Monday, January 31, 2011

what's for dinner, bitchin' kitchen?

Sometime last fall, I was clicking through the TV channels when I came upon something very, very strange on the Cooking Channel: a tough blonde chick with black nails, tons of jewelry and a Canadian-Italian accent whipping up fried peppers with onion dip. The set was garish, her hair was perfect, and there was a segment by a shirtless bodybuilder named Hans. Bitchin' Kitchen was like no other cooking show I had ever seen, a cross between Guy's Big Bite, Jersey Shore, and Pee Wee's Playhouse. Mystified, I tweeted, "Is this show for real?" and was hit with a barrage of comments from Bitchin' Kitchen loyalists, including the host, Nadia G. (or one of her social media minions), who told me it is about "having a good time and celebrating life with food." Huh. So I kept watching, trying to figure it out. Was it all a big joke? And slowly, like all guilty pleasure TV shows, I fell in love. (And so did my husband, needless to say.) Bitchin' Kitchen is adorable in its own weird way. Nadia runs around her set in towering heels, "schaffing" things into pans while she dishes about in-laws and breakups in a constant array of surprising outfits. There is the occasional music segment, a bit of stand up comedy, and oh, yes, recipes. Things like sex-life saving Shepherd's pie and one-night-stand breakfast. It's silly, it's irreverent, and it's something completely different in the often formulaic world of food television.

Lucky for us, Nadia G. is here today to share her thoughts on dinner parties (and other favorite things like soy pudding and Motorhead). Enjoy!

1. Name, occupation, and city
Nadia G, writer, creator, and hostess of Bitchin' Kitchen, Montreal QC.

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

Over the holidays I threw a big Christmas dinner party for my crew. Our social media ninjas
were there, the TV crew, Panos and Hans, some close friends. I work with people I love, so it didn't have a nerdy "office party" feel. Plus, I whipped up smoked turkey, my pancetta-chestnut stuffing, and lots of mulled wine...tsaketa. You can't go wrong with that.

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

One of my favorites: organic baby arugula and blueberry salad, tossed with a maple-balsamic dressing. A main of gnocchi poutine: crisped homemade potato gnocchi, topped with melted fresh cheese curds, smothered in rich beef gravy. For dessert: milk chocolate and nougat fondue served with candied Seville orange rinds and homemade biscotti bites. (With espresso, of course.)

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

I'm more into wine and cocktails. I'll drink beer occasionally, but much prefer a full-bodied white/amber wine or vodka-rocks.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

Although I love dirty rock 'n' roll, Motorhead can be a bit, umm, aggressive for a dinner party, hehe. I usually opt for La Roux, Santigold, Richard Cheese... Fun stuff that keeps the energy up, and the convo going (aka: audible.)

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

I'd whip up a simple spaghetti aglio-olio, and add whatever is handy: fresh cherry tomatoes, spinach, throw in some feta, a coupla minced olives...

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

I pretty much do all the cooking. But I LOVE eating out as well, it's inspiring to see what other chefs are cooking up, it expands the palate (although ditto for the waistline).

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
Most of what I make is from scratch, but there are a few items I buy pre-made: organic stocks, canned beans, jams... and soy chocolate pudding. Not a huge fan of soy milk, but
for some reason they sucked me in with the pudding.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

My Key lime habanero cheesecake is always a winner. It's light yet creamy, spicy, sweet and tangy...what more could a girl ask for? OK, maybe some Swarovski-encrusted
Louboutins, but I digress..

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

Chris Farley, Chelsea Handler, and Batali (if he promises to make his calamari with spicy tomato sauce and dried currants). Oh, and Will Ferrell. Definitely Will Ferrell.
[Photo: Courtesy of Bitchin' Kitchen]

For the entire What's For Dinner archives, click here.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Brrr! It is so cold here in Brooklyn. 

One of the (very few) upsides of winter is that it's perfect for hosting dinner parties. What could be better than spending a long, leisurely evening in someone's warm, candle-lit home, sharing a cozy meal? Sure, you've still got to put on boots and a coat to get there but I think the trade off is usually worth it. Or, if you'd rather pad around in your bare feet, you could play host yourself and invite your friends over to your place. Either way, it's a win-win. Here are a few filling menu ideas perfect for winter entertaining.

