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!)