Archived entries for parties

Hurricane Party: White Velvet (lemon) Cake

It’s a little embarrassing, but it is undoubtedly true: we city mice get a little het up when Mother Nature decides to throw a fit. We forget, here in our concrete and glass eyries, that her wrath is mighty, indeed; and so, when she gets angry, we tend to freak out just a little, because we have NO IDEA what to do. And so, we improvise (once we stop wringing our hands). If you’re the MTA, that means you shut down. If you’re a normal human being, you lay in a supply of water and canned goods. If you are a ridiculous human being, you stock up on vodka and cigarettes. If you are DOUBLE ridiculous, you go out into the storm with a cake.

Guess which category I fell in.

cake

Well, what was I supposed to do? It was the first birthday of the world’s cutest baby. Like I could possibly let that go by unmarked? Pssh. No no. Little C was going to have birthday cake, no matter what Irene had to say about it! And so, I spent the beginning of my hurricane shepherding a pearlescent, violet-covered lemon cake down to south Brooklyn. I was the recipient of a surprising amount of commentary on the way from fans of my “hurricane cake” (Personal favorite: “Yeah, that’s right! We’re New Yorkers! Irene can’t take away our cake, am I right?”); never let it be said that Brooklyn doesn’t know how to appreciate baked goods.

The journey, however, was not the complicated part. The complicated part was digging up a recipe for lemon cake that would satisfy me. You may have gathered by now that I am…the slightest bit persnickety when it comes to cake. I want it dense. I want it moist. I don’t want any of this airy-fairy sponge cake bullshit. No no. I want cake with HEFT. However, there aren’t a lot of white cakes out there that fit the bill; as such, I’m sure you can imagine my elation when I stumbled across a recipe for white velvet cake(!). Given my well-documented obsession with red velvet cake, I could not help but take the discovery of this recipe as a sign from the heavens–and I am going to stick with that assessment.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

Forget the cake; I'll nibble on the baby.

You see, this cake was, in a word, BODACIOUS. Honestly. Rich, moist, flavorful, just-dense-enough…completely amenable to a little last minute citrus-related transmogrification… Without question, my new go-to white cake. With. Out. Question. Little C’s mama, Lady A, has remarked on more than one occasion that this cake has been haunting her dreams–it’s that good. Which it is. It really, really is.

Which I guess is the silver lining to an entire city being completely unprepared for a hurricane: fewer people out and about with whom to fight over the last slice!

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Thai Coconut Noodle Soup with Panko-Crusted Chicken

It is a lucky man indeed who can count cooks of both Shiv’s and Swiss’s caliber among their friends. Not only does keeping them around mean one gets to eat the food they make (which, let me just tell you, is spectacular indeed), if one is very lucky, one gets the chance to cook alongside them. Shiv and I have quite a bit of experience working in the same kitchen — it turns out that adding Swiss to the party was like adding a few new steps to a very familiar dance. The three of us spun around each other all afternoon in a manner that would be best described as balletic. I had tremendous fun, and would like to offer an official Thank You to both of them for inviting me to help out with their scheme. Their tasty, tasty scheme.

For my part in the Coconut Dinner Party, I was tasked with whipping up the main course, a solid and surprisingly hearty Thai dish, which would be bracketed on either side by the others’ more ethereal creations. In the best Thai style, this soup fuses Salty, Spicy, and Sour for some serious multi-layered flavor. It starts with a backbone of gorgeous aromatics, gets some heat from both chili and red curry, a salty fish sauce tang, and the zip of freshly-squeezed lime. Coconut milk serves to round off the harsh edges, and you’re left with a savory, creamy broth that would be delicious on its own — but we gilded the lily with the textural additions of some silky noodles and the crunch of panko-crusted chicken.

chickenaromatics

You can probably use any kind of chicken in this — or for that matter, seared tuna, thinly-sliced beef, tofu if you’re so inclined — but we opted for the dark meat of chicken thigh. The flavor tends to be much richer than a standard chicken breast, I think that it’s a little more tender, and the oily unctuousness both blended well with the coconut milk and provided a good counterpoint to the crackle of the panko. Bonus: you might also get a chance to debone the thighs yourself, which I personally found very satisfying.

chickendredged

The soup ended up being a two-stage affair, with the broth leisurely constructed early on in the afternoon, and a brief dash at the end to cook the chicken, plate, and garnish all at once. Also, can we please have a cheer for non-superfluous garnishes? The cilantro and scallion tossed on top as the bowls are headed tableside add a perfect breath of green, and wilt deliciously into the rest of the soup as you eat.

chickenfinished2

The following recipe is modified from a Jean-Georges base, courtesy of starchefs.com, with our own little fillips here and there.

