Thursday, May 28, 2009

things consumed in new orleans

In alphabetical order:

Abita beer, two pints
Advil, one pill
Barbecue lobster, one tail
Barbecue pork sandwich, one, with coleslaw
Beignet, one

Biscuit, one, with strawberry jam
Blueberry cobbler, one, with ice cream
Cafe au lait, one, iced
Crawfish, four, boiled
Foie gras, with pepper jelly

Gin cocktail, one, by the esteemed Chris McMillian
King cake, one sample slice
Lima bean puree, with cornbread
Lucky dog, one, with mustard and ketchup
Oysters, half a dozen, fire-roasted
Oysters, half a dozen, raw

Omelet, one, with parmesan and salad
"Perfect" oatmeal, one, at Starbucks
Profiteroles, three, with espresso ice cream and salted caramel
Rabbit livers, fried, served with pepper jelly
Salad L√ľke
Salami pizette
Sancerre, half a bottle

Shrimp, half a dozen, grilled, with chow chow
Satsuma sorbet, three mini scoops, with cat's tongue cookies
Sazerac, one, unfinished
Strawberry milkshake, one, with breakfast
Zucchini salad, shaved with goat cheese, mint, and pecans

Lest you think Dan and I (okay, me) are total gluttons, we managed to do a few things in New Orleans other than stuff our faces. Like walk around the Garden District, peruse vintage cookbooks at Kitchen Witch, tour the place where Mardi Gras floats get made, watch LeBron hit "the shot" during the playoffs from a fluffy hotel bed, and read by the pool. I'm happy to have seen this great old city once again, with its romantic balconies, and towering magnolia trees, and drunk, sunburned tourists downing dacquiris in the street. But most of all, to enjoy its cocktails and oysters and endless delicious fried things. New Orleans is by far one of the best food cities you can visit—on that note, run, don't walk to Cochon and Cochon Butcher in the Warehouse District. Both restaurants were simply incredible.

And now I am off to eat a salad.

Friday, May 22, 2009

spring break

Dan and I are heading to New Orleans for a few days and I'm so excited I can hardly stand it. It's been six whole years since I've been there and I can't wait to see how the city has changed and come back since Katrina. On the agenda: live music at Preservation Hall, little bites of fried heaven at Cafe Du Monde, Pimms Cups (hopefully in the afternoon), long, meandering walks around the French Quarter, and several promising dinners. Dan says he just wants to meet Lil' Wayne—which would be awesome—but something tells me Weezy's not hanging out at the Marriott. Although strange things do happen in New Orleans.

This is all to say that I am taking a little break from posting for the next week or so, but will return refreshed and ready for more dinner parties.

Until then,

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

so-good coconut flan

I didn't have an especially sophisticated palate as a kid, but I really had a thing for flan. My second cousin, who really knows her way around the kitchen, made it for many family dinners and I became quickly hooked. She also whipped up gorgeous layered trifles, and meticulously iced layer cakes, and pies of all kinds, but the sight of that large, flan-filled glass baking dish chilling in her refrigerator always made me deliriously happy. It was so good: luscious, eggy custard with a perfectly caramelized sauce underneath that she would scoop up and pour over each serving. I miss her just thinking about it.

Over the years, I forgot about flan. Our family grew apart for reasons I still don't understand, bringing an end to those big family dinners. But when I was looking for a dessert to make for last weekend's fajita night, it seemed like a recipe worth resurrecting.

And ooh, I'm so glad I did. It was the best part of the meal by far. A bit of rum and toasted coconut give this recipe a little more tropical flavor than my cousin's classic version. Served straight from the fridge, the custard is delightfully silky and cool--the perfect thing to bring to a summer barbecue or enjoy as the weather heats up. Even people who were heading downstairs to catch a car home took the time to lick their plates. Always the sign of a good dessert in my book.

Coconut flan
The original recipe, from Gourmet, calls for coconut in the flan, which turned me off. I didn't want to interrupt the clean, smoothness of the custard with chewy bits. I still wanted that tropical flavor, so I toasted the coconut and added it as a topping--which also helps hide any cracks or imperfections in the custard.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 1/2 cups whole milk, divided
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons dark rum (I used light rum and it was fine)
1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
Equipment: 12 (4-ounce) ramekins (or one 9-inch baking dish)

To make the caramel sauce, bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber. Immediately pour into ramekins or a baking dish and swirl so caramel coats bottom of each, then put ramekins in a large roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Blend 2 cups milk with all of the flan ingredients except for the coconut in a blender until smooth, about 1 minute. (You can also do this by hand in a large bowl.) Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, then divide among ramekins or pour into a baking dish. Bake flan in a water bath until just set but still wobbly in center, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. As the flan cooks, toast the coconut in a small pan on low heat. remove and set aside. When the flan is done, remove the ramekins or baking dish from the water bath and let it cool, at least 15 minutes. The flan will continue to set as it cools. Just before serving, run a thin knife around each flan, then invert onto plates. (I cut the custard into squares and served it straight from the pan, like my cousin did.) Top with the shredded coconut and don't forget to add some extra sauce.

Monday, May 18, 2009

friday night fajitas

A few weeks ago, our friend Vanessa, who lives in California, emailed to say she was going to be in New York for a few days. Dan and I don't see her nearly enough, so a celebration—or dinner at our place—was in order. We emailed a few mutual friends with the promise of margaritas and fajitas and Vanessa, and long story short, her trip got canceled.

Quite frankly, the news came as a shock. Canceling plans? With us? Who does she think she is? We hurled expensive glass objects and gnashed our teeth and beat our chests and sobbed messily into each other's shoulders. And then we blew our noses, collected ourselves, and had the party without her. Sorry, Vanessa!

And what a party it was. Sizzling steak fajitas, elote slathered with cojita cheese, margaritas—it was like eating at Chili's, but without the ugly decor. Jealous yet, Vanessa? You should be.

Friday night fajitas
Lazy margaritas
Guacamole and chips
Watermelon with lime and chili pepper
Steak fajitas
Rice and pinto beans
Coconut flan

In all seriousness, this was a fine way to spend a Friday night and Vanessa, you were missed. I usually don't like having a lot of people over immediately after work, but this meal was simple enough to assemble (I also did a few things in advance) that it didn't feel hectic. Shout out to Julie who brought excellent, still-warm tortillas from one of the tortilla factories in her neighborhood, the Tortilla Triangle, A.K.A. Bushwick.

I also made lazy margaritas, which always help in terms of my attitude and expediting drinks into everyone's hands. Purists would probably throw Patron bottles at me for this recipe, but hey, it's delicious! Instead of squeezing limes or making simple syrup, I use good-quality limeade along with the triple sec (Yes, I know—triple sec is inferior to Cointreau. But it's much less expensive!) and tequila. You just mix all of the ingredients in a big pitcher, float some lime slices on top, and serve over ice. Salted rim optional.

Lazy margaritas

You could substitute lemonade, or even pomegranate juice for the limeade, but be sure to choose a brand that isn't just corn syrup and artificial flavoring. When you're only using three ingredients for a cocktail, it makes a difference.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

Triple sec (I like Hiram Walker)
1 lime, sliced thin

In a pitcher or punch bowl, combine 2 parts tequila, 1 part triple sec, and 1 part limeade. Stir to combine and add lime slices. Chill and serve in glasses over ice.

The sleeper hit of the night was elote—roasted corn with a creamy, salty topping. You can buy it at street fairs here in New York, or at one of our favorite summer spots, the food carts at the Red Hook ballfields. But it's also really easy to make at home. I roasted the corn in the oven, but if you have an outdoor grill, you can roast the corn in the husk and it will taste even better. I can't wait to hijack my parents' grill this summer and try it that way.

I adapted this recipe from the very talented Food Blogga. Her elote looks nowhere near as gloppy as mine, but no one complained about the extra cheese. In general, I find that to always be the case. You can serve elote as part of a meal or as a starter, just make sure you have plenty of napkins for everyone.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

6 ears sweet corn
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper or chile powder, plus extra for sprinkling
salt, to taste
1/2 cup crumbled cotija anejo cheese (or queso fresco, both should be available in Mexican markets or the dairy section of your supermarket)
finely chopped cilantro for a garnish

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place corn in husks (no need to soak first) directly on the middle rack of the oven (or on cookie sheets) for 30 minutes, or until corn is soft to the touch. Allow to cool slightly, then remove husks and silks, and add toppings. (I cut my corn in half.)

Place crumbled cheese on a plate large enough to fit an ear of corn. In a small bowl mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, cayenne pepper or chile powder, and salt. When the corn is cooked, brush each ear with some mayo sauce then roll in the cheese. Sprinkle with additional cayenne pepper or chile powder, and the cilantro.

Friday, May 15, 2009


The weather's starting to warm up and everyone is coming out of hibernation—at least in our neck of the woods. So here are a few links in honor of pot lucks and picnics and cookouts and those fleeting, lovely days between spring and summer.

Bon Appetit's great June issue has lots of things I'm excited to try, including a Caesar potato salad with snap peas. [via BA]

The "ultimate burger" from Gourmet. I have to admit, it does look pretty awesome. [via Gourmet]

Smitten Kitchen has two ideas that would be great for a potluck: broccoli slaw and rhubarb cobbler. [via Smitten Kitchen]

Via the Kitchn, fudgy-looking marscapone brownies that can be made in one bowl. [via the Kitchn]

Again with the superlatives, here's the "perfect" margarita from Chow. As you'll see in the lengthy comments section, the definition of perfect really depends on who's doing the drinking. Yikes. [via Chow]

Monday, May 11, 2009

dinner party on shelterrific

I've got another post over at Shelterrific today on chewy amaretti sandwich cookies. Intimidated by anything beyond slice-n-bake? Don't be. These little guys are really easy and quite delicious—like, eating five at a time delicious and then you turn around and they are gone. Don't say I didn't warn you.

polenta's hidden potential

The other week, Mindi and I had a girls night and she made me dinner at her apartment. I've written about our dinners before. There is wine, and therapeutic kvetching about this and that, and usually something good for dessert, and I can kick off my shoes as soon as I walk in the door. Bliss.

After nibbling on carrot sticks and tasty homemade baba ganoush, we got to work on dinner: fried polenta with fresh tomato sauce. I chopped garlic and herbs while Mindi fried up the already-firm polenta she made the night before and refrigerated. (Mindi's smart like that.) A little frying, a little sauteeing, some salad on the side, and dinner was done. She acted like it was no big thing, and truthfully, it didn't take that much time to whip everything up, but it was such a good weeknight meal: simple but satisfying, especially for being meatless.

The polenta squares were crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, topped with a chunky sauce and a little shredded mozzarella. The combination reminded me of pizza, which got me thinking about polenta's potential as a pizza crust. I usually make soft polenta at home but haven't really experimented with cornmeal when it's cooled and firm. It seemed like something worth trying--especially since flour is a no-no for me these days.

I found a recipe for a deep-dish polenta pizza from Real Simple that seemed, well, really simple. You whip up a batch of soft polenta, pour it into a pie pan, then add sauce or whatever other toppings you like (I went with mushrooms, olives, and goat cheese), and bake for 30 minutes. The pizza emerged golden and bubbling, very promising-looking. I'd like to say it was a revelation and I'll never go back to regular pizza again. Unfortunately, it was just okay. The crust was kind of akin to cornbread...which...I mean, duh.

Next time, I'll go with Mindi's method of frying the polenta, but add toppings and stick the squares under the broiler, pizza-style. That should do the trick.

Fried polenta with tomato sauce
Simple recipes, both from Giada De Laurentiis.
(Serves about 6 people)

For the polenta:
6 cups water
2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

To fry the polenta:
3 cups basic polenta
2 cups olive oil, for frying (I think you could use 1 to 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup grated parmesan

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tomatoes, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup butter (you could reduce this to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh thyme leaves, leaves only

1/2 cup shredded mozzarella

To make the polenta: bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Lightly oil an 11 by 7-inch baking dish. Transfer the hot polenta to the prepared baking dish, spreading evenly to 3/4-inch thick. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about 2 hours.

To make the sauce: In a saute pan, heat the remaining olive oil and add tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the wine and butter and reduce until sauce has thickened and then add the basil and thyme.

To fry the polenta: Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (*Optional). Cut the polenta into 2 by 1-inch pieces. Heat the oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, fry the polenta pieces until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the polenta pieces to paper towels and drain. Place the polenta pieces on a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while cooking the remaining batches. (*We skipped this step and it was fine.)

Transfer the polenta pieces to a serving platter. Serve with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

an excuse for cookies

If given the option of roasting a chicken or baking a cake, I'll always choose the chicken. It's not that I don't love sweets (oh, I do), it's that cooking is more fun to me than baking. I'm not a measure-and-weigh kind of cook. I like tasting as I go, improvising, not having to follow a recipe precisely and pay really close attention.

I always serve dessert when I have people over, but as you might have noticed, it's often in the form of fruit crisps, ice cream, or the quickly-assembled fruit-chocolate-cookie plate. All of which are good, easy options. I feel like cakes call for celebrations, but that's just me.

But then there's the rare day when I get the baking itch. I'm not sure where it comes from or why, but when it happens, I have turn on the oven and make something sweet. Justifying making a dozen plus cookies or a whole pie when people aren't coming over is a little hard, but I am handy with excuses. Last weekend, the craving struck the day before I had a black-tie event to cover for work—and a cute but, um, snug dress to wear. I truly did not need cookies in my life. But it was rainy, and I had nothing better to do that afternoon, and I had all of the ingredients. And I also wanted to stay in and bake and look at this sweet face before his owners came to collect him. Excuses, excuses.

There was some almond flour in the cupboard that needed to be used up, but I was craving something chocolatey. Googling "almond flour chocolate cookies" didn't produce much in the way of recipes, so I decided to wing it. If the cookies didn't turn out, I would get this baking impulse out of my system and I didn't need to eat them anyway. (Lie.)

