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Filtering by Category: SEASONAL

Pie is for Lovers

Suzanne Pollak

A weekly Summer Pie ritual serves as a solution to deliberating over which pie to make -- peach, cherry, blueberry, gooseberry, strawberry or rhubarb?

A weekly Summer Pie ritual serves as a solution to deliberating over which pie to make -- peach, cherry, blueberry, gooseberry, strawberry or rhubarb?

Commit to baking a pie each week. A kitchen habit established for a few Summer months accomplishes the following: happy family members, tasty and healthy (if you adjust sugar amounts) desserts on a regular basis, a handy surprise for last-minute vistors, a comforting practice for you to look forward to, and the inevitable title of Expert Pie Baker. After all, it doesn't take 10,000 hours of experience to become the best pie maker on the block.

To guide you, a few simple rules of the Academy Crust, and everything in between:

  • Frozen butter is your friend, as it keeps dough flaky. You can even grate it into dry ingredients to avoid a mess.
  • Kneading the dough is a good thing, making it supple and easier to handle.
  • Wax paper is a no-no! Instead, use Saran Wrap for storing or rolling out dough.
  • Prepared dough can rest for two days in the fridge or else rolled immediately, filled and shoved in the oven right away. The most discerning baker will neither know nor care.
  • Bake pie in glass pie dish on floor of oven for crust worth devouring.
  • Picking fruits? Juicy, ripe, local are the key concepts.
  • Pies do not like to be stored in the refrigerator. Lay a piece of wax paper on top of pie and leave at room temperature. It will stay good for for up to 3 days, although sure to be devoured in less. 

So many choices are exactly why pie is never boring and much more interesting than cake. Summer pie, Winter pie, tomato pie, even four-and-twenty blackbirds pie! Crostatas vs. crumbles vs. double crusts? What’s complicated here? All are great. Try each and let your children vote. Include your children early and often on important family decisions. Lattice vs. open vs. closed tops? Same as above. Healthy, hearty dinner and dessert conversations will ensue. No one will be on the iPhones when pie is on the table. A difficult discussion coming up? Serve pie to help the medicine go down more easily. 

P.S. There's nothing like sharing a piece of pie with your sweetheart. Two forks plus one slice = love at first bite. Want to seduce a certain someone? Bake them a pie. Serve with a seductive wink. Searching for a heavenly Summertime treat? Start the day with a piece of leftover fruit pie and hot coffee. Rinse pie plate & repeat.

Spring on the Table

Suzanne Pollak

What is the color of money, of envy, of Spring? 

The answer: a perfect party theme!

Antique soup plates...

Antique soup plates...

antique dinner plates...

antique dinner plates...

Ted Mueling salad plates (complete with bugs!)

Ted Mueling salad plates (complete with bugs!)

& a silver chalice, to reflect it all.

& a silver chalice, to reflect it all.

The Dean decided to give an all-green dinner party in honor of both the weather and the surname of an esteemed invitee. So, green plates, green cocktails, green foods became the theme of the night. Luckily the guest of honor was amused. His eyes twinkled when he heard that a theme was involved, and twinkled even more when he heard that the theme was no doubt his favorite color.

Generally themes are too silly to be discussed (with the exception of Halloween), but a green theme is not too serious. Maybe a little silly, but so what? It’s fun! Anything to please a guest, and any excuse to serve margaritas at cocktail hour.

MENU

  • Middle Eastern Watercress soup
  • Roasted King Salmon, with chive sauce, spring onions & sautéed asparagus
  • Micro-green salad with tiny croutons
  • Roasted pears with crunchy pistachios, saffron and green cardamon sauce

The centerpiece? Greens snipped from the public park across the street. Shhh...

Easter Magic

Suzanne Pollak

Scrambling to add a last-minute centerpiece to your Easter feast? There are a million ways to make your table uniquely you. Remember, there's help all around, right under your nose. Consider these everyday resources:

1. Your KIDS

Children are little creators by nature. Don't let these Spring Breakers off the hook. Engage your child’s genius & insist they carry their weight this holiday. Kids will appreciate the Easter feast and feel proud of their contribution. Your tip? Do Not Be Bossy. Small children can draw place cards or placemats. Middle-schoolers can really go crazy -- nothing is off the table. They might choose to feature their ant farm, their gold fish swimming in a bowl, a butterfly collection, little league trophies. Who cares? In the long run, it’s not about the elegance of your table. It’s about the value of your child’s contribution.

2. Harris Teeter

...or your local grocery store, a place laden with sui generis centerpieces, many perfect for Easter. Walk in the store with your eyes open for pastel colors. E.g., look for pink breakfast radishes or many-colored round radishes; all delightfully spunky orbs when stuffed in silver cups or crystal goblets. Fill small tureens with spikes of asparagus, for structure, and green onions, for looseness. Give your guests eyes something different than the usual pink tulip centerpiece.