Thai Coconut Noodle Soup with Panko-Crusted Chicken

First part:
1/2 onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 chili, chopped (use whatever heat level you like)
1 knob of ginger, chopped
1 tsp galangal
1 stalk of lemongrass, chopped into smaller sticks and smashed (I used the back of my knife for the smashing bit, and would highly recommend tying these up in cheesecloth for removal later.)
1 tsp red Thai curry paste
4 cups chicken broth

Second part:
1/2 package rice vermicelli noodles
2 cups coconut milk
12 shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
Fish sauce (nam pla) to taste
2 Tbsp (or thereabouts) lime juice
4 chicken thighs
1 egg
Panko bread crumbs
Cilantro, chopped
Scallions, sliced

  1. Sweat the onion, garlic, chili, ginger, galangal, lemongrass, and curry paste in oil (I used a nice green olive oil plus a pat of butter, although strictly speaking I should have opted for peanut) for 5 to 10 minutes, or until everything gets soft and melty.
  2. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, and simmer for half an hour.
  3. You can hold the soup at this point until you’re getting ready to serve — I had it on the back burner for an hour or two — or just go ahead with the next step right away if you like.
  4. Beat the egg, and dip the chicken thighs into it, followed by a coating of the panko crumbs.
  5. Another dollop of oil in a sturdy skillet on high heat. Lay down the chicken, and cook through — about five minutes per side. I always give myself a little extra time in case they need a few more minutes.
  6. Bring the soup back to a simmer if you’ve dropped it to a back burner. Drop in the noodles — they don’t need more than a minute or two. Be sure to add these before the coconut milk — the noodles suck up a lot of liquid, and you’ll want to replenish with the coconut after the noodles have done their thing.
  7. Add the shiitakes and the coconut milk. Sprinkle in the fish sauce — a few drops will do, but add to taste. Same with the lime juice: start with a tablespoon or two, add a little more if you don’t taste that bright thread of citrus backing up the cream of the coconut.
  8. Simmer for another minute, and dish up into four bowls.
  9. Slice the chicken into strips and lay on top of the lovely pillow your noodles have created. Toss a light handful of scallions and cilantro on top, and serve.

The Great Coconut Dinner Party of 2010: Passionfruit Massaman Curry Potato Salad

It’s sometimes hard to gauge the success of a dinner party. Some people go by the number of bottles of wine that get consumed; others by the number of noise complaints the raucous laughter inspires. Others still judge by the state and quantity of the leftovers (or lack thereof) or the state of the plates. I personally use a more…deconstructed scale. I tend to judge the success of a party by how thoroughly I manage to destroy the kitchen. As we all know, I have the power to take down a whole kitchen when just cooking on my own, for one or two people; add two more cooks and seven guests to the mix and you see some destruction on an epic scale.

ingredientcomposite1

Using that yardstick, I know for a fact that the Great Coconut Dinner Party was a raging success–between myself, Biscuit, and our incredibly wonderful host/ringleader, Swiss, we managed to do such damage to the kitchen that it apparently took the better part of a week (and a visit from a plumber, I believe) to put it back together again.

Of course, such mayhem cannot come without rigorous planning. Heavens, no! The GCDP had been brewing since early in the summer. Swiss and I had gone out for some drinks and were chatting about the Essex Market or somesuch thing (we spend a lot of time discussing these sorts of things) when he made The Suggestion: we spend so much time discussing food, why don’t we make some together? And invite a few other people over to eat it? Oh, and what if we had a theme? Surely that would make it easier! (Note: It did not. More fun, for sure, but not easier.) Brilliant! And lo, it was decided.

dinnercomposite

A few weeks later, Swiss and I went into planning mode,  sprawling ourselves all over the war room  (actually his living room) with piles of cookbooks, poring over his food porn (the man’s collection is not to be believed) and plotting our wild and ambitious meal. We set a tentative menu, set a date (and a date for a dry run, which I cannot recommend strongly enough if you decide to helm such an affair), and took a deep breath, wondering what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into.  It was simultaneously thrilling and terrifying.

