Friday, April 22, 2011

Last Best Bits

Here is the last post about the party the welcomed Jess back to DC. I hope breaking it up into 3 parts was easier for you all to digest. I could have just gone on and on (as the prep that day did in fact seem to go on and on...), but 1) that might have been boring to read and 2) I would have only been able to give myself credit for doing one post! This way, I get to pat myself on the back 3 times! haha... yes, folks, the secret to better stats is not strictly more work, but better and more crafty presentation. ;-)
In this post, I have the last few bits and the people (the best bits).

I made a beet hummus, which someone saw and cheekily suggested was made in honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival, which we were right in the middle of! Alas, no such planning had been in my head, but I wanted something fresh, healthy, and different (seems to be my M.O.) and saw this recipe on Simply Recipes which sounded great! It was pretty easy, since I started with the already cooked Trader Joe's beets (yes, I am a dyed-in-the-wool TJ's fan, try as I might to be objective).
Beet Hummus: the horror movie

It turned out rather well, as a sweet tangy pucker in a fresh earthy dip.

Second, I wanted a green dip, so I searched and found one by a friend that did not use mayonnaise- perfect! It used up artichokes in a jar that I had, spinach in a bag that I had, and included plenty of lemon and garlic, always a good indicator of quality.

No photographic evidence was obtained because, like the Baked Brie, it had to be in the oven until presentation, so ... I balked at showing the picked-over leftovers in a picture. Yes, yes, so there is definitely some natural selection on this blog; that's why the photos are so good! ;-)
But I can certainly say I had it for leftovers for several days and did not tire of it!

Third is the crowd pleaser: Chocolate Orange Pound Cake, from a mix my mom sent in a care package, and which I had been waiting to pull out for the right 'convenience-needed' moment: bingo!

It was delicious served at the end of the meal with mango, which we took turns slicing and dicing, since it is kinda hard to do. Any tips on this? They were champagne mangos from Mexico (via Whole Foods) and not as ripe as they could have been, but I tried the cool-looking scientific method, which wasn't perfect, but served the purpose. Purpose the mangos needed to be riper...

And finally, the friends that made the party such a joy to host: Jess, Dany, Steve, Suzanne, Figo, Mandy, Nora, Rajiv, and others that didn't get captured on celluloid. Thank you, Friends!

And now that I've presented all the high points of Welcome-Back-Jess party I hosted, which the Nina Post called "elegant and sophistocated... very adult," I will hopefully be back shortly to report on my birthday party of a couple days ago, which involved Candy, a Cookie Monster pinata, and what else? 
Good Food!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Baking Bits from the Welcome-back Party

Ok, so next up on the party line-up we had "Onion Tart with Mustard and Fennel" which basically starts out with an armful of onions... It is a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, a blog which I didn't get into for a long time, then realized how awesome, honest, and funny Deb the writer is. And I was looking for something low-maintenance, low-cost to fill up stomachs. This is a GREAT choice for that because it also tastes AMAZING!
When I saw what was involved {onion-caramelizing, real mustard, good cheese} I knew it would be a taste winner. The fennel would be a new twist for me and the long stove time would be fine because it was mostly no-fuss, no-touch, the kind of pot-watching I at which I excel. Tip from the photo at right- keep onions moist with parchment paper loosely covering your football field of onions. Then your reward is this:

You mix in a little cheese- it was supposed to be all Parmigiano, but I was wrestling with old HARD Parmesan and using both a microplane grater and a chef's knife, both unsuccessfully, to make it work. So I substituted some pre-grated mozzarella. I know, sue me! My fingers sure thanked me, but as you will see it led to a not so pretty result in the oven.
Here I was using my sister's old ruler to demonstrate that I was emphatically NOT at the required stretch-out length of 15"x12"- it was too ... crabby. Each time I tried to coax it out, either by hand rolling or with the rolling pin, it would ooze back into itself like a crabby-crab that didn't want to come out and play. This may have something to do with the fact that I let it rise too long... any help, readers? 

