Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i'll be home for christmas

...and stepping away from the blog for a bit. We're off to South Florida to spend the holidays with our families and hit the beach with this scampish gal. (She likes coconuts, as you can see.)

I'll be back with more dinner parties in the New Year. Until then, I hope everyone has safe and happy holidays filled with lots of good food and people you love.


Monday, December 21, 2009

last-minute christmas links

Still figuring out your Christmas dinner menu? Time's running out, slackers! Kidding, kidding...I still have to sort out what I am making. So far we've got ham, potato gratin, green beans, these biscuits, and a chocolate cake. Here's some links to help tie up all those loose ends:

Helpful holiday potluck tips and a delicious-sounding menu from the guys behind Brooklyn's Baked [via Food + Wine]

25 Christmas menus from French to Southwestern to Midwestern [via Bon Appetit]

Christmas menus of all kinds from brunches to buffets [via Epicurious]

A plethora of ideas over at Saveur, including five holiday menus and recipes for side and main dishes [via Saveur]

31(!) holiday desserts from Bon Appetit (toasted coconut souffles with cranberry sauce, chocolate-caramel macadamia nut tart) [via BA]

Friday, December 18, 2009

how to make mustard

Dan had the bright idea to make mustard for holiday gifts this year. At first, I wasn't convinced. Don't people want candy and spiced nuts, and other things you can tear open and eat right away? But then I thought about how many bottles of Dijon we go through in a year, and quickly changed my mind. Not only is mustard a surprising gift to receive, it's also very practical.

And for the gift-giver, it's also simple to make. It was much easier than any canning projects we have taken on, even though our mustard is also shelf-stable. Tracking down mustard seeds in bulk can be a little tricky, but once you have seeds, you're in business. All you have to is grind them up, then add some dry mustard, white wine, vinegar, water, and seasoning. A little ground tumeric is optional, but helps boost the color so you'll get a pretty, bright yellow condiment. The end result has a nice grainy texture and is on the spicy side, a bit like Chinese hot mustard. Over time, it mellows a bit, but when you first open the jar it definitely packs some heat.

You can keep the mustard in your refrigerator, but if you're giving it as a gift, it's best to make it shelf-stable by boiling it in water. Be sure to sterilize your jars and lids (boil them in hot water for 10 minutes, carefully remove with tongs to a clean, dry cloth) before you fill the jars with mustard. Once the jars are filled and tightly closed, carefully put them back in the boiling water for 15 minutes. This will seal the jars shut and preserve the mustard so you don't have to refrigerate it before you open the jars. (Like any condiment, after you open the jar, be sure to keep it in the fridge.)

Use your mustard to make vinaigrette, slather it on a hot dog or sandwich, to top roasted pork, make this pasta, or however else you like to eat it.

Grainy French-style mustard
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
(Makes about 2 cups, or 6 half-pint jars)

1 cup yellow mustard seeds
3 Tbsp. dried mustard
1 cup water
1/2 cup cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tsp. ground tumeric
salt and ground pepper to taste

In a spice grinder, coffee grinder, blender, or with a mortar and pestle, grind the mustard seeds until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal. Set aside in a medium bowl. Add the dry mustard, water, vinegar, white wine, and tumeric. Stir until combined.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

in defense of casseroles

Some people think that dinner parties have to be fancy, formal affairs. You know, candelabras, tuxedoed waiters, lobster bisque, and baked Alaska for dessert. In my book, dinner parties include barbecues in the backyard, pizza nights, church potlucks, picnics at the beach, sandwiches shared among friends. If a group of people is gathered around a table for dinner, it counts. Sometimes I may even serve said people a casserole...made with leftovers.

Last week, our friend Tom was in town for work, so we hosted a small gathering of his friends at our place for dinner. It was a Sunday night, the group was primarily (loud, obnoxious) guys, and I had almost half a turkey in the fridge left over from Thanksgiving. Turkey Tetrazzini seemed like the perfect plan. I crossed my fingers that no one would be sick of eating turkey.

Casseroles get a bad rap for everyday, weeknight eating, let alone for company. How can you not think of gluey canned soups, frozen vegetables in unnatural shapes, and canned fried onions (which I secretly like)? It's not exactly something people ooh and ahh over. But when you make a good old fashioned casserole from scratch it's a different animal entirely.

Working from a Joy of Cooking recipe, I started by making something called "creamed turkey." Yum yum! Basically, this is your Campbell's subsitute: shredded turkey in a thick, creamy roux made with stock, butter, flour, cream, and a drop of sherry. This mixture is tossed with egg noodles, sauteed mushrooms, parmesan and more butter, then baked in the oven until golden and bubbly. The recipe also calls for sliced almonds, but that sounded awfully strange to me, so I added breadcrumb topping instead. I also tossed in a handful of chopped parsley to add a bright, fresh touch.

Served up with mustardy French green beans and roasted cauliflower, everyone really did ooh and ahh and then scraped their plates clean. Not only are casseroles the type of homey food people appreciate, they're ideal for dinner parties because they can be made ahead. And according to The Joy of Cooking, Turkey Tetrazzini was originally created by legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier in honor of an opera star named Luisa Tetrazzini. So who says casseroles aren't fancy?

Sunday supper for Tom

Deviled eggs
Turkey Tetrazzini
French bean salad
Roasted cauliflower
Pound cake

Turkey Tetrazzini

(Serves 8 to 10 people)
4 cups diced turkey (white and dark meat)
1/3 cup flour
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, light cream, or whole milk
2 to 3 Tbsp. sherry
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 pinches of gorund nutmeg
8 oz. mushrooms, washed and sliced thinly (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup parsley, minced
5 1/2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. egg noodles
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 13 by 9-inch baking pan or baking dish.

