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Having nothing to say and no words.

Classes at the Pannery and Swedish Chefs have been going apace. I’m relatively happy but confused by my restlessness. I got an adjunct position for the fall (Yay!). But I don’t have much to say. It seems like the more I cook for others out in the big world the less I want to do anything at home involving food, which seems to include the blog of late.

Franka at Can Cook Must Cook seems to be having the same problem and as she gets paid to write, it is somewhat comforting. I thought I would have all manner of exciting things to talk about in our farm share CSA box but it has been so hot and dry this summer the pickings have been very slim and even I can’t eat two gallon bags of bitter greens a week or find something to make them interesting enough for me to eat by myself. Although the pie I made was tasty, Keifel and the Julian didn’t like it because they don’t like greens. I did make a Caprese salad with some of our tomatoes that was amazing. Love, love, love the fresh mozzarella and not having to actually cook anything when it is 100+ outside.

Victoria’s Greens, Lotsa Greens Pie
1 recipe for a double crust pie (especially the one made with oil from the 1940s Good Housekeeping)
a good glug of olive oil
1 small onion chopped fine
3 or 4 smashed cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 leftover raw bison burger pattie
Salt and pepper to taste
2 gallon bags of mixed bitter greens, washed and thick stems removed
1 tablespoon flour
a good glug of balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup left over white wine, chicken stock or water
Handful of grated Parmesan, Grana Padano, Feta or what have you
1 large very ripe tomato
1 egg

Make the pie crust and line a round stone baker (mine came from Pampered Chef) with a little more than half the pie crust. You could also use a relatively deep pie plate.

In a very large sauté heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onions are translucent, add the red pepper and sauté another 20 seconds. Crumble in the bison burger and season the mixture with salt and pepper; cook until browned. Add the greens and sauté down until all is wilted but still fairly green. Sprinkle over the flour and cook for 1 minute stirring to mix in. Add the vinegar and wine or chicken stock or water and cook just until the juices thicken a little.

Allow mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the cheese and fill the pastry-lined baker with the greens mixture. Seed and slice the tomato fairly thinly and lay over the filling. Top with remaining pastry and crimp the edges together and make three or four slits in the top for steam. Make an egg wash with the egg and 1 tablespoon of water whisked together. Brush over the top crust to help it brown. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees until golden brown. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers and eat cold or reheat for 25-45 seconds in the microwave (though the crust will go a little soft).

I suspect this is true of most writers, whatever the medium. And though I am tentative of calling myself a writer as I do believe that “writers write” and, let’s be honest, I haven’t been doing much of that of late. I have embarked upon what could be a long project within the confines of my chosen professions and am hopeful that it will be the thing to prime the pump and get the things that have languished in drawers and the deep memory of this and previous computers out into the light of day again. I doubt, at this point, that I will ever return to writing poetry. There seems to have been some fundamental shift in how I view the world and in how I want to talk about it and poetry isn’t the form that comes to mind when I do sit down with a pen or a keyboard. I am a little sad about it and still fond (unbelievable, I know) of poems that I have written in the past. They do, however, feel very past and that brings me to my current project.

What started all of this today was puttering around my kitchen making coffee this morning. I would like to say that I do that every day as well, but lately I have been out the door before I had time to make the coffee and I am out of filters for the Chemex, my preferred caffeine delivery system, which requires a special trip to Hillsboro village and the one shop in Nashville that stocks the filters.

This morning it was raining. And what a wonderful thing that is. Our CSA box has been skinny with the heat and the drought and to know that rain is falling all over the mid-state makes me very happy. It also made me want to sleep in and putter this morning. Hence the digging out of the French press which was my one-time favorite and is now kept for Ms. Janet’s visits and caffeine emergencies. I filled the grinder with beans and changed the setting for the coarser grind, put the kettle on to boil and read a few pages of The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice. I had forgotten how very satisfying the ritual of the French press can be and seemed to enjoy my coffee just a bit more this morning.

In the midst of all this, it occurred to me yet again how much I enjoy the very simplest things about my new kitchen and our new house. There is, most of all, room to putter which compared to the increasingly claustrophobic confines of the duplex is remarkable all by itself. But the thing that makes me most content is the light. Even on a rainy morning, I don’t need to turn on the overhead light, there is plenty from the windows and that lack of artificial light makes everything seem quieter. The quiet of watery sunlight and the sound of my own feet padding about on a softly worn wooden floor, that to me is a small slice of paradise, marred, sadly, by the absence of the boychild and the husband. I am not knocking solitude by any means and I do welcome it, but this morning I missed them both.

