A Holiday Dinner at Home

Restaurateur Mark Tarbell creates an elegant menu for an intimate party

This year, hosting intimate dinner parties in our homes seems right for the times. Dinner at home allows us to capture the joys of a holiday season that feels different.

Mark Tarbell, chef-owner of Tarbell’s restaurant, tavern, wine store and catering in Phoenix, and host of an Emmy Award-winning PBS show Plate and Pour, says “This year it’s more important than ever to gather safely in our homes with a small community of others, whether family or friends. It’s what will bring energy and warmth to this holiday season.”

To help others put just such a meal on the table, Tarbell shares a menu he recently created for a holiday dinner party.

The menu is untraditional, on purpose. That’s because not all holiday surprises come wrapped in bows. Some of the best are served on plates. Tarbell jump-starts appetites with an amuse-bouche—mini vol-au-vent with red wine braised escargot and goat cheese from Crow’s Diary in Buckeye.

The first course, a root vegetable salad, showcases citrus, micro-arugula and quark, a mild European creamy cheese with a whiff of yogurt flavor. For the second course, he dresses a duck breast with lamb merguez, confit potatoes, butternut squash, parsnip coulis and chervil. His dessert offers a fitting end with an apple tart with homemade mascarpone and caramel semifreddo.

A silver lining to the pandemic’s shuttered restaurants has been a renaissance in home cooking and baking. If you’re one of the many who’s been fine-tuning cooking skills, replicate part or all of his meal exactly. Those less apt in the kitchen or who prefer being a guest at their own party can order the entire meal to-go on tarbells.com. Tarbell’s, like so many local restaurants, switched gears early into the pandemic to offer take-out meals.

Tarbell, a former wine columnist for The Arizona Republic, also offers these pairings to bring out the best in each course, from amuse-bouche to dessert: Steorra Brut Sparkling from Russian River Valley; Elouan Klamath’s Kettle Reserve Oregon Pinot Noir; Belle Glos Las Alturas-Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir; and Boen Tri-County California Chardonnay.

When preparing a holiday meal, Tarbell suggests following his lead and using local foods available at farmers markets and specialty grocers. The benefits are more than culinary. Cooking with local ingredients supports neighboring farmers and food makers sucker punched by the coronavirus.

—story by Karen Fernau, former food writer for The Arizona Republic
—photos by Ellen Barnes


Amuse Escargot Vol-au-Vent with Red Wine and Goat Cheese
From Mark Tarbell

18 escargot
Extra-virgin olive oil for cooking
1 head garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 ounce or 2 tablespoons chopped thyme
½ magnum red wine
1 quart chicken stock
½ pound butter
½ tablespoon salt
½ tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup crumbled Crow’s Dairy goat cheese

Open cans of escargot and strain well. Next, rinse escargot under cold water. Pat dry. In a hot rondo, or brazier, add enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Add escargot and sear for a few minutes, making sure to stir frequently with a rubber spatula. Once seared, add garlic, shallots and thyme. Continue stirring until garlic and shallots are translucent, careful to avoid burning. Once shallots and garlic are cooked, add wine and turn down heat to simmer. After wine is almost reduced, add chicken stock and butter. Allow to reduce until thick. Season with salt and lemon juice. Divide on plates and sprinkle with goat cheese. Serve immediately

Makes 6 servings.


Root Vegetable Salad with Citrus, Quark and Micro-Arugula
From Mark Tarbell

2 carrots
2 parsnips
2 beets
2 turnips
1 cup water
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 sprigs of thyme
½ tablespoon salt
½ cup goat quark
½ orange, broken into slices
½ grapefruit, broken into slices
Watercress for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and scrub vegetables. Place each vegetable in separate baking dishes. Divide 1 cup water evenly between the dishes. Divide thyme sprigs and sprinkle each dish with equal amounts of thyme and salt. Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap and then foil. Bake for about 40 minutes, except for the beets, which should bake for an hour. Once cooked, allow vegetables to cool before slicing into ¼-inch pieces. To plate, divide quark evenly and use a spoon to spread on 6 salad plates. Toss the vegetables lightly in extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and plate evenly on the salad plates. Garnish with orange, grapefruit and watercress.