To make the creamed turkey, melt 4 Tbsp. butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until it is smooth. Continue whisking for 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and add the stock. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the cream or milk. Bring the heat up to medium and return the pan to the stove, whisking constantly to get rid of any lumps. Bring to a simmer and cook for one minute. Add in the turkey and the sherry. Stir to combine. Cook for one minute more, then add the lemon juice, and nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. of butter until melted, then add the mushrooms. Cook, while stirring, for about 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms into the creamed chicken. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the noodles until they are tender. Drain the pasta and stir it into the chicken mixture with the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into the pan. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with olive oil and stir so the breadcrumbs are moist. Sprinkle them over the casserole and bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until it is golden brown and bubbly.

French bean salad
I love this recipe, from Jamie Oliver, so much. It's the best way to eat green beans, which can be kind of boring.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)
4 handfuls of French beans, stalk ends removed
2 to 3 heaped tsp. good French mustard, to taste
2 Tbsp. good-quality white wine vinegar
7 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped
optional: 1 Tbsp. capers
optional: ½ a clove of garlic, finely grated

Bring a pan of water to a boil. Add your beans, put a lid on the pan, and cook for at least 4 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the mustard and vinegar into a bowl and whisk it together, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add the shallot and capers and garlic, if using. When the beans are cooked, but still firm, drain the water and put the beans back in the pot. Pour the dressing over the hot beans. Serve immediately.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

bourbon balls 2.0

An interesting thing happened to me the other week. I got an email from an editor at Bon Appetit asking me to participate in a holiday bake-off with other food bloggers. The magazine is running a similar, virtual contest on their web site, but this was an invite to an actual event, with real food judged by editor-in-chief Barbara Fairchild and master pastry chef François Payard. Gulp!

Here's the thing: I can whip up a mean chicken liver pate, create my own cocktails with homemade mixers. But baking...not so much. Not to mention that my oven is on a tilt, so everything I bake comes out slanted on top.

But when opportunity comes a-knockin', it's best not to hide under the covers. Even if you're not, like, the best baker in the blogosphere. (Me: "I can't enter this! I can hardly bake!" Co-worker: "Uh, yes, you will enter this contest. Are you completely stupid?") After I regained my composure, I started thinking about recipes. I needed something that would A) travel well and B) be fool-proof enough that I wouldn't be a complete embarrassment.

My original plan was to combine a pound cake with a fruitcake. I envisioned a golden, buttery, slightly boozy cake studded with bits of candied orange peel, dried cherries, chocolate, and crystallized ginger. The end result was tasty, but fell slightly short of meh. Back to the drawing board.

I decided not to try so hard and just embrace the suck, as they say. I didn't need to show up with a fancy layer cake or some sort of elaborate yule log. I didn't need to bake at all. Instead, I would make something I already knew how to do, my tried-and-true holiday gift: bourbon balls.

To fancify my go-to recipe, I chopped up the candied orange peel I had made for the pound cake and added it to a gooey batter of crushed vanilla wafers, chopped toasted pecans, powdered sugar, cocoa, spices, and bourbon. The orange played well with the bourbon and cocoa, but the candy needed a bit more chocolate. Bourbon balls aren't the prettiest things in the world, they look a bit like dusty little rocks. So I melted some good-quality dark chocolate, and rolled the balls in it so they looked more like truffles. The final touch: a bit of candied orange peel on top. Festive, rich, boozy, who wouldn't want to eat one--or six--of these?

When I entered the Conde Nast building (a place that evokes a combination of fear and lust in magazine editors, including me) and took the shiny elevators up to the Bon Appetit culinary studio, I felt a bit amateur night. Oh, the desserts. There were fancy layer cakes, and a yule log with meringue toadstools, and the most adorable mini pies on sticks. There were also a few bourbon balls in the mix. One version included bacon. Gulp.

The contestants milled around, drank wine, and took lots of photos, as food bloggers do. The judging was more serious than I anticipated. The judges tasted each dish thoughtfully, marked scorecards, asked questions. In the end, I did not win. The prize, a trip to Las Vegas for Bon Appetit's food festival Vegas Uncork'd, went to a gorgeous confection of kabocha squash and shiso made by Marc Matsumoto of No Recipes. Shiso, people. Clearly, I was way out of my league. But the lovely Luisa Weiss of Wednesday Chef told me my bourbon balls were the only ones she has ever liked, so I felt vindicated in my own small way. And being in the company of so many talented, smart, food-obsessed people made me feel pretty golden.

You can see all of the entries here. Thanks again, BA!

Chocolate bourbon balls with candied orange peel
Inspired by the Lee Brothers’ hot spiced bourbon balls
(Makes about 30 balls)

3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup finely chopped candied orange peel, plus 1/4 cup for garnish
1/3 cup bourbon
2 Tbsp. honey
2 1/3 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
2 cups dark chocolate, melted

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place chopped pecans in a single layer in a shallow baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasted. Sift powdered sugar, cocoa, salt, and spices into a medium-sized bowl. Add the pecans, orange peel, and crushed vanilla wafers and stir until combined. Stir together bourbon and honey in a small bowl. Gradually the add bourbon mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring until blended. (The mixture is ready when you can form a small ball in your hands and it holds together. If not, keep stirring, or add a bit of bourbon or water to moisten the mixture if it is too dry.) Shape the mixture into one-inch balls and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour or until slightly firm.

To dip the balls in chocolate, melt the chocolate over a double-boiler until it is smooth. Dip each ball in the chocolate, rolling them so they are evenly coated. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Press one piece of orange peel into the top of each bourbon ball. Once all of the balls are coated in chocolate and topped with orange peels, chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. The bourbon balls can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one week.

