Monday, November 19, 2012

Soirée: Parsnip Bisque with Cornmeal-Fried Oysters

"I don't believe in the Republican party or the Democratic party. I just believe in parties." - Sex and the City

Throwing parties is a lot of fun. Whether it's a formal dinner party, a swanky cocktail party, or a backyard barbecue, gathering your loved ones and feeding them delicious food and drinks is a universally awesome time. Over my many years collecting cookbooks, I have seen my fair share of entertaining cookbooks. They are usually a mix of menu planning ideas, decorating tips, recipes, and more. I don't usually look to these books as traditional cookbooks, but rather resources for fun and inventive party planning tips.

When an entertaining book impresses me with many of its included recipes, as a cook that really makes the book stand out for me. I recently received a review copy of Soirée: Entertaining with Style by Danielle Rollins. I was excited to see if the recipes would stand up to the entertaining tips within the book. First off, I have to say it's a truly beautiful book. The photographs are lovely, and I really wish I had the money to host events just like the ones in the book.

Danielle includes some money saving tips, but that's really not the point of the book. The table settings, for example, are so exquisite, they can hardly be replicated with a Target budget. But that's okay. It's the inspiration that counts. There are still a lot of nice ideas that can be borrowed from the book even without a Rockefeller budget. I don't expect Oscar de la Renta to be a guest at any of my parties, but that doesn't mean my friends and family don't deserve the same quality of entertaining, and that's exactly what you can pull from the pages of the book. Take from it what you will. I think that's really the point :) You can print invitations and menus on your home printer and piece together funky pieces from your own collection and still achieve elegance.

At the end of the day, though, this is a book valued more for it's beautiful photographs than for it's ability to realistically transcend average people's parties into the ones in the book. I don't own nearly as many tablecloths or a variety of colorful glasses as featured in the book, nor do I have a dining room table that drops from the ceiling to offer additional entertainment to my guests before their meal, but I do have some great recipes I can utilize, and some great tips from the book for personalizing invitations, place cards, etc to at least offer some nice twists to a budget-friendly gathering. I do plan on using these tips in the future, and maybe even mimicking some of the table settings in a more restrained and budget-savvy version.

Seating arrangements, good idea to use post-its!

I'm thrilled to say that the recipes in the book are not afterthoughts. Although not all the recipes featured in the menus are included in the book, I'd say about 90% of them are. Of those recipes, I'd honestly consider making quite a few of them. Danielle hires professional chefs and caterers for her parties, and thus the recipes are coming from these pros, and not simply from Danielle's home kitchen. The recipe I selected to make came from a menu developed and prepared by Chef Kevin Rathbun, a popular Atlanta chef who actually beat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America.

A few recipes on my list to try include Tamarind Margaritas; English Pea Ravioli with Pancetta, Shaved Baby Carrots, Celery, and Mandarins; Bacon, Kale, and Goat Cheese Pizza; Braised Capon Cavatelli with Whipped Ricotta; and Pimento Cheese Fritters, among others.

For my first foray in cooking from this book, I decided upon the Parsnip Bisque with Cornmeal-Fried Oysters and Pomegranate Syrup. It didn't hurt that I had just received some fresh local parsnips from my local CSA winter veggie box. They begged to be turned into this bisque. I kept with the local theme and utilized some local oysters from Quonset Point, RI (which I shucked with a screwdriver... seriously).

Really, truly, this parsnip bisque is one of the easiest, most delicious and satisfying soups I've ever made. I'm not remotely exaggerating. I knew it would be good, but I didn't think it would be THIS good. I halved the original recipe (because I only had 1 pound of parsnips), but I happily would have made the full quantity and my family would have enjoyed the leftovers. It was really so simple and straight-forward to make that I could easily whip up more on demand.

The peppery and creamy parsnip bisque was offset beautifully with the briny, crunchy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside oyster, as well as a sweet-and-tart pomegranate syrup which not only cut through some of the richness and balanced the slightly sharp parsnip flavor, but also added a nice touch of color to the dish. This would be a really gorgeous starter for an autumn meal.

Overall, I'm happy with the quality of recipes in this book. I'm also happy overall with the tips and party suggestions offered. It was fun to read the stories from the parties, even including some last minute emergency alterations that actually improved the already well-planned shindigs. It may be more of a pipe dream to actually host parties like the ones in the book, but at the very least, a girl can dream. I have some beautiful photos to inspire me until that day comes!

Parsnip Bisque with Cornmeal-Fried Oysters and Pomegranate Syrup
Serves 8
(Adapted from Soirée: Entertaining with Style)

2 pounds parsnips, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

Pomegranate Syrup:
2 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of kosher salt or sea salt
Pomegranate seeds, for garnish (optional)

Cornmeal-Fried Oysters:
Canola oil, as needed
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
8 freshly shucked oysters
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To make the bisque: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the parsnips, onion, oil, salt and pepper on a sheet pan to coat evenly. Roast until tender, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer vegetables to a soup pot and add stock and cream. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a blender. Carefully puree until smooth, being cautious to not burn yourself with the hot liquid. Season to taste with additional salt, if needed. If the soup is too thick, thin it out with more stock or water. Return the soup to the pot, cover and keep it warm over low heat until ready to serve.

To make the pomegranate syrup: Add the juice, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a small pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until it starts to thicken and get slightly syrupy, a few minutes (it will thicken even more as it cools, so don't over reduce or it will caramelize). Set aside to cool and reserve until needed.

To make the cornmeal-fried oysters: Heat about 2-inches of oil in a pot to 350 degrees F.

Whisk egg and milk together in a bowl and add oysters. In another bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Transfer oysters from egg mixture to cornmeal mixture and dredge, shaking off any excess.

Fry oysters in oil, turning occasionally, until light brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate and serve immediately.

To serve: Evenly divide bisque among 8 bowls, then top each serving with 1 fried oyster, a drizzle of pomegranate syrup, and some pomegranate seeds, if desired. The soup is also delicious alone or with crisp fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, and the like.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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