Friday, May 28, 2010

When was your summer?

The summer of 1994.... That was my summer. 
I had a driver’s license, my parent’s convertible, and a boyfriend I was sure I’d marry.  Of course, September arrived; the boy fell in love with my best friend, and the convertible was replaced by a more sensible car.  However, when I think of summer personified, I conjure up memories from those long afternoons at the lake when my biggest concern involved sunburned shoulders or mosquito bitten feet.  
Sixteen years later, I still love summer.   Armed with my picnic basket and sunscreen, I indulge my nostalgia at the pool with my two kids.  As I watch them run around with friends and exhaust themselves on chlorine and UV rays I, too, hope these fantasy days of sunshine and BBQ never end.  So, on the don of another summer I thought best kick off the season properly with a good old family BBQ.  This week dear friends will tote their kids and a few bottles of wine for a day of food, laughter, and slip and slide.  Our menu:
Caramelized Onion Dip
Michael’s Famous Burgers 
Cynthia’s Calico Beans 
Spring Potato Salad
Blueberry Cobbler 
These are the good new days y’all.... I may even sing sweet home Alabama all summer long.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Makes a Party?

On September 3, 2009 I decided to host 52 parties before September 6th 2010. The parameters were simple: guests, new recipes, and wine. Last Saturday we had guests, I used all new recipes, and we certainly had some wine. Did we have a dinner party? It’s hard to say.
Prep began late Saturday morning once it was decided that our quiet evening at home would actually be a party night. In search of a dessert, I went to my pantry… . all of the ingredients for oatmeal cookies present. After whipping up a fresh batch and filling the house with a divine aroma, I moved on to the most time intensive element of the meal: homemade BBQ sauce. It’s ridiculous how easy this is, and unbelievable how fantastic it tastes. (See cooking notes for recipe)

After throwing a workout into the mix, I prepared our popcorn appetizer and constructed our sandwiches. The first guest arrived and munched on popcorn as I dipped and flipped sandwiches and put finishing touches on the chowder. After a text warned of late arrivals, I decided to serve my first three diners and hold off on completing meals for those yet to arrive. Unintentionally, I had turned my kitchen into a dinner party diner. As guests staggered in I prepared their plate, they would sit at the breakfast bar, as I continued to prep for the next arrival. Where were the earlier diners in the midst of this chaos? They retired to the family room or upstairs television with plates of cookies. With the final guest fed, and a consensus reached on which movie to watch, one guest decided his current break up was too much to endure and headed home with Beyonce blaring from his convertible. This gave my other two guests just enough time to consider their own drive home and call it a night.

With the house empty, I assessed the disaster of my kitchen and asked my husband an important question… ‘was this a party?’ Technically yes; guests, new menu, wine, and conversation, if disjointed. However, even I’ll admit I was riding the line. It seems that a party is more than food and bodies.
Cooking Notes:
BBQ Sauce: if you plan to BBQ this summer, I highly recommend moving beyond the plastic bottle sauce and throwing a batch of your own together. I like the Neely's recipe:

Oatmeal Cookies: basic and delicious, this was a great way to end our meal. Make some this weekend; you most likely already have all the ingredients you need and your family will love you all the more.

Parties Completed: 38
Weeks Before Deadline: 15
Bottles of Wine consumed: 2
Justified Purchases: zero!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Rainy Saturday

There are few things I find less inspiring than a rainy day.  Where the sunny weekend inspires yard work and family days at the pool, the rainy day suggests little more than the bare minimum.  After what felt like a marathon of parties, this weekend was slated as a wonderful break in the action.  However, when a few friends suggested an evening of movies and wine I could not help but throw in dinner.  After all, we still have to eat!  Our Menu:
Cracked Pepper Spiced Popcorn
Memphis Monte Cristo
Spicy Corn Chowder
Oatmeal Cookies
In high school ‘lets watch a movie’ was code for ‘lets make out.’ Tonight, I’ll be sharing the couch with my kids and my hairdresser. It appears that, with age, some things do change entirely.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Please shut up Patty Lupone!

