Food Lover’s Cleanse Diary Day 3

0105 lea rachelHow I feel: A really interesting mix of sleepy and energetic at the same time. Dan says I’m already starting to look healthier and slimmer.

Time in kitchen: 45 min.

Most interesting thing eaten: Chicken tangerine cabbage salad. I love to order them from restaurants but have never tried making it at home. Plus it has that sesame miso dressing on it that I’m head over heels in love with.

Total Weight Watchers Points: 35 (that’s over my daily limit but I’m good with it because I want to EAT), plus wine

Menu in review:

Breakfast: Two-Egg Omelet with Red Pepper–Walnut Spread. 7 Weight Watchers points. [Read more...]

A legendary party

1211 legendary party introWhat do you put on the birthday menu for the guy that’s been kickin it strong for 70 years? Whatever the heck he wants.

My father in law loves filet mignon. He loves shrimp cocktail. He loves all things Italian. And he loves great wine. Pretty good taste, right?

So for his 70th birthday party we did a soiree at his place with all his favorites. And despite a late afternoon presentation to senior executives, a mad dash to the market to pick up the heirloom carrots special ordered for me, and an hour drive to get to their place, it truly couldn’t have been easier. This would work great for an easy holiday gathering as well, either as a sit down menu or a buffet.  [Read more...]

Gourmet Mommy B&B

Oh happy day, our friends came to play. Which means something so different than what it meant in pre-kids days. Even with the 4 kids running around underfoot though, we can still manage to have good food, good wine and good conversation:

“How’s your book coming along? Nicholas PUT THAT DOWN.”

“Jo Jo stop moving the furniture. Great, almost done”

“I can’t wait to read–WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”

Ok, well at least we can have good food and good wine.boeuf bourguignon meal

Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and boiled potatoes. A cheap cut of meat simmered in wine and bacon all day. Yeah, it didn’t suck. It could also all be made ahead so I wasn’t spending too much time in the kitchen, unless I was trying to escape the chaos.

breakfast casseroleI also made breakfast ahead so when the kids woke us up at 5:30am after a big night of visiting, we didn’t need to worry about cooking. Just turn on the oven and pop in the Southern Breakfast Strata. An hour later it’s done.

So, the menu for an effortless weekend of entertaining with 4 kids?

Dinner
Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon
Buttered Parsley Potatoes
Apple Fennel and Celery Salad (a la Gourmande in the Kitchen)
Wine: Coates du Rhone

Breakfast
Southern Breakfast Strata

Do you Fondue? and other New Year’s Eve at home ideas

Dan and I have never celebrated New Year’s Eve in the traditional way. Well, if traditional means spending a fortune to be crammed into a restaurant or hotel with a few hundred of your closest strangers for 6 hours.

We’ve worked events together, although standing on a freezing loading dock waiting for Young MC during the midnight countdown isn’t exactly my idea of a great New Year’s Eve.

We’ve gone to concerts with a big group of friends, and while very fun we did pay too much and it was way too crowded.

And since we’ve moved about an hour away from many of our friends, we’ve had dinner parties at home. A few friends that stay over night, amazing food that you don’t have every day, and a wonderfully good time. Even pre-kids that was our favorite way to spend the holiday. And now that we have kids, it’s totally the way to go. No need to find a sitter, spend a fortune on tickets to an event. Use that money towards a really special night at home.

Here are a few ideas…some we’ve done in years past, some we’ll do one of these years soon!

1. Fondue: so, you got a fondue pot for your wedding, or on a whim. Now be honest, how many times have you used it? Here’s an excuse to break it out! This year we’ll be fondue-ing it up with Dan’s parents. I like this recipe from Food & Wine

2. Champagne tasting: Dan and I got married in February, so around New Year’s we were looking for just the right champagne to serve at our wedding. Just the right $10 not-at-all champagne. So, I went to the local wine shop and picked up their finest $10 Cava, Prosecco, California sparkling, and French sparkling. We put them all in bags and did a blind tasting. A really fun way to spend the evening, since we’d be popping the bubbly anyway! Oh, and the winner? Charles de Fere, a French sparking wine. You really can’t go wrong for $10 a bottle.

3. Prime Rib dinner: Nicholas isn’t a big steak-eater yet, so we don’t really make big roasts for just the two of us. But invite a few friends over and treat them to a prime cut of meat. I like Tyler’s Ultimate recipes for this one:

Menu:
Prime Rib
Parnsip Puree
Creamed Spinach
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellers Artemis Cabernet: a big, bold California Cab

4. Oysters & Martini’s: Oysters are in season right now, and they’re pretty easy to find at your local Whole Foods. Have the seafood market shuck them for you, then serve raw with mignonette or old school Rockefeller.

A Ketel One martini is the perfect accompaniment. James Bond made shaken martinis famous, and it’s a shame in my book. You want the vodka as cold as can be, but not chewy with ice chips. Put the vodka in the freezer hours before, chill the glasses, then gently stir the vodka with ice before straining and serving.