Candied orange peels
From Bon Appetit

(Makes about two cups)

2 large oranges, 1/4 inch of top and bottom cut off
4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups water

Cut peel on each orange into 4 vertical segments. Remove each segment (including white pith) in 1 piece. Cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cook in large pot of boiling water 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and drain again. Bring 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel. Return to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until peel is very soft, about 45 minutes. Drain. Toss peel and 1 cup sugar on rimmed baking sheet, separating strips. Lift peel from sugar; transfer to sheet of foil. Let stand until coating is dry, 1 to 2 days. The peels can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Hard to believe, but it's already holiday gift-making time at our house. I usually make one or two edible treats like candy or jam or cookies to give to family and friends, but this year we're going a more savory route: mustard. Recipe to come later, but for now, more gift inspiration from around the web:

Homemade candy (candy cane marshmallows, turtle thumbprints, sugared cranberries) from Saveur [via Saveur]

A round-up of cookie recipes (biscotti, homemade Oreos, Russian tea cakes) from Smitten Kitchen [via SK]

Bittersweet chocolate truffles rolled in spices [via Food & Wine]

Cheese straws and "12 Days of Cookies" over at Lottie + Doof [via L+D]

Bourbon balls
and chocolate-pistachio toffee [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Vanilla syrup (ooh!) [via Food in Jars]

Feel free to share more ideas in the comments!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

scenes from a dinner party

When it comes to dinner parties, this blog has turned me into a documentarian. The dinner party experience is so fleeting, so forgettable. You might serve a pasta dish that is so fabulous you're sure you'd never forget the recipe, and then a few months later you can't seem to remember what the heck it was in it, and whether you sprinkled pecorino or parmesan on top.

I've always been interested in what people serve for dinner and why, but now I want to get that recipe for the lamb and rice stuffing, I want to know your particular technique for making chocolate mousse, and, of course, I want to take photos of every dish as it lands on the table. How else will we remember?

If you wanted, you could go to a restaurant and eat the same dish, and sit at the same table by the window, and have the same experience again and again. As long as the restaurant is there, that experience will be there for you. But when you go to someone's home for dinner, or have people over for dinner, something will be different every time. Maybe the menu will be the same, maybe you'll eat off the same old plates, but something will be different. Those moments of shared food and shared community are so ephemeral.

But sometimes all of that documenting feels unnatural, even wrong. Maybe it's better to sit back and just enjoy an experience rather than over analyze it. Which is what I did a few weeks ago when we were invited to dinner by two longtime friends of Dan's parents. I had heard tales of dinners at Mike and Ella's house for several years, and of how Mike always puts out an absurdly delicious and large spread of food.

So five of us (me, Dan, his parents, and their friend Barbara) squeezed into a cab and headed north to the Bronx for dinner. My camera was in my purse but I felt a little uncomfortable about taking photos, as I always do when I go to someone's house. Sometimes I think it makes people feel a little intimidated, but really, all I want to do is capture and celebrate their work. Spending all day in the kitchen for the pleasure of other people should be commemorated in some way, right?

But this time, I decided to sit back. As the adults smoked and talked politics and kids and the inevitable thing that's on everyone's mind--the economy--I curled up in an Eames lounger and just sat back and listened. I noticed the leafy tangle of potted plants lining the windowsill, I smelled the veal simmering in the kitchen, I sampled the antipasto platter, an artfully composed mix of delicious, salty, oily things from Italian grocery stores on Arthur Avenue.

Yes, I snapped a few photos, I helped Mike stir the saffron risotto (people, he puts bone marrow bits in it...isn't that interesting?), but instead of thinking about the blog, or my Twitter, or whether the photos were in focus, I decided to drink it all in and commit it to memory. It's not every day that someone makes you homemade osso bucco, outside of going to a restaurant. The meat fell right off the bones, into a pool of savory, bright red sauce--gravy, as everyone calls it. It was simply delicious.

Being in the moment makes food taste better. But then again, Mike is a very, very good cook.

Dinner at Mike and Ella's
Antipasto platter
Clams with polenta
Osso bucco
Saffron risotto
Roasted asparagus
Apple pie from Sweet Melissa bakery in Park Slope and chocolate truffles

Monday, December 7, 2009

pumpkin mousse parfaits

If you're looking for a Christmas dessert, it doesn't get much easier than this.

When planning my Thanksgiving menu, I wanted a dessert that could be made ahead of time, and that was also a little different than the usual seasonal pie. You all know I have pie issues.

I thought about making my favorite chocolate-pear cake or a spice cake with cream cheese frosting, but a slice of cake seemed heavy after one of the biggest meals of the year. I considered investing in a kitchen torch to make pumpkin creme brulee, but decided that I didn't really need an extra gadget. But the custard idea stuck, and in the end, I decided to tweak it a bit and made pumpkin mousse.

The mousse, by the always-reliable Ina Garten, is easy enough, just pumpkin mixed with autumnal spices and a hint of orange zest, then lightened up with a good deal of whipped cream. A little bit of gelatin helps the mixture set a bit, but it still stays smooth and silky.

To gussy it up a bit, I layered the mousse with vanilla whipped cream and crushed ginger cookies, like a parfait. One tip: use a glass with a wide mouth, like a wine goblet or martini glass. My slender stemless champagne flutes seemed like a good idea but it was a mess getting the parfait inside of them, let alone in neat layers. I had to lick my fingers a lot during this process, and imagined Ina shaking a disapproving finger at me.

Imperfect layers aside, this was the hit of Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law Judy, a dessert expert in her own right, absolutely swooned over it. Who needs pie, anyway?

Pumpkin mousse parfaits
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe via Food Network.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

1/4 cup dark rum (or water)
1 packet (2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin powder
1 (15-ounce can) pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
Sweetened whipped cream
8 to 10 chopped ginger cookies
Crystallized ginger, for decoration, optional

Place the rum in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for 10 minutes for the gelatin to soften.

In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg yolks, 1 tsp. of orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set the bowl of gelatin over a pan of simmering water and cook until the gelatin is clear. Immediately whisk the hot gelatin mixture into the pumpkin mixture. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.

To assemble, spoon some of the pumpkin mixture into parfait glasses, add a layer of whipped cream, then some chopped cookies. Repeat, ending with a third layer of pumpkin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. To serve, top with whipped cream and extra ginger cookies and orange zest, or slivered crystallized ginger.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

cranberry-lime sparkler

I always find it a little weird to write about holiday food once a holiday is over. Who needs a recipe for stuffing now, right? But the cranberry-lime cocktails I made for Thanksgiving will serve you well through December right into the New Year.