3. Public Parks

Someone has to do the trimming. Why not you? Go under cover before dawn, clippers hidden in your pocket and help yourself to the back branches of azalea bushes (those up against the fence), lurking ferns, stems of palms. Tip: cut long branches.  Fill a tall glass container halfway with water, and arrange the stems loosely. It’s like nature coming to the table, and yields an arrangement perfect for a sideboard, buffet table or at the end of a dining table if no one is sitting there.

4. Objet d'Art

Are you a collector? March your collection down the center of the table. Handmade wooden bowls, antique brass candlesticks, tiny chairs sculpted from the wire surrounding champagne corks -- the Dean doesn’t know what you collect, but if you are a collector then you are a proud owner with a passion. Your passion needs to be displayed! Herend bunnies, Steuben crystal hand holders, painted eggs...you get the picture. It’s not about cost of the objects or the organization on the table, it’s about showcasing your personality.

5. Pastry Shops!

Great pastry shops are actually like jewelry shops with edible gems. You have enough to do this weekend. It’s too late to make a 3-day Coconut Cake, but not too late to pick up a French pear tart, or cherry pistachio tart, or cupcakes, or a lemon layer cake. The point is showstopping beauty that can sit upon a pedestal being the center of attraction. All eyes are awed, reminding guests to save room after the main course.

P.S. Don’t forget chocolate bunnies on top of each place setting as a party favor for your Easter company!

New Year's Eve, Academy Style

Suzanne Pollak

This is the way the world [/year] ends
Not with a bang but a whimper [almost].
— T.S. Eliot [and the Dean]

After all the sparkly Christmas parties, crushing crowds, decorated windows, doors and trees, not to mention major cooking…New Year’s Eve could be a time for going off radar. A big New Year’s bash is unabashedly out to blow all your circuits -- isn't that the whole point? Make no mistake, this night's party takes sustained effort both to organize and enjoy (as any New Year's host will attest.) This year the Academy takes our cue from our favorite poet, T.S. Eliot, and decided to end our year with a whimper. 

How do you orchestrate a whimper that is also unforgettable? An evening worth staying up for, and going out to? Start by inviting several couples for a champagne cocktail before they go off to blow out all their circuits, but invite one or two of those couples to stay longer for dinner. New Year's Eve isn't without a little over the top, but keep it classy & do it with your menu. Key words: Simple and Extravagant.

MENU

  • Champagne Cocktails - here are ten different ways to make one.
  • Caviar - Ossetra is fine with the Deans but don't overlook delicious domestic varieties i.e. ...) Try an assortment for that really over-the-top feel.
  • ...with Blinis and Creme Fraiche - easier to make (Martha's way) than you think.
  • A plate of charcuterie -- the best you can find. (In Charleston the best is Bob Cook's at Artisan Meat Share on Spring Street.)
  • Oyster Stew
  • Cognac Chocolate Mousse in Champagne Cups - from the Handbook.
  • More Champagne.

We also like to to have plenty of seltzer on hand, because bubbles, as well as the words to Auld Lang Syne so that everyone can join in a round of song to usher in the New Year.

Here's to you, your parties, and 2016!

 

Mastering Prime Rib 101

Suzanne Pollak

Standing Rib Roast is having a moment. The Academy's line has been fielding dozen of calls about this holiday showstopper. Those of you who have never bought or cooked a Prime Rib (yes, it's the same thing) should not be be intimidated. Let the Dean hold your hand and answer any question that arise. Some of our students are so diligent that they have been practicing before the big holiday meal and texting their every questions to us. The Dean never rests!

For first-time cooks, we offer you a step-by-step guide. More advanced cooks may be amused remembering the confusion you once felt.

Prime Rib FAQ & A:

  • I have big eaters. How many ribs do I need for eight people? We answered, 8 big eaters = 7 ribs.
  • The butcher asked if I'd like an "easy-carve" style? Do I? Easy carve is brilliant, unless one of your guests is an expert carver. 
  • Do I want to buy the fat end or the other end? We say fat end. 
  • Any hints about the vodka rub? Place the roast fat side down during the before cooking time.
  • So I put in at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then do I leave it in oven to turn temp. down to 325 for the remaining cooking time? Not sure if I should take it out while the oven temperature adjusts... Beef stays in the oven. 
  • My meat thermometer melted...help! Oops, can’t help you there.
  • At what temperature should I remove from the oven? 120-125 degrees (interior) for rare. The roast will continue cooking after it comes out. 
  • Roast is out of the oven and temperature is rising. Do I remove the roast from the roasting pan onto a cutting board so it cools down, or leave it alone? Leave it alone. 
IMG_4730.JPG
All-star student, Logan, and her first Prime Rib.

All-star student, Logan, and her first Prime Rib.

We suggest serving Prime Rib for a holiday dinner with your closest friends, perhaps even in January after everything else subsides.  Serve with Potatoes Gratin, a big green salad, and fine red wine.  If you have leftovers, try Roast Beef Hash for a weekend brunch meal the following day.