All of that, which I suppose are really small things, lead me here to write something, anything, before leaving to run errands and make preparations for my cooking class at the Pannery this evening. So perhaps, it is not a far fetched thing for me to at least refer to myself in my own mind as a writer, as long as that impulse has the power to intrude on the previously ordered events of a day.

And on a completely different note, I will leave you with one of last night’s recipes from my Cooking with Herbs, Oils and Vinegars class in the ‘boro.

Sesame-Raisin Vinaigrette
adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon’s Soup and Bread

½ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup dark raisins
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup peanut oil
¼ cup toasted (dark) sesame oil

Place all ingredients, except the oils, in the blender and buzz until the raisins are chopped to a dark paste. With the measure cup in the lid out out, allow machine to run and slowly drizzle in both the oils, allowing the vinaigrette to emulsify. The vinaigrette will keep well in the fridge for a couple weeks, if it lasts that long. It is also good added to the mayo for chicken salad or as a sandwich spread, especially with club-type sandwiches. If it separates on standing, give the jar — tighly-lidded of course — a good shake, or if it thickens too much in the fridge, thin it with a little more vinegar.

*Sometimes you also need to edit, girl. There were some bad, bad grammar/agreement type problems. I do know better than to hit publish on a first draft… laziness.

CSA box goodies, part 1

victoria —  May 24, 2007 — 1 Comment

It has taken me until Thursday, I know, but well. We were in Atlanta over the weekend and then I had the flu, or some brief horrible thing that acted as if it might be the flu and, well, it is difficult to cook when one feels as though one’s large muscle groups are be wrung out like a wet dishrag. So, tonight we really got down to the goodies in the box.

Our share for the week consisted of one dozen free-range eggs varying in size from teeny to Jumbo, a dozen radishes, a dozen large spring onions, a gallon bag of mesclun, a gallon bag of collards, and a gallon bag of kale. I nibbled on the mesclun all week. But tonight was the first night we cooked anything from the box. We had two pork tenderloins we’d cooked earlier that Keifel sliced up and stewed briefly just to reheat. I’d rubbed it with a mix of smoked paprika, coriander and cumin before roasting it.

While he worked on the protein, I frenched (doesn’t that sound salacious?) an onion and sautéed it in some olive oil with three fat cloves of garlic, chopped fine, until the onions were translucent. I sprinkled over about a half teaspoon of salt and deglazed the small bit of browned goodness with some white wine. I put the kale in first and let it wilt down enough to add the collards and let both wilt down enough to stir. Then just let it cook until it was still a pretty, bright green and tender. I hate bitter greens cooked to mush, but I also hate chewy collards. These were young and tender enough that you could almost eat them pleasantly raw, but not quite.

Sautéed onions and kale waiting for their close up before the collards join the party

I will be better next week about actually taking a picture of what comes in the box. Or at least I’ll try.

In order to thoroughly warm our new casa, we had a Cinco de Mayo housewarming/Vic’s culinary school graduation party. We knew we wanted to have the party about a month after we moved and we wanted it to be on Saturday, and it turned out May 5th was the first Saturday in May. My love of themed menus took over and ta da, Cinco de Mayo housewarming party. We were very lucky that my mom stayed on a week after the move. Unpacking in such a short time would definitely not have happened without her and without CSG and J helping me unpack the kitchen that first night.

To celebrate our new digs and the fabulous friends we have, I planned a vegetarian-friendly with carnivorous option menu:

Sugar and spice peanuts
Jícama salad
Green, white and red salsas (tomatillo, chayote with honeydew, and pico)
A giant corn pudding with roasted pablano peppers and serrano ham
Saffron and black bean tamales
BBQ chicken tamales with chipotle crema
Roasted squash salad with green beans
Goat cheese and chorizo quesadillas with carmelized onions
Chocolate and pepita shortbread
Almond cinnamon cookies
Dulce de leche cake
A store-bought case of Jarritos sodas in various flavors like tamarind, mango and guava
Friends also brought lots of Mexican beer and lawn chairs to warm up our back yard

Friends from culinary school came and brought goodies as well. M brought a slow cooked pork shoulder and spicy cornbread, both of which were amazing and disappeared quickly. I know Keifel and The Carpenter were really happy to see the pork shoulder.

