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There’s nothing that motivates me to cook more than throwing a party. There just isn’t the same healthy pressure when cooking for yourself. Even when I am motivated enough to whip something up that’s really good, the reward of cooking for lots of people is definitely greater.
When I have guests over, I actually buck the common wisdom and cook new things fairly frequently. What can I say? I like living on a very, very safe edge. I definitely have a few go-to dishes that I like to make for parties, but in general, I get bored when I make things too many times.
Last night was Mark’s birthday party, and I wanted to make a couple of simple snacks to avoid excessive drunkenness. Dips typically serve that purpose pretty well, especially when you serve them with lots of bread. For this dip, I incorporated a lot of roasted garlic and some caramelized leeks with white beans and other deliciousness.
For the desert, my decision was sort of circumstantial — I have a friend who works in a photo studio and gave me 9 granny smith apples that were left over from a photo shoot (I am not above free apples, people), so I finally made this apple sharlotka from Smitten Kitchen that I’ve had my eye on. I added some nutmeg to the mix, but otherwise followed the recipe faithfully. It is tender, moist, apple-filled, and nice and tart — in other words, highly recommended and quite simple to make. I have a 10″ springform and it was flatter but worked out just fine.
Full recipe for the dip after the jump!
After I pulled these peaches out of the oven Mark’s sister said, what is that? And I said, roasted peaches, with thyme and a bit of honey and butter. And she said, so you just added honey and butter and thyme to those peaches and put them in the oven? And I said yes, and she laughed and said, so many things are so easy but I just wouldn’t think to do them!
I think those are the real hurdles to overcome if you want to cook more. Assuming everything is hard or best handled by the “professionals,” or just being able to step outside the boundaries of what you’ve made before and think about what you have eaten. If you ate it, it was made, and unless you’re the type to eat at Per Se every night of the week (or Applebees on the other end of the spectrum, which truly can’t be classified as food), chances are it can be replicated pretty well at home.
So where did the roasted peaches idea come from? I’m cooking for a friend’s birthday party, and one of the menu items I thought of was crostini with ricotta, topped with roasted peaches with thyme and honey. I actually had never eaten this before, but I wanted to capitalize on the amazing summer fruit right now and it sounded yummy in my head. I can confirm: yummy. And yet, this is why recipe testing is important! Learnings: thinner & smaller crostini, remove the peach skins and chop the flesh up like a chutney (it’ll stay put that way), increase the amount of delicious, delicious fleur de sel. Crunchy flaked salt makes everything better — particularly mild cheese and sweet/savory combos.
Brian has a habit of secreting in a tin of grocery store onion dip occasionally. I’d never even seen the stuff myself, and it has that addictive flavor of something highly unnatural. Here’s the simple, natural response to such cancer-inducing stuff, and unlike many “homemade” versions of junk food, I think it’s actually better. It requires a bit of patience to caramelize the onions (it will take longer than you think) but it’s worth it in the end, because you get tartness from the yogurt, sweetness from the onions and balsamic, and a tiny hint of heat from the cayenne. I may need to have a party just to make this dip again!
I keep hearing about this very French snack, or appetizer, which is simply radishes with butter and fleur de sel. Sounds pretty great, huh? Well, this month Gourmet featured Radishes with Creamy Anchovy Butter, and boy would this be perfect for a picnic. Before you go all haywire in the brains at the mention of anchovies, trust me, it does not taste fishy. Seriously. Anchovies whole on pizza are one thing, but in Caesar dressing, or here in this butter mixture, I promise you they are just this unidentifiable salty delicious note in the background. I’m telling you, calm down and just try it already.
The recipe from Gourmet made way too much butter, so I just used 4 T. butter; 1 small anchovy, which I chopped finely and then smashed with the broad side of my knife into a paste; a very small clove of garlic, finely chopped; and about 1 t. lemon juice. The original recipe says to blend them in the food processor but that’s hardly necessary. Let the butter soften to room temperature and then just stir until well combined. Serve atop slices of crusty bread, layered with radishes. Sprinkle a little extra coarse sea salt on top if you like.
I think the French are onto something.
I’m not even going to pretend: this is the exact same recipe I used for the peanut sauce for my lettuce wraps. So read all about it in that post from last week. While rehashed peanut sauce plus some chopped up vegetables may not seem worthy of a post, I deem it worthy as a way to feature more of Ashley’s lovely photography. Commence eye candy!
Is it really bruschetta if I make my guests do the work of assembling bread with topping? Or is it just caponata with a side of bread? This was another experiment I foisted upon my guests on Saturday. On the upside, the recipe was quick to prepare – probably 30 minutes of cooking time, plus chopping time and chilling time. On the downside, it made a lot of caponata – probably 4 cups all told, definitely more than I needed. But I used the leftovers to make a spaghetti pie, and it could just as easily be incorporated into a more saucy pasta application post-bruschetta-ing, if extras abound. The capers and olives give it a briny, almost sweet flavor, and in a way, I wish the eggplant was more prominent, although I know eggplant is relatively flavorless.
