Monday, August 29, 2011

Dîner en Blanc: A Parisian Pop-Up Dinner NYC style

On Thursday, August 25th, New Yorkers finally had a chance to experience in a highly talked about event from Paris called Dîner en Blanc (translated to "Dinner in White").   It started in 1988 when the founder, François Pasquier, returned from a few years abroad and wanted to hold a dinner party to reunite with old friends. Alas, he had so many people RSVP'ed that he asked everyone to all meet at the Bois de Boulogne and dress in white so they would all recognize each other.  

Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc: New York

Twenty-three years later, the dîner has grown in Paris to over 4,400 diners this year converging in the plaza at Notre Dame and 6,200 in the courtyard of the Louvre. That is a lot of close friends!  And amazing how unknown it is to most of Paris still when you have such a huge number of diners popping up in a very public location for a few hours of dining and fun.  Given the nature of the dîner where each diner brings their own table, chairs, food and cleans everything up themselves at the very end, it is the quintessential pop-up, phantom picnic. This year they also launched the first Dîner en Blanc in Quebec and Montreal. 

While Paris' original version still remains pretty exclusive with invitations only going out to friends of friends, the first New York event has proven to be more egalitarian with half of the 1,000 invitations given out on a lottery system. Thanks to a heads up from the Mistress of Spices, I signed up for the waiting list and marked the date on my calendar to register for New York's event.  

Despite the technical fiasco (since over 31,000 visitors tried to register at the same time), my registration made it through and the planning for Dîner en Blanc New York began! 

A little over a week before the event, I received an email from the planners with the list of what we needed to bring with us to the event and found out I didn't have ONE thing from the list including a WHITE (not ivory or cream!) outfit or white shoes. I'm from New York and my closet is pretty much stock full of black, greys, and you add major clutz to the list and it explains why I have no 100% white outfit.  :)   Thankfully, I was able to find my outfit quite easily (yay for end of summer sales!) and realized I had clear plastic Melissa flats with little crystals embedded that would work perfectly! Whenever I wear them, I feel like a princess!

With my outfit crisis solved and other list of things to bring with us slowly being checked off, it was time to focus on the all important issue: WHAT TO EAT? The organizers asked for us to bring the following: 1 first course + 1 cold main course + 1 cheese and/or 1 dessert + 1 bread.  All of it was to be brought with us in a white picnic basket with 1 water & 1 soft drink. Wine, unfortunately, could only be pre-ordered via a caterer due to liquor restrictions. 

This was the final menu for the evening:

A few days before the dîner, we received another email from our group leader giving us the location for our meeting point down in the Financial District.  From there, we were told we would be taking the subway. My sister insisted we would be going to Battery Park, though I was hoping for Central Park so that it would lead us back home afterwards quickly.

The night before the big night, I am in my kitchen cooking away and packing everything that is needed. 
Look at the beautiful colors of the vegetables especially the baby carrots!

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chili sauce commonly used as a condiment in Moroccan dishes to add a little heat and dimension to tagines and couscous. It can be made fresh or found in a tube paste like the one I have above.


The food is cooked and all packed in easy, disposable white takeaway Chinese cartons. At the very bottom of this blog is the recipe for the grilled Thai marinated steak and arugula salad.

The day of the event finally arrived on Thursday, August 25th with weather forecast being rain and thunderstorms ALL day.  Of course, we all knew that it would go on rain or shine.  So there was a last minute hunt to locate a clear/white poncho or umbrella. Thank you Bed, Bath and Beyond!

As my sister, Tzu-i, and I hopped into a taxi with all of our props a little before 6pm, the sun broke through the clouds and we prayed that the rain would stay away for the evening or at least until the dîner was finished.  We made it downtown with 15 minutes to spare and found our group leader quickly enough. Picture time!

At half past six, we were told to get our Metro passes ready and that we were walking a few blocks to meet up with other groups.  The sight as we converged with all of the other groups was pretty amazing.  Along the way we had several local New Yorkers and tourists stop us to ask why we were all dressed in white. We received comments ranging from "Must be a bridal party" to "Cult?" 
Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc

A half hour later, past the World Trade Center site and still walking, we all figured the only place we could go at this point that would be large enough to hold all the diners comfortably was Battery Park City. Tzu-i was right!! And it was a sight to behold as we walked up with earlier guests setting up their dining area already. Over 1,000 excited participants all dressed in elegant white attire. Some with masks, feathered plume hair accessories, white hats, gloves, etc. It was truly an incredible event to be a part of.
Photo Courtesy of Dîner en Blanc

After a quick set-up, we were ready to eat and enjoy the view and music along the NYC riverside on a gorgeous and cool summer night. 


We made new friends with our fellow diners and had one of the most unique dining experiences in New York.  After such a beautiful night in New York, it's almost unbelievable to think that the next few days afterwards that same area where the dîner was held would be subject to a mandatory evacuation by Mayor Bloomberg due to Hurricane Irene.  Dîner en Blanc is definitely blessed for twenty-three rain free dinners! We can't wait till next year! 

Amazing performer from the evening. Her haunting voice and songs added to the drama of the evening.

Here are some photos from our picnic dinner:

 First Course: Arugula Salad with Peaches, Proscuitto & Almonds in Dijon Vinaigrette. See recipe below.

Main Course with Side Dishes: Thai-Marinated Steak 
with Grilled Harissa Vegetables and Israeli Couscous

Dessert: Smore and Cheesecake Brownies

And here are the recipes at last from two of the dishes I prepared for Dîner en Blanc. Bon appetit mes amis!

