Introducing TDPC – Poli

A mental map of the world in meals

Poli

Having read my TDPC fellow bloggers introductions I realized that, while we grew up all over the world, we have one thing in common: our love of food; that along with the memory of shared mealtimes has been important to us since our childhoods.

Family legend has it, that I orchestrated my first tea party at the age of 3, when, while my mum was trying to fob off an unwanted caller at the front door, I appeared from the kitchen bearing a tray with tea and biscuits – the caller stayed……

I vividly remember chasing poplar fluff in the school playground, being amazed at the size of poplar moths, assembling rat skeletons in my free time and monitoring the flower buds on our rhododendron as they developed. I remember being bitten by a mouse, I was attempting to rescue, in a flower shop, the first time iron filings showed me a magnetic field and the first bacteria colonies I ever saw in a petri dish. But mostly I remember food – the colours, the tastes, the texture, the contrasts, the setting and, yes, the company, the scents, and where school dining rooms are concerned, the smells.

I remember the tastes of England – spam and mushy peas, deep fried fish and malt vinegar, treacle tart, spotted dick and rivers and rivers of yellow birds-eye custard. I remember scones and clotted cream, home-made strawberry jam, my mother’s bread fresh from the AGA, blackberry and apple pie, loganberry crumble and millionaire’s shortbread served by our nanny, who in an unguarded moment told me her nipples were the size of the inside of a saucer….

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I remember the tastes of Switzerland at my grandmother’s house, ham, paprika crisps, meringues with whipped cream and fresh berries. I remember sorting through redcurrants, and big bowls of enormously large cherries, fresh green beans and pine-forest honey with fresh, rich, creamery butter served on the Bernese plaited bread known as “zopf”. I remember my mother’s dinner party dish of veal in a sherry and cream sauce with button mushrooms served with skinny noodles.

Bulgaria is soups with fatty meat and copious amounts of grated feta on salads and French fries, the Italy of my youth is olives and tomatoes, a stand in Cagliari selling oily focaccia to be filled with any manner of grilled vegetables, prosciutto and cheese you can imagine, tiny cups of strong espressso and pan forte in Siena. And I will never forget the rich, silkiness of my first grilled eel in Sardinia.

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Paris as a student is, in my memory, an orgy of ethnic restaurants, sushi and coconut cream tarts at Paul’s bakery, Berlin – a terrible, “mayonnaise-poisoned”shrimp cocktail, Helsinki in winter – an amazing, spiced honey-vodka in Russian restaurant Troikka, Kerala is dosas and coconut, Spain molletes and tomatoes, and Moscow in winter is Georgian chicken with roasted walnuts, spicy Georgian foods such as carrot, chili and coriander salad and spicy eggplant, and small mushroom turnovers in the local fast-food place. Moscow is also shashlik, served with freezing cold vodka in cold glasses of course, standing outside in the snow wearing a North Face jacket as the thermometer registered temperatures of -30°C (-22°F).  Moscow is also lovely, creamy cold sirok (Сырок)  and hot chocolate so thick your spoon stands upright.

Iran’s food, a labour of love, – fesenjoon, daspic, kabab koobideh, kookoo sabzi and that most wonderful, wonderful thing – tah dig, also my favourite Khoresh Gheimeh.  Iran is also wonderful bread, limu omani and sumac, saffron ice-cream and Moby Dick in Washington DC. Egypt is ful mesdames and parsley-speckled falafel speckled with parsley and tahini salad, Israel is falafel, pickled vegetables, hummus, pita and halva and not to forget lachuach eaten during a 2 week stay with a family in the West Bank. Washington DC introduced me to soft-shelled crab and California rolls and later, through divine intervention by way of Japanese post-docs, sashimi and sushi in Japanese run restaurants, my first, umami,  “uni” and of course, fajitas and frozen margaritas. DC also introduced me to Ethiopian food, like injera,  and Tej – honey wine as well as South American fried plantains with lime salsa. USA beyond DC: enormous steaks, apple butter, shoo fly pie, lobster and BBQ ribs; all manner of fusion food and macaroni and cheese served with fruit salad…… Happy hour is represented by that time honoured combo of US  Miller lite – which tastes of not very much at all, sorry guys, with scrawny Buffalo chicken-wings. Morocco is deep fried filo pastry triangles filled with cinnamon scented rice served cold at breakfast, spicy lamb tagines and fragrant, juicy oranges. And delving deeper there is Brazil: sweet avocado cream with lime for dessert, Greece: tzaziki and grilled fish, Turkey – home to one of my favourite spices: deep purple Pul Biber and of course modern-day Italy, with delights too numerous to list here and so may grannies in small kitchens. Argentina – grilled beef and of course, fresh fruit and maté……China – Szechuanese dishes and fish-fragrant eggplant, eaten in a small restaurant,  a local Chinese business-woman took us to, when we asked for directions.

