Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homey and Thrifty!

It seems that when one thing improves, another falls off; party #47 had a perfectly executed timetable.  The post for party #47 is a more than tardy.  I have no excuses worth discussing.

Over a week ago, prep for this meal began the morning of, and caused quite a stir between me and the husband. I had apparently mentioned the possibility of biscuits with the meal.  The final draft of the menu included hearth breads.  For most, this is acceptable, however for a husband expecting biscuits on a Sunday not so much.  Many hours and a few passive aggressive comments later, we had hearth breads and a table of happy diners.

Back to the prep; with completed breads, pie, and a beautifully set table I began to prep my chickens.  Thanks to my summer farm share, I had two farm fresh chickens delivered for our dinner.  There is a lot of truth to Food Inc. Once placed in the roasting pan, my chickens looked more like cornish game hens.  Luckily an additional organic free range chicken was a mere five minutes away.  When I first began this blog, I waited for my guests to arrive before beginning the main course.  (remember the disastrous party #12)? In the wise words of Amy Sedaris, "Nobody wants to see a raw bird go into the oven." I began roasting the chicken an hour and a half before my guests arrived.  When they finally did, guests were met by the wonderful smell of roasted chicken, and a bread board of apples, hearth breads, and borsin cheese.  As we enjoyed a glass of wine and a few appetizers, the husband grilled corn while I prepared the meal's pride and joy: gravy.

A mere forty minutes into cocktail hour, we met round the dinner table ready to dig into the rustic and homey meal.  All seemed perfect with the exception of the roasted potatoes.  How is it that a 4 pound chicken can bake in 2 hours but a potato sliced in half is still hard in the middle? After pushing all potatoes to the side, I enjoyed the fantastic chicken made even better by the star gravy.  Once our Star-Singing guest confessed the desire to bath in the gravy boat, I called the meal a success.

Moving on to peach pie, the second star of the evening as never has a baked good been more appreciated. As one guest swore to the difference made in my homemade crust, another confessed its superiority to her grandma's.  It was a proud moment.  About an hour later, as conversation slowed and one husband completed the dishes as another napped on the couch, it seemed time to call it a night.  As plans for future dinner dates were set,  the last piece of pie was packaged to-go and placed in a bag with recently canned vegetables.  What a wonderful way to spend an evening, and an even better way to begin the week.

Cooking Notes:
Pie Crust: I used Tyler Florence's Basic Pie Crust for this creation.  The fresh lemon zest added a citrus flavor that balanced the sweet peach filling perfectly.  I highly recommend it for your summer fruit pies.
Gravy: I usually reserve gravy making for the holidays however the next time you need a little comfort food, I recommend a roasted chicken and gravy.  If that doesn't lift your spirits, have another glass of wine.
Leftovers: Monday afternoon, faced with a rainy day, the leftover chicken and roasted vegetables were the makings of an unbelievable chicken pot pie.  Add to that the four quarts of chicken stock made from the roasted bones and you have the meal that keeps on giving.

The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 47
Weeks Before Deadline: 6
Bottles Consumed: 3
Justified Purchases: zero! 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Where there is Church...

About two years ago my family added the tradition of Sunday dinner to our weekly agenda.  Served more as a late lunch,  this meal is prepped immediately after church in an effort to bring us round the dinner table before anxiety from the upcoming week settles.   Michael and I quickly learned that when you begin the week with an inspirational sermon, a great meal and a slight wine buzz, life seems limitless.  This week, dear friends will join our tradition by bringing over both wine and family members for some fresh comfort food and much needed catch up.  Our menu:

Hearth Breads with Roasted Garlic and Micro Green Pesto
Perfect Roasted Chicken
Roasted Potatoes and Carrots
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Peach Pie and Vanilla Ice Cream

Why the Perfect Roast Chicken?  I came across the recipe in a Barefoot Contessa cookbook and immediately reminisced the Perfect Roast Turkey from party #11.  (A party that now seems a lifetime away.)  Realizing that this may be the last roasted chicken of Just Bring Wine, I thought best go out with a bang!  

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Poker Night Initiation

When I posted the menu for Party #47 I knew some would scoff as I was once again preparing a meal of sandwiches.  Determined to make the most of this menu, I channeled my inner Barefoot Contessa and arose bright and early to bake fresh honey white bread.  With a beautiful bread rising in a pan, and the sweet smell of homemade cake filling the air, I thought this was going to be a fantastic and low maintenance day.  Enter the outside world.  