It appeared a good time was had by all, our house felt absolutely toasty after being warmed by friends near and far. And though I was feeling all over protective of my shiny new floors, clean up was a snap the next day, even outside. We still have two bags of tamales in the freezer and I keep finding little bits of leftovers in the fridge. I haven’t quite perfected the art of not over cooking. In fact, I was still worrying there wouldn’t be enough food right up until people were arriving. Silly me.

Chayote Salsa (adapted from Mark Miller’s Great Salsa Book)
1 chayote squash, peeled and diced
3/4 cup, about 1/4 of a large, honeydew melon, diced
3/4 cup fennel bulb, diced
2 teaspoons fennel frond, chopped
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of two limes
pinch of sugar
salt to taste

Combine everything in a non-reactive bowl and chill until ready to serve. This is especially good as an accompaniment for fish but was interesting just with chips. The original recipe also called for some heat in the form of green habanero chile sauce. That or a fresh pepper of your preferred heat would be good. I needed a mild to nothing salsa to go with medium and scorcher salsas.

Goat cheese and chorizo quesdillas waiting for the corn pudding to appear on the hot pad next door

Jicama salad with spicy peanuts in the background

Roasted squash salad with a corner of the salsas peeking in

Guacamole in my molcajete (say that three times fast)

Blurry green, white and red salsas… I need to work on this photography thing

Blurry cookies as well, erm. Hrmph.

Ah, we have been eating well at Foodieporn HQ. I’ve been planning out the weekly menus, recipes from clippings or cookbooks I’ve wanted to try with some old favorites thrown in. On Saturday, after the Earth Day festivities, we had J & J over for some Mexican soup from the newish Ina Garten. It was pretty good. I skipped the fried corn tortillas in favor of fried flour ones and swapped out the crushed tomatoes for some fire-roasted Muir Glen chopped tomatoes. They are probably one of my favorite things to have in the kitchen. They make soups taste amazingly good and are a great base for a smoky salsa when tomatoes are out of season and only the scariest of pink plastic tomatoes are available.

My classes at W-S have been heavily spring veg oriented and I have gleaned some recipes for my own repetoire. Last night we made a really good “rustic” pasta dish with broken wide lasagna noodles, grilled zucchini ribbons, baby arugula and some good olive oil and light tomato sauce. It looks beautiful on the platter and tastes incredible. I have now been dreaming up all kinds of things to do with grilled zucchini and eggplant and whatever else I can think to grill. We are really hoping to get the charcoal grill soon. Mostly so I can play grill cook outside. Grilled peaches, grilled pineapple, grilled corn on the cob… I tried grilled tofu once but unless you have absolutely pristine charcoal with no quick light fluid of any sort, it winds up tasting of gasoline fumes as it absorbs everything that comes in contact with it. Tofu is better left to indoor cookery.

I am trying to get all my ducks in a row for when the classes in Murfreesboro start. I want to have my first three lectures, at least, written by this weekend. As I am wont to do, I think I have gone a little overboard in what can logistically be absorbed in one sitting by a non-food geekery obsessed person, so I will inevitably need to scale back. Yes there are myriad types of herbs that have fallen by the wayside, but, unless it is an especially fascinating tidbit of trivia, do most people really care about things like sweet woodruff and chervil? I am guessing no, but it you signed up for an herb cookery class wouldn’t that by definition mean you are interested in them? See, this is my dilemma.

I am also putting the final touches on the housewarming party menu. Authentic(ish) Mexican, tamales and what not. But I do tend to assign myself the labor intensive and will have to start cooking over the weekend as well.

Instead I have been pounding the virtual pavement looking for a day job to tide me over until things pick up in my culinary life. My new classes at the Pannery don’t begin until April and my gig at school evaporated. I do have a non-cooking job as a stop gap as of yesterday. I’ll be an exam scorer for a company here in town. Should be interesting.

While I was looking for at least semi-gainful employ, I plotted out the Oscar Extravaganza menu with my partner in crime and the husband put together an invitation that was suitably glamorous. The menu sounds worthy of Hollywood party but with some fun twists. It is also a little pricey but I think we will manage as I have become the priestess of quality on the cheap (thanks to Nashville’s burgeoning immigrant population and the bodegas and markets which supply them their foodstuffs).