Makes 6 servings.


Lamb Merguez Duck
From Mark Tarbell

For Herb Crusted Duck Breasts:
6 duck breasts
1 cup chopped Parsley
1 cup brunoise chives
¼ cup chopped rosemary
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, roasted until translucent, and chopped
¼ cup red wine vinegar

Trim fat from duck and score the skin with a sharp knife without piercing the meat. Mix all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Place duck breasts on sheet pan and pour ingredients over the birds, making sure they are well tossed in herb mix. Allow to sit for 6 hours in the refrigerator. In a cold rondo, or brazier, place duck breasts skin side down, and at medium-low heat, rend the fat slowly. This will promote crispy skin and should take around 30-40 minutes. Once skin is crispy, flip the breasts and cook for another minute.

For Lamb Merquez:
½ head garlic, minced, and small amount of extra-virgin olive oil for sautéing.
2½ pounds ground lamb
2¾ tablespoons paprika
½ tablespoon chile powder
¾ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
½ tablespoon garlic powder
¼ tablespoon onion powder
½ tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
½ tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
¾ tablespoon black pepper
¾ tablespoon salt

Heat small skillet on medium low. Coat lighting with extra-virgin olive oil, and when hot, add garlic and sauté until translucent, being careful not to burn. Allow to cool. Place ground lamb in a large mixing bowl. Add cooled garlic. Meanwhile, mix all the spices together and lightly toast in a large skillet. Add toasted spices to lamb and mix well.

Add seasoned ground lamb to a large skillet and cook on medium-high heat for about 6-7 minutes, or until brown.

To Assemble Lamb Duck Merquez:
To serve, place breasts on plates and top with merquez. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.


Apple Tart with Caramel Semifreddo and House-made Mascarpone
Adapted from From Mark Tarbell

For Semifreddo:
3 cups, plus 1½ cup heavy cream, divided
1 cup sugar

Mix 3 cups heavy cream and sugar in a heavy bottomed pot. Heat on medium low until thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile, whip the 1½ cup of cream into stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the heavy cream and sugar mix. Once mixed, scoop into a container or molds and place in freezer until ready to serve dessert.

For the Mascarpone:   
4 cups of crème fraiche
Cheese cloth
Kitchen string
1 cup powder sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Extend cheese cloth, and with a container underneath for the drippings, pour in the crème fraiche. Wrap and tie a knot with the string. Hang over a container to catch drippings in a refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

Once done, place in a mixing bowl. Add sugar and vanilla extract, and hand mix until well blended. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve dessert.

For the Apples:
4 Granny Smith apples
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ pound butter, sliced thin
2 cups water
2 lemons

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scoop apples into circles with a melon scooper, or if preferred, cut into thin slices. Place in a baking pan and add remaining ingredients. Mix well and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven to cool.

For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons, 1½ sticks, cold unsalted butter, diced
½ cup ice water.

To prepare pastry, place flour, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add butter and pulse 10-12 times, or until the butter is in pea-size balls. Keep the motor running and pour the ice water down the feed tube. Pulse until the dough starts to come together. Remove and place on a floured board and knead quickly into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, or longer.

To Bake and Assemble:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Roll dough into a circle with a 10-12-inch diameter, or if serving as individual tarts, into six equally sized mini circles, crimping the edges. Or bake in traditional tart pans.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating once during cooking. When done, the pastry should be browned along the edges and the apples start to brown.

To Plate:
Place the tart crust on a serving plate, or mini tarts on individual dessert plates. Pipe the mascarpone into the crust and place overlapping apples diagonally, beginning from the middle and working outwards. Immediately before serving, place semifreddo over tart and garnish with fresh mint.

Makes 6 servings.

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