Archive for December, 2007

Party Food!!

Husband and I threw our second annual holiday party, and of course, the theme was food. Not only did we serve lots of food (and wine) but we asked our guests to bring a donation to the food shelf, and they really surpassed our expectations. Now, we just need to drop off the 8 full bags of goodies in the next week.

As for the food, there were some basics. Sliced peppers and musrhooms with a dill dipping sauce was an easy, and healthy addition to the table. I actually a made a new recipe out of Cooking Light for Edamole, but the taste testers didn’t like the texture or the taste, so we used a tub of pack-up dip. The recipe is not on their site yet, but its essentially a guacamole, but uses edamame instead of avocados. Sorry, I’ll stick to avocados next time.

The most unique appetizer I made is from Food and Wine Magazine, and was featured in one of their email blasts. Bagel Chips with Ricotta, Chive oil and Prosciutto. They couldn’t have been easier, and were snatched up almost immediately. The chip was crunchy, the cheese creamy and the chive oil had just a bit of bite. I will make these again, without a doubt.

Another fun appetizer from Food and Wine were these great little Mini-Mac-N-Cheeses. The reviews said they were outstanding, and while they were fun and really cute, they were by far not tastiest thing on the table. I was happy with my presentation, though, served in a cake dome.

There were many other delicious snacks that I didn’t get photos of. One was the crock-pot full of Spicy Cocktail Meatballs. Guests were raving about them, and they all wanted to know the secret ingredient. I have to admit I cheated a bit hear and used frozen meatballs with cocktail sauce, jalapeno jelly and an onion. Really, really, REALLY easy.

And of course, cookies and chocolate. This tray shows a bunch of the cookies I made, including the Martha Stewart Gingerbread Men, the not as good as expected Cooking Light Sesame cookies, the Jensen family traditional Bon-bons (sorry, not sharing this one), the just-okay Chai Shortbread, the really yummy Lime Coolers, delicious and sinful Death By Caramel Bars, and the Devil’s Delight (Mexican) Chocolate Cookies.

And there was wine, and beer and sparkling juice. We never got around to opening the champagne, so we’ll have to do that at the next party. It was fun, we gathered lots of food, which is fabulous on its own. What’s more fabulous is a house full of friends who are smiling and laughing and having a great time. Happy New Year to All!!

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A Great Christmas Menu, Part 2

So, after all of that good food, Husband and I drove north for another 24 hours of good eats. We started that evening with wine, and salmon and those beautiful truffles I wrote about a couple weeks ago. We tried the Key Lime, HOT Chocolate and the Chai Tea. My favorite was the HOT chocolate, which did have a kick, but wasn’t overpowering (Mother-in-law might disagree).

But the real food started the next day. After a breakfast of bloody mary’s and a quick snowshoe outing, we started the real meal.

Our theme was “A Tour of Europe” and although we spent a lot of time in France, we did make our way to other countries. The main dish was a herbed roasted beef tenderloin. Which was essentially a large tenderloin rubbed in a herbed pesto, and served with a shallot sauce. I tend to be rather picky about what kind of beef I eat, but tenderloin is a cut of meat I accept with open arms. Low in fat and that nasty gristle, you can often cut it with a fork. Its just pricier than most other cuts, but the holidays are for celebrating, so we went for it. And this recipe couldn’t be easier. We made the sauce a couple days ahead, and put the pesto together first thing in the morning so it could marinate for 6+ hours. Then just roast it in the oven. The recipe said 35 minutes, it was more like 50, but it was perfect.

To go with the beef we made a beautiful mushroom risotto. I think a lot of people find risotto intimidating to make, but its really quite simple and even easier if you have a guy floating around who can sit and stir the darn stuff. That’s the problem with it, it needs to be stirred constantly for about 20 minutes, and where there are other dishes to be made, well, it’s hard to lose a hand to stirring.

This dish turned out to be the hit of the evening. And I have to admit, it was darn good. Rich, but not too fattening, the truffle oil accentuated the mushrooms and worked very well with the beef and shallot sauce.

Also on the side were roasted vegetables. A beautiful combination of peppers, eggplant, onions, squash and potatoes, they also matched the cozy theme of the meal, yet fancy enough on their own. Of course there was bread and good butter, and a lively apple salad with gorgonzola that we somehow found room for.

