Saturday, January 30, 2010

...that tonight's gonna be a good night...

Mix a ballroom dancing champ, with our local venison distributor, stir in Steve Martin circa Father of the Bride, and a pinch of air-boot dancing and you have the recipe for fabulous. 
Judging by the prep, the day seemed nothing of the sort....feta sauce was made with bleu cheese, our gluten-free Parmesan crackers were mere breadcrumbs, and the Tuscan Cheese Dessert could rival Christmas Fruitcake. But, just as music recovered from disco, our food recovered from botched prep. When the 7 o’clock hour arrived, Food Intolerance and I had shared some good champagne, a few tears, and had a damn good buffet.  
As guests arrived sporting the best of seventies garb: Farrah Fawcett hair, white go-go boots, marabou feathers, even a ruffled tuxedo, we made short life of the Croque Monsieurs.  The venison sausage was popular, especially when guests learned that the Hunter and Gatherer were among us in polyester.  And, though the broccoli and blue cheese soup underwent a new recipe, cup after cup was sipped and enjoyed.  As the buffet dwindled, and dessert time arrived, Food Intolerance and I moved into dessert remedy mode; confectioner’s sugar, heavy cream and a few fresh blueberries and we had transformed the awful Tuscan dessert into one that people ate up and returned for seconds. Time to quit while we were ahead, it was time to change locations.  
With afro wigs, and an impossibly long caravan, the group meandered through Houston’s inner loop and amazingly arrived in the Houstonian lobby at the same time.  After posing for a group photo we were off for a choreographed number to Proud Mary, a ladies anthem to Hot Stuff, and a small run in with what I think was a transvestite.  After a brief discussion about ‘I Gotta Feeling’, and a party foul involving a Dirty Dancing move and spilt beer, Padma, Frankie Funtimes, the Brits, and yours truly with hubby had to call it a night.  
So, after a day of prep, and a night of dancing my feet were sore for a week; it seems the old dancing queen just ain’t what she used to be.  Few things are certain: jumping in $60 shoes or $400 shoes is a bad idea, taking your shoes off in public is tacky, and bunko is boring. Luckily, good friends, bad fashions and cheesy music is the same fun at 32 as it was at 20.  
Cooking Notes:
Feta/Bleu Cheese: After preparing the feta sauce with bleu cheese, I learned that not only should I stop telling intricate stories while cooking, but that recipe development can happen anywhere.  Rather than adding heavy cream and bleu cheese to the soup, I added the bleu cheese and sour cream sauce.  The result?  A rich and creamy soup that people enjoyed cup after cup.  
Gluten Free Crackers: Attempting a gluten free baked good?  Read your labels.  Apparently it is more complicated than merely sub-ing GF flour for the traditional stuff.  It involves fractions and xantham gum. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  
Croque Monsieur: These are unbelievably popular and not too difficult.  Add them to your Superbowl Party for a gourmet twist on the expected Ham and Cheese. A recipe from my girl Ina: 
Know your friends: Check in with your guest list before you serve a menu centered on cheese... A few people could have worn the name Food Intolerance with pride this evening.  And, who wants Listeriosis on their conscience? 
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 21
Weeks Before Deadline: 31
Bottles Consumed: 9
Justified Purchases: 8 ramekins

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What's cheesier than disco?

The Pre-Party...
In college, it was as important as the main event.  Whether it was Homecoming or an exchange with the Phi Kappa Theta house, the fate of the evening rested in that first hour spent sipping cocktails and snapping pictures.  So, when a 70’s Dance hit the social calendar I could not resist the nostalgia.  

This week friends will bring wine and don their platforms for some cheesy cuisine followed by a night of disco dancing and a week of willing “Yellow Submarine” from their subconscious. Our menu:

Broccoli and Cheese Soup Shooter
Mini Croque Monsieur
Parmesan Crackers with a Walnut Pesto
Fried Venison Medallions with Feta Dipping Sauce
Tuscan Cheese Dessert

Better food, better drinks, and a better date... This event looks more promising than Sophomore year's Diamond Ball.... Perhaps I’ll make t-shirts and convince guests to sing and clap. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The years go by and the margaritas go down....

There is something to be said for staying in on your birthday; great parking, you’re comfortable, and apparently you can go to bed before the guests leave. 

After concluding a week of deadlines, I arrived home and went from professional dress to pajamas circa Party #5... It was my party and I wore what I wanted to.  I was first joined by Food Intolerance who offered champagne and a beautiful birthday present.  We made a toast and sampled the appetizers... then worked on remedying said appetizers (see cooking notes).  The Level Headed One arrived in pajama pants and insisted it was not an old fashioned birthday party without flowers and a card.   With my beautiful tulips in a vase and a bit more champagne, it was time to break out the spiked birthday punch: Ina Garten’s Real Margaritas.  I assure you after one pitcher you will agree that good old Ina is a Barefoot Party Girl.  Postponing our main course until the arrival of Karen Walker (who did arrive as fast as possible with a speeding ticket to show for it) we snacked, sipped, and awarded Food Intolerance the worst first date ever. Once Karen arrived with a monogramed birthday present in hand, we enjoyed our gooey enchiladas followed by the decadent cake as hushed and giggle-laced voices meandered through the birthday song.

After cake and conversation our Level Headed One just took wine and headed for home.  With the midnight hour upon us, it appeared I should call it a night.  As one friend cleared a pathway through various pairs of ankle boots and the other served up Advil and a bucket of water, I hopped into bed and bid 31 a fond farewell.  (Rumor has it the party continued with strawberry-peach cocktails and a great kitchen cleaning.)

The next morning I wearily dressed my two year old and wondered if I felt 32 or the aftermath of birthday punch....32 years down, 32 parties to go, and like life and wine I hope they keep getting better. 

Cooking Notes:
Queso Fundido: I cursed my no repeat rule as Party #5 had the best queso in the land.... Queso Fundido put up a fight but eventually, was just as tasty.  My dilemma: the undeniable yeast-like pungency of aged Cheddar and Monterrey Jack.  Success was eventually found with a few tablespoons of salsa and some salt and pepper.  When in doubt, add acid and seasonings! 
Mid Week Winner: This menu was incredibly easy to pull off with a few hours of prep done the previous night.  With the enchiladas rolled and poised for the oven, and the flour-less chocolate cake chilling in the fridge the party was a mere queso and plating away from finished.   What is better than sharing Mexican food after a long day at the office?  Already being home when you finish!

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 20
Weeks Before Deadline: 33
Bottles Consumed: 3
Justified Purchases: Patron Silver and Grand Marnier 

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Years Keep Comin'

"The older you get the faster the years pass."

My father has insisted on this for as long as I can remember.  It gives me great pain to admit that he was right.  The months seem to pass like weeks, and I swear I just turned 27... alas, I arrive at my 32nd birthday this very week.  

Trying to decide how I would celebrate the new milestone, I reminisced on birthdays past. My kindergarten party with cupcakes and juice when the school day stopped merely to wish me well.  My tenth birthday in my parents basement; nine girlfriends with pizza, soda, and a rented movie in the Betamax.  As a firm believer that life’s best years are always in front of you, I decided it was high time for a throw-back birthday.  A few girlfriends, better food, and perhaps a spiked birthday punch.  

Queso Fundido
Chips with Guacamole and Salsa
Chicken Enchiladas
Rich Chocolate Cake 

At 10, we had to be quiet because my parents were upstairs.  At 32, we have to be quiet because my husband and two kids are upstairs.  I guess some things never change. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Drama, She Wrote

I’m beginning to think of myself as the Angela Lansbury of dinner parties.  Exactly one week after my Christmas Eve power outage, I prepared to throw a huge party with my new business partner Food Intolerance. Three days into prep work with the house beautifully decorated, I received the news; two out of three toilets were inoperable.  One emergency call to the plumber and a rather large bill later, the toilets were still inoperable and guests were due to arrive in 60 minutes.  With hopes that all 75 guests relieved themselves before the party, signs were made and issue number two arose: breaker box issues.  I don’t know what made the lights go out, nor am I certain how the issue was resolved, but I do know that it never affected the kitchen, and that an hour into the party, all breakers were a go and the outside tent was beautifully illuminated. 

The most popular dish of the evening seemed to be the shrimp cocktail, considering its short life span at the buffet table.  A close second were the turkey quesadillas which was a bit of a surprise considering the flavor profile.  It seems nothing suits smoked turkey breast better than a little apricot preserves and brie cheese; I look forward to adding this to my post-Thanksgiving meals next year.  Third place would be the deviled eggs, proving that classics still have their place.  All other dishes were munched with similar vigor.  Looking back, the only menu change I would make is an additional 5 pounds of shrimp.  

Once 2010 arrived, the cup of soup with collard greens was a welcome addition.  Not only did this warm guests who were chilly from the midnight air, it brought everyone a piece of southern tradition and who doesn’t love nostalgia?   This particular soup did not work so well as a shooter; the large collard greens sticking to the sides of the cup and acting more as a colander, however Guests found a way to sip every last drop.  (This includes the use of carrot sticks as a shovel.) It seems we will all enjoy some good luck and a few heated bedroom scenes during the new year.  

So... After nearly 20 pounds of flour, 12 pounds of sugar and at least 11 pounds of butter, December 2009 and all associated holidays has come to an end.  What to look forward to?  A new year, a new venture, and more good food and wine.  Sounds like a great year. 

Cooking Notes:
Herbs: Dill appears to be my new best friend.  It saved my aioli sauce in Party #10, and it saved the onion dip for this party.  Faced with an incredibly strong tasting onion dip, a heavy hand of dill lightened the flavor nicely.  
Thank goodness for MRI’s: I owe a huge thank you to the good people of Memorial MRI center.  When my deviled egg filling turned out too salty, I added extra egg yolks, and more still needed something.  A few dashes of pepper sauce provided by Memorial MRI Center did the trick.  It appears you should never dispose of gift basket contents.  
Quesadillas: I fired half of the quesadillas and let the bowl run low before firing the second half.  Since these are best eaten warm, I think this added to the quality of the overall dish. 
Cookies: The chocolate chip cookies were placed in individual CD sleeves; an easy way to make an outstanding presentation.  Considering the many other desserts offered, I was surprised with the cookie popularity.  Next time you have to make a dessert for a friend’s party consider whipping up a batch.

The Party in Numbers
Parties Completed: 19
Weeks Before Deadline: 35
Bottles of Wine Consumed: Enough to keep 75 people happy! 
Justified Purchases: Many Starbucks Lattes
Wish List: a long nap