Monday, December 26, 2011

Seven courses on St. Stephen's Day

We are spending this Christmas in Ohio. Our actual family celebration will be near New Year's, so my mother decided that a good way to fill the time was to host a large, formal dinner party, which I volunteered / was drafted to cook. My father (jokingly?) suggested that seven courses was the right number of courses, and my mother requested Italian. Thus, this menu:
The first course was apretivo: prosecco with Campari. The Italians must really like a bitter flavor, because I had to cut the Campari down to one quarter (2 teaspoons per glass of Prosecco) to make it palatable for us. The second course was antipasti, and I can especially recommend this marinated mushroom recipe. You can make it a day ahead, and then just throw it on a plate with some prosciutto, olives, and cheese and you're done.
Another recipe that will make it into my regular party food rotation, goat cheese ravioli with walnut and white wine sauce. We made the ravioli from scratch, which was an insane amount of work, but I think the walnut sauce would taste terrific on fettuccine, even if it was store bought.
The main course was a lamb, beef, and pork stew, served with potatoes and creamed spinach. It must have all been much loved, because no one remembered to take any pictures. The dessert course was panna cotta. I had no idea how easy it is to make panna cotta! (Um, if you're a vegetarian who's willing to work with gelatin, which I now am, because I have totally had it with little lumps of agar agar ruining all my mousses and tortes.) You're simply dissolving sugar and gelatin in a lot of heavy whipping cream. Chill, and you're done. No hot water bath (demanded by creme brulee) and no cooking over a double boiler (required by mousse). I served the panna cotta with strawberries tossed in sugar and a good balsamic vinegar.
To end, a fruit course followed by coffee. Here, a dapper guest enjoys the fruit salad, which was topped with Chambord.
Now we're off to visit friends in Pittsburgh for two days. Hopefully I'll accumulate even more pictures of food there for the blog.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Mini

I had to fight long and hard to convince my husband to get a convertible. There are many good reasons not to have one (especially as your only car). They don't hold much cargo. They cost more than a regular car. Long trips are hell for passengers in the back seat. They're not so great in the winter. (That's what I'm told, anyway. How would I know? I live in Miami.)

But after six months of convertible ownership I can firmly state that it is terrific. Driving in a convertible has all the best parts of motorcycling (exposure to the sun and wind, easy parking) and none of the negatives (sweating in all that safety gear, keeping super alert for crazy drivers). Plus I can do my hair, something that's impossible when wearing a helmet to and from work.

Unfortunately for me, my husband gets to pick the next car, which will probably be chosen for its ability to haul a trailer. So this convertible is likely a brief interlude in a lifetime of station wagons.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mandarinen Quarktorte

To distract you from aliens whom I may or may not resemble, let us return to the beloved topics of tortes. I wanted to bring an especially delicious cake to my work's end-of-the-semester party. (It was a potluck lunch before a meeting, which is pretty festive for academics.) This is the cake I chose, Mandarin Ricotta Cheese Torte. Officially, it's supposed to use quark, but this is hard to find in the U.S. and I didn't have time to be making dairy products from scratch, so I used a recommended substitution of Ricotta cheese mixed with yogurt.
Here was the result:
Let's see that from another angle:
Notice the excessive height? A height that one might even call precarious? Soon after, the cake slowly crumbled. I will make it again because it was delicious, but when I do I will most certainly use a pan with a larger area, because my structural integrity field was not up to the job.

Although my cake was not stylish, my new Tortenmesser is. It was an unexpected, perfectly selected, early Christmas gift from a torte-eating friend.
I shall treasure it for years to come. It will be useful for both cake serving and any pastry-related battles for which I should be armed. (Check out that blade!).

I've included the recipe (in English!) for anyone who wants it. From Marion's Cookbook.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This and that

Sometimes I can go the whole weekend and never leave the house; in comparison I was a social butterfly this weekend. Thursday turned into an impromptu date night, and we went to see the new Muppets movie. I highly recommend it if you're a fan of kids movies. (That would be me - the less violence and profanity, the happier I am.) Along with attendance at two parties we also managed to squeeze in a musical, Avenue Q .This musical breaks my low-profanity policy, but it's terrific and it answers the unanswered question, "Are Bert and Ernie gay?"

Today has been a slower day: Andrew is (once again) working on the motorcycle, and I'm planning to do some Christmas shopping. Only nine working days until the Ohio vacation, where I'm supposed to cook Christmas dinner and a multi-course meal for twelve adults. Maybe I'd better start planning...

And... the new glasses. I was going for this look, but Andrew thought they suggested this look.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Not even if she's a Trekkie

Tonight I had to advise my husband: you may not tell your wife she looks like a space alien. Not even if you think it is a compliment.

(This was prompted by my new glasses; pictures to follow soon.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Guests: wanted, unwanted, and somewhere in between

Guests who were wanted: We hosted a Christmas party last night. It made me feel more rooted in Miami. Last year I didn't know enough people to invite to a party, whereas this year we know know enough people that half could decline and we still didn't feel lonely.
I meant to take pictures, I really did. I had never hosted a Christmas party that would take place both inside and outside, and it took some planning to figure out how to construct a room in the garden. (The answer: several strings of lights, a couple of chairs and a lamp, and of course plates and plates of food.) Unfortunately, I had so much fun I forgot about the camera, so you only get an annotated menu:
Rum Punch (Terrific - rum and fresh lime juice are an unbeatable combo, and the nutmeg and bitters raised it from good to stellar.)
Non-alcoholic Punch (I used chamomile tea, white grape juice, and lime juice.)
Chili (to soak up all the Rum)
Extra-thin chocolate chip cookies
Sfratti, walnut-honey Rosh Hashannah cookies (Named for sticks used to evict the Jews. Aside from the dreadful back story, they were excellent.)
Goat-cheese topped apricots (These are the easiest hors d'oeurve I've ever made.)
French onion dip with crackers. (I think I was thirty years old before I discovered that there was a way to make this dip without Lipton soup packets.)
A guest who was unwanted: The success of the party was a welcome diversion from our ongoing battle against a mouse in the house. Since discovering its presence, we had filled holes, boxed up the full contents of the pantry into Tupperware boxes, and had used both no-kill and regular traps, to no avail. In the middle of the night, Andrew heard it chewing again and managed to corner it, where he discovered it was a RAT. Andrew trapped it and carried it halfway across the neighborhood. He then spent the day filling even more holes, and disinfecting the house. I am experiencing equal parts disgust (at the idea of a rat in my kitchen) and gratitude (for a husband who deals with it all).
Guests who are a mixed blessing: This week is Art Basel Miami Beach, which is a international art Show. The show has now spread to other neighborhoods, and the Design District, where we lived, has been overflowing with exhibits, live performances, and other events. This means that we can just walk out of our house and immerse ourselves in interesting art happening all around us. It also means that the traffic in our neighborhood is outrageous, and we must plot alternative routes to and from our house.