Dining In

by Nancy Ellison
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summer-dinner-party.jpg There are as many ‘personal chefs’ in Palm Beach as there are swimming pools.  I see them in their white chef coats and Mario Batali crocs at Publix Super Market chatting each other up as they fondle the passion fruit.  I have had to resist the urge to run up to them and say, “I personally know Wolfgang Puck … personally!”

Palm Beach residents love to dine together.  Restaurants flourish, but elegant dinner parties reign! They always have.

So, what does one do in a town where an intimate sit down dinner is for forty people? If one is a Texas DNA challenged, Left Coast Malibubi, “Y’all come on over and I’ll cook up something” works. During the season of Madoff, a small home cooked dinner - while not the rage – does earn a few sophisticated nods of approval. Besides, it gives me a certain pleasure to psychically push aside the personal chefs at Publix so that I too can fondle the passion fruit with the same sense of authority!

Trying to find something different that is relatively easy to do at the last minute and actually tastes good is the goal.  I have gone through the various BBQ and Mexican dinner menus, all of which were adored by my if-I-see-one-more-beef-tornado-on-my-plate-I-will-scream friends. And, I do relish their fawning looks of gratitude over the unexpected but delicious déclassé fare!

summer-dinner-party.jpgThere are as many ‘personal chefs’ in Palm Beach as there are swimming pools.  I see them in their white chef coats and Mario Batali crocs at Publix Super Market chatting each other up as they fondle the passion fruit.  I have had to resist the urge to run up to them and say, “I personally know Wolfgang Puck… personally!”

Palm Beach residents love to dine together.  Restaurants flourish, but elegant dinner parties reign! They always have.

So, what does one do in a town where an intimate sit down dinner is for forty people? If one is a Texas DNA challenged, Left Coast Malibubi, “Y’all come on over and I’ll cook up something” works. During the season of Madoff, a small home cooked dinner – while not the rage – does earn a few sophisticated nods of approval. Besides, it gives me a certain pleasure to psychically push aside the personal chefs at Publix so that I too can fondle the passion fruit with the same sense of authority!

Trying to find something different that is relatively easy to do at the last minute and actually tastes good is the goal.  I have gone through the various BBQ and Mexican dinner menus, all of which were adored by my if-I-see-one-more-beef-tornado-on-my-plate-I-will-scream friends. And, I do relish their fawning looks of gratitude over the unexpected but delicious déclassé fare!

dinnerparty-main.jpgI follow the old WASP adage that the fancier the people, the simpler their taste in food. Guess it harks back to the nursery and high tea.  Well, after the Welsh Rarebits, the Shepherd’s Pie, and what ever else makes little boys of grown men, there is always Chinese.  (And, trust me, if you really want to seduce a man, dab vanilla behind your ear! Birthday Cake beats out French Perfume anytime.)

One such menu that scored high on all accounts was this aromatic Asian Fusion dinner of Minced Squab wrapped in Lettuce Leaves, Thai Shrimp and Lobster Curry and Sautéed Caramelized Bananas with Ginger Ice Cream.  

Warning, doing this “let’s-cook-dinner-at-home-you-all” bit may lose a few friends who find it beneath them. Oh well, a few less mouths to feed!



MINCED CHICKEN LETTUCE WRAPS:

1 lb Chicken Breasts (or Squab) minced
1 head Iceberg Lettuce, which has been washed, dried, separated and set-aside

Sauce:
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 slice ginger minced
1 clove garlic minced (optional)
2 scallions chopped
1 teaspoon cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water or dry Sherry
1 red pepper seeded and diced
I can chopped water chestnuts


Preparation:

Mix together the oyster sauce, sherry, soy sauce and sugar. Set aside.  Heat the oil in a non-stick wok or frying pan and add the garlic, ginger, and scallions frying until the garlic and ginger are fragrant.  Add the chicken and cook until lightly brown. Remove and set aside. Stir-fry the pepper and water chestnuts in the sauce ingredients. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce to thicken.  Then add the chicken and cook for about 3 minutes stirring constantly.

Serve heaped on a lettuce leaf garnished with Plum Sauce or a Sweet Chili Sauce

 

THAI SHRIMP AND LOBSTER CURRY:
(This is improvised. Much could be altered.  I added the lobster as our market had Lobster Tails in that day along with giant prawns.)

3 Giant Shrimp or Prawns per person
The meat from 3 Lobster Tails (or comparable amount of scallops or small shrimp)

2 carrots
1 large red or orange pepper or comparable amount of Mini sweet red, orange and green peppers
Peanut oil
Butter
1 minced clove of garlic
3 – 4 tablespoons of Thai Red Curry Paste (I found mine in the exotic food section of my market)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (ditto)
1 can coconut milk
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
½ can lychees coarsely chopped
Chopped cilantro and basil (to taste)
1 small apple coarsely chopped
Any white wine or champagne opened during cocktails

Preparation:

Julienne the vegetables and stir-fry in a bit of peanut oil. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring until fragrant.  Add the fish sauce and sugar and then the coconut milk and simmer until thickened – about two or three minutes. Add the lobster meat or small shrimp and cook stirring for a few minutes. Add the lychees and apples. (Up until now, this can be made in advance if necessary)

Separately sauté the mince garlic in butter.  Add the Giant Shrimp or Prawns and cook until done.  Add a bit of champagne or white wine from the cocktail hour and simmer lightly (think Scampi)

Ladle the curry onto a large plate.  Add the Giant Prawns separately on top or to the side of the curry.  Serve with Jasmine Rice and garnish with cilantro/basil.


SAUTÉED CARMELIZED BANANAS
(This is the basic recipe.  So much can be added to taste)

Ripe bananas cut in whatever shape that is appealing
Butter
Brown Sugar
Fine White Sugar

Preparation:

Melt the butter in a non – stick pan.  Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the sliced bananas (to taste) Fry lightly for a few minutes. Turn and sprinkle with white sugar.  Cook until sugar caramelizes.  Serve with Ginger Ice cream and mint leaves.

 

Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her latest book is "Wagner's Eternal Ring". 

 

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