Spanish Tortilla Bites

April 22, 2008

This post has been a long time coming. As I went on (and on and on) about back in January, I helped my friend Patty cook for our friend Brynn’’s engagement party. With a Spanish theme, we cooked up an array of tapas. But after planning, prepping, cooking and eating all of tapas for the party, I kind of ran out of steam when it came to the photographing and blogging. Sure, I made it around to the cake (of course) and a few of the nibbles from the party, but one of my favorite tapas of all didn’’t make its way to this blog.

So, I was thrilled when Patty asked me to make that exact thing—Spanish Tortilla bites—for a wedding shower for yet another one of our friends (something in the water, I’’m pretty sure) last Saturday. In addition to allowing me to rectify my remissive blogging of yester-January, the tortilla bites also had the advantage of being make-ahead-able. This allowed me to hand them off to Patty on Saturday afternoon, since Kevin and I would be at his grandmother’’s Passover Seder that Saturday evening, making us a bit late to the shower.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Family Favorite

April 18, 2008

I’ve been making this bruschetta—a classic tomato-basil version—for a very long time. I’d love to say that it was my first “signature dish,” but my mom might call me out. Because I’m sure she remembers the Cool Whip-Raspberry “Surprise” that I used to whip up for family BBQs, church potlucks (if you thought my story about Minnesota “bars” was amusing, you should just see the line-up at one of these potlucks) and holidays. While that “surprise” (read: horror) is probably best forgotten, the same cannot be said for the bruschetta.

Holidays at my house are almost entirely focused around food. Sure, we might throw in some gift-opening on Christmas, perhaps a quick trip to church on Easter, and definitely more than one heated game of dominoes, but besides all that, it’s about the food. And not just the eating, the cooking too.

(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)

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Graze-ables

January 20, 2008

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Last night’s engagement party for our friends was a great success. And now that I can finally tell you about the six glorious days I spent in the kitchen getting ready for the party, I don’t know where to begin! So, I guess I’ll begin at the, um, beginning: building the menu. There were a couple of major factors that guided that process. First, we had decided on a Spanish/tapas theme. Second, the party was not at our house; it was at our friends’ house about a mile away. Third, we were expecting about 30 people. So, I was looking for transportable Spanish food that I could ideally make ahead of time.

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From there, I like to make sure the food at a cocktail party falls into several camps: food that you can graze on all night, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres that give plenty of variety, and at least one dish that’s more substantial and filling.

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(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)

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Last night, we were invited to a wine tasting party to celebrate our friend’s birthday. I’m not sure what exactly has happened during the last half-decade, but this bunch of college friends has somehow jumped from beer-swilling and beer-pong-tournament-planning to discerning palates and wine tasting. And while our night’s activities might have gotten more sophisticated and our beverage no longer pours from a can, we still drank too much. Apparently, you can take the adults out of college, but you can’t take the college out of the adults.

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But we tried, at least. And to do my part in this class-up-our-Saturday-night-trend, I thought I’d make an elegant snack. And I can’t think of a snack more elegant than gougeres. I mean just saying it is elegant. I chose this recipe for blue cheese gougeres because I thought it would pair excellently with the red wines we would be tasting (it did) and because I had an enormous hunk of blue cheese leftover from some other recipe.

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Gougeres—which are pate a choux-based—are fairly easy to make. The critical stages can take on a supermarket-sweep-like-frenzy, so I recommend preparing all your ingredients and your baking sheets ahead of time. Doing so will reduce your stress quite a bit. You might also consider forgoing your weight-lifting for the day: the “vigorous” stirring involved here will provide a sufficient arm workout. Gougeres are also very versatile in that they lend themselves to a variety of cheeses and flavors. I loaded these with black pepper, because I think appetizers that feature the stuff tend to beg you to drink red wine with them. Like we needed another excuse last night.

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(Click “more” for additional photos and the recipe)

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Rib Sticking

January 3, 2008

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Two things I mentioned yesterday factor heavily into today’s post too. First, the weather. Whoa it is cold. We are being mocked for enjoying the holiday season so much, apparently. Second, the new pot in my life. And the final element that completes the picture above was the fact that New Years Day, like a Sunday, calls for a meal that gives your day some purpose, but doesn’t have you chained to the kitchen all day. Something that you can invest in and something that will result in a soothing, memorable meal. But a menu that doesn’t hold it against you that you enjoyed one too many glasses of champagne the night before and thus need to put in some major couch time. Hypothetically.

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A braise is just the thing to satisfy these New Years Day criteria: a braise takes hours, but requires very minimal attention, and the magic it works on short ribs—rendering them into fall-apart loveliness—is certainly comforting and memorable. Especially when it’s very, very cold out (okay, I promise to stop whining and start acting like the Minnesotan-turn-Chicagoan that I am) and when you’ve got the perfect new vessel for braising (that’d be the aforementioned dutch oven that I am obviously just way too excited about).

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This meal also gave me a chance to re-create the lettuce wraps that I made for a holiday party in December. You see, when I made them then, I threw a little of this and a pinch of that into the pot and was delighted when they turned out to be delicious. But my delight quickly gave way to dismay when I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d done. This time around, I diligently measured and took notes and I think the result was even better.

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And after a holiday season of heavy, decadent bite-sized treats, these bright, flavorful and light wraps are a welcome change. But I’m not ready to give up hearty, hibernation-worthy food like the braised short ribs just yet. I’d like those kind of dishes to stick around—and stick to my ribs—for at least another couple months. Even if my better judgment has me serving lightly stir-fried, garlicky and fiery baby bok choy along the side.

(Click “more” for the recipes)

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