Sunday, December 21, 2008

eat a burrito

Next year might be build your own burrito. I think "make your own ___" went over really well.

Run down

Chris demands you pay attention to the pizza rules
Carey and Andrew dutifully do

I've been lazy about the dinner party. I've been more interested in going to holiday parties and removing the smell of cured pork before uploading photos this week. Sadly I did not take enough. Maybe they are being uploaded to facebook pages. Mine came out blurry and over saturated. Bah, whats important is the huge clash of friends and food. People had countless amazed reactions. I am grateful. I aim to please the crowd.

Pizza station, 29 toppings, no exaggeration!

Food really piled high this year. I had to come up with a system to organize everything. I built shelves, and labeled cups with all 30ish toppings. E.g. caramelized onions don't looks so appetizing if you don't know what they are. I even, somewhat obsessively, printed out directions and posted them above the table. Dough stretching instructions seemed more confusing then helpful. I wanted to add illustrations, but time ran low. I hovered near here half the night, to give advice. A few occasions I jumped in and pulled pies. Most people had trouble, but everyone had fun. I also constructed my dream pizza. BBQ sauce, pulled pork, red onions, sweet potatoes, and cheese. Damn.

Multi-tiered platters in the "side/appetizer room".
This was a really popular room. People kept saying "This is the 3rd time I
filled up my plate, and I already ate 2 pizzas..." One pal described it as
"gorging herself like a baby whale"

I thought I would keep sides simple, but that's just not how I roll. Its always fascinating to see what people do and don't like. Here is a list of things people really really like: Artichoke dip, Butter beans with celery and fennel, pineapple, grapes, salami, brie and cheddar cheese, carrots, and cut peppers, stuffed peppers, barley risotto. Okay so that's like almost all the food, but I can tell they really like that food, because people barely touch stuff like: cumin flavored gouda cheese, pesto dip and hummous, zucchini bread, the jello mold (granted it looked awful) the toffee, roasted fennel. People like the pizzas!

Dessert was out of control. Everyone brought it, and no one ate it! I gave away 90% of a cheese cake, and an entire red velvet cake. I brought a boat load of ice cream sandwiches to an office. Vegan ganache torte with apricots and almonds went over extremely well. It could have been a dessert party, nauseating. I really think this is getting skipped from now on. Just a few sweets on the side.

I'm relieved this is done. I had a real weekend, and kicked up my heels all week. I will say I am terribly pleased with the following dishes: spiced pecans, fig jam, roasted fennel, cracked pepper focaccia, and the pulled pork. Throw in some spinach and chick peas to that list, and I might never need another food for the rest of my life.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

picked over and gone

The very reason for this blog is over. It happened after a long slow week of cooking, which nearly made me want to forget food forever, and then in a very quick blur of a dinner party. It was fun, it was nearly worth it. I know everyone who came had a blast. The morning after the party I woke up in a cheese/banana pepper/salami scented bedroom, which officially made me want to forget about food. I am still living in filthy chaos. Food was put away, and pots scrubbed, but my floors are sticky under mixed up furniture.

I have too much food left, and its causing problems. Around 10-15 guests didn't show. Monday-Wednesday felt like an endless feast of leftovers, but now things are spoiling. I anticipated this a little, and sent food home with guests, brought 7 lbs of salami and 15 lbs of dessert to work, and froze some for a different day. Still I feel like I could pay more attention to whats happening in the fridge. I feel disrespectful trashing food. I will have to turn whats left into soup.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Miracle Pork

Come over, you are invited to eat this!

Last night two miracles happened. I was cooking the pulled pork. It did not take 2-3 hours. I gave it 4 hours, shut the heat, and left it in the oven to cook in the residual heat. I thought I would deal with it after I came back from a tiny bit of celebrating for a friend's birthday. After 3-4 hours I returned to luscious pork smells. Entering my apartment I heard the oven creak! Holy sweet jello! I left the oven on the entire time I was out, and at 450 degrees!! I ran to the oven, pulled the pork out of its foil packet, covered in hot boiling fat. That's when I realized two miracles had happened:

1) It a miracle that the fat did not catch on fire and burn down my home
2) Inside the foil was a perfect deep crusted amazingly tender piece of pulled pork, that slipped gently apart from the bone. It tastes heavenly, and I consider it a good omen.

No really its edible, and tender, and perfect, it only took 7.5 hours.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Evenly Brown

Today is day two of cooking for the party. Before this is was mostly prep (making dough, seasonings, chopping, buying). Friday and Saturday include very heavy cooking, and Sunday, a bunch of warming up.

So far everything is turning out brown. The rich mission fig jam is super dark with sweet almost smokey flavor that could easily land in the umami class of flavors. I made an almond crust for my vegan apricot and ganache torte, a light brown. I have pulled pork in the oven now, which is finicky and taking a long time, a crisp brown. Toffee, is toffee brown. Spiced pecans, spicy maroon.

