Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Great Meal on Wheels!

Take a large wicker basket filled with tupperware, conceal a few bottles of wine and some plastic cups and you have the recipe for a fantastic lunch on the go. 
Faced with a gorgeous spring day, Food Intolerance and I met early Monday morning to put finishing touches on our meal set for travel.  The white bean dip and shortbread were easily completed the day before which left Monday morning dedicated to wrap construction.  Once these treats were built, wrapped, and packed, we donned our coverups, slathered on the SPF and headed poolside.  By 12:30 the group was fully accounted for under the shade of an umbrella and we presented our fresh cut veggies and dip along with the parchment covered wraps in the red plastic baskets circa party #23. 
In the 'Wichcraft cookbook Tom Colicchio insists that the key to a great sandwich is the attention paid to its ingredients.  
"It's all made from real food, and nothing is 'filler'." 
At the risk of sounding arrogant, this wrap encompassed that philosophy to perfection.  With a spread made from cream cheese, blue cheese, toasted pecans, dried cranberries, shallots and garlic, paired with smoked turkey, fresh greens, sliced apples, and shredded carrots this sandwich was a small piece of art contained in a gluten free tortilla.  (Well, not so much contained as the gf tortilla is not very pliable and therefore cracked a bit; thankfully the parchment acted as a brace and enabled easy eating.) 
The shortbread was a bit soggy for my taste.  I used fresh blackberries rather than the suggested frozen and now wonder if it was this or the fact that they were in a tupperware container for 45 minutes that effected the overall consistency.  Thankfully, people still enjoyed them as a sweet ending to our meal.  
Spanning about three hours, this pool party was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.  When we said our goodbyes and rejoined the real world the group promised to meet again; a common theme at the end of a luncheon.  It appears that this is a party [and a group] with staying power. 
Cooking Notes:
Picnic: Planning a visit to your local pool or park?  Pack a lunch of 100% finger foods; it will eliminate the need for utensils and ease the clean up.
White Bean Dip: This dip was ridiculously easy and oh so delicious.  If you need an appetizer on the fly, this is your recipe.  Puree two cans of cannellini beans and play around with some herb infused olive oil and seasonings. Cut up some vegetables and you’re done. 
Plastic Baskets: I bought twelve of these for the Superbowl party however they are perfect for picnics and backyard barbecues.  If you casually entertain I high recommend this purchase.  They are nearly as cheap as paper plates and much more attractive.
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 34
Weeks Before Deadline: 20
Bottles Consumed: 2.5
Justified Purchases: zero!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

One day after a successful pool party (aftermath post to come) I am back in the kitchen for another impromptu dinner.  I have never thrown parties on consecutive days so I guess we will see what happens. 
Though it has come on last minute, I have been preparing for this dinner since September 12, 2009... The menu has gone through several drafts, multiple guests lists, and at least 4 rescheduled dates.  She is the one person for whom I can not wait cook. No, Ina Garten is not gracing my mother is. 
I did have the pleasure of cooking for my mother back in March when I took Just Bring Wine on the road, however I have always wanted her to see how my weekly parties run.  So, when a last minute in-and-out visit was put on the calendar I bought some fresh flowers, scheduled a house cleaning, and cracked open my Back to Basics cookbook.  Our Menu:
Spatchcocked Chicken 
 Farfalle with Spring Peas, Cream and Proscuitto
Garden Salad with Fresh Vinaigrette 
Garlic Ciabatta Bread
French Apple Tart
When I told my mother to come to my house for dinner tonight, she said “please don’t fuss, but out of curiosity what are we having?” seems like we are off to a good start.  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Luncheon Afloat

Back in February, Food Intolerance and I proved that a rainy Tuesday is fabulous when combined with a few well-dressed ladies and a great meal served during the afternoon hours.  Nearly three months later, we all look forward to these midweek gems with a certain intrigue; they aren’t as trendy as a girls night out, and not as tame as a family dinner. This week, as we bask in the final days of spring we have moved our luncheon from the dining room to the chaise lounge for a Just Bring Wine poolside picnic.  Our menu:
Crudites with White Bean Dip and Sage Oil
Turkey, Spinach, Blue Cheese and Cranberry Wraps
Blackberry Shortbread Cookies
Beach bags filled with wine and sunblock and a menu of tasty poolside cuisine; when has Monday ever sounded so good?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ina... you get me in trouble every time!

