Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Now for bit more luck

First for a bit housekeeping, please note that Blushing Hostess will not recap the year that was -out there, or here on the page. The Hostess is not a fan of u-turns. It was what it was, was it not?

Let's move on.

Secondly, though we will spend this New Year in the north, we are not without the southern traditions imparted us over our time in the Carolina's, North Padre, and Florida. It is with a nod to all that the South is that I fondly remember the first time I was served Hoppin' John, just after New Years: I had just relocated to Charleston from New York and after hearing this, a kindly gentlemen brought a small bowl to the table Josh at which we sat at Poogan's: "For good luck." he said, and quietly stepped away. Hoppin' John, was the name of the black-eyed pea dish he placed before me. In Low Country and some say, Gullah, tradition, Hoppin John, a dish of black-eyed peas braised with a little onion, some water, and a ham hock, is traditionally served on New Years to ensure luck in the coming year. While the dish we had that day was delicious, my subsequent attempts to recreate it ranged from disappointing to unpalatable. It was past time to arrive at a recipe of my own which, while non-traditional, still meets the general requirement and tastes - you know - more like something delectable with our traditional New Year's Day pork roast than, say, grout. I'm very pleased with this result, finally. There is still time to get to the store before New Year's supper. Make it a good one, a lucky one, ya'll...

Hoppin' John
Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, minced
1/4 lb. smoked kielbasa, in 1/2" dice
4 cups canned black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
Water to cover beans by about 1 inch, 6 cups or so
1 smoked ham hock or ham bone
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a deep, heavy bottomed pot, set over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook 10 minutes or until translucent. Do not brown. Add the kielbasa, cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black-eyed peas and hock or bone, then the water to cover by 1" or so. Allow the pan to come to boil, then turn it down to a bare simmer until the liquid is reduced to the consistency of a sauce. Taste and add seasoning if you like. Serve immediately removing the bone or hock or refrigerate up to a day with the bone or hock still in the Hoppin' John, reheat with this also, and remove just before serving.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

All the good luck you can get

A Greek New Years morning tradition, this marvelous cake, Vaselopita, has a (chocolate) coin buried deeply in the batter and baked into the cake. The lucky bloke who gets the coin will have good luck for a year. Not to mention a slice of this soft, airy, almond-y wonder.

I tried to stay true to the original recipe but I would not mind a taddy bit of orange zest added at the folding stage of the batter for a little spark with my luck. I like sparky luck - what can I tell you? Entirely up to your palate. Also, I will confess a strange addiction to you now so we can get it out of the way and you can truly know who you are dealing with: I love Del Monte canned pears that are very very cold and still in their syrup. If I had these handy, I would have adored them with this cake. Laugh if you want to, but they have a fascinating and satisfying texture like none other.

Finally, as you will note, this cake and recipe are Mother-tester, baby approved.

Only the best luck for you, Pals...

Vaselopita, Greek New Year's Cake
Serves 12
Bon Appetit, December, 2001

1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
2 cups sugar, plus more for dusting cake
3 eggs, separated
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 foil wrapped chocolate quarter coin
1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds (about 2 ounces)

Beautiful crumb on this cake, don't you think?

Preheat to 325°F. Butter and flour a 10 inch springform pan or close (the springform is not critical).

In the bowl of the mixer cream butter with 2 cups sugar on medium low until fluffy. Gradually beat in 3 egg yolks, 2 whole eggs, water, vanilla, and almond extract. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl, whisk to break up any lumps. Gradually mix dry ingredients into butter mixture (batter will be very thick). Transfer batter to a large bowl, set aside.Using clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites on medium until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Press coin into cake. Sprinkle with blanched almonds.

Bake about 1 hour 10 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back to your touch. After 50 minutes you can dust the top of the cake with sugar for a little sparkle. Cool completely in pan on rack. Run knife around pan to loosen. Invert onto plate. Invert again to have almond-side up. Serve or wrap tightly and store at room temperature.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The ol' book by it's cover lesson, again

As you may have guessed, I collect a great many things, among them cookbooks. I have a criteria for choosing these books: I prefer them to be illustrated, I like to be reassured by reviews in various food publications and/or blogs, and I like them to be specific: Ingredients in a list. Accurate amounts. Painfully clear method.

I know the other type, written by chefs for chefs. They will expect you to be able to make marchand de vin sauce to add to a recipe, for example. They use phrases such as, "add some stock." Leaving me annoyed an muttering aloud, "Could you be a tad more specific?" or spending hours hunting the most reliable and delicious recipe for marchand de vin because I did not go to school for mother sauces, okay? Liberal arts, and I am not ashamed of it. For a cook who learned my kitchen skills from Mom, Grandma, and endless reference tools, these generalizations are daunting, never mind my great attachment to formulas which makes things infallible and safe.

Consequently, I have looked over Larousse Gastronomique a half dozen times and decided we would agree to disagree: A book meant for another sort of cook. A cook destined to own more Patricia Wells than Larousse. Then my Mom gave me the boxed set for Christmas and I nervously opened the text in front her, certain what I would find but turning out to be thoroughly incorrect: The updated edition has general amounts for the most part, as well as some defined method and cooking times. I was thrilled that all of these long-trusted recipes were finally within reach. I am pleased to share one with you now: Fabulous. Just a whisper of smoky saltiness. Not like any deep winter wine-drenched roast I have ever known. I wish I had tried sooner.

