Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve... Bah Humbug

The big New Year’s Eve party; I have never been a fan.  I think the holiday is for amateurs; people who need an excuse to act crazy and kiss random people, and don’t even get me started on this idea that life drastically changes at midnight.  My list of New Year’s gripes could go on forever; long lines for the leu, cheap champagne, bad service, and really bad food.  

Now, the New Year’s house party I quite like; an excuse to wear the little black dress, no gifts to exchange, and it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a feathered party hat.  Over the years, I’ve enjoyed New Year’s Eve as a way to celebrate the end the holiday season and get back to real life.  So, as we jump into 2010, Just Bring Wine has joined forces with a fellow foodie to bring more people good food, and of course, enjoy more good wine.   A different location, a different guest list, the same philosophy.  I guess you could say, we’ve gone Against The Grain.  

Smoked Turkey and Brie Quesadilla with Apricot Preserves
Pineapple Salsa
Fresh Corn Chips

Smoked Salmon Spread with Cucumber and Capers
Smoked Trout with Endives and Celery
Chilled Shrimp Cocktail with Three Sauces

Fresh Herb Deviled Eggs
Sweet Onion Dip with Chips
Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms

Sinful Chocolate Cheesecake
Chocolate Truffles
White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

And for after the ball drops.... 
Black Eyed Pea Soup 
(for good luck)
Spicy Collard Greens
(because the spicier the New Year’s Day collard greens 
the spicier your bedroom in 2010)

A new venue to enjoy and the largest guest list ever (last count was around 70).  I’ll see you next year!  

Monday, December 28, 2009

Run, Run, Rudolph

A day or so after our Christmas Cocktail party I was back in the kitchen prepping Christmas Eve dinner.  Interesting, I wasn’t stressed nor exhausted; more excited to be creating a Christmas at home.  Around 4:00 dessert, potatoes, soup, and dressing were completely prepped and the brined, seasoned, and stuffed turkey went into the oven under a blanket of jalapeno and paprika butter. Two more place settings were added to the table for some stranded travelers, and I sat down to a glass of champagne.  Enter boom and darkness. 

A heavy wind blew out a transformer and left half of my block without power.  My house included.  Panicked, I made a call to Ava and Poe; they will now be known as Joseph and Mary.  From their suite at the Ritz Carlton they sent to us a savior; use of their oven and house on the cold Christmas Eve.  With the contents of our fridge in coolers, and a 20 pound turkey in a roasting pan, we set up shop at the new location.  About thirty minutes later the good news arrived; power would be restored within the hour.   The downside to this solution was the loss of power at Mary and Joseph’s house  as the transformer was repaired. As the guests arrived and gathered in the dark foyer of a strange house conversation didn’t move much further than ‘someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.’

With the power back on, and the wine bottles open, we eventually had the party moved back to our own house.  Guests sipped wine and butternut squash soup and patiently awaited the traveling turkey’s completion. The entire meal was very well received with special notes to the jalapeno and paprika gravy.  With the Brit’s offering sticky toffee pudding, few people partook in Cranberry Tart; they didn’t miss much as it turned out extremely sweet. About an hour later with the kids in bed, and my husband dutifully washing dishes, I arranged presents under the tree with a friend over a bottle of Pinot Grigio.  Around midnight, with the new treasures grandly displayed I retired upstairs and called the night a success.  It was fun and authentic; it felt like a family Christmas. 

Party #18 began around noon the following day as I threw together our macaroni and cheese.  This dish was perfect for an afternoon at home; grate some cheese, stir together some milk, flour, and spices, and you’re ready for goodness.  Far from a traditional Christmas dinner, it was warm and tasty comfort food which had its place at our house this holiday.   As relatives made their way to our house, a heaping bowl of macaroni was well received.  

After a day of watching the kids play, some time on the couch, and a mimosa or two it was time to create dinner.  Our finger food from leftovers came together without too much fuss, and were enjoyed by our dwindling guest list.  The egg-rolls were preferred over the stuffed mushrooms, in fact, combined with the salad, they were substantial on their own.  My apples and caramel may have been clever, however, they were merely nibbled as the family devoured leftover sticky toffee pudding. 
Late Christmas Day, the blur of the two days left a peaceful feeling of accomplishment.  Fast forward a few days, and the exhaustion has fully set in and with a bit of burnout.  Wake me for New Year’s.   

Cooking Notes:
This was my second attempt at a cornbread dressing (my first being Party # 11 with the bacon jalapeno dressing) Though it was popular among my Guests, I think both lacked a depth of flavor.  Anyone have a not so secret ingredient to share?

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 18
Weeks before Deadline: 36
Bottles of Wine consumed: 5.5 
Justified Purchases: tart pan

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Merry Little Christmas.... 80's Style

Growing up, Christmas Eve was a big deal in my parents house.  My mother slaved in the kitchen all day to produce wonderful gourmet dinners.  The menu changed from year to year, as did the scenery, but it was always a night to be cherished.  The first time my parents decided not to spend Christmas Eve with me I cried.  I was twenty-five years old, engaged and lived 1,500 miles away. I still think it was an appropriate response. 

Fast forward six years, my husband and I have carried on the Christmas Eve tradition by filling our house with friends, family, and food.  This year, with all of our family spending Christmas elsewhere, we were determined to carry on the tradition with wonderful friends, and even more food.  Our menu:

Butternut Squash Soup Shooter
Roasted Turkey with Pickled Jalapeno-Paprika Gravy
Baked Mashed Potatoes with Pancetta and Parmesan Cheese
Collard-Cornbread Dressing
Cranberry Tart
(rumor has it, a sticky toffee pudding will make an appearance... )

Yes, a mere 36 hours after the Christmas Cocktail Party, I will host a Christmas Eve dinner; it doesn’t stop there. 

For the nine years my husband and I have been together, we have always been away on Christmas Day and someone else cooks.  2009 proved to be a year for new traditions, so we planned a quiet day at home with our kids. Word got out, and ‘since we were already cooking’ we will now host guests for lunch and dinner Christmas Day.   Determined to have a simplified prep list as well as minimal waste, I’m going to pull a Pretty and Pink prom dress; take something that is already made and remake it.  I may even play eighties music.  Our menu:

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese with Chorizo and Tomatoes
(only authentic dish of the day)
Turkey Spring Rolls
(leftover shredded turkey, carrots, and scallions)
Stuffed Mushrooms
(stuffed with leftover dressing and potatoes)
Large Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
(leftover herbs, vegetables, and the olive oil I received as a gift)
Apple Slices with fleur De Sel Caramel and Chocolate Chips
(a failed candy making attempt from yesterday)

Three parties in four days.  Completion will be nothing short of a Christmas miracle.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Small bites for big appetites!

Tis the season for commitments.  Though prepared to host 28 people for an open house happy hour; work, illness, exams and serious gift-wrapping schedules claimed 10  guests at the last minute.  Problem?  Not at all; it’s Christmas! The format merely changed from happy hour to cocktail party with a meal of appetizers. In life and parties you always roll with the punches. 

Highlights from the evening included one guest bringing a case of wine rather than the standard bottle, (10% discount was too much to pass up) Olan Mills performing an impromptu photo shoot around 11:00, and a late night tough-love therapy session.  All in a day. 

After the last guest bid goodbye and the last of the dishes were set to wash I retired to bed feeling both exhausted and grateful.  On a Tuesday night, amidst all the holiday madness I had a house full of people willing to share time, laughter, and wine; that’s one hell of a Christmas gift. 

Cooking Notes: 
Soup: I loved beginning the night with a shot of soup, however as my guests showed up at different times this was a harder component to execute with regards to temperature.  As I prepare to offer a similar course on Christmas Eve, the Crock Pot has made its way to the counter. 
Budino: this was extremely rich and a bit unnecessary with the cookies and cream cheesecake.  Should I ever serve this again, I would do small portions or serve it alone

The Party in Numbers: 
Parties Completed: 16
Weeks before deadline: 37
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 6 and one batch of White Christmas
Justified Purchases: 25 wonton spoons and tasting cups. 

Monday, December 21, 2009

Small Bites and Christmas Lights

For me, it isn’t a holiday season without parties.  Luckily, I have friends who feel the same way and offer a slew of fantastic soirees throughout the month.  With Christmas upon us, I attempt to squeeze one more event from my dear, over booked friends with a holiday happy hour.  Lucky again, many have agreed to share wine post work and pre holiday madness; so I thought best to not only offer food, but a cocktail as well. Tis the Season! 

White Christmas Cocktail
White-Bean Soup Shooter with Bacon
Savory Shortbread
Mini Ceviche
Seafood Cucumber Stacks with Aioli and Chives
Porchetta and Polenta
Lamb Pizzettes
Cookies and Cream Cheesecakes
Spiced Chocolate Budino

Now, Christmas without gifts is even worse than Christmas without parties!  All attendants who are also followers will be entered in a drawing to win a fabulous gift.   Follow along all!  

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let them drink wine!

Maybe it’s because girls were mean to me in middle school, or maybe it’s because at thirty-one, my girlfriends are an amazing source of fun.  Either way, I adore girls night.  I know I am in for laughter, stories, and perhaps a little legal advice.   

With the Level Headed One, Food Intolerance and Karen Walker all in attendance, the night began the way any girl’s night should; with a bottle of Crystal...ino.  The Level Headed one not only offered bottles of wine, but cheese and crackers. (Proving her namesake yet again.)  Our conversation spanned the Thanksgiving catch up, the Christmas prequel, and a personal wrap up of the 90210 party.  Apparently Kelly isn’t the coveted character.  

The food lent itself well to a movie night. The appetizer was light and let everyone enjoy pizza without extreme carb guilt.  After a disastrous attempt at a gluten free pizza crust, a frozen substitute went into the oven for Food Intolerance.  Having prepped the pizza toppings and dessert well in advance, my time in the kitchen was minimal letting me enjoy the night along with my guests.  With Love, Actually on the television, and multiple pieces of sound movie-watching advice: “watch this part”  the four of us kept the party going until well past curfew as a glass of champagne spilled under the tree.   Our Level Headed Mommy was the first out the door, followed by the unlikely Sober-Sis Karen Walker.  Food Intolerance offered a much appreciated hand in the kitchen and was off into the night a few hours later.  

I still love Monday night for entertaining friends.  Although the girls are not quite as disciplined on exit times, it was a fantastic way to kick off the first week of December, and relax before the pressures of holiday cocktail parties were upon us.  It seems that girlfriends are a lot like family.  There are times you love them, and others that you don’t, but in the midst of inevitable drama you may find that love actually is all around.  And, if not, just add more wine! 

Cooking Notes: A working mom asked for a menu for her girl’s night in, and I converted this one to fit a busier schedule: substitute frozen pizza dough for fresh, a pre-made veggie tray, and some cookies from the bakery and you have a dinner on the table in no time. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 15
Weeks Before Deadline: 38
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 6 (we did spill a glass)
Justified Purchases: none! 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas is all around...

One of my favorite Christmas movies will forever be Love, Actually.  I love this movie so much that I never let myself watch it outside the month of December. The only exception to that rule being Taco Tuesday when nobody wanted to come to my party and I needed to feel love.  That night, 15 people showed up in pajamas.  Coincidence, or Christmas Miracle?

With Thanksgiving in our wake, and another Christmas upon us I decided to dust off the DVD and have the best movie night; a girlfriends movie night.  Girlfriends are toting their wine (and babies) over to the house for some food and story time as we catch up on Thanksgiving gossip and plan our Christmas gossip.  Oh, and watch a movie. 