And then came dessert. Snow had started falling again, and it was beautiful out there. But we still had to drive the hour home, so there was little time to waste before cutting into this beautiful torte. Officially called Sachertorte, it is a traditional Austrian dessert. Its comprised of a not-too-sweet chocolate cake with a apricot jam and a boiled chocolate frosting coating it. It sure is beautiful, and served with a large dollap of whipped cream, it sure was tasty. Even after that full meal, the torte wasn’t too sweet, we were able to handle it. I still have some in the fridge and think it might be for dinner.

It was a beautiful Christmas, with lots of good food, family and snow. I just love the snow, don’t you?

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A Great Christmas Menu, Part 1

Like most people, I usually celebrate the holidays twice. Once with Parents, Brother and his family, and Sister if she’s in town. The second time is with the In-laws. And both events this year were full of just amazing food, and lots of it.

For my side of the family, Sister-in-Law was kind enough to host (with Brother, of course) and their three kids. Hosting such an event for 10 people is a lot of work, and I imagine even more work when you’re 7 months pregnant (which she is), but she did a beautiful job and the food and atmosphere were fabulous. She chose pork tenderloin, which is always a good choice. It is very versatile, fairly inexpensive so its good for a group, and it doesn’t take that long to cook. She also made a potato recipe that I made last year, because we knew it was a hit. Amazingly it’s from Cooking Light, and called, Asiago, Potato and Bacon Gratin. This does not, I repeat, does not taste like a light dish. I think it is the reduction of the milk that is added to a casual roux. The mixture thickens and when poured over par-boiled potatoes, forms a rich sauce.

My contribution to the meal was a stuffing. I found the recipe on epicurious.com and chose it beacuse I thought the apples would pair nicely with the pork. It is called Apple Shallot Stuffing, and although a bit of work, well worth it. It was dark for a stuffing, but the currants and walnuts provided some contrast to the apples and bread. I also brought a loaf of flaxseed bread with cranberries and there was a salad served. Mother brought dessert, and I don’t know the exact name, but it was a frozen concoction of pumpkin and ginger snaps. Very festive, and I’ve never been known to turn down anything pumpkin or ginger. Maybe she’ll provide a link in the comments section so we can all know more about it. Its an ideal recipe, because you have to make it ahead.

A happy surprise was the two boxes of chocolate covered pretzel sticks sent by Sister from her husband’s families home town. I will try to take a picture of them if there are any left on Saturday, and dig up some more information. I did test one of each (dark and milk chocolate), just to make sure they were good.

So, more tomorrow, part 2.

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No Longer A Bank…

We took some clients to lunch last week to celebrate the holidays, and I used it as an opportunity to check one of the new restaurants in town. We chose Bank, not for any one reason, but because it’s new and in the heart of downtown, which can always be fun. (You will have to forgive me for the lack of photos, but I didn’t think it appropriate to pull out the camera and start shooting my client’s meals. I’ll try to describe things the best I can.)

Bank is in the former home of, yes, you guessed it, a Bank. My bank, in fact. I remember sitting in the huge space after my checkbook was stolen, trying to remember the last place I wrote a check. They kept much of the space intact, and even store the wine in the vault, complete with the thick vault door.

The food, which was good, was not as memorable as the space. For appetizers we had the calamari (served with a darn good miso mayonaisse) and the deviled eggs (served with a thin slice of truffle. When I noticed a client pull the truffle out of the egg and set it on the edge of the plate a small part of me died. But there’s really no way to say, “Ahem, you gonna eat that little sliver of heaven that you just disregarded?”

I chose the mushroom risotto for my entree, with the fear that it would be too big, or too salty or too rich. But it was none of the above. It has the essence of mushrooms without being overpowering. Though it would have been nice to see more than shitakes. The menu said oyster mushrooms were in it as well, but I didn’t see any, even after explaining to a client that no, oyster mushrooms are not the same as oysters.

Dessert is not always a priority with me, and certainly not after a bowl of risotto, but its the holidays so we splurged. We ordered three (there were 11 of us): A grapefruit bombe served with dark chocolate pretzels, a frangelico chocolate cake, and my favorite, the crepe served with bananas, apples and caramel sauce. And then, a silver rack of shot glasses appeared before us. Called the banker’s dozen, Bank serves a rack of nine shot glasses, each with a different dessert inside. Lets see if I can remember them all. Panna Cotta, Raspberry Crips, Cashew Caramel, Pumpkin Pie, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Cake, Cheesecake, German Chocolate Cake, and yep, I’m missing one. The server brought us each a small spoon, which we were too use to scoop a bite and pass them around. But really, we’re not that close. So we each chose one that sounded good and scooped a bit out. Most of them were good, yet not award-winning, except for the concept. That was surely a winner, and something to bank on!