Salad of Peach, Proscuitto, and Almonds 
in Dijon Vinaigrette
Serves 4

8 oz washed arugula or mesclun (I used arugula because I love the bitterness)
1 peach, thinly sliced
2 slices proscuitto, roughly pulled into bite size pieces (optional)
1/8 cup toasted sliced almonds

For vinaigrette:
1/2 large shallot, finely diced
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1/2 tbsp clove honey
1/4 cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

NOTE: I like to make my own vinaigrettes because it is super easy to make and I know exactly what is going into them. You'll rarely find pre-made dressing in my frigerator. But feel free to replace it with a pre-made vinaigrette of your choice.

1. In a large mixing bowl, add arugula, peaches, proscuitto, and almonds. Lightly toss together. Store in container for no more than a few hours if not serving. immediately.

2. For the vinaigrette, add all ingredients in a small mixing bowl. Using a whisk, mix it until it comes together.  Store in a small, glass container with sealed lid.

3.  This is important! Do NOT add dressing until you are ready to eat it.  Otherwise, the greens will be soggy. Dress the salad at the very last minute tableside and use it sparingly.  You only need a little bit for each serving. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Grilled Thai Marinated Steak
Serves 4
2 pieces 1/2-pound hanger steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For Thai Marinade:
2 cloves whole garlic, peeled
1 cup basil
1 cup cilantro
1/2 cup mint, stems removed
1 1/2 tbsp sriracha (or to taste)
1 freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Thoroughly clean meat and pat dry.  Season with salt and pepper and put to the side.

2. In a food processor, add all ingredients for the thai marinade and process until smooth paste. Feel free to taste it to see if you need to adjust seasoning to your likening. 

3. In a resealable plastic bag or flat container, place steak and add marinade, making sure that both sides of each steak is fully covered.  Seal/cover and refrigerate overnight or minimum of 6 hours.

4. On a skillet over high heat(I used my Le Creuset skillet which I think gives my steak a nice char), add steak and grill approximately 4 minutes on each side for a medium rare.  

5. Remove from skillet and let rest on the cutting board for no less than 5 minutes to let the meat rest and juices to come together. Thinly slice at a diagonal and serve immediately or at refrigerate the night before and serve at room temperature. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Labor Day BBQ Woes No More: Miso-Glazed Salmon

First of all, sincere apologies to all of my readers for being so behind on my blogs! It has been a very busy summer with a lot of work travel and, of course, summer activities.  No excuse I know, but I can honestly say that time just flew away from me.  If you're a fan of my Facebook page, you've been able to somewhat keep up with what I've been up to with all the photos of the yummy places and food I've had these past few months.

I still can't believe that September is next week, heralding the beginning of fall.  As much as I hate to see summer go, this morning's cool breeze and slight chill made me really excited for the crisp fall weather and bundling up in my sweatshirt on the weekends.
Central Park on an early summer evening.

In the meantime, it's still summer! So for those last dog days of summer and your upcoming Labor Day barbeque, try my DELICIOUS, light and healthy miso-glazed salmon.  It is a great elegant and health-conscious alternative to the usual burgers, hot dogs and BBQ chicken you eat at most BBQs!  Now, I love all of those as much as the next person. But after a summer of BBQs with the same things on the menu I just want someone to break out of the rut and surprise me with something a little different that won't clog up my arteries. Trust me, your guests will thank you!

Since I live in a tiny studio in Manhattan, I don't have access to a grill. So you can make this anytime and anywhere.  :)    Once you marinate it, you need no more than 15 minutes before a pretty impressive dinner is cooked and plated for you and your family/guests.

You can also replace the salmon with black cod if you'd prefer.  Both are firm enough to stand being grilled without falling apart. I am usually not a fan of salmon since most people tend to overcook it.  But, I like the butteriness of the salmon paired with the saltiness of miso. The flavors just all come together into one perfect little bite. The crisp grilled skin adds a great texture and is one of my favorite things to munch!

Serve on top of sauteed bok choy and peppers alongside white rice. Bon appetit!!
Serves 2


2 pieces, 4 oz salmon fillets with skin, rinsed and cleaned 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or canola oil

For marinade:
2 slices of ginger, skin removed and smashed
1/4 cup yellow miso paste
1 1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 orange, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/8 cup boiling hot water

1. Remove fish from refrigerator and season each side with salt and pepper. You should not be too liberal with the salt as the miso marinade contains a good amount of salt already.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, add all ingredients for the marinade and with a small whisk mix it all together.  The hot water will melt the miso paste and help bring it all together. Use a little more water if it is still too thick. It should have the consistency of a thin paste and stay on the fish.

3. Add the fish and make sure it is coated fully on both sides. Cover the top with plastic and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  If you are rushed on time, you can marinate for 45 minutes-1 hour. The vegetables and rice can be prepared and cooked while you are waiting.

4. Preheat grill to medium. If the heat is too high, the fish will stick.

5.  Lightly brush the grill with oil to prevent sticking.  Once the grill is fully heated, lay fish on grill, skin-side up. Cook for approximately 5-6 minutes or until you see it become slightly opaque. Carefully flip the fish over and grill for an additional 4-5 minutes or until skin is crisp and slightly charred. If you have a thin fillet, make sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

6. Plate the rice with vegetables next to it. Gently lay the salmon on top of vegetable bed, skin-side up.

NOTE: I like my salmon to be slightly firm to the touch so that it flakes apart easily when I use my fork. Both sides are a pretty pink color while the inside still slightly retains that gorgeous orange-pink color. If you prefer your fish cooked more, then I would recommend leaving it on for an additional 1-2 minutes.  I wouldn't recommend any longer as it will dry out the fish.  And there is nothing worse than that!