Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How to throw a perfect holiday dinner party

The Holiday Dinner Party Guide
By: Chef Cristian Feher

It’s that time of year again where friends and family get together to celebrate the spirit of peace, good will, and giving. It can also be a time of spilled drinks, family squabbles, dry turkey and grocery store cheese trays. But I will do my best to provide you with information that will help you avoid unseemly situations, and throw a perfect get-together that everyone will enjoy.

As a personal chef I have done hundreds of dinner parties. And I’m going to share with you some do’s and dont’s.


DO - Provide an assortment of, both, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Even if you don’t drink, there may be someone who does. A small assortment of white wine, red wine, beer and a mixed drink or two, will do for most parties. Don’t forget to have bottled water, as alcohol will dehydrate your guests.

DON’T - Leave out any bottles that you don’t want to serve. After a few drinks, some guests may go rooting through your house looking for more booze. So if your inherited bottle of 200 year-old brandy that belonged to King Louis IV is off limits, be sure to keep it off limits and hide it in your closet.

DO - Remember that white wine is usually served cold, and red wine can be served warm. I remember this by thinking “Red Hot.”

DON’T - Forget to offer your guests a drink when they arrive. Especially for work functions, where some guests may not be familiar with your other guests. It will make them feel more relaxed. And having something to hold in their hands can make people feel more comfortable. Remember that binky you held onto when you were a kid? Nothing much has changed.


DO - Expect to have leftovers. Make more food than you think you will need. Feed your guests until they can’t eat any more. That’s the first sign of a good host. It tells your guests that you really want to take care of them. It doesn’t have to be expensive food - it just has to taste good and there should be lots of it. Send your guests home with leftovers.

DON’T - Foist off your dietary requirements onto your guests. It’s fine that you only eat gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, organic, vegetarian, vegan, non-soy, non-GMO, albino asparagus that only grows on the eastern side of a mountain in the Andes. But unless your guests are your friends from Whole Foods or yoga class, you should have regular foods that other people enjoy. It’s no fun to be forced into a diet while visiting someone.

DO - Cook your turkey in a roasting bag. It’s the safest and best way to ensure that your turkey will be cooked-through, and deliciously moist - even if you over-cook it. Yes, it’s very tempting to show off with other methods of cooking your turkey, but you want to avoid the embarrassment of serving under-cooked, or dried out turkey. If you want to impress your mother-in-law, don’t tell her that you used a roasting bag.

The Extras

DON’T - Let your pets slaver on, hump, bark at, bite, scratch, or fly at your guests. I’m sure you think 200Lb Smoochy Bear is the cutest thing on Earth, but your guests might disagree. If your pet recognizes your guests as food, a toy, or a potential mate, keep them in a bedroom or take them to the pet sitter.

DO - Avoid awkward beginnings by making guests feel like royalty. Introduce new arrivals to other guests by telling them something positive about the arrival like, “This is Steve and his beautiful wife who is a marathon runner. Steve and Barbara just came back from Hawaii.” or if you can’t find anything nice to say, you can always use geography, “This is my brother Jim. He lives in St. Pete.”

You should also have music and TV on in the background, and it helps to have things for your guests to do like; hot-tubbing, dinner party guessing games, gift exchanges, interactive video gaming (XBOX Kinect is a hit at many parties), photo albums and videos made for or by the group, sushi rolling stations, pasta bars, backyard fire pits, fireworks, etc.

DON’T - Forget to enjoy your own dinner party. I recommend hiring a personal chef who will take care of all the shopping, planning, and cooking so that you have nothing left to do but enjoy the company of your friends and family who will rave about your party for weeks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Florida's New National Dish: Alligator Balls

Florida's New National Dish: Alligator Balls
By: Chef Cristian Feher

There is nothing more telling of a place and its local culture than the food. Regional foods are the culinary map of the world.

Take sushi; everyone knows that sushi is representative of Japan and its people. Pasta (although a Chinese invention) puts Italy on the map. OK, maybe that makes it a bad example. Fried chocolate bars are a Scottish regional specialty. If you’ve ever been to Trinidad and Tobago you wouldn’t go home without eating “Roti” in Trinidad, and “Crab and Dumpling” in Tobago. Every Canadian knows where to get some good Poutine (fries and cheese curds smothered in gravy). And if you should find yourself in Holland, how about “a schmoke and a pancake?”

Finally we arrive in America, jet-lagged and hungry. And although we could say that there is nothing more American than apple pie, the truth is that each state and city can seem like its own little country (some can even seem like third world countries, but we won’t go there, Detroit).

Erie, PA is known for their pepperoni balls, New Yorkers are known for their pizza, Memphis has finger-lickin’ BBQ ribs, Californians made the California sushi roll - lame, but popular, and finally we arrive in America’s pe...- third leg - Florida. And what do we have to show? The grouper sandwich? Which is fed to tourists and can occasionally contain actual grouper. Give me a break! That’s more lame than the California roll.

Due to the current scene, I’ve elected myself to be Florida’s new unofficial PR chef. We need to add some culinary razzle and dazzle to this place, and come up with a regional food we can be proudly known by. So after much deliberation I’ve come up with “Gator Balls”. It’s edgy, it’s fun, and they taste pretty good too!