We are planning on the following, of course the chef, cough, reserves the right to make substitutions depending on availability and cash flow:

A Victoria Cheese Display with accompaniments including home made fig salami
Beef Tenderloin with home made rolls and gorgonzola sauce
Smoked salmon and Trout with accompaniments
Salad Cups with Champagne Vinaigrette
Bagna Cauda with veg
Blini with (domestic!) caviar
Asparagus with proscuitto
Paté en croute
Parmesan popcorn
Spiced cocktail nuts
Mini lemon cheesecakes
Decadent brownies

Technically, I have already begun cooking because the fig salami takes about three weeks to cure. I found the recipe for it in a teeny book on the Italian institution of the enoteca (wine bar). It’s pretty much ground up figs and walnuts moistened with white wine, anise liqueur and balsamic vinegar then allowed to dry into a sliceable salami shape. If it tastes as good as the mixture did before forming and wrapping, it will be fabulous. But, I love figs in any form so there might be a bit of a bias. We will of course take pictures at the event (if one of us remembers) and post all the glorious (or gory) details.

Now to rustle up some lunch.

We are not vegans, Keifel and I. In fact, I think Keifel would live on meat if I allowed such a thing. I am a lapsed vegetarian mostly due to living with a dedicated carnivore. I still avoid the cow. But I cooked primarily vegetarian food for a number of years and we still eat many veg-centered meals. My dear friend, the Divine Miss M, recently turned the big 40 and I had the opportunity to make a completely vegan spread for about 30 people.

I came up with three menu ideas for Miss M and let her choose. One was kind of a Central American themed buffet with tamales and devilled squashes. The second was a Spanish tapas menu with an emphasis on winter warmer veg. The third was a pan-Asian nibbles spread with lots of rolled and stuffed things and some delicious sauces. Miss M chose the Asian menu. Yay!

I loved the idea of the challenge of making an entirely vegan menu. For me it was important, having just spent two years in culinary school and a lifetime of being a food geek girl, that everything taste amazing and that those who were there who weren’t vegan or even necessarily vegetarian would love the food and feel fed. I hate when vegetarians get stuck with carrot sticks and the reverse of when people who are used to having an animal protein as a main feel like the need to stop and eat on the way home.

The menu for the shindig was:
Edamame with sea salt
Napa cabbage and morel mushroom pot stickers
Tofu and ginger garlic veg steamed dumplings
Mushroom and bamboo shoot steamed buns
Steamed zucchini in a walnut sauce
Sesame soba noodles
California rolls with avocado, carrot and cucumber
Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut and soy-mirin sauces
Thai-style fried rice
2 kinds of nut-based vegan cookies, a pecan sandie and an apricot jam poppy seed cookie

I made and froze the pot stickers, the dumplings and buns early in the week to avoid having a lot of hands-on stuff at the party locale because the California rolls and the spring rolls had to be done on site at the last minute.

Things went very smoothly and all the food went out at the right time except the California rolls and I did those as people were beginning to eat. It was a little more hectic for me not having my usual partner in crime there to manage the non-food aspect of things but I did have a lot of help from Miss M (despite a nagging cough) and from our hostess. They got everything arranged on the table which would have put me over the edge stress wise.

It was a great evening though I did spend a lot of it in the kitchen. I think people were feeling a little guilty that I was rallied ’round the stove most of the evening, but I am finding (and maybe this is a catering thing) that I like being a little removed from the meat of the party when I am doing the food. I feel a little panicky if I sit for too long afraid that a tray is empty or a bowl of goodies needs refilled. It may also be my weirdnesses around crowds and my preferences for partying with a small, tight-knit group over lots of peeps.

Everyone seemed to love the food and I think a few people were surprised that it was entirely vegan. Making an Asian inspired menu vegan isn’t too tough. The biggest thing I had to avoid with the Thai and Vietnamese dishes was a fish sauce, which is admittedly a pretty important part of the flavor profiles of those cuisines. The saltiness of soy definitely worked in its place.

Our hostess with the mostess said that she was watching people fill their plates and pointing out which sauces to eat with what and lots of “did you try these?” That always makes a girl feel good and, if you know me you know that I always tend to over cook a bit (as Nigella says “Never knowingly undercatered”). There was very little food left. A few California rolls and some of the veg for fillings. Oh, and some cookies. Either I am hitting the mark better or those were some happily hungry folks. Yay!.

