Recipes so good it oughta' be a sin!

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Luxury" Dinner Party

I decided not to wait until Friday to find out if I had been advanced to the next round before beginning the next challenge at Project Food Blog. Because of Michael's work and teaching schedule, Thursday is really the only day available to have friends over. Of course, Mama would remind me that counting those chickens before they hatch is a sure way to jinx yourself. As it turns out she's right. I am mercifully relieved now from worrying more with Project Food Blog as I got the following in my email today:
Thanks for participating in Project Food Blog 2010! We regret to announce that your entry did not advance to the next round. We appreciate the tremendous amount of effort and creativity you put into your post.
I can honestly say it is a relief. I did not expect to advance past the first round and really considered deleting the emails begging people to join before it began.  I figured everyday cooks would be wasting their time against people whose sole purpose in life is to be the next "celebrity chef." Alton Brown recently commented that there are more people interested in being famous than in cooking good food out there - AKA "the Celebrity Chef Phenomenon". I think Project Food Blog is an unfortunate symptom of that phenomenon.

As the voting opened in the last round I found the behavior of some people participating in the event to be rude and boorish. There was comment spamming by participants who otherwise would never have deigned to visit a blog much less leave a comment. There were people telling others they'd voted for them when they hadn't in an attempt to win the "Reader's Choice" by getting votes. There were catty comments via Twitter by "groupies" of the pack leaders among those on the cusp of fame. In short, it was a little ugly for several days when this thing really got underway.

So, I had decided yesterday after slaving over this meal, spending money I really didn't have for this endeavor to impress strangers I don't know and couldn't care less about, and knowing that I would have to rush and struggle to complete the treats for the "Feeding the Homeless Project" by Saturday afternoon - that whether I advanced to Round 3 or past Round 3, that this would be my last entry in Project Food Blog.

Thanks to all of you who visit here often for good food, a good story, and dishes you can actually make at home who took the time to vote for Sugar Pies. I appreciate your support but the best votes I get are the number of hits I see in the server logs for the print versions of the recipes! That's how I know I'm doing something right! In fact, the nicest compliment I got - far above anything coming from the people at Project Food Blog - was one my nephew's girlfriend gave me. She was printing off recipes one after another for the blog and when I made a joke about it she said that Sugar Pies had inspired her to learn to cook and she was having such a good time because the recipes were easy to follow and worked!

In anticipation of possibly advancing to Round 3, I decided to throw a small dinner party on Thursday evening with our friends Nora and Larry. The challenge was to create a "Luxury Dinner Party." Honestly, that left me a little nonplussed. Something about that just smelled of pretension and snobbery. I'm too much like my Mama for that. I like to enjoy my company and I like my company to enjoy my food. I don't want to jump on board whatever the latest food trend is and serve up some monstrosity like anchovy infused kernel corn in an apple cider reduction (I made that up... but you watch... someone will try it!) I don't want to throw things at people that they're going to try only politely rather than tucking into the meal with joy. Food can be elegant but it can also be simple and straightforward.

Our home is rather small. We live in a small condo complex on the Northwest side of Tucson. So, we don't have a huge dining room and our patio is still far too hot to eat on at this time of year (it topped out at over 100°). So, that means eating in my combination kitchen/dining area. It's cozy enough and small enough I don't have to get up to serve from the counter. (Seriously, I can turn around in my chair and grab things off my counter!) If you also don't mind sharing your dining room with hubby's inversion table it's not bad.

Empty plates are the only votes that count in the end!
So, to me, luