Friday, October 30, 2009

The way to a man's heart: a crockpot, some foil and a few baked goods

Through the years, I have cooked some good chickens.  I have never cooked a good gravy….  and now I know why. 
Up until a few weeks ago I always cooked in nonstick pans…. Cleanup was a breeze! However, when a recipe would instruct me to ‘deglaze the pan and scrape brown bits from the bottom” I just threw the wine into the pot and let it do its thing.  Well, armed with some new cookware, I actually achieved these brown bits, did my scraping, and had a beautiful sauce with the rich flavor  of a mom-gravy.  It was a proud moment.
As the chicken and my pride and joy gravy simmered away in the crockpot, I prepped the remainder of the meal by throwing some sweet potato wedges in foil and baking up a few dozen cookies.

Our first guest arrived with Sweet Red.  No, that was not his date, but a bottle of wine.  Though the name put my nose in the air, brave drinkers took glass after glass and compared it to a light port.  In a show down between Sweet Red and Sterling Pinot Noir the Sweet Red was the clear winner among my football watching foodies. Without an appetizer on the menu, the boys hit the buffet early and I headed upstairs as not to infringe on the evening of male bonding.

About two hours later my Y chromosome-d guests offered a slew of compliments as they toted home ziplock bags of cookies and promised to return soon.  It seems Monday night offers a great evening for casual entertaining.  Not only does it break up the monotony of a new week, but people are not yet weekend starved and therefore make it home at a decent hour.  Though I didn’t partake in much of the socializing that evening, I had to call the night a success if only because one guest brought me flowers, and everyone liked the food.  Flowers and flattery…. I’m a sixteen year old at heart.

Cooking notes:

The chicken recipe proved to be a bit more labor intensive than what I expected from a crock pot recipe (throw things into a pot and put it on low.)  My lack of knife skills were the culprit when cutting the chicken into 8 pieces. Though the woman on made it look easy, I had more than a little trouble removing the back bone, and separating the thigh and leg pieces. Labor aside, I absolutely recommend this dish for casual entertaining or a family dinner.  The meat literally falls off of the bone and the fresh tarragon lends an unexpected flavor. … I would just ask the butcher to cut up the chicken for me.

Cookies seemed a meek dessert as compared to key lime pie or Mexican brownies, however there was something comforting about ending the meal with some homemade cookies and milk.  The next time you have friends over for a casual evening, I highly recommend it.  
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 8
Weeks Before Deadline: 44

Justified Purchases: none!  (I even recycled Friday night’s flowers)

Bottles of Wine consumed: 2ish

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where my boys at??

I am thankful for each and every reader who visits this page... However, as I browsed through my list of followers, I noticed something that instantly reminded me of high school: very little interest from the male population.  

Not one to take this lying down, I have decided to reach out to the men in a manner that they understand: Monday Night Football.  Now, I am not a sports girl, let alone a football girl.  In fact, I find the whole tight pants and butt smacking camaraderie a bit homoerotic. But, with seemingly no male readers, what's a little compromise?  So, tonight, a few of my husbands life long friends will bring god-only-knows what kind of wine, and enjoy a little meat and potatoes in front of the tube. 

Green Salad (the husband insisted)
Slow Roasted Tarragon Chicken
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Scallions
Peanut Butter and Hershey Kiss Cookies

Unsure of the proper way to wish an athlete good luck, (it seems rude to say break a leg)  I'll end this by saying I hope the food is good, and the good guys win. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kathy's Storytime

After a week of craziness on the job, and Saturday dedicated to an Indian wedding, Friday night was benchmarked for comfort food and old friends.  Determined to be the organized hostess, the prep began early... Thursday night early, with homemade remoulade, cocktail, and tarter sauces completed, and a graham cracker crust assembled and cooling on the oven.  Bright and early Friday morning I drove my kids to school in pajamas (looking like a mad housewife from the square states,) and returned home to stuff some peppers, finish a key lime pie, and assemble the cole slaw. Thankfully, these tasks were completed by 11:00 before I ran down the street to have my hand painted with henna to show wedding day support for Saturday’s bride to be. Unable to wash my hand for several hours, I dressed the table and arranged flowers... I think I have the key to an organized dinner party-- early prep.  

Several hours later, the Brits arrived with two fabulous Sauvignon Blancs, followed by Padma and Frankie Funtime who toted a Cabernet fresh from the vineyard. Appetizers went well as we caught up on the Brits work, Padma’s inability to be fake, and Frankie’s finals. Cleared for handwashing, I joined my trusty sous chef in the kitchen to batter the catfish and plate our side dishes.  Having been drowned in books for several weeks, Frankie admitted how fried fish was a welcome reminder of childhood, and the Brits agreed citing their own fish and chips. After some serious dual frying, dinner was finally ready.  
Though one may handle a sticky situation with class, ala Nicole Kidman, enough wine appears to bring out the Kathy Griffin... and she’ll cut a bitch.  Amidst glares from spouses and a plethora of Jeff Lewis quotes, the table erupted in laughter as stories spilled about careers from long ago, the misuse of pottery barn pillow cases, and how pickles on a sandwich can ruin an entire day.  A few hours later, Frankie Funtime’s dedication to his studies prevailed as he bid goodbye, taking Padma and the Brits with him.  

The years pass by faster and faster.  Careers change, addresses change, and spouses arrive on the scene.  It’s nice to know that old friends and a little fried fish can still comfort the soul...  in a fashionable way, of course.

Cooking Notes: 
Regular potato fries had to replace the planned sweet potato due to an availability issue.  I will figure out the difference between a yam and a sweet potato sometime this week.  A pound of shrimp were roasted in a last minute attempt to break up my fried fiasco.  This seemed to be a welcome addition.  

The Party in Numbers:
Parties completed: 7
Weeks before deadline: 45
Bottles of wine consumed: 3ish
Beers consumed: 8
Justified purchases: white tablecloth, 6 black placemats, 1 deep fryer 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fashionable, yet comforting

Once upon a time three twenty something girls dreamed of exciting careers in the fashion industry. With overpriced clothes and visions of fashion week, they pranced into a Houston Modeling Agency for a few years of employment and a lifetime of stories. Fast forward seven years, and the three now form a group of six as husbands join the click. This unlikely group has bonded over the past year with barbeques, drinks, and a few stories from years ago. So, as we prepare for another night spent around the dinner table… break out the wash and wear because we are frying up some comfort food!
Bacon-wrapped banana peppers stuffed with Borsin cheese
Packin’ a Punch Slaw
Fried Catfish
Sweet Potato Fries
Key Lime Pie
I do wonder... amidst all of this comfort food, will we have comfortable shoes? Not a chance.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Republicans, two Democrats and three bottles of wine...

Growing up, Friday nights were always a big deal. In the early years it was a pizza and a new episode of Dallas, in later years my mother brought back cocktail hour complete with appetizers and martinis.  Formalities aside, it has always been a time to decompress, review the week, and savor the upcoming weekend.  This week was a nod to that tradition when two friends toted wine over on Friday night for some homemade pizza.

It seems no party is without drama.  With the guest list confirmed, my body decided it was time to party with an allergy attack.  (Picture the Claritin commercial and the person beaten with the huge flower.)  As I kneaded pizza dough and sifted flour I wondered if my cotton filled head could pull this off...luckily, this menu offered some lag time and I spent that time in my bed high on Sudafed.  An hour later I was layering peanut butter cupcakes, and shredding cheese with the best of them. 

With the counters cleaned, and the prep work finished, our guests arrived with a fantastic Chianti, Dolcetto, and a Sauvignon Blanc.  Amidst flying pizza dough we sipped Chianti and reminisced over old stories.  Some were funny; running into a parent at a particular bar and grill, and others not so funny and involved an old friend getting 10-20.  Though politics were emphatically off limits, we did decide that with similar fundamental values, they aren’t that big of a deal.