I made a laughable muddy-orange jello molded salad. I decided to take a family classic, molded cranberry, and using some beautiful apples and pears. The fruit quickly oxidized in the food processor, and the peach jello went mucky when it all came together. It tastes lovely, but I'm not sure anyone will be brave enough to try it. It looks a little bit like garbage. I wonder if I can cover it...ready-whip maybe??

Sunday, December 7, 2008

can of sardines

Set on my rugs, propped up on stacks of storage bins, and
covered with tablecloths the seating looks inviting.

Table and chair situation is this: I have almost none. My 2 large tables are devoted to the prep area. I only own 2 folding chairs, one office chair, and 2 designer easy chairs. No couch! No futon! I live alone, so I have rooms with empty floor. The guests will have to sit on the rugs.

This sunday I went to Lowes to purchase plywood sheets to act as tables to sit around floor-style. My empty room/2nd bedroom/studio is 11 x 16 ft. I wanted 2 rows of narrow tables. I was aiming for 28 x 120 inches, seating the max amount of people and with room to move around. Well there aren't service people working in lumber on a Sunday at Lowes to cut wood. I had to compromise with 4 pre-cut 2x4 ft sheets. I'm guessing up to 12 people can sit at each table. The rest will have to stand, sit on my bed, or if they are lucky, snag a folding chair.

food shapes and food trips

Its starting to be hard to keep this blog with all the shopping, prep, and cooking to do. I certainly have not blogged all the food I prepared last week. Its hard to stop in the middle of cooking to snap photos. I cook really really fast. Last week alone I made focaccia dough, spiced pecans, candied orange peels, maple almond toffee, chocolate chocolate cookie dough for ice cream sandwiches, bbq sauce, and finished off the last few batches of pizza dough. I also went to shopping for food and supplies 5 times, to over 8 stores. I am constantly in motion and on top of my schedule. Most of the food only needs to be prepped, with less cooking than other years. I am grateful for my cuisnart's chopping, shredding, and grating attachments. All of the fresh vegetable based foods get made this last week, so everything tastes the way it should.

The menu has shaped up:

Cheese and fresh and dried fruit plate
spiced nuts
sugared tangerine peels
bacon wrapped figs
pesto, red pepper hummous, and artichoke dips
fresh baked breads
fresh made pizza dough with a huge assortment of toppings including: roasted vegetables, artichokes, olives, arugula, caramelized onions, sweet potatoes,seasoned tofu, chicken sausage, pulled pork, bacon, prosciutto, dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, homemade tomato sauce, pesto, bbq sauce, tons of cheese, and more....
side salads of sorts
home steeped limoncello
hot cider
many fabulous concoctions of the season
juice and sodas
beer and wine
the famous Donabedian dessert plate of decadence, which I request people contribute to.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thin Crust Breafast

Finished breakfast pizzas, and perfectly browned crust. Very excellent.

I'm saving my appetite for red sauced pizzas. Currently I have taste for something different, breakfast pizza. A multi-layered savory meal of breakfast champions. I even got Patrick, the Breakfast Captain, whom I am grateful for and constantly impressed by, to lend his experience:

3 small potatoes, diced
leftover stuffing from Thanksgiving, optional
4 strips of bacon
4 eggs overeasy, or cooked to your liking
1/8th of pizza dough recipe, divided (from previous post)
cheddar cheese
salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Place bacon on a cookie sheet. Bake about 20 minutes until crunchy, flipping half way. Meanwhile, brown potatoes on all sides in a pan, about 15 minutes. Add stuffing and cook another minute or two. Set aside. The smell is good, and everyone is waking up to breakfast aromas, so send em out to get you coffee. Next crack 2 eggs at a time in a hot pan sprayed heavily with pam. A special trick from the breakfast captain: spray the top of the eggs with pam before flipping. Your overeasy eggs won't stick, and if you are good, won't break. Repeat with the next two eggs. Keep it all warm.

Cooking bacon on a cookie sheet intensifies the bacon flavor.
Captain Breakfast takes his bacon however he can get it.

The cap stretches dough. Not an easy morning task.

Stretch out pizza doughs to make something like a circle, or rectangle, or something in between. Layer on your breakfast goods. Start with the cheese, for a nice melty base that will adhere the potatoes on the next layer. Top with bacon strips, the eggs, and more cheese (more cheese is optional). Pop it in the oven, take a sip of coffee, and wait 15-20 minutes. This is a laborious recipe, but hot damn, its the best breakfast treat when ready.

crust is a must

Pizza dough, looks harmless but contains powerful
raising agents, that could easily destroy any kitchen.