18 winter salads (roasted beets with citrus and feta, eggs Benedict salad) [via Bon Appetit]

Creamy baked potato soup [via Smitten Kitchen]

Butternut squash and sweet potato soup [via Bella Eats]

A smart method for slow roast duck [via Food 52]

If you've got some time on your hands, here's a seven-hour leg of lamb [via Saveur]

Hearty vegetarian entrees
(carrot mac and cheese, veggie potpies) [via F&W]

Risotto for beginners
[via Good. Food. Stories]

Zuni Cafe's chard and onion panade (and some thoughts on dinner party-throwing) [via Wednesday Chef]

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

pomegranate margaritas

There's nothing like a margarita to make you feel like it's not the dead of winter. There might be piles of dirty snow on the sidewalk and you might be wearing three layers of clothing, but close your eyes, sip your drink, and you could very well be on a beach somewhere. Consume a few margaritas and you'll find yourself shedding those layers.

And when you add a splash of pomegranate juice, it's practically a health drink! Or at the very least, a rosy shade of pink that will, by osmosis, make you feel slightly less pallid.

About that girly hue, I admit I felt a tiny bit embarrassed offering these cocktails to my male guests, who arrived bearing beer. I was all, "Can I interest you fellows in a pomegranate margarita?" And you know what, gender norms be damned! One dude liked them, even asked for seconds. Pomegranate margaritas--the great equalizer. Who knew?

Pomegranate margarita
Adapted from Rosa Mexicano. Pretty please use fresh lime and pomegranate juice, it makes a difference! If you like a more traditionally tart margarita, omit the simple syrup, but I like that tiny bit of sweetness.
(Makes 6 drinks)

12 oz. white tequila
3 oz. Triple Sec
6 oz. lime juice
6 Tbsp. pomegranate juice (I used Pom because the company sent me some samples)
1/2 cup simple syrup
1 lime, thinly sliced, optional

Chill all of the ingredients before making this drink. In a pitcher, combine the tequila, Triple Sec and juices. Stir until blended. Float the lime slices on top, if desired. Pour into ice-filled glasses and serve.

Monday, January 24, 2011

mailbag: beef stroganoff

Hi Lisa! 
I've started up home cooking again. It is the winter...perfect for staying in and making the apartment warm by cooking! I was wondering what your take on a beef Stroganoff would be? I've cooked it recently for my boyfriend. Granted it turned out pretty good, I was not very satisfied with beef chuck I went with (instead of the recommended tenderloin)...and the sauce could've been saucier. Since I haven't come across that recipe on your site, I thought it'd be interesting to see your experience with it.
I love old fashioned recipes, but before getting Rosie's email I hadn't given much thought to beef Stroganoff. I must have eaten it at some point during my life, but I couldn't remember when. Which seemed like a shame, because what could be better on a chilly night than a bowl of egg noodles topped with sauteed beef and a creamy mushroom sauce? It's winter eating at its finest. And perfect dinner party fare if you're in the mood for something retro.

Although we tend to associate beef Stroganoff with TV dinners and the the 1950s, most food historians believe the dish got its name from Count Stroganoff, a food-loving Russian noble from the 19th century. While there are many variations of this recipe (one of the earliest iterations calls for something called Sareptskaja mustard and tomato paste) I wanted something fairly simple so I turned to the Joy of Cooking, which reportedly published the recipe back in 1943.
In Joy's version, you saute beef slices with onions for flavor, then discard the onions before you make the sauce, a mix of roux-thickened beef stock, sour cream, and Dijon mustard. There are no mushrooms in Joy's recipe. Instead, they suggest serving them sauteed, as a side dish. I liked the idea of onions and mushrooms in the sauce, so I added them back in. Apologies, Count.

The whole thing came together in under an hour, resulting in a filling and tasty dinner that actually felt quite fresh, to my surprise. Classic recipes are easy to dismiss for what's new and popular right now. What was once a country's national dish can be reduced to a microwavable meal centuries later. But just because something sounds dated doesn't mean it isn't delicious. A recipe is a recipe. When you make an old-fashioned dish from scratch and with care, you can see why it was popular in the first place.

