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.