Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's all Greek to Me!

Though I cook for my husband and two kids on a daily basis, events involving extended members are usually reserved for the big calendar dates.  I don’t recommend this structure as it puts enough pressure on the cook/host to remain on edge throughout the visit, and, often times breeds resentment for all those who sit.  I’ve heard.  As we celebrate the smaller summer events, the family decided to bring in its extended members for the closest thing to a wedding at the age of eleven. (well, closest thing that is legal and doesn’t lead to an Oprah episode.) Our oldest child is leaving for summer camp! While full of excitement and anticipation the overwhelming nerves seem better diffused among grandparents, cousins, and siblings. So, this weekend as we label clothing and pack pre-addressed stationary, our family will bring wine and well wishes for a big fat Greek BBQ.  Our menu: 
Tzatziki with Warm Pita Bread
Ultimate Greek Salad
Grilled Eggplant with Feta and Chili
Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint
Summer Berry Crostata
This Ultimate Greek Salad is not to be confused with the traditional Greek Salad I served in Party #27.  Besides having a better name, this salad also has a different dressing and is composed mainly of large chunks of cucumber, and tomatoes rather than Romaine lettuce.  How Greek is a summer crostata?  Summer berries at $.97 a pound cross all cultures. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bring out your good hair, it's club night!

Age doesn’t scare me. I didn’t have a breakdown at 30, nor did I go into a depression when I discovered my hairdresser mixing ‘gray out’ into my hair color, however one thing is for certain; this dancing queen no longer dances all night.   
Still a bit tired from Kathy Griffin night, prep for the luncheon did not begin until 7:30 am the day of.  With coffee in hand and a little top 40 on the radio, I began mixing and baking with a few prayers thrown in for good measure.  Luckily, Ina Garten never lets me down.  This menu was easily prepared, quickly plated, and made a wonderful presentation.... well, almost, but I’ll get to that.  As the ladies greeted each other, few went for wine at the noon hour, making the fresh lemonade the drink of choice.  
At the table, which was beautifully set by Food Intolerance, I began picking through my salad and discovered the most disgusting faux pas: one of my very own gray-out ‘dark chocolate’ dyed hairs mixed with the beautifully roasted chicken, fresh grapes, and fantastic tarragon dressing.   As I thanked God that I received the given plate, I began scouring other plates for similar culprits but just as my energy level ain’t what it used to be, my eyes aren’t either. Gladly moving on to dessert, the refreshing sorbet with berries and cream were placed in antique glasses and presented hair-free to our guests.  As we caught up on all things baby, weddings, and the like it seemed a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.  As our guests began to clear out to deal with real life, I secretly wondered if this would be the last Food Intolerance luncheon.  If so, best make it one to remember. 
I love to cook and I love this blog, however I’ve discovered I can love it even more when the day ends with champagne, foot massages, mini facials, spray tans, aroma therapy massage, hot rocks, and a polish change. Joined at Trellis with my ladies who lunch poolside, (party #34) we indulged in a quick makeup application and decided to keep the night rolling at the Houstonian Club Party.   Truth be known, I have not been to a club in quite a while, however at the Houstonian, it feels like yesterday; the music is the same, the curfew is the same, and the company is more likely to kick up their heels than keep up appearances.  So, with flats on my feet and fully relaxed shoulders, I partied the night away... well, until 10:30 at least. 
As I made my way home to a husband, two sleeping kiddos, and a leftover slice of homemade pizza, I called the party and evening a success.   Life may not have turned out exactly as I envisioned it the first time I danced to Prince 1999, but it’s fantastic in its own rite. 
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 43
Weeks Before Deadline: 12
Bottles consumed: 1 (we moved to gratis and a cash bar at location #2)
Justified Purchases: zero! 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When girl's night out is all grown up....

As I kick off the final ten parties of this project I reviewed the various venues:  playdates, mom’s group, luncheons, and of course the pre-party.  What would happen if we combined these venues for a medley?  This week, ladies who lunch will enjoy not only a luncheon, but a day at the pool followed by a spa open house and end the night appropriately with cocktails and dancing.  Who to turn to for this ode to girl power?  My girl Ina of course. Our menu:
Tomato and Goat Cheese Muffins
Chicken Salad over Bibb Lettuce
Raspberry Sorbet topped with Fresh Strawberries and Whipped Cream
Fresh Lemonade 
It’s sort of a girl’s vacation, only shorter and no security check points.  Well, we hope not anyway.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What is 50 years old in gay years?

