A Night at the Improv

March 31, 2007 on 4:06 pm | By | In Recipes, Work Musings | 2 Comments

With my current personal chef client schedule I don’t have much time to teach cooking classes or cater dinner parties. That’s fine with me, as the latter can be much more stressful. With my personal cheffing gigs, I don’t have to give up nights and weekends, plus I don’t have to be “on.” I’m typically in the home alone and my meals get packaged for the refrigerator or freezer. The client then heats them up long after I’m gone.

With catering and cooking classes, however, I’m on stage. The host/hostess and guests often mill around the kitchen as I’m preparing the food, and timing is crucial — side dishes and entrées must be ready at the same time, and ideally there should be no more than 15 minutes between courses.

If I forget an ingredient during my day job, it’s not a problem; I just head back to the store. (Unfortunately these “senior moments” happen all too frequently; I once had to hit the store THREE additional times during a cook date). Whereas with catering/cooking classes, if I realize I’ve forgotten an ingredient once the event has started, I have to wing it and hope either 1) the host doesn’t notice, or 2) is too tipsy to care.

Last night, fortunately, I had the latter in my favor.

I taught a cooking class for six featuring the following menu:

  • Prosciutto-wrapped Scallops in Pink Grapefruit Sauce
  • Seared Sesame-crusted Ahi Salad with Sesame-Shiitake Vinaigrette
  • Chicken en Papillote with Mushrooms and Thyme
  • Chocolate Crepes with Cointreau Strawberries

The hostess is the managing partner for a local law firm who wanted a fun and unique client appreciation event (her guests were some very high-powered women in law and banking). Although the evening would be casual, I knew she’d want me at my most polished (yes, I can pull that off on occasion).

As I began my prep the guests mingled over a glass (or two) of wine in the living room. They then joined me in the kitchen as I presented the first course. I knew right away this was going to be a blast — the wine and conversation flowed freely among this group. While most seemed content to watch me, a couple tried their hands at supreming the grapefruit (removing the peel and pith and cutting it into sections). I sent them into the dining room with their plates of scallops and was happy to soon hear the “oohs” and “aahs” emanating from the room.

Next up was the salad. The Ahi was already marinated and coated with the sesame seeds and the vinaigrette was also prepared; I simply had to wash and refresh the greens before calling the group back in to watch me sear the fish. Okay, so where did I put the two bags of lettuce I bought? In the cooler? Nope. I remembered folding up the paper grocery bag, so they weren’t in there. Don’t panic Betsy, you’ll find them. Did I put them in the crisper? Nope. Are they hiding on the counter? Of course not. Okay, perhaps it’s time to panic.

I placed a call to my darling to see if I had somehow forgotten to pack them (I’m so anal-retentive about my lists before a party; I check and re-check them). Sure enough, they were sitting on our kitchen table. I must have taken them out of the bag when I placed the 2-pound box of strawberries at the bottom. D’oh! Hubby offered to drive them out to me, but it would have been a good 30 to 45-minute trip. There were no stores close by either. Time to fess up.

I poked my head into the dining room and told them the news. They all assured me it wasn’t a problem — it was the Ahi they were truly craving. Plus, by now they were sufficiently lubricated. Fortunately I did pack the grape tomatoes and scallions for the salad, so I simply halved the tomatoes, sliced the onions and tossed them with the vinaigrette. The seared Ahi slices went on top with another drizzle of the vinaigrette (sorry, no photos). They were all thrilled! In fact, many thought it made for an even better salad than the lettuce.

Crisis averted.

Sesame-Shiitake Vinaigrette

(all measurements are estimates; use more or less to taste)

1/4 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 teaspoon wasabi, or to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons green onion or shallot, minced
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 cup peanut or canola oil

Pour boiling water over shiitakes to re-hydrate, appoximately 20-30 minutes. Drain and squeeze out excess moisture. Mince shiitakes (you may want to discard the stems as they can be quite tough) and whisk with remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Sesame-crusted Ahi


  1. Thanks for the giggle…we all have those “senior moments”. The scallops sound so yummy! Pink grapefruit sauce – how interesting.

    Comment by Culinary Cowgirl — April 1, 2007 #

  2. It is indeed an interesting recipe, however, I can’t take credit for it (it’s from a book by a local cooking school instructor). The tangyness of the grapefruit (both the segments and the juice used in the sauce) pairs nicely with the saltiness of the prosciutto.

    Comment by ovens2betsy — April 1, 2007 #

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