Beef Stroganoff
Adapted slightly from the Joy of Cooking. I served this with a side of sauteed Swiss chard and roasted carrots.
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

1 1/2 lbs. beef tenderloin, top loin, or sirloin tip (I used sirloin), well trimmed
3 1/2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup beef stock, heated to a simmer
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced button (or baby portobella) mushrooms
3 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
12 oz. egg noodles
chopped parsley, for garnish

Cut the meat into thin 2-inch strips and season with salt and pepper. Set aside. 
In a small saucepan, melt 1 1/2 Tbsp. of butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and stir with a whisk until it is combined, and not lumpy. Add the warmed beef stock and whisk until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Set the sauce aside and keep warm.

In a large skillet (I used a cast-iron pan), heat 2 Tbsp. butter over medium-high heat. When melted, add the beef. Cook on both sides until the meat is evenly browned, but still pink in the center. (Using tongs helps expedite this process.) When the meat is cooked, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a plate. Cover the plate with foil to keep the meat warm.
Add the onions and mushrooms to the still-hot pan, scraping up any browned bits from the pan. Saute until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are tender. 

Return the sauce to medium heat and stir in the sour cream, mustard, and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour in any accumulated juices from the beef. Stir until smooth.
Add the meat to the skillet with the mushrooms and onions, then add the sauce. Stir everything together, and adjust the seasonings to taste. Spoon the sauce and meat over hot cooked egg noodles and sprinkle with parsley, if desired.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

chipotle peanuts

Did you notice a few years ago that chipotle inexplicably started popping up on menus everywhere? It started in upscale Southwestern restaurants (I think Bobby Flay had something to do with it), then it became the name of a "gourmet" burrito chain, and eventually it trickled all the way down to Wendy's commercials. Now I'm starting to hear "ciabatta" and "sea salt" thrown around a lot. Who knows what will be next? Ramps?

Even though chipotle's time in the spotlight has waned, it's still a terrific ingredient, especially in adobo. Chipotles are smoked jalapenos, and in most grocery stores, you can find them canned in a rich sauce made with tomato puree, paprika, salt, onions, vinegar, and garlic. 

For my enchilada night, I wanted a pre-dinner snack other than my standard guacamole. So I scrolled through Rick Bayless's website and found a recipe for chipotle-roasted peanuts that sounded so good--and weird--I immediately printed it out.
The recipe calls for regular old peanuts tossed with a mixture of chipotle in adobo, brown sugar, lime juice--and bizzarely, ketchup. You roast the nuts until the sauce dries out, creating a spicy, reddish coating. Huh. 

I only tweaked the recipe slighly, adding lime zest because I like citrus zest on nuts, and extra salt because nothing is ever salty enough for me. The end result was smoky, a little sweet, and nicely tangy. Not bad! Actually, quite good! And then I found myself gobbling handful after handful. Sneakily addictive, these peanuts.
Chipotle-roasted peanuts
Adapted slightly from Rick Bayless

(Makes 4 cups of nuts)


2 chiles from a can of chipotle chiles, plus 1 Tbsp. adobo (the sauce from the can of chiles)
2 Tbsp. lime juice
, plus 2 Tbsp. lime zest
2 Tbsp. ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp. salt
, plus extra to taste
4 cups (20 oz.) roasted, unsalted peanuts

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, puree the chipotle chiles, adobo, lime juice, ketchup, sugar, and salt until smooth. Pour the sauce into a large bowl and add the peanuts. Toss until coated. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and evenly spread the nuts on it. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The nuts are done when they are fragrant and dry. Add extra salt to taste. (I love salt, so I added an extra few teaspoons.) Let the nuts cool on the baking sheet before serving.

Monday, January 17, 2011

what's for dinner, matt armendariz?

I couldn't be more excited about today's Q&A subject: Matt Armendariz, food photographer and blogger extraordinare. I've been a fan of Matt's site, Matt Bites, for several years now. His stories, both food and non-food related are always a fun and interesting read, but the photographs are simply amazing. His images are full of life, color, and guaranteed to make you salivate. When Martha Stewart thinks your work is fabulous, you know you're doing something right! In addition to blogging, shooting food, and teaching photography classes, Matt will be releasing his first cookbook this spring. Here, he shares some of his favorite dinner party ideas, both old and new. Thanks, Matt!