Since I do have a life outside this blog, errands often emerge at the most inopportune times.  It began with a trip to the Target pharmacy when a most unhappy woman answered all questions with 'how should I know.'  I felt the need to inquire as to whether or not pharmacy technician was an appropriate career goal.  Moving on to the grocery store.  With just a few ingredients in the cart the kids and I moved from one excruciating line to another before we were privy to the 'systems down' situation.  Yes, the grocery store could not check out customers.  Once this issue was resolved, I had the luck of being behind a customer demanding 10% discounts and a Manager insisting that unless CenterPoint energy was offering such discount it was not possible.  Enter a long sermon on the corrosion of customer service in today's retail establishments.  Once this ended, I had a sermon of my own on how visa logo cards were in fact credit cards.

One hour later I was home with my groceries and embarking on dip and frosting creations.  A bit later, the birthday boy arrived home from class to request a new addition to the evening's menu: the panini press.  Yes, it was his party and he would demand a pressed sandwich despite my insistence that avocado did not sound appetizing once heated on a press.  He concluded that avocado was high in cholesterol and therefore not necessary.  With the dips prepared and chilled, the chips bowled and the new battery-operated card shuffler wonderfully tested, I iced an ugly but love filled cake and primped just enough for a poker night.

Our first guest arrived with a large case of beer and his own coozie; wine deemed inappropriate for a poker night.  However as they continued to arrive we went up market with lovely bottles of wine, including an 11 year old cab which was promptly hidden behind the bar.  The men partook in chips and dip and I  awarded Ina the winner of the Martha Ina onion dip showdown but was there ever a doubt?
With the men finding their poker groove and Padma graciously keeping me company in the kitchen, I checked on our main sandwich components: chicken breasts and bacon.  It is quite scary how easy it is to cook a pound of bacon when you separate it on a sheet pan.  No splatters, no burns, just perfectly crisp bacon finished at the exact same time.  Sandwich construction was a bit more involved than I had anticipated.  The addition of the panini press unknowingly made me the starbucks of sandwich creation.  With orders like 'non-pressed avocado' or 'chicken breast pressed with avocado on the side' Padma and I discussed all things important and soon delivered sandwiches to the boys who, as it turned out, weren't exactly clear on how to play poker.

After devouring my own BLT, I made up for a lack of matches by lighting a piece of spaghetti on the gas stove and brought fire to the wax 3 and 9.   We sang, we offered well wishes, we cut the cake, and some became sorority sisters by requesting kailua and milk.   About an hour later the group slowly lost their steam and began to say goodbye.  And though they don't agree on the perfect sandwich, or the appropriateness of wine and cards, it seemed that a monthly poker group was on the horizon.  As my husband confessed a scotch buzz, and an exhausted mind he retired to bed but not before he thanked me for what was ultimately a great guy's birthday.  Who knew these could happen at home?

Cooking Notes:
Pan Fried Onion Dip: This was amazing, although I don't recommend eating large amounts the evening before a work event.  You will have onion breath I don't care what the sonicare promises.
Nigellas's Cake Icing: This cake icing was fantastic in its presentation as it dried smooth and beautifully.  I'll try and figure out why and repost!
Honey White Bread: The next time you are faced with a rainy day, make a loaf of bread.  However I must warn you on two things: 1) you will not achieve the thick crust of bakery bread with a home oven, and 2) there is no Joy in the bread recipes published in Joy of Cooking.  I recommend Nigella's brown bread for everyday, or Ina's Honey White for an evening when the wonderbread of our childhood is calling.

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 46
Weeks Before Deadline: 7
Bottles of Wine Consumed: 2.5
Justified Purchases: Poker Set and Card Shuffler

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who's in for a birthday?

Nine years ago I met a wonderful man who was mere weeks away from his 30th birthday...  he was fun, well dressed, and accepted my promise to never cook. Fast forward nearly a decade, we’re married, raising a family, and host weekly dinner parties. 
So what do you give an overly booked student on his monumental 39th birthday?  Vegas on a budget!  For years Michael has talked about having a manly poker group; his dreams of meeting up with friends for an evening of cards and food.  The fact that the kids and I were never included in this fantasy is pure coincidence I’m sure. So, this week as we celebrate the end of his thirties, I have arranged for some hunks of masculine flesh to arrive with wine and dollars for a Royal Flush of an evening. Our menu:
Chipotle Pepper Dip
Pan Fried Onion Dip*
California Bacon, Avocado, and Tomato Sandwiches
Buttermilk Birthday Cake
Where am I during this evening of male bonding?  Luckily, Padma is joining Frankie Funtimes and will keep me company, which presents an interesting point: what do a Muslim and a pregnant woman have in common? Dietary restrictions.  While I’m not completely clear on either, I have thrown some chicken breasts into the fridge for last minute substitutions.
*This pan fried onion dip is not to be confused with the caramelized onion dip served at Party #39: we have an onion dip showdown between Martha Stewart and Ina Garten.  Care to make a wager? 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Keeping starving artists in need of a meal...

