For some reason, it has been hard to get back on track with writing. I’ve taken a lot of pictures, but I really haven’t been inspired to write about much of what I’ve been cooking. On the other hand, some meals have been very memorable – like the shellfish stew last week. I also made a pasta dish with sardines (inspired by Mark Bittman’s) that was fantastic, but I took no pictures, made no measurements and won’t be able to make it again unless J is out of town again. Additionally, I’ve been keeping the sugar companies in business by making lots of jam (more than 3 dozen jars). And, birthday cakes. For Grandma’s birthday, I made a new hot fudge sauce for the secret family ice cream cake. It was so richly chocolate flavored, thick, and luscious that I made it again yesterday for J’s end of school party. This sauce is the one for which I’ve been searching.
Luckily, I was in pretty good shape by the end of December so that S & I could host our annual New Year’s Eve dinner. While this year’s menu was not as elaborate as last year’s feast based on luck (hmmm, can’t decide if that one worked or didn’t), longevity and prosperity, we did have plenty to eat and I finally agreed to a pot-luck dinner, which was a good move. We were a smaller crowd than usual, but my friends JGK and LH came through with some delicious dishes.
We tried to have a somewhat Italian/Mediterranean theme, but coudn’t stray from our annual shrimp cocktail and pigs-in-blankets. The year just wouldn’t feel the same. And, I was going to make a chicken dish with fresh lemon and parsley that I learned to make at a class in Ravello, Italy, but then I remembered from my research for last year’s dinner that eating foul was bad luck because your luck could “fly away”. Instead, I went with a fish dish (large silver scales mean $$$) and risotto (also for abundance).
New Year’s Eve Menu
Pigs in blankets (LH)
Blood orange, orange beet and shaved fennel salad with arugula, and Parmesan, citrus dressing
Wild halibut Mediterranean style
Risi e bisi (risotto with peas and parmesan)
Dessert – JGK’s choice…Molten Chocolate Cake with whipped cream and mixed berries!! She used Paula Deen’s recipe.
New Year’s Eve Toast with Limoncello and Dark Chocolate with Dried Fruits and Nuts (mendiants)
For the fish, I used this recipe and changed it up a little bit by using nicoise olives (about 1/4 cup chopped), a big pinch of dried oregano, and the full 14 oz. can of chopped tomatoes with their juice. This recipe is one of my staples. It is so easy and so good. You can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat it when you prepare the fish. There was not a bit left on anyone’s plate on New Year’s Eve. Well, that is, except for JGK. She was talking and didn’t get to finish hers at the table. But, she finished it in the kitchen while she was preparing the dessert!
Generally, when we have friends for dinner, I make something that I’ve made before. I don’t like to treat my guests as guinea pigs. Sometimes, you make dud dinners and I usually don’t like to risk it. Last Wednesday night, however, we decided to have dinner at our house at the last minute (5-4-Dinner) and decided to use completely new recipes.
I neither poisoned our friends nor did I put a strain on our relationships. Yea. In fact, we bonded over Cambodian Summer Rolls , as an appetizer, and Pan Fried Trout with Fresh Herb Salad and Roasted Cauliflower. For dessert, fresh berries with World Peace Cookies (o.k., I’ve made those before).
All three of the recipe links above are, in my opinion, close to flawless.
The first two come from Cooking Light magazine. I know. Light? Generally, I do cook healthy, but I don’t cook “light”. But, in the summer magazine clean-up, I ripped out a few recipes from issues of this magazine. Why did I have any issues of Cooking Light? Well, it all stems from the school fundraiser. Magazine sales. I hate those types of fundraisers and have decided to try to avoid letting our kids sell to friends or family. Instead, I buy myself magazines and send them to people as gifts. I thought I’d give Cooking Light a try, for the sake of the school.
First, the Cambodian Summer Rolls. I am a big fan of Vietnamese Shrimp/Pork Salad Rolls and these looked very similar. The recipe includes Shrimp, Rice Noodles, Basil, Mint and Red Leaf Lettuce, wrapped, burrito style, in rice paper (that has been smeared with a smidge of Hoisin Sauce). Then, this roll is dipped in a sauce of low sodium soy sauce, water, lime juice, sugar, garlic, ginger, cilantro and chili paste.
When we were in Seattle visiting family, my sister-in-law was reading a cookbook called Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. It is a beautiful cookbook – nice looking recipes and gorgeous photographs of food. A feast for the eyes.
One recipe that caught both of our eyes was a recipe for Roasted Scallops with Snail Butter. It had no snails, just the garlic-parsley butter like you would have with escargot, that is impossible not to love. I looked for the recipe on line, because I didn’t copy it and found it here. The recipe still looks appealing, but I wasn’t sure whether it would work for a weekday meal or whether the girls would like it.
Nonetheless, it gave me an idea. Why couldn’t you make Jaques Pepin’s, Chicken Breasts with Garlic and Parsley, using fish? I thought that the firmness of tilapia would work well with the cooking method.
Tonight, we had a Salade Nicoise, which is something that you put together, more than something you cook. Though, there is more cooking than it would seem – but you don’t need to leave it all to just before you eat. In fact, you shouldn’t leave it all to the last minute because all of the elements of the dish, with the exception of the vinaigrette, should be chilled.
The salad’s cooked ingredients are hard boiled eggs, blanched green beans, boiled potatoes and seared tuna. All can be cooked ahead and put in the fridge for hours before fixing the salad. The main course is the essence of healthy (I guess, that is, if you don’t include the mercury in the tuna).
When we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium a few weeks ago, it was noted that Tilapia was a good, sustainable fish to eat. In looking at the aquarium web site, I saw that tilapia farmed in the U.S. is considered a “best choice”, with Central and South American farmed tilapia a “good alternative”. I didn’t pay attention to its provenance when I bought it a few weeks ago (and didn’t get to cook it because of schedule changes). I removed it from the freezer today and made a call to the market where I bought it. They told me their tilapia is from Equador. Still a good choice, but not if you consider the carbon footprint that got it here. Oh, well. It is already here – meaning my kitchen.
I thought I’d do a pretty simple preparation and serve the fish with a wedge of local lemon (a.k.a. picked from my yard).
L loved the fish, its crunchy corny-ness. J loved her first two bites and then declared that she didn’t like it. This might have been because of the piece of toast that she had about half an hour before dinner, because she just couldn’t wait a second longer.
Throwing a party is very, very fun and very, very low stress when you share the work with good friends. Last Friday, I hosted a luncheon at my house with 2 great friends in honor of another great friend.
The menu was inspired by a Russian theme, but we didn’t stick totally to the theme. Here is what the ladies were served:
Appetizers and drinks: Cold Borscht served in demitasse cups, Cheese Puffs, Crab Salad in Endive, Vodka with Lemonade, Iced Tea
Lunch: Poached Salmon with dill sauce, cucumber salad, orzo salad, black bread
Dessert: Russian tea cookies, raspberry and coconut sorbet
My cooking to-do’s were the Cold Borscht and the Poached Salmon. I also put together the sorbets (Haagen Daz) and the Vodka drink.