1. Name, occupation, and city
Matt Armendariz, food photographer and blogger, Long Beach, California.

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
The last dinner party was on New Year’s Eve. We throw dinner parties about once a month, I never need a reason to celebrate! Our guests on New Year’s Eve included our neighbors and local friends. No one wanted to be driving around on the 31st but I’m a big believer in always having food when company is near. It turned into a wonderful late-night dinner party.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
I couldn’t really pick just one. Well, if I had to pick one it’d definitely be by seasons. In summer nothing beats platters of peaches, heirloom tomatoes, burratta and prosciutto, we keep dinner parties really simple during warm months. Maybe even a fig pizza from the grill. In winter I think the best menu I’ve made for company involved wonderful winter salad greens, simply dressed, and a giant cast iron pot of osso bucco that went on top of polenta.

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

I wouldn’t dream of not having wine for a dinner party! However, our new year’s even dinner party was a traditional swiss fondue with an amazing selection of beer. I honestly can’t remember the last time I even served cocktails at a dinner party.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

It all depends on the mood and the energy but I can’t go wrong with Brazilian jazz. I’m a huge fan of Stan Getz, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, and so many other musicians. I’ll usually throw in some Luis Bonfa and Cal Tjader into my dinner party soundtrack.

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

First, I’ll start with cheese. I love to have some nibbles while everyone arrives and visits, it’s usually a great cheese or two with condiments and nuts. If it’s super last minute I’ll do pasta and a salad, something very simple.

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

Both my partner Adam and I cook. I have the added advantage in being married to a food stylist!

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

Pasta is never made from scratch here, I’m fine with store-bought. Everything else is made from scratch, it’s not difficult. I gasp when I see people using store bought salad dressing when it’s so easy to make!

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

Things that are easy, that’s for sure! If it’s summer then it’s a homemade ice cream with cajeta, if it’s winter or fall then it’s usually a banana Tarte Tatin. It’s unreal.

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

Frank Deford, Diane Von Furstenberg, my friend Brooke Burton, Dottie West, Jennie Livingston and Harvey Milk. I can only imagine the conversation.

[Photo: Matt Amendiraz]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

mini frozen key lime pies

I got two awesome compliments from a friend at dinner the other night. During a random conversation about hair color, he said he was was shocked (shocked!) that I am not a natural blonde. (Not since I was three years old, but thanks!) And later, when I presented a platter of the mini Key lime pies pictured above, he asked, in semi-disbelief, whether I had made them. As if they were so perfectly cute, I must have bought them at the mini Key lime pie store.

As a native Floridian, I'm snobby about Key lime pie. I turn up my nose at pies made with regular limes or artificial whipped cream, dyed green filling, and menus that don't capitalize the "Key" in Key lime. Like I said, very snobby. I thought my go-to recipe was the gold standard, but then I saw a post on Oh Joy!, one of my favorite design blogs, about mini frozen Key lime pies. And, whoa.

I had eaten a slice of chocolate-dipped frozen Key lime pie on a stick once. I liked the cold, ice cream-like texture, but as a purist, I didn't need the chocolate. But Joy's recipe was essentially a regular Key lime pie, minatureized. People love tiny things, especially in dessert-form, so I had a feeling this would be a hit.

I tinkered with the recipe a bit, replacing regular lime juice with Key lime juice, cutting back on the sugar and adding a bit more butter to make sure the crust came together. I like a tart Key lime filling, but if you like yours on the sweeter side, feel free to add the extra sugar. I won't judge you.
Joy wrote that she used mini cupcake liners to make her pies, but I didn't have any on hand so I used a nonstick muffin tin instead. As I pressed the graham cracker crumbs into the tin, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn't be able to get the pies out after they froze, but it wasn't an issue at all. Each one popped right out, creating a perfect little hand-held dessert.

After a meal of spicy enchiladas, they were a welcome finale--creamy, tart, and with a thick graham cracker crust. While they're not exactly traditional, I have to say this might be my new go-to recipe. When people assume your dessert came from a bakery, I say that's a good thing.

