Monday, August 11, 2008

1st Ever Wine Pairing Party!

Post party my head was a buzz! I woke up at 3:23am, and could not go back to sleep. Here were some of my thoughts, including the one that woke me up so effectively:
"Crap! I forgot to serve the apples and brie!"
"I need to remember to get all the mail out of the drawers where I stashed them to 'clean'."
"Lawe mewane wasll do, wait, that wasn't even English."
"I think Mitch has the hiccups."
"My gawd my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth...need water."
"Please don't let me wake up with a migraine."
"Did I even eat last night?"
"I wonder if the Olympics are on now."


One hour I was awake. I thought I would sleep like a baby after all of the planning, cooking, eating, and especially drinking, but I didn't. I loaded all of the pictures this morning, and it is quite hilarious how my camera got so drunk throughout the evening! I believe at one point I got some horseradish sour cream on the bottom of the camera, which I then licked off. The quality of these pictures is TERRIBLE! So lets just laugh and not judge, mmmkay??

A quick explanation of the evening. I planned out 9 appetizers, which my guests on an evite picked to pair a wine to. Then, each guest brought their wine, and I set the wines by the apps. The evening was split into a couple rounds.

Round One, or, Pinot Grigio and other White Wines:
Mediteranean Quesdadillas
Roasted Red Pepper and Herb Goat Cheese Pinwheels
Curried Chicken Salad and Endive
Bacon and Leek Egg Tartlets

Round Two, or, Big Reds:
1. Horseradish and Roasted Garlic Crusted Beef Tenderloin on Chive Potato Pancakes with Horseradish Sour Cream
2. Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella Balls

Round Three, or, Beer and Chianti:
1. Mussels two ways: Blue cheese & Pancetta and Tomato & Shallots
2. Meatballs and Roasted Garlic Bread

Bonus Round!
1. Pistachio Gelato on Butter Cookies (frozen on a butter cookie in a cupcake tin)

Those still reading, here is an explanation of the food/recipes with the few photos that I took.

Mediteranean Quesadillas-Makes 21 wedges, 3 per tortilla.
2-3 cups chopped roasted chicken breast.
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1/3 large red onion, diced
7 T hummus
14 T feta

Combine chicken, red pepper, and onion.

Spread 1 T hummus on half of tortilla, sprinkle 2T feta, and about 2 spoonfuls of chicken, red pepper, and onion mixture. Fold tortilla over. On hot griddle, grill tortilla so crispy, flipping once. Remove and cut into thirds.

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese-Makes 20 something sliced bread pieces.
5 red peppers, roasted, and cut to lay flat.
1 log goat cheese, mixed with 6 basil leaves in food chopper

Place flat, unrolled red pepper in between plastic wrap. Pound it out like chicken with a rolling pin. Place/spread goat cheese on pepper, and roll. Store over night in a container. Next day, slice carefully and lay flat on bread. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes if you'd like bread toasted.

Curried Chicken Salad-Makes a bunch!
4 chicken breasts, grilled or roasted.
2T red curry powder
cilantro for garnish

I think this was the most boring thing I made. It was fresh tasting and safe! For my chicken, I actually marinated it in yogurt with a bunch of spice, Indian Style, but I don't know how much of a difference it made. It was moist chicken, definitely, but I don't think it added a ton of flavor. I think the grill then took the flavor away.

Bacon and Leek Tartlets
-Makes 24 tartlets
5 eggs
1/3 cup milk
3 slices of bacon
1 leek

Cook bacon and leeks in sautee pan. I cooked the leeks part way, and then added the bacon. Whisk egg and milk. Spray mini-muffin trays, and drop some of bacon and leek in the bottom, about 1t. Pour egg mixture about half way up the muffin, um, hole/space. Cook at 350 for 12 minutes.

