In my most recent post, I wrote about hosting a dinner party on Sunday night and using an entire menu from the Williams-Sonoma Dinner Parties book. In this installment, I bring you Fig & Gorgonzola Crostini with a Honey Drizzle. I changed the recipe slightly, so the one you see here is my own, but I was inspired by the Gorgonzola Bruschetta with Figs recipe in the book.
This hors d’oeuvre was particularly convenient because I could toast the baguette slices ahead of time, chop the figs ahead of time and assemble the crostini before the guests arrived. I felt very little stress.
Recently I decided to host a dinner party on Sunday night, hoping to stretch out the weekend a bit and squelch the Sunday night blues. It totally worked.
For inspiration, I turned to a book that has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of months: Williams-Sonoma Dinner Parties: Inspired Recipes and Party Ideas for Entertaining. I even found a menu that I wanted to cook from start to finish. I’m glad I decided to go all the way because it turned out to be the kind of menu that allows the cook/host to have fun at her own party, but it didn’t include a pot roast or a casserole. Au contraire. This menu was light, healthy, elegant AND easy. The main course was a Halibut fillet with herbed butter and that was served with this light, end-of-summer, orzo salad.
What I liked best about serving this salad with the fish is that it could be prepared ahead of time and served at room temperature, so I didn’t have to worry about making it at the last minute or reheating it at just the right time. Stay tuned for more recipes from this Sunday Night Dinner Party.
1 box (1 lb) of orzo
dash of salt for boiling water
1 Tbsp olive oil to coat orzo when finished cooking (to keep from sticking)
1 1/2 lbs Heirloom Tomatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes (choose a variety of colors)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1. Boil the orzo according to package instructions for an Al Dente texture, about 9 minutes. Drain pasta into a large bowl and toss with olive oil. Once the pasta cools a bit, you can cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until its ready to mix in with the rest of the ingredients (up to several hours ahead of time).
2. Chop tomatoes and the basil and mix together in a large bowl.
3. In a small jar, mix the olive oil, white wine vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Close lid and shake until emulsified.
Final preparation: About 1 hour before the party, gently fold the orzo, tomato/basil and vinaigrette together and spoon into a serving bowl. Cover with a paper towel while salad reaches room temperature. Toss again before serving and garnish with fresh Basil leaves.
1. Heat olive in a sautée pan over medium heat. Add the leeks and sautée until softened, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes.
2. Beat eggs with milk, salt and pepper. Add egg mixture to pan where leeks are sautéeing. Sprinkle cheese on top of egg mixture. Reduce heat if necessary (medium to medium low is good). Let eggs set for a couple of minutes. Cover and cook for 4-5 minutes. After that, I was able to flip mine over with a spatula and cook them on the other side for a minute or two, but you could always be patient and just wait for it to cook through while covered without flipping.
While working out at the gym a couple of weeks ago, I caught an episode of Tyler Florence’s show on the Food Network, Tyler’s Ultimate. He did an ultimate Saturday breakfast with a blood orange mimosa, a home-made granola/yogurt parfait and a frittata with smoked ham and Gruyère cheese. Check out his recipes on the Food Network website: Tyler’s Ultimate: Episode TU0413H.
I’ve been tinkering with my frittata recipe for years and after watching his interpretation of the dish, I decided to give mine one last go and share the results with you. So much for my 45 minutes on the treadmill.
I first fell in love with the frittata on a trip to Spain, where it is called a Spanish tortilla. I was confused at first because I thought a tortilla was that flour thing you stuffed your burrito into, but it turns out that the word tortilla is derived from the word torta, which means “round cake”. A Spanish tortilla is typically a round omelette made with eggs, sautéed potatoes and onions. It is served at room temperature in cafés or Tapas bars. I was startled when it was served lukewarm, but that’s the tradition. Here in the States, we tend to like our frittatas hot out of the oven or off of the stove, but in Spanish Tapas bars, the frittata sits on the counter all day long waiting for the next customer.
My goal with this frittata is to make sure that the potatoes have just the right texture. They need to be fully cooked, but not overly cooked and it helps if they aren’t too starchy. You don’t want them to go “mush” when you cut through the frittata with your fork. For all of these reasons, I choose the waxy Charlotte potato. Another variety that works well is the Maris Peer. (Want to know everything there is to know about potato varieties? Visit the Potato Council website. The trick is to sautée the onions first and add the potatoes until both are fully cooked. Then you’re ready to cook the eggs with the potatoes.
It’s Asparagus season in Northern California. Bunches that normally go for $5.99 or $6.99/lb now go for $1.29/lb. That’s when I know it’s time for my favorite soup recipe: Asparagus Soup.
I’ve taken this recipe from the book Celebrating the Impressionist Table, by Pamela Todd. Published in 1997, it is now out-of-print, but it is full of sumptuous recipes. I love the premise of this book: to provide recipes for the foods seen in the paintings of Renoir, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and others. Part art history, part cultural history, part cookbook, it satisfies the curiosity of anyone interested in understanding the day-to-day lives of these artists and their families as well as the role food played in their 19th century French lives.
Most important, though, is the fact that this soup is darn tasty.
Potage Argenteuil – Asparagus Soup
3 Tbsp butter
1 lb asparagus, trimmed and chopped with tips reserved
2 leeks, rinsed, trimmed and chopped
1 1/2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
4 1/2 cups vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
6 Tbsp light cream
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives (I didn’t have any this time, but I recommend using them)
pinch of grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
fresh chives, to garnish
1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the chopped asparagus, leeks, and potato, and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. (You could even strain it through a fine strainer).