Cooking Notes:
I wouldn’t recommend making peanut butter cupcakes for a crowd as they are quite labor intense.  Assembly of a mere 12 took me 45 minutes.  I’m sure this time is far from official. 

A pizza stone is the perfect tool for a crisp pizza.  However without being well oiled, it is also a great way to burn out your eyes with smoke and have the smoke detector run rampant.  

On the wine pairing side of things, the Chianti and Dolcetto were lovely with the cheesy Buona Lisa pizza.  While the Sauvignon Blanc was intended for the cupcakes, I loved it with the rolled Venetian pizza.  

In the end, it was a great night with simple foods and wonderful company. And I must admit, it’s comforting that after all of these years, pizza and friends still make for great Friday night. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed:  6
Weeks before deadline: 46
Justified Purchases: 4 napkins, one table runner
Bottles of wine consumed: a solid 3

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blogs cannot live on large parties alone....

Last week, after Taco Tuesday and a little frantic dishwashing, I packed up my family and headed east for yet another family party. (Luckily this one had a caterer.) As I mingled among a sea of 168 guests, I was both happy and surprised to consider the majority of them friends.  How did this happen? Well, through the years, my mother hosted her share of dinners, lunches, and the occasional ‘wine and dine.’ For at least two generations, my family spent most of their social time around a dinner table, to eat, talk, and love. This seems to create quite a platform.  To me, there is nothing like a large dinner party: people sitting on any stable surface with a plate balanced on their lap while the house is loud with laughter. I can’t imagine a better celebration of life’s simplicity.  So, to keep these large parties meaningful, I think it is due time to invest in the attendants with some one-on-one attention.  I have a feeling there are some looming stories that weren’t shared over the queso bowl.  

This weekend, two friends will join my husband and me for the epitome of casual dinner: homemade pizzas. Now, in case you were wondering, these pizzas will be served on freshly baked crusts... I’m no slacker. 

Mixed Greens Salad 
Buona Lisa Pizza 
Venetian Rolled Pizza
And, still feeling proud of last week’s Cinnamon Cupcake save, dessert will be Martha Stewart’s Peanut Butter Filled Chocolate Cupcakes. 

Now, as luck would have it these old friends appear to have dramatically different political views than us.  Perhaps we should keep some topics off-limits?  Maybe just enjoy a large amount of wine.... 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

If you cook it, they will come....

I love my friends; they are extremely supportive. But they do have lives of their own, and at times issues that are more important than attending a dinner party.  When two people cancelled Monday night, I took it in stride.  When two more cancelled Tuesday morning, I began to worry.  When I had four more cancellations around 2:00, I began Flipping Out in a manner that was Jeff Lewisesque mixed with a Housewife reunion.  

As my husband went on operation guest list, I did what any woman in my position would do; poured a glass of Chardonnay, popped Love Actually into the DVD player and continued preparing a meal for ten people.  

With the prep work finished, and ten beautifully iced tres leches cupcakes, I had three people confirmed.  As the hours past, old and new friends began texting.  Soon we were back at a 10 person guest list.   Around 6:30, I had a new dilemma: in one hours time, 14 people were coming over for a party set to feed 10.  Thanks to the nearby grocery store, a stocked pantry and some very fast stirring, I was able to stretch the menu with some extra beef, a roasted chicken, a few blocks of pepper jack, and a can of vanilla frosting.  

Although I wasn’t what you would call neatly prepared when my pajama clad friends arrived; the sink was full of dishes, my husband had yet to shower, and the wine pairing taste test was abandoned, the night came together surprisingly well.  This large group of old and new friends found enough in common with foreign accents, the myth of Creole Fried Chicken, and Reisling versus Rioja to keep the house loud with laughter for many hours.  

Evening Slip Ups: 
No party is perfect and as if the guest list issue wasn’t enough, my two year old decided to remove our powder room doorknob.  Anyone who chose to use the facilities needed to go with a partner.  And, what to do with the taste test prize?  There were quite a few arguments over how a winner should be selected, and finally, one was pulled from a hat.  As luck would have it, the winner used Martha Stewart Wine to ensure a taco appropriate Sauvignon Blanc.  