All in all, I felt really good about it and happy that Miss M could eat everything at her party with no worries. We did have a few other peeps with various intolerances but they were able to eat many things despite some pretty difficult things to avoid with Asian dishes, namely sesame, soy, wheat and corn. Okay, corn wasn’t too difficult because I don’t generally buy corn-syrup sweetened anything. There are pictures that Miss M took with a film camera. (Hint, hint, Miss M, I’d love one when you get them developed).

Zucchini with Walnut Sauce

½ cup konbu dashi (made by boiling a small piece of konbu in water for 10 minutes)
2 Tablespoons tamari
2 Tablespoons sake or Mirin
1 teaspoon honey or golden syrup or sugar
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon white miso
1 cup walnuts toasted
3 medium zucchini, cut into 2×1/2” matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

In a saucepan, combine the dashi, soy sauce, Mirin, sugar, and ginger. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the miso and turn the heat very low (don’t allow miso to boil), keeping the sauce warm with no bubbles. In a food processor, grind the walnuts to a meal and stir in to the sauce. Lightly steam the zucchini until tender crisp. Drain and toss with sauce. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Stollen, not boughten

victoria —  December 17, 2006 — Leave a comment

Another night of baking as my list is dwindling. At this point I am pretty sure I am not going to get to a few things. I have to make the stollen though or my inner Kraut gets all uppity and demands cabbages and sausages.

The Jules was a big help with the stollen this year as he volunteered to knead the dough (it’s one of those I insist be done by hand — I know I have issues) and I made only one instead of the double recipe in years past. I also soaked the fruits in boiling water and brandy before adding them to the dough. Fruits this year consisted of homemade candied orange peel, dried cranberries and chopped dried apricots. I usually add raisins or currants but I couldn’t find either in my larder and I had all this other dried fruit to use. It required extra flour to soak up the brandied fruit juice but the stollen is much lighter than before and rose beautifully. I also went back to the roll of marzipan in the middle over chunks of marzipan in the dough and I think I much prefer it. Besides, it looks cool sliced with the circle of marzipan in the fold of the loaf.

Wherein we completed the kneading of the stollen

Wherein our heroes completed the baking of the stollen

Oh, one other addition: with the vanilla, I added 1 teaspoon of orange flower water. I had read about it being used in pannetone somewhere and thought it would add to the stollen. I can’t tell if it is the strength of the home candied peel or the orange flower water but the citrus note is lovely.

Whereupon it snowed of the powdered sugar

When we did feast upon part of the stollen (and cleaved it to show the gentle readers the wondrous marzipan middle)

And I think we may have cracked the code this year, though the cakes still aren’t exactly black. Keifel and I documented the saga for your amusement, I mean, enjoyment.

The first thing you have to do is go to the grocery and buy lots of limes, three pounds of butter, 2 dozen eggs, 3 pounds of natural sugar and 3 pounds of flour. And when you are measuring it all out, your husband will have to run to Walgreen’s in the middle of the night to get replacement batteries for the scale that turns out to not be working.

The butter has to soften at room temperature for awhile (when room temperature in your abode is hovering at 63°F, it won’t soften much). I asked the Jules to open all the butter and set it out on the counter, he took that as a brief to build Butter Henge.

Cue the airy-fairy spooky British plains music here

While the butter is trying to soften, you need to line four springform pans with brown paper (it helps to ask for paper sacks at the grocery when you forget to bring your cloth bags, so you can stock up) and then with parchment paper. This part is always a bit of a chore but it does protect the bottom of the cakes from getting too dark. This year I also added a layer of foil between the bottom and the pan and the ring. Despite my valiant efforts the cakes still burnt on the bottoms (mumble, mumble, crappy oven, mumble, mumble).

I got a gold star for my scissor work

After you have cleared away the ruins of Butter Henge and prepared your pans, it is time to separate the eggs, all twenty four of them. I don’t go in for any gadgetry here, fingers were made before egg separators. I also don’t do the shell half to shell half thing because I always wind up breaking the yolk and even one tiny drop of yellow in the sea of 24 egg whites will make them not whip.

Lots and lots of egg carcasses

To paraphase Gracie Burns, “The recipe says to separate the eggs, but it doesn’t say how far.”

I almost forgot one thing you have to do before you even get to the store. You need to go to restaurant supply and buy a 33 quart mixing bowl. Last year we had to sterilize one of the laundry baskets (with no holes in it) and mix the cake in that.