The week was light, the weather was beautiful and it seemed time to head back to the kitchen.  I wanted to host my weekly party, and use up the groceries intended for the my unexpected no-show, so, a Thursday night Mexican fiesta was scheduled. 
After roasting two rock cornish hens with a diligent white wine basting, I began making the best chicken enchiladas my kitchen has ever seen.  I attribute the success to the rare step of faith made with the sauce: recipe deviation.  Yes, after a quick read of the instructions and 32 parties of experience, the enchilada sauce procedure reminded me of making gravy.  Keep in mind, I’m a home cook and not a chef so I can’t say if it technically is a gravy or not.  Rather than using chicken stock, I used the strained and skimmed pan drippings from my two hens.    Exhilarated, I whisked until the sauce had reduced and thickened and, after a few dashes of Tabasco sauce, my enchiladas were filled, rolled, sauced, and placed inside the fridge with great anticipation.  
A few hours later, guests arrived to a spotless kitchen and a poised blender.  Wanting to keep the integrity of the no repeat rule (which went to hell later that night) I threw together Ina’s Real Margaritas with an added twist: freshly squeezed orange juice and a few pinches of raw sugar.   The result?  For some, it was a smooth and dangerously delicious drink, for others it required another handful of sugar.  Soon, Little Brother compared these cocktails to the Broccoli Soup ordeal and opted for white wine leaving more margaritas for the rest of us which seemed like a great idea at the time.... not so much the following morning.  
On to the entree, the enchiladas were heavily praised.  With a glow of both pride and tequila, I munched through the laughter, stories, and deep discussions as guests ate plate after plate of my creation. I would love to continue with a description of dessert success, however, after my husband passed out some leftover mexican brownies that I had made the day before, nobody cared for ice cream.  Thus, I give you my first no-repeat infraction: with freshly made ice cream sitting in the freezer, spicy Mexican brownies were served and happily devoured... the same way they were at party #2.  
Around 1:00 the next morning with guests safely at home and dirty dishes littering the counters, I made my way to bed pleased with the evening on two levels:  after a plethora of formal events, this small and comfortable evening was a welcome reminder of why I began this blog 33 parties ago.  Add to that, I now have the courage to AWOL an enchilada sauce and that’s a damn good night. 
Cooking Notes:
Brownies: A dessert with chocolate and peanut butter usually makes guests swoon; however my homemade ice cream took a backseat.... more accurately, was left in the driveway.  These are easy, delicious, and it is possible that you already have the ingredients in your pantry. 
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 33
Weeks Before Deadline: 20
Bottles Consumed: 2 pitchers margaritas
Justified Purchases: none! 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Roll with the punches, tomorrow is a new day...

And if you are lucky, a new party!
What’s the hardest part of this blog?  Not the cooking, not the budgeting (although that has its moments), not even the dishes; without a doubt it’s the scheduling.  Throwing dinner parties amidst every day life is difficult as a host, and then you add the schedules of your guests.  People have bad days, they get sick, they get summoned to traffic court, and as I learned this week, they confuse travel destinations. 
Anticipating a family member’s visit, I planned to host a spring happy hour.  After this visit was rescheduled via transatlantic phone call, I canceled said party and decided to take the week to enjoy my husband, our new patio, and the peace and quiet of having the oldest child away at sleep-away camp.  However, then I learned that some great friends also had an open week and it seemed a better idea to share an evening on the patio with a family style dinner.  Our Menu:
Chips and Salsa with Fresh Guacamole
Emeril’s Cheesy Chicken Enchiladas
Homemade Chocolate and Peanut Butter Ice Cream
All this Mexican food makes me crave lime juice and tequila.... Ina, can you hear me? 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Culinary Pyromania