As far as cookies go, the recipe was pretty simple. I melted some chocolate, then stirred in a cup of almond flour, some sugar, and some almond extract. While the mixture cooled, I beat two egg whites until they formed soft peaks. Then I gently folded the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, spooned the batter onto cookie sheets, and baked them for about 15 minutes.

The result? Delicious! The cookies came out thin and chewy, with a rich, brownie-like flavor. Dan and I ended up eating quite a few, but, really, they weren't so decadent. No butter, not too much sugar, and no flour. They're not so unhealthy or fattening as far as cookies are concerned. Or maybe I'm just really good at talking myself into things.

Flourless chocolate-almond cookies
(Makes about 2 dozen small cookies, or 1 dozen large)

6 oz. chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. almond extract
1 cup almond flour (You can buy it pre-ground or make your own in a food processor)
pinch of salt
2 egg whites, room temperature

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Put the chocolate chips in a small pot and heat them over very low heat. Stir the chocolate constantly until it is melted, then remove from the heat. Add the sugar, almond extract, almond flour, and salt to the chocolate. Stir until combined and let it cool. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until glossy, soft peaks form. Gently fold small amounts of the chocolate-almond mixture (it will be thick) into the egg whites until the batter is smooth. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spoon out the batter in balls about 1 inch wide, and place them 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets because the cookies will spread. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cookies are slightly puffed in the center and crisp around the edges. Let cool before removing from the parchment. Sprinkle the cookies with a bit of confectioner's sugar to make them look pretty.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

meyer lemon soda

I'm really into making soda these days. Now that the weather's heating up a little, it's nice to drink something cold and carbonated that's also not overly sweet. And making homemade flavored syrup is one of those stupidly simple things that makes you feel really clever.

I saw a pile of gorgeously golden Meyer lemons at the store a few weekends ago and after a little internal debate, I let myself buy three. These lemons aren't cheap, and I always feel pressure to use every bit of fruit, rind, and zest to make something where their bright, perfumey essence really shines. Maybe I will be lucky enough to have a Meyer lemon tree growing in the imaginary yard in the imaginary house I will have someday, but until then, I've got to suck every last bit of juice out of these babies. I didn't really feel like baking or making lemon curd, or making anything especially time-consuming or difficult. But they also won't be around much longer, and I wanted to enjoy just a few before they disappear.

It was a hot day, so I thought about making lemonade. Or better yet, Meyer lemon soda, which seemed a tad more special (and truthfully, would allow me to stretch out the lemony goodness just a little bit more). I grabbed a bottle of soda water and that was that.

Meyer lemon soda
If you can't get your hands on Meyer lemons, or they are out of season, regular lemons will definitely work. I'm not a lemon snob. But a combo of grapefruit and lemons will create a closer approximation of the Meyer lemon flavor.
(Makes about 3 cups syrup)

2 Meyer lemons, washed, cut in half, and de-seeded (Or substitute 1 small grapefruit and 1 lemon)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Soda water

In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and stir until combined. Put the pan over medium-high heat. Add the lemons, squeezing the juice into the sugar-water mixture (scoop out any stray pits). Place the squeezed-out lemon rinds into the mixture. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Let the mixture sit for about 20 minutes and steep. After 20 minutes, remove the lemon rinds. Store the syrup in a jar.

To make soda: fill a drinking glass about halfway with syrup. Add ice and cold soda water and stir. Taste to make sure it's flavorful enough, adjust with extra syrup if needed.

Monday, May 4, 2009

a note & thanks

Dear readers,

Just a quick note to say that, for your typing convenience, this site has changed to The blogspot address will still work, but you might want to update your bookmarks.

Also, in honor of Dinner Party's one-year anniversary, here are some flowers. I wish I could give you all real flowers for taking the time to read and comment, but virtual tulips will have to do. Thank you so much for following my dinner party adventures—we'll have many more in the next year!


Friday, May 1, 2009


Happy Friday! Happy May! Spring (and pollen counts) has finally exploded--so what will we eat? Here are a few seasonally-minded links for inspiration:

Epicurious has a neat interactive map showing you what produce is in season by state. [via Epicurious]

The Kitchn has 10 ideas for cooking with asparagus [via the Kitchn]

Smitten Kitchen has a recipe for pasta with fava beans, tomatoes, and sausage. The photos alone are mouthwatering. [via Smitten Kitchen]

And for dessert, Evil Chef Mom, who's been on an ice cream kick lately, has a recipe for a beautiful strawberry-sour cream-brown sugar ice cream. [via ECM]

Not sure what I will be making this weekend. My only plan is to lounge in the park with Dan and this little guy, whom we're dog-sitting. Isn't he the cutest?


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