That is a shiny, big bowl

With the eggs separated, the bowl purchased, the butter softened and the sugar weighed out, you begin creaming together the sugar and butter. You then realize you should have bought a wooden spoon at the restaurant supply that was up to the task of mixing in a 33 quart bowl.

The tiny spoon stuck into the first half pound of butter and sugar

While you are creaming butter and sugar, your husband runs to Walgreens, returns with the new batteries and measures out the flour. He wipes flour on your face and you retaliate.

It helps for artistic contrast that your husband lives in black t-shirts

After all the sugar and butter are creamed together, you whip the egg whites with the zest of the limes and make a very full, frothy bowl of green eggs. For scale, I have a 14-cup Kitchen-Aid Pro.

Even Sam I Am would be intimidated

The next step is to alternate adding flour and baking powder with the marinated fruits to the butter/sugar mixture. This means it is time to crack open the jar of boozy goodness. The fruits were ground (in my mother’s old-school meat grinder) last Christmas and doused with a bottle of Beaujolais and a bottle of cheap rum. They have been lurking in the bottom of my fridge since.

If only we had Smell-o-Vision you too could experience the heady waft of booze-pickled ground raisins, et al

Then there is mixing, lots of mixing.

As you can see we did employ the hand mixer to get things rolling along. We then cheated by adding bottled browning (ingredients: caramelized sugar). We apparently needed two bottles but one went in. Keifel commented that the picture looked like a superimposed before and after browning with my pale arm and his dark one.

Who needs sunless tanner

After the browning goes in, you fold in all those egg whites, again realizing that a bigger spatula may be in order.

Cut and turn, cut and turn

After all the ingredients have been incorporated, you divide the batter between the four prepared pans. It would be simpler if our pans were all the same size, but they are not so we make do.

Keifel’s grandmother’s recipe as dictated to his mother

The recipe says the cakes should bake for an hour or so. In our craptastically decrepit oven that translates to nearly two hours of swapping them back and forth to keep the ones on the bottom from carbonizing. But we triumphed. Only the bottoms got dark.

The top looks a little weird because I just poured more rum over and the cake hadn’t absorbed it yet

After the cakes are cooled, remove them from the pans and their swaddling and douse liberally with not as cheap rum. Wrap them tightly and feed them alcohol until Christmas. We usually send one to Trinidad to Keifel’s mother and grandmother for Easter (it’s a long story), one or a part of one to S.C. to enjoy with her family and friends and comment on how it isn’t really black cake (this is not a dig, as everyone in the Caribbean has their own cherished family recipe and if it isn’t like Auntie So&So’s, it ain’t black cake. It’s like the chili and BBQ thing here), one is usually divided up and sent to and fro to various and sundry and we have one to serve at the Boxing Day party. This year one went to CMT for their international/diversity party and was thoroughly enjoyed. It made me happy that the other Trini in the office was so excited about it and was thrilled when Keifel told her to take the rest of the cake home with her. Now that is a complement.

***In other holiday baking news, I purchased my pig cookie cutter and Jules and I made the pepperkakor dough last night. It has to chill overnight because you melt the butter to mix it all in. I will bake those off today in between loads of laundry and hopefully knock out a few other things. I can’t make the brownies until next week for the family shindig because they really only keep a few days. I need more half-sheet pans before I make them, too. I never have enough baking sheets this time of year. Hope everyone is well and that your houses smell of holiday cheer of the baking or the greenery variety.

A thing I have learned over the weekend: when one has a big catering gig, one should hope that one’s child does not become ill and that one’s husband does not have his wisdom teeth out and is therefore drugged loopy.

Despite the severe reduction in the time I had to prepare for the party it seemed to be a smashing success. I did about four days worth of work in about 20 hours with some help from J.C. (meaning my catering business partner, not the Big Guy upstairs, though assistance from any quarter would have been taken gladly). We managed to throw down some seriously beautiful and tasty food.

The menu for the Tapas party was:

Smoked paprika cocktail almonds
Potato tortilla (Spanish omelet)
Serrano ham and wild mushroom barquetas
Baccalà (salt cod spread) with toasts
Chopped salad cups w/ sherry vinaigrette
Gazpacho blanco shooters
Three cheese Spanish cheese board with Manchego, Idiazabal, and Spanish Drunken Goat with two types of figs, roasted red peppers, water crackers, Marcona almonds, and membrillo (that I made, go me)
Basque-style pork tenderloin with yeast biscuits and saffron aïoli (also made by me)
Madeira cake with sherried whipped cream and candied orange peel
Crème Brulée Trio: coffee, pomegranate and vanilla bean

Friday was a mad dash of doing everything I could do not on the day of. J.C. picked up the pork tenderloins and brined them. I didn’t even get started until 1:00 because I was at the oral surgeons with Keifel that morning and then Jules had to go get a strep test because he couldn’t swallow his own spit. I got home, got them cozy and got to work. I knocked out the candied orange peel, membrillo, almonds, vinaigrette, cake, crème part of the crème brulée and something else (my memory is a little fuzzy from the way-too-much-coffee delirium).