Find the recipe and photo tutorial below. But be forewarned: This is beef, braised in dark red wine, this is not sexy to look at but it is on the palate.

Daube of Beef a la Bearnaise
Serves 6
Adapted from Larousse Gastronomique

2 pounds boneless chuck beef roast
1/2 pound uncured bacon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
3 bay leaves
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 carrots, sliced on bias in 1" cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle good red wine
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound pancetta (or Bayonne or serrano ham)
2-3 cups beef stock

For optional buerre manie to thicken the sauce:
2 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons flour

Cut the beef into 2 inch cubes. Do not trim the fat, include it in the cubes. Season the beef cubes liberally on all sides with kosher salt, pepper, and thyme. Roll each seasoned cube in a piece of bacon just large enough to wrap around once. Place the rolled beef cubes in casserole dish large and deep enough to fit all the rolls in one layer and and allow at least 1 inch marinade above the level of the rolls.

On top of the beef rolls spread the carrots, onions, and minced garlic evenly, Lay the 3 bay leaves scattered on top. Pour the bottle of wine over the meat, then the brandy. Give the liquid portion on top a gentle stir just to combine the brandy and wine, leaving the vegetables and and beef untouched below. Allow to marinate at room temperature 2 hours.

Line the bottom of your braising dutch oven or slow cooker with the pancetta or ham.
Set it near the stove. Remove the rolls from the liquid on to paper towels and pat dry. Dredge the rolls in flour and in a large saute pan over medium-high heat add olive oil and butter and heat until butter is melted and bubbling. Sear each roll to brown on all sides. You will have at least two batches. Transfer the browned rolls to the braising vessel lined with ham until all the rolls are in.

Strain the marinade to separate liquid from vegetables. Place vegetables in the pan from which the rolls have just removed and saute the vegetables until lightly browned. Transfer them to the braising vessel to lay on top of the beef and bacon rolls.

To the marinade, add 2 cups stock, stir to combine, and pour over the vegetables and beef. If it does not cover all the contents, add more stock until it just covers all.

If using a dutch oven, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn it down to a simmer for one half hour. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for at 5 hours or until the beef separates easily to the tines of a fork. Remove from heat, skim off any fat on top using a baster or a separator (this step is imperative). If you choose to thicken the sauce make a buerre manie of 2 tablespoons softened butter evenly combined with 2 tablespoons flour, combine with a fork. Strain or ladle most of the sauce into a saucepan and set over medium heat. Before it boils, add the butter/flour mixture to the sauce pan and stir to dissolve. Allow the sauce to come just to a boil for one minute, then remove from the heat. Stir for one more mixture then add back to the beef in the braiser. Stir gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve. Lovely with buttered egg noodles or potato and parsnip puree.

Photo tutorial:

You will need a two pound boneless chuck steak and about 1/2 pound streaky bacon. I prefer to use pre-sliced, if you are of a mind to cut your own slab accordingly, by all means...

Cut the chuck into 2" cubes and season liberally with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and fresh or dried thyme leaves.

Wrap each seasoned beef cube in a slice of bacon just long enough to go around once. I did not find I needed to secure with toothpicks though you may to decide to do so. Place the rolls in a single layer in a dish for marinating which will also allow enough room for additional marinade.

Cover the meat evenly with the onions, carrots, garlic, and bay.

Pour the red wine and brandy on top, stir the liquid portion gently just to combine the two. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, remove the rolls from the marinade to paper towels and pat dry. Dredge each roll in flour.

Brown on all sided in a large saute pan in butter and olive oil set over medium high heat. Transfer the rolls to the dutch oven or slow cooker lined in ham, you will have at least two layers. Set aside. Place the saute pan back on the heat.

Meanwhile, strain the marinade liquid from the vegetables.

Place vegetables in saute pan and saute over medium high heat until lightly browned at the edges. Add the vegetables to the dutch oven on top of the meat.

Add the beef stock to the marinade and stir to combine. Pour over the vegetables and meat in the dutch oven or slow cooker. If it does not cover all the contents, add more stock until the liquid just covers all.

If using a dutch oven, preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn it down to a simmer for one half hour. Transfer the pot to the oven and cook for at 5 hours or until the beef separates easily to the tines of a fork.

Ladle or strain most of the liquid from the beef and vegetables and allow fat to settle on top of the gravy, remove the fat in a a separator as above or with a baster. If you prefer a thin sauce, add the gravy back to the meat. If you wish to thicken the sauce, place the gravy into a saucepan set over medium heat and warm gently. Now follow the steps for buerre manie:

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons softened butter and 2 tablespoons flour.
Add this to the gravy in the saucepan and stir to dissolve completely. Allow it to come to a boil and boil for only one minute, remove from the heat. It will look like this now:

Stir off the heat for one more minute then add back to the meat and vegetables. Stir gently to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve.

