Cold Food for Hot Mamas

As most any mom will tell you, there is a world of difference between "cooking for moms" and "cooking for moms": The noun implies more of her time spent over a cooktop, while the verb at least suggests the possibility that she might end up on the receiving end of the culinary goodie bag for a change. To wit: My wife recently put in a special request for the Moms' Night Out she was hosting for a small cadre of mamacitas sans kids and husbands, a professional dance instructor, and a trunk full of pink bubbly...

Wine Country Dance Space
Mamas' Night Out: Boogie & Bubbles

As most any mom will tell you, there is a world of difference between “cooking for moms” and “cooking for moms”:  The noun implies more of her time spent over a cooktop, while the verb at least suggests the possibility that she might end up on the receiving end of the culinary goodie bag for a change. I would typically err on the side of the latter, figuring the benefits of flattery to be well in excess of the costs of telling my wife what to cook me for dinner, but Friday was a lock regardless, because my wife put in a special request for the Moms’ Night Out she was hosting at Wine Country Dance Space: A small cadre of mamacitas sans kids and husbands; a professional dance instructor; and several bottles of pink Champagne, all on a Friday night…
smoked salmon, salmon roe, yukon gold potatoes
Smoked Salmon and Salmoen Roe w/ Vodka Whipped Cream on Yukon Gold "Blini"

Planning a menu is a bit like going to the tailor in that parties, like body types, are different and menus, like suits, should be cut accordingly: Are we going to sit down to eat, or stand up and mingle? Will we want to use flatware and big plates, or fingers and napkins? Now, I may not be the most perceptive guy around, but I’m pretty sure that when a bunch of moms get together to shake their booties and spill champagne on a Friday night, they’re not looking to spend much time on kitchen prep, so the easy call was to restrict the menu to finger-friendly food that could all be made in advance and served more or less whenever. I was similarly undaunted by their chosen pink poison, because sparkling wines offend almost nothing and make a lot of otherwise truculent foods behave remarkably well, particularly stuff on the salty, fatty end of the spectrum, where my palate likes to hang out.
Yes, you say, but what about The Chick Factor, and I agree, there’s the risk. While I remain unconvinced of their zealotry for cheap beer and professional sports, I’m pretty damn certain that women like fine steaks, bacon, and deep-fried-anything just as much as men, presumably due to some piece of shared genetic code that remembers how the people who ate lots of fat and salt during winter always seemed to have the best shot at walking out of the cave come spring. But theory and practice are distinct, and I figured the whole Buffalo Wing/Baby Back Rib kind of program just wasn’t going to float many of these ladies’ particular boats. When in doubt, stick with the classics, and of the list of  foods that unequivocally kick culinary ass when paired with rose Champagne, caviar and smoked salmon occupy rarefied territory near the top. Ideally, I’d put the stuff on blinis, but they don’t hold; toast points work fine, but then I saw these really nice Yukon Gold potatoes at the market, and it got me thinking, why not make the “bread” out of sauteed potato slices? It’s a starch, potatoes pair especially well with salmon and with caviar – and dig 0n that gluten-free option.
Fig Olive Tapenade, Prosciutto, Pt Reyes Bleu Cheese
Prosciutto, Pt Reyes Bleu, and Fig-Olive Tapenade on Sweet French Baguette

Last up, my usual inventory of leftovers, which yielded some of last week’s Date Night special, Salty Vodka Whipped Cream, a pack of prosciutto, and the end of this summer’s fig harvest, in the form of a black-olive-and-fig tapenade (my homemade riff on the outstanding condiment sold by the nice folks over at the Jimtown Store;  theirs is awesome, but mine is cheaper and, with respect,  I think even better – I’ll get around to the recipe later this week). The Vodka and whipped cream flavors would do wonders for the briny tang of the salmon roe, and the Jimtown kitchen proves daily that the sweet-salty of figs and olives plays nicely off the sharp bite of bleu cheese and the sweetness of prosciutto. (For the record, I have neither ego nor reservation about boosting other, better cooks’ ideas for my personal consumption.)
Three Champagne-Friendly Finger Foods

  1. Salmon Roe, Salty Vodka Whipped Cream, & Dill on Yukon Gold Potato. Peel and slice the potatoes uniformly, about 1/8 inch thick, dropping them into cold water as you work; pat dray, season w/ white pepper and kosher salt and sautee on both sides in butter; reserve. Spoon some of the whipped cream on each, pile a few eggs on top, and garnish with lemon zest and a sprig of dill.
  2. Smoked Wild Salmon, Lemon Creme Fraiche, & Chives on Yukon Gold Potato. Same deal on the potatoes (do them all at once). Cut the smoked salmon into even shapes. You could dress the spud slices with the same whipped cream, or season some creme fraiche w/ lemon juice, salt, and white pepper. Lay a piece of salmon over each and garnish with chives.
  3. Prosciutto, Fig-Olive Tapenade, Pt Reyes Bleu, & Rosemary Blossoms on Costeaux Sweet French. Slice a sweet French baguette into uniform slices, 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, depending on the density of the bread. Spread each slice w/ the Fig-Olive Tapenade (buy it from Jimtown or make your own; recipe coming soon), top with a little pile of prosciutto, spoon on a crumble of cheese, and garnish with rosemary blossoms (the rosemary isn’t essential, but the dish really needs some color, and the blossoms add a nicely subtle rosemary flavor that works well.)