Think about food over Thanksgiving? I did. I read up on pizza dough, 6-8 different variations. It came down to 2: The Frugal Gourmet and the Best Recipe Cook Book's. Best Recipe took the prize for explaining all the possible problems I might encounter.

Here tis' the master dough recipe for 4 medium pizzas:

1/2 cup 105 degree water
1 envelop of yeast (I actually order a European bulk kind, extra springy yeast)
1 1/4 cup room temp. water
2 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups bread flour (really better then the cheap kind, and I use King Arthur)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

To summarize, you put the yeast in the 105 water, and wait until it blooms, then add the rest of the water and oil. Pulse flour and salt in a food processor, and add in most of the liquids to form a ball of dough. Continue to pulse 30 seconds. Scrape onto a floury flat place, knead a couple of turns into a ball. Place in an oiled, warm bowl and let rise 2 hours, until doubled. Then you punch it, and make pizza. Or freeze it for you party a few weeks a away. My yeast was so springy, that my dough erupted out of the freezer quart bags. That yeast was going somewhere. Glad I caught it, punched it some more, and re-sealed the bags.

I found the food processor technique extremely convenient. The batch was almost too big for the motor of my cuisinart. It dimmed the lights and made horrible sounds. I came together fast, and the dough was very smooth. I had some trouble with the liquid. Its easy to add too much and create super sticky and gloppy dough. Gloppiness can be remedied with a little messy and floury kneading.

I made 5 batches of dough in 1 hour, before rising time. Very easy, but I don't
own so many mixing bowls, and had to use my pots and pans for rising.

I am making a total of 7 batches for 40ish medium to small pizzas. I fear that each batch will vary a touch, as my measuring isn't scientific. I made some experimental pizzas to know if the dough was right. Its soft inside and crispy out, with nice flavor. I am pleased. Time to practice throwing dough around.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Save the Date: re-Scheduled

Whats a dinner party blog, without a dinner party? Unforeseen family circumstances have caused me to reschedule the Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Party until after Thanksgiving! A new twist. It will be the Post-Thanksgiving (Pre-Christmas & Hanuka) Dinner Party. Same food, and I hope, same wonderful guests. New date December 14th, a Sunday.

Details to come!

Monday, October 27, 2008

update — limoncello

I'm on to the final phase of my limoncello. Its smells like a lemon orchard full of lemonade stands. Can't wait.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pumpkin Prize

Cookies all wrapped up for hungry vegans. My kitchen table was not styled for this photo. I actually keep fruit and flowers around. They come from my CSA share.

Below 60 degrees on the thermometer my stomach wants to extra helpings. It wants baked goods too. Its no exactly time to start cooking for the dinner party, but I'm excited for pumpkin. I made a big dish of pumpkin pie. Minus the crust and half the sugar, its a pretty healthy breakfast food.

Last weekend I went further into the pumpkin patch. I bought some pre-halved pumpkins from the fruit stand near flatbush. Coated in oil and cinnamon I baked it for about 1 hour at 400 degrees. Let it cool, and stand overnight to strain some water, and pureed. Next up, bake vegan chocolate chip cookies for my favorite vegan. This is my best vegan cookie success story. My pumpkin prize cookies came out crisp on the outside, and light on the inside. I don't know how to make a chewy vegan cookie yet. Alterations include adding 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch (improves texture) and reducing the soda and powder to 3/4. Oh and I switched nutmeg to allspice, but the finished cookie isn't all too spicy.

Still on a kick, I've been eating pumpkin out of the can. Its the only thing in my fridge except kale. I may decide to forget about roasting and pureeing my own gourds for good. Its time consuming. A 29oz can of pumpkin puree is $2. Compared to a 1 lb at $1.50 whole, store beats scratch.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

limoncello for fellows

I emptied my bourbon (hey hey into another bottle, not into my stomach) to use for the limonello steeping. I didn't have another glass jar large enough.

When I was a kid my brother and I used to get grow-a-frog kits for Christmas. You get a tadpole and a little tank. If you are lucky, it grows into a frog. For my birthday this year my brother sent me a limoncello recipe, and a set of glasses. Its with the same patience for tadpole legs that I wait for lemon peel and heavy duty vodka to turn into sweet sipping limoncello. It should be simple, like nature.

The recipe goes like this: pour 1/5 of 100 proof vodka into a 1 gallon glass jar along with the rinds of 15 fresh lemons (no pith!), and wait 10 - 40 days. Add another 1/5 of 100 proof vodka and simple syrup (4 cups sugar mixed with 5 cups water, boiled 8 minutes) and wait another 10 - 40 days. Strain and drink or bottle. You then have a product vastly, and affordably, superior to regular vodka.