On a gorgeous Sunday a mere 36 hours form our on the fly party I trucked over to Food Intolerance’s house for a fabulous dinner party.  Luckily, prior to the Jaegar bombs on Friday we had completed the gumbo, and with risk of bragging, I have the gluten free roux down pat.  First try, minimal burns and I had the beautiful dark brown color poised and ready for gluten free goodness. Caramel and fresh egg sauces... Not so much. 
However thanks to Terry Thompson-Anderson’s Cajun Caesar Salad, the tide may be turning for one of those.  After whisking three egg yolks over warm water per the recipe instruction,  I was finally able to create a beautifully textured salad dressing rather than a runny mess.  I did have the help of several emulsifiers: mustard, mayonnaise, a little sour cream but a definite step in the right direction. As written in the recipe, cayenne toasts are addictive with their warm spices and slow burn.  I saw many guests opting for these on their own rather than dipping them in the dill dip.  The dill dip was good, but it was dip... How good can it really be?  
So, with the Masters decided and surprisingly little mention of Tiger Woods, we filled our plates and headed outside for some dining al fresco. 
Taste, taste, taste... When will I learn?  My gumbo had a gorgeous roux, and developed flavors however it desperately needed a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until it was in front of my diners.  It did receive compliments, but a gumbo that needs seasoning is a bit of a downer.  Luckily, an impressive dessert was on the menu.  
I thought lighting the coq au vin was exciting, however, compared to bananas fosters it was weak tea.  With sugar and cinnamon simmering sweetly, Food Intolerance and I added Grand Marnier and Rum and lit the pot ablaze. The result? A gorgeous blue flame that I swirled with extreme pride.  
After happy birthday was sung, and pictures snapped it was time to call it an evening.  A beautiful spring Sunday, a great meal among friends and family, and he made it to Home Depot before it closed...  I think our 60 year old was happy with his celebration.
Cooking Notes:
Raw egg sauce: while in New Jersey my mum and I took in Julie and Julia; my ears perked a bit when  Meryl Streep described making her ‘fool proof’ mayonnaise by adding heat... After my successful caesar dressing I’m not only ready to give this mayonnaise a go, but a re-do of my failed aioli from party #12.  
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 32
Weeks Before Deadline: 21
Bottles Consumed: 2.5
Justified Purchases: a birthday card.  However we must check for fire extinguishers

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Party #31 Complete, Party #32 Scheduled... One Hell of a Multi-Tasking Weekend

I blame Sterling Vineyard's  organic Sauvignon Blanc.
After a day of cooking/baking, Food Intolerance and I retired to the patio to enjoy some wine, foodie bits, and perhaps a laugh or two.  What began as our happy hour grew to involve neighbors, friends, and eventually my family arrived with overnight bags and last minute ingredients from our pantry.  I give you party #31.
As kids played kickball, and the neighbor passed out Jaegar bombs, my husband and I mixed meatloaf, whipped up some cookies, and peeled and boiled potatoes.  When the Very Tired Doctor arrived home to a blaring stereo and house filled with people, he fell right into place; applied bandages to scrapped knees and checked for broken toes.  Around 9:00 that evening with the buffet finally set, friends enjoyed the all American meat and potato meal.  After dinner came cigars, cookies, and more kickball as we snuggled under blankets and enjoyed a spring night outside.  A few hours later the party broke up and leftovers were safely packaged in the fridge.  As my family retired to various guest rooms, and Food Intolerance cleaned the kitchen, it donned on me; an otherwise normal Friday is a mere salad, meatloaf, and cookies away from fabulous. 
Cooking Notes:
Meatloaf: I went outside my scratch mentality this week and used the Williams Sonoma Meatloaf Starter.  I highly recommend it for throwing together great flavors in a hurry.  It will add a pricey component to your meal at $12.50 per bottle, but well worth the cost in both taste and time. 
Salad with herbs: Per Giada’s recommendation, I added fresh mint and basil to our salad; the result was a fresh new flavor paired wonderfully with basic lemon vinaigrette. 
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 31
Weeks Before Deadline 21
Bottles Consumed: 4
Justified Purchases: zero!

Now, why were Food Intolerance and I cooking on Friday?  Well, we were preparing for a ragin’ cajun dinner for her father.  With another birthday upon us, it seemed high time to gather the family over the heart warming flavors of gumbo and the excitement of bananas fosters.  Our Menu:
Cayenne Toasts
Paula’s Dill Dip
Cajun Caesar Salad
Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo
Bananas Fosters
Though I have learned to never say never with this blog, I don’t think there will be Jaegar bombs. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

And then you're on the fly.....

Some say that life is what happens when you're making plans.  I say life is what happens when you're cooking.  Luckily, everyone ends up in the kitchen and when you least expect it, you can have a party.  So with a family dinner for four planned, amidst development day for my favorite judge's birthday, a party for twelve has ensured.  Our menu:

Blue Diamond Gluten Free Crackers and Cheese
Bacon Covered Meatloaf 
 Fried Potato Cakes
Bibb Lettuce Salad with Fresh Vinaigrette
Homemade Cookies

My first year in college I had an English teacher named Dr. Fellows;  she is the reason I'm a writer.  Our first assignment in her class involved Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family..... tonight as I write, cook, and dig through my purse to find some makeup, I think of her and declare that meatloaf is what runs in the family.  Every family. 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The complications of marriage... sometimes it involves your chicken.

With a full guest list of family and friends who are like family, Easter dinner prep began Saturday night with lemons bars, ice cream and marinades.  Bright and not so early Sunday, (yes, I slept through Easter church) I poured some coffee and began marinading two huge chickens and baking tart crusts.  Although the Asparagus Gruyere Tart called for frozen puff pastry, one walk through the freezer section and a strong brush with my food snobbery later I decided to make my own out of homemade pizza crust.  It worked beautifully though perhaps it wasn’t a tart? 
I discussed with my husband the Tuscan Grilling method in excruciating detail...he then insisted that smoking the two 8-pound chickens prior to grilling was the only way to cook them properly.  As the neighbors were lured over to the gorgeous smell of slow smoking chicken I continued the cornbread baking and salad prep.  Salad prep was a bit more adventurous than usual. Tired of the mixed greens with tomatoes served with good seasonings dressings, I raided my fridge of every vegetable, combined champagne vinegar, a few palms of Emeril’s seasoning mix, and some olive oil and called it Spring Salad.  
A few hours later with the kitchen cleaned and food nearly ready, guests arrived bearing wine and questions as to the appropriateness of dressing in black on such a holiday.  Every party seems to have a star-- at party #30 it was the Asparagus Gruyere Tart.  Made on a fresh crust the size of a pizza stone, this appetizer was devoured piece by piece and described as an ‘asparagus pizza.’ Considering the ease of prep and the encouraging results, this recipe was safely filed in my midweek meal binder.  Moving on to the Vichyssoise.... It was a bit more festive than delicious and away from the Easter spirit does cold potato and carrot soup really sound like something you would enjoy? 
Time for chicken and salad. Aside from guests not wanting to place their salad directly on their dinner plate (I was trying to reduce the cleanup) the distinct taste of hickory combined with lemon and rosemary was pure heaven.  Add the cheddar cornbread made with fresh dill and we had an elegant dinner of pure comfort food on a Sunday afternoon... How often can you say that?  Dessert was also a success one platter of lemon bars and a quart of homemade vanilla ice cream later and I was glad to have given cupcakes a rest. 
And, in the midst of this wonderful food sat a group of people truly happy to spend an afternoon together.  I haven’t lived near my immediate family for nearly fifteen years.  I still cry at the end of a good visit, and phone and email them daily.  As someone familiar with the pain of loneliness, it is not without true gratitude that I acknowledge the people at my Easter table.  The Easter holiday celebrates the core of the Christian religion; of all the blessings God has bestowed on me, my family is the most cherished...sometimes its the family I was born into, and sometimes it’s the one that I made for myself. 
Cooking Notes:
Winner Winner? The chicken from Party #30 and party #28 were so different it feels unfair to compare them... If I had to pick a winner it would be party #28 chicken but only because smoky tastes are not my favorite....  
Asparagus Pizza: It is amazing how simple and delicious this recipe can be.  If you have not made your own pizza dough not only are you missing out on incredible flavor, but one created with ease.  My favorite recipe is from Williams-Sonoma easily completed with a KitchenAid mixer and dough hook.  Toast this at 400 degrees until golden.  Then, throw on some seasonal vegetables with salt and pepper and you have an easy dinner that comes with the joy of professing ‘I made it from scratch,’
Cornbread: seriously, have you made your cornbread yet? Here is yet another recipe, my girl Ina comes through as always.
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 30
Weeks Before Deadline: 22
Bottles Consumed: 5
Justified Purchases: All things Easter from Williams Sonoma (thanks mom!)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Showdown

