Friday, May 28, 2010

gone hikin'

Dan and I are in Vermont spending some much-needed time with friends and fresh air. See you in a few weeks!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

link-o-rama

It's hard to believe it's almost Memorial Day weekend. Whether you're throwing a barbecue for 20 or bringing a dish to a potluck, here are some links for inspiration. Have fun!

Homemade ginger beer for cocktails or just straight [via Lottie + Doof] The Leland Palmer (gin, jasmine tea, limoncello, lemon juice, and grapefruit juice) [via Bon Appetit]
Lamb tacos [via Pithy & Cleaver]
Burger and brat recipes [via Saveur]
Salted toffee chocolate graham cracker squares [via Pink of Perfection]

Grilled desserts (grilled pound cake with Mexican chocolate sauce and tropical fruit) [via Food & Wine]

And from the Dinner Party archives:
Main dishes:
Chili dogs
Oven-fried picnic chicken

Salads & sides:
Kitchen sink salad
Spring panzanella
Pasta salad with chickpeas, tomato, and feta
Shrimp rolls

Snacks:

Chile-lime peanuts
Charred onion dip
Green goddess dip
Tomato-mango salsa
Desserts:

Chocolate peanut butter squares 
Lemon bars 
Oatmeal-coconut-raspberry bars

What are you making this weekend? Please share in the comments!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

what's for dinner, tamara reynolds?

Today we continue our two-part Q&A with the ladies behind the great book Forking Fantastic! Put The Party Back In Dinner Party. Co-author Tamara Reynolds (isn't her headshot awesome?) shares her favorite simple dessert ideas, love of Sabra hummus, and why seasonal produce is the best menu inspiration. Thanks, Tamara! (Click here for part one of the interview with Zora O'Neill)

1. Name, occupation, and city
Tamara Reynolds, freelance cook, food writer, hostess of the Sunday Night Dinner in Astoria, and co author of Forking Fantastic! Put The Party Back In Dinner Party.


2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

The other night I had my upstairs neighbor and her visiting family over for dinner. It was a very casual thing; mushroom risotto, braised artichokes, salad, and peas with romaine lettuce and mint, but it felt so good to cook some spring food (finally!!). We ran out of wine and just as we were about to go into the liquor cabinet for after dinner libations, my husband came home from a very long workday. Probably the best end for a Monday night!


3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
 

My God. One best? I seriously cannot play that game. What I can say is that any dinner that has started with "I just had to cook dinner because these artichokes/figs/asparagus/ramps/melons/etc were so beautiful" always turns out well. I am often inspired by seasonal produce.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
 

They all have their place--- beer is especially refreshing on a hot day outside, or with very spicy food, cocktails are an excellent aperitif that prime your tastebuds, but for dinner, wine is always my choice. It is not just a drink, it is a food-- made from grapes! And when paired well it can enhance your dinner- bringing out sympathetic flavors, etc. So much more than just a thirst quencher!

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

I want to listen to music that matches my mood. Or puts me into the mood I want to be in. Karl often takes a couple of songs or artists that I suggest and makes a playlist-- he is especially adept at that. Peter owns a bunch of 70's Ethiopian pop on vinyl that I love to listen to when I am at his and Zora's house. It always sounds so good late at night.


6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

I would probably ride my bike to the produce stand and butcher down the street. Maybe chicken thighs braised in olive oil, wine, garlic and olives over some saffron rice and a salad? Some other vegetable that is in season? Mmm, that sounds good!


7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

I usually cook everything myself, although I love to cook with close friends. There is something very intimate about cooking with someone else- especially in small NYC kitchens. Karl is especially great at dessert; when he is around, I love to have him tackle desserts I want to eat but don't have the patience to make.


8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
I tend to make everything from scratch except Sabra hummus. Zora and I joke that it is the equivalent of crack. They do such a good job with it, truly I have no improvement to offer. Otherwise, I enjoy the challenge of making things from scratch. Plus, then there is no doubt of what it contains-- I made it.


9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

I have gotten on a kick lately of serving fruit over greek yogurt. It is easy, and I always have both items around. Crepes are always an easy last minute thing, requiring only flour, milk, sugar, and butter. Browned butter over a crepe is pretty damned good no matter what the season.