Every now and then I take the bottle out and shake shake shake it. Not for any good reason, but the rind already makes a pretty color.

I'm on the first step, and 11 days in. My limoncello lurks in my closet, where it is cool and dark. I stumped all of the clerks at the 3 liquor stores I visited to locate 100 proof vodka. I even accidentally bought a bottle of 100% vodka. Whoops, is there even such a think as a vodka blend? I blame bad label editors.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tomato Adventure

I threaten myself with food adventures and stunts to keep me fresh. Constantly. Plan a BBQ, make jerky, decorate with fondant, churn butter, dehydrate fruit, go on a raw food diet. Mostly I entertain the thoughts. Canning is something I've been curious about. The country mouse inside my head reminds me that winter is coming, and the local tomatoes at the market are huge.

I want to make the accoutriments to this year's party in advance. Bon Appétit's October issue has a great mulit-page illustrated tutorial on canning. It took 2 weeks to pull it together, but here is the a quasi-real time break down of my first canning adventure:

A week in advance I started looking for the supplies: quart mason jars and lids, a basic set of tools (funnel, jar gripper, an unsophisticated but helpful magnet on a stick for grabbing hot lids,) a tall stock pot with a rack for the bottom.

I live in New York City. Canning is not too popular and Broadway Panhandler and Zabar's are out of my way & out of the supplies I needed. I ordered online from distributors in my area to save on shipping, and save me a few trips. The Bowery strip of restaurant suppliers provided my super shiny 14" aluminum stock pot to manage quart size mason jars. I never found a jar rack for the cans, so I improvised with a vented pie plate, turned upside down.

The recipe came from the same bon appétit for fresh tomato sauce. I talked to every tomato selling farmer at the Union Square Market to locate my bounty. Some sold soft or second tomatoes at a discount, between $1.50 and $4.00. One generous farmer sold me a big 30 lb box for $20! A serious score. I bought some fresh shallots, and herbs to go along. I setteled for plain-old store bought lemon concentrate from the grocery. Acidity levels are key in preventing botulism. Hauling the tomatoes back to Brooklyn was a trial, but its probably faster then making several small trips, or even carrying proportionate amounts of sauce. Everything that went in the sauce (minus a little sugar and salt) was fresh and organic.

The steps:
It took from 3 to 8.30 pm to make and process the sauce. I was boiling water the whole time. Not bad considering I got 7 quarts from my 30 lb of tomatoes, with about 6 lbs extra for more tomatoey adventures I have yet to plan.

Everything has to be washed and boiled, before it gets canned and boiled again. There is a huge excess of water used for the whole canning program.

While jars boil I had time to peel the 40 or so tomatoes. To peel the tomatoes, I plunged them in more boiling water for 5 seconds. The skins really do slip right off.

Then I quartered, seeded, and chopped. By this point I just want to get on with the cooking, but these steps are important to quality. My entire sink was filled with tomato seeds.

Hot stuff on the stove top. I ended up making the sauce in 3 batches. After the sauce was cooked I decided to puree it in my food processor. I made a huge amount of dishes doing all of this, which requires lots of water to clean, sigh.

The next step isn't photographed. Its the step when I pulled the jars out of boiling water and filled them with boiling sauce before closing and returning them to the boiling water. Not a good time to stop and take photos.

Finished product. All of my lids sealed, and it was such a relif. The picture doesn't capture it, but the sauce boiled inside the jars for almost an hour after they came out of the water. They remain a very pretty vermilion color. My stove top was a splattered and burned brownish red color with hints of black.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pizza Amore

About a week before the last year's dinner I realized that everyone had rsvp'd positively for themselves plus extra company. I started getting panicky, and I sent out lines for help. A guy I was dating made himself available every hour of every day. He was ready to drive anywhere for supplies, shape potato pancakes, chop onions, strain stock, take out trash, anything.

I was glad for this help, but wasn't feeling swept away by the romance. The day before (a 14-16 hour prep day in the kitchen) the guy and I decided to order a pizza on break. I remember him looking at me amorously while we waited for the delivery guy, and I remember my nerves snapping. I spontaneously broke up with him on the spot, before the pizza arrived. He stuck around and ate a slice before leaving. The leftover pizza was given to the next set of helping hands. It was nicknamed "the heartbreak pizza" for its place in my relationship.

This year I am challenged (only by myself) to maintain the tradition of generous quantities of food. Rather then spending all together too much time sweating and breaking my back in the kitchen I decided this year will be make-your own damn pizza and antipasto. One food with endless combinations. Advance plans to pickle and jar my own vegetables and sauce are on their way. Simplified, I provide, you decide. It will be more fun. Everyone helps. It will help clear my conscious and palate of the heartbreak pizza.

extra note: Does The New Yorker read my mind? Sometimes yes.