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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Makin’ marshmellows on Design*Sponge

This is the cutest thing ever. Jen sent it to me from a favorite site, Design Sponge. And I love the idea of making Marshmellows, even though I learned a few years ago that they are not vegetarian. I didn’t realize that gelatin contains bones. I did some research :

Gelatin is a protein, made from the hydrolysis of collagen, a protein that makes up about a third of all mammalian tissue. Collagen is what makes up much of the connective tissue, tendons, and the protein part of bones.

Now that I’ve grossed you all out, we should all make marshmellows!!!

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I Love Gingerbread Men!!

All of ’em, all sizes, all genders. I grew up making many, many cookies with my sister and mother, and have never really slowed down. So far this year I’ve made 8 batches of cookies, and I have two left to go. Is that kind of insane for a family of two? I don’t think so. I pass the cookies around during the holidays and serve them at all the Christmas functions. But I have to admit I have a favorite. What’s funny, is that I use a different recipe every year because I can never seem to find the same one year to year.

This year I used Martha Stewart’s Basic Gingerbread People recipe, and boy was it easy. In the past I’ve made recipes with crystalized ginger and other crazy ingredients, but this one was just plain and normal. The cookies have a wonderful bite of spice, and the chilled dough was very easy to work with. Husband and I decorated last night, and while I like to keep mine simple with just faces and buttons, he has more fun. See the little man in the upper right with the scar on his chest. He looks scared. Was it open heart surgery or a puck to the sternum? We’ll never know.

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There’s this Truffle store on Grand Avenue….

That makes just the most insanely beautiful truffles. It’s called Just Truffles. We stopped in the other day to load up on holiday treats for some clients, and a little box of 8 of the gorgeous things ended up in my hands. The individual truffles are listed on their website, but I’ll walk you through the box I brought home. Starting from the front, right side we have Key Lime, Chai Tea, HOT Chocolate (with Habanaros), Tenors Temptation (created for Luciano Pavarotti), Grand Marnier, Cafe au Lait, Baileys and Chocolate Malted.

I haven’t tasted them yet, because I’m saving them for Christmas Eve. It’s been a tradition since I met Husband, that we drink champagne and eat nice chocolate late into the night. We’ve tried Godiva, BT McElrath and others. I think this year might be the best.

When I told Husband that I got truffles for the holidays, he assumed I meant the savory, found in the ground by pigs kind of truffle. Sorry, I can’t afford those kind. Regardless, we got to talking about truffles vs truffles. So off to Wikipedia I went. They had a nice description, but no history. I found more through Google, including what I suspected: Chocolate Truffles got their name because they look so much like the savory, found in the ground by pigs kind of truffle. Huh.

I have to say, these truffles from Just Truffles look so much better than the porous, oddly shaped truffles found in the ground. And while the taste may not necessarily be better, it will certainly be different.

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A Perfect Hostess Gift

Every year I try to come up with something creative to give as hostess gifts for all the crazy parties I go to. This year I didn’t have to go far. The December issue of Bon Appetit had a recipe for these fabulous Candied Espresso Walnuts. Yum.

I don’t drink coffee anymore, so just the scent of espresso beans in the kitchen made me smile. The walnuts ended up tasty like salty-sweet-crunchy coffee. A treat and a pick-me-up, all at the same time. I found the to-go containers at Paper Depot and designed a little label to identify the treats.

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First Round of Holiday Cookies

I’ve started the holiday cookie baking, and so far I am not impressed. All three of these recipes are from the December issue of Cooking Light, and I have to remember that baking can’t be light. Anyway, from left to right are the Chai Shortbread, the Crunchy Sesame Cookies and the Chocolate Almond Cherry Crisps. The Chai shortbread needed more spice, but the texture is fabulous and they’re very easy. The Seseme cookies also had a fabulous texture, but the flavor was odd. They start tasting like peanut butter, but have a sharp aftertaste. The crisps were good. I made them for a party, and a friend brought the same ones. I don’t like fruit with my chocolate, but the dried cherries didn’t bother me, and added a bit of tang to a lucious combination of chocolate, almonds and rice krispies. Now I have a box of the cereal I need to use up if anyone knows some fun recipes. So they were all edible, but probably not keepers. I’ll be baking more, so stay tuned.

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A Quick Field Trip

A co-worker and I had a few minutes to kill today after letterpress printing our holiday cards, so we stopped at one of our favorite markets, United Noodles. The photos show the wide array of food available at the Asian grocery. I just like checking out the packaging. But this one is great. Its “Uncurdled Bean Curds”!

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