And don’t forget to serve something else…no one will make it to midnight on oysters and martinis alone!

Menu:
Raw Oysters with Mignonette
Oysters Rockefeller
The perfect martini

5. Wine-centered meal: Do you have a bottle on the shelf that you’ve been saving for a special occasion? Break it out for New Year’s Eve! We’ve got a Barolo d’Alba we carried back from Italy 5 years ago that’s just about ready to drink. We’ll probably make a big Bolognese lasagna when it’s time for our Barolo. Grab your great bottle, then find a perfect match on Food & Wine.

How do you like to spend New Year’s Eve?

Merry Christmas Eve! Cioppino

After Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner is probably the most well orchestrated and planned meal of the year. But what about Christmas Eve? You’ve got a huge meal planned the next day, but it’s still nice to make something special that night before. Something special that:

1. Is easy clean up, since you’ll likely be making a huge mess the next day (or have already started cooking on Christmas Eve)

2. Is relatively light to prepare yourself for the gorging that is to come the next day

3. But is still warm and hearty to get you in the Christmas spirit

What could possibly fit all of those criteria? Cioppino! A seafood stew native of San Francisco (where my mom also happens to be a native of) that consists of a fragrant tomato-y broth and basically whatever seafood you can get your hands on. It’s also reminiscent of Zuppa di Pesce, an Italian fisherman’s stew–one of my dad’s favorites.

Dan and I are often in charge of the Christmas Eve dinner, and this year is no exception. My mom has been experimenting with her own sourdough, so this year we have freshly made sourdough bread as an accompaniment.

Menu:

Cioppino
Sourdough bread
Garden Salad
Champagne

Dinner party basics…or, learn from my disasters

Epic dinner party: NYE 2006

With the holidays nearly upon us, the calendar is getting full of events to celebrate. Some we’re attending: school plays, work parties, New Years Eve events. And some we’re hosting: 3rd birthday parties, dinners with friends. It’s not exactly the social calendar of our pre-kiddie days, but it’s still pretty fun.

It has gotten me thinking about what makes a good party. I’m no expert, but I have attended a party or two, and even thrown one on occasion. In fact, I’ve thrown a lot of dinner parties, and more than one of them a total disaster.

My first real dinner party was when I was 17. I invited my boyfriend, his parents, and my parents to meet for the first time. Yep, a super relaxing dynamic.

I made seafood crepes from scratch. After I elegantly hosted everyone for hors d’oeuvres for an hour or so, I left them all in the living room to go make crepes. FROM SCRATCH. Do you know how long it takes to make crepes? At least 2 hours…or eternity if you’re sitting in a room with people you don’t know and aren’t too sure you want to know. I’m sure they were trying to figure out if we had something to tell them. (we didn’t). For 2 hours.

Since then, I’ve gotten a little better at it. And in the past 11 years with Dan, we’ve hosted our share of epic parties. Or at least, we haven’t starved anyone for 2 hours in an awkward situation then tried to kill them with a heart attack on a plate in a while. So I thought I’d capture the top 10 things that make a good dinner party. But then I ran out of things at 8. So, top 8 things that make an awesome party. Maybe you can help me fill in #9 & 10?

Try something new on guests. Everyone else says don’t do it. I say, why not? If you’re having friends over, make them your guinea pigs. You’re inviting people into your home for a fun time. What’s more fun than being entertained by a spectacular meal or a royal flop? Either way it’s entertaining. Just be prepared that you might be ordering pizza.

Do NOT try something new on guests. If it’s a potentially tense or awkward scenario (see mine above), make something comforting and easy for you. If you’re relaxed, they’ll be more relaxed. Your boss, your in-laws for the first time, make meatloaf. Serve with a bourdeaux. You’ll be a rock star.

Make or prep ahead. There is nothing more boring than watching someone chop onions. Do as much as you can beforehand so you’re either pulling something out of the oven when they arrive or entertaining them with a cooking show.

Give your guests a job. Either have them bring something, or give them something to do when they arrive. Something fun, like opening wine or putting apps out. Trust me, they don’t want to chop onions either.

Make food people actually eat. No one is coming to your house for foie gras. Make something interesting, or make something boring and do something interesting with it (see meatloaf and bourdeax above).


Always have champagne on hand.
People like to share big news at dinner parties. Be prepared. Also, if dinner is a disaster, serve pizza with champagne and pretend like you planned it that way.

Always have an awesome non-alcoholic option on hand. People like to share big news a dinner parties.

Go out to eat. If you don’t truly love having people into your home, in your kitchen, in your business, meet them at a restaurant. It’s fine.

Weekly Menu: A week of entertaining

How many holiday parties do you have this week? Tis the season for entertaining friends, family, colleagues…

Nicholas’ birthday falls during this time as well. At this age, it just means figuring out how many pizzas to order at the local bounce house venue, but when he gets older I’m sure it will mean cooking vats of chili for teenage boys who want to watch the game together. Wow, I just leapt ahead 10 years.