This nonalcoholic drink is made with spicy ginger beer (I like Reed's) and a homemade cranberry-lime syrup. The syrup is on the tart side because of the fruit, but also to balance the sweetness of the ginger beer. To make it, you bring a mixture of cranberries, limes, sugar, and water to a boil and strain it, producing a ruby red syrup.

"But Lisa," you say. "I want booze!" It is the holiday season, so if you're looking for something to dull the pain of yakking family members, expensive gift lists, or general seasonal fatigue, there are many ways to serve this drink with alcohol. You can replace the ginger beer with champagne or prosecco, or add a shot of something stronger, like vodka, gin, or light rum.

If you really want to be a hero at holiday parties, you could mix up this syrup, put it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, grab a bottle of ginger beer or bubbly and mix cocktails right on site. Which would be much cooler than the token bottle of wine. But bring extra--these drinks go down fast.

Cranberry-lime syrup
If you decide to omit the ginger beer, bump up the sugar to 1 cup and add 2 teaspoons powdered ginger to the mixture.
(Makes about 2 cups)

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 limes, washed and quartered, seeds removed
1 cup cranberries

In a small pot, combine the sugar and water. Stir until combined. Heat over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the limes and cranberries. Simmer until the mixture reaches a boil, stirring occasionally. When the mixture comes to a boil, turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. Let the syrup stand for 30 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove the berries and limes. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Cranberry-lime sparklers
(Makes 4 drinks)
Fill four Champagne flutes with cold ginger beer, about three-quarters of the way full. Top each glass off with two teaspoons of cranberry-lime syrup. Stir and serve.

To make the drink alcoholic: fill the glass halfway with ginger beer, and add one-half of a shot of vodka, gin, or light rum. Top each glass off with two teaspoons of cranberry-lime syrup. Stir and serve. You can also replace the ginger beer with prosecco or champagne and omit the spirits.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

thanksgiving by the skin of my teeth

'Twas the day before Thanksgiving and I was in such a good mood I could have skipped to the grocery store to pick up the turkey. After getting the bird and some flowers for the table, I walked the dog who we were dog-sitting. As we crunched through the leaves together I admired the colorful potted mums and squash lining peoples' stoops. I had my menu, I had everything I needed, and I was really looking forward to a full day of cooking in a quiet house.

Back at home, I pet the dog and ate a light breakfast. I set the table and arranged some flowers and greenery in my favorite vase. Feeling very Martha-ish, I topped each plate with ginkgo leaves foraged from the sidewalk. I put out votives, and polished glasses, and rubbed the spots off the silverware.

I rubbed salt all over the turkey, I made cranberry sauce and cranberry-lime syrup for cocktails, I baked sweet potatoes and mashed them with butter and maple syrup. I made pumpkin mousse and vanilla bean-flecked whipped cream. Everything was going so smoothly, almost too perfectly. And then I started to feel a little strange around two o'clock. My stomach gurgled and churned. I decided to take a break--I only had one more task on my list, making cauliflower soup--so it wouldn't be a big deal to watch a little TV, right? I curled up with the dog to watch some vintage Roseanne reruns. Waves of nausea passed through my body and I started to worry.

Feeling sick has become a part of my life, so I can't say this was totally shocking. I have colitis, a chronic auto-immune disease that affects the intestines. This is a food blog, so I'll spare you the details, but it sort of feels like having food poisoning. Colitis isn't triggered by stress, or food (although I went gluten-free for awhile), or anything specific. Medicine, like cortiosteroids, can help but there is no cure. It's not even clear how I got colitis in the first place. But I have it, and luckily, I've been feeling pretty good lately. Except the day before Thanksgiving (and my birthday), of course.

Dan came home that afternoon to find me wrapped in a blanket in the fetal position. "We can go out for Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "NO!" I said, clutching my stomach. I didn't care how sick I felt, we would not eat at some crappy diner on Thanksgiving. "Everything is done except for the turkey. And the stuffing, and the brussels sprouts. Uh, and the soup."

The doorbell rang and Dan ran down to retrieve an arrangement of sunflowers, sent by my mother-in-law. "Don't work too hard today," read the card. I laughed. And then I cried a little. Relegated to the couch, I decided to skip out on the family dinner at Tabla. I wanted to spend the last night of my twenty-eighth year eating fancy Indian food in a pretty restaurant. Instead, I picked at a bowl of rice, chugged Pepto, watched Notorious on HBO, and felt very sorry for myself. Luckily I was with someone who is very empathetic.

By Thanksgiving Day my nausea had passed but I was in so much physical pain I could hardly stand up straight, let alone get dressed or brush my hair. Happy birthday to me! Luckily, Dan, wonderful, sweet, ready-to-swing-into-action Dan, grabbed a spoon and started cooking. He rubbed the turkey with butter and herbs and we laughed at the pale, naked bird slipping around in the pan. Into the oven it went and soon the house was filled with the aroma of browning butter and rosemary. Text messages from friends started rolling in, asking how the cooking was going (argh), wishing me happy birthday. (Sorry for not responding, guys.)

I leaned over the kitchen counter and read him the stuffing recipe as he pulled out a pan and started browning some bacon. Wanting to be useful, I chopped an onion and a few sticks of celery. It felt good to lean into the knife, to focus on something else instead of my stomach. I found myself reaching for ingredients, bending down to grab an extra pan, snapping back into familiar pre-dinner action. I started to feel a little better. And the house started to feel and smell like Thanksgiving--like my grandmother's house before we sat down to dinner. I could make my own holiday too. Even by the skin of my teeth.

I washed my face and brushed my hair, put on a loose-fitting dress and some slippers. The doorbell rang and Dan's parents came up. Seeing them and the looks of concern on their faces immediately put me at ease. The turkey was almost done, the apartment was aglow with candles, and here was family. Everything would be okay, whether I had an appetite or not.

And you know what? It was okay. Better than okay, really. I handed out cranberry-lime-ginger beer cocktails and we settled in for the evening. The turkey was moist (and I didn't butcher it!). I made gravy without lumps. The sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts were delicious. The cranberry sauce produced rave reviews. The stuffing was a little dry, but no one seemed to care. We skipped the cauliflower soup completely, but no one cared about that either. And everyone said that dessert--pumpkin mousse parfaits--was the perfect end note.

I only ate about a bite of everything, but that was okay. I did it. I cooked my first Thanksgiving and I was able to sit at the table with everyone, something I doubted I could do the day before. I said a silent prayer of thanks for that, but mostly, I am thankful for my husband, who jumps in to help without complaint and does the dishes. I'm thankful for my family and friends, whom simultaneously worry about me and cheer me on. I'm thankful for our little apartment and the bounty of food that always fills our table. And I'm thankful that I didn't burn the turkey!

All's well that ends well, even when I didn't think it would.

Thanksgiving 2009
Cranberry-lime sparklers
Foie gras with cornichon, homemade mustard, and crackers
Turkey and gravy
Mushroom-herb stuffins
Mashed sweet potatoes
Roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon

Cranberry relish
Chai tea
Pumpkin mousse parfaits

Monday, November 23, 2009


As promised, here is a round-up of Thanksgiving dessert ideas for those of you still figuring out what to make for the big day. I had fun making this list. There are just so many delicious-sounding recipes out there, and so many nontraditional options, which can be fun. Although, for me, Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without some sort of pumpkin dessert.

I've got to get my holiday ducks in a row, so I'm signing off until next week, when you'll get a full report of how our dinner turned out. I will conquer this holiday! And so will you--have a wonderful one!

Until then,

Pumpkin desserts
Four-layer pumpkin cake with orange cream cheese frosting (and other desserts) [via Bon Appetit]

Silky smooth pumpkin pie
[via Smitten Kitchen]

Deconstructed pumpkin pie [via Saveur]

Bourbon pumpkin cheesecake
[via Smitten Kitchen]

Pumpkin custard [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Spiced pumpkin mousse trifle
[via Saveur]

Pumpkin ice cream [via David Lebovitz]

Pies and tarts
Tarte tatin [via Pink of Perfection]

Apple-pecan tart [via The Kitchen Sink Recipes]

Butterscotch-pecan pie
[via Bella Eats]

Frozen maple mousse pie
[via NYT]

Sweet potato pie [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Even more desserts!
Chocolate desserts (espresso semifreddo, chocolate lava cakes, homemade Yodels!) [via Food & Wine]

And fruit desserts (honeyed fig crostini, vanilla-orange flan, cherry compote with marscarpone) [via Food & Wine]

Apple-cherry crisp
[via Dinner Party Recipes]

Gingerbread with lemon icing [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Friday, November 20, 2009


Thanks to your help and encouragement, I am no longer freaking out about next Thursday. It's just Thursday! Just a little ol' weeknight dinner! Kidding, sort of.

I finally have a menu in place, which has made me feel a lot less stressed out. I think the sheer number of variations on the classic Thanksgiving dinner was what was making me feel overwhelmed. There's thousands of ways to make stuffing and pumpkin pie, how do you choose just one?

For those of you still figuring out a game plan, here is a bonanza of turkey, stuffing, and side dish options. Dessert ideas are coming up on Monday!

21 takes on the turkey (salted roast turkey with chipotle glaze and caramelized-onion gravy, sage-butter roasted turkey with cider gravy, lemon-herb turkey with lemon-garlic gravy) from Bon Appetit [via BA]

A roundup of turkey recipes from grilled, to roasted, to deep-fried [via Saveur]

The "world's simplest Thanksgiving turkey" [via Food Network]

Tips on preparing a turkey from Global Gourmet (interestingly, they are anti-truss) [via Global Gourmet]

And a helpful video with tips on carving a turkey without an electric carver [via Epicurious]

Stuffing recipes without bread, including barley with mushrooms, hazelnuts, and brown butter [via NYT]

Stuffings galore over at Saveur, including roasted chestnut and sausage, oyster, and pecan-cranberry [via Saveur]

Cornbread stuffing with sage already baked into it. Genius! [via Pithy & Cleaver]

Something I am very excited about making this year: stuffins! [via NYT]

If you need visuals, Bon Appetit has a stuffing slideshow with 21 recipes [via BA]

Side dishes
A Swiss chard and sweet potato gratin that could double as a turkey-less main course [via Smitten Kitchen]

Classic sides (green bean casserole, potato gratin, creamed corn) [via Food Network]

Inventive takes on Thanksgiving vegetables (grill-roasted vegetables with pine nut pesto, roasted carrot and cumin puree, roasted brussels sprouts with cranberry brown butter) [via F&W]

Instead of mashed potatoes, pommes de terre boulangère, pan-fried with onions [via Wednesday Chef]

Something that will make an appearance on our Thanksgiving table: roasted brussels sprouts with bacon and lemon [via Dinner Party Recipes]

My favorite cranberry relish, by Jasper White [via Dinner Party Recipes]

And my favorite cranberry Jell-O salad, by my Nanny [via Dinner Party Recipes]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

gingerbread with lemon icing

Casey's potpie was a hard act to follow at our after-work dinner the other week. I offered to bring dessert but had a tough time choosing what to make. I needed something that would A) travel well on two subway rides and B) not be super rich and heavy, since we were eating pie for dinner.

I considered making some sort of dessert with citrus, since Casey loves all things tart and lemony. But lemon bars, and tarts, and pound cakes weren't really doing it for me. And then I thought about making something more seasonal, like a spice cake. The dessert in my imagination had a light and airy crumb and autumnal spices, maybe some sort of glaze on top?

But my dream dessert didn't seem to exist. A cookbook and Internet search only yielded recipes for muffin-like quick breads, or pound cakes, which wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But as I paged through Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess, looking at page after page of cozy desserts, I stumbled upon exactly the right thing: gingerbread with lemon icing. The photo in the cookbook shows two identical slabs of dark, almost black, cake capped with a snowy layer of icing. And in her typical purple prose-y, Nigella way, she writes, "lemon spruceness of the topping is perfect with the musky sweetness beneath it." Sold and sold!

The cake, which called for fresh ginger, was easy enough to whip up. But when I tasted the batter, it lacked the heat and spiciness I expect from gingerbread. So I added a bit of ground ginger and an extra dash or two of cinnamon for good measure. When the cake emerged from the oven, it was puffed and fragrant--the house suddenly smelled like fall. The next morning, I packed up a few slices in a Tupperware and filled a plastic baggie with icing so I could assemble the dessert right before we ate it, preventing the gingerbread from getting soggy. Even though we were full, this cake went down easy. I even spied a few fingers sneakily pressing up the last few remaining crumbs.

As usual, Nigella was correct. The tart and sugary icing offsets the warm stickiness of the cake, adding a nice balance, and yes...a lemon spruceness, as well.

Fresh gingerbread with lemon icing
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe. I replaced the corn syrup with honey, which pairs really well with the molasses.
(Makes about 15 to 20 squares)

For the gingerbread:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup (or honey)
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. molasses
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs, beaten to mix
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
roasting pan, approximately 12 x 8 x 2 inches, greased and lined with foil or parchment paper

For the icing:
1 Tbsp. lemon juice,
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp. warm water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup (or honey), molasses, ginger (fresh and ground), and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water.

Measure the flour out into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour it into the pan and bake for 3/4 - 1 hour until risen and firm. Be careful not to overcook it, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway it will carry on cooking as it cools.

And when it is cool, get on with the icing. Whisk the lemon juice and zest into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water. You want a good, thick icing, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Spread over the cooled gingerbread with a palette knife, and leave to set before cutting.

Monday, November 16, 2009

potpie to win friends and influence people

I learned something very important last week. If you want your friends to lavish you with compliments, have strangers approach you with lust in their eyes, or make people swoon with pleasure, all you need to do is learn how to make chicken potpie. Well, I'm being a little inexact...you need to learn how to make Casey's chicken potpie, which she made for me and Courtney last week.

The three of us have a nice little thing going where we meet up for a potluck dinner after work. Courtney hosts us at her apartment, provides wine, does the dishes, and does not have to cook. And Casey and I each bring a course or two for all of us to share. We all end up spending less than a decent dinner out, and no one has to cook a full meal. It's a win-win-win.

There is also this ridiculously cute fellow, who sweetens the deal.

So last week, Casey volunteered to bring the potpie, and I contributed a salad and dessert. I have to admit, chicken potpie is not my favorite dish in the world, or so I thought. I've had a few too many with thick, gluey filling, or a bad chicken-to-veggie ratio, or crusts that were either too thin or too thick. Thanks to Casey's version, I am now a believer.

After removing the pie from a cake carrier and warming it in the oven, Casey cut it into quarters, and dished out huge wedges. I eyed my plate skeptically, thinking, I can't finish this whole thing! I just bought some new jeans at Uniqlo and they were already kind of snug. Annnd...about 15 minutes later, my plate was clean. The crust (double, of course) was perfectly buttery, flaky, and golden. Inside, a generous amount of vegetables and shredded chicken, bound together by a sauce that was neither thick nor gluey. Potpie perfection.

We managed to have enough restraint not to polish off the last quarter of the pie, so Casey put it back in the carrier to take home. Later that night, while chatting on the subway, we noticed a man sitting across from us who was staring at the carrier like a dog looking up at the dinner table. "That looks SO good. What is it?" he asked. "Chicken potpie," Casey said. "Did you make it?" he asked. "Yes, I did," Casey said, looking slightly embarrassed. The guy would not take his eyes off the carrier. "Uh, do you want the last piece?" she asked. He laughed and shook his head no, but asked where he could find the recipe. As I jumped up to get off at my stop, another man, who seemed to materialize out of nowhere, made a beeline for the pie carrier. I left Casey with her admirers, making her promise to send me the recipe.

Monday night dinner
Casey's chicken potpie
Mixed greens and herbs
Gingerbread with lemon icing

Casey’s chicken pot pie

Casey says: Please note that all vegetable quantities are approximate guidelines; the more you make it, the easier you’ll be able to eyeball the amounts that you prefer and sub in any other veg you want — steamed potato chunks, green beans, whatever works. This is more of a veggie pot pie than a chicken one in the end, which is how I like it!
(Makes 1 12-inch pie)

1 recipe homemade pie crust (enough for a top and bottom crust)
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. butter, divided
1/2 yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red pepper, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 ears corn, kernels sliced off the cob, or 1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup frozen peas
chicken or vegetable stock
heavy cream
salt and pepper
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (if I don’t have leftover chicken in my freezer that I can thaw, I’ll just bake a chicken breast in the oven while I’m assembling the other ingredients)

Roll out your first round of pie crust, place in your standard pie pan, and reserve in the fridge. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large saute pan with high sides or a dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and carrots and continue to cook until tender, 5 minutes more. Stir in the corn and peas, then add enough stock just to cover the veg and simmer until the liquid reduces at least by half. It will look more like vegetables in a very loose sauce than soup at this point.

Add a splash of cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and reduce a bit more if it’s still looking too soupy. Finally, stir in the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter and the chicken and remove from the heat.

Roll out the second pie crust and reserve while you place your chilled pie pan onto a baking sheet and dump the filling in. Place the pie crust lid on top, cut 4 slits in the top of the lid so your pie can vent, and cut/crimp the sides to seal.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the filling is bubbling out of the vents. Cool for at least 15 minutes before serving; I know, the wait will nearly kill you because the pie will look so tempting, but all you’re going to get is molten ooze unless you have patience.

Friday, November 13, 2009

ricotta and pesto pizza

I am a big advocate for pizza at dinner parties, especially when it's homemade. If you make the dough ahead of time, dinner can be ready in less than a half-hour, and there's nothing quite as impressive as placing a steaming, fresh-from-the-oven pie in the center of the dinner table. Forget fancy centerpieces—all you need is pizza.