The recipe I adapted this from called for golden raisins, and I’ll be honest. I have a problem with raisins in otherwise savory dishes. I have this memory of eating cooked spinach with raisins when I was a kid and it was so disgusting. Yuck. Keep your currants out of my swiss chard, and your raisins out of my caponata. So if you like raisins, apparently they have a place in this recipe. Just not in my heart.
I would probably also add garlic to this recipe if I make it again, because garlic makes everything better, and I think it could have used a spicier note in the background. Come to think of it, I think I’ll add red pepper flakes next time too. In any case, here’s the recipe as I made it, which was still pretty darn tasty.
Bobby Flay is obsessed with piquillo peppers. He puts them in everything. Until last week, I had never seen piquillo peppers on sale anywhere, but of course my interest was piqued by my friend Bobby’s obsession (OK. We’re not really friends. But I would like to think that if I ran into him roaming Chelsea Market, he would offer me a show on the Food Network immediately. Dream big, right?).
So there I was in Trader Joe’s, having a little sample of their coffee, and I looked down at this random shelf and there they were! I bought them with no plan of how to use them, and then when I was deciding on my party dishes I thought it would be a great time to try them. I know the prevailing wisdom is to never try an untested recipe on friends. But I have to admit I do it all the time. There are just too many interesting recipes, and I get bored easily with my own tried and true standards. Maybe it’s not fair to inflict the experimentation on friends, but in this case I think they will forgive me.
I’ve had several iterations of this appetizer / tapas dish at various restaurants and prepared by friends. The basic components are a date, stuffed with either cheese or a Marcona almond, and then wrapped in either bacon or prosciutto. I don’t think I need to explain why these are amazing.
I love the almond version because of the added textural element – that crunch is a great counterpoint to the softness of the date. So my original plan was not to include any cheese. But when I got my Medjool dates home from Sahadi’s, I realized they were the size of golf balls and perhaps the sad little almonds wouldn’t be enough of a filling. So why not just use the almonds and the goat cheese, which I already had on hand for my stuffed piquillo peppers!
I sliced open the dates along one side, and removed the pit. Then I dropped in a bit of goat cheese and nestled an almond on top. I sealed the dates back up and then wrapped each with a sliver of prosciutto. I don’t always love how the smokiness of bacon overwhelms other, milder flavors, which is why I decided to go with prosciutto this time. It was nice, but I do think I like the texture of bacon better. Either way, you will not disappoint with these as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre at your next party. They’re so simple, and so full of flavor (and impressive, too).
To bake them, just preheat your oven to 400 degrees and bake for 5 – 8 minutes, depending on the size of the dates. Check them after a few minutes and turn them over so that the bacon or prosciutto browns evenly on both sides. Then eat ‘em while they’re hot!
I tend to roll my eyes when I hear the term “girls’ night out.” It conjures up images of bachelorette parties involving pink fluffy crowns and t-shirts with obnoxious wedding puns on them. I’m sure it’s reinforced by popular culture, but I think the stererotype is that women only go out in groups when they’re a) trying to pick up men, b) trying to comfort a friend who doesn’t have a man, or c) being all gung ho about a wedding. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s simply not true.
Of course my lady friends are a particularly intelligent and feisty bunch, so I knew we were in for an amazing time. We had good food, good drink, good conversation, and then lots of dancing. I couldn’t remember the last time I went out like that, leaving the apartment after 11 pm, knowing I wouldn’t be home until at least 2. It’s not my style most of the time, but I have to admit, it does give you a nice hit of adrenaline.
On to the food! I didn’t stick with one cuisine or region with my hors d’ouevres this time. Usually I like to plan meals around a cuisine or at least regional flavors, to make sure that all the components work together. But this time since I knew everyone would be grazing, so it wasn’t really necessary.
I took cues from my favorite tapas places and made dates stuffed with goat cheese and almonds and wrapped in prosciutto. I bought a jar of piquillo peppers recently partly because I always hear Bobby Flay going on and on about them (Food Network nerd alert!) and I stuffed them with goat cheese laced with capers and lemon. I made a caponata to include our Italian friends, briny and salty with green olives, capers, and of course eggplant. And I had crudite – often the most quickly devoured of all appetizers (people are drawn to fresh things) – with the spicy Asian peanut sauce I’d made for my lettuce wraps. I thought it would be extremely tasty on veggies – and it was! And to top it all off, my friend Ashley, a talented photographer, took fancy glamour shots of all my food. I’m kicking it up a notch here, people!
We drank gin and tonics (classy) and vodka tonics and Melissa brought homemade chocolate chip cookies and then we braved the mist and walked to Deity, a club in an old Synagogue here in Brooklyn. This may have been the first Ladies’ Night Out I’ve organized, but it’s certainly not the last. Individual posts with recipes for the hors d’ouevres to come!