Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Sweet and Savory Dinner Party

I did it again. Planned a party and a menu that meant 3 days of cooking. This time though, I enjoyed every minute of it, up until the last 5 minutes before guests arrived and I was frantically working on the cream sauce, and my phone was ringing…that stressed me out a little bit, but I threw my phone at Mr. Roux, and managed to get everything ready in time, so I could enjoy myself thoroughly with my guests.

The original invitation list was for about 15 people, about 10 RSVP’d, and only 4 were able to make it in the end. But I had determined to cook enough food for any number who wanted to come by, in the spirit of sharing the food fun. There were PLENTY of left overs! My ONLY complaint: 3 of the 4 guests were girls, who eat like birds, so they didn’t eat nearly enough in my opinion…

I’ve decided to host dinner parties on a regular basis, and am using my Buddhist group as an excuse. I am a member of this great organization (www.sgi.org - watch the video on the media tab! Or www.sgi-usa.org to find a group near you), and get to practice with the COOLEST people in the world, but after our small discussion meetings, there is NEVER enough time to hang out, chat, catch up, get to know each other… so the spirit of these dinner parties will be Dinner and Dialog – sometimes there will be 2 people, maybe someday 10 – I don’t care, I like to cook and I like to run my yap. The inaugural Dinner and Dialog was fantastic – and we were all shocked to see it was 3AM when the chat fest started winding down! Sure success.

Le Menu:
Roasted Vegetable Tapenade
Irish Soda Bread
Parmesan Pepper Crackers

Iceberg wedges
Blue Cheese Dressing

Lemon Fusilli
Tuna Tartare served on Endive
Chicken Veronique

Lemon Yogurt Cake
Orange Chocolate Mini-Cakes
Homemade Grand Marnier Vanilla Ice Cream

I realize how ambitious this all looks. And I suppose it was. Honestly, each recipe was as simple as could be. I made the hummus, blue cheese dressing and lemon yogurt cake on Thursday evening. Friday night I made the orange chocolate cakes and the crackers. This left the roasted veg tapenade, ice cream, pasta, tuna, and chicken for Saturday. I got up pretty early to get started, and had JUST enough time.

I must officially thank Ina Garten once again for her inspiration and recipes! I took the liberty of some variations… here’s one, which is simultaneously an I Love Lucy moment; I added a cup of mayo instead of a half a cup of mayo to the Chicken Salad Veronique. I hate mayonnaise, so it was a tough 10 minutes for me scooping out un-stirred mayo from the mix. I ended up doubling the celery and grapes, and adding roasted pecans in order to bring balance back to the bowl.

Recipes/links** and commentary below! I only put pics of the most photogenic dishes below – sadly, I have neither the artistic eye nor photographic talent of Mallow who can make any dish look like a still life!

Roasted Vegetable Tapenade (variation of Roasted Eggplant Spread - see
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4 small zucchini
2 red bell peppers, seeded
1 red onion, peeled
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tb. Olive oil
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 Tb. Tomato paste

Preheat oven to 400. Cut veg and onion into 1-inch cubes. Toss them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes until the veg are lightly browned and soft, tossing once during cooking.
Cool slightly.

Place the veg in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add the tomato paste, and pulse 3 or 4 times to blend. Taste for salt and pepper.

(This was so delicious. I used the zucchini instead of eggplant, since it's the one food I hate. I would have liked it with olives and some spicy pepper as well!)

2 cans chick peas/garbanzo beans, drained
¼ cup tahini
juice of 2 lemons
1 Tab. Pepper flakes
3-4 cloves garlic
2 Tab. Olive oil

Put everything but the olive oil in a food processor fitted with blade attachment. Blend thoroughly, adding the olive oil slowly while everything else blends.

(This makes a pretty mild hummus – you can really jazz it up with some artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, or any think you like!)

Parmesan Black Pepper Crackers (See Foodnetwork.com)

(I followed the recipe very closely, and ended up with very crumbly dough that was hard to roll into a log. It was much easier to deal with once frozen, but once cooked I found them a little too delicate to dip into either of my spreads. So we ate them for dinner on Friday.)

Irish Soda Bread (from “Barefoot Contessa At Home”)
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4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the currants
4 Tab. Sugar (optional)
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. kosher salt
4 Tab. (1/2 stick) Cold unsalted butter, cut into Tabs.
1¾ cups cold buttermilk, shaken
1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. grated orange zest
1 cup dried currants

Preheat oven to 375. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silpat.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.
With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 Tab. Of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet.
Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and knead it a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound. Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temp.

(I decided to make this easy slightly sweet bread to dip into the savory spreads, as I really like the combination of sweet and savory – go figure. It was particularly good with the veg tapenade. I might leave the sugar out next time if serving with savory stuff.)

Blue Cheese Dressing (from “Barefoot Contessa At Home”)
½ lb. Roquefort cheese (I used crumbled blue cheese)
1 cup mayo
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. tarragon wine vinegar
2 Tab. Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Place half the cheese, the mayonnaise, heavy cream, vinegar, 1 tsp. salt and ½ tsp. pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until combined but still chunky. The other half of the cheese should be crumbled over the top of salad, but I added it to the mix. It was too thick. If you’re using this as a dip, its fine to add all the cheese, but as a dressing, you only need half.)

Lemon Fusilli with Arugula (See Foodnetwork.com)

(This was SO delicious. The arugula wilts just so, and the tomatoes get tender and juicy! A great dish for feeding the masses.)

Tuna Tartare (See Foodnetwork.com)

(I was a little disappointed that the tuna absorbed the soy sauce enough that it turned sort of a brown/gray color, rather than a pretty pinky color. GREAT flavor, and so lovely with the avocado. The peppery endive is a great edible spoon.)

Chicken Salad Veronique (See Foodnetwork.com)

(Again, I hate mayonnaise, but if it’s a good balance and not too gooey, I can take it. This worked out perfectly. I really liked the added crunch and depth of the pecans.)

Lemon Yogurt Cake (See Foodnetwork.com)
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(Once I poured the juice and sugar mixture over the warm cake, all I could think about was the fact that most of the syrup was ending up on wax paper on the tray below. Once the cake had cooled, I wrapped it in the syrupy wax paper, then wrapped the lot in plastic wrap, hoping the cake would absorb more as it rested. Success! Also, instead of the glaze, I used butter cream frosting, with added lemon zest. I probably won’t next time.)

Mini Orange Chocolate Chunk Cake (See Foodnetwork.com)
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(Um… Yum!? These almost didn’t need the chocolate syrup. I think I would have preferred them with a glaze instead, so the chocolate isn’t so overwhelming. I could eat these all day on into the night.)

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Vanilla Grand Marnier Ice Cream
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup cream + ¾ cup milk, scalded
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp. Grand Marnier liqueur

Beat egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer using paddle attachment on med. For 3 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce speed to low, and add cornstarch.

Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, with the mixer still on low. Next, pour this mixture (now like a custard) into a sauce pan and cook over low heat until the spoon coats with cream. (Don’t allow the temp to rise above about 150-160).

Pour the sauce through a fine strainer, add vanilla and Grand Marnier. Freeze using an ice cream maker per manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze in an air-tight container until ready to eat. Serves 4-5.

**My sincerest apologies! The hyperlink function is not currently working?! I have to annoyingly direct you to www.foodnetwork.com for recipe reference.

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