Horseradish and Roasted Garlic Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Potato Pancakes
I used recipes for this lovely dish. The pancakes turned out great; I was nervous. The beef, I pressed some breadcrumbs into the crust, which I sorta doubled the amounts from the recipe for optimum crust. And I cooked this guy on foil on the top shelf of the grill. It was at about 500 degrees for 35 minutes. It was a 3.5 lb tenderloin.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Fresh Mozzarella
3 bags of cherry tomatoes on the vine
2 containers of fresh mozz balls
olive oil
pepper flakes
handful of basil, chopped

I used the grill for this. Combine tomatoes and olive oil, salt, pepper, and flakes in a baking dish. On top row of grill, roast for 15 minutes at 400-500 degrees. Let cool. Move to a serving dish. Drain cheese and roll around in the juices given off by the tomatoes in the baking dish. Then put cheese in with tomatoes and toss with basil.

Meatballs: secret recipe

2 lbs mussels
1 cup white wine
1 chopped shallot
1 cup chopped tomatoes
2 cloves garlic minced

Mussels the new way:
2 lbs mussels
1 cup white wine
1 chopped shallot
4 ounces diced pancetta
2 ounces blue cheese

Both recipes go about the same way. 1: Cook shallots and garlic. Add white wine and boil. Add tomatoes and mussels. Put a lid over them and cook 5 minutes.
2: Cook shallots and garlic and pancetta. Add white wine and boil. Add mussels and blue cheese and steam 5 minutes with the lid on.

Dessert: Pistachio Gelato and Butter Cookies

Using your most familiar butter cookie recipe, press the cookie into the bottom of a cupcake liner. Bake as normal. Let cool. Put about 1.5 T gelato ontop and freeze covered in plastic wrap, in the muffin tins. I thought after, that I could make these again with chocolate melted on top and then frozen. Or maybe even put a piece of chocolate below the cookie before baking.

The party is a bit of a blur now. I think people had a great time! I took 8 wine bottles out to the curb this morning, and a very full trash bag with plates and beer bottles. All in all, the food was manageable and I think we'll do it again someday; Tony thinks I should be making money doing it for other people.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Getting Ready...

There is a lot of cooking going on in my house right now. I am gearing up for a back to school, wine-pairing party, which is tomorrow.

Today I am cooking: meatballs, mashed potatoes, chicken breasts, and bacon, roasting peppers, sauteeing leeks, and baking butter cookies.

The endeavor will be a 10 item spread, all paired to a wine that a guest brings. Wish me luck in cooking and photographing it all tomorrow.

Needless to say, last night we got chinese food!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Weeknight Chili

I could name this so many things...Single Girl Chili, Chili Small Enough That You Don't Turn Into A Bean Because You Ate it Everyday for a Week Chili, Fast and Furious Chili...but I settled on:

Weeknight Chili
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 can black beans, drained, not rinsed
1 chopped tomato
2 small carrots, scredded
1/2 med. onion chopped
1 chile in adobo, chopped
2 T tomato paste
1 cup water
2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
1 T salt
1 t vegetable oil

Heat oil, and cook onion and shredded carrots. Add turkey and brown. Add beans, chile in adobo, and tomato. Season with chili powder and cumin and salt. Whisk paste and water and add. Bring to a simmer. CHili should thicken. Taste. Dip tortilla chips in it. And then season with more chili powder if you'd like.

We are putting this on baked potatoes tonight. Or I may just eat it alone if the damn potatoes don't cook in time for me to go to Job Numero Dos.

It looks like real, all day, chili, don't it??

Ways to change: use kidney beans, chili beans with seasoning (I was out), use beer instead of water, use canned tomato with green chiles, use tomato sauce instead of paste/water mix, use beef, use leftover stew meat, oh it goes on and on.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Working up an appetite...we deserve pasta!

We've been powerwashing and cleaning the deck for the last two nights. Night one, we were able to turn a gross white adirondack chair into a non-gross white adirondack chair.

Tonight, we went over the deck again, and plan on water-sealing it tomorrow or Wednesday. We also started a little weight loss challenge today. Up until dinner, I had eaten about 1100 calories but also worked out for two hours, burning a total of 780 calories. So the deck work plus the gym time made me feel okay about having some angel hair pasta tonight.

I wanted to feel like we were getting more pasta than we were, so I shredded yellow zucchini and zucchini squash on the cheese grater. It really pumped up the quantity, while getting some good vegetables in the dish! We also had leftover Spicy Turkey Sausage from grilling last night, and so I cut two of those up.

