Monday, November 9, 2009

what's for dinner, amanda hesser & merrill stubbs?

Today we are lucky to have the duo behind food52, an innovative new project by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Amanda (left, in photo) has contributed hundreds of stories about food to The New York Times, including the fantastic Recipe Redux column. She is also the author of Cooking for Mr. Latte, the editor of Eat, Memory, and the author of the upcoming Times cookbook, which will be out next year. Merrill has written for the Times, Body+Soul,, Edible Brooklyn, and is the food editor at Herb Quarterly. Through food52, Amanda and Merrill showcase the recipes of home cooks through weekly recipe contests ranging from the best chocolate cookie to the best brussels sprouts dish. After a year, the winning recipes will be published in a cookbook. Many thanks to both of these busy ladies for letting us have a peek into how they entertain at home.

1. Name, occupation, and city
M: Merrill Stubbs, co-founder of food52 and author, Brooklyn, NY

A. Amanda Hesser, co-founder of food52 and author, Brooklyn NY

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
M: My last "dinner party" was actually a barbecue in Prospect Park at the end of the summer. I invited all of my good friends who live in New York, as well as a couple of out-of-towners. There were lots of small children, which meant the chocolate chip cookies disappeared in a hurry.

A. You've reminded me that it's been too long. The last big dinner I cooked was on vacation on Long Island with my husband's family. I made a giant bowl of pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and corn, and served raspberry granita for dessert. (Also, I went to Merrill's barbecue -- she left out that she made a delicious green bean salad with dill!)

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
M: While I was still in cooking school, I made a navarin d'agneau (lamb stew) and a gratin dauphinoise with a simple green salad for a dinner party of about 50 people. The combo went over well, and it actually wasn't that difficult to churn out enough for that many people. That was probably the most gratifying menu I've ever made. For a smaller group, I like to get a little more elaborate. One of the better menus I've served recently: pureed asparagus soup, seared goat chops with preserved lemon cream, pea shoot and sugar snap salad, and a rhubarb crisp.

A. I once made turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck that's stuffed with a chicken), which was really fun because all of the work happens before people arrive and when the turducken is ready, it makes a great, sort of hilariously odd presentation, and is very easy to serve because you just slice it like bread. On a more practical level, I like making a Laotian catfish stew from the New York Times. It's very simple, can be made almost entirely ahead of time and the flavors are fragrant and unexpected -- a real crowd pleaser.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
A. For the cocktail hour, my husband and I like to choose one special drink -- usually either a sparkling wine or a cocktail -- and then we offer single-malt scotch or sparkling water for those who don't want the special drink. I'm not a fan of the open bar theory -- I think people want to come and be taken care of and entertained, not to drink and eat everything that they have at home.

M: Wine, hands down. That said, my ideal dinner party would include a pre-dinner cocktail along the lines of what Amanda described above.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
A: That's my husband's department -- it's usually a mix of 1970s and 1980s music from his iPod. Although, he was into the "Garden State" soundtrack for a while.

M: Nowadays, classical or something else very mellow. Gone are the days in which I entertained with alternative rock blaring in the background.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
M: Bruschetta with ricotta and thyme; roasted salmon or char with herb aioli; mashed potatoes; green salad; pears poached in red wine with mascarpone.

A. Bagna Cauda; pappardelle with arugula, creme fraiche and lemon zest; and caramelized figs (a recipe we just learned from one of our cooks on food52!)

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
M: Several of my friends like to cook, so if they show up early they'll help out. (I try not to be too bossy in the kitchen for fear of scaring them off.) I also have a couple of especially generous friends who often bring homemade desserts with them.

A: I cook and my husband sets the table, does the flowers and comes up with the seating arrangement -- and we chat while we're both working. We also keep a dinner party diary, in which we record the menu, the guest list, the flowers and the highlights from the conversation. We both write in it, and since we usually sit at opposite ends of the table during the party, it's fun to read each other's version afterward. Sometimes it's as if we were at two different parties.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
M: For a dinner party, I like to make everything from scratch if possible. One notable exception might be ice cream if I'm serving it with a pie or a homemade sauce or something.

A: I agree with Merrill, entirely.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
M: It depends on the season, and my mood. I love chocolate, but I also like making fruit-based desserts, e.g. a free-form tart or an applesauce cake. I also like coming up with variations on rice pudding and pavlova. My friend Naomi gave me this incredible molasses spice cake recipe reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding that you make right in a cast iron pan and serve with whipped cream -- that gets repeated often.

A. I always make dessert first, and I like a dessert that I can prepare the day before so it's done and is a psychic weight off my shoulders. One of my favorites is an almond cake recipe from my husband's mother. Its flavor actually improves after a day, so you have to make it ahead of time. And you can pair it with any seasonal fruit -- I particularly love blueberries in a grappa syrup with mint.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
M: Jane Austen. The post-party commentary would be epic.

A: I say on food52 that it would be Tina Fey, but I'm feeling a coin toss between her and Stephen Colbert.

[Photo: Sarah Shatz]


judy said...

Actually, I was hoping for a Thanksgiving turducken.

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, a dinner party diary. I love it.

This was such a fun interview!

Daniel said...

As it happens, I'm making the pasta with arugula and creme fraiche tonight. Lisa will be out so it'll be a dinner party of one!

Kelsey B. said...

Great interview! I love Amanda's pappardelle dish, it's in Cooking for Mr. Latte and is so yummy and easy.

Lisa said...

Judy: It would have to be the tiniest turducken in history...

Julie: Isn't that great? I loved this answer to most because I used to write down my dinner party menus in a notebook before I started this site. Actually, that was what inspired it.

Daniel: I hope you save me some leftovers.

Kelsey B: Thank you! Yes, I think that's the dish Daniel is talking about--it's SO good.


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