Cook to Impress!
September 28, 2004 2:41 PM   Subscribe

From the general to the specific: What are your favorite recipes, the dishes you prepare when you want to impress?

This clam chowder never fails to impress:

Skipjack's Clam Chowder
from November 2000 Bon Appétit
with modifications by J.D. Roth
  • Three 8-oz bottles of clam juice
  • One pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks (resist the urge to use Yukon Gold potatoes)
  • Two tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • Three slices bacon, finely chopped (I use thick, hammy deli bacon -- use six slices of bacon if you're using the thin, pre-packaged stuff)
  • Two cups chopped onions (about one large yellow onion)
  • Three stalks (about 1-1/4 cups) of celery with leaves, chopped
  • Five garlic cloves, minced
  • One bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Six 6-1/2 oz cans minced clams, drained, juices reserved (chopped clams are fine -- I use minced because Kris doesn't like large, rubbery clam chunks)
  • 1-1/2 cups half-and-half
  • One teaspoon hot pepper sauce (we use Tapatío, but you might prefer Tabasco)
  • Optional: 1/2 teaspoon hickory smoke salt (hard-to-find, but great flavor!)
At the top of my recipe card I've written, in bold: NOTE: Prepare ingredients before starting! Experienced, or quick, cooks can ignore this advice. I'm neither experienced nor quick. If I don't prepare the ingredients before starting the chowder, it's a disaster.
  1. Bring the bottled clam juice and potatoes to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender (about ten minutes). Remove from heat.
  2. Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add bacon and cook until bacon begins to brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add onions, celery, garlic, and bay leaf. Sauté until vegetables soften, about six minutes.
  3. Stir in flour and cook two minutes. Do not allow flour to brown.
  4. Gradually whisk in reserved juices from clams. Add potato mixture, calms, half-and-half, hickory smoke salt, and hot pepper sauce. Simmer chowder to blend flavors, stirring frequently.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Chowder can be served after as few as ten minutes of simmering, or it can sit on the stove contentedly for hours.
The garlic can be reduced; I think the original recipe called for only one or two cloves.
posted by jdroth to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I covered a couple of my signature dishes in the marinades thread a while back. I generally don't provide detailed recipes, and when cooking myself, I simply use a few keywords to help me remember what I'm shooting for, and then muddle my way there.

If I'm trying to impress, I might fry a chicken, but I'm not giving away family secrets today. Instead, here's some stuff to try if you're looking for ideas:

Salmon, orange juice, ginger. Bake or broil.

Butter, lemon, tons of basil, milk -- make sauce. Pour over a nice thick baked/seared/panfried/grilled tuna steak.

Rice, sausage, arbitrary vegetables, oil. Fry.

Grilled chicken, paprika, cumin. Hack up and stick in a tart-sauced salad with romaine tip (not heart) salad. Stuff into warm soft pocket bread.
posted by majick at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2004

Cuban-style ropa vieja, especially for my wife's family.
posted by mwhybark at 3:31 PM on September 28, 2004

Start with the concept 'house special lo mein'.
Change everything distinctly chinese (vegetables, seasonings, etc.) to something vaguely italian (zuchini, oregano, sausage).
Toss with a bit of pasta.
Cover with romano cheese.

I've been cooking for so long that that is as detailed as my recipes get.
posted by mischief at 3:40 PM on September 28, 2004

mischief, that sounds good. Thanks for the idea!
posted by vorfeed at 3:48 PM on September 28, 2004

It works with mexican too; only instead of 'lo mein', think 'fried rice'.
posted by mischief at 4:02 PM on September 28, 2004

Chicken breasts pan fried in palm oil with tropical fruit salsa.


Cut up tropical fruit (mango, papaya, kiwi are the best combination). Cut up shallots. Mix shallots and fruit. Add balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar and sugar. Let sit for 4-24 hours.

Fry the chicken breasts. With palm oil. In a pan.

Put salsa on chicken breasts. Serve with rice (preferably jasmine).
posted by jacquilynne at 4:31 PM on September 28, 2004


Marinade for 1.5 lbs meat:
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 c honey
1 c white wine
1/2 can tomato paste
1/2 t salt
1t oregano
1t rosemary
1 clove minced garlic

mix up the marinade in a big bowl.

get some tri-tip moo moo meat and cut it up into 1-inch cubes (tip: you can get real nice shapes if the meat is half-frozen) throw the meat in the marinade and let stew in the refrigerator overnight.

Next day: Cut up red bell peppers. green bell peppers, and an onion into 1-inch plates. Take some skewers and start skewering: I usually start with a veggie, then alternate meat and two veggies. Grill for approx. 20 minutes. Serve with Cous-cous, tabouli, or anything else middle eastern.
Because of the honey and tomato paste, the meat has an amazing sweet tang to it.
posted by spatula at 5:06 PM on September 28, 2004

As noted in the link, this recipe takes time, but I absolutely guarantee it, if the people you're cooking for like Mexican dishes, then Chicken Pasilla Enchiladas will set off a thermonuclear bomb in their tastebuds. (That's a good thing). If you ever read Like Water for Chocolate, this is one of those recipes that will make someone fall in love with you.
posted by jeremias at 5:08 PM on September 28, 2004

Salmon steaks on a bed of coconut spinach.

