Friday, January 29, 2010
Have a great weekend, everybody!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Winter is hard, man. It's depressing and I hate it. And I'm not going to be on a plane anyplace warm anytime soon.
All I can do is eat like I am in a tropical paradise. Things like avocados and tortillas and limes have been sneakily making their way into our diet. And this soup, a bright and sunny mix of sweet potatoes, corn, and cilantro in a creamy broth. With a squeeze of lime, of course. It is so tasty but the colors of the chowder are enough to lift your spirits on a gray day.
The amazing thing about this chowder is that it's not only thickened by a roux (butter, flour, and milk). There is also a secret ingredient in there: corn tortillas. You cut them into small strips and toss them in the pot with the simmering chowder, which seems odd, but as it simmers, the tortillas almost melt, adding body and richness, and the delicious flavor of masa.
I won't say this recipe will cure the winter blues, but it's a start. Cook up a pot of chowder, crank up the heat, put on your bathing suit, and drink something tropical. Eat the chowder and dance around. Just don't let the neighbors see you or they'll think you've lost your mind.
Corn and sweet potato chowder
From Vegetarian Planet. This is not a very spicy chowder, and I think it could use a little heat. If you like spicy food, I'd recommend adding (taste as you go) some canned chipotle peppers, which will give the dish a nice smoky flavor.
(Serves 4 people)
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (I used yellow onions)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin seeds
1 tsp. paprika
2 1/2 Tbsp. unbleached white flour
6 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
3 corn tortillas, cut into strips
Kernels from 3 ears of corn and the shaved cobs (or 2 cups frozen corn)
1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tsp. salt
ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
In a stockpot or large saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, cumin, and paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the flour, and, stirring constantly with a whisk, cook for 30 seconds. Slowly add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, while continuing to stir with a whisk so the flour doesn't lump. Add the tortillas, the cobs, and the sweet potatoes, and the corn, if frozen, and simmer the mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender. If you are using fresh corn, add the kernels, and let the soup simmer 2 minutes more. Add the salt, pepper, and lime. Remove the cobs and ladle the soup into bowls, and sprinkle it with cilantro.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I need a bit of help...I am planning a nice dinner party for the end of January. Three other couples will be there. I plan to make it formal (using china, etc.) and was thinking of serving ham but is that strange? Is ham for just Easter or the holidays or the springtime? I can't decide if I should do short ribs instead.
Thank you for any advice. Do you have any suggestions for vegetables, etc.?
Hmm...ham. I think ham would be delicious--or short ribs, if you decide to go that route. Both are great choices for a big crowd because you can make them in advance. And I think those two proteins can be easily fancified for a formal meal, depending on what you serve with them.
To give ham a non-holiday feel, I would probably avoid things like stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. Just treat it like any other pork main dish. To give you some ideas, I looked up some pork tenderloin menus on Epicurious and I think any of these sides and desserts would work for an elegant dinner with ham. Some ideas:
-A light menu with roasted potatoes with lemon salt and smashed peas with mint butter
-An autumnal menu with butternut squash soup with ginger, mashed potatoes with parsnips and carrots, bread pudding with dried cherries and apricots and caramel sauce
-An elegant, yet rustic menu with pickled shrimp, herb, fennel, and grapefruit salad, yams with brown butter vinaigrette, roasted onions with Gruyere croutons, roasted pear tarte tatin
-A hearty winter menu with polenta bites with blue cheese, tomatoes, and pine nuts, roasted acorn squash and chestnuts, bell pepper and rice pilaf, lemon cheesecake
Or, if you decide to go the short ribs route, for my husband's birthday last year, I made short ribs braised in wine and dijon mustard and everyone loved them. They also really loved the celery root puree I served with them.
Whatever you decide to do, I'm sure it will be wonderful.
Does anyone else have thoughts on serving ham at non-holiday dinners? Is it weird or not? Or, if you have a dinner party quandary of your own, email me at lisadinnerpartyATgmailDOTcom.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Rich and creamy cauliflower and potato gratin [via Wednesday Chef]
Rustic chicken breasts braised with hard cider and parsnips [via Bella Eats]
A round-up of easy casseroles (baked spaghetti, chicken Divan, tamale pie) from around the web [via Saveur]
Healthy yet hearty leek, mushroom, and barley stew [via Pink of Perfection]
And for the meat-eaters, Texas-style beef brisket chili [via Bon Appetit]
Nothing warms you up faster than a cocktail. Here are a few beauties from around the web:
So pretty I want to bathe in it: the New York in Love cocktail [via Eat Make Read]
10 warming drinks (the Peppermint Paddy, Alpine coffee, apple-brandy hot toddies ) [via Food + Wine]
The classic Old-Fashioned [via NYT]
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Dates one through four had been friendly, but somewhat tentative on my part. I hadn't quite made up my mind about the guy. Dan was one of the smartest people I had ever met, unfailingly nice, and pretty darn cute, but we knew each other in high school and, well, high school memories are hard to put behind you. Bad haircuts, embarrassing moments, you know.
He threw me a curve ball with dinner. What was this, asking me to come over for dinner before I offered to cook for him? Me, the girl who charmed so many boyfriends with baked goods and late-night suppers, who prides herself on a home-cooked meal. Food was my thing! It seemed that this guy had something to prove. So I got dressed up and decided to see what would happen. Dessert, which I offered to bring, was homemade miniature lemon tarts carefully packed in a Tupperware. Feeling seductive, I topped each one with a raspberry.
Dinner was still very much in progress when I arrived. I knew this immediately because Dan's kitchen and bedroom and work space and living room were all apparent in a single glance. He told me he had a studio apartment, but boyfriend was living small.
The kitchen was incredible. It consisted of a stove burner on top of a mini fridge, a tiny oven that he never used because it emitted the odor of gas, a smallish sink, and no counter space to speak of. Ingredients were piled on top of a microwave atop a kitchen cart. Maybe it was the size of the apartment, but there seemed to be different parts of dinner spread out everywhere. Normally I would have offered to help but there was nowhere to stand in the kitchen area. And there wasn't a place to sit other than his bed and a desk chair, so I sat at his desk and watched him. Which probably didn't make him feel very comfortable.
In between bursts of conversation, he cooked. He stood on tiptoe to chop parsley on top of the microwave. He seared scallops in a hot pan, smoking up the apartment for a bit. He handed me a bottle of white wine to uncork as he minced some garlic. He whisked lemon juice and olive oil together in a juice glass to make salad dressing. This is interesting, I thought. This is cute. Very cute.
He poured me a glass of wine, and a glass for himself. Which I didn't think twice about at the time, but now I know he doesn't drink. Something sizzling in a pan started to smell really good. I sipped my wine and smiled. This adorable guy was working up a sweat making dinner for me in this ridiculously tiny kitchen. Who would have thought?
After he exuded a considerable amount of energy, dinner was served. Since there wasn't a proper surface to eat on, he set out glasses and cutlery on the floor and we sat across from each other, bowls on our laps. In the bowl was a tangle of linguine with perfectly browned scallops, a whisper of wine and butter, a sprinkling of chili flakes and parsley. I took a bite. The dish was thoughtful, balanced, easy on the eyes--a lot like the guy sitting across from me. I thought back to food past boyfriends had made for me. All I could remember were fairly routine meals of pasta in jarred tomato sauce, the occasional batch of cookies. And cocktails. This was eye-opening.
We ate and talked. Dan finished his glass of wine. Prince played in the background, which made me smile. Sometimes guys can be so obvious. I mean, Prince, wine, a romantic, homemade dinner? Way to lay it on thick. But it worked. By the end of the meal, I was convinced. I knew I wanted to share more meals with this person, hold hands across the table, eavesdrop on the people sitting next to us, go home together at the end of the night. And now, on our two-year wedding anniversary, that's still all I ever want to do.
He completely won me over with scallops and pasta. We didn't get to the lemon tarts but they were delicious for breakfast the next morning.
Buttered taglierini with seared scallops, white wine, chile, and parsley
This recipe is from Jamie Oliver's first book The Naked Chef. Oliver writes, "This dish only takes minutes to cook." Obviously, that depends on your kitchen. A note about the pasta, taglierini is a flat, long noodle that is narrower than tagliatelli. If you can't find either, linguine or spaghetti will be fine. As you can see, I used bay scallops, which added a nice sweetness.
(Serves 4 people)
12 scallops, trimmed with roe on or off to your preference (or 1 1/2 lbs. bay scallops)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 medium-sized fresh red chiles, seeded and finely chopped (or 1 Tbsp. red chile flakes)
3/4 cup white wine
1 lb. taglierini (or linguine)
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1/4 cup butter
salt and pepper
On a board, place each scallop on its flat side and slice in half. Put the olive oil into a hot pan and add the scallops, garlic, and chile, which will sear and sizzle right away. As soon as the scallops have colored on one side, pour in the wine, letting it reduce slightly. Meanwhile, cook the taglierini in boiling salted water until al dente. Add the pasta to the scallops with the parsley and butter and remove from the heat. Toss and taste for seasoning. Serve.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Dad's party fell shortly after Christmas, so we had a refrigerator full of leftovers, including potatoes and ham. Wanting to use up what we already had on hand, I decided to make ham and potato croquettes, working from a Mario Batali recipe.
Croquettes are perfect finger food, little balls of savory, fried, mashed potato goodness. And they are filling and not expensive to make, even if you don't have a fridge full of leftovers. With or without the ham, they would still be delicious. Even Dan, who strangely does not like mashed potatoes, ate a few.