It seems that both art and food can bring people together.  However, bringing them together is one task; keeping them fed is quite another.

Prep for this party began with a party of its own the evening prior. Determined to be as home-cook certified as possible, canning fresh tomatoes was on my must-do list this summer. When Van at Wood Duck Farm offered 25 count boxes, I signed up for two... expecting 50 tomatoes to arrive bursting with summer flavors.  Well, the summer flavor I got...  but I got 50 pounds of it.  Yes, in pouring-down rain I carted two 25 pound boxes of tomatoes into the house and decided to start a home canning project a mere 24 hours before people were scheduled to arrive at my home for an evening of food and art. Luckily, mid-peel, core, seed, and can, The Level Headed One suggested an impromptu visit; add Michele hanging his art work, some left over Provincial soup, and the willingness to drink wine at a breakfast bar covered in tomatoes and we had one hell of a party!  Hours later, with 6 quarts of tomatoes canned and gazpacho added to the next day's menu,  I completed step one of the brioche and made my way to bed.  The next morning, after placing the remaining 23 pounds of tomatoes in a 'cool dark place' to await canning,  I was ready to throw down some great food in my art gallery-like home.  After completing the brioche, I decided that it was a success; how can bread composed of 6 eggs and a half pound of butter be anything but fabulous?
On to the gazpacho, which was courtesy of my girl Ina.  The final product was fantastic (see notes) however the recipe made an unbelievably huge pot. If you decide to attempt this recipe, I recommend doing it for a crowd; like an army or prisoners.

After wrapping half a cantaloupe in prosciutto, my husband braved a taste and promptly spit it into his hand; it seems that our Texas rains produced a less than sweet cantaloupe which was delicious on its own but when paired with the salty prosciutto not so much. So, with the prosciutto thrown into a ziplock and the naked cantaloupe quickly plated, I decided to make the peach cobbler... it seems that liquor trumps butter. Yes, after two summers of preparing Paula Deen's Peach Cobbler, I opted for the Neely's recipe which called for far less butter, but a fourth cup of Amaretto. The result was a sticky and gooey casserole full of divine sweetness.  
A few hours later as the guests tricked in, it seemed a night of entrances; not only did Ava and Poe offer wine, but they also brought a present for yours truly. They were quickly followed by Little Brother who arrived with a confession: "I'm late, I'm underdressed, I didn't bring wine, I'm a hot mess!" Guests mingled and spurred conversation over the various appetizers and large supper salad as they took in the fantastic art,  smoked e- cigarettes,  and sipped glasses of instantly aerated wines courtesy of our Vinturi.  The evening was a bit like an art gallery meets the Jetsons. And, luckily, the group of new and old friends was cohesive enough to withstand the confusion when one guest pointed to his plate and said "this tastes like happy," and I unfortunately heard "this tastes like cat meat," as well as Ava's declaration that members of the Independent Party were "Republicans who won't commit."  Through all of this, we stood together as a happy group... until around 9:30 when I served the Peach Cobbler and The Level Headed One's husband wondered if he had missed the meal. The buffet was devoured and people were sneaking pickles from a jar.  It seems that I did great on the group, the art, and the wine;  I just didn't feed people enough food.  I can't blame the Hungry Man for his comment,  every time I try a vegetarian meal I'm starving an hour later.  And don't even get me started on the vegan meals because they always lead to a late night cheese orgy.  Around 11:30 that evening, after the slew of group photos finished, the house began to empty and my husband returned home with our pizza I muttered the five words I have grown to love: 'that was a great party.'