Marinate the salmon in sesame oil, grated fresh ginger and soy for about 30 min, then pan fry for about 1 - 2 minutes per side. To make the coconut spinach, heat up some coconut cream and asian chilli paste in a saucepan, then add baby spinach leaves and stir until just wilted. Sometimes I like to throw in a can of chickpeas as well.
posted by arha at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2004

In the summer, a simple, yet delicious AND really impressive dish is a large, pretty piece of poached salmon, served cold with various salads. Poaching it is a snap - simmer it in water with peppercorns, some lemon slices, some herbs, maybe a little vinegar. Then chill it. It's all in the presentation. Put it on a nice platter and decorate with lemon slices, capers, whatever you want. Surround with cucumber salad, tomatoes, leaf lettuces, again, whatever you like. Pour chilled white wine and await kudos.

arha, I am so trying that!
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:28 PM on September 28, 2004

Here's an easy and unusual recipe of mine that everyone seems to like.

Cold Banana Bisque

Put 2 bananas, a can of evaporated milk, 2 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract in a blander, and whirl it until smooth.
Keep refrigerated, and before serving, whisk it as the banana tens to rise to the top.

It was intended to be served as a soup and the recipe in my cookbook has instructions for making cinnamon croutons, but I serve it as a drink.

What's with the italics?
posted by orange swan at 5:37 PM on September 28, 2004

Sorbet, for dessert. Especially because it's one of those recipes that takes fifteen minutes but, when you tell people it's home made, brings out the "wow, how does that happen?!
My favorite recipe for sorbet is from Best of Byerly's cookbook, but they're all pretty similar. Here's a significant list online, but I've not tried any of these specific ones.
posted by whatzit at 6:56 PM on September 28, 2004

orange swan made me think of my favorite dessert, banana compote.

It's the simplest thing, really. Take those last couple of bananas that are overripe -- really overripe, removing anything too dark. Slice and freeze overnight.

Take the frozen slices and mash them in the food processor until creamy but not liquid: the consistency of mashed potatoes. You can add soy milk, cream, or coconut milk to hasten the process, but use sparingly.

You can gussy it with sprigs of mint, coconut shavings, chopped hazlenuts, or a sprinkle of cinnamon, but what you get is the purest banana flavor, cold and intense, and especially refreshing after a spicy meal. If you want something that looks lovely, you can layer it in parfait glasses with fresh-made whipped cream and good strawberries. But all alone in a dish it's sweet and pure and somehow very comforting.

It makes me think of one of my favorite Truman Capote lines, about a woman trying to seduce him (of all people): "She sounded the way bananas taste."
posted by melissa may at 9:38 PM on September 28, 2004

Well, there's "impress with flavors" and "impress with mad skillz".

For the former, my favorite is usually braised lamb shanks:

Sprinkle kosher salt over shanks. Pan sear shanks in olive oil until good and brown. Not "just browned", slightly crispy. Do them in batches if you've got a small pan - that's fine. Lay a bunch of assorted fresh herbs in the bottom of a large pan (any will do, but be sure to include rosemary - it goes particularly well with lamb), and lay the shanks on top. Fill the pan with a mixture of 1/2 wine and 1/2 stock, to halfway cover the shanks. Put in the oven for 1 hour on 350, uncovered (this differs from many braises, which are done in a covered pan). Then add sliced vegetables to the pan (carrots, potatoes, parsnips, mushrooms all work well - use your imagination here). Check every 30 minutes, turn everything when it's starting to brown and dry out. Add more stock/wine when needed to keep it at the halfway point. Total oven time is probably around 3 hours - it's done when the vegetables are tender and the meat is falling off the bone. Remove from the oven, and let it cool in some of the liquid. Take the rest out, reserve half. Take the other half, and reduce down a bit, and add some cornstarch or arrowroot which you've dissolved in water (this is called a slurry). Stir this in, and let it cook for a few minutes. This will thicken the sauce, which you can add back over the dish and serve . But wait, you're not done yet! Take the rest of the sauce you reserved, and reduce it over a low flame unil it's very syrupy (this will be about 1/16th the original volume, but YMWV). This may take an hour. Cool rapidly in an ice bath, and refrigerate. Congratulations! You've just made a lamb glace. This is extremely precious (yes, taste it). It will keep in the fridge for a few months. Reconstitute it with boiling water, and use it as part of the stock portion for next time, or for other sauces. Same basic technique works with short ribs.

For the latter, anything with phyllo dough or puff pastry. People think it's hard, but it isn't.
posted by Caviar at 8:08 AM on September 29, 2004

Oh, and on frozen desserts - I've recently become a big fan of granita. It's VERY easy to make (basically mix the ingredients, freeze, and stir with a fork every 30 minutes), and is by its form less sugary than sorbet. Coffee granita is a delightful addition to iced espresso.
posted by Caviar at 10:57 AM on September 29, 2004

If it is not too late as this appears to have already rolled off the front green page, one of the easiest and most impressive desserts is poached pears. Simply peel the pears and poach them in apple cider until tender (about 30 minutes or so). Add a bit of vanilla bean if you have it, if not don't add extract just go without. The cider should just be simmering and you might as well leave the lid off as after the pears are done remove them from the pan and boil down the cider until in becomes a thick syrup. I plate this two ways, both are nice. Either leave the stem on and the pear whole, standing upright and pour the syrup over it or fan slice half a pear and lay it fanned out over a plate which already has syrup on it. Very minimal effort yields an impressive dessert. It goes well with a small scoop of ice cream if you like.
posted by caddis at 12:52 PM on September 29, 2004

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