10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

You know, as corny as it sounds, I would LOVE to feed Thomas Jefferson. He was a farmer, a vintner, wine aficionado, inventor, statesman, scholar.... all of my favorite qualities! Seriously, I think he would be a fabulous guest- he could bring wine he made, vegetables from his garden, maybe some little invention that would make my life better, and then talk about France, books, ideas, and the creation of the US. That is a dinner party I want to go to!

 [Photo credit: Patrick Harbron]

Monday, May 24, 2010

what's for dinner, zora o'neill?

Dear readers, do you know about the book Forking Fantastic: Put the Party Back in Dinner Parties? It's pretty, well, fantastic. Whether you host dinner parties on the regular, or want to try your hand at  your very first one, this book is a smart, fun, and enthusiastic guide. It is nothing like the majority of entertaining books out there, with their fussy rules and tablescapes. The authors, Zora O'Neill and Tamara Reynolds mastered the art of laid-back entertaining through their weekly Sunday Night Dinner supper club, and this book contains plenty of their recipes, game plans, and tips as well as lots of and funny anecdotes. I am very excited to bring you a two-part Q&A with the book's authors. First up: Zora.

1. Name, occupation, and city
Zora O'Neill,
freelance food and travel writer, coauthor of Forking Fantastic! Put the Party back in Dinner Party, New York, NY, in the glorious borough of Queens

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

In February, right after we got back from a recent trip to Thailand, we invited some people over for dinner so we could cook some spicy noodles and otherwise cheer ourselves up for no longer being in that land of bountiful and delicious food. We were eleven people--friends and neighbors, with one relatively new-to-the-group person. It wasn't too calculated--but I do like to keep it under a dozen people, or else it gets too loud and you get split between too many conversations. (I really like a group of six or eight, but we never manage to keep it that small.)


For this dinner my husband, Peter, had gone a little crazy shopping at the Thai grocery, and even bought some giant frozen crickets. He fried them up, but said, "I don't think I can eat these!" Our friend Katie, though, didn't even hesitate, and crunched right into one--which made the rest of us a little embarrassed, so we all had to jump in too. Katie is an excellent guest, and not just because she'll eat fried crickets!

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

I still think back fondly to an Ethiopian dinner I made while living in Cairo, back in 1998. I'd never cooked Ethiopian food before, but I loved the stuff, and I had a bunch of recipes from the Frugal Gourmet, of all people, which seemed pretty credible. Getting the ingredients wasn't difficult, but we didn't have big platters to serve the food on, like they do in Ethiopian restaurants. So we just covered the table entirely in aluminum foil, and then laid the injera (the stretchy flatbread) and everything out on that. I still remember the sound of long sheets of foil being pulled out of a box--somehow loads of foil always says 'party' to me, whether it's for a table cover or a costume or some other random decorative thing.


I also remember having a minor tantrum in the kitchen at the last minute, when the injera wasn't working out--that was the one recipe where the Frug did not come through. My friend Peter--who just happened to be visiting, and didn't know what he was getting into--kept his cool, though, and we somehow fixed it and carried on. This is probably one of the reasons he much, much later became my husband.

The guests were a lot of my friends in the Arabic program I was in that year--many of whom I'm still close with today. The Ethiopian dinner was just one of many mad projects we took on to distract ourselves from too much homework and other tedious expat problems--and all that definitely brought us closer.

Oh, and I remember sneaking off in the middle of the party and taking a half-hour nap in my bedroom. I'd been cooking all day and was completely wiped. I still do that occasionally. That's how you know you're eating with real friends--they don't mind if you fall asleep!

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

Wine, usually, because beer makes me very sleepy, and I can't drink much without feeling too full to eat. But with spicy food, beer still kicks the ass of any riesling or whatever wine people claim is supposed to be good with chili. I especially love a good chelada--the Mexican treatment of beer on ice with lime juice, and salt around the rim of the glass.


A good cocktail at the start of the evening is a delectable thing, though, and can be great for stimulating the appetite. I just wish I had the foresight and calm to make one for people when they arrive...and then also was able to deliver dinner on time, before they have a chance to get too wasted on the hard stuff. Because I can't do this, cocktails are rarely served at my house, unfortunately.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

I'm rarely organized enough to pick out music beforehand, and the early part of guests arriving is usually just the same stuff I was playing while cooking. I delegate that job to a guest. I've had people sit and compose iTunes playlists for an hour, instead of talking to people, but I think that's great! We also have a record player, so it's fun for other people to flip through the stacks and play DJ.