Anyway, this week I’m serving up a couple of menus that are great for weekend or weeknight entertaining, plus a great crockpot meal for the night you’re not on the go but too tired to cook!

Menu #1: Open house gathering

Roasted salmon completeEverything here works great at room temperature, so you can put out on the table just before friends arrive, but you don’t have to worry about keeping heat on any of it.

Even if you’re not entertaining, this is a great weekend meal that you can use the leftovers for later in the week.

Roasted Salmon with Mustard Caper Sauce
Roasted Potatoes
Pear, Walnut, & Blue Cheese Salad

Wine: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Menu #2: Elegant gathering with close friends

Salmon pot pie completeUse the leftovers from the Roasted Salmon to make this easy and elegant dish. You can even make ahead for a great weeknight dinner party for 4.

Salmon Pot Pie
Steamed Green Beans

Wine: Chardonnay

Menu #3: Crock Pot Comfort

After you’ve had your fill of entertaining and just need a comforting crock pot meal, give this one a try. I found it on Recipe Girl’s blog, and it looks amazing.

Slow Cooker Garlic Chicken

Shopping List

1 3-pound filet of salmon, skin on
3 to 4 pounds of bone-in chicken pieces (drumsticks, breasts, thighs)
red onion
yellow onion
garlic
fresh or dried thyme
orange
shallot
2 pounds assorted potatoes
green beans
mixed greens
Bosc pear
leek
Dijon mustard
capers
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt
cracked pepper
walnut halves
flour
frozen peas
puff pastry
cocktail pumpernickel slices
cream
butter
sour cream
blue cheese, crumbled
white wine

Date Night, no sitter required

date night from a long time ago

A date night from a long time ago...our honeymoon.

With 2 kids, date nights are more important than ever. Life gets so crazy that Dan and I sometimes forget to look at each other and say “hey, how are you doing these days?” But getting a sitter, making a reservation, dressing up, can make date night out feel like it’s more effort that it’s worth. It’s a sometimes occasion, but not something we do too regularly.

What we do do regularly though is make a nice dinner after the kids go to bed. Add a nice bottle of wine and maybe a movie rental, and you’ve got an awfully nice evening that didn’t need to be strategized and coordinated like a presidential campaign.

I have a ton of recipes for this kind of meal, but one of my favorites is grilled steak, creamy polenta, and a great salad. It’s a special occasion meal that I often have all of the ingredients for in my house: steaks I bought on sale in the freezer, polenta in the pantry, and salad fixings.

Menu:date night

Grilled Filet Mignon
Roasted Tomato Polenta
Pear & Blue Cheese Salad

Wine: An Oregon Merlot was on sale so I grabbed that and it ended up being a perfect match. Since the filet doesn’t have a big sauce, it’s a pretty mild dish so a typical steak-y wine like Cab or Zinfandel would probably overpower the meal.

The steak is so simple you don’t even need a recipe. Just get your 6-8 ounce filets to room temp while you’re putting the kids to bed. Season well with salt and pepper. Then put on a VERY hot grill for 3 minutes per side for medium rare steak. Let them sit for 10 minutes before serving. Done.

The tomatoes take awhile to roast for the polenta, so get them started while kids are eating dinner. The polenta actually keeps fairly well sitting warm on the stove, so you can start that relatively early too, and then just stir it up, maybe add more liquid to get it to a nice creamy consistency, right before serving.

A low stress, inexpensive, relaxing evening will get you saying “hey, how you doin’?”

Holiday Potluck

spinach dip completeI received a question on my facebook page asking about suggestions to bring to a holiday potluck. I imagine a lot of folks have that same question, so here are some suggestions.

Riff on an old classic:

The holidays are all about comfort and tradition, so I embrace that but add a little twist. You can’t go wrong with classics for potluck, especially one around the holidays. At the same time, you don’t want to bring the same old, same old. In times like these, I’ll come up with the substance of an old classic dish that I want to make and then go to recipes on food network or epicurious to inspire different seasonings, sauces, etc.

The cocktail meatball, for instance. Get a big bag of them from Costco or Sam’s. Then search Asian recipes on your epicurious app. One of the first recipes that comes up is Eggplant and Beef Stir-Fry–a Thai-inspired dish. Mint, soy sauce, chiles, ginger, fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, sugar. Yum. Mix up the sauce per the recipe instructions, pour over your meatballs and heat. You could do exactly the same thing with a pork butt or even veggies.

Make a dip:

You just can’t go wrong with a tasty dip at a potluck. It’s the work horse of the potluck table. You may not get as many props for bringing it, but you won’t be taking any home. My go-to dip: Spinach Artichoke Dip.

Thanks for the facebook question, sis! I hope this helps you out in your holiday potluck adventures.

I loved getting the question! Keep them coming!