Radishes with Herbed Ricotta Dip
Artichoke and Fontina Cheese Pizza
Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus with Champagne Vinaigrette
Cranberry and Orange Rolled Cookies

Why so many vegetables? Southern girls with a calendar full of holiday parties; it’s tough to get them to eat at all before January. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Let your heart be light...

It actually happened....a beautiful snow storm hit Houston Friday morning!  After bundling up in my winter gear, I hit the grocery stores for all of my baking party supplies. 

I had not been lead astray by Food and Wine magazine until this weekend.  An article on holiday cooking specifically states that one can save time prepping smoked turkey lentil soup by purchasing a smoked turkey wing at the local Whole Foods.... Whole Foods did not have a turkey wing.  They did have samples of a wonderful hot cider.  I now own 2 gallons.  So, three grocery stores and a large grocery bill later I was back at home with bags of the finest extracts, colored sugars, and cocoas, plus a roasted turkey breast in place of a smoked wing.   Prep went well until I was shot with a syringe of liquid smoke when my lovely husband attempted to help.  He does always mean well.   A few hours later the house was filled with the smell of raspberry crumb cake in oven and soup bubbling on the stove.  Combine these smells with the sound of Christmas carols and the kids laughter as they attempted a snowball fight with dad and the recipe for a great evening was well under way.  

Friends loved the spiked coffee and crumb cake in place of the traditional cocktail hour, and champagne was popped as we dove into various projects of cranberry orange muffins, and organic peanut butter cookies.  With periodic breaks taken for some cheese and crackers or a bowl of soup, the evening progressed beautifully and actually ended with three Christmas gifts boxed and ready for delivery.

I loved this spin on the dinner party.  With the demands of the holidays I have so often fallen into a 'do it and get it over with' mentality.  Bringing in friends to share the commitments added an element of enjoyment that I have not had in years prior.  If you plan to bake any gifts this season I hope you host this party.  The work gets done, and you're celebrating.  You can't ask for much more. 

Cooking Notes: The turkey breast worked well in the large pot of soup.  Having not made it with a smoked wing, I can't say whether or not it was as good or better.  I can say that the leftover meat offered a great salad topping Saturday afternoon.

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 14
Weeks before deadline: 39
Justified Purchases: a lot of sugar, vanilla, flour and butter
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 1
Pots of "Coffee": 2

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Let it snow!

My warm feelings from party #13 have kicked me into the holiday season with the peace and joy of a Folger's commercial.  After two days of carols and multiple visits to, my family is poised and ready for a bohemian Christmas complete with baked goods, homemade gifts, and old school Christmas movies. Add to this the beautiful possibility of a Houston snow storm and I have the perfect ambiance for a holiday preparation party.  Party #14 is not a lunch or a dinner party, it's a baking party.  Friends have decided to spend their afternoon enjoying spiked coffee and baking up some lovely Christmas presents.  Of course, I will reward all of the hard work with a soul warming meal fit for a snowy day.

Emeril's Kicked-up Coffee Drink
Raspberry and Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Smoked Turkey Lentil Soup
Fresh Salad with Radishes and Bacon
Warm Crusty Bread

A service call has been placed for my fireplace and Merry Christmas Charlie Brown is in the DVD player.  Where's Norman Rockwell when you need him?

Wine Note: Food & Wine magazine paired this soup with a full-bodied Vouvray or an Oregon Pinot Noir.  We'll see what comes through the door! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will it be good enough?

This question haunts my life and takes on a whole new meaning during the holiday season.  Between gifts, dinners, events, and travel I spend more time worrying if I did everything correctly than enjoying the season for what it is; a time to reflect, express gratitude, and celebrate. 