If you live in Florida it’s easy to get good quality, fresh alligator meat. And if you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a treat. I like to put mine through a meat grinder for this recipe, but chopping it up into small pieces with a knife works just fine. Recipe below.

Gator Balls Recipe:

- 1 quart peanut oil for frying
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup corn meal
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup chopped or ground raw alligator meat
- 1/2 onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic finely diced
- 1 stalk of celery finely diced
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch of yellow curry powder to taste
- pinch of cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

Dipping Sauce:

- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1 to 2 tbsp of Tiger Sauce (tamarind sauce)
- 2 tbsp of Tequila (optional)


1. Heat oil in a deep fryer or large pot. It’s much easier with a deep fryer. Make sure it’s at least 365 degrees so that the gator balls don’t soak up too much oil while cooking.

2. In a bowl, mix the flour, egg and milk. Season with salt, pepper, curry and cayenne. Mix in the alligator meat, onion, garlic and celery.

3. Drop small lumps of batter using a spoon into the hot oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

4. In another bowl you will mix the dipping sauce by combining the mayo, ketchup, tiger sauce and tequila. Serve dipping sauce on the side of the gator balls. Enjoy!

Friday, November 18, 2011

How to choose the best olive oil

How to choose the best olive oil
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Choosing the right olive oil can be a daunting task. Going to the olive oil section at your local grocery store can seem like shoe shopping at the sporting goods store - an entire wall of goods, all similar looking, and all advertised to be the best. But unlike shoes, you can't usually try out the olive oils before you buy them. And even if you could, what should you look for?

In this article I will provide you with a crash course on olive oil so you can reign supreme in the salad arena, and be an envied oil know-it-all at your next dinner party.

A marketing mistake
Almost all olive oil you find nowadays come in clear plastic or glass bottles. The manufacturers have figured out that the average consumer is more likely to buy their bottle if they can see the product. But those beautiful amber and green lipids can be deceiving.

Let's go back to chemistry class for a moment - assuming that you took chemistry (if you didn't, just smile and nod) - olive oil is liquid vegetable fat from olives. A much closer look would reveal chains of fatty acids, and an even closer look would reveal chains of carbon and hydrogen mollecules.

The problem is, that unlike water, these fat chains break up into smaller chains in the presence of oxygen - they oxidize. So when olive oil (or any oil) is exposed to oxygen, it begins to go bad and eventually becomes rancid.

Another problem is that light can also break it down. So as olive oil sits in a clear bottle, it's slowly breaking going bad. Depending on how long it's been sitting under the lights of the store, it could be bad before you buy it. And even if it's just a little rancid, once you open it and let oxygen into the bottle, the process of decomposition speeds up.

So, even though olive oil looks really nice, you should only buy it in a tin container so light has not broken it down, and unless you use an insane amount of olive oil every day and can go through a large tin quickly, you should buy small tins to lessen the amount of time the oil would have to break down in the presence of oxygen.

How can I tell if olive oil has gone bad
I once went into a fine food store (I won't mention which one) where a guy - let's call him Johnny - was demonstrating a variety of fine olive oils to customers at the store. He soaked a crouton in fine olive oil and passed it to a customer who bit into it and said, "Ooh, it's like, spicy!" To which he replied, "Yes, that little kick is what makes this oil special."

I fixed him with an crooked eye and waved my index finger at him. Don't do what Johnny-don't does. If your olive oil has any bitterness or spicy taste, it's going bad or has gone bad - it's rancid. Olive oil should be pleasant-tasting and have the aroma and taste of olives. It should not be spicy or bitter.

Consuming rancid oil can cause headaches, tiredness and feeling "flushed out". In order for your body to get rid of rancid fats, it has to use a lot of its mineral stores. This may leave you with a temporary deficiency in vitamins and minerals, and that can make you feel like crud after eating it. If you've ever eaten deep-fried foods that were fried in rancid oil, you know what I'm talking about. And bad olive oil can do the same.

What is the best olive oil?
Choosing the best olive oil is like choosing the best wine. And while some may profess a fine knowledge of which ones are the best, I say the right one is the one you like best. We all have different tastes. Some people like mild olive oils, others like strong, flavorful oils. I personally like strong-tasting Spanish and Greek olive oils that come in a tin.

What's the difference between virgin, and extra-virgin olive oil?
This explanation could get complicated, but to put it simply, the more virgin, the purer and higher quality oil you're getting. There are many ways of making olive oil. Some ways make it cheaper for the factory to produce the oil, but make the oil more acidic and less "good". So, the more virgin it is, the better processes were used to make it, and the better quality you're getting. It also has to do with how pure it is. Some olive oils can have other lower-quality oils added to it, and this would affect their overall "virginity". Virgin is supposed to mean that it's only oil from an olive, and no other oil.

If you want to know whether your olive oil is truly extra-virgin. Put some in a little bowl and stick it in your fridge for a couple of days. If it becomes crystalline (crystals form in it) it's a high quality extra-virgin olive oil. If it solidifies into a solid block, then it's a cheap, chemically-refined oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is supposed to be cold pressed (not chemically refined).

Now that you're armed with a knowledge of fine olive oils, go out there and make some salad!

Friday, November 4, 2011

An East Indian Thanksgiving Dinner

An East Indian Thanksgiving Dinner
By: Chef Cristian Feher

It was November of 1620. Nine months prior to this date, a colony of separatists left England in search of a new land to call home. A land where they could practice their religion, raise their children, and enjoy the freedom that Americans know today. But it turns out that the Mayflower’s navigator held the compass backwards, and instead of landing in Cape Cod, they somehow ended up in the bustling city of Thiruvananthapuram on the ardent southern shores of India.

Only half of the pilgrims survived that scorching summer. The rest of the pilgrims hooked up with a guy named Raj Sharma who helped them integrate into this ancient culture. He showed them the ways of India - The arts of barter, trade and of course, the Kama Sutra. What, you don’t believe me? Well, I’m the one writing this article, and this is how the story goes.

Where were we? Oh, yes. So when Thanksgiving came around, the menu was a little different.

The pilgrims roasted chickens inside clay ovens. The birds were rubbed with a mixture of cardamom, cloves, garlic and Kelapo virgin coconut oil (actually from Sri Lanka) to crisp up the skin.

A stuffing was prepared using dhal (a type of lentil) with flat bread crumbs, chicken livers, a spicy curry mixture, golden onions and coconut milk.

The pilgrim women showed the Indians how to make fruit pie using millet flour, and they all washed it down with India’s favorite drink - Fenny (liquor made from coconut sap).

By now you’ve guessed that my history lesson is nothing more than fantasy. The menu, however, is fact. This Thanksgiving, why not experiment with a little fusion and add a different twist to your American style turkey dinner?

Happy Thanksgiving! Or as they say in India “Khuśa turkī dina!”

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What to do with Leftover Halloween Candy

What to do with Leftover Halloween Candy
By: Chef Cristian Feher

As I look across my living room where there was once a dining room table, now stands a glistening pile of Halloween candy - Kit-Kats, M&M’s, Jujubees, Snickers bars, and many other brightly colored, crisply wrapped candy treats. My kid just woke up from a sugar coma and things are going to be OK. But what to do with this mountain of candy?

When I was a kid I had a special drawer in my desk. It started out as my secret Halloween candy stash, but by March it became the place where candy goes to die - kind of like a Florida for candy bars. If you’re like me, you probably can’t stand the thought of taking all that candy and throwing it out, right? So what can you do with it?

Last week I dragged an old air conditioning unit out to the curb where it was quickly picked up by an old guy in a pickup truck. He told me that he drives around town pillaging people’s garbage for scrap metal, which he then sells by the pound. He’s turning free stuff into cash. Pretty smart, right? Well, this gave me an idea. Why not take all this free candy, strip the valuables from it and turn it into edible gold?

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups - Take all of your peanut butter cups and put them into a food processor with a bit of peanut oil (enough to make the mixture smooth like peanut butter). Then process it into a paste which you can use to spread on sandwiches, or warm croissants. If you think peanut butter is hot stuff, wait till you load your kids up with this in the morning.

M&M’s and Reeses Pieces - These candy-coated chocolate chips are extremely versatile. You can bake them into cup cakes, mix them into pancakes, sprinkle them into your cereal, mix them into popcorn (after popping), use them as ice cream topping, and bake them into cookies.

Kit-Kat Bars - My kid, an experienced candy connoisseur, likes to put them in her pocket for 5 to 7 minutes before eating, for a perfectly warm and soft consistency. Pinkie fingers out.

Solid Hershey’s Chocolate Bars - Can be melted slowly in a metal bowl over a steaming pot of water while stirring with a rubber spatula. The resulting melted chocolate can be used to dip fruits and strawberries into, or it can be cooled and consolidated into a big chocolate brick which can be shaved for cakes, or gnawed at when you’re trying to gain weight in front of the television.

Note that if you get it too hot, it will get grainy and/or separate, and if you get water in it, it might split. But hey, if that happens, you’re not a Swiss chocolatier, and they were free anyways.

Pixie Sticks - You can use the sugary filling to sweeten your coffee in the morning. Or, if you’re an undercover cop about to bust a drug lord, but the drug lord wants you to snort a line to prove that you’re not a cop, just cut a line of pixie dust on a mirror and snort away. Pixie sticks can sweeten coffee, fight crime and keep our streets safe.

Snickers, Musketeers, Milkyway and other chocolate bars - Can be rolled up in puff pastry and baked until golden brown for an amazing, crispy, warm chocolate dessert. You can also do it Scottish style (minus the kilt) by freezing them, dredging them in beer batter, and deep frying them for a red-bearded carnival treat.

If all else fails, just save them for your Christmas gingerbread house where the Lifesavers will turn into roof shingles, Hershey’s bars will turn into front doors, Jujyfruits will line the garden, and Nerds will pave the driveway. You can also awaken your gingerbread men by Frankensteining them to life with Milk Duds, Gobstoppers, Sweet Tarts and a 9-volt battery.