Cinco de Mayo: A night of food, pajamas, and laughing until you cry.  
Prep began early Wednesday morning with empanada dough and chocolate cookies.  Determined to overcome my foul mood, I sipped coffee, made last minute trips to the store, grated cheeses, and chopped onions.  As the air filled with the smell of baked chocolate, and slow roasting pork, a familiar spirit met with a more relaxed attitude and I decided that I was going to have a great party. 
The empanadas were a bit more labor intensive than I had hoped, but once constructed, looked fantastic. I was excited to gather guests opinions, and to try them myself for that matter.  A few hours later I heated the deep fryer as pajama clad friends arrived and traded bottles of wine (or in one case grape flavored vodka) for a plate of hot appetizers. As we munched and talked, the empanadas appeared to be a hit.  When our final guest arrived dressed in PJ’s and carrying a teddy bear, it seemed time to move on to the entree.  
I either need a bigger breakfast bar or more compliant friends.  Despite my requests and mere begs to take plates into the family room where all could lounge comfortably, friends insisted on grabbing a stool or standing at the bar.  The pulled pork tacos were a bit over powered with the flavor of cinnamon for my taste, however guests seemed to enjoy them; all but one who insisted it was not the cinnamon but the cumin.  Few returned for seconds, however they assured me that it was not due to inferior tacos but an over consumption of appetizers. 
After clearing the dinner plates, I presented a large bowl of cookies and vanilla ice cream which allowed the meal to continue in a casual and relaxed manner.  Perhaps it was the cayenne pepper, but the evening sillies seemed to increase during the dessert course and involved everything from the differences between black and BAlack, to gender reassignment surgery.  It was not long before the subtle giggles of cocktail hour broke way to the exhaustive laughter that takes ones breath away.   
The late hours approached, and guests decided to make use of their PJ’s and head home to their respected beds. However, these goodbyes took cue from the evening events; walking down the porch steps, one guest declared his preference to sleeping nude, one yelled ‘a delicious meal, just too much cumin!’ and finally, one guest performed the thriller routine on the sidewalk.  
Is the burnout cured?
The original Taco Tuesday was my fifth party; the blog was new and the end seemed a lifetime away.  As I reached party #25, 32, and had the disappointment of #36 my focus turned more to the project’s end than its completion. I began to think about, and, get more excited for future projects seeing the remaining parties as mere obstacles. The truth is, I am finally forced to finish something. Unlike the two novels I started, worked on for a year and abandoned. For the first time, I am accountable for completing my own venture.  I’m in unknown waters....luckily I have some great friends who are not only willing to share the ride, but always offer a glass of wine. 
Cooking Notes:
Empanadas: These were fantastic, and though labor intensive, not fundamentally difficult.  The next time you have friends over for Mexican, I encourage you to whip up a batch. Pair them with a more easy project like enchiladas. 

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 37
Weeks Before Deadline: 17
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 3
Justified Purchases: zero!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Taco Nostalgia

If you haven’t noticed, I am a sucker for nostalgia.  I love photo albums, Will and Grace reruns and the comfortable recreations of dinners from the past.  After my pity party from Party #36 I decided to rejuvenate my Just Bring Wine spirit with some party nostalgia. 
Tacos Tuesday..... my fifth party and the first time I had to deal with no shows.  Of course, we went on operation guest list and ended up with a house full of people dressed in their pajamas.  The energy from that evening was nothing short of amazing.  So, as I dangle near burnout, I decided to bring back Taco Tuesday with a Cinco de Mayo flair.  Original Taco Tuesday guests with a few additions will bring wine and don their jammies for a night of Mexican food and reminiscing.  Our Menu:
Chicken Empanadas
Spinach and Mushroom Quesadillas
Pulled Pork Tacos
Turkey Tacos
Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies with Vanilla Ice Cream
I had to move past the usual chips and salsa... they’re wearing pajamas!

