Advice from Chef Dean Fearing
By Pamela Slover Percival
The reason many people get frustrated with cooking and entertaining at home is that they don't plan well and try to do too many things in too little time.
Fearing, who just received his sixth five-star restaurant award from the Mobil Travel Guide, is renowned for his Southwestern cuisine with a Texas twist, and was the 1994 winner of the James Beard Foundation Restaurant Award for "Best Chef in the Southwest."
During the cooking session in San Angelo, Fearing shared suggestions for cooking and entertaining at home. For example, he questioned his students about the way they entertain at home.
"When planning a dinner party for Saturday night, do you wake up Saturday morning and go to the store and buy everything, then to home and clean the house, then start cooking?" Fearing asked the group assembled. "Then by the time your guests arrive, you're a total wreck, right? No, that is not what I call entertaining at home. You need to organize your party in a logical manner."
Instead of wearing themselves out the day of the dinner party, home cooks should plan and prepare ahead, Fearing advised. Even though he's a professional chef, Fearing said he has to plan around his work and family schedule to entertain at home, just as other people must. He plans his menu a week ahead, making sure to select tried and true recipes to avoid the chance of failure.
Next, he writes a "prep" list with all the items he needs to buy at the store, from food to fresh flowers. Then on Tuesday night before a Saturday party, he would buy almost all the ingredients on his prep list to ensure he has the best ingredients available. "For example, unless it's in the summer, I'll bet there's not one ripe tomato in town. So this gives me time to let the produce ripen ahead," Fearing expounded.
On Friday, he'd buy the meat or fish he needs, to be sure it's fresh. He'd also do as much food preparation work as possible, from chopping all the vegetables and setting the table to completely preparing and storing in the refrigerator some of the dishes. He instructed one student who was planning to serve scalloped potatoes at a dinner party to make the dish a day in advance, then warm it up just before dinner.
"You don't have an army to help you in the kitchen at home, like we do in our restaurant, so you have to work ahead," Fearing stressed. "This is what makes cooking at home fun."
Fearing added that it's not necessary to use exotic ingredients to cook wonderful food. It shouldn't matter whether the local grocery store carries every gourmet ingredient that might be found in a big city. "Truffles and porcini mushrooms are not what makes the world go 'round," Fearing said. " Just use more imagination with basic food. Cooking is cooking. I could go to your store here today and plan for a weekend dinner party."
Other tips Fearing offered for cooking and entertaining at home include:
Pico de Gallo
*One of Fearing's line of 12 sauces/dressings. Available from specialty shops across the state or online at http://www.dxmarket.com/deanfearingclassics.
Creamy Spinach Casserole Chef Dean Fearing, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
Note: This dish can be prepared a few hours before serving - up until the point of adding the spinach. Refrigerate, then reheat in saut pan and add spinach at the last minute before serving. Serve with fish, lamb, beefsteak or chicken.
Thick Cream Sauce
Note: Sauce may be prepared a day in advance.
Note: May be stored in refrigerator for about a week.
Pamela Percival writes about food for the Abilene Reporter-News.
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