2 grilled Spicy Italian Turkey Sausages
1 yellow squash, shredded
1 zucchini squash (green) shredded
1/2 onion, sliced
1/2 tomato, chopped
olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
crushed red pepper (1/2 T, maybe)
angel hair pasta (for us, 2 cups cooked)

Heat the olive oil, and then cook garlic with crushed red pepper. Don't let it burn!! Add onion, and combine, cooking until onion is soft. Add sliced sausages, to reheat. Add tomato. Right before you drain the angel hair, add the shredded squash. They will cook fast, letting go water. I added a little pasta water too, but I really didn't need to. I also think now is a good time to salt to taste. Add pasta, and toss or twist (I twist with tongs) to get zucchini mingling with the noodles.

Eating Abroad: Wishbone, ya'll!

Evening Two in Chicago brought us to a Southern/Cajun restaurant called Wishbone. Because it was a Monday, it was not too crowded, but apparently this place gets lines out the door. It is a large restaurant with a large covered patio. The patio looks into the street or up to balconies of very lucky people who live within walking distance of take-out. The place has a lot of character and our server was quite entertaining, walking around and singing Aretha to herself. Fitting, I thought.

(If you haven't noticed yet, I comment UNDER photos, I hope that is okay.)

We started with a couple appetizers, one was a recommendation. We had the crab cake, which was what a good crab cake should be...full of crab, a little falling apart due to its amount of crab to bread. Perfect. It had a "Yankee Cole Slaw", which we decided meant "vinegar based" dressing rather than mayo. We also had the shrimp and grits; oh holy hell they were good. Creamy, a little spice to the shrimp, and there was bacon, mushroom, and tomato involved. I wish I just had ordered three of these. And the third was a corn cake, also with cajun shrimp. It was good, but dude, there was BACON with the grits. Enough Said.

One of my dining companions ordered the chicken etoufee. Now, if this had been CRAWFISH Etoufee, I would've ordered it in a heart beat! It was creamy and rich, and it could've used a bit more heat, but that is why there was hot sauce on the table.
This photo is BLURRY! Sorry!
And my order was for Jambalaya (I wish I could put a sound bite here of Newman saying "JambalaYA"). It was plentiful, and chunky, and tasty! Loved the chicken, as it was nice chunks of chicken breast. The sausage was very good as well, and I didn't really want to eat too much of the rice. Sadly, I could not take home leftovers, as I bet it would ROCK day two.

My other two dining companions ordered grilled chicken dishes: one blackened, one with mango. The Mango, pictured, was tasty. She had an enormous side of greens, which I didn't sample. And we all shared a side of macaroni and cheese. The mac and cheese was standard, but not exceptional.

I did not take a photo of dessert, because of my shame. Too full for dessert normally, I had to try the bread pudding, as it had NO raisins, which is just the way I like it. It was also cut like a piece of pie, which I thought was a nice change! Our server, I mentioned she was funny, told us to, "Just sit and breathe out awhile" before eating dessert so we had more room in our bodies. It seemed to work. And the bread pudding was awesome!

A Quick Shoe Rant: Wedges from Victoria's Secret will cut the beejeezus out of your ankles. I don't know why I am surprised. But walking barefoot from a train station to your hotel is both gross and dangerous. Happily no stubbed toes ensued...but I did go and purchase sensible shoes from Ann Taylor Loft to replace the Hell Shoes.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Eating Abroad: People of Wicker Park, Chicago

Let's see...where are my notes? Hmm, no notes, actually. Just some pictures as a reminder for a mind that had just had two shots of absinthe for the first time before eating at this trendy tapas bar in Wicker Park called People.
What makes a tapas bar trendy? Well the fact it IS a tapas bar, could be one thing. As they are increasing in popularity and they are ACTUALLY Spanish now. Rather than the "small plates bar", who realized that it was not very inviting for the Americans who prefer to get the bang for their buck, and therefore chose "tapas" to explain their food because as I hear so frequently at my second job, "What does tapas mean??". But aside from the simple fact that tapas are trendy, this place had a DJ, and I mean "two turn tables and microphone" dj. And it seemed there was a posse along with the DJ as well. OH, and I believe I saw a guy with an iguana outside, and YES there is a picture as proof so I know it wasn't the absinthe. I just don't have the picture. (I swear there is a picture).