The final menu ended up looking like this:

  • Passionfruit-mint-cachaca shot with coconut foam
  • Tuna and avocado ceviche with oven-toasted coconut and sesame
  • Passionfruit massaman curry potato salad
  • Panko-crusted chicken and coconut milk soup
  • Mango sorbet with savory tuiles
  • Frozen raspberry cream with green tea sponge and coconut fluff

I’m sure you can understand how, after coming up with that litany, bringing on an extra pair of hands seemed like a good idea (actually, ultimately two–the lovely Jackie took care of the beautiful tablescaping). With a full complement of troops, we managed to acquit ourselves with only one explosion, narrowly avoided the emergency room (turns out, wearing pants was a REALLY good idea), and fed a total of ten people before midnight. It was sufficiently exciting that we plan to do it again in a few weeks–once we have a new menu, and once Swiss’s kitchen recovers.

tablescape

While we prepare for that, we will be coming at you with an entry from the one and only Biscuit, wherein he will share the recipe for the main course that the guests couldn’t stop raving about–panko crusted chicken with a coconut milk soup! In the meantime, take a quick gander at the recipe for the third course, the passionfruit curry potato salad. Enjoy!

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Lafitte Brand Hard Tack: Thyme and Gruyere Icebox Crackers!

There are certain things that, historically, it has never really occurred to me to cook at home. On this list: cheese; pretzels; crackers. I don’t know why; it’s not that I don’t think I’m up to the task, or that I’m not interested, but it’s just never seemed like a good return on energy investment.

lafitte2

Note: I am sometimes kind of dumb.

Now that we’ve established that, we can discuss the fact that in getting utterly out of hand, this bribe inspired me to push my boundaries, and one of these boundaries involved crackers. After all, it is important to give the judges a well-rounded bribe, resplendent in easy snacking. And what’s easier to snack upon than crackers? With that in mind, I turned to my File O’ Recipes and pulled out one from one of the patron saints of the Sexcamaids, Miz Martha Stewart (fun fact: the atrium at Martha Stewart Omnimedia has hosted many a mermaid practice–we owe a lot to Martha!) and her Thyme and Gruyere Crackers. They seemed like a perfect fit for our Pirate Picnic–no ship is complete without Hard Tack, after all!

If you’re looking to get into dabbling with crackers, I can’t imagine you getting off to a better start than these. Not only are they easy and delicious, but they can be done a few days in advance–a godsend if you’re preparing them as part of a party buffet, or at any other occasion where you know you’re going to have to take care of a lot of different dishes. The more you can front-load in these situations, the better, and the bribe was no exception. I actually ended up making the dough two days in advance, and I think it just got better for the rest.

And, I mean, really. Beyond their deliciousness, how cool did they look? The design of this tin was done by my lovely friend Ry; Bench was responsible for the bullet holes. I loved this box beyond all reasonable comprehension, and wanted to keep it for myself. Okay, yes, so, I wanted to keep them all for myself, but this one had a special place in my heart. Was it the bullet holes, or the crackers? Bake some and draw your own conclusions.

Note: I am lame and somehow lost all the pictures I took of the crackers. So you’ll just have to go to Martha’s site to see what they looked like.


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Healthier Party Food: Eggplant Agrodolce with Pinenuts

When we throw a party, we like to start early. Happy-hour-style drinks mean we can enjoy our balcony (a rarity in Manhattan) with friends while the sun is still out. The problem, though, is that starting a party early means folks won’t necessarily have eaten dinner. As the night goes on, having plenty of good food to offer is essential. People don’t actually want to make a meal of brie and crackers.

That’s where this sweet and sour Eggplant Agrodolce comes in. I’ve learned over the years that I become a stressed, panicky mess if I leave too much party prep to the last minute. I need recipes that can be prepared the night before and tossed onto the table as guests arrive. I make a variety of easy spreads and dips, and a killer garlicky white-bean bruschetta, but I was drawn to this recipe from Andrew Carmellini’s gorgeous Urban Italian because it’s a little more substantial and fresh-tasting. It’s vegetarian, and pretty healthy, and totally works as a make-ahead dish (though I did microwave it for a minute to take the chill off before serving.)

I used regular eggplants, not the lovely slender Japanese sort, because a person can only go to so many grocery stores before a party, and I’d already hit my limit. Carmellini  warns that this is a dangerous swap, and suggests salting them in a colander for half an hour, but I simply removed the ends (which can be bitter) and skipped the salting. It worked out fine. I’ve actually read that salting can adversely affect the egpplant’s texture, so if you’re using fresh eggplants, I’d skip it…

I also scattered a handful of toasted pine nuts over the eggplant before serving. The earthy nuts balance the sweet-and-sour sauce, grounding the tangy flavor a bit. Be sure to cut the eggplant small if you’re intending this as finger food—large slices are a little intimidating to party guests, especially if they have a glass of wine in hand. Continue reading…



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