Tamara and Karl (her husband) and I made playlists for various dinner situations and put them up on our book website. Karl's "Summer Fried Chicken" mix is an especially great combo of outdoor party music.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

My default thing is something pasta-y, as it's just a good blank slate for a random assortment of things from the fridge and pantry--pull it all together, and you can wind up with a substantial meal. In the summer, there's this great lemon-basil pasta recipe I have; in the winter, it might be something more like a lamb ragu.


If it's truly last-minute, like the day before or the same day, I really just pull out whatever I've got, and try to keep extra shopping to a minimum--I figure the important thing is the people, and as long as we don't go hungry, we'll be fine. I really like the creative challenge of making something out of apparently nothing.

But if I'm planning ahead a little bit, like more than a few days, then I also really enjoy the process of sitting down with the cookbooks and figuring out a full menu where all the flavors and textures go together. Then making lists, and all that. For me, the organizing part can be just as satisfying as the cooking.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

My husband is a good cook himself, so he usually does one or two things at least to help out. And sometimes he takes over almost entirely if the menu is more his forte--he's more confident with a wok, for instance. I occasionally set aside tasks like picking herbs from stems or grating cheese, and leave that for the first couple of people who show up and say, "What can I do? Put me to work!" But just as often, it makes me feel a little more organized just to do that stuff myself and know it's done.


8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

Just about everything is made from scratch--I like the challenge. I think the only product I buy is Sabra hummus, and I'll occasionally buy other mezze, such as taramosalata and stuffed grape leaves, from our neighborhood Greek grocer because we happen to have such a good one. And we have good Middle Eastern and Indian flatbreads in our neighborhood too, so I'll buy those.


9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

Something fruity, if possible--it just seems better for the digestion. Honestly, dessert is often a bit of an afterthought. After Tamara and I finished the cookbook, I realized we didn't have a single chocolate dessert--and I doubt we've ever made one together. I certainly love chocolate, but it is often just too deadly after a big meal. I don't want people to hurt themselves! I'd rather serve people yogurt with honey and a little fruit, and be done with it, than trot out some ridiculously rich confection that makes people groan with delight...and then hate themselves later.


10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

Robert Farrar Capon, who wrote The Supper of the Lamb, a beautiful and witty book about food that I often reread for inspiration. Then again, I might be a little tongue-tied if I met him in person--but to judge by his writing, he seems like he would be a thoroughly charming guest.

[Photo: Peter Moskos]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the ginjito

It's almost criminal to eat Cuban food without Mojitos. But as I reached for the rum, mint, and limes, it felt a little predictable. While you can't really improve upon a drink as perfect as the Mojito, I wanted to tweak it slightly, just for fun.

I thought about adding lemons, or replacing the rum with gin, my favorite spirit, but then I spied some knobs of ginger hanging out in the refrigerator. Ginger would play well with the lime juice and add a nice, spicy contrast to the mint. And the Ginjito was born.

 Ginjito
(makes 1 drink)
1 lime, cut into eighths
3 sprigs of mint

1 generous shot of light rum
2 Tbsp. ginger syrup*
Cold soda water

In a cocktail shaker, combine the limes, mint, and rum. Use a muddler to crush the mint and limes and infuse the rum. Continue mashing until the limes are thoroughly drained of juice. Place the top on your shaker and give it a few good shakes. Strain the lime and mint-infused rum into a glass. Add the ginger syrup and top off with soda water.
Stir and taste. Garnish with a lime or spring of mint, if you desire.

*To make ginger simple syrup, place a cup of peeled chunks of fresh ginger root in a small saucepan containing 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Just before it comes to a bowl, remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for at least 20 minutes, or overnight in the fridge. Remove the ginger before using. The syrup can be stored in a jar with a lid for up to a week.

It also makes a fantastic soda. Just add a few tablespoons to a glass of cold soda water, along with the juice of one lemon or lime.

Monday, May 17, 2010

taste memories

Last weekend's dinner menu sprang from homesickness (and, really, sick-of-work-ness). I have been missing South Florida lately. A trip home isn't in the cards for many more months, so the next best thing is to cook it out of my system. Luckily some friends came over last weekend to help with the eating.

