If you stay flexible, sometimes great opportunities come along.
I was reminded of this last week when I picked up a voice message Wednesday evening from my friend Gay Lyons. “Call me as soon as you can,” the message said. “I want to invite you to a really interesting party at my house on Friday.”
I thought, “Oh, no. I won’t be able to go because I have a commitment on Friday night.” But it turns out the “really interesting party” was to start at 3 p.m.
The occasion? Jeffrey DeAlejandro, executive chef of the Old City‘s Crown and Goose restaurant, was broadcasting his cooking show, Marble City Eats, from Gay’s kitchen. He had told her the food offerings would center around tomatoes from the Market Square Farmers’ Market and she could invite six friends to watch the taping — and eat the food he prepared. Yay! I’m in!
So that’s how I came to be eating a wonderful halibut dinner and drinking Bloody Marys and martinis Friday afternoon when all my friends were still working. I just love this town!
Here’s the little group that gathered.
We arrived to meet Steven Hines and Patrick Fox from Knox ivi, the web-based network that broadcasts Marble City Eats.
Chef DeAlejandro began by creating something called tomatotinis. Previously, he had made “tomato essence” by pureeing a variety of tomatoes along with a few green olives, adding a sprinkling of salt and draining the mixture in a sieve to produce a nearly clear liquid. He put a little of this essence in a cocktail shaker, added 1-1/2 ounces of Grey Goose vodka along with a splash of Absolute Peppar, shook it all with ice and strained it into a martini glass. Garnish was a strip of fried tomato skin. Unusual (especially at 3 in the afternoon!) and delicious.
For the main course, pan-seared fish with oven roasted tomatoes, DeAlejandro used three different kinds of fish: halibut, sea bass and mahi mahi. His intent was to demonstrate what a versatile recipe this is. You can go to this link to get all the recipes and watch him prepare the dishes. His motto: “Everything should be simple and easy when it comes to food.” And, especially during this time of year, he says, “It doesn’t make sense not to use what we have locally — especially when we have these beautiful local tomatoes.” Gay agreed. “Tomato season is far too short,” she said.
An interesting tip of which I was unaware: you should season your protein (in this case, the fish) 10 to 20 minutes before you sear it. That way the salt and pepper have time to adhere to the fish and will form a better crust.
DeAlejandro’s version of Caprese salad is chopped into relatively small dice, making it different from your normal version of this seasonal classic. He uses mozzarella cheese made fresh at the Crown and Goose and insists that we can all easily make our own mozzarella at home. You just need mozzarella curds, which are available at the Fresh Market in Farragut, he said, or can be ordered online.
Chef DeAlejandro and Gay agreed that “measuring is for sissies!” (Yikes!)
Here’s what the finished plates looked like.
A few other interesting restaurant tips we can use at home:
- DeAlejandro says he does not use pepper — only salt — when preparing fresh veggies. “Pepper is a flavor-blocker sometimes,” he said.
- After searing the fish, just before adding the tomato topper and popping it in the oven, he added a generous pat of butter to each piece. He said it would caramelize and make its own sauce as it roasted in the oven. (It did!)
- If you don’t have wine handy to deglaze a pan, vodka makes a great substitute.
- In the restaurant, just as they open for the evening meal and before guests arrive, they saute a few onions to allow the aroma to permeate the restaurant, a trick easily duplicated at home.
You see? You just have to be flexible!