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.)
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.)
January 20, 2008
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.
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.
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos and the recipe.)
January 6, 2008
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.
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.
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.
(Click “more” for additional photos and the recipe)
January 3, 2008
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.
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).
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.
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)
December 24, 2007
I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I simply will never be able to make certain things as well as my mom. She makes an excellent cup of coffee, the chewiest cookies, the most delicious breakfast potatoes and the list goes on. One that has particularly roiled me is her stuffed mushrooms. She makes them for all her parties and they are always quick to vanish.
I tried to recreate my mom’s version several times and finally gave up. For our holiday party this year, I went for a new recipe all together. I wrote about the results here. As I said, they were just okay. So when my mom announced she was making stuffed mushrooms—her stuffed mushrooms—yesterday, I jumped at the chance to spy.
My sleuthing uncovered a few tidbits: use a grapefruit spoon for cleaning out the mushrooms, double the herbs and be sure to use ciabatta (crust removed). I still have a sneaky suspicion that, even armed with this inside knowledge, my mushrooms will never be as good as hers.
And they were good. The filling is really savory, and flavorful enough to stand up to the strong earthiness of the mushrooms. We had some leftover filling, which was no problem. We baked it up in a small soup crock and it was perfect for dipping. I’m looking forward to trying these once I’m back at home, but, as I said, my hopes aren’t high that I’ll approximate my mother’s. I’ll just have to keep coming home for them, I guess.
December 18, 2007
As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I’m in the middle of final exams. While I’m moving into the home-strech now, last week was pretty busy. Because of that (and as I’ve also mentioned), our kitchen was a little under-utilized last week. One exception, though: family dinner. I really didn’t want to cancel on my sister, who comes over once a week for dinner. But I also couldn’t bear the thought of planning a menu, grocery shopping and prepping. Frankly, the Uniform Commercial Code had ruined my appetite.
So, we set a tentative night for family dinner (Tuesday) and all agreed that we’d play it by ear. By Tuesday afternoon, I still hadn’t made a call. While I would’ve gladly swapped text books for cookbooks and traded in my computer for a cutting board, I didn’t think I could afford the time away from studying. We were this close to pulling the plug. There would always be plenty of time for family dinners in 2008, right?
But, it was Ali to the rescue! My sister saved the family dinner by planning the menu (fajitas and fixins) and doing the shopping. She even braved Whole Foods for me (no fewer than five phone calls were exchanged for additional guidance). Then she hauled all the groceries over to our place on the bus (after waiting in the rain at the bus stop). When she got here (after toweling off—it was really raining), she unloaded the groceries and started chopping veggies and chicken (yes, mom, Ali was slicing and dicing raw chicken). By the time I finished studying and Kevin got home from work, dinner was well under way.
By the time we sat down to eat—with our tortillas bulging with spicy, smoky peppers and chicken, salsa and guacamole—all thoughts of good faith purchasers for value and the fiduciary duties had disapppeared. It was a family dinner fiesta! And it was just the re-charge I needed.
There’s nothing novel, fancy or complicated about these recipes. In fact, I’m sure mine resemble many of yours. But there’s something wonderful about a meal that involves recipes you know by heart and that you can put together with your eyes closed. And something completely nourishing about sharing them with people you love.