I'm not Cuban, but that's what home tastes like for me. Mojitos, plantain chips with mariquitas, arroz con pollo, boiled yuca in garlic sauce. In high school, my friends and I would pile into the orange vinyl booths at Havana and gorge on black beans and rice and sweet plantains. Many years later, I walked into that same restaurant and recognized Dan, a high school acquaintance who later became my husband. Naturally, we served Cuban food at our wedding. 
Other Florida favorites made their way onto my dinner menu as well: Key lime pie and avocado salad with raw corn and cherry tomatoes. Iced sweet tea, which makes me think of my mom and Nanny, who always have a pitcher of it in their refrigerators.

It's hard to capture a place in a single plate. For me, home is also chilled shrimp and guacamole. It is Publix potato salad, iced cappuccinos and Cuban sandwiches from Tulipan Bakery. It is fried fish sandwiches on soft, starchy buns eaten with a view of the flat, shimmering ocean. Coconut ice cream. Honeybell oranges picked off the tree.

I want to taste all of these things in one big bite. Look down on the tiny turquoise swimming pools and vast parking lots from the window of an airplane. Sit in the hot sun with a glass of something perspiring in my hand.

But I am here and not there. For now there are tender shreds of beef over rice, sweet plantains, and minty rum drinks. And I can dream.

Cuban for five
Ginger Mojitos
Plantain chips and mariquitas salsa
Avocado, corn, and tomato salad
Ropa vieja and white rice
Sweet plantains
Key lime pie

Ropa vieja
Adapted slightly from Gourmet. This was my first time making ropa vieja, and while it was time-consuming, it wasn't all that hard. Someone said, "This is the best thing you've ever made," which made all of the simmering, and chopping, and straining worthwhile.  My advice: give yourself lots of time, more time than you think. I started cooking at 5 p.m. and we ate by 9 p.m. You might even want to make the dish the day before you serve it, then reheat it on low when guests arrive. Or if you have a crockpot, this is a perfect reason to dust it off.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)

For braising beef:

3 lbs. skirt or flank steak, trimmed
2 quarts water
2 carrots, chopped coarse
1 large onion, chopped coarse
2 celery ribs, chopped coarse
1 bay leaf
3 garlic cloves, crushed lightly
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns

2 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups braising liquid plus additional if desired
a 14- to 16-oz. can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced (I recommend 5 cloves)
1 tsp. ground cumin (I recommend 2 tsp.)
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (I recommend 1 tsp.)
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olive, drained and halved, optional
Steamed rice, about 1 cup per person

To braise beef:
In a 5-quart stockpot combine all braising ingredients and simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours, or until beef is tender. Remove pot from heat and cool meat in liquid 30 minutes. Transfer meat to a platter and cover. Strain braising liquid through a colander, pressing on solids, into a bowl. Throw away the vegetables. Return braising liquid to pot and boil until reduced to 3 cups, about 30 minutes. (Stew may be made up to this point 1 day ahead. Cool braising liquid completely and chill it and the beef separately, covered.)

In another large stockpot, cook green bell peppers and onion in 2 Tbsp. oil over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. While vegetables are cooking, pull meat into shreds about 3 by 1/2 inches. To onion mixture add shredded meat, 2 cups braising liquid, tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

While stew is simmering, in a large skillet cook red and yellow bell peppers in remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir peppers into stew with enough additional braising liquid to thin to desired consistency and simmer, uncovered, 5 
minutes. Stir in peas and olives, if using, and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

Avocado, tomato, and corn salad 
This is almost like guacamole in salad form. Feel free to play with the ingredients.
(Serves 5 people)

2 ripe avocados, cut into small chunks
1 large handful cherry tomatoes, cut in half
3 ears sweet corn kernels, removed from the cob
1/4 cup cilantro, minced (or basil)
1 jalapeno, minced
2 green onions, minced
Olive oil
Red or white wine vinegar
salt and pepper

Combine all of the vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and a generous splash of vinegar. Carefully toss the ingredients, being careful not to mash the avocado. Salt and pepper to taste. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

crazy-good chocolate peanut butter squares

Last week was my friend Colin's birthday. His fiancé specified "no gifts" at his celebratory dinner, but I couldn't resist. Colin is one of my favorite people. Always quick with a kind word, he has the ability to hone in on the one person who doesn't know anyone at a party and ask them lots of polite, interested questions until they feel at home. Or slowly back away. He will help you move. He will come to your poetry reading/interpretive dance performance/bake sale. He is also very fun to drink with. (Unless he drinks too much, and in that case, he is fun to laugh at.) At the very least, the guy deserves some cookies.