The idea for this menu developed months ago when the leftover meatloaf from party #31 was made into ‘Wichcraft sandwiches for a family movie night.  As Sandra Bullock threatened a thug sitting on a lawn chair I was certain of two things: it was the best sandwich I ever ate and I, too, want to carry a 22 in my Gucci bag. 
Actual prep for this meal began the night before with the meatloaf and strawberry toppings.  This left only the appetizer prep, shortcakes, and sandwich components for the day of making it a very easy menu to complete amidst work and child yoga classes. As guests arrived around 7:30, peppers were presented and shown to be not so similar.  While some were quite mild, others were hot enough to inspire a dance and glasses of milk.  Luckily, those not interested in gambling with their taste buds had red bell peppers stuffed with the same chorizo and cheese filling; a last minute addition when I was left with a cup of filling and no more jalapenos. 
As cocktail hour went into full swing with the homemade chips prepared and devoured, I assembled the various components of the sandwich.  Mid meatloaf slice, I realized that I had planned and prepped just about everything... except the record command for the actual TV show.  Yes, at 8:40 I ran to the TV and went to plan B; a recording of the show’s second showing at 10:00.  
Thank God for talkative friends.  As people munched and continued not only heated discussions regarding segregation, but also updates on What Chili Wants, and dating practices of the hearing impaired, I kept a close eye on the clock and I whipped up some cream for dessert.   With dessert served, my guests continued to discuss until exactly 10:09.  Unfortunately for my girl Kathy, the fantastic wines and heated discussion made her fair game for a slew of comments regarding botox and foreheads.    I still love you Kathy! 
Around 1:00 the next morning when the house was empty, a fraction of the dishes were washed, and my abs sore from laughing I retired to bed with a sense of pride.  We are down to ten my friends. 
Cooking Notes:
Bell Peppers/Jalapenos: Adding bell peppers to the jalapenos platter was a last minute decision, and ultimately a good one.  Next time you are throwing a BBQ I recommend the veggie mix.  
Strawberry Shortcake: This was a fantastic dessert.  Light enough to be served after a heavy meal, and sweet enough to satisfy the palate.  Summer berries come through once more with Paula Deen’s recipe

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 42
Weeks Before Deadline: 11.5
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 4
Justified Purchases: Williams Sonoma Meatloaf Starter 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Where my gays at?"

Perhaps it’s time I stop claiming to be a limited TV watcher and begin seeking Bravo rehab. Between the Housewives and Mr. Colicchio, my only gripe with the network is the exit of Tim Gunn; life is not without disappointment. In the midst of all of this love stands my true comedic heroine, Kathy Griffin. So, with my girl’s return to the small screen, I thought best give recognition in the most appropriate manner; dinner with the gays. This week my gays and gay friendly's will bring wine and wit in anticipation of an evening full of laughter and D-List cuisine. Our menu:
Smoked Gouda and Chorizo Stuffed Jalapenos

Homemade Potato Chips

Colicchio’s Meatloaf Sandwich

Individual Strawberry Shortcakes
For the record, I’ll admit that the parties have been a little too ‘sandwich centered’ the past few weeks but I needed something easily eaten in front of the TV and sausage and peppers just seemed inappropriate.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Passing the Baton

Party #40 and #41 were interesting events.... cloth napkins were replaced with helium balloons, wine glasses were replaced with cream sodas, and the bulk of the guests were too young rather than too impaired to drive. 
Prep for this party began late in the afternoon with the vegetable fritto.  For the record, I usually offer a Food Inc.-like monologue when someone recommends fried vegetables for ‘kids who won’t eat anything healthy.’  However, as I served a platter piled high with green beans and broccoli next to a bowl of potato chips, I watched with indescribable pride as the vegetables were devoured, and the chips ignored.... Does it really matter that they were battered and fried? 
Soon, our veggie lovers were presented with fresh pizza dough and a variety of toppings for their choosing.  While their mini masterpieces warmed in the oven, I prepared one for the adults and found a new love: Delallo’s Hot Pepper Garlic Pasta Sauce.  With its intense heat, this was a delicious addition to our gourmet option and an instant pantry staple. With pizzas finished, and the slip and slide running, I turned to our dessert; the ever so lovely donut cake.  With a Ghiradelli chocolate glaze, this cake was cute enough to please an eleven year old, and delicious enough to be eaten in its entirety.  Add to this, the recipe on the box is embarrassingly easy and you have pantry staple #2. 
With the cake cut, presents opened, and dishes washed it was time to call it a night.  Brunch prep was a mere seven hours away.  
With my coffee in hand, and an apron over my PJ’s, I threw together the scones, muffins and virgin mary drinks, changed clothes, and had a half-set table before our first guest arrived.   While the frittata finished in the oven, little guests congregated in the dining room for a formal meal while the adults stood round the breakfast bar comparing calendars and scheduling play dates over baked goods and coffee. I’m not sure which brunch dish was the star, however I am certain that two dozen scones and muffins, as well as a squash and cheese frittata went into the dining room, and three lone muffins were the only thing that came back. I will venture a guess and say our breakfast as a whole was well-appreciated.  
There is a time in every party when I either admit that I’ve done well, or convince myself that a poor party will make for a good post.  As I looked out my kitchen window Friday night and saw my oldest child sitting at the head of the table, sharing a meal with her friends while she laughed and cheered with a glass of Sprite, I called the night, and this entire project, a success. Not only have my husband and I enjoyed countless evenings around the table with our friends, we have apparently taught our children to do the same.   
Cooking Notes:
Fritto Misto:  Extra vegetables in the fridge? Prepare an egg wash, some seasoned flour and fry ‘em up!  You will have an appetizer for the entire family, or an indulgent side dish.  
Donut Cake Pan: This pan was $20 at Williams Sonoma; how much are you paying for those horrible grocery store cakes?  
Virgin Mary’s: If you have never made Bloody Mary Mix from scratch, you are missing out; the taste is incomparable to the bottled variety.  However, the eleven year old palates were not impressed.  The entire pitcher is still sitting in the fridge.  
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 41
Weeks Before Deadline: 12
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 1 (adults only!)
Justified Purchases: donut cake pan, 2 litter bottle of Sprite

Friday, June 11, 2010

Just Bring Whine?