Yesterday I was exhausted; a dear friend of mine had endured a tragedy, my ten year old had a science fair project to complete, and I was hosting a dinner party for two family members.  With my mind scattered and emotions running high I didn’t have the energy to stress about the meal.  Dinner was simple; a bowl of soup, salad, some bread and a sundae.  And it was fantastic.  As we all sat down to eat I was so happy to have pulled together this event merely because it brought us together. We weren’t getting words in during commercials breaks on Monday Night Football, we were around the dinner table talking and laughing.  The dinner reminded me why I started this project; to have weekly celebrations with friends and family over good food and wine.  

As we retired to the family room with a sundae in hand, everyone was still tired but a bit happier.  Great things happen when you end your day with a good meal.  And sharing that meal with family... well, there is just nothing better. 

Cooking Notes:
I made a successful batch of caramel!  The secret: heavy cream.  I suggest Ina Garten’s recipe for caramel sauce available on; easy and absolutely delicious.  All that AND you won’t rip off any of your dental work. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 13
Weeks before deadline: 40
Justified Purchases: zero!
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 1 (Californians... light weights!)

Monday, November 30, 2009

'Tis the Season

For some, the holiday season is all about effortless gatherings of friends and family, and strolls through the shopping mall.  For others, this time is about overcommitting, looming deadlines, and the over consumption of alcoholic drinks.

On the heels of a family trip, in the midst of an extensive work week, and with a baking party scheduled for Friday, my husband persuaded me to host a last minute dinner party. Tonight.  (I folded easily under flattery.) I have watched enough Food Network to have a last minute menu memorized, however, my go-to Risotto Primavera and Salad with a Bacon Dressing was vetoed; my guests are Los Angeles refugees and vegetarian.  (one in the same right)?

Alas, I give you my first attempt at a vegetarian dinner party:

Provencal Tomato Soup with Poached Eggs
Mescaline Salad with Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Crusty Baguette
Caramel Pecan Sundaes

After the heavy Thanksgiving cuisine, perhaps a lighter meal is a good choice.  For tonight anyway.  

Sunday, November 29, 2009

9021- oh no!

I hosted the 90210 party and quickly left town... very ‘Valerie-ish’ circa 1998.  The party was not so successful as far as timing, however, any party that ends with one person ‘working things out’ and another swearing you to secrecy is 90210.

My infamous timing issue resurfaces again:  my guests enjoyed, or rather, were subjected to a two hour cocktail hour, with a great appetizer combination: rosemary cornbread served with olives and cheese (thank you for the quick breads article).  I made two loaves of cornbread; one would have been sufficient.  I wasn’t however, prepared to go through one pound of Gruyere within the first forty five minutes. 

About thirty minutes after ‘Steve’ placed his tired head on his wife’s shoulder and declared a complete loss of patience, the meal was set for devouring.  The menu proved a success among my famished friends with many coming back for seconds or thirds.  Perhaps that is the key to a great response: starve everyone until it all looks good!  Flourless chocolate cupcakes were popular; the plate of 20 mini cupcakes empty by night’s end.  

In retrospect, I should have stuffed seasoned and tied the chickens before my guests arrived.  Not only is it unattractive to be seen shoving things into the cavity of a dead animal, it was  way more time-intensive than I planned.  

Though it was not my proudest party; hungry people circling the kitchen as I stared into the oven willing the poultry to reach a non life-threatening temperature, it was still an enjoyable night.   We laughed, traded stories, and prepared for the holiday to come.  We‘re not family, but in our own way glad to come together.... or at least that’s what we said after 6 bottles of wine. 

Cooking Notes: 
Roasting sweet potatoes and onions before throwing them onto a bed of spinach not only made a great side dish, but served as a fantastic lunch the following afternoon.   I look forward to trying this with more root vegetables.  