I emailed his
fiancĂ© and asked about his dessert preferences and she quickly wrote back "anything in the chocolate family." For a second, I wondered if that was actually her dessert preference (kidding, Anne!), then I got started thinking about chocolate cookies. 
Which seemed kind of boring. As did brownies. But I needed something transportable that could be brought to dinner and consumed much later in the evening. So I grabbed my trusty dessert bible: How to be a Domestic Goddess and remembered a fool-proof recipe for chocolate peanut butter squares that I made for a party a very long time ago. It blew my mind that I hadn't made the squares a second time. They are nothing fancy, just a thick layer of chocolate atop a thick layer of soft peanut buttery crust. But they are mind-numbingly good. Like Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, but in bar cookie form. And without the chemicals.

And the kicker: you don't have to bake them. Seriously.

My only regret is that I didn't bring more to Colin's party. The Tupperware I used was not that big, so I only managed to squeeze about a dozen squares. After the ice cream cake was served, I put the container out on the table and they got gobbled up immediately. Colin, did you even get one? 

Meanwhile, Dan and I still had half a pan left at home. We are trying to not be greedy and gross and are limiting ourselves to one square (okay, two) a day, but that is something akin to torture.

Chocolate peanut butter squares

From Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess. Cut these very small when serving. Trust me.
(Makes about 48 very small squares)

For the peanut butter layer:

9-inch square pan, greased
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, scant
1 1/3 cups confectioners' sugar, scant
1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (leave it out of the fridge for a bit so it's not rock hard)

For the chocolate layer:

7 oz. milk chocolate
4 oz. dark or bittersweet chocolate
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

In a large bowl, stir all the ingredients for the peanut butter layer together until smooth, with a mixer or with a spoon. Nigella says, "You will find, either way, that some of the dark brown sugar stays in nubbly but very small, lumps, but don't worry about that." Press the sandy mixture into the brownie pan and make the surface as even as possible.


To make the chocolate topping, melt the chocolates and butter together in a microwave (for a minute or two on medium) or over a double boiler over low heat. Spread the chocolate over the peanut butter layer. Put the pan in the refrigerator to set for an hour. When the chocolate has hardened, cut into small squares.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

how do you say thank you?

This article on the New York Times' style blog caught my eye the other week. It's about how people say thank you, be it a gift, mailed note, email, or horror of horrors, Facebook message. Snobby and pretentious the story may be ("Flowers—now considered amateurish pre-party gifts because they a) smell of a hasty trip to the Korean deli and b) force a hostess to scurry for a vase and rapidly marshal Martha Stewart skills she may not have—seem to be more welcome in the aftermath."), the writer, Alexandra Jacobs, brings up some interesting points. She focuses mainly on dinner parties and thinks that formal, handwritten thank you notes are making a comeback, even though some people dislike them, saying that they are "predictable," take too long to arriveand our old favorite!make people feel guilty.

What do you think? I agree with one of the people interviewed in the article that saying thank you, no matter how, is the most important thing. Small gifts upon arrival like a bottle of wine, or, yes, bodega flowers are always nice, but it's extra thoughtful to send a note the next day. I like sending (and receiving) email because it seems looser, friendlier. Putting pen to paper requires more effort, and somehow creates a more forced missive. "Dear Grandma, thank you for the Christmas sweater. I love it very much."

Plus snail mail does take a really long time to arrive. I always imagine my friends and family wondering why I didn't thank them for the lovely spread/gift/other nice thing while my letter bounces around in transit for a week.

But there was one rare occasion when my friend Sarah sent me, somehow very speedily, a handwritten note thanking me for a very casual supper. This meal certainly didn't deserve sacrificing a stamp, but getting the card and seeing her handwriting meant so much to me. It made my own efforts seem more special.

So maybe there is something to a handwritten note. What say you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

what's for dinner, jody adams?

