Friday, August 22, 2008
As you can see, Dinner Party has gotten a bit of a face-lift. I like a clean, simple look, but I thought it was time to get rid of that generic header. Many, many thanks to Mr. Colin P. Delaney for making it happen. A much-deserved present (and dinner, of course) will be coming your way soon, sir.
On another housekeeping-related note, Dan and I are taking off to the Pacific Northwest for a belated honeymoon of long walks, oysters, coffee, kayaking, salami, and fancy digs. See you all again after Labor Day.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Have you ever had really fresh wild salmon? Like right off the boat? I did last weekend, and it was like tasting salmon for the first time. Julie's boyfriend Jonas spent part of the summer working in Alaska and came back with a freezer full of fish. They brought over a deep red filet as long as my arm last Friday night, and we all shared a huge meal—curried deviled eggs, yogurt dip and pita chips, orzo, and some amazing cheese and locally-made dark chocolates that Julie brought as well. (Julie's an especially generous dinner guest, if you couldn't tell already.)
But the salmon. It had a velvety, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a surprisingly mild flavor—not an oily, fishy taste like most of the salmon I've eaten before. We could have just thrown it on the grill plain, or even eaten it sashimi-style, as Julie and Jonas have been doing, but I dog-eared a recipe for pan-roasted salmon with sauteed tomatoes and capers from the new issue of Food & Wine (which is really good, by the way) and thought it was the perfect opportunity to try it out.
Curried deviled eggs
Spiced yogurt dip with pita chips and crudite
Cheese and cured meat
Pan-roasted salmon with tomato vinaigrette
Orzo with brown butter and parsley
Spinach, green apple, and parmesan salad with lemon vinaigrette
Pan-roasted salmon with tomato vinaigrette
The sauce in Ted Allen's recipe via Food & Wine, isn't so much a vinaigrette as a chunky sauteed salsa of grape tomatoes, capers, and shallots. The tomatoes bring out the sweetness of the salmon, but you could easily substitute tuna steaks or cod. Be sure to use an oven-proof pan for this recipe, as you have to cook it in the oven for a few minutes.
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
1 tsp. drained capers
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 7 oz. center-cut salmon fillets with skin (ours were more like 5 oz.)
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. minced parsley
1 tsp. chopped basil
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425°. In a bowl, toss the tomatoes with the shallot, capers, vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In a medium ovenproof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet, skin side up. Cook over moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, about 3 minutes. Carefully flip the fillets. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast until the salmon is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Transfer the fish to plates and pour off any fat in the skillet.
Place the skillet over moderate heat and add the tomato mixture along with the cumin, canola oil and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook, scraping up any bits stuck to the skillet, until the tomatoes just soften, about 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the salmon, sprinkle with the parsley and basil and serve immediately.
Orzo with cinnamon brown butter and parsley
This aromatic side dish inspires people to hold their plates up to their noses and guess what's in it. It's just cinnamon and a little parsley, but the brown butter gives the dish more complexity and a rich flavor.
(Serves 8 people)
1 pound orzo
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil (I usually omit this)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cook orzo in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. While orzo cooks, melt butter in a small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, then simmer until golden brown with a nutty aroma, about 5 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, then stir in oil (if using), cinnamon, and pepper.
Drain orzo in a colander, then return to pot and add brown-butter mixture, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, and parsley. Toss until combined well and season generously with salt.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Pretty, right? A five-year-old could make it. Really.
In honor of Tom's birthday, I wanted to make him a cake. However, I was not about to turn the oven on. I like you, Tom, but not that much. While looking for chilled desserts, I came across this lovely Neopolitan-like creation from Bon Appetit. Pretty as it this cake is, the recipe's a bit fussy and overly complicated. So I simplified it down to its basic elements: three pints of ice cream and a cookie crust. Perhaps my cake wouldn't be as nuanced or whatever, but it seemed silly to add in all these additional toppings when you can buy ice cream with the same stuff already in it. I also went with a more tropical combination of ice cream flavors, to complement the tacos we had just finished eating. But feel free to refer back to the original recipe or choose any trio that sounds good to you. If you wanted to make the ice cream from scratch (as some people do) it would probably elevate this dessert to a whole other level of deliciousness. But I used regular old Häagen-Dazs and it was promptly devoured.
Three-layer ice cream cake
A helpful tip from Bon Ap: you can thaw hard pints of ice cream by microwaving them for 30 second intervals, until the ice cream is soft and the edges are slightly soupy. I stored the pints in the fridge until I was ready to add a new layer to the cake.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)
1 pint chocolate chocolate chip ice cream (or any other flavor)
1 pint coconut ice cream (or any other flavor)
1 pint raspberry sorbet (or any other flavor)
5 ounces chocolate cookies (I used Famous Chocolate Wafers, but chocolate graham crackers would work)
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
Line a metal or glass baking pan with foil, extending over the sides of pan. Finely grind the cookies in a food processor, then add butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press crumbs onto the bottom of a foil-lined pan. Place in freezer for 15 minutes. Use a butter knife to spread the thawed chocolate ice cream on top of the cookie crust. Freeze for 30 minutes. Top the chocolate layer with the thawed coconut ice cream, and smooth the top with your knife. Freeze for 30 minutes. Top the coconut layer with the thawed raspberry sorbet, and smooth the top with your knife. Freeze for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
When ready to serve, lift the ice cream cake from pan by the foil overhang, then peel off the foil. If your foil rips, like mine did, use a pie server to pop the frozen cake out of the pan. Transfer the cake to platter or cutting board. Cut into squares and top with chocolate sauce, if desired. And I think you do.
This is my go-to recipe for chocolate sauce, straight from the Joy of Cooking.
(Makes about 1 cup)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 to Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. good-quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. vanilla
Combine the cream, sugar, and butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once it's boiling, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Serve warm.
Monday, August 18, 2008
According to the Southern Foodways Alliance, the term "deviled" dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries, meaning something prepared with spicy seasonings like cayenne and mustard. Of course, over time this definition evolved and expanded. The modern-day deviled egg is practically a blank canvas. In this case, I laced the filling with curry powder, but you could use almost anything, really: fresh chopped herbs (tarragon is especially heavenly), crab meat, hot sauce, pesto, anchovies, green onions, or as they do in the South, a healthy dose of sweet relish. At fancy parties, I've had dainty deviled quail eggs topped with caviar—pretty swanky. But at their heart, deviled eggs are a simple, homey dish.
I think Margaret McArthur Rovai says it best:
He's diabolical at:
Your Selma reunion
A picnic from the battered cooler
A Chicago dive
At leftover sashimi.
His dimpled platter’s naked
before the second bottle's broached
A vet and his great-grandson
at the Scotch and Similac hour
Twelve teeth between them.
A Birmingham bride
soils her satin under the magnolias
even the vegans
when he crashed a baby shower
morphed into darling devilled eggs
bonneted with pink nasturtiums
But they were never so Southern:
on the vegetable platter
at the Raleigh Market
Mac and cheese, okra and
Deviled Eggs --
His most subversive self.
So much sexier than spinach!
Curried deviled eggs
(serves 6 people)
1 tsp. dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
Salt and pepper
Sliced green onions
Fill up a large saucepan halfway with water and add the eggs, so that they are fully underwater. Bring the water to a boil. Cover the pan and remove from heat. Let the eggs sit covered for at least 12 minutes, but no more than 20 minutes. Drain the hot water from pan and run cold water over the eggs. Fill the pan with cold water and let the eggs sit until they come to room temperature before peeling.
Carefully slice the eggs lengthwise in half. Release the yolks into a small bowl by pressing gently on the opposite side of the egg white. Use a fork to mash the yolks, then add the mayo, mustard, curry powder, and salt and pepper. When combined, spoon the mixture into each egg white half (or pour the filling into a resealable sandwich bag, then snip one corner off and use it as a piping bag). Top each egg with a few sliced green onions. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
Friday, August 15, 2008
10 summer party hors d'oeuvres from Bon Appetit [via Bon Ap]
Italian sodas in cocktails? Count me in. [via the WSJ]
A forum from Serious Eats on things you "wouldn't serve guests." Some responses: organ meats, hoagies, pork chops, Cool Whip, or any kind of "Helper." [via Serious Eats]
More on "gourmet" ice and the picky people who love it, this time from the Times. This story is kind of ridiculous. If anyone showed up at our place bearing their own ice, I'd kick them out. [via the NYT]
Dinner parties: to theme or not to theme? [via the Kitchn]
This is a pretty innocuous story, but it got me thinking. Unless you're going with a theme purely for kitsch value (foods of the 1950's, white trash, Prohibition, etc.), I kind of hate the idea of themed dinners. They make me think of grade-school birthday parties where the paper napkins match the paper cups and the cake and the streamers and the balloons. Okay for six-year-olds, but scary for adults. Sandra Lee excluded. If you want to select a soundtrack or tablecloth based on what you're serving, that's fine, but it's not really my thing.
I will say that I tend to focus on a more general food-related theme (tacos, New England clam bake) or type of cuisine (Italian, Greek) when I'm planning a menu. On one hand, it feels restrictive and not that creative—I'm jealous of cooks who serve seemingly incongruous dishes that pair so well together it makes you wonder why you've never eaten them side-by-side before. Eventually I will get there. But for now, having a general theme helps me quickly pull together several dishes that complement each other. And that's what I always look for in a meal, whether I'm eating in a restaurant or cooking at home.
What are your thoughts on this? Theme or no?
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Mindi and Tom came over last Friday evening for a belated birthday dinner for Tom. Because this was a weeknight dinner I wanted to do something fairly quick to put together and also, as is the theme these sweltering late summer days, without the oven. (I promise that in the fall and winter we'll be roasting, braising, and turning on the stove for no reason other than warmth.)
Burgers on the grill pan would have been delicious and easy, but then I thought about our last trip to the Latin food vendors at the Red Hook soccer fields and the spicy meat-filled tacos Dan and Tom and our friend E relished, salsa and meat juices sauce dripping down their arms. So I figured I could something similar (although less messy) with a shredded rotisserie chicken. For a weekend dinner party, I might have tried Mark Bittman's shredded chicken recipe, but it was a Friday, and I wanted to use those precious rushed hours of after-work food shopping and cooking to make a few interesting condiments and toppings to go with the tacos. Because, really, isn't that the best part of eating tacos? Paired with some gooey queso fresco and black beans, this was a filling and fun meal.
Friday night taco dinner
Queso fundido with chips
Shredded chicken tacos
tomato, radish, and corn salad,
and pickled red onions
Three-layer ice cream cake
Call me a snob, but queso dip always struck me as gross sports bar food. But I wanted something for everyone to snack on, pre-tacos, other than salsa or guacamole (which we'd be eating on the tacos later). And if Rick Bayless, the gringo's authority on all things related to Mexican food, says queso is good, I must believe him. Instead of scary melted Velveeta, his recipe (from Food & Wine) is a blend of melted Monterey Jack, sauteed onions and tomatoes, and the secret ingredient: a splash of tequila. Booze aside, Dan said that this dip could use a little more "zazz" and I agree. Next time, I'd add mix in a sharper cheese like white cheddar and some queso fresco for more saltiness.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium tomatoes—cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons tequila
1/2 pound (3 cups) Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes, onion, jalapeños, and a large pinch of salt. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Pour in the tequila (stand back, just in case!) and cook, stirring frequently, until the skillet looks nearly dry, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add the cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until melted, about 30 seconds. Quickly transfer the queso fundido to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve immediately, with chips.
Quick pickled red onions
I love pickled things and wanted to serve something that would add a little brightness and acidity to the shredded chicken. I thought about pickled jalapeños, or some sort of vinegar-based slaw, but then I remembered a batch of pickled onions I made a long time ago for some steak tacos and how perfect they were as a condiment. I couldn't find the recipe I used, but I remembered that Molly, of Orangette, is also a pickle-lover (is it way obvious that I have a huge girl crush?) and decided to try her version instead.
Sometimes I do a very, very, very quick onion pickle before adding them to a salad or dressing, by simply letting them soak in vinegar for a few minutes. A little vinegar heightens the flavor of the onions while taking away their bad breath-causing edge. Her method for quick pickling is slightly more involved than my v.v.v. quick pickle, but the extra seasonings make a big difference when you're serving the onions as a condiment. The recipe makes a lot of onions, but we've been happily eating the leftovers with salads and grilled meat.
(Makes about 1 quart)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium red onions, about 1 1/4 pound
Combine the first six ingredients in saucepan, and place over medium heat. While the brine heats, peel and trim the onions. Cut them in half, then slice each half into half-moons, about 1/4 inch thick. When you've finished slicing the onions, check the brine. It should be boiling at this point. If it isn't, reduce the heat to high. When you've got a rolling boil, add the onion slices, and stir to combine. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 25 minutes.
Transfer the onions and brine to a large bowl, and set aside to cool in the refrigerator. When the onions are cooled, serve with salads, fish, meat, cheese, or with other pickled veggies. Put leftover onions (and the brine) in jars with tight-fitting lids, and store in the refrigerator.
Corn, radish, and tomato salad
This chopped salad can be eaten on its own, as a side dish, or used as a salsa for tacos or grilled fish or meat. Feel free to play around with the ingredients and add different elements.
2 ears corn
1 large tomato (yellow or red), roughly chopped
1 green onion, minced
6 radishes, diced into small strips
1/2 bell pepper, minced
1/2 jalapeño, minced
1 handful of cilantro, minced (you could also use basil or thyme)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
Use a knife to slice the corn kernels off the cob into a medium-sized bowl. Add the next six ingredients and stir until combined. Add the juice of one lime, the oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Zucchini season is quickly coming to a close. Before all those beautiful green and yellow squash are replaced by apples and turnips, I urge you to fry up some cheese-filled squash blossoms. There's literally only a few weeks before they disappear, so the time is now, people. Like a burger cooked on a backyard grill, or a margarita on a roof deck, or soft serve from the neighborhood ice cream truck, this is essential summer eating.
Serve them up solo with some cocktails, or use them as a garnish for a salad or cold soup. They're the farmer's market equivalent of Lay's.
Ricotta-filled squash blossoms
This recipe might look time-consuming, but it's easy once you get the hang of it. If you're having people over, just use your guests as an assembly line. Have one person fill the blossoms, another person batter them, and someone else fry them. And then you can eat them all. Kidding! (Serves 4 to 6 people)
12 squash blossoms
1 cup ricotta cheese (you can also substitute a soft goat cheese)
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. finely chopped basil, plus 1 Tbsp. extra
1 cup olive oil
1 cup flour
salt and pepper
In a small bowl, combine ricotta, 1 egg, lemon zest, and basil. Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in the refrigerator. Carefully open each squash blossom to make sure there are no bugs inside. Most blossoms are clean, but if yours are sandy or dirty, gently brush them off with a damp paper towel. Pour the ricotta filling into a resealable plastic bag and cut off one corner, to make a piping bag. Line up your blossoms and pipe the filling into each blossom, filling it halfway (below). Pinch the leaves shut to seal the filling inside.
When all of the blossoms are filled, beat an egg in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the flour onto a dinner plate. Dip each blossom it into the egg, shake off any excess, then roll in the the flour. Set each flour-coated blossom aside until all are done.
Pour the oil into a deep pot and heat on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (a bead of water should dance when you flick it in the oil), fry the blossoms in small batches. Cook for about three minutes on each side, turning with a pair of forks. When the blossoms are golden brown, remove from the oil and place on a paper-towel lined plate. When all of the blossoms are fried, sprinkle with salt and basil leaves and serve immediately.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Here's two simple snack ideas from last weekend's lunch. Not to get all Rachael Ray on you, but both of these recipes can be made in under 30 minutes. They're the perfect distraction when guests are on their way to your house. Why not make some snacks instead of running around fluffing up pillows or cracking open the wine that's actually meant for your friends?
I'm usually not much for fruity salsas, but I saw some pineapple at the store that called my name and we had an unusual surplus of jalapeños at home, some cilantro, and...pineapple salsa is born. I have to say, it was pretty delicious. We ate the leftovers with grilled scallops, but it would also be good with fish or chicken.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
1 peeled, cored pineapple, cut into small cubes (about 1/4 inch)
1 to 1/2 minced jalapeños
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
handful of cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 1/2 limes
1 tsp. vegetable oil
pinch of salt
Combine first four ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir together. Add lime juice, oil, and salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to eat and serve with tortilla chips.
Sweet and spicy peanuts
These peanuts aren't spicy in the "heat" sense of the word, they are tossed with Chinese five spice powder (a blend of cinnamon, star anise, ginger, cloves, and cassia buds), which gives them a bit of aromatic spice.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
2 cups unroasted peanuts
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. Chinese five spice powder
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
pinch of salt
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine, all ingredients and toss until the peanuts are coated. Pour the nuts onto a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the nuts are golden. Let cool, then serve.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Last week, the Times had a cute story about people who throw dinner parties in public places, like on the Brooklyn Bridge. Made me think about places I'd like to have everyone over for dinner. Perhaps on the banks of the Gowanus? Eh, maybe not. [via the NYT]
I can't decide whether these all-natural servingware ideas are cute or overly fussy. Either way, they cut down on dirty dishes. [via The Kitchn]
Tasty-sounding (and beautiful) napa cabbage salad with buttermilk dressing. [via Smitten Kitchen]
And on the required unrelated note, heeeere's Cheesus. People are stupid. [via Serious Eats]
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Naturally, we wanted to return the favor while she was in town. Her flight got in early Saturday morning, eliminating the chance for breakfast or brunch. And I had a bachelorette party that night, so dinner was out too. Which left...lunch. And I realized I had never made lunch for anyone before, aside from things in Tupperware eaten over your keyboard at work. Having someone over for lunch seems really quaint, doesn't it? Like something your grandmother would do.
So I pulled out my trusty pad of Post-Its, and tried to figure out a menu that wasn't too brunch-y, or heavy, or complicated. Lunch should be light and interesting, not too much of a production. And most important of all, everything had to be made without the oven. I couldn't bear the thought of Juliette sitting on our couch, sweat dripping down her face. So, light, cold, interesting. Here's what I came up with.
Lunch for Juliette
Pineapple salsa with tortilla chips
Bibb lettuce with tomatoes and blue cheese
I've made a ton of fish and shrimp dishes at home lately, but my summer cravings for seafood have still not been satisfied. So last week my friend Brooke and I had dinner at the venerable Pearl Oyster Bar. After a bowl of mussels I could certainly make better at home, an underwhelming lobster roll (that the staff tried to sneakily overcharge us for), a slice of blueberry pie that was just meh, and all-around nasty service, I left feeling quite disappointed. You'd think the experience would end my taste for seafood, but instead it left me jonesing for a decent lobster roll.
So apologies to Rebecca Charles, but I decided to re-make her much-touted lobster roll for our lunch, substituting shrimp for the lobster. The shrimp salad, served on buttered, toasted Pepperidge Farm hot dog buns (just like at Pearl's) was simply dressed with mayo, lemon, and celery. Although nothing compares to lobster, everyone said the shrimp was a fine stand-in and lent a slightly sweeter flavor.
And unlike going out, you never get bad service (or have to haggle over the check with an impertinent manager) when you're at home.
The original recipe, from Rebecca Charles' book Lobster Rolls & Blueberry Pie serves two and calls for four 1 pound lobsters. The shrimp cooking technique is cribbed from Ina Garten's shrimp salad recipe, which also sounds delicious.
(Makes approximately 4 overstuffed sandwiches)
2 lbs. large shrimp, shell on
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/4 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
1 1/2 lemons
Pinch of kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 teaspoons unsalted butter
4 Pepperidge Farm top-loading hot dog buns
Chopped chives for garnish
Bring 5 quarts of water, a generous pinch of salt, and 1 lemon, cut into quarters, to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the shrimp and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, for only 3 minutes, or until the shrimp are barely cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cool water. Bring the water back to a boil and repeat with the remaining shrimp. Let cool, then peel and de-vein the shrimp.
Chop the shrimp into 1/2-inch pieces. Combine shrimp, mayonnaise, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, celery, and salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Press open buns, and place in skillet, turning to coat both sides. Cook buns until golden brown on both sides.
Fill bun with lobster filling, and sprinkle with chopped chives, if desired.