Saturday, I got up at 5:30-6ish and chopped all the veg for the chopped salad. Then I went to school and taught for four hours. Back to the grind until right up to the second we had to leave. I was still searing off the tenderloins as J.C., Keifel and the Jules (now, thankfully, healthier) were loading out.

We got there, hauled all the gear up the outdoor deck stairs and had everything plated about 10 minutes late. Again, thankfully, the guests arrived 15 to 20 minutes late. J.C. cleared the glass racks out of the kitchen and we went into full production mode. It took everyone a while to actually dig in. They kept saying the food was too pretty to eat. Thank you, but eat it while it is at the temperature at which it is supposed to be eaten!

We did have a lot of leftovers, which I think made our hosts very happy. I think they may have thought we wouldn’t have enough food. We actually had leftovers for days, especially of the baccala. I think people didn’t exactly know what to do with that. It was pretty powerful taste-wise: potato base with salt cod, truffle oil and mustard. The truffle oil really put it over the top into gastronomic delight but I think it was a bit much for non-adventurous eaters. I also burned the second tray of toasts because I couldn’t hear the timer go off in the din. I called Keifel and he and Jules went to three different places to find baguettes. The ones they found were a range of hard as bloody rocks to just stale enough to toast well. Jules said he thought the Nashville Baguette War must have broken out and all the supplies were commandeered. It’s a shame they missed the stash he and Keifel found as a few of those were hard enough to inflict some pretty bloody wounds.

We sent out desserts around 8 and the crème brulées were descended upon. I think it took people awhile to figure out that there were three different flavors. We probably should’ve labelled them more clearly, but I thought that placing the coffee ones on a bed of coffee beans, placing a cracked-open pomegranate on the pomegranate ones and leaving the vanilla tray plain (wish I’d had some edible orchids) was a clear signal. I say, “Don’t overestimate the deduction power of hungry people with a few drinks in them”: hence, our new motto.

Everything wrapped about ten and I was home by 11. The things I heard about the most were the shooters (the recipe follows) and the crème brulèes. I think the coffee and the pomegranate were a big hit and almost every person on the planet loves vanilla. The baccala and the Madeira cake seem to have been the losers. Those were the two things I was most excited about, so that was kind of a bummer. The cake was perfectly light and slightly but not too lemony, the sherried whipped cream was good enough to bathe in and my little baby pieces of candied orange peel had a perfect sugary gloss. J.C. cut the cake into tiny squares (1″) and placed them in those teeny sliver baking cups. I topped them with a perfect little star of whipped cream and planted the candied orange peel like a proud battle flag. Oh well, I’ve been enjoying the leftover cake with coffee and I left another large chunk of cake with the whipped cream for the hosts.

When I got home my feet felt like bloody stumps and my back was on fire, but I was also elated in the overall reception of the food, that we had gotten paid promptly and that the hosts had both hugged us good night and said it was the best food they had ever had at one of their office parties. Yay, us! (I’ll try not to dislocate my shoulder too badly whilst patting myself on the back.)

It was a hit, but it did remind me again why I prefer doing the drop-off food and dinner parties so much more than the big cocktail/apps parties.

Gazpacho Blanco
Serves 4-6 as a main soup, 8-12 as a tapa

1 pound seedless grapes
3 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1 shallot, chopped fine
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 cups plain yoghurt, low or non-fat is fine, but full-test with cream top is delightful
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
Sliced grapes and toasted sliced almonds, for garnish

1. Puree grapes in the blender or food processor and strain out skins. Return juice to the blender.
2. Add remaining ingredients, except garnishes and puree until smooth but not watery. Chill until ready to serve.
3. To serve, pour gazpacho into shot glasses or similar small bowl or glasses and garnish with sliced grapes and almonds (though I would skip the almonds for shooters as they are a little harder to drink and you don’t want your guests to aspirate a big slice of nut).