Now, your work is through.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Egg nog revisited

And so it has come to pass that Christmas, 2008 is in the books. And the remains of the day are causing perilous balancing acts in the refrigerator. Anything could happen. That haddock could take a header into the stock during any one of the six daily enthusiastic openings for baby's milk alone. I hate to think of the mess that would ensue if there was a top shelf topple-down: shrimp into egg wash, over the champagne bottles, and on into the crisper to coat the mushrooms. I envision myself cleaning and washing for a full day but never again looking at anything on the left side of the fridge as if it could be clean: This is the sort of thing that could cause a compulsive to buy a new one and start over. I can't risk it.

In there, I have an inexplicable amount of left over cooked rice and a half gallon of un-spiked egg nog. After a bit more rustling, I also have a great deal of heavy cream (without a gallon on hand the holiday is cancelled) and half and half (we are black coffee drinkers but some people around here act as if their coffee causes them to use a quart a day but it is forever going 'round the bend three quarters full. Offensive.)

I digress. The point this happy refrigerator idiot is attempting to make is that in some order or another, this is rice pudding. For years I read rice pudding recipes and became increasingly stupefied at how complicated it seemed. Le Cordon Bleu at Home set me straight regarding how easy rice pudding really can be: Turns out The Hostess is not the only happy idiot who writes rice pudding recipes.

This is no measure of genius, Chums. You get some rice, you throw it in a sauce pan with a mixture of heavy cream, milk, some sugar, and vanilla until it comes an inch or two above the rice level. The milk and cream need to simmer gently and reduce until it becomes a very thick sauce. Allow this to cool and fold in some whipped heavy cream, maybe nutmeg, cinnamon, whatever strikes you.

Here is the thing, however. Recipes are suggestions in cooking and you should do what feels good. It felt good to find a use for all that egg nog. I boiled down the rice in nog and a little milk. It was already sweet and needed little sugar. A tiny bit of nutmeg and an hour of simmering later while I made the bolognese for dinner, and a new rice pudding king was born.

Only, this serves 6. Which leaves four servings to return to the fridge. But it is far more delicious than cold, plain rice. Even better than my old rice pudding love from Le Cordon Bleu. Win some. Lose some.

Egg Nog Rice Pudding
Serves 6

3 cups cooked rice
5 cups egg nog
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or one vanilla pod seeds extracted
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon.
1 cup heavy cream, whipped, divided as 1 cup for the pudding, 1/2 cup for garnishing pudding

Over medium heat in a heavy sauce pan, add rice, egg nog, whole milk, and vanilla. Bring to a bare boil and turn down heat to allow this mixture to simmer until reduced to a thick sauce just coating all the rice. Stir in nutmeg and cinnamon if you like, if not omit them without fear. Allow this mixture to cool for 1/2 hour stirring occasionally to allow pudding to release heat.

Take 1 cup whipped cream and gently fold into the pudding. Divide into 6 serving cups. Chill.

Top with spoonfuls of remaining whipped cream, dust with a little freshly ground nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Mousse

My parents generously took us to dinner on special occasions throughout our lives: Birthdays, sacraments, graduations. We were lucky children to have dined at restaurants here in Westchester like Crabtree's Kittle House. as the food and memories were untouchable and have stayed with me so vividly even now, in some cases nearly three decades on.

The Kittle House, as it is called locally, is a rambling old structure which includes the original tavern rooms, the inn, and in the back, the expanded dining room and gardens below. It has always managed to be embracingly cozy, familiar, and twinklingly well-dressed all at once. No other dining room of its ilk in this corner of the room holds the same loving sparkle for me. And the dessert long served there, the Triple Chocolate Mousse, has been a favorite of mine since childhood.

It was a nostalgic attachment to this tower of sweet mousses which lead me to attempt this feat for dessert to be served at my Mother's house on Christmas Eve. I used Alton Brown's Chocolate Mousse recipe and repeated the task three times: First with dark chocolate, then milk, finally with white chocolate. I used no liquor as I do not care for that edge in my food. In the milk and white chocolate layers I replaced the liquors called for with the same amount of milk, in the dark chocolate later I used equal parts heavy cream and strong coffee. This is a fine recipe to use as it is one of the easiest gelatin preparations I have found. However, while it was so rich as to definitely need the Melba sauce I served along side, I missed the eggy-mousse-iness of a traditional French preparation.

Because the method was gelatin-based, the dessert also required more than an hour at room temperature before serving to allow the layers to loosen to a consistency which even resembled that of a true mousse: After three days of prep and the use of piles of costly real ingredients, I would have been very disappointed had I not placed it out on the counter at the start of dinner and ended up with something a kin to a chilled Jello dessert.

On the whole, it was delicious, deep, elegant, and would present beautifully in any sort of glass or stemware. But next time I would go for the real mousse: As long as it takes and as fragile as it can be. It would have satisfied the craving of the little girl in my soul.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

A celebration is afoot. Christmas-test recipes to come. Merriest of Christmases and holidays to you all.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow falling on corgi

Nearly a foot of snow fell on us through the night. I was all set to photo the paddocks beyond the hollow but was not able to trudge out the back. The dogs enjoyed it immensely, however.

