Can you believe that I’ve never made barbecue chicken before? I’m fully aware that it’s a summer BBQ staple, ensuring a grill wafting with delicious smells and a table full of people with sticky hands and sauce-smeared grinning faces. Which of course, makes them the perfect centerpiece for my Summer’s-Last-Stand BBQ Menu (components of which I’ll be posting about each day this week).

But barbecue sauce has never been my thing. I think a certain fast-food chain is mainly to blame for that: those little rectangular vessels of the stuff seemed to accompany all my childhood friends’ Happy Meals, a dunking pool for McNuggets and French fries—and a constant source of nose-wrinkling on my part. Growing up, I also eschewed the barbecue-flavored chips, much to my friends’ dismay. The sauce was just too sweet, too cloying, too overpowering for me.

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

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When I originally proclaimed Wednesday night to be “leftovers night!” I feared that Kevin would revolt. We had a lot of Leftovers Nights when I was growing up and they were usually met with reactions that ranged from mild groans of dissatisfaction to downright tantrums of refusal (those were the nights that Ali or I (why couldn’t we ever coordinate, I wonder, because it would have been a lot more fun together) would remain at the table until we ate two/three/four more bites. We’d be there for hours, in some cases. Funny, I have absolutely no recollection of how those stand-offs resolved themselves. Did I really eat the bites? Did my mom cave? I’ll have to ask her.

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Anyway, back in 2008, it turned out that Kevin was thrilled with the idea. He was delighted to heap a stack of leftover pizza slices next to a dollop of refrigerated-for-two-days risotto. He was more than happy to nestle in a few forkfuls of Monday’s chicken cacciatore (the clear winner among the leftovers, by the way). And, quite expectedly, he had no problem capping the whole thing off with a remaining wedge of chocolate almond torte.

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

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A Pan Meant to be Used

January 29, 2008

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When I got my tube pan, I thought it would be one of those kitchen implements that would live in the nether regions of the cupboard. I foresaw it being overshadowed by more useful (9×13), less cumbersome (the regular old 10-inch cake rounds), and oh-so-pretty (tart tins in, I confess, all sizes) pans. So, I was surprised last summer when I used it to make angel food cake quite a few times. No matter how deeply stashed away it was, I continually found myself plucking it out.

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So, I figured it would be a seasonal thing. Once the days shortened and temperatures plunged, this pan would fall into disuse and neglect. Because, who wants angel food cake in the winter? This is the season for hearty-richness, clearly. Not light-and-airiness. Well…that’s not quite true. My friends who have had the angel food cake I’m writing about are probably laughing at the light-and-airiness description. The cake—Ina Garten’s Black and White Angel Food Cake—is draped in chocolate, after all.

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

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A Minor Setback

January 18, 2008

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Okay, I’ll be brief today, because …. Well, because I’m busy. As I’ve told you way too many times, I’ve been delighting all week in cooking for two parties this weekend. And, can I just tell you, when you’re planning for two parties, the last thing you want to happen is for a recipe to totally, completely flop. That’s what happened with the rolls I had planned for tonight’s mini-burgers, the centerpiece of the Guitar Hero Party 2008 menu. What’s that? You think those rolls above look great? Well, that’s because they were my second attempt. The first ones—Ina Garten’s mini brioche rolls—are pictured below:

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

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Cocktail Party: The Line Up

December 3, 2007

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Lest you think that the only food we served on Saturday night was the fruit in the sangria, I’ll be writing today about Saturday night’s line-up of hors d’oeuvres.  First, and by far the favorite of the night were the mini meatballs.  The meatballs themselves are very good, though there is not much novel about the blend of meats, cheese, herbs and egg.  The sauce, however, made this particular recipe a standout.  And not only are you able to make them ahead of time (I made them on Friday, refrigerated overnight and slowly simmered them back to life before the party on Saturday), but I think they were even better on the second day.  This was my first time making these meatballs and I can assure you that it won’t be the last.

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Next, we have the antipasto platters.  I’ve played around with various combinations of meats, cheeses, vegetables and olives and I’m finally satisfied.  I love having at least one of these platters at cocktail or dinner parties, because they come together in a matter of minutes (if you pre-roast the vegetables, which I recommend—another example of something that tastes better on day two) but they look spectacular.  They are also sure to please (even the pickiest eater is bound to find something on this platter that they’ll love) and perfect for all-night-long grazing.

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Unlike the meatballs, this was far from the first time I’ve made these roasted rosemary cashews.  To be honest, I usually add them to a menu for the simple reason that I personally love them.  And if no one else likes them, it just means more leftover for me.  (I’m sure you want to nominate me for hostess of the year after reading that line.)  These nuts are equal parts sweet, savory and spicy–together in perfect harmony.  And it’s an Ina Garten recipe, and I’m sure it’s already clear that I love her recipes (in case you missed them, I’ve written about her recipes here and here).

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These mushrooms (mushroom caps stuffed with fromage blanc) were the biggest disappointment of the night.  My husband hates mushrooms (after very vigorous efforts, I have realized that I will never win this battle) so I relish the opportunity to cook with them.  And those occasions arise only rarely—usually when Kevin’s on a business trip (in such cases, I have been known to incorporate mushrooms into breakfast, lunch and dinner) and when there menu is large enough to allow Kevin to avoid them (so: cocktail parties).  My mom makes some delicious stuffed mushrooms and my attempts to re-create them always fall short, so I thought I’d try a different tactic this time.  I wish I hadn’t.  My version of my mom’s stuffed mushrooms are definitely better than these were.  They were just sort of lackluster.  The filling didn’t stand up to the flavor of the mushrooms and they became soggy as they sat (unlike other stuffed mushrooms, which make great hors d’oeurvres precisely because they can hold up for a few hours).  Unlike the meatballs, I won’t be making these again.

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These Three-Cheese Mini Macs are a great idea.  Everyone loves mac-and-cheese and who wouldn’t want to have a bite-sized version?  The recipe called for American cheese and as I indicate in my notes below, I just can’t bring myself to use the stuff.  I knew when I made the substitution (using gruyere instead) that I was taking a risk.  I doubted the recipe creator was calling for American cheese because of its exceptional taste; I suspected that it was a cheese that helped these mac morsels to hold together.  I was right.  Don’t get me wrong, they were really good, but they were fussy to get out of the muffin tins (which is catastrophic when they happen to be the last thing you’re baking off right before guests arive) and they definitely fell a bit on their platter.  But almost all of them were gobbled up, so the jury is out on these.

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Mmmm.  I liked these a lot.  I’ve been wanting to try polenta canapes for a while, mainly because I like the presentation.  And it doesn’t hurt that I like polenta a lot (especially when it comes with our entree at one of favorite Chicago restaurants: Terragusto).  In a menu full of some heavier items (meatballs; mini macs), these were a lovely lighter selection.  I’m excited to make them again and to experiment with different toppings.

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Rounding out the menu were another perennial favorite (and my sister’s request, which I was happy to accommodate): spicy shrimp and chorizo kebabs.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a great picture, but they’re in the photo above, in the back.  And the picture on Food & Wine‘s Web site will give you a better idea of what to expect (though, unlike the kebabs in that photo, I thread only one shrimp and sausage on each toothpick-sized skewer).  I think people really love shrimp at cocktail parties, and this is a much more exciting option than a simple shrimp cocktail.  Very flavorful–spicy, smoky and succulent.  And the caraway seeds lend a very unique background flavor.

So, there you have it.  A couple old favorites, a couple new “keepers” and a couple that probably won’t be invited to our cocktail parties of the future.  I’ll be writing about the cake (yes, the birthday cake I baked myself) tomorrow.

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