No matter, I eventually got to this stage, where I could schmear all that caramelized fennel-onion goodness onto the dough and it looked lovely. But then as you see below, sprinkling mozzarella on top of the tart made it broil and turn a different color- a bit weird-looking.
But it's all good, since it was dee-licious.
The other dish I feature today was a Baked Brie. No pictures, since it was in the oven, then out, then pretty much gone. And it was ri-di-culously easy. I bought two wedges of Brie from Trader Joe's, stuck them together facing each other, and placed them on a defrosted piece of puff pastry. I then rolled the puff pastry up over the Brie, and flipped it so that the squished-together bits were on the bottom. Then I baked it for about 40 minutes.
I served it with Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney- a shortcut because I was making so many things but also a favorite of mine- but I also could have done as my base recipe told me and slathered it on top of the brie before closing it up in puff pastry. I forgot, and it might have been messier that way to flip it... if you try it, let me know!
Two dishes to do-mostly-ahead that would be great for a gathering at home! You're welcome.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The pictures are coming! The pictures are coming!

I always have a backlog of pictures that could be uploaded and used for blog posts. But right now, I have a backache from how much it is weighing on my mind to get these out to you- before I have another party and generate more photos! yes, this spring is turning out to be a domestic social explosion.
I orchestrated a welcome home party for a friend coming back from a tour of duty with the State Department. It was 14 months of hard, hard work, and we were all glad to see her back and in the thick of DC culture and foodways. I invited a ton of people and combed all my starred blog posts in search of the perfect appetizers to wow everyone. I picked appetizers because with the amount of people coming, I figured grazing food would be easier than trying to do a dinner for that many people, not to mention less expensive.

That's what I thought.
Sweet potato laughing in its jacket
Pretty Knotty Pine Pattern
An aerodynamic space-mobile or alternatively, battering ram-o'-war
And yes, this is me playing with my food. It was too tempting!

I decided on 4 or 5 dishes needing 'creation,' and a couple things that just needed buying and plating. In this post, I am highlighting two of the former: Baked Sweet Potato Falafel Balls from never-fail 101 Cookbooks, and Marinated Feta & Olive Skewers from Fine Cooking's Appetizers issue- a great gift from my sister 2 Christmases ago.
Here's a quick sketch of the first one with running commentary:

 Done with baking, added cilantro, ready to smoosh

...I was brutally let down by Whole Foods at the last moment (no chickpea flour), I substituted a mix of whole wheat flour + mashed garbanzo beans to make a sort of paste

mixing it all together would require a little muscle...
which is good because I often don't have the discipline for push-ups, but for cooking, I'll do it!

Featuring the amazing potato masher from Michelle, still going strong :-)
  And the final product! Verdict: texture was not exactly falafel because no fried outer crust, and not exactly bread-like, which left it in a bit of a limbo-land. Also, I think there was too much cumin for me, and they could have done with more garlic flavor...they were interesting but not my favorite.
Dish Number Two: Marinated Feta + Cucumber + Mint on a Stick
now doesn't that sound classy?

 Fresh orange juice, zest, fennel seeds-- made the apartment smell great!
 Things got a little bit ... pulpy.
 Being a good cook with my mise-en-place and assembly line skewering operation

 The cuteness! It's like they're in little hats!
 Believe it or not, they didn't all disappear.

This is because I went completely overboard! But that's ok; it meant lots of leftovers for the week after.
 Verdict: a nice combination of refreshing, zesty, and briny. I could definitely make these again, but would pair them with something meaty instead.
Next post: the Onion Tart with Mustard & Fennel, and Baked Brie with Mango-Ginger Chutney (bought at Trader Joe's!)

Friday, April 1, 2011

A fudge cookie with a case of meringue

What a treat you are in for today!
The same day I resolved to make something with those mushrooms, I also got the hankering for something less virtuous and more instantly smile-inducing. Enter: Fudge.
I had seen this lovely recipe for Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cookies on a favorite blog, and it looked like exactly what I wanted. Crinkly, crackly, but way fudgy, not a dry cookie all the way through. And it delivered-- SO much so that I had to mail out a few dozen so I didn't end up eating them all (which would have been very sad and awful in its repercussions)!

I didn't fiddle with the recipe, since what I wanted that day (as you saw from my mushroom post) was not tinkering but honest-to-goodness comfort food. Although the batter was quite wet meringue-like in its soft peaks, it wasn't too difficult to make it into tantalizing, wispy-but-substantial, cookie forms.
This is one of those times where I might wax scientific about the outside ingredient creating a crinkle texture, while the heat ratio contains and preserves the the gooey center, etc. But really? Just make them and enjoy. And thank Lindsey for posting the recipe!