Easter: childhood memories of mint green and white striped dresses, white flats, and a crowded church.  In my early years as an adult, Easter was not a holiday I much celebrated.  I would spend the afternoon at the movies, perhaps throw in a family dinner, but nothing big.  Enter my children.  The return of the pastels, church, and dyed eggs. This weekend, with the table set in all things pink and two dozen eggs gracing the centerpiece, friends and family will bring wine and egg salad recipes for an afternoon of food and celebration. Our menu:
Asparagus Gruyere Tart
Carrot Vichyssoise
Cheddar Cornbread with Dill (I have to use that dill from party #29)
Spring Salad
Tuscan Lemon Roasted Chicken
Lemon Bars with Homemade Ice Cream
After my New Jersey soiree, a dear friend sent me a copy of the Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.  After pouring over this book all week, I’ve learned that Ina’s brilliance lies in good product and simple ingredients cooked to perfection.  I have an experiment in mind: the chicken served at party #28 is my favorite meal.  The marinade consists of 3 different vinegars, bacon fat, olive oil, shallots, a seasoning blend and fresh lemon juice.  This week, the chicken marinade consists of lemon juice, rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper. I’m curious to taste the difference and label a favorite.  Bells and whistles or plain and simple?  A bit of an egg hunt on its own.   

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Luncheon de Triomphe

With the spring sun high in the sky, how could a luncheon go wrong?  Throw in severe lack of sleep, grid lock traffic, and yet another construction issue and it seemed possible.  Once again we pulled through.  The secret?  Early prep.   
I will back up to the day before the luncheon.  In a time crunch, Food Intolerance called in the services of the Whole Foods personal shopper; a service I highly recommend to those who want fresh foods on a tight schedule. With all the supplies safely packaged in my SUV, I headed to luncheon headquarters for an afternoon of prep, a glass or two of wine, and a fantastic lunch prepared by Food Intolerance herself. 
As I organized the work to be done, and my two year old ripped off pieces of an antique dresser, I lost whatever sense I had left and literally made the wrong bread.  Our Fresh bread with dill became buttermilk cheddar biscuits. Are those French?  On to the coq au vin.... time to cook with fire.  After simmering and chopping, searing and sautéing, it was time to add cognac and light.  With visions of the kitchen going up in flame I lit my pot of soup on fire and enjoyed the whoosh of heat and gorgeous blaze of gourmet cooking.  Must have the camera closer next time.   With the coq au vin simmering happily, the creme brulee was prepped and the day was called a success.  The following morning, Food Intolerance and I were a mere salad prep, scorched creme brulee top, and gentle reheat away from a beautiful lunch.  
Dressed in their luncheon best, each lady arrived toting wine or flowers looking every bit the part.  Gathered around the table we munched, reminisced and proposed a trip to Costa Rica.  This was what lunch was meant to be; an hour to stop the routine of your day and catch up with friends over good food. After one guest returned to work, and the others lounged in the living room with their feet up and heel cast aside, each felt like she had taken a little vacation.  No time for a girls trip this year?  Host a luncheon! The memories are great, the time is relaxing, and the jet lag is much more manageable.  
Cooking Notes:
Coq Au Vin: This was nothing short of amazing.  Ina Garten describes this recipe as beef stew with chicken.  Next time you are feeding a crowd this is your entree; fancy enough to serve company, rustic enough to keep everyone at ease. 
Biscuits: Plain heaven and easy to assemble with the KitchenAid mixer.  When was the last time enjoyed a homemade biscuit?  Add them to your Easter table. 
Wine: You will regret drinking a glass at lunch during a hot yoga class that afternoon. Namaste. 
The Party in Numbers:
Parties completed: 29
Weeks before deadline: 22 
Bottles consumed: 1
Justified Purchases: none! 

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I love Paris in the Springtime....

Quite honestly, there are few times I dislike Paris; the cafes, art, and the excuse to eat buttery pastries all day. Without a transatlantic trip on the calendar this spring, Food Intolerance and I decided to do the next best thing; a French luncheon.  This week, the ladies who lunch will tote bottles of wine and Parisian stories to share over classic French cuisine and conversation. Our menu:
Coq Au Vin
Fresh bread with Dill
Mixed Green Salad
Creme Brulee
I went to my girl Ina Garten for this menu which feels a bit like cheating.  Truth be known, I have yet to purchase a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I have faith that as usual, Ina will pull me through just fine!