Architects and chefs; the two have a lot in common.
The architect fuses materials; the chef mixes ingredients. And whether they're poring over blueprints or recipes, standing over a drafting board or a stovetop, architects and chefs often employ the same skills.
Creativity, organization and attention to detail are, after all, no strangers to either profession.
Recently, we invited three local architects and amateur culinarians -- Amy Weinstein, McCain McMurray and Stephen Alicandro -- to demonstrate their kitchen artistry. With an eye on presentation and the upcoming holidays, we asked each of them to design a plate or a table with food that both reflected their upbringing, and looked smart.
Graphic Design in Egg Salad
The way Amy Weinstein makes it, egg salad never looked so stunning: painted across a smooth canvas of chopped egg, cream cheese and sour cream are glossy beads of black caviar interwoven with glistening dots of red roe.
Weinstein, a Washington native known for her stylish, forward-looking residential and commercial spaces, describes the dish the way she might one of her many design projects, calling it "strongly graphic" and "colorful."
The recipe is by way of her cousin, Betty Cohen. But the conception is uniquely Weinstein's. When she made the salad recently, it was presented in a conservative checkerboard pattern, though she has enlivened the salad at dinners past with waves and stripes, the design depending on her mood, she says.
An alluring taste, the first course melds the salinity of the roe with the creamy smoothness of the filling, all of which is bolstered by the crunch of diced onion.
The garnish of belgian endive, radiating out from the plate, is both an elegant and practical addition -- the leaves are used to scoop up the appetizer. The simple, pale green fillip also underscores the connection between her craft and her cooking: Both are "technically expert and also beautiful looking," boasts a fan, husband Philip Esocoff.
Best of all, he adds, echoing the sentiments of the gastronomes Escoffier and Curnonsky, "what looks good also tastes good."
With Southern Echoes
As an architect specializing in interiors and residential renovations, McCain McMurray could pride himself on a number of accomplishments, such as the lobby of Alexandria's Torpedo Factory office complex, or even his own, recently refurbished 1912 row house, outfitted with a sleek, black granite-and-mahagony-trimmed kitchen.
But as a cook and host, the native of Shelby, N.C., might just as well boast of his southern-style menus, in particular, his mother's recipe for "dressing balls" -- crisp-surfaced, soft-centered globes of herbed cornmeal combined with bites of sausage and water chestnuts -- which he frequently pairs with meat and game dishes.
"All of us southerners love to eat, love to cook," says McMurray, adding that his three siblings "and all our spouses" enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Growing up, the McMurray clan was "always getting and giving food." And even now, whenever his family gathers , "we talk about the latest restaurant we've eaten at, or the latest dish we've cooked," says McMurray.
While a lot of his dinner inspiration comes from Julia Child, James Beard and Craig Claiborne, McMurray is just as likely to dip into the pages of "Bill Neal's Southern Cooking" for guidance in planning a meal. And his table almost always includes something from his larder of childhood memories: Greens are a staple at any company dinner, and pecans can be found seemingly everywhere -- in a batch of cookies, atop salads, in a side dish of green beans, even in the snack food he stashes in his cabinets. On his table, fruits and nuts serve to decorate as well as to nourish.
McMurray's culinary philosophy also translates into "rich, vibrant tastes" and up-to-the-minute presentation, which means that dinner guests are treated to small portions of food served on outsized, architect-designed plates, with a different plate set before each diner.
Still, tradition is not lost to modernism. By way of example, McMurray combined heirloom silverware with contemporary place settings for a recent gathering of friends. And nestled alongside the old-fashioned, well-browned roast goose and the familiar dressing balls were a trio of brilliant vegetable pure'es -- a scarlet mix of beets and apples, a verdant broccoli dish, and a burst of orange from a blend of carrots and sweet potatoes.
An eye for color -- in addition to a seemingly inherited knack for combining flavors and textures -- best defines the architect's entertaining style. So, too, does a penchant for organization: "By the time I put the last plate on the table, I'm putting the last pot in the dishwasher," McMurray confides with a grin.
High Energy, Grand Plans
Whether it's building a hospital or whipping up something to eat, Stephen Alicandro, a principal with RCI Design, likes to do things in a big way.
A big, Italian way.
Lots of food. Lots of gusto. Lots of taste.
So elaborate was the first dinner he made for date-turned-wife Maureen Lyons that she originally thought "he must know a good gourmet shop." Not many bachelors, she reasoned, could turn out a dinner of homemade pasta (not one, but two kinds, she recalls), sea bass with artichokes and cannoli made from scratch.
Yet even when dining alone, Alicandro takes time to dress his plate with extra flourishes, carving a piece of lemon in the shape of a fish, say, or gracing his entree with not one, but two sauces.
"He takes the extra effort -- which is not worth it to me," says his wife, laughing.
The Arlington-based architect, currently reconstructing his own living quarters from top to bottom, agrees. "I'm always trying to one-up myself."
So while the rest of us might settle for eating blackened redfish in restaurants, Alicandro makes the ubiquitous cajun dish at home for company, aided by a high-powered ventilation system above his range. Whereas most of us pluck ice cream from a freezer case, Alicandro prepares his from scratch, and then in flavors like pear or peach.