Who’s Who of the party?
Who gets to be Dylan and who’s David Silver?  Which girl gets the coveted title of Kelly Taylor, while another is stuck with Andrea Zuckerman?  Since we were only able to label a Steve and his Korean wife, (anyone remember her name?) I guess it calls for a repeat with this group.  I think I’ll do a make-ahead meal! 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 12
Weeks Before Deadline: 40
Justified Purchases:  wine bucket (will no longer use the stock pot for this purpose) 
Bottles Consumed: 6

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A 90210 Holiday

Beginning in middle school and steady through college I was a 90210 junkie.  I wanted to eat at the Peach Pit, attend prom at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and ride off into the sunset in a black Speedster with my post-rehab boyfriend. 

The ‘very special holiday’ 90210 episodes were my favorite; Cindy Walsh baked a ham, Brandon saved the homeless, Kelly cried about her coked out mother, and Donna whined about her birthday.  I loved these episodes because despite the intense drama, each one ended with a piano solo of the theme song, and a feel good moment among friends.  So, before the family commitments of Thanksgiving week take hold, I decided to invite my most 90210-ish friends for a little fall cuisine and classic Thanksgiving cinema.  

Rosemary Cornbread served with Cheese and Olives
Chili-Spiced Chicken with a Pumpkin Seed Sauce
Sweet Potato Salad
Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Ice Cream

Hopefully, the evening will end without an attempted murder, drug bust, or pain killer addiction... I mean we’re Southerners, not southern Californians. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Come back for turkey!

I hosted my first Thanksgiving dinner three years ago and relentlessly planned the food and table settings.  Unfortunately, I didn’t plan on being deathly ill, five months pregnant, the butcher losing my fresh turkey order, scouring the picked-over freezer section for a replacement, and attempting to thaw this bird within 24 hours.  In the end, I thought I had pulled it together, but the truth came out the following Easter when my family refused a return Thanksgiving visit unless I made reservations.

There ain’t nothing like a come back!

With supplies abound, and the relaxation of a non-holiday, I was able accomplished a great pumpkin pie, creamy potatoes, moist stuffing, and a juicy turkey all on a Monday night.  I’m usually a marinade girl, however I finally tried a brine, and I am a believer! Not only did the $8 brine from Sur la Table make an incredible difference in the quality of the turkey, it was the only hard part of the cooking procedure.  After nearly bathing myself in brine twice, my husband and I finally completed the ‘submerge’ instruction and placed mr turkey in the refrigerator overnight. (I did have a nightmare that the brine bag broke, but I’m sure that’s an anxiety issue more than a brining issue.) The following day, the turkey was a mere thyme, garlic and lemon stuffing, and butter and white wine basting away from fabulous.   Truth be known, I got the turkey for free with a coupon and additional $50 grocery purchase, proving that entertaining never has to break the bank!

My guests arrived around 8:00.  With the kids tucked safely into bed, the four of us gathered around the dining room table and enjoyed a little Thanksgiving meal as we remembered the dinner parties years ago when we sat on pillows, crowded around a coffee table.  About two hours later, with a belly full of carbs, we said tired goodbyes and promised another get together soon.  It seems friends can be a lot like family; you don’t see each other as much as you should and at times take each other for granted; but if you are very lucky, they are always there with support and love... What better reason to add an extra Thanksgiving to the calendar. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 11
Weeks before deadline: 41.5
Justified Purchases: none!
Bottles of Wine consumed: 1
Wish List: espresso machine... maybe santa will surprise me! 

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gobble Gobble

Maybe it’s because I have a long list of things to be thankful for, maybe it’s because turkeys were on sale at HEB, or maybe it is because Food Network Magazine was full of recipes that utilized Thanksgiving leftovers, and my family has planned to eat out this holiday; motive aside, I’m determined to make a Thanksgiving meal.  So, before my friends join their families for a feast this Thanksgiving, they have agreed to meet me for a little precursor.  Armed with wine and an elastic waistband, my guests will munch on the following:

Perfect Roasted Turkey
Homemade Gravy
Roasted Carrots
Mom’s Mashed Potatoes
Bacon and Jalapeno Cornbread Dressing
Pumpkin Pie

Personally, I think the name ‘Perfect Roasted Turkey’ is setting the bar a little high.  Let’s hope Ina Garten pulls me through as usual!  I can’t help but expect all of us to look like Campbell Soup Kids Tuesday morning after ingesting all of these carbs... ‘Tis the season! 