It occurred to me to just quit all the trudging, scraping, shoveling, waving at the plow gentleman, and wiping snow from my hair and come inside for something a bite of something settling, toasty, and unburdening. I've worked on this cream scone for some time. Make it with ease as it will be painless and simple. Do egg wash and sugar it because it will sparkle in any light. Afternoon tea is only a few lesiurely steps away.

Cream Scones
Makes 10 scones if knife cut, 6 if biscuit cutter is used

2 tablespoons butter for greasing cookie sheet parchment
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the egg wash and sugar sprinkle:
1 egg, beaten with a fork
2 tablespoons sugar for sprinkling over

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lay parchment on a baking sheet and grease parchment with butter. Combine the first four (dry) ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add strawberries, cream, and vanilla extract. Mix until a dough is formed. Pout onto a flat surface. Split the dough in two halves. Roll the first half of the dough out to a 1 inch thickness. Cut out scones with a round cookie cutter, or do as I do and just cut rough squares with a knife - no need to be too particular about it if you don't care to be. Place shoulder-to-shoulder on the greased parchment.

Brush eggwash neatly over the top of each biscuit. Sprinkle sugar gently on top of each. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A bit of homemade merry

Cocktail Hacker, one of my favorite spirit and mixcology blogs, has a seemingly limitless breadth of drink-related information. I was most interested to see their recent post, Homemade Irish Cream -Bottled Awesome spring up on Google Reader because our cousins Eamon and Peggy were kind enough to bring homemade Irish cream to us on the evening of the holiday party. This homemade liqueur was sampled and then enthusiastically polished off by our family and guests.

As you know, the Hostess is pregnant and therefore cannot drink, however, people who know Irish cream tried Peggy's version and greatly it prefer to any bottled version they have ever had. If you have a mind to try a homemade version for yourself, Cocktail Hacker shares this recipe which I have made an addendum to in order that the almond extract called for be used sparingly, if at all, because it can be overpowering.

Homemade Irish Cream
Makes 5 cups
adapted from Cocktail Hacker

1 3/4 Cups Jameson's Irish Whiskey
1 - 14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 Cup whipping cream
4 eggs (or egg beaters)
2 Tbsp chocolate syrup
2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
(1/4 tsp Almond Extract, optional)

In a blender blend all ingredients except almond extract until smooth. Taste. If you like it as
is, you are finished. If you care for almond, add the 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.
Store in a refrigerator for up to 1 month.[Notes]This recipe yields about 5 cups of Irish Cream.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tostones hors d'oeuvres as winter bears down

We are awaiting a real winter storm. This could be snow day territory. But I realize that just because sledding with my toddler in a winter that threatens but never really gets underway is at the forefront of my plans, you might have a holiday party on your mind. And it is my sworn duty to help you and to get you to the best party possible, taking into account corrections to my own party work here which I will make the next time.

Tostones. I loved this idea when I saw a photo of this concept in Martha Stewart Hors d'oeuvres. The book does not mention, as it should, that this nibble is even more laborious and slow than most as tostones must be blanch-fried, pressed, then fried again. The pork must be slow cooked or braised. And when all that is behind you, the assembly is no walk in the park.

I loved these little bites but in the future will use one tostone on the bottom rather than create mini-sandwiches as the tostones are very dry. In researching this post, I notice all sorts of short cuts have been applied to the original ML recipe, consequently, you have options to speed this up if you wish. While I made the jerk sauce I used you can certainly buy it or your favorite barbecue sauce. I leave it to your taste to decide if you prefer pulled pork (as I do), chicken, (which ML Hors d'oeuvres called for) or beef (as featured in Gourmet) and whether to use jerk sauce or a traditional gently spicy BBQ sauce. Whatever combination you choose, be sure to trial run these as a too-sweet sauce would cause the flavor to be cloyingly sweet with the chutney.

Pulled Jerk Pork on Tostones with Mango Chutney
80 pieces, $26.00 or $.33 a piece
8 hours, 2.5 hours active

6 lb. pork shoulder ($10.00)
Kosher salt and frehly ground black pepper
2 cups jerk sauce, purchased or homemade ($4.00)
Tostones, below ($9.00)
1 8 ounce jar Major Grey's Mango Chutney ($3.00)

For the tostones:

8 large unripe barely ripe (yellow-green) plantains ($6.00)
about 4 cups canola or peanut oil for frying ($3.00)
Kosher salt

With a sharp small knife cut ends from each plantain and cut a lengthwise slit through skin. Peel off skin gently. Cut plantains crosswise into 3/4" slices. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet heat 1/2 inch oil over moderate heat until just hot enough to sizzle when a plantain is added. Fry plantains in batches without crowding, until tender and just beginning to turn golden, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. With tongs. transfer plantains paper towels to drain.

Remove skillet from heat and reserve oil. With the bottom of a heavy saucepan or a wide solid metal spatula flatten plantains to 1/4 inch thick (about 3 inches in diameter). Into a bowl of warm salted water dip flattened plantains, 1 at a time, and drain them well on paper towels.

Heat reserved oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and fry flattened plantains in batches, without crowding, until golden, about 3 minutes. With tongs transfer tostones as fried to paper towels to drain and season with salt.

These will keep in an airtight container, refrigerated overnight. Take them from the fridge, place in a single layer on a baking sheet and reheat at 200 degrees for ten minutes or until warm.

For the pork:

Season the pork liberally with salt and pepper. In the basin of a slow cooker place the pork shoulder and pour over the jerk or barbecue sauce. Following your cooker's instruction per pound and cook roast until meat easily pull away from the bone. Remove the meat to a bowl and place cooking liquid in a separator. When settled, pour off and discard the clear part/ fat. Place remaining liquid in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Simmer until reduced to one third the original amount. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Pull the pork from the bone while also discarding large fat deposits. With a knife, dice as finely as possible. Pour the reduced sauce over the meat and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

This will keep two days, refrigerated, in an air tight container. Remove from the fridge a half hour before assembling.

To assemble:

On top of each tostone, place a small spoonful of pulled pork followed by a 1/2 teaspoon Major Grey's Mango Chutney. Serve immediately.

Dori assembling the tostones sandwiches just before the party began.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Tenderloin Season

Last evening, both my Mother and I attended holiday parties. At both parties, and at ours last weekend, a lovely beef tenderloin with toast was served. It seems we see more of it in this season though it is an intimate dinner party interloper as well throughout the year. Below is the recipe I used this past week, I have always felt that excellent cuts should not be adulterated and therefore, I use as little doctoring as possible to allow the rich beef to come to the fore.

Last night, however, at my friend Jennifer's holiday party, she served a glorious tenderloin which was somehow finished in Worcestershire and horseradish. Not only was it raved about but the meat seemed glazed to a luxe mahogany shade. I will try to wrest the recipe from last evening's blushing hostess. She did a wonderful job, as always. Visit Entertains for pictures.

Beef Tenderloin Sliced on Caper Butter Toast with Horseradish Sauce
Each tenderloin will yield at least 50 thin slices, count 2 per guest
On average, about $70 each or $2.25 per nibble serving
1 hour including toast prep

1 whole beef tenderloin, about 6 to 8 pounds ($9.99 lb, Stew Leonards)
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 loaves baguettes, sliced on bias and toasted with caper butter it will use about 1 cup ($3.00 each for the bread, $3.00 for the butter = $9.00 total)

Deli-style prepared horseradish sauce ($4.00)

Heat the grill to medium high heat. Remove the meat from the refrigerator 1/2 hour before you are going to grill it. Brush it with olive oil and season it very generously with salt and pepper. Grill the tenderloin, turning frequently, until the meat is rare or medium rare, about 8 to 10 minutes per pound or until a meat thermometer reads Rare/ 120 degrees. Remove to a platter and let it rest for 15 minutes. Slice the beef into thin slices.

To serve, arrange tenderloin slices on a large platter. In a basket, neatly arrange the caper butter toasts. Place a bowl of horseradish sauce alongside.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Insomnia and Rosemary-skewered nibbles

I may have mentioned (perhaps even harped) on the fact that I have been mind-haltingly preoccupied with a home we were all set to buy until an issue of the sellers caused the closing to have to occur in two days and without an inspection by our own person. To add to the fun, there are labrynthine hoops through which I must jump, all while I cannot track down my Husband who is floating around happily ignorant in an oversized grey tunafish can somewhere far west of here. I do not feel comfortable, Friends. with this whole set up. This deal is getting to be like a visit to Crazy Town: Where people have years to a sell house but wait until 70 days before the capital gains date and don't expect us to inspect pivotal things we buy which they have let go in every sense, in the name of escaping sums due to Uncle Sam which are the well-publicized and long standing result of dragging one's shiny patent Ferragamo's.

I know better than to deal with this. Educationally speaking, I know one or two things about contracts and can honestly say about them that I have never read one that was not hopelessly lopsided with benefits to one and clear losses to another. I am not going to be the loss girl here. I am shod in Tod's and prepared to go toe to toe but have decided that is an unnesssecary life-force expenditure and have elected instead to just call and explain (which is the utter truth) that our people are not ready to deal with their people 'til next week. Thus shushing the capital gains chatter once and for all. A house is a house is a house in the end and building attachment to inanimate objects one does not own is inadviseable and not one of the Hostess' flaws.

Time to start sleeping again and generating recipes you can use, the rest of this is nonsense needs to just pass into history.

Just a reminder then, that the plan wherever able, is to advise you the cost of the ingredients as we bought them and an estimate cost per piece in order to assist you in planning, budgeting, and executing your own parties...

Rosemary-skewered Mini Antipasto
Makes 80 pieces
$26 or $.33 per piece
1 hour

2 large bunches fresh rosemary (4.00 for both, I do not recommend Trader Joe's go to the herb bins in produce in a real store)
2 pounds bulk cured sausage (like sopressetta or dry salami), cut into 3/4" chunks ($12.00)
2 pounds bulk provolone cut into 3/4" chunks, or 3 lbs small fresh mozzerella balls in water, whole ($10.00)
1 recipe balsamic vinegarette or your favorite best-quality Italian-inspired vinegarette

If you intend to marinate the salami and provolone, pour the vinegarette into a shallow 8" dish. Place cheese and salami in the dressing, cover and refridgerate for a couple of hours at least.

With kitchen shears, cut the rosemary branches into 4" lengths. Strip the leaves from the lower three inches of the branches by grabbing the branch from the point you want to strip leaves and gently pulling backwards down the branch to free the leaves, leaving only the crown at the top. Save the leaves for another use (dry or freeze). Place the skewers in cool water until ready to use if within an hour or two, otherwise refridgerate in water.

To make the antipasto skewers:
Place a piece of salami on the skewer followed by a piece of cheese. You may resubmerge in the dressing, covered for a couple of hours until serving.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mea Culpas and Stuffed Mushrooms

I owe you, Pals. And don't think I don't know it. I have been so wrapped up in the reasons I could not even bring myself to take the time to type out the reasons I was wrapped up. But anyway, here they are:

1. The party rentals needed to be dealt with. What a disaster.

2. On the way home from my recent visit to Florida I stopped to look at a home in the Carolina's which we were/are considering buying. As I mentioned about 1 billion times, my Husband is on a US Navy deployment leaving this largely to me. The house is a big old place in a great college town which needs work. Lots and lots of workie, work, work. It is located generally just about no where near where we are currently (not unusual for military life). The problem is that I just discovered yesterday freaking afternoon that due to an icky little capital gains issue of the current owners', this house must close by this Friday or not be sold. This home is in a magnificent neighborhood and school district, has a big lot for a home in town, very little storage and is full of 1950's Regency revival details. It is a great deal if it closes by 12/15. Naturally, I can't locate my husband in the shipping lanes of the Med nor confidently figure out what to do because everything with the military is so iffy. Closing in January would have been very much better - we would at least have some clue as to where Josh would be stationed next... I am stumped. Here is a picture, even though I am supposed to be discussing mushrooms...

3. Cooking, entertaining, and writing all take a lot of time. I don't want to kid you. So we should agree that an event of this past weekend's magnitude will take a week or two to barrel through here in. Okeedok?

4. Being way pregnant, and chasing a toddler and her co-conspirator, my Mom, is also a full time job and in this capacity, I spend a lot of time saying no and cleaning things. However, this allows me to offer you a perspective not found in the Eddie Ross stylized pages of Martha Stewart Living: the truth is like the song says, "Real life is real scary." And while it is lovely to get lost in the alluring vacuum that is those pages, the reality of catering and entertaining for yourself needs to be represented somewhere. I have spent a lot of thought-time in the last week determining how this blog can really be of service to you in the entertaining arena.

Ultimately, the times are tough enough that money is on the mind of the nation in new ways. It seems Blushing Hostess best address this issue in a helpful and transparent manner. So let's talk about it. I will collect receipts and note the time it took me to complete items all with an eye towards helping you manage your time, food costs, and entertaining budget. Where able, I will compare my own work to local caterer's costs. In this way, I hope I can help you weigh many options for all the things you host: Meals and parties. So, let's begin.

Below and in the future where able I will provide rough cost estimates (not including pantry items). These costs are based on northern Westchester County, New York and southwestern Fairfield County, Connecticut.

But for moment let's return to the gorgeous stylized entertaining vacuum that is MS Living:

Moving on....

Lobster Stuffed Mushrooms
About 90 bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 hours
$25. total or about .28 each not including the cost of your labor

I used small Baby Bella's here as they are perfectly bite sized and have more flavor than white buttons. Remember, the larger the caps, the harder for the guest to manage, the fewer fit on the tray causing more trips to replenish, and the move oven space they take up. Choose your weapon wisely.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, finely minced (.75 cents)
5 - 10 ounce boxes of Baby Bella mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and finely chopped ($11.00)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus as needed mayonnaise
1 1/2 cup lobster meat, finely chopped ($12.00)
1 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 cup bread crumbs plus as needed (.50 cents)
1/4 cup butter (.75 cents)

Arrange the mushroom caps on a baking sheet. If you will serve them right away, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you plan to freeze these and bake them later, freeze them on baking sheets until frozen solid then transfer then to freezer storage containers.

In a large saute pan over medium low heat, add the olive oil and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent (sweat, do not brown).
Season with salt and pepper. Add the chopped mushroom stems, stir, and cook 5 minutes or until they have released their water and softened. Add the chopped lobster and Old bay, stir to combine, cook until heated through, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Taste and re-season as needed.

Remove the pan from the heat and add mayonnaise. Stir to combine evenly. Add the bread crumbs, stir again. Now, you want to be sure you have enough bread crumbs in the mixture that if you were to take a spoonful, the mix could hold a soft moist ball. If it is too wet use a bit more bread crumbs, if it is too dry add a bit more mayo.

Stuff each mushroom cap with just enough to make a small mound on top. Do not overfill, it is unattractive, makes a mess on the platter, and will be a nightmare to freeze. Keep it neat.

Place a small sliver of butter on top of each mushroom. Then dust each mushroom with bread crumbs. This will give you a little crunch in the crust and keep the texture of the nibble from being a little ball of mushiness in the teeth.