Cooking Notes:
Brioche:  Forget dinner rolls at your next holiday meal.  These are fantastic, and the time-consuming aspect merely involves letting them rise.  I spread ours with brie or borsin cheese, however they were equally good with butter and jam.
Gazpacho: This dish was complimented over and over; I think its success was a product of the farm fresh produce, and procedure: Ina recommends pulsing each component in the food processor separately before mixing them all together.  The soup had great texture, however I don't recommend serving it as a shooter.  
Where's the beef?  I'm open for suggestions on how to serve a filling vegetarian meal... in the meantime, I'm going to invite The Level Headed One and the Hungry Man over for steaks.

The Party in Numbers:
Parties Completed: 45
Weeks Before Deadline: 8
Bottles Consumed: 9
Justified Purchases: My summer farm share! http://www. woodduckfarm.com

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A menu Michael Pollan would love!

Good things happen when people sit down and eat.  Food brings people together, it encourages conversation, and sometimes it adds an entire new element to your dinner party.  While lounging in pajamas at Party #37, I learned that one of my guests was not only a deliverer of wonderful Malbecs, but a fantastic artist.  After a few conversations, and a quick look through his portfolio I asked if he would be willing to show some art for one of my parties... Luckily, I have wonderful friends.  
What does this have to do with Michael Pollan?  Well, for the first time this summer my family has participated in a CSA with Wood Duck Farm.  Each week we pick up a large bag of local farm fresh vegetables and head to the kitchen for some creative cooking.  So, this week friends will tote their wine and brave the rainy weather for some farm fresh food and city inspired art.  Our menu:
Prosciutto Wrapped Cantaloupe
Grilled Zucchini Wrapped Mozzarella
Fresh Gazpacho
Homemade Brioche with Herb Butter
White Bean, Tuna, and Potato Salad
Peach Cobbler*
The (*) Well... Mama is running a bit behind this morning.  My husband has requested a peach cobbler, however I may change this option to grilled peaches topped with whipped cream,  or home canned cherries in wine. Better get moving. 

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The non-holiday feast

Evident in my late post, party #44 was squeezed into an overly booked week.  However, as with most last minute gatherings, we had the makings of a fantastic evening.
Prep began early in the morning, but was interrupted by a grocery trip gone array. My husband, the grill master, was on mission lamb chops as he perused the grocery store munching on various samples.  After engaging in a ten minute phone conversation at the butcher’s counter, I was certain that the grocery trip would be a success.  I later received a call from a horrified husband as he headed back to his car sans lamb chops. It seemed that the seat of his J Crew summer shorts were ripped in route to the store, and he had completed the above mentioned tasks with his behind in full view... or as he said, "butt ass naked.”  Truly dedicated, he found a pair of replacement pants in the car and returned to the butcher's counter to retrieve $50 worth of lamb chops. 
Hours later when our Guests arrived, the food was prepared and the table set, but the over all feel was certainly family-friendly.  The youngest set up various dolls covered with blankets making the living room some sort of homage to the Jonestown massacre, my husband was completing an online test, and the moody preteen arrived for a mere hello and pita bread munch before disappearing upstairs to contemplate Team Edward and Team Jacob. Thankfully, relatives were happy to sip wine and munch on the tzatziki (which was delicious) as we caught up on all things life.  When finally joined by the studious griller, the lamb was prepared as I put finishing touches on our side dishes and salad. 
What a meal! The lamb chops were my favorite protein prepared thus far, and that is hard for me to admit because I’m a roasted chicken girl. With a salt pepper and mint rub, these chops were nothing short of fantastic.  Complemented with the grilled eggplant and feta mixture, this meal was well balanced with flavors so well matched, it was hard to believe it came from three cookbooks and an email from Van at the Wood Duck Farm.   
As we moved on to dessert, everyone began to feel the effects of both a long week a few glasses of wine.  Though enjoyed, it was clear that this simple dessert stood in the shadow of the overall meal.  There were many reasons to not host a family gathering last weekend: everyone was busy, allergies were in over drive, and the weather was wretched.  However, as we sat together, laughing, and wishing each other well for the upcoming week, it seemed the perfect event hosted at the perfect time. 
Cooking Notes:
Tzatziki: Though easy to assemble, this dish demands the freshest ingredients available.  I recommend a trip to the farmer’s market before whipping up this crowd pleaser.  Add warm pita bread, and you have a light yet substantial appetizer. 
Fresh mint and red chilies: Not since chocolate and peanut butter has a more perfect combination existed. Throw some on your next BBQ for an instant Mediterranean flair. 
The Party In Numbers:
Parties Completed: 44
Weeks Before Deadline: 9
Bottles Consumed: 2
Justified Purchases: Replacement shorts