The only drawback to croquettes is that, like all fried things, they should be served piping hot. So make these after your guests have arrived and serve them immediately with a sprinkle of salt. If you want a little help, you could set up a croquette assembly line, where your friends can form mashed potato balls, roll them in flour and egg and breadcrumbs, and pass them off to you to be fried. Some guests may not want to get their hands dirty, but who wants to be friends with people like that anyway?
Ham and potato croquettes
The recipe calls for olive oil to fry the croquettes, but a less expensive oil like canola will suffice--and is actually more ideal for frying.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)
3 1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (I used Yukon Gold)
4 eggs, separated
1/4 lb. prosciutto cotto (or any cooked ham) cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Several gratings of nutmeg
1 cup flour
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, for frying (I used canola oil)
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil. Cook the potatoes in the boiling water until easily pierced with a paring knife, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and, while still hot, pass them through a food mill. Immediately add the egg yolks, prosciutto, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and nutmeg and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
With moist hands, divide the mixture into golf ball-sized portions and form disks of a 2-inch diameter.
On three separate plates, place the flour, egg whites and bread crumbs. Dredge each disk through each of the plates, starting with the flour, then the egg whites, then the bread crumbs. In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat the oil until almost smoking. Cook the disks in the oil, working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan, until disks are deep golden brown. Remove disks to a plate lined with paper towels and serve. They can be reheated from room temperature, but should not be refrigerated.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I kid, I kid. Sometimes even I catch the appetizer bug and need to make lots of tiny food. The urge makes no sense, but cannot be denied. And when done right, finger food can make for a very fun party. Here are a few tips to help you through.
Things on toast are great but don't get carried away
It's no secret that bread fills people up. "X on toast," as I call it, is also a cheap and endlessly versatile way to feed people at a cocktail party. But people will get bored after eating one too many riffs on bruschetta. As you can see, for my dad's recent birthday party, I made a traditional tomato bruschetta with a thin schmear of ricotta on baguette slices. It was easy to make, tasty, and the only bread on the menu. Choose one thing to put on toast and stick to that.
Platters are your friends
Assemble a big platter of something delicious in advance, and you'll thank me later. You could choose antipasto, cheese, pickles, whatever you and your guests enjoy. The platter will give hungry guests something to descend upon immediately, and will buy you some time while you finish making your crab-stuffed cherry tomatoes or whatever other tiny, fussy thing is on the menu.
People like meat!
After a party, sometimes people have finger food remorse--feeling bad for filling up on insubstantial things like chips and onion dip. By offering some solid protein, your guests will not only actually get full (preventing sloppy cocktail-induced behavior) they will feel like they've had an actual meal. It's psychological, folks. Some ideas: beef or chicken satays, chicken liver pate, Swedish meatballs, chicken wings, mini beef empanadas, or the always-in-fashion pig in a blanket. Seafood counts too: don't forget shrimp cocktail, mini crab cakes, gravlax, baccala.
But don't forget vegetarians
It's tempting to add bacon to everything. But being considerate of vegetarians (and your guests' arteries) is part of being a good host. I advise against the all-too-common hummus and cut-up vegetable tray. To me, it reads as I-forgot-you-were-vegetarian-here-eat-some-hummus. Make the effort and try something different. A selection of roasted vegetables is a surprising alternative to the usual plate of raw crudite. Fondue has retro appeal and is something guests can actually fill up on. Homemade guacamole is always welcome, as are interesting salsas. You could serve little squares of firm polenta topped with any number of sauteed vegetables or cheeses. I also like stuffed mushrooms, mini latkes, spiced nuts, and big bowls of flavored popcorn.
Serve a mix of hot and cold
Don't make yourself crazy by serving only hot food. It's not necessary and will keep you in the kitchen the entire time unless you have a staff of helpers churning out the food. There are two strategies that have worked for me. One: make a buffet of hot and cold food that can also be eaten at room temperature. That way, you can leave things out for the entire night without worry. Two: alternate hot and cold dishes by serving them in stages. Start off the night with a big cheese plate and some chilled shrimp, then bring out some hot stuffed mushrooms, then some room temperature bruschetta and deviled eggs, then another hot dish, and on and on until your guests are happily sated.
Don't go crazy
The goal is for everyone to have a good time and yes, leave the party full. But this is not an all-you-can-eat buffet. You don't need to serve 100 different kinds of appetizers. Depending on the number of guests, about five different types of items will usually suffice. Supplement with chips and dip, nuts, olives, and other store-bought goodies and everyone will leave happy. And if the idea of finger food scares you too much, by all means, just serve a big bowl of pasta. It works for me!