I make pizza almost every week for dinner so I change up the toppings a lot to keep it from getting boring. I use sausage and peppers; mushrooms with garlic and parsley; or, recently, store-bought harissa with gruyere and herb salad. That was really, really, good.

But my new favorite is a lighter, healthier take on white pizza: a thin crust topped with a layer of ricotta, a drizzle of pesto and a little red pepper flakes and parmesan. It sounds incredibly simple, and it is, but it's way more than the sum of its parts. The creamy ricotta is the perfect counterpart for the bright, garlic-y pesto, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes adds just the right amount of heat.

For a dinner party, I'd serve the pizza with an arugula salad and something decadent for dessert—maybe gelato topped with homemade chocolate sauce or a shot of hot espresso? You could also just eat the pizza by itself off of paper plates in front of the TV and find it just as satisfying.

Ricotta and pesto pizza
Dough recipe adapted from Louise Pickford's book Grilling.
(Serves 2 to 4 people)

For the pizza dough:
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the hot water and olive oil. Stir with a spoon until it has formed a soft dough. Knead the dough with floured hands, pressing it against the bowl until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and cover the bowl with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it has doubled in size. (You can also make it the night before and store it in the fridge, wrapped in plastic or stored in a large plastic Ziploc bag.)

For the pizza topping:
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

(Makes about 2 cups)
3 handfuls of basil leaves (about 3 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, combine the garlic, pine nuts, and basil. Pulse until slightly pureed. Pour in the olive oil gradually, pulsing with each addition until smooth. Stir in the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt. Taste as you go, making sure it's balanced. Serve immediately, or store in the refrigerator.

To assemble the pizza:

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Use your hands or a rolling pin to roll out the pizza on a floured surface so that it's about 1/2 inch thin. Place the rolled-out dough on a pizza stone or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a large spoon, spread the ricotta evenly over the pizza dough. Top with the pesto, then drizzle the 2 Tbsp. of olive oil on top. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and pepper. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the pizza is golden brown and bubbling. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve hot.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a plea for thanksgiving help

Confession: this is my first time cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Ever.

I usually contribute a dish (or three) to family Thanksgivings and I've made my share of pumpkin pie. But I've never been responsible for the entire shebang. Cooking the whole bird? Nope.

Am I nervous? A little. I'll be cooking for Dan and his parents (visiting from Florida) at our house in Brooklyn. They are great people, and lovely in-laws, but I have a bit of an entertaining sore spot with them otherwise known as The Saga of the Lamb Chops.

The last time I made a proper sit-down dinner for them was over three years ago, and let's just say I was a little green. Long story short, dinner involved $100 worth of tiny lamb chops foolishly purchased from the neighborhood butcher. Extreme sticker shock. I had never spent $100 on ONE ITEM OF UNCOOKED FOOD in my life and probably never will again. "Don't overcook these," the butcher warned me in his thick Brooklyn accent. I nodded seriously and took home the little chops worth their weight in gold.

Back at home, I made a rosemary-white bean soup as a starter, and served the meat with salad and roasted onions. And we all cut into our lamb chops, which were, shall we say...pink. Blood started to pool on our plates. I felt a little faint.

Now, I don't mind a rare piece of meat. But someone (I won't name names) sent their dinner back to be recooked. Sent. It. Back. Trying to play it cool, I shakily collected everyone's chops, put them on a plate, and returned to the kitchen to stick them under the broiler, fretting about whose lamb chop was whose and whether anyone would be offended if they got a different one. It was horrible. Although funny in retrospect. And the soup wasn't half-bad.

I have made successful dinners for my in-laws since this disaster, but something about it still lingers in the back of my mind. Thanksgiving seems like the MOST important meal of the year to me and I dread screwing anything up. Like, God forbid, undercooking the turkey. Judy, Dan's mom, is a very good cook. The bar is high, people.

Did I mention that my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day this year? It is!

And so, dear readers, please give me your best advice as to how to tackle this beast of a holiday. What are your tricks, your secrets, your strategies to pulling it off? Mom, are you out there? Halp!

[Note to Judy and Larry: I'm totally joking about being freaked out! Well, sort of.]

Monday, November 9, 2009

what's for dinner, amanda hesser & merrill stubbs?

Today we are lucky to have the duo behind food52, an innovative new project by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Amanda (left, in photo) has contributed hundreds of stories about food to The New York Times, including the fantastic Recipe Redux column. She is also the author of Cooking for Mr. Latte, the editor of Eat, Memory, and the author of the upcoming Times cookbook, which will be out next year. Merrill has written for the Times, Body+Soul, Culinate.com, Edible Brooklyn, and is the food editor at Herb Quarterly. Through food52, Amanda and Merrill showcase the recipes of home cooks through weekly recipe contests ranging from the best chocolate cookie to the best brussels sprouts dish. After a year, the winning recipes will be published in a cookbook. Many thanks to both of these busy ladies for letting us have a peek into how they entertain at home.

1. Name, occupation, and city
M: Merrill Stubbs, co-founder of food52 and author, Brooklyn, NY

A. Amanda Hesser, co-founder of food52 and author, Brooklyn NY

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
M: My last "dinner party" was actually a barbecue in Prospect Park at the end of the summer. I invited all of my good friends who live in New York, as well as a couple of out-of-towners. There were lots of small children, which meant the chocolate chip cookies disappeared in a hurry.

A. You've reminded me that it's been too long. The last big dinner I cooked was on vacation on Long Island with my husband's family. I made a giant bowl of pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and corn, and served raspberry granita for dessert. (Also, I went to Merrill's barbecue -- she left out that she made a delicious green bean salad with dill!)

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
M: While I was still in cooking school, I made a navarin d'agneau (lamb stew) and a gratin dauphinoise with a simple green salad for a dinner party of about 50 people. The combo went over well, and it actually wasn't that difficult to churn out enough for that many people. That was probably the most gratifying menu I've ever made. For a smaller group, I like to get a little more elaborate. One of the better menus I've served recently: pureed asparagus soup, seared goat chops with preserved lemon cream, pea shoot and sugar snap salad, and a rhubarb crisp.