Around 12:45 when the house was empty, I crawled into bed wearing my party PJ’s  still in awe of how the day had progressed.  I have decided, if you are very lucky, Love Actually is all around....especially on Taco Tuesday. 

The Party in Numbers:
Number of Parties: 5
Weeks until deadline: 47.5
Justified Purchases: Pajamas!
Bottles of wine consumed: 7ish

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Who else would show up for dinner in their pajamas? On Taco Tuesday nonetheless."

Well, Jeff Lewis....perhaps Martha Stewart?

I’m a whore for Bravo Television.  Flipping Out, the Housewives, Top Chef, and when I really feel intellectual, a little Inside the Actors Studio... Gotta love James and his big words.  So, fresh off the heels of ‘Wichcraft I’m gonna give the midweek party another shot with an authentic Taco Tuesday, Flipping Out style.  Friends have agreed to don their pajamas this Tuesday evening for some tacos, TV, and wine.  

Now, I planned this party before I realized one small detail: in all of my years of cooking I have never made tacos.  Enchiladas, yes, I even make a good taco dip, but tacos with the tortillas and shredded lettuce, not once.   So, with around 10 confirmed guests I turned to the internet and discovered that Martha Stewart may have hosted a few Taco Tuesday’s in her day.  Why else would she offer all of these recipes?

Slow Roasted Chili Chicken Tacos
Beef Tacos
Fish Tacos with Salsa Verde and Radish Salad
And Just as I cursed the no repeat rule for taking away my Mexican Brownie dessert, Martha pulls through again with Tres Leches Cupcakes.  I think she might be the mother of all invention. 

The Challenge:
So with all of this great  Perhaps a margarita is a more obvious choice.  
Well, to carry on the wine theme, and make it interesting for those toting bottles to the house, a blind taste test of all wines will take place.  The best match will receive a prize. Choose wisely my friends! 

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I’m not your ‘wich, ‘wich!

Joey Tribbiani is not the only sandwich lover; combine quality ingredients and some freshly baked bread and you have a meal that people love. Sandwiches are however, synonymous with sporting events, and the absence of this televised event cannot be replaced with the Real Housewives of Atlanta. 
We began with the Tuna Melt which was popular, and for some a favorite, then cruised into the provolone and mozzarella melt.  This encouraged a season premiere discussion.  Apparently female lawyers don’t wear skirts, some people still don’t know about George O’Mally’s death, and the fate of Dr. House is to be determined.  The final sandwich was a favorite and went fast; roasted turkey with bacon, tomato, and onion marmalade.  Great sandwiches, but a single ingredient stole the show: slow roasted tomatoes.  Easy and delicious on everything, I may keep a stash in the fridge.  My one foodie disappointment was the fault of the Midwest.   Salad on a Stick: difficult to eat, and really not necessary.  Damn Iowa. 
Our night of ‘Wichcraft included some repeat visitors, as well as a New Guy. However, these once strangers have a philanthropic bond: the feline underground railroad.  As participants in this humanitarian foundation, my Level Headed guest, her Eternally Young husband, the life coach Ava, and her husband Poe feed stray cats for several days and become emotionally attached.  It is at this point that the cat ‘shows the butt’ and flees never to be seen again. The New Guy turned out to be a recent participant in this foundation.  He immediately gained access to our click. 
Evening Slip Ups:
The cookie pan from Williams-Sonoma is the devil.  The first attempt resulted in a cake with separation anxiety, and the second round was not completely cooled before I dumped an unmeasured amount of homemade ice cream between the layers.  The result was a gooey mess that tasted delicious but visually resembled a mishap in home-economics class.  Other than that, though it seems like plenty of time has past, your friends may not look back and laugh at a past predicament... They may, in-fact, be tempted to show the butt.  I guess some stories are better left in the vault.  

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 4
Weeks before deadline: 48 
Justified Purchases: Ice cream cookie-cake pan, 6 napkins, 12 red wine glasses
Bottles of wine consumed: 4ish
Next Party: just around the corner