Mini frozen Key lime pies
Heavily adapted from Ina Garten and Oh, Joy! If you want to make one large pie, this recipe should work for a normal pie pan. And if you can't find fresh Key limes (which are a pain to squeeze, frankly) I highly recommend Manhattan Key Lime juice. It comes in a bottle.
(Makes about 8 mini pies)

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground

1/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

For the filling and topping:

4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup sugar (I omitted this for a more tart pie)

3/4 cup Key lime juice
1 cup cold heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
Lime zest, optional

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. To make the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press into a 13- by 9-inch nonstick muffin pan (or two smaller pans), making sure the sides and the bottom are an even thickness. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, beat the egg yolks then add the condensed milk, lime juice, and sugar (if using). Stir until combined. Using a spoon, pour the mixture into each mini pie shell, being careful not to overfill. (I had a bit of filling leftover)

Use a whisk or hand-held mixture to beat the cream and confectioner's sugar until semi-firm. Top each mini pie with a dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of lime zest, if desired. Freeze for at least eight hours or overnight. Using a butter knife, carefully pop each pie out of the muffin tin before serving.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I should mention that the enchilada recipe yields a ton of sauce. Which is delicious spooned over eggs and tortillas the next morning. Just sayin'.

Monday, January 10, 2011

victory enchiladas

January is usually a brutal month. It begins with all this optimism for the new year, and then it's back to work, back to putting on your boots in the morning and climbing over a dirty hump of frozen snow on the sidewalk.

That said, I'm feeling pretty warmly about 2011 so far. Who knows what the next eleven months will bring, but it's already off to a pretty bright start. Someone in our family (Dan, cough, Dan) just got a new job, a major feat in this crap economy.
The past year wasn't an easy one for us, something I didn't want to write about here, but being able to turn the page and start anew feels pretty great. 

Although my husband's an extremely modest guy, I wanted to do something special to celebrate this happy news, and to a lesser extent, getting through the first week of work post-vacation. We've all got to pat ourselves on the back for stepping over those snow humps. Metaphorically--or literally, if you live in Brooklyn.

And what better way to celebrate good news on a frigid night than an apartment filled with friends and a hot pan of cheesy enchiladas? Oh, and margaritas. And beers
. Many beers. Sorry, new neighbors downstairs with a two-year-old!

There were no long-winded toasts at this party. Instead, people made jokes about Dan having to return back to a desk after working from home for a long time. ("What? There's no 12 p.m. break to watch Buffy?") When you know people really well, they know exactly how to tease you. But they also know how to support you through a not-so-hot year. To return that friendship--loud, and loose, and wonderfully profane as it is--with a pan of enchiladas seems like a very small thing.

Victory dinner for Daniel

Pomegranate margaritas
Guacamole and chips
Chipotle peanuts
Enchiladas suizas
Green rice
Mini frozen Key lime pies
Enchiladas suizas
There are many types of enchiladas, this version includes chicken, green chiles, and tomatoes in a creamy sauce. In the original recipe, via Food & Wine, Rick Bayless says, "Once the tortillas have been heated in the oven, you need to work quickly and steadily toward serving in order to preserve their beautiful texture. Once out of the oven, the finished dish softens to near mush over a period of 15 to 20 minutes." This freaked me out a little, but it wasn't a big deal because everyone inhaled these enchiladas. But, yes, be prepared to serve them right away. One note: I used canned tomatoes for this recipe because it's January and tomatoes aren't in season. If it's summertime and you're using fresh, consult the original recipe. I also upped the amount of cheese because it seemed a bit paltry in the original recipe. Rick Bayless, don't you like cheese?
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

2 28-oz. cans good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained
Fresh hot green chiles to taste (about 3 serranos or 2 jalapeños), stemmed (I used jalapeños)
1 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil or rich-tasting pork lard, plus a little oil for brushing or spraying the tortillas
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth, plus a little extra if needed
1/2 cup homemade crema, crème fraiche or heavy (whipping) cream (I used cream)
About 2 1/2 cups coarsely shredded cooked chicken, preferably grilled, roasted or rotisserie chicken
1 cup shredded Mexican melting cheese (such as Chihuahua, quesadilla, or asadero) or Monterey Jack or mild cheddar
12 corn tortillas
A few sliced rounds of white onion, separated into rings, for garnish (optional)
Fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

In a dry skillet, roast the chiles over medium heat, turning regularly with tongs, until they are soft and splotchy-black, about 10 minutes. Place them in a blender or food processor along with the drained canned tomatoes and puree until smooth.

In a medium-size (4- or 5-quart) pot, heat the oil or lard over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high, and, when noticeably hotter, stir in the tomato-chile puree. Cook, stirring, until the mixture darkens in color and has thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the broth, partially cover and simmer 15 minutes. Season with salt to taste, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. The sauce should be slightly soupy. If it looks like spaghetti sauce add a little additional broth. Keep the sauce warm over low heat. (You can also make the sauce in advance and keep it refrigerated for a day or two.)

