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Cooking a La Carte

For entertaining season, we cooked up a fall menu with the personal guidance of six inspiring area chefs with new cookbooks. Grab an apron, a pan, and fresh ingredients—it’s time to turn up the heat in the kitchen.

Gus Cantavero

photograph by gus cantavero

Growing up in Weston, in a family of six, Lulu Powers learned early the art of organization and entertaining, thanks to her mother, Patti P., who, with no formal training, opened up her own catering business.

All of a sudden, every brother and sister was a recruit and helped create everything from intimate dinner parties to grand soirées. Given this background, it is no surprise that this now bicoastal entertaining guru would write a book focused on creating great events for every occasion.

With themed parties ranging from a “Coffee and Newspaper” breakfast to “The Big City Cocktail Party,” Food to Flowers answers every hostess’s entertaining questions and provides a series of tips and tricks for creating the perfect experience for guests. She keeps it simple. “Everybody should be able to do it. There are no rules or regulations. Have a drink ready when your guests walk in and you’ll have the beginning of a great party,” she says.

Lulu’s most important tip is this: “Be prepared. Set up your bar in advance, cook in advance. If your neighbor or kids offer you help, take them up on it.” In her opinion, stress does not have to be on the menu. “The whole idea is to have fun and enjoy it. You don’t have to know how to cook to throw a great party.”

For entertaining season, Westport magazine cooked up a fall menu with the personal guidance of six inspiring area chefs with new cookbooks. Join us here weekly for new recipes for your next dinner party or Monday night in!

  • Food to Flowers  - Grilled Sweet-and-Spicy Shrimp with Mint-Cilantro Dipping Sauce




Whether you’re a novice cook or a homegrown chef, you’ll find great recipes for any gathering and a complete pantry list of items to keep on hand for the impromptu drop-in. Lulu’s mantra is to have fun and enjoy it—your guests will remember the experience and that is what makes a good party great.

If you appreciate a freshly picked strawberry or a perfectly ripe tomato, then you also understand the huge flavor found in straight-off-the-vine produce. Great chefs know that no amount of seasoning or sauce can make up for the quality of artisan-produced products and will spend their early mornings sourcing the best fare for the day’s menu.

Chef Bill Taibe of Le Farm restaurant in Westport was approached more than two years ago to contribute to Harvest to Heat, a new cookbook emphasizing the relationship between chefs and local artisans. His appreciation for locally produced food is obvious when he talks about one of his admittedly favorite people: farmer Annie Farrell of Millstone Farm, who is featured alongside Taibe in the book. Taibe says of her, “More than any chef I’ve ever worked under, Annie has shaped the chef I am today. My belief, my knowledge, my food.”

Given this, it is not surprising that when putting together his recipes for this book, he arrived at Millstone Farm with no plan and looked to Annie to tell him what was available that day. The beet salad (featured here) made it in the book because, Taibe says, laughing, “That’s what Annie had that morning.” In the end, following his philosophy of cooking by “taste and scent,” the day ended with a gorgeous, fresh salad and, thankfully, someone on site to record the newly produced recipe. He hopes readers recognize the importance of supporting local artisans and that the farm-to-table trend becomes a mainstay.

It is abundantly clear when speaking with Chef Michel Nischan—author of Sustainably Delicious and the owner and cofounder of The Dressing Room in Westport—that he is thoroughly committed to living sustainably and protecting the environment.

Nischan is a green crusader, but with a deeply personal reason for buying and living sustainably. Two of his five children were diagnosed with diabetes at an early age. He says he had always lived “very green,” but he began to research the foods he was eating and realized that our food system needed to change.

“Understanding the damage our conventional, convenience-based food system causes to human and environmental health has led to a deeper understanding of how the same system damages whole societies, neighborhoods, ethnic groups,” he says. “It’s an overwhelming understanding to hold on to. I felt I needed to do something about it.”

Chef Nischan hopes that families pick up this cookbook and head to the kitchen to cook together. “Heirloom recipes require family participation at a place other than a restaurant.” With organic produce becoming mainstream and the costs of buying organic decreasing, he encourages families to buy from farmers’ markets and the organic section of grocery stores. His tips:
• Decide your meals first and stick to it.
• Plan to cook what you buy—no more wilted herbs or mushy apples.
• Use your imagination and turn leftovers into treasures.

Often we spend so much time creating an extravagant presentation of appetizers, entrées and side dishes that by the time we consider dessert, we’re sending the non-cook in the house down to our favorite local bakery for the finale. While our bakeries are, undoubtedly, great resources, Desserts 4 Today takes the fear and the time out of creating a tasty and beautiful dessert.

Author and former pastry chef Abigail Johnson Dodge says she was inspired to write this cookbook because she wanted to “invigorate dessert making,” emphasizing that the focus is on “making dessert easy and delicious again.”

Each recipe has four ingredients, which means each one of those ingredients needs to be fresh and in season. She allows the reader to substitute ingredients in the “Switch-Ins” section of each recipe. For instance, in the Plum Tartlets recipe (shown here) you can use ripe nectarines or peaches to make this dessert seasonally appropriate and scrumptious.

If you’re planning more of a soirée than a Monday night dinner, consider her “Gussy It Up” sections for making recipes showstoppers—such as her Crushed Raspberry Marscapone Whip (seen on the book’s cover), which she makes even more fabulous by folding chopped lemon basil into the whipped cream and garnishing it with berries and sprigs of basil. Most of the recipes take around thirty minutes to prepare and many can be made in advance.

Abigail’s mantra: “Entertaining doesn’t have to be a big deal; casual entertaining is what it’s all about.”

Most of us would never attempt to make bread. It seems more natural to go grab a loaf from the SoNo Baking Company then to make it ourselves. But with the expert advice and tips from Pastry Chef John Barricelli author of The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook, home bakers will be inspired to create a loaf of bread, or even a quiche for brunch. SoNo’s Herb, Tomato and Black Pepper Grissini (left) are perfect with wine and cheese or as part of any party spread.

Want to add a surprise element to your next dinner party? Consider one of the hundred recipes in Chef Leticia Moreinos Schwartz’s new cookbook, The Brazilian Kitchen: 100 Classic and Contemporary Recipes for the Home Cook. The Chicken Moqueca (above) is a mild version of the one-pot seafood dish that uses traditional Brazilian flavor combinations like ginger, coconut milk, and tomato paste to create a comfort food that will impress guests with an international palate.