James Beard Award-winning Jody Adams is the chef-owner at Boston's Rialto Restaurant, but you also might know her from this season of Top Chef Masters, where she is currently kicking some ass. Adams is best known for her love of local ingredients and Italian cuisine. At her restaurant, she likes to create seasonal menus that focus on different regions of Italy. She really won me over with this Q&A--as you would imagine, the lady can entertain. Simply reading about her dinner party menus made my mouth water. Here are her thoughts on store-bought treats, drinking scotch, and the three people with whom she'd like to dine.

1. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

Two weeks ago. It was a last minute affair. We called up a collection of old friends from different parts of our lives. There were 10 of us and then our kids. We started with oysters, then I made a massive seafood stew--lobster, mussels, Pollack, squid and razor clams with chick peas and aioli. We served a salad with radicchio, arugula, pomegranate seeds, Gorgonzola and toasted sunflower seeds. A friend provided the finishing touch, an amazing homemade chocolate-nut tart. I know it was a great party because we were at the table into the wee hours.

2. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

One August evening, I invited 20 people to dinner at our little house on Cape Cod after shopping at the farmer’s market. I filled a picnic table with platters of vegetables: roasted beets with mint and ricotta salata, wilted greens with garlic and chilis, sliced tomatoes with olive oil and basil, grilled corn with herb butter; grilled squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, potato salad with figs and celery; grilled butterflied leg of lamb marinated in pomegranate molasses, orange, oregano and coriander seeds; grilled bread, onions and garlic yogurt; and for dessert, simply raspberries and cream.

Everyone was happily sipping margaritas and mojitos out on the porch when I heard screams. One of the posts that held up the porch was groaning under the weight of our guests and had started to give way. After getting everyone off the porch and cleaning up the few pieces of broken pottery, we moved the party indoors. People are still talking about the dinner seven years later…the drama of the evening made the food that much better.


3. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

I always drink wine with meals. That said, in the summer I sometimes preface wine with a margarita or mojito, but only if made from scratch; in cold weather, a really good scotch, say a MacCallen 18. I’ve recently started to appreciate good beer since my son and husband have begun brewing IPA at our house. There's nothing like something cold and hoppy to take care of thirst and hunger after working out. But at heart I'm a wine drinker. Wine makes me happy. It is, I believe, an integral part of a meal and therefore of life!

4. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

I listen to a lot of African, Brazilian and Cuban music. They bring life and texture to the party without demanding a seat at the table.

5. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

We always depend on nuts and olives to start; then pasta, maybe carbonara; a big salad; cheese, dried fruit and squares of really good chocolate. With the possible exception of guanciale, for the carbonara, everything else is stuff we have on hand.

6. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

My husband Ken is a fabulous cook so as often as not, we share the cooking. Sometimes I’m in charge, sometimes he’s in charge.

7. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

Ken can make sourdough bread, but lately our schedules mean that we buy bread from a couple of artisan bakers we know. We buy those yummy Spanish olive oil cookie/crackers and I love to serve them with fresh figs, Greek yogurt with honey and some toasted walnuts. I had a fancy ice cream machine, but never made ice cream as well as our local ice cream shops so I gave up. I love really good Italian dried pasta and all the fantastic pickles that are now available
. I never make desserts so I might get a nice soft ripening cheese.

8. What do you like to serve for dessert?

I adore tarts. My favorite thing is Ken's apple galette.

9. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

The Dalai Lama. I cooked for him once and was dying to be at the table with him to listen. Or Jamie Oliver. He says out loud the things we’ve all been thinking. Or Julia Child--I miss her, and she started saying the right things about cooking and eating 50 years ago.


[Photo: Courtesy of YC Media]

Friday, May 7, 2010

link-o-rama


Happy Friday! Who's up for a cold one? Here are some ideas from around the web for warm-weather drinking this weekend, or maybe for a special mom in your life?

The Tennessee
(whiskey, maraschino liquor, lemon juice) [via Eat Make Read]
All things Julep: celery juleps, refrigerator juleps, and classic mint juleps [via The Bitten Word]

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: an absinthe-basil-strawberry concoction [via Good. Food. Stories]
Colorful fresh fruit spritzers [via The Dabble]

And from the Dinner Party archives:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

spring panzanella

The very first dinner I blogged about here was a birthday party for my friend Jamie. Jamie and I went to high school together and although we've remained close over the years, we haven't lived in the same city since graduation. Which was quite awhile ago. Ahem.