Bake at 350 degrees 12 minutes or until golden on top. If you have frozen these, let them sit out only a few minutes before baking. They will take a couple of minutes longer to bake.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Party Photos and Thoughts

Pictures from our party appear at Blushing Hostess Entertains as well as wrap-up thoughts and the some of the lessons I learned. Swing by.

Check back here for a the recipes we enjoyed and some interesting cost comparisons.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The way of things

Nothing stays to precisely to plan. What a lovely world I would have if it did. As the party approaches tomorrow I am reminded that flexibility will save a hostess when a lot of preparation and careful planning did not. I might have a list of complaints but instead I am pleased to mention that we overcame things which might have crippled another hostess with 24 hours to go (the menu appears here):

1. The rosemary sprigs available from two sources were either too wide or too soft and greenstick to make good skewers for both my marinated provolone and salami. Which was moot anyhow because the provolone was to crumbly to fuss with.

Solution: Salami stays on rosemary skewers in a variety of girths and the provolone goes on festive toothpicks.

2. The tablecloth I wanted was in the attic. I am very pregnant and my husband is deployed. the bottom staircaise step is broken and no one has been around all night. I cannot chance that I would fall and hurt myself leaving no one to care for my tiny girl nor hurt the child on the way. Therefore, I drafted a beautiful blanket we have long loved and decided I was glad for the change.

3. All of the tenderloin turned out rare regardless of what the meat thermometer read. One had to go back in and then be wrapped tightly in foil to come up to medium. That was after I maligned Stew Leonard's about the amount of fat still on the thing.

4. I wish the red velvet cupcakes were a little more moist because that is always the problem with red velvet cakes. I used another bloggers recipe which she raved about but should have used the non-traditional one I developed in the spring. It avoids this issue and others. I need to trust my gut implicitly.

5. The rentals arrived and I was disappointed with the wine cooler: I picked hammered steel and received an inexpensive and aesthetically lacking item instead. I have to remember always to check the cases before they leave the vendor. As luck would have it, our vendor here is top notch and they will switch it out tomorrow. Secondly, the coffee samovar silver plate is chipped in several places which is not great when you pay for the beautiful coffee dispenser and get something busted up anyway. Such is the nature of rentals, I suppose...

6. No matter what, guests will do things that make being the hostess harder. I can and will write volumes on this at Blushing Hostess Entertains but here is a tip to be sure you are always invited back: When you get the invite, respond promptly.

The day before or of the party, the food and set ups have been delivered or the caterer has already received a count. The booze has already been brought in. For the most part all the work has been done. And as you know, there is nothing the hostess detests more than waste (dirty, dirty word). Unless there is a sickness or the like, the last minute call out or not turning up at all are both not good.

I know a hostess who makes an excellent beef wellington and another excellent point: Those who call and say they may or may not "stop by" are the worst sort of guest. The point of being invited is not to keep all of ones' options open. One either is a guest or not, but not both. She is relentless in pinning people down and I would do the same if I had the nerve.

Catch you tomorrow.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

48 hours and counting

And as you will remember, the Hostess is in thick of possibly the greatest hostessing experiment ever conducted in Northern Westchester: Catering one's own holiday nibble party for 70 guests. In Hostess Heaven, a number of Bedford hostesses who contributed to my abilities are clapping while several others of the live-variety are animated with fear on my behalf saying, "Are you crazy? Why would you do that?" and, "You know you can call William Nicholas, I won't breathe a word to anyone."

Crazy like a perfectly capable hostess, maybe. Crazy, like a hostess who has turned over desserts bought at William Nicholas only to discover a wide swath of mold. Crazy, like a person quite certain she can do the job better.

Crazy busy, also. As you know, the menu is finger food and this is hands-down the most labor intensive of all party types. And at dawn today the height of the food work began:

1. Pork shoulder in jerk sauce I made earlier in the week went to braise forever. These will eventually become the pulled pork in the mini tostones and jerk sandwiches.

2. The plantains were peeled, sliced, and fried-blanched off for the same mini sandwiches:

That's my coffee. It was really early.

3. Pineapples were trimmed, cut, bathed in maple syrup, butter, and lime juice and then dipped in brown sugar and lime zest before being grilled off.

4. Provolone and salami were cut and prepped in like-size bites to be added to the marinade from #5. for the mini-antipasto on rosemary skewers.

5. The marinade for the anti-pasto was finished and the cheese and salami added. They will marinate until Saturday when they will be strung on the rosemary.

6. The rosemary skewers were cut into 4" lengths and lower leaves stripped:

7. The shallot thyme cheesecake for the cheeseboard was made and baked off.

8. The cream cheese frosting was made and red velvet cupcakes were defrosted and
iced. Here they are waiting for their hats:

Then they were wrapped with Christmas ribbons and tried out in their stands. I hate it. Still thinking on this on. Try this exercise at home, you will have new respect for the Martha Stewart Living food stylists:

Understanding that these are not on the display where they will be served and that the tiered tray was undecorated and you are looking at the aesthetic WIP, there was still a lot to refine: I went through four platters until I finally found a Spode of the perfect size and I settled on small faux-holly to lace the bottom tier.

9. The lime meltaways were baked off and coated.

10. The pulled pork was transferred, covered, and placed in the fridge. I find it easier to deal with once it is refrigerated. The cooking liquid was separated for tomorrows sauce reduction.

Now I need to rest. Because I also cleaned and moved furniture, danced and ate apples on the floor with my eighteen-month old while laughing at Dora, emailed by deployed hero of a husband all kinds of pictures of all this happy activity and my daughter using the big dog as a pillow, and marveled at how much a my nearly seventh month along pregnancy can slow me down...

Good night, Pals. I surely have enjoyed visiting with you, as always.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Another Haunting of Bobby Flay's Dazzling Bat Cave (aka Mesa NYC)

Before Bobby Flay was a Food Network icon he was a New York restaurateur. A good one at that. A lot of people from all over go to his places now and I doubt many leave disappointed no matter how far aloft his cooking star has become.

My good friends and I begin each holiday season with a drink and some nibbles in the bar at Mesa Grill in New York City. There are a million places in our fair city this ritual could be held with satisfaction but we like Mesa because the place never lost the appeal of a place that does everything well but is completely over itself and having enough of a good time to allow the guests to have one as well.

And then they have the cocktail. The one we have at times travelled and traversed to get to: The Cactus Pear Margarita.

I love this photo because it has the dazzling, gauzy, glamorous glow of evenings in New York in this glittering holiday season.

I took this photo to my right at the end of the long bar where Dori and Becca sat. Had I turned to my left, had I not been someone who goes to Mesa now and then, had I not been a native New Yorker, had I been a person willing to be star struck over a guy you'll see around in New York... I would have leaned over to where Booby Flay stood next to me and said: Can I take a photo of you? But I am none of those things and he was tied up with a constant stream of people approaching him to get their Mesa Grill cookbooks signed and get a picture taken with Bobby Flay. Surely they had come a long way to New York in this fine season and were thrilled to find Chef working the floor in his own place. If it becomes pressing, I will ask next time. In the meantime Linda from Ohio's trip would not be complete without memorializing the moment she stood shoulder to shoulder with a legend.

So many flashes went off next to us for this holiday gathering that we were certain to be the most photographed bystanders in New York last Friday night. I will laugh if in future years tourist photos surface of Bobby Flay, that awkward girl who desperately tried to get his attention and a photo, and our shoulders in the background. Could that have been our fifteen minutes?

Because of the flashes we really had to work to sneak in a picture or two of our bar nosh addiction, the Mesa Grill Pretzel:

We had some delicious snacks which I highly recommend when you get to Mesa, which you should at least once in this life: Blue Corn Pancake with BBQ Duck and Habenero Sauce, Blue Corn Crusted Squid, BBQ'd Country Ribs with Mango Habanero Glaze, and BBQ's Pork and Oaxaca Cheese Quesdilla with with Hot + Sweet Cabbage Relish. For dessert we had some delicious strong dark coffee to go with our chocolate souffle pudding with pecan flatbread accompanied by a bowl of sweetened whipped cream and then and finally the Cookie Plate.

Delicious. Glamorous. Glittering. And star lit. Get there if you can.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wiping the buckwheat batter from my cheek...

I realize the depth of my resolve. I know the truth of my heart: I can and will pump out a cocktail buffet for 70 with nary a chipped nail nor flyaway. But I will not arrive at that place until Saturday and the truth until then is this: If you do this it will help you to appreciate your caterer. Or, to feel victorious when all are assembled and happily noshing on their Jerked Pork with Chutney on Plantains and Tenderloin on Caper Crostini. I, for one will leap upon the granite, sparkling cider in hand, and proclaim the ability of Hosts and Hostesses everywhere. This would be so much easier to accomplish were I not nearly seven months pregnant!

But, why? Why does your Hostess insist on not calling the two fine caterers she has long nudged into action on her behalf? Why would the Hostess tempt the gods of entertaining disaster by coordinating, cooking, and baking entirely by herself knowing her absolute penchant for perfection and correctness?

For you, Cher. Because someone needed to try to prove this can be done at home by someone other than a professional. Because worse days than these could come our way and I want you to feel confident that you can do the work of exorbitant caterers, party planners, and florists.
I don't want you to look at Martha Stewart and Ina Garten and believe they are Hostesses of another caliber than you. However, I also don't want to fool you into believing not sweating the details nor trying to perfect any undertaking is an acceptable way to go about doing anything.

If, at this very moment you feel as though you could not run the entertaining equivalent of a laundromat, you are not alone. I am not with you but I receive emails, calls, and homing pigeon advises from those in the laundromat with you. It is my goal to encourage you to take those first steps towards counting on yourself as much as any professional, thus freeing you from shying away from having people in, in a time when it certainly could do all our hearts a world of good.

The only way to be great at this is to wade in as often as you can manage it. Call someone up, invite them over, make something, pour something, sweat it because it does matter how you receive another, and learn that you can enjoy it at the same time.

I will be back momentarily with photos, notes, and tales from the front lines of do-it-yourself large party planning and execution, but if you forgive me just now, the blini need wrapped and frozen...