Monday, May 3, 2010


I certainly did not share the good fortune of Houston’s high bid winner this Saturday.  
Prep for our Race for the Roses party began Friday evening with the lemon lime cheesecake and continued through Saturday afternoon with the remaining dishes.  Around 4:00 Food Intolerance and I stood with large hats amidst 100% complete prep feeling destined for a fantastic party.  
As we watched the ladies of Kentucky pick their steps across the muddy horse track, time ticked on and no guests had arrived.  Thankfully, knocks at the door were not far away as dear friends arrived dressed to the nines with wine in hand. We munched on our mango salsa for nearly an hour before the horrid truth set in; for the first time in 36 parties we had a poor turn out.  The party prepared for twelve ended up feeding six.  So, with a few burgoo burgers thrown into the freezer, the remainder were thrown on the grill, our plates fixed, and we were back to the family room to take in the days race.  
The food....  
Although our guests insisted they were enjoying their meal, I found my burger under seasoned and dry, my succotash overwhelmed by the taste of vinegar, and really how much black eyed pea and mango salsa can one person eat?  My dear friends, they insisted that the meal was flavorful however I’m determined that they either have poor palates or are extremely kind.  The later being much more likely. 
Luckily, there was a redeeming quality to this party; the lemon lime cheesecake was nothing short of perfection.  The acidic citrus flavors worked with the tang of cream cheese to create our one winner of the afternoon. Add to that the gluten free crust and the day was not without success. 
Around 8:00 that evening with the leftovers packaged and the hat placed back in its box, I was filled with disappointment.  My trifecta of exhaustion, poor turn out and bad food has pushed me dangerously close to the one thing I feared: burnout. 
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 36
Weeks Before Deadline: 18
Bottles Consumed: 2
Justified Purchases: zero! 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Race for the Roses

My knowledge of horses does not span much farther than their beauty and loving my mother’s barn friends. Now big hats, traditional cuisine, and a ready-made party theme? That, I know quite well.  So, with the Kentucky Derby this weekend, Food Intolerance and I are going to join forces and celebrate fashion, food, and the race for the roses.  Our menu: 

Mango and Black Eyed Pea Salsa with Corn Chips
Burgoo Burgers and Southern Succotash 
Lemon Lime Cheesecake
Dressed to the nines for a backyard BBQ?  If that isn’t Texas I don’t know what is. 

The Language of Food

Party #35 was a unique monster; it was a mere 24 hours after the poolside luncheon, the menu changed the day of the party, and it fed my mother. Truth be known, the day after a party I usually try to enjoy a cup of coffee and bowl of oatmeal before diving into the day.  As I attempted this ritual, the thought dawned; I had another party that very night; time for coffee in a go cup and a muffin eaten in the car.  One draft of party #35’s menu included eggplant and scallop gratins, however without time to shop for gratin dishes, I was sent back to menu development as time ticked away.  Our main course was selected form Nigella’s Bites cookbook due to its easy marinade and promised results.  The rest of the meal’s components were small dishes I had set aside for the mom dinner.  Time to execute: I completed the lemon juice and grape seed oil marinade and headed to Whole Foods. I usually think of Whole Foods as an oasis of great food and healthy intentions. Not this week.  Their fall from grace was courtesy of the deli guy.  After I explained thoroughly my need for thicker cut prosciutto, the deli nazi continued to argue with me and finally declared that he would not cut sample slices due to the price of this meat selection.  Where is Chester Meat Market when you need it?  
A few hours later, all of my food was prepped, the table was set, and my husband promised to grill the chicken to perfection... I really believe that had we not run out of propane he would have delivered on that promise. 
When our guest of honor arrived, she took one look at the dining room and expressed 
gratitude and appreciation.  Once seated with a glass of pinot grigio and a sample of the herb garlic bread, mom appeased the grandkids and took in the relaxation of a night at home.  Once the propane issue was discovered, the chicken was moved into the oven.  One look at my mother’s weary eyes, and my children’s tired-ridden emotions we decided to experience our dinner in courses.  We began with herbed garlic bread and salad, moved on to the pasta dish, and finished with some lovely spotch-oven roasted chicken.  The meal was nothing short of fantastic with special note to the creamy pasta. This was a beautiful and rich dish that worked very well as a first course. 
The star of party #35?  Without a doubt, the French apple tart.  With a crisp crust and the fresh flavors of apples combined with the apricot and rum glaze, this dessert had the rustic charm and soul comforting flavors to end a family dinner with style.  
With dinner complete, it was time to move on to the regular weeknight routines of bedtimes, stories, and baths.  Mom thanked us profusely and offered a family dinner out to following evening.  Our response?  Come on back over, we make great enchiladas. 

Cooking Notes:
Spatchcocked: I can’t wait to try this recipe again with a full tank of propane.  The mere hint of grill marks offered a wonderful insight to what the real thing would be.  
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 35
Weeks Before Deadline: 18
Bottles Consumed: 1
Justified Purchases: zero!