I was dining at People with three colleagues/friends. We each decided to order two things, which was a great plan, and something I suggest for all tapas-goers. We started with pickled vegetables, olive tapanade, and I chose to drink Cava.

We then had a tomato sauce and goat cheese tapa. Followed by (one that I ordered) a skirt steak tapa. Where the tomato sauce and goat cheese was quite straightforward, the skirt steak was more like a roast, in a tomato wine-like broth. No complaints, as it was quite comforting and great to dip bread in; however, it--and not a bad thing--made you wish there was MORE!

So of course, the fact that there was alcohol involed PRE-People could take away a bit of my reliability as a blogger. Upon linking to the website, I took another look at the menu. Initially I was not so sure the shrimp were as they were described, then God bless digital cameras, because I looked at my picture and I was all, "Oh yeaaaaah." I knew I remebered the shrimp as delicious. And now it is clear why...there was some lobster bisque going on there! What a great idea! Lobster bisque as a SAUCE! But dude, how much time goes into that just for a sauce? Probably a lot, which makes me wonder if they make it there or get it via a wholesaler. I shoulda asked. Oh well.

Our next round was mussels with chorizo and chicken and rice. I plan on making mussels next weekend, so I have been tasting them as much as possible. The mussels were cooked properly and tasted fresh. I was more just looking at the combo with the chorizo; it was good, but you really wouldn't eat a mussel and chorizo chunk at the same time. That just seemed wrong. The chicken was bland, rice cooked fine, and sauce unmemorable.

Ah the paella. I was happy we ordered this as it had more mussels in it, and quite a few! It was, though, watery and the rice seemed more like white rice and less like the appropriate paella rice, which is like an arborio (risotto).

If you are in Wicker Park, have some absinthe at a bar called Absinthe, but don't expect the bartender to be that nice; he was kinda a douche. And then walk about a block to the left of Absinthe and have some Tapas. They have a late crowd and possible iguanas outside, a girl in a leather tank top (does her mother KNOW she wears that?), and good Spanish tapas for sharing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Recipe Club Week 3

Sweet and Sour Chicken with Brown Rice Source: Eating

2 cups instant brown rice (I used my new favorite thing: Birdseye Microwave Bag Brown creates about 2 cups cooked rice in 4 minutes)
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 t crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided (I used a couple shakes of sesame oil and a calphalon wok that nothing sticks to!!)
1 pound chicken tenders, cut into bite-size pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons finely grated or minced ginger
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 cups bite-size pieces of vegetables, such as snow peas, broccoli and bell peppers (My vegetables were 1 head of broccoli, 1 small red pepper, 1 small onion)
1 5-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Prepare rice according to the package directions (4 minutes, baby!!).

Meanwhile, whisk vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch and apricot preserves in a small bowl. Set aside. (I added the crushed red pepper flakes here)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink on the outside and just starting to brown in spots, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, garlic and ginger to the pan and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 20 to 30 seconds. Add broth and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add vegetables, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the vegetables are tender-crisp, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in water chestnuts and the chicken. Whisk the reserved sauce and add to the pan. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is heated through, about 1 minute. Serve with the rice.

The Review: It is a beautiful dish, isn't it!? I added even more shakes of crushed red pepper toward the end because it was pretty bland. Tony added salt and tabasco. It tastes like a Healthy Choice meal. Which, if you ever had one of those and wished for MORE, here you can make it yourself!! And if you want a NON sweet and sour chicken, you could seriously follow the same directions, minus the apricot, and sub in something like a Stir-fry sauce or General Tso's sauce from Trader Joe's, and you you'd have a whole other flavored Healthy Choice meal!! I am most likely going to do that in the future, as I love spicy stuff.

And the speed of this meal is great! Especially, plug numero tres, if you buy the steam bag brown rice!! I made this dish at 11:15pm, after Tony had been gone in Orlando for a training/sales meeting. His flight got in late, he didn't eat the taco bar lunch before he left, and thus was starving. And I don't think this meal gave me it was a winner! (My mom always told me certain things would give me nightmares: okay, hot chocolate. I could not have hot chocolate before bed or I'd dream about a crocodile chasing me and Ernie from Sesame Street).