Food, for me, is living history, enjoying it enables me to connect to the past and to better understand a country and a people. I like to talk to the locals about their cooking, what they eat to celebrate local holidays and their memories of loved foods. I take joy in jotting down time-tested recipes. I enjoy watching old ladies cook and will ask lots of questions, take copious notes and photographs (see “how to make crostata with Nonna di Giulia”, or how to make simply the world’s most satisfying, and possibly largest, meat-ball: Polpettone the great Italian meatball”, notes on foragine “Erba di Mare”) or the ultimate chocolate-covered “spice-biscuit” – Lucetta’s mustazzoli pugliese. . Learning from the locals, and bringing home a cook-book, is the best holiday souvenir: Long after you have thrown that sombrero (toy-donkey, painted horse, mate-straw) out, you can still celebrate memories at home.

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Apart from experiencing individual ingredients I remember sharing meals – I recall how I felt when I served the first meal I ever remember making: spinach with potatoes and curry and tomato paste and lots of curry – aged around 8 – both my parents were in bed sick and I concocted something I thought would make them feel better, I remember how grateful they were, the power of food for healing and I still remember the taste of that dish concocted of left-overs.

Beyond discovering new foods, I most enjoy, planning a meal for friends, remembering their likes and dislikes, thinking about that perfect dish that will make them happy and surprise them, to let them discover something new.

Too often, I think, food is classified as good or bad, reduced kcal counts, sugar content, “good fats” and “bad fats”, brain-healthy, heart-healthy etc. when meals, I am convinced, should really be about sharing love, emotion, experiences and pleasure. Dinners, are about spending time with friends, and preparing for them, about creating memories and showing you care. I know which of my friends hates anchovies, who loves chocolate, who dislikes olives and what types of wines they like and I will plan my meals for them to reflect that, because doing so makes me happy. The meal itself doesn’t need to be overly complex, you don’t need to slave away in your kitchen, you just need some food, something to drink and time.

In cooking I like every aspect of the process from selecting, to buying. cooking to serving: I will unashamedly peruse the wares at a farmer’s market, walking round all the stands first to see what looks freshest… and sometimes, noting this, the farmer will open a box behind the counter and offer me the perfect vegetable – making me feel a conspiratorial bond between expert producer and food-loving customer. Similarly I’ll happily spend an hour discussing cheese with the cheese monger (to the frustration of anyone in the queue behind me).

Once I have great ingredients I like to experiment. There are so many limits on daily life that the kitchen is one of the areas where you can be creative.

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When Margot invited me to be a part of The Dinner Party Collective, I was honoured, a teensy bit apprehensive but also, mostly, extremely excited to create global menus with other bloggers, whose blogs have inspired me in the past.

Dinner parties are like a large boulder strategically placed in a furiously raging river, a stepping-stone to the calm of the other side, or if the river is wide and the path treacherous, maybe just a welcome spot where you can sit and rest, while you map the path ahead. At their best, they offer an oasis of calm, respite from the furies of the day and stay in your memory as a stolen, golden moment, where you were able to be all that you are, celebrating your life journey with your loved ones. Beyond that, a truly great dinner party has the power to fortify you spiritually for the journey ahead.

If you doubt me, I challenge you to get some food in, invite your closest most loved friends over, prepare a simple meal with love, and then sit and talk (obviously with the television switched off..)

Please join us on our TDPC journey, hopefully you will be inspired to spend time in your kitchen, to have friends over, to contemplate cooking from scratch, to enjoy the sensual pleasures of selecting fruits and vegetables and to celebrate the long-lost art of the dinner party with us!
Bien-venue and Bon appetit!

Poli (Polianthus)

Introducing TDPC – Seana

SeanaMy love for dinner parties evolved during a time when several of my friends and I would get together on late Sunday afternoons and leisurely sit and enjoy good food, wine and conversation.  The dinners were always simple, and it usually involved everyone bringing a dish to share with one another.   I remember that first dinner party when I decided I wanted to prepare dinner myself, starting with appetizers and ending with dessert and nerve-wracking as it was, I have never considered hosting a “potluck” dinner again.

Shopping for the ingredients and wine, choosing flowers, creating a beautiful table and preparing a menu you know your guests will love is when the fun begins.  I like having the table set and kitchen clean before my guests arrive.  Planning a menu you may prepare before your guests enter your door helps create a warm and calm ambience, and helps set the tone for a relaxed enjoyable evening.

I am very honored Margot invited me to take part in this ingenious project.  The Dinner Party Collective is such a wonderful collaboration of exceptional food and wine bloggers who have put together a sensational evening of good food and wine for you to host a delightful experience for your friends and family.

Seana (Cottage Grove House)

Thoughts on ‘Pairing Wine and Food’

Salmon & Wines | The Dinner Party Collective

Written by Anatoli (of Talk-a-Vino)

The Dinner Party Collective started a few months ago by Margot (of Gather and Graze), as an attempt to reinforce the Art of Food Together as one of the best forms of human interaction. The result is a complete menu which you can enjoy cooking and serving to your guests and family – but in essence, there is a lot more here. We (TDPC crowd) want to offer you more than just a menu you can cook. We want to make your meal an experience. How? By going to the next step and pairing food with wine. Food is definitely a centerpiece of a meal experience, but the addition of wine takes it to the next level. Something which we call a “food and wine pairing”, when done successfully, creates a heavenly combination out of the bite of food in your mouth and a sip of that liquid from the glass – and this is exactly what we want you to experience.

So as one of your virtual sommeliers, I have the challenging task in front of me, to offer you sensible ideas regarding possible wines to create that “heavenly experience” mentioned above. What is so challenging, you ask? You think I’m just trying to exaggerate my worth? Well, let’s look at the task at hand (food and wine pairing) a bit closer.

First, there is simply a “technical” part. The wine should “work” with food to enhance the overall experience. There are two options here – wine should either contrast (think “Port and Stilton cheese”) or complement (think “Beef Bourguignon with Burgundy wine”) the food. When we create the pairing as a contrast, it is usually based on one flavor canceling the other – sweetness of Port in our example helps to soften the sharp acidity and salinity of the Stilton cheese, thus creating new level of pleasure. When we pair to complement, the addition of the wine usually makes the bite of food more nuanced, thus again increasing the pleasure. The more flavors used in the dish, the more difficult the pairing becomes, but it is still possible to find a winning combination in the majority of cases.

A couple of hurdles for us to overcome – to be absolutely honest, I’m doing the pairings for our TDPC menu as a “virtual” exercise, based on an understanding of the flavors in the recipe, so we can definitely count this as a culprit number one. But – sorry for not being too modest – I solved this problem successfully many times in the past, so this is not what makes the pairing task so very difficult.

The next hurdle, which is a lot bigger, can be expressed with one simple word – “availability”. The wines I recommend will have to be available for you no matter where you are. The hope is that people in different corners of the world will be following TDPC advice and creating these menus for their dinner parties. Therefore, I can’t just take an arbitrary wine from Napa Valley in California, produced in the quantity of 300 cases, and make it my top recommendation. I need to recommend a style of wine which I think will work with the dish, and then recommend some particular examples of some producers which I think would be most representative of the style I’m recommending. To give you an example, I can recommend a Central Otago Pinot Noir as my choice of the style of wine, and then suggest Amisfield and Elephant Hill Pinot Noir as recommended producers. I also need to make a few different regional recommendations, with the focus on audiences in different parts of the world, so extending the recommendation I already made with the Central Otago Pinot, I can also include Burgundy and Oregon to cover all three major regions. Of course there always will be exceptions – for instance, if you are in Portugal, the only wines which are readily available to you are Portuguese wines, so none of the US or Australian wine recommendations will matter too much… Well, 80/20 rule to the rescue.

Also there is one further part to the topic of availability – when we say the wine will be available to you, that also implies that the wine should be affordable. Of course the idea of affordability is different for each person, but I’m not going to recommend $200-$300 bottles of wines as the norm, even if I would think that such a wine would create the best pairing. Affordability is important and definitely a part of these recommendations. If a $5 wine will be the best pairing – more power to all of us, and I will be glad to be the first to offer such a wine to you.

I hope this helps to give an understanding of what we are planning to do here and how we are going to go about food and wine. Let me leave you here with this newly acquired knowledge, and let me start working on melding some flavors together. Cheers!

Introducing TDPC – Stefano

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My name is Stefano and I truly believe that pursuing our own passions is one of the greatest pleasures in life and every minute spent developing and enjoying them is totally worth it!

I spend most of my time (too much time, if you ask me! 😉 ) in a high-pressure, very demanding line of work but my two passions lie in wine and photography, which happen to be both relevant for the exciting project that graceful and talented Margot from the elegant Gather & Graze blog was kind enough to get me involved with. Continue reading “Introducing TDPC – Stefano”

Introducing TDPC – Francesca

Francesca

Hello everyone!

My name is Francesca and I think I can be considered a very late bloomer in the kitchen.

Until a few years ago, my interests and passions lied in anything but food: career, fashion, books, home decorating, flower arranging, traveling around the world and anything else that would satisfy my sense of beauty and aesthetics.

And then one day not very long ago – as it so often happens in life – due to a “force majeure” event, I found myself in front of the stove, in that room of the house that I had utterly ignored up until then!

What to do then? Oh well! I had no idea where to start from, but I knew I had two weapons on my side and I was very determined to make full use of them.

Firstly, I was born and raised in Italy and my country’s culinary tradition is totally unique. Secondly, I come from a very traditional family where every woman and most men had been cooking for all their lives. I suddenly realized my taste buds had been abundantly trained since infancy. The only thing I was lacking was practice (because everyone knows that practice makes perfect). Next thing I know… I was on the phone with my mom talking recipes and culinary skills. Then came culinary education and classes.

I cook every day for my family but I like to experiment and play with food only when inspiration comes. I can get inspiration from anything: a smell, a flavor, a color, a shape, a flower, even a book or a fashion magazine. I love that thrilling chill I feel every time I start picturing a new dish (which usually happens in my bed!) I select and combine the ingredients in my mind way before I do it with my hands and I previsualize the final result, the colors, the taste, even the table setting for my dish and the flowers that go well with it. In the end, I know exactly what I want to make and how it should look like.

My food is very simple and unpretentious. I don’t like overcomplicated recipes or those that call for never-heard of ingredients. 😉

When it comes to food, I’m a purist and a big supporter of traditional dishes executed the way our grandparents used to make them. No need to reinvent the wheel there. For any dish, I use very few ingredients, but I make sure that they are top-notch quality. I’m a huge believer in “less seasoning is more”: I use just enough seasoning to enhance the natural flavors and then let the ingredients speak for themselves.

I don’t think that all food or every ingredient is delicious. I’m very peculiar in terms of what I like and eat (aren’t we all?) but that doesn’t prevent me from cooking dishes I don’t love for my family and friends. I put a lot of effort into making sure that my food looks good as much as it tastes good because it is absolutely true that we eat with our eyes before we do it with our mouth.

When Margot invited me to join her and her fellowship of talented bloggers for this special dinner party project, I was honored and surprised at the same time. I’m not what you would call a social butterfly: I like to keep to myself and meet and talk to people on my terms. So at first I was very undecided whether to participate in this project, but then I thought that every party has its introvert – it wouldn’t be a proper party without one, don’t you think? – and of course that role belonged to me.

These are my hopes and auspices for The Dinner Party Collective project: I hope that you will join our virtual communal table and enjoy what you see on it so much that you will not want to leave. I hope that you will like our recipes, ideas, parings and suggestions so much that you will want to take them to your own table and share them with your family and friends. I hope that hanging out here with us will inspire you so much that, in planning your next dinner party, you will feel the same thrilling chill that I feel when I get the inspiration for a new recipe.

Talk to you very soon!

Francesca (Flora’s Table)

Introducing TDPC – Anatoli

Anatoli | Talk-a-Vino | The Dinner Party Collective
Anatoli from Talk-a-Vino

Please allow me to introduce myself – my name is Anatoli, and you can call me the wine guy if you wish.

I would love to tell you that wine was for me the love from first sight, but that wouldn’t be true. I also can’t name that life-changing bottle of wine which made me an oenophile instantly and forever. My love story with wine was unfolding at a slow pace, including the appropriate share of the White Zinfandel, Peach Canei, cute creature labels and $7 Bordeaux from the discount food store. It also included a simple thought that anyone spending more than $5 on a bottle of wine simply has no idea what to do with their money.

But together with all that, an oenophile, a wine aficionado and a wine snob were developing slowly and surely. The appreciation for the land, the appreciation for the hard work, and most importantly, the appreciation for the passion and obsession of the people making the magic happen in the bottle, was developing alongside of that slow process. And it slowly grew into an obsession and fascination of my own – for the mystery of the wine, for the thrill of anticipation of what might be hiding behind that cork, for the transformational abilities of seemingly simple white and red liquid in the glass. The stronger my obsession was becoming, the stronger was the desire to share it with the world – and this is how my own blog, Talk-a-Vino, was born about 5 years ago. From there on, the obsession grew even stronger, and I’m glad to share it with the world – and you.

Now, let me tell you why I am here talking to you from the pages of The Dinner Party Collective. Wine is a social phenomenon. For the full enjoyment, it requires two elements – food and company. Yes, you can perfectly have a bottle of wine all for yourself – but when you have someone next to you to discuss the experience and share the emotional state, this greatly enhances the pleasure of drinking that same wine. Same is true for the food – when wine and food work together, they elevate each other and create the best experience ever.

Think about the communal table, with food, wine and happy people – isn’t it where the happiness and the best experiences of life are created? I hope we will be able to help you to create those happy people moments more often. Let’s make a deal – we will give you the ideas for the food and wine, and you bring together the company. Deal? Let’s go then!

Anatoli (Talk-a-Vino)