Typical of his grandiose cooking style was a recent dessert spread of Italian sweets, including plates of hazelnut paste cookies, pinolate and biscotti -- delicious albeit rough-textured, neutral-colored treats.
Hardly flashy, they serve as holiday reminders of his youth, and growing up in the Italian section of Worcester, Mass. "Italians aren't as pretentious as the French," he gently jibes, while acknowledging the relative plainess of the cookies and biscuits.
The buffet's piece de resistance -- a dome of ice cream sheathed in two flavors of pound cake, served with a raspberry sauce (and the obligatory glass of grappa) -- belies any claim to simplicity, however. Modeled after Brunelleschi's duomo in Florence, Italy, the multi-flavored, multi-textured ice cream cake illustrates the skills shared by both the builder and the cook, says Alicandro: "Assembling components, knowing about materials, then making it stand out" -- Alicandro could just as well be talking about his latest project as the dessert.
AMY WEINSTEIN'S COUSIN BETTY'S CAVIAR EGG SALAD (About 16 appetizer servings)
6 hard-cooked eggs
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups onion, minced
8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sour cream
3 1/2-ounce jar lumpfish caviar (red)
3 1/2-ounce jar lumpfish caviar (black)
Minced chives for garnish (optional)
In a bowl, chop the cooked eggs and blend in mayonnaise. Spread mixture over the bottom of a decorative serving plate. Sprinkle minced onion over the egg salad. Blend cream cheese with sour cream, and, using a spatula, carefully spread over the onion topping. Cover and chill 3 hours.
Before serving, spread caviar over the top of the dish, using a small fork to avoid carrying any liquid into the pattern. Gently spread the caviar into a design of choice (checkerboard, stripes or waves, for example), starting with the black, and followed by the red caviar.
If desired, garnish the edge of the plate with minced chives and sieved, hard-cooked egg yolk.
To serve, spread mixture on crackers or belgian endive.
ROAST GOOSE (6 servings)
1 lemon, halved
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup port (optional)
Rinse goose and dry thoroughly. Prick the skin over thighs, back and lower breast. Rub inside and out with cut lemon. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and allspice. Set breast side up in the roasting pan with 1/2 inch water.
Brown breast lightly for 15 minutes in a 425-degree oven. Turn goose on its side, lower heat to 350 degrees and roast until halfway mark, about 1 hour. Turn goose on other side and continue to roast for another hour. Fifteen minutes before goose is done, turn breast up to brown.
Goose should be basted every 15 to 20 minutes. Baste first with maple syrup and then with accumulated pan juices. Remove excess accumulated fat during roasting.
The goose is done when drumsticks move slightly in their sockets and when juices run pale yellow when pricked at the thickest point of the thigh. Do not overcook or the meat will dry out.
Remove goose from oven and reserve roasting juices for sauce. Let stand 10 minutes before carving.
To make the sauce, remove any fat from roasting juices. Boil down roasting juices slightly. Add 1/3 to 1/2 cup port (optional). Continue to reduce sauce until partially thickened and full of flavor. Correct seasoning. Spoon over goose at time of serving.
Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1967) MCCAINE MCMURRAY'S MOTHER'S DRESSING BALLS (Makes about 18 balls)
1 cup yellow cornmeal (self rising)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 pound ground hot sausage
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
8-ounce can water chestnuts, cut in large chunks
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon sage
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
Mix together cornmeal and flour. Combine eggs, milk and melted butter, stir into flour-cornmeal mixture and mix until blended. Pour into a greased, 9-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan and bake in a 425-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove before corn bread starts to brown.
Crumble sausage and cook, removing it when browned. Save enough sausage drippings to cover the bottom of the frying pan and saute' onions and celery in drippings until softened.
In a large bowl, add warm corn bread, sausage, onions, celery and remaining ingredients. With your hands, combine and fashion into balls about the size of an apple. Place on an ungreased baking pan or place in muffin tins, and bake in a 350-degree oven, 30 to 40 minutes, or until browned.
BEET AND APPLE PUREE (6 servings)
6 medium-size beets (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
5 tart apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
Chopped fresh dill (optional)
Trim away all but 1 inch of green tops from the beets, leaving skins and roots; scrub well. Cover beets with cold water in a large pot, add salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until beets are tender, about 40 minutes to an hour. Add additional water if necessary to ensure that the beets remain covered. Drain the beets when done, cool slightly, and slip off tops, skins and roots.
Melt butter in a medium-size saucepan. Add onions and cook, covered, over medium heat until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes.
Peel, core, and chop the apples and add them to the onions. Add sugar and raspberry vinegar, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until apples and onions are very tender.
Transfer apple mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or use a food mill. Chop the beets and add them to the bowl. Process until smooth.
Return pure'e to the saucepan and reheat, stirring constantly. Taste and correct seasoning. Garnish with dill if desired. Serve immediately, or set aside to cool to room temperature, cover, chill, and serve very cold.
Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982) BROCCOLI WITH CREME FRAICHE (6 servings)
2 bunches broccoli, about 5 pounds, trimmed and chopped, including peeled stems
1 cup cre`me frai~che
4 tablespoons dairy sour cream
2/3 cup freshly grated imported parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons sweet butter
Chop broccoli, leaving 8 small flowerets whole, and drop chopped broccoli and whole flowerets into 4 quarts of boiling salted water. Cook until just tender, about 8 minutes.
Transfer broccoli, reserving 8 flowerets, to a food processor. Add cre`me frai~che and pure'e thoroughly.
Scrape pure'e into a bowl and stir in sour cream, parmesan, nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. Mix well.
Mound in an ovenproof serving dish, dot with butter, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes, or until pure'e is steaming hot.
Garnish with reserved flowerets and serve immediately.
Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982) SWEET POTATO AND CARROT PUREE (6 servings)
4 large sweet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 pound carrots
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup cre`me frai~che
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
Scrub potatoes and cut a small, deep slit in the top of each. Set on the center rack of a 375-degree oven and bake for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, peel and trim the carrots and cut them into 1-inch lengths. Put them in a saucepan and add water, sugar, 2 tablespoons butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set over medium heat, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, until water has evaporated and carrots begin to sizzle in the butter, about 30 minutes. The carrots should be tender. If not, add a little additional water and cook until carrots are done and all the liquid has evaporated.
Scrape out the flesh of sweet potatoes and combine with carrots in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add remaining butter and cre`me frai~che and process until very smooth.
Add nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add cayenne, if desired, and process briefly to blend.
To reheat, transfer to an ovenproof serving dish and cover with foil. Heat in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until steaming hot.
Adapted from "The Silver Palate Cookbook" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman, 1982) STEPHEN ALICANDRO'S ZUCCOTTO (8 servings)
2 8-ounce poundcakes, preferably one plain, one chocolate
3 tablespoons pear william liqueur or grappa
2 tablespoons maraschino liqueur
1 quart chocolate ice cream
1 pint pear ice cream*
FOR THE SAUCE:
8 ounces frozen raspberries or 10 ounces fresh raspberries plus 1/2 cup light syrup (recipe below)
Fresh mint leaves
Line a 2-quart bowl with cheesecloth. Cut pound cake in 3/8-inch-thick slices, reserving end pieces for another use. Cut each slice diagonally into 2 triangles.
Combine the maraschino liqueur and pear william or grappa. Moisten each triangle slice with the cordials. Place each slice against the inside of the bowl, placing the pointed end at the bottom of the bowl. (If using 2 types of cake, alternate each flavor.)
Place crust side of the slice against the non-crust side of the adjacent slice. This will form the rib lines of the dome when unmolded. Continue lining the entire bowl, filling any gaps with small pieces of the soaked cake. (Remember to use the corresponding cake flavors when patching).
Spread the softened chocolate ice cream evenly over the entire cake surface, leaving an empty semi-circular void in the center. Smooth the inside surface and level perimeter of ice cream evenly.
Line the center hollow with plastic wrap and insert a smaller bowl to create a more symmetrical cavity.
Cover the entire assembly with waxed paper and freeze until firm.
Remove the smaller bowl and plastic wrap from cavity. Pour in softened pear ice cream to fill cavity. Level off and place remaining cake slices over the ice creams. Trim the edges to obtain a clean shape.
Cover the entire assembly with waxed paper and freeze until firm.
To make the sauce: If using frozen raspberries, pure'e them using a food processor or blender. Strain the pure'e through a fine sieve to remove seeds.
If using fresh raspberries, pure'e using a food processor or blender. Strain pure'e through a fine sieve to remove seeds. Add light syrup. (To prepare light syrup, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Stirring constantly, bring to a boil. Simmer 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved.)
To finish: Invert onto a serving platter. Remove bowl and cheesecloth and slice into wedges.
Spoon some of the raspberry sauce onto each serving dish. Place a cake wedge on top and decorate the edge with fresh raspberries and a few mint leaves.
Serve with espresso or a dessert wine of choice.
*To make about 1 1/4 quarts of pear ice cream, quarter, core and peel 1 1/2 pounds of comice, bosc or bartlett pears. Cut them in rough slices into a noncorrosive saucepan and add 3 tablespoons water. Liquid should just cover the bottom to keep the pears from scorching until they release their own juices. Cook the pears until they are completely heated through or they will turn brown when you pure'e them. Pure'e in a blender or food processor and measure 1 1/2 cups.
Heat 3/4 cup whipping cream with 5/8 cup sugar in a small saucepan, until sugar dissolves. Whisk 4 egg yolks in a small bowl, just enough to mix them, and pour in the warm cream mixture, stirring constantly. Return egg yolk mixture to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until custard coats the spoon. Strain into the pear pure'e, add 3/4 cup whipping cream, and a few drops of vanilla extract to taste. Freeze according to ice cream manufacturer's instructions.
Optional Flavor Combinations Espresso/coffee ice cream and orange ice cream served with chocolate sauce.
Peach ice cream and raspberry ice cream served with whipped cream.
For the adventuresome, try some fruit soaked with liqueurs for the center core.