One of the best pieces of news I've gotten all year was that Jamie was moving to New York for a job. He arrived a few weeks ago and last weekend, we had lunch together. While it wasn't nearly as elaborate as that birthday party menu, somehow that felt right. I will be seeing lots of him now, so there's no need to go crazy making dozens of cupcakes in his honor.

Instead, Jamie, Dan, and I sat around our living room and drank iced green tea. As we caught up, I whipped up a springy bread salad with goat cheese, snap peas, asparagus, basil, cucumber and a mustard vinaigrette. It was very tasty, almost as fast to make as it was to eat. Everyone cleaned their bowls very quickly and I didn't have anything else in the house to serve.


Luckily, this gave us an excuse to go out for a piece of pie. I'm thinking about making less food from now on so we can always do this.  


Spring panzanella
(Serves 3 to 4 people as a side dish or very light main course)

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into small pieces
1 baguette cut into bite-sized cubes (about 6 cups)
1 cucumber, diced into small cubes
1 cup sugar snap peas, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup basil, julienned
1 cup goat cheese crumbles or Goat gouda, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette:
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 shallot, sliced thin
3 Tbsp. Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Toss the asparagus with a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large bowl, then spread them out on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, or until tender. Set aside.

In a large saute pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil over medium heat and toss in the bread cubes. Toast the bread, constantly stirring to keep them from burning. When they are golden brown, remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle the bread with a pinch of salt. Place the bread in a large bowl to cool. 

For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Add the cheese, cucumber, snap peas, and roasted asparagus to the bread. Toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.

Monday, May 3, 2010

pure evil

Tiramisu is stealthy, man. It's been on restaurant menus for so long we hardly even notice it. Our eyes glaze right past as we look for something more interesting, less fusty. Tiramisu pre-dates molten chocolate cake's ubiquitousness. But don't feel sorry for this overlooked, underappreciated dessert. It is pure, unadulterated evil.

No one officially knows where the recipe originated. So it's safe to assume the devil made it. Booze! Sugar! Fat! Raw eggs! Krispy Kreme bread pudding has got nothing on tiramisu. It's practically diet food in comparison. Maybe you could fry the lady fingers, or mix some bacon bits into the mascarpone, but other than that, you can't really make tiramisu more rich than it already is. 

There are modern takes on tiramisu: lime curd and fresh berries, white chocolate and spiced pear, or, more bizarre, pumpkin. There are quick-fix, 15-minute versions with whipped topping, Jell-O pudding, and other monstrosities. And then there is the classic version: ladyfingers, coffee liquor, boozy zabaglione, whipped cream. Layer, layer, layer. Dust a little cocoa powder on top. Then chill it in the fridge until it forms into something otherworldly: a cloudlike mass of lusciously silky badness so soft you can eat with a spoon. When I served it after our very hearty lamb ragu dinner last weekend, people went for seconds. Seconds. After eating pasta. "This is very light," someone said. I chuckled to myself.

In a world where nothing is decadent enough--sandwiches with two pieces of fried chicken in place of the bread, foie gras in dessert form, bone marrow on toast points, burgers slathered with lardo--why is tiramisu so unloved? It might not be the hippest dessert to grace a menu, but it has timeless appeal like bananas foster, or chocolate pudding. But with a mean streak.


I smell a comeback. A coffee-scented, creamy, cocoa-flecked comeback. Who's with me?


Tiramisu
I cut this recipe, from Gourmet, in half. But if you're feeding a bigger crowd, go for the full-sized version. I also found that the amount of coffee liquor wasn't enough, so I upped it a bit. Taste as you go.
(Serves 6 to 8 people)

1 cup boiling-hot water

1 1/2 Tbsp. instant-espresso powder

1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, divided
5 Tbsp. coffee liqueur (like Tia Maria, or Kahlua)
2 large egg yolks
1/8 cup dry Marsala (you can also use dry Vermouth in a pinch)
1/2 lb. mascarpone (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
about 20 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers)

Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Stir together water, espresso powder, 1/2 tablespoon sugar, and coffee liquor in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool.
Beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined. Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks. Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly. Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger (quickly!) into the coffee mixture, line the bottom of a 9-inch square baking pan with one row of ladyfingers, trimming edges to fit if necessary. (I find it's easier to cut the dry cookie to fit, then dip it.) Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan. Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with cocoa. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let tiramisu stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving, then dust with more cocoa, if desired.

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