When you're ready to assemble the enchiladas, stir the crema into the sauce. Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the sauce into it, then toss to coat the chicken. Taste and season with additional salt if you think it needs it. Have the cheese at the ready.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of a 13x9-inch baking dish. Lay the tortillas out on a baking sheet (or 2 sheets if you have them), and lightly brush or spray both sides of the tortillas with oil. Bake them for 3 minutes, just to warm and soften them. Stack the tortillas and cover them with a clean towel to keep warm.

Working quickly so the tortillas stay hot and pliable, roll a portion of the chicken into each tortilla, then line up the rolls in the baking dish. Spread the remaining sauce evenly over the rolled up tortillas, then top with the cheese. Bake until the enchiladas are hot through (the cheese will have begun to brown), about 15 minutes. Garnish with onion rings and cilantro, if desired. Serve immediately.

Monday, January 3, 2011

happy new year

What's that old saying about life happening when you're making plans? Yeah, that one.

Dan and I spent the holidays in South Florida with our family, planning to be back home in Brooklyn in time for New Year's Eve. We figured twelve days would be a nice long time to be with our relatives, and then Blizzardolypse 2010 hit New York and we were marooned down south for five extra days. I already had my end-of-the-year festivities figured out: a pre-New Year's Eve concert, then a party with friends in Brooklyn, where we'd no doubt drink a ton then shuffle home in the snow. Except that our flight was canceled and we couldn't get a plane home until five days later.  

Sometimes it's hard to readjust when things don't go according to plan. Dan and I cursed the airports, the weather, Mayor Bloomberg, the inconvenience of it all. But then we realized we were being completely ridiculous, that most of our snowed-in friends back home would trade places with us in an instant if given the chance. Only jerks complain about 70 degree weather in December.
We had cute dogs to pet, books to read for hours on the couch, fresh avocados from a backyard tree, and adoring parents who said "that's wonderful!" when told that our flight was canceled. Why did we want to rush back to all that nasty snow when we could sun our pale limbs by the pool?

A vacation extension is a funny thing. We had squeezed in shopping and nature walks and movie-going into our allotted time and now we had several wide-open days ahead of us with nothing left to do other than watch more movies, and talk, and eat. Lots of eating. But not the "let's go out for a fancy dinner" or "let's make a huge spread of food" kind of eating.

Whenever we visit our parents, there's a small window of time at the beginning of each trip where I feel like a waited-upon guest rather than a grown-up child back at home. Snacks and drinks are offered, dinner reservations are made in advance, special meals are prepared. We only get down to Florida a few times a year and when we do, there's always a tiny undercurrant of nervousness and excitement that comes from being around people you love but don't see all that much. People who want very much to please you.
After we had been in Florida for oh, a dozen days, the thrill had sort of worn off and meals became more comfortable. We ate the kinds of things our parents eat on normal nights, the meals you put together after a long day at work. Hamburgers on paper plates. Roast chicken with mashed potatoes. One night, I made my favorite steak salad for my parents, introducing them to the brilliant combo of skirt steak, arugula, tomatoes, and blue cheese. And I discovered one of my mother-in-law's weeknight staples: grilled salmon with a side of frozen pierogis. Surprisingly delicious! Who knew?

And when New Year's Eve rolled around, we kept things just as simple at a party at our friends' house, where we noshed on guacamole and chips and smoked salmon on crackers, and went through a ton of cheapish champagne. There was a fire pit going and sometime after midnight someone turned up with the makings of s'mores. By 2 a.m., my hair smelled like smoke and my fingers were sticky with marshmallow and I was totally, completely happy.
All of these vacation meals tasted great because we were on vacation, of course, but also because they were put together with a minimum of fuss and were shared with people we love.  Had our trip not been extended, I don't think we would have had that same perfectly-at-home feeling sitting around the table with our families.

And that's my dinner party resolution for the year ahead. To not worry about impressing people or serving just the right thing. I will cook what feels right, and focus on cultivating the kind of personal, comfortable atmosphere where people can let their guard down and just be themselves. And drink lots of cheapish champagne. 

Happy New Year, everyone.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin