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Christmas dinner, summarized. December 26, 2008

Posted by sarawr in baking, dessert, entertaining, herbs & spices, holidays, menu, potatoes, poultry.

From a comment I left over on Kip’s journal:

Mine was a 13+ pound turkey, brined 15 hours in a stockpot full of lukewarm water and 1.5 cups salt. Drained, blotted dry, stuffed with the giblets and a purple onion; sage butter spread very lightly (about a tablespoon total) under the skin, salt and pepper rained over the top. I set it atop about 2 cups of halved baby carrots, more diced onion, and a couple of stalks of sliced celery to make a vegetable rack, dusted more sage over the whole shebang, and popped it in a 425F oven uncovered for about 3 hours.

It was… the best turkey I’ve ever encountered, if I’m being honest instead of modest, and it will live on in my memory as a sort of Platonic ideal turkey. It came out cooking-magazine-golden with crisp skin all over, incredibly juicy, and flavorful in the way that you could taste the turkey instead of a bunch of seasoning.

I didn’t save the carcass to make stock because I had no room anywhere to store it and I wasn’t energetic enough to jump right into stockmaking last night or this morning, but I think I’m gonna do the whole thing over next month and I’ll make stock then. The more I experiment with whole poultry, the better I get at it, and while stockmaking has turned out to be something I don’t particularly enjoy, it is well worth it.

I let my mom take home the leftover stuffing, vegetables (I made green beans and corn, both with lemon butter), potatoes, etc. The potatoes were a dream as well (I used a borrowed electric mixer to whip them with cream cheese, sour cream, plenty of butter, and parsley — not “health food” by any stretch, but gosh, were they ever tasty), but I made far too much and didn’t want to hassle with separation and storage. We’ve got a good-sized Tupperware full of leftover turkey, and if I want more potatoes or veg to go with it we have plenty of those too. I think the only thing I forgot was cranberry sauce, but on balance it wasn’t really missed.

I made a strawberry-margarita cheesecake (which turned out kind of disappointing; it was tasty, but not the heavenly goodness it usually is) and a blueberry cheesecake (for which I had to invent my own recipe, because the ones I found all called for ingredients or equipment I didn’t have) for dessert, and the blueberry was the undisputed winner… although it came out more like pudding than pie, due to my absentmindedly taking it out of the oven 20 minutes before I should have.

On balance, the meal was a roaring success. We had plenty of food for everyone, and everyone seemed to like it; I got to experiment with a turkey (which I hadn’t done before, really) and have it turn out brilliantly on the first try; I did some baking, which isn’t something I particularly love, but was fun nonetheless.

ETA: How is it that we didn’t have a tag for potatoes? You can bet I fixed that right quickly!

How was your Christmas food, Schizoids? The comment section awaits!


Dinner Party Menu: Pesto chicken, lemon basil farfalle and… The Simpsons? June 23, 2008

Posted by Alicia in entertaining, guests, menu.

Good morning everyone!  Do you know what it’s time for?  It’s time for a post that is NOT written by Kip (as much as I adore his cooking and posts)! 

Last night I had a dinner party that I threw together at the very last moment.  Now here’s the deal; I’d known I would be having guests for over a week.  My excuse is that I found out at the last minute that one of the guests did not care for a main ingredient in my chosen menu (fish — I’d been planning on pomegranate-orange glazed salmon, a bulgar salad wih cranberries and orange zest and a tossed salad).  Anyway, far from being irritated, I was thrilled.  Planning, cooking for and hosting dinner parties in one of my great passions in life (I blame it on being Italian).  I like nothing better than having people over for food, wine, good music and conversation.  Several of my favourite childhood memories revolve around the dinner parties my parents used to have — helping my mother clean the house (my favourite job was wiping down the glass coffee table with Windex until it gleamed), watching my parents cook together and getting to try new dishes that were just a bit too complicated for family dinner during the week.  Then there were the guests, elegantly dressed and full of witty conversation, the clink of wine glasses and silverware against plates and music (usually jazz) in the background.  Dinner parties were always a source of wonder for me and all I really wanted to grow up to do was be the perfect hostess at my own. 

The guestlist last night included my boyfriend (Jesse) and I, his brother (Mike), his mother (Jan) and his uncle and aunt (Jim and Rhonda).  Jan, Jim and Rhonda had been in town over the weekend and we thought it would be nice to have a small gathering to catch up with them.  All in all, I think it turned out quite nicely.  Sure, it wasn’t quite the glamorous affair that I remembered but I keep reminding myself that we’re young, still practicing, and entertaining in a very different way.  We’ll get there eventually. 

Please excuse the not-so-fabulous pictures.  I still need to get a new, better camera, should work on my presentation skills and have to remember to take pictures BEFORE people have started eating, not after.  I’m new to this — it’ll get easier. 

We started off the evening with bruschetta (I didn’t actually serve that piece to our guests as I felt it was too burned — it was delicious though), sundried tomato hummus and Italian-style guacamole (with lemon juice, garlic, oregano and fresh basil). There were tortilla chips and whole wheat pita for dipping as well. At this point The Simpsons was still being watched in the living room so I didn’t get my dream of fabulous conversation over Beethoven. C’est la vie!

We took a bit of a break at this point so I could finish off dinner and everyone else could work up a bit of an appetite. Jesse was his usual helpful self and kept the dishes from piling up — nothing’s worse than ending an evening with three sink’s worth of dishes.

After about 20 minutes, dinner was ready. The first picture showed what everyone except I had. There was a spinach and arugula salad with chopped tomatoes and my Dijon balsamic vinaigrette (no, I can’t give you the recipe because I don’t know how I make it — my father taught me to eyeball it and at this point I could do it in my sleep but not explain it), chicken breasts baked with pesto and fresh mozzarella and farfalle with a lemon basil sauce. The lemon basil farfalle was something I’ve been dreaming about for a while: citrusy, slightly tart and green with plenty of freshly ground pepper. I actually managed to find a recipe online which gave me basic proportions but I still played around with it. It took about 2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil, 2/3 cup of shaved parmesan, 1/2 cup of lemon juice and 1/3 cup of fresh chopped basil. Once the farfalle is cooked (I like to keep my pasta more than slightly al dente but cooked it a bit longer for our guests last night), toss it with abovementioned mixture and garnish with about a tablespoon of lemon zest, more fresh basil and black pepper. I, of course, skipped the chicken and went for a larger salad with chopped bell pepper along with my pasta.

All in all, this was a lovely, simple meal for a summer dinner party. The hummus and guacamole can be prepared far in advance, the bruschetta only take about five minutes in the oven at 450 degrees and the chicken only needs to bake for about 40 minutes. If you’re feeling lazy (like I was) you can use storebought pesto and bruschetta topping — mine came from Trader Joe’s. Top it all off with a light Viognier to drink and you’ve got yourself a party.

Who wants to come over for dinner? Also, tell me your favourite dinner party recipes! Tell me about one that you’ve thrown that worked well and one that was a disaster. Do you hate hostessing and entertaing? Why? What’s the largest number of guests you’ve cooked for?