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Creating comfort one failure at a time

Growing up, nothing said winter like my grandmother’s vegetable soup.  The rich broth with hunks of meat, potatoes, and carrots was the perfect way to end a rough day in chilly weather.  Living in the south, chilly weather isn’t an issue, but rough days still visit, and comfort food still does its job. Thus, soup night with good friends! 

After marinading my stewing beef overnight in a bottle of cab with a few sprigs of rosemary, I set forth to make my version of grandma’s soup courtesy of the Barefoot Contessa.  About three hours later, I had a wonderfully layered pot of goodness, and was sure we were destined for a perfect night.  However, after adding an extra cup of flour to the biscuit recipe, I have decided to start sipping espresso in place of pinot during prep.  

Homemade mayonnaise and aioli are my nemesis.  After two attempts at whipping together egg yolks and oil I had a runny mess at room temperature. With a gorgeous plate of asparagus, radishes, and Belgian endive ready for serving, I was determined to come up with some kind of aioli dip... I give you Lolo’s aioli:

1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup white onion finely diced
2-3 TB Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
2 teaspoons dill weed
Stir and serve!

Amazingly, I was able to finish the above dip, a fresh batch of biscuits, and have the kitchen in good shape before my first guest arrived.  I did not, however, remember to restrain my ferocious dog beforehand, and unfortunately Little Brother was met at the door by Kujo.  As guests arrived and traded a bottle of wine for a seat at the breakfast bar, each dug into some aioli and reported favorable reviews.  Determination: it's amazing what it can create. 

Considering the nights theme of comfortable ambiance, I forwent a centerpiece made of flowers, and placed a large cutting board with the pot of soup, and biscuits in the center of the table.  It seemed a welcome addition as guests helped themselves to seconds and thirds as we chatted through the night.  Poe is convinced that there is a screenplay in this group somewhere... More information to come. 

I have never been so happy to have a no repeat rule than I was after baking an apple pie.  Peeling, coring, and slicing 4 pounds of apples is hell on the ADD, but was appreciated in the end, and even more appreciated after my husband made a trip to the corner store for vanilla ice cream.  I found the pie a bit on the tart side which I assume was due to the lemon juice/zest.  Perhaps a lighter hand with this ingredient when I make it next year.  

In the end, I must declare this meal as my favorite midweek fix.  It was simple, it was tasty, it was a great way to spend a Thursday night.  Next time you’re having people over for Grey’s Anatomy or some Real Housewife action, I recommend you give it a try. Pizza and Chinese takeout will never comfort you like this! 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 10
Weeks before deadline: 42
Bottles of Wine consumed: 4
Justified Purchases: 2.5 inch biscuit flute
Wish List: Espresso machine 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I’m a warm weather girl.  I love to drive with the windows down, eat lunch outside, and hang by the pool.  However, I think November and December are my favorite months of the year.  There’s a wonderful anticipation in the air as we make the countdown through the holidays, not to mention a constant excuse to open a bottle of champagne.  These final 60+ days are the only time when I dream of cooler temperatures and falling snow.   

Well, I may not have cold weather, but I do have a working air conditioner, Ava, Poe, Little Brother, and the New Guy willing to share wine over a pot of soup.     

Crudites with fresh Aioli
Vegetable Beef Stew
Buttermilk and Parmesan Biscuits
Homemade Apple Pie

The last time I fed Little Brother soup he took one bite and asked if we could order a pizza; I’m hoping this menu proves more successful.  Who doesn’t like a pie? 