 I always hoped this blog would inspire people to come together and break bread, however nothing surprised me more than my moody preteen’s request for a ‘cooking birthday party.’  It seems that the years of Chuck E Cheese pizza and cakes from the corner bakery have come to past, and it’s now time to prepare fresh pizza dough balls before a sea of tweens invade the kitchen for a pizza making party.  Not one to waste a day in the kitchen, a few parents have agreed to meet my husband and I on the patio for a gourmet version of the meal and perhaps an adult beverage. Our menu:
Vegetable Fritto Misto with Lemon Mayonnaise
Quatttro Stagioni Pizza
Giant Donut Cake ( with eleven candles) 
I like to end a sleep over on a good note, and therefore always serve a large breakfast.  This year, I decided to go one step further and offer a brunch with dishes for those who want to leisurely munch, and portable goodies for the grab and go parents.  Our menu: 
Cinnamon Chip Scones
Chocolate Chip Muffins
Frittata with Summer Squash
Virgin Mary’s
Virgin Mary’s in place of mimosas? Though confident that tonight’s drama will not rise above Team Edward vs. Team Jacob, I’m also realistic.  After an evening spent with preteens, we will certainly need a cocktail or religion. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It's amazing what a little grill can do

As I prepped for our family BBQ, the kitchen was filled with a calm energy.  The appetizer was complete before I finished my second cup of coffee, the potato salad came together beautifully, even the ranch-like dressing was a success.  Calico beans simmered quietly in the oven, and after I determined that one cobbler was insufficient, I threw together a mixed berry cobbler sans recipe and, more important, sans stress.  How did I remain calm through this marathon of cooking?  Outsourcing.  I love to cook, but outdoor grilling is strictly reserved for the husband.  With hamburgers on our menu, I had successfully delegated the entree.  How’s that for a holiday? 
Hours later guests arrived with bottles of wine and three year olds, and munched on caramelized onion dip as we caught up on events from the past six months. It was amazing how much better this onion dip was compared to the sweet onion dip from party #18.  I think the secret lies is two techniques; not cutting the onions too small as they will become bitter, and keeping the temperature consistent to fully enable the caramelization.  This dip had a smooth and creamy texture and none of the B.O.-like onion pungency.  
Nearly an hour into our cocktail time, as the three year olds took to outdoor artistic creations, we greeted more friends and attempted to continue the relaxed atmosphere; this was temporarily interrupted by a bottle of acrylic paint.  Yes, our well-dressed artists found the one bottle of oil based paint and sent moms flying to the sink, clothes to the washer, and dads to the garden hose as we attempted to remove the new art work.  The good news is that all outfits were saved with a little spray and wash.  The back porch, well, I think of the new colors as a sentimental piece. 
Regardless of my diligent prep, cocktail hour still ran a bit too long.  The time lag gave the group just enough time to justify a red wine run, and the children enough time to demand McDonalds.  Much to my horror, the children were served Mcnuggets and french fries.  But, I had to admit, they did look happy munching on their partially hydrogenated oils under the umbrella of their little tike picnic table.  
As the little ones finished their treats, and the adults finally settled in for their own meal, there was something in the summer air besides a biblical amount of flies.  One by one this summer spirit encouraged our slip and slide beauties to remove their bathing suits and take in the evening events in the buff. With four naked bottoms roaming the backyard, guests enjoyed the party’s star cobbler and, as the Memorial Day sun began to set, decided to re-clothe their children and call it a night.  
As my husband and I surveyed the disastrous backyard, and the dish-littered kitchen we not only declared the party a success, but one of our all time favorites. The family-friendly aspect of this afternoon BBQ was more than a party theme, but a celebration of life’s new season.  Just like the seasons before, this one has its beauty and its burdens.  
Cooking Notes:
Berry Cobbler: These are so easy, and with the reasonable price of summer berries, ending dinner with anything but seems borderline extravagant.  The recipe I emulated was from the food network:
Potato Salad: Tired of the mayonnaise and egg combo?  This dish was popular and oh so fresh.  The vermouth added to the boiling water gives the potatoes an unbelievable flavor.  Add it to your next BBQ; it’s a garden salad and potato salad all in one.
The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 39
Weeks before Deadline: 14
Bottles Consumed: 7
Justified Purchases: Zero!  We were even able to get another use out of a slip and slide from 3 years ago.