...all while protecting us from a sudden rainstorm or blazing sun.

On a windy Winter afternoon, there is no better place to sit with a loved one, wrapped in a blanket while sipping smokey Hu-kwa tea sweetened with honey from the bees in the backyard. In Summer, the porch ceiling fan must whirl full speed and ice buckets stay filled with large cubes for the five o'clock cocktail hour, when bourbon and drops of bitters aid in watching the sun set and moon rise.

Communication is different on porches, upstairs and down. Why? Spaces effect people's behavior. On a ground floor porch, one converses with street walkers and neighbors across the garden, or possibly meets a passing stranger who might transform her life. Elevated porches are a different environment altogether: exotic, hidden, perfect for private uninterrupted conversations -- honest, vulnerable, and open -- a place to forge a deep connection. 

Outdoor rooms and fresh air make people looser and more able to talk freely, telling truths comfortably. People behave and think a certain way in an interior room and often say what they’ve said before. Four interior walls may hem one in physiologically. Outside, it’s easier to say things you have never said, perhaps even startling yourself.  

Spending a good portion of the day on a porch can make you feel differently too. Porch life is less chaotic, fresh air calms. And though you might sit on the porch all day, you won’t feel cooped up. The porch becomes your own little cocoon. A porch is a cozy room, an outside room, a safe sanctuary. Long Live the Piazzas!

The Right Tools for the Job

Suzanne Pollak

Angles matter. Whether cutting garlic cloves to release the most flavor, testing the doneness of steamed cauliflower, or simply choosing a spatula -- it’s all about esthetics & practicality.

Tony Hendra, Charleston Academy's Dean of Wit, likes to thinly slice his garlic because "the large combined surface area of the garlic means it releases its flavor faster and more fully when it hits the oil. Also crispy sautéed garlic slices are one of the great toppings for pasta, fish, and veggies (e.g. haricots verts.) In fact they're up there with 'amandine' or crispy sautéed almond slices. Sometimes I mix them to make my own special amandine.

I rarely mince unless I'm in high heels.  I only chop wood and suey."

We often use the term "Goodfellas thin" in reference to the famous scene in which lead character Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) describes how mob boss Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) prepared dinner while they were doing time: “In prison, dinner was always a big thing. We had a pasta course, then we had a meat or a fish. Paulie was doing a year for contempt and had a wonderful system for garlic. He used a razor and sliced it so thin it would liquify in the pan with a little oil. It’s a very good system.”

When testing the readiness of steamed vegetables, people often use the tip of a knife. The Dean has learned that sometimes a knife tip is wrong for the gig. Using the tines of a fork with cauliflower is better. Three or four prongs provide greater surface area for poking and give a more accurate decision of doneness. 

Finally, the almighty spatula. The angle of the spatula makes the utensil more, or less, useful. In the photo, the top spatula, by Oneida, will enable the cook to slide food from the pan without having to tilt a screaming hot object.

In the kitchen, you're only as good as your tools. And remember, it's never the oven's fault...

The Academy in Charleston Magazine

Suzanne Pollak

The fine folks at Charleston Magazine recently paid the Dean a visit in order to taste a slice of life at the Academy. As always, she was happy to oblige with a tour of her Rainbow Row home, designed by James de Givenchy, as well as the garden, overflowing with citrus and honey.

Read the article and view the slideshow HERE at www.charlestonmag.com.

I Heard You Twice the First Time

Suzanne Pollak

When it comes to managing uncommunicative teenagers, your home is the ideal place to get this surly age group to start talking to you. The second most ideal place is your car, essentially the family home on wheels.

A well-known fact is that everyone feels comfortable in anyone's kitchen, even young adults. So set up an environment that puts teens at ease around a kitchen island or countertop, and organize a project making gnocchi together.  Making and forming gnocchi will be a learning experience, no matter how expert you are already. (If you are frightened by the prospect then get the Academy to do the teaching.)

Here's what happens when you are creating something with your hands and concentration is needed: brains are 75% occupied with task at hand, which makes the other 25% of motor functions relax. Don't ask the Dean why but she knows this is a proven fact after raising four of her own children. Talking subjects can be about the steps to making the gnocchi, a completely non-threatening topic which offers lots of areas for delving into -- food, culture, nutrition, taste. Not to mention that a hands-on experience is always more fun to do with someone else, because you become pals in a project instead of adversaries.

If you can get into a routine (maybe once a month) a one-on-one tradition may start and memories will be made, believe us! Once a skill becomes more familiar and less scary, there is always opportunity for laughing at mistakes which will definitely occur, being proud of the final product, and creating a delicious dinner. With patience, the space will arise for talking about other, more personal subjects...maybe not on the first try but eventually. Number one key: don't ask penetrating questions, which moms can be expert at doing.

Nightly dinners are the time and place to become an active listener. Ask questions that need more than a yes or no response, but remember, not too personal! The big mistake is to do all the talking or give too many opinions. Allow these teenagers of yours time to answer a question so they can formulate what they want to say and how. Let these guys be the smartest ones in the room. Every person needs that. 

Flash Party in Review

Suzanne Pollak

No One Hour Party ever left anyone feeling quite like this...at least not of its own accord. 

No One Hour Party ever left anyone feeling quite like this...at least not of its own accord. 

The reason why the penultimate night of the year is ideal for a One Hour Party is because the following night always starts too early, goes on for too long and ends up a little snooze-y by the time the Ball drops. Not to mention, the OHP must be given in cities or neighborhoods where guests can easily get to the party by foot or by a short taxi ride, without a long travel commitment. Sixty minutes of fun isn’t worth a thirty minute commute.

People arrive knowing they do not have a lot of time, sort of like Henry the VIII with his wives. Get right to it! Find the person you most want to talk to, dispense with wasted words and wasted time, delve into a real conversation. The clicking time clock remains on guests minds in an exciting way.

The infamous Ice Cube Trick worked wonders, saved time and even impressed the Academy’s Dean of Drinkery. The hostess discovered that it only takes a moment to separate ice from water balloons when you run under the faucet to melt slightly. The orbs were placed in waiting Old Fashioned glasses and lined up on the bar for guests to ladle their punch into upon arrival. This functioned as a way to get hands involved immediately -- a tiny but genius trick. (Anybody would rather pour a cocktail than wash a dish.)

As for hors d'ouevres, the hostess made ‘cocktail' instead of ‘breakfast' biscuits, which required a healthy grinding of fresh pepper into the dough. Then, the host filled biscuits with very generous servings of speck and lardo. He announced that the lardo replaced the cheese with its creamy texture. There was enough black pepper plus slices of speck to excite every taste bud and satisfy each stomach until guests enjoyed their dinner at some other place later on in the evening.

Don’t be fooled as to the workload of an OHP. It's hardly different than a regular cocktail party except for the fact that you offer one and only one appetizer + cocktail. The host went with the season and made a citrus & tequila punch. For those who didn’t want hard alcohol or would have rather had wine…too bad! They made due with Pellegrino for sixty minutes.

People policed themselves and really did manage to leave at the one hour mark, except for the couple who stayed and stayed and thank goodness they did! How else would we have discovered our Goose Guest, a financial man with a Ph.D. in goose and all it’s culinary charms? Which brings us to the final secret to any successful party, whether a quickie or an all-nighter: Invite the widest range of guests possible in ages, professions, interests. The Dean herself was honored to be included in the eclectic One Hour Party mix.