Monday, January 11, 2010
1. Name, occupation, and city
Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief, Bon Appétit magazine, Los Angeles
2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
Wow, there have been so many. One that comes to mind is a big open house party we did in December a few years ago with roast turkey, ham, and a lot of side dishes from recipes in the magazine.
4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?
7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
LOL: See answer to #6!
9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
Paul McCartney. (And yes, I’d cook a vegetarian meal just for him!)
Friday, January 8, 2010
My father and I are very alike. We are hard workers, enjoy birdwatching, have a serious affection for dogs, are graced with the exact same feet (only mine are slightly smaller, thankfully), and are generally big-hearted yet stubborn people. We also both love lemon meringue pie.
So instead of a birthday cake, I decided to make Dad a pie. First, I located a recipe online by someone whom I will not name (it rhymes with "Shmalton Schmown") that sounded promising. I made a tart-but-not-too-tart lemon filling, whipped egg whites into firm peaks, and baked the whole thing until it was golden and burnished on top. It chilled in the refrigerator overnight. I have to admit, I got a little excited.
But when I cut into the thing, the lemon filling pooled into yellow slop. The meringue broke free from the crust and floated around the center of the pie like a solitary island. Everyone averted their eyes. Luckily, I had made an extra chocolate pudding pie, which my Mom immediately started slicing up. Nothing to see here, folks! Back-up pies are always a good idea.
Nevertheless, Dad requested a slice of the lemon, so I cut him a wedge of crust and meringue and topped it with some of the filling. It slid around his plate, a soupy mess of a dessert. But he ate the whole slice with relish, proclaiming it delicious. Because that's what dads do.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Well, pickle pinwheels are my two new favorite words. I can't even explain how good these are. The name and the ingredients--deli ham, pickles, cream cheese--might make a person pause, but trust me on this: total deliciousness. The pickle is briny and tangy, the ham adds saltiness, and the cream cheese (I thought it was mayo) adds a hint of sweetness. Like a lot of salty foods, they go down easy with Champagne. Which is kind of contradictory, I guess, but whatever.
And they're actually really pretty, a bit like like sushi on first glance. But then you look closer and it's a pickle and ham. And then you eat one and your mind is blown.
Ham and pickle pinwheels
I didn't get Nathan's actual recipe, but this version, by Paula Deen, looks about right. Nathan mentioned something about "cheap deli ham" so don't feel the need to splurge on this recipe.
1 package precooked, sliced ham sandwich meat
1 large jar dill pickles
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
Spread softened cream cheese in thin layer on ham slices. Place a pickle on the end of each ham and cream cheese slice. Roll up jelly roll style. Slice into 1/2-inch thick slices.
Monday, January 4, 2010
I don't know about you, but I think New Year's Eve always feels a little anticlimactic. There's all this pressure to make finger food and stay up late and have FUN and somehow it never measures up in the end. Too much hype, if you ask me. I have better memories of regular old weekend dinner parties than New Year's Eves throughout my life.
That said, if I could relive this New Year's Eve, I'd beam myself back there in a heartbeat.
While we were in Florida, our friends Juliette and Nathan invited Dan and me over (Or maybe we invited ourselves over?) to have a party at their adorable bungalow near the beach. The place is a homey little jewel box decorated by Juliette, who is an interior designer. Everywhere you look, something beautiful catches your eye--a delicate fern cascading out of a smoked glass vase, a collection of seashells arranged just so. Even the perfume bottles in her bathroom look cool. Needless to say, I covet their home.
But the best part of the house is the little outdoor patio they created. Because their living room is so small and the weather is warm year-round, Juliette and Nathan spend a lot of time outside. I love the patio's well-worn furniture, the woven roof, the soft cushions and little stone path leading you there. Everything about it is comfortable and perfect.
For New Year's Eve, Juliette decorated it with Chinese lanterns and white lights. She hung candle-filled Mason jars from a large tree nearby and put sprigs of fuschia bouganvillea in tiny jars. Champagne was chilling in a bucket. Glasses were on hand. A bowl of guacamole stood at the ready. It looked like a party before we even sat down.
We sipped our drinks and caught up on life and what we hoped would happen in the new year. Music played softly in the background. We swatted mosquitoes and watched a curious opossum poke its pink nose through a hole in the fence to peer at us for a minute before disappearing in a tangle of vines and bushes. Fireworks popped in backyards around us.
I slipped off my shoes and stretched out in a chair, feeling lucky and also aware of the moment being over soon. Time's running out. When I am on vacation, especially at home, I always have that thought lingering in the back of my mind. Soon it would be a new year, and I'd be back in New York, back in the cold and dreary winter. I wanted to stay in that little backyard with the opposum and more pizza pockets and never come back.
Perfect nights like this always come to an end too quickly. But it was everything I always imagined New Year's Eve could be--better, really.