A. I once made turducken (a turkey stuffed with a duck that's stuffed with a chicken), which was really fun because all of the work happens before people arrive and when the turducken is ready, it makes a great, sort of hilariously odd presentation, and is very easy to serve because you just slice it like bread. On a more practical level, I like making a Laotian catfish stew from the New York Times. It's very simple, can be made almost entirely ahead of time and the flavors are fragrant and unexpected -- a real crowd pleaser.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
A. For the cocktail hour, my husband and I like to choose one special drink -- usually either a sparkling wine or a cocktail -- and then we offer single-malt scotch or sparkling water for those who don't want the special drink. I'm not a fan of the open bar theory -- I think people want to come and be taken care of and entertained, not to drink and eat everything that they have at home.

M: Wine, hands down. That said, my ideal dinner party would include a pre-dinner cocktail along the lines of what Amanda described above.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
A: That's my husband's department -- it's usually a mix of 1970s and 1980s music from his iPod. Although, he was into the "Garden State" soundtrack for a while.

M: Nowadays, classical or something else very mellow. Gone are the days in which I entertained with alternative rock blaring in the background.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
M: Bruschetta with ricotta and thyme; roasted salmon or char with herb aioli; mashed potatoes; green salad; pears poached in red wine with mascarpone.

A. Bagna Cauda; pappardelle with arugula, creme fraiche and lemon zest; and caramelized figs (a recipe we just learned from one of our cooks on food52!)

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
M: Several of my friends like to cook, so if they show up early they'll help out. (I try not to be too bossy in the kitchen for fear of scaring them off.) I also have a couple of especially generous friends who often bring homemade desserts with them.

A: I cook and my husband sets the table, does the flowers and comes up with the seating arrangement -- and we chat while we're both working. We also keep a dinner party diary, in which we record the menu, the guest list, the flowers and the highlights from the conversation. We both write in it, and since we usually sit at opposite ends of the table during the party, it's fun to read each other's version afterward. Sometimes it's as if we were at two different parties.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
M: For a dinner party, I like to make everything from scratch if possible. One notable exception might be ice cream if I'm serving it with a pie or a homemade sauce or something.

A: I agree with Merrill, entirely.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
M: It depends on the season, and my mood. I love chocolate, but I also like making fruit-based desserts, e.g. a free-form tart or an applesauce cake. I also like coming up with variations on rice pudding and pavlova. My friend Naomi gave me this incredible molasses spice cake recipe reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding that you make right in a cast iron pan and serve with whipped cream -- that gets repeated often.

A. I always make dessert first, and I like a dessert that I can prepare the day before so it's done and is a psychic weight off my shoulders. One of my favorites is an almond cake recipe from my husband's mother. Its flavor actually improves after a day, so you have to make it ahead of time. And you can pair it with any seasonal fruit -- I particularly love blueberries in a grappa syrup with mint.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
M: Jane Austen. The post-party commentary would be epic.

A: I say on food52 that it would be Tina Fey, but I'm feeling a coin toss between her and Stephen Colbert.

[Photo: Sarah Shatz]

Friday, November 6, 2009

link-o-rama (& twitter)

It's about 20 days until Thanksgiving--can you believe it? I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that it's almost the end of the year, let alone that I need to think about turkey and stuffing options. For those of you who are also in denial, let's ease into holiday planning by starting small: pre-dinner snacks.

Food & Wine has a helpful round-up of Thanksgiving hors d'Oeuvres options: porcini mushroom tartlets, chicken liver crostini, toasted pumpkin seeds [via F&W]

And so does Saveur, including prosciutto-wrapped parmesan and pecan dates, stuffed celery, and bagna cauda [via Saveur]

Six "instant appetizers" from Bon Appetit featuring store-bought foods that are special enough for a holiday like fancy artichokes and peppers, foie gras with black truffles, and interesting crackers. [via BA]

Food Network has 50 ways to top a piece of toast, if you're going in that direction [via Food Network]

And a bit of unrelated news: I finally decided to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. Follow me to find blog updates and random musings, as well as ask dinner party-related questions. Need help figuring out how many pigs in a blanket to serve? I'm all ears!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

mailbag: a French-inspired party

Hello my dear, sweet Lisa:

I am turning 30 this month...ahem, as you know. I am going to have a party--probably 20 to 30 people at my house--and I wanted to do something FUN, so I have decided to make it French themed. (Quelle suprise!) Beaujolais nouveau comes out soon, so I am going to grab some bottles (if not a case, LOL) and I want to have a signature drink. I will have an assortment of cheeses, maybe a cantaloupe and ham dish, and of course, pastries. Do you have any ideas to add to the mix?

Your friend,

Mme. Paulita

Dear Paulita,

Your party sounds so fun! And how smart to pick a theme around a limited-time-only wine.

It sounds like you already have a good start menu-wise, but here are some ideas based on whether you feel like cooking or shopping. After all, you should only cook a big meal on your birthday if you really feel like it.

If you feel like cooking:

Croque monsieurs (Perfect drinking food!)

How about a sweet or savory galette? Maybe butternut squash and caramelized onion or apple

Maybe some spiced nuts with herbes de provence?

One large quiche or mini quiches

Baked brie in puff pastry

Some fresh vegetables and dips like aioli and tapenade (or artichoke tapenade)

Or, for a more formal meal, how about ratatouille, some grilled sausages, and a big salad?

And for dessert, in my book, nothing is more birthday-worthy, and French-y than a chocolate soufflé cake

If you feel like shopping:
Pick up some pre-made tapenade and serve it with poached, chilled shrimp and crackers.

Serve pâté with cornichons and mustard with baguette slices

Ham and cheese sandwiches on mini croissants

Chocolate truffles (Whole Foods has really good ones)

Maybe something light and refreshing with Lillet, like Lillet au Citron?

Or a French 75?

Or a French martini

Does anyone else have French party food ideas for my friend? Help a mademoiselle out!

[Image from James Beard's Fireside Cookbook]


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