2. Return the soup to a clean pan. Stir in the cream and chives and season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper; keep warm.
3. Blanch the reserved asparagus tips in boiling water for 2 minutes, then drain and refresh immediately under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
4. Spoon the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the asparagus tips and chives.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been trying to master the art of making what those in the UK refer to as “mince.” We call it ground beef. My husband adores mince and tatties (translation: ground beef and mashed potatoes) and his mother makes it better than anyone I know. Here, I’m going to go ahead and put the mince and tatties (and carrots and onions) together into a Shepherd’s Pie, but the mince preparation can stand on its own – if it is as good as my mother-in-law’s of course. Her mince has so much flavor and is so finely crumbled. It just melts in your mouth. I’ve asked her what the secret is again and again. Preparing it is so second nature to her, she’s not sure exactly what I’m getting at. But after years of trying to absorb the knowledge,
These are the tips I’ve been able to glean:
1) Drain the fat after the initial browning of the ground beef.
It seems counter-intuitive, like draining the fat would get rid of the yummy flavor, but in this preparation, flavor is enhanced by an OXO cube and lots of simmering time, which brings me to tip #2
2) After draining the fat, return the browned ground beef to the pot, add a little water and an OXO cube, mix it all up and let it simmer for 20 minutest to half an hour.
The flavor intensifies and the extra simmering time breaks down the beef bits further so you get a finer consistency.
What is the origin of meat pies, you ask? Well, back before there was refrigeration, covering the meat with a crust helped prevent spoilage. When the potato became popular in Britain in the mid-1800’s, a mashed potato topping presented an alternative to the pastry one.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter – divided
1.5 lbs ground beef (80/20)
1 onion or 2-3 shallots, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large russet potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 OXO beef bouillon cube
1/2 cup water
Salt & pepper to taste
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
5 oz cheddar cheese, grated
1-2 Tbsp butter melted
1. In a stockpot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and melt 1 Tbsp of butter. Add ground beef and break up into little pieces while it is cooking. Brown for about 10 minutes, continuously breaking it into smaller bits and stirring it. Drain the beef through a colander (don’t forget to put a pan underneath to catch the drippings)! Return the beef to the pot and add 1/2 cup of water and one OXO beef bouillon cube. Break up the cube and stir it in until it is completely dissolved and incorporated. Cover and reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large stockpot and add the potato. Boil for about 20 minutes or until fork tender, but not mushy.
3. While the meat is simmering and the potatoes are boiling, heat 1 Tbsp of butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sautée until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to sautée until onions are browning, carrots are softened and starting to brown, about 4-5 more minutes.
4. When the mince has simmered for 20 minutes, add the carrots and shallots and stir to combine. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp of cornstarch to 1/2 cup water and stir with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved completely. Add this mixture to the mince and vegetables and stir to combine. Keep heat very low, cover, and let it simmer to a bubble.
Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
5. Mash the potatoes with 1/2 cup of milk, adding the milk gradually, until potatoes have reached smooth consistency. Stir in shredded cheddar cheese.
6. In a dutch oven or a shallow, but not-too-shallow baking dish, spread the meat evenly on the bottom. Then spread potatoes evenly on top. Score the top of the potatoes for better browning and crispiness. Drizzle 1 1/2 Tbsp of melted butter on top. Add just a bit of the shredded cheddar cheese on top as well.
7. Bake in 400˚F oven for 30 minutes or until bubbly. Remove and let stand for a couple of minutes before serving.
I saw a photograph of mozzarella melted over an eggplant slice on an open-faced sandwich and it inspired me to create this recipe. It’s low-carb since there is no bread or pizza crust at all. You put the toppings right on the eggplant slice and bake. These mini-“pizzas” are super easy to make and you can do several variations in one batch.
1 large eggplant, 1/8 inch slices
Prepared spaghetti sauce
Pepperoni slices (try the low-fat Turkey variety)
Fresh mozzerella, cut into 1/8 inch slices
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil leaves
Tomato slices or diced fresh tomato
(Any topping of your choice!)
1. Salt the eggplant slices and let them sit for 30 minutes. Press the water out of the slices into a paper towel.
2. Preheat oven to 425˚F. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray and lay the slices on the sheet without letting them touch.
3. Top each slice with a thin layer of tomato sauce and then add toppings of your choice.
4. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and gorgeous. Allow to cool for 2 minutes before transferring to plate.
The eggplant “pizzas” are not stable enough to eat with your fingers. This is definitely fork food, but it shouldn’t be totally soggy either. If your slices are coming out really soggy, then there are a few troubleshooting tips: a) Salt them really well at the beginning and try to expel as much moisture as possible. b) Put less tomato sauce on. c) Don’t bake them for too long.
I’ve been having a salmon craving lately so I decided to satisfy it with a quiche. One could substitute canned salmon in this recipe, but I decided to go all out and use fresh. I was going for a really creamy kind of quiche, which is why I used sour cream and half & half in my egg mixture. To get it even creamier, you might add some shredded cheese, like a Gruyère. I was hesitant, because I didn’t want to overpower the salmon and the dill with a sharp cheese, but you might give it a try anyway. Another creamy melted cheese that words well in quiche is Monterrey Jack. Since it’s a little less powerful than a Gruyère, it might be a good alternative.