On the subject of recipe testing, cookbook authors hold to one of two theories: the kitchen is a laboratory where recipes are tasted then thrown away; or, two, food is for giving, so cook and let your friends be guinea pigs.
Ellen Brown, author of the soon-to-be published Cooking with the New American Chefs (Harper & Row) is of the latter school. After she toured the country interviewing 24 chefs she returned to her tiny 4-by-8-foot kitchen in her Georgetown town house and began to test food on good friends. "There were no assurances the menu would be unified for a dinner party. It depended on what I was testing that day." A menu might include sweetbreads in port wine sauce in puff pastry shells followed by baby scallops, pepper duck with braised wild rice and chocolate meringues for desert.
What happened when a recipe failed? Brown would quickly grab her guests' plates and calmly order pizza.
The Inn at Little Washington's Red-Pepper Soup Serves 8
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/2 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
6 red bell peppers, seeds and ribs
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper,
seeds removed under cold running
1/4 cup flour
5 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh tomato, peeled and
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream Salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar to taste Splash of Sambuca liqueur
In a heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, fennel seed, thyme, bay leaf, garlic, basil, red pepper and jalapeno pepper. Saut,e the vegetables over low heat until they are wilted, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the flour and stir the mixture over low heat for 10 minutes to cook the flour.
Add the chicken stock, whisking until smooth, along with the tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook the soup over medium heat, partially covered, for 45 minutes. Pur,ee it in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade, or pass it through a food mill. Return the pur,ee to the pan, add the cream, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Adjust the seasoning, and add a splash of Sambuca just before serving. The soup
can be made up to two days in
advance and reheated slowly. Do
not add the Sambuca until you
are ready to serve.
Anne Greer's Warm Chicken and Papaya Salad
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 6 as a lunch or supper The dressing:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
6 to 8 fresh orange sections, all
3/4 cup ite vinegar
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange
11/4 cups vegetable oil,
preferably safflower oil
2 teaspoons freshly grated
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
8 chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 red bell peppers, cut into fine julienne
2 tablespoons imported soy sauce
2 avocados, ripe but firm
3 papayas, ripe but firm
2 heads Bibb or 1 head Boston lettuce,
washed and separated into leaves
In a blender or food processor fitted with the steel blade, pur,ee the shallot, mustard, salt, pepper and orange sections. Add the vinegar and orange juice and slowly add the oil, beating until the dressing is combined and thick. Stir in the ginger root and set the dressing aside at room temperature. Or make it a day in advance and refrigerate.
In a wok or 12-inch skillet, toast the sesame seeds for 3 minutes, or until they are lightly brown. Remove; set aside.
Bone and skin the chicken breasts, removing all fat and tendons. Pound them lightly to an even thickness, and cut them into strips about 3 inches long and 1/2-to- 3/4-inch wide. Heat the peanut oil, and saut,e the chicken and red-pepper strips until barely done, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add the soy sauce.
Peel and slice the avocados and papayas. Arange the lettuce leaves on individual plates, and arrange slices of the fruit around the edges of the plates. Pour the dressing into the pan with the chicken and peppers and heat the mixture, but do not let it boil or the dressing will separate.
Mound the chicken and peppers in the center of the greens, drizzling some of the dressing on the avocado and papaya slices. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Tips for Testing in Small Kitchens Plan your menu then make a work order, doing prep work in advance. In a small room you have neither the time nor the spae to stop each time you need some chopped onion.
*Plan time for cleaning up as you go along. Give yourself five-minute segments to keep your counters clear. For a sit-down dinner, allow yourself time to load the dishwasher between courses. Use your oven for storage of dirty pots and dirty dishes between courses.
*Always set your bar outside the kitchen at the opposite end of the room to save valuable kitchen space.
*Learn how to use every surface from the top of the refrigerator to the inside of your kitchen cabinets.
*You know your own system. Magnanimous offers of help from your guests will just foul it up.