Sunday, November 8, 2009


After a week of last minute deadlines, the aftermath of a trip, and the reconciliation with a dear friend, I was so excited to have my playdate....but not in any way prepared.  My first issue arose when I couldn’t find chestnuts.  Any attempt to find chestnuts merely produced lewd comments that under different circumstances I would have appreciated.  Three grocery stores later and a download from regarding peeling techniques, I was in the kitchen prepping like a mad woman. Forty minutes before Guests were due at the front door, I had no table dressed, no soup completed, and no sandwiches made, but, was immersed in a conversation regarding the choir solo my tween had scheduled for the following day.  As I issued assignments to my husband, I turned around and ran into said tween, sending my freshly peeled chestnuts crashing to the floor.  After yelling an expletive, and making the hormonal tween burst into tears, I threw away both the chestnuts and my application for mother of the year and stepped onto the porch to regroup.  

When my girls arrived and the meal was still far from completion, the lentil dip intended for the boys was offered as a late afternoon snack.  As I put the gluten free crackers into a bowl, Food Intolerance presented the evening’s first rock; a gorgeous engagement ring from the Very Tired Doctor... and it just so happened, we had champagne to celebrate.  So as we got the engagement story in full, my patient friends sipped champagne as I peeled chestnuts and celery root and assembled sandwiches.  

Unfortunately, my mad dash of prep was not sufficient for an overly booked Level Headed Mommy; thus she took her soup and sandwich togo, and Food Intolerance and I made our way to the family room with plates on our laps and the smell of roasting apples in the air.   After my sandwich, I carefully assembled the caramel sauce,  and was certain I had found the ultimate fall dessert... The envisioned gooey decadent sauce turned into the second rock of the evening; rock candy adhering to the side of the apple with vigor.  If one was lucky enough to assemble a bite of warm apple with said sauce, one experienced shards of culinary disaster digging into his/her dental work... and yes, I could hear my guests chewing through this mess from across the room.  After the boys joined us for leftover sandwiches and an attempt at dessert, we moved back into the family room for tea and talk.  Soon, our Very Tired Doctor announced that he was headed towards sleep again, thus it was time to end the night. The timing was off, the kitchen was messy, and the dessert was disastrous, but, we were still together.  Still able to create an impromptu celebration of special event, and still able to talk and laugh over some good wine and food.  What else do you want from a playdate?

Cooking Notes: 
Peeling chestnuts is not difficult but time consuming.  However, I highly recommend it for that distinct taste of great fall soup.  The celery root soup could easily have been made vegetarian, I would even be interested to see how it did as a vegan dish with pistachio cream substituted for the half and half.  

If a caramel sauce consists of water, sugar, corn syrup, and lemon juice... you have been warned. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 9
Weeks before deadline: 43
Justified Purchases: zero!  
Bottles of Wine consumed: 3ish

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Everyone Needs a Playdate

I remember my kindergarden playdates with my partner in crime Emily Durr; tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches followed by a jump over her chain-link fence to pick gooseberries in her neighbor’s yard.  Hell on my white tights, but a great afternoon.  There is something soulful about being with your friends for the mere purpose of play and perhaps a few rule breaks.

This week’s party began as an innocent mom’s group with children, Charlie Brown specials and a little wine for the mommies. One mom scheduled her nanny, a godmother decided to send the godchildren to a fall festival, and call me a follower but I’ve convinced the husband to take the kids out for a few hours.  So, rather than having a mom’s group this Friday, a few thirty-something women are having a playdate.

Gruyere sandwiches with caramelized onions
Chestnut and celery root soup with sage croutons and bacon
Baked apples in a caramel sauce

Now, in true playdate tradition, our supervision (now in the form of spouses) will arrive around 6:00.  I’ve planned to squeeze out extra play time and distract them with some African Spiced Lentil Dip and Pita Bread.  

The juice boxes may have been replaced by bottles of wine, the cheese may be imported, but hopefully a playdate can feed an older soul... and perhaps encourage a few rule breaks.