Wednesday, February 23, 2011

An informal banquet

This week I have made myself a challenge: for my birthday I'm planning a champagne potluck.

The bubbles isn't so challenging, but i was inspired by the rabbity Chinese new year when making invitations, which led to noticing a thin china plate with a red rim, and then sifting through every single dish at Goodwill to build a mismatched set. Chinese restaurant plates, heavy diner ware with red rims, celadon, ornate dragon plates. A heavy swath of polished cotton in blood red for the table, a dozen achingly fragile milk white Japanese teacups with saucers no larger than their lips, mismatched champagne coupes in cup sizes from A-DD. I showed the manager the giant pile and asked for a deal, then every piece was just 99 cents.

My bed is covered in cookbooks, and I'm thinking the menu needs to be French and Chinese. Harder than I thought it would be. Everything family style. Would love it to be of San Francisco and with now ingredients. Make pate with star anise? Buy Peking ducks to serve with biscuits and marmalade? Very orderly stacks of steamed asparagus and wild mushrooms? Congee with Smithfield ham? Wintermelon soup?

Chinese banquet menus are deadening to me, I think because I balk at the shark fin soup recipes. I love the flavor variety, the attention to presentation. In part, I'm using this as an excuse to explore what's intimidating and unfamiliar to me about Chinese cuisines. Recent experiences at Mission Chinese Food Shanghai Dumpling King have me thinking, and fading memories of Firecracker and Jai Yun make me want to play with ingredients and techniques.

Much inspired by the Fat Duck cookbook, but in a mildly grossed out way. Too weird, too fussy. I'm looking for a gentler cuisine.

A pile of clementines with leaves on seems just right. Maybe I need to be reading Simple Food and thinking Chinese ingredients.

Celebrating With Friends
The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking
Food & Wine Best of the Best Vol 12
Country Cooking of France
The Fat Duck Cookbook
The Picnic Book, Nika Hazelton
A Cook's Tour of San Francisco
Foods of the World: The Cooking of China
Pei Mei's Chinese Cookbook Volume II
The French Menu Cookbook, Richard Olney

La Bonne Cuisine
The Food of Asia (Periplus)

I'll get around to dragging down all the Julias, but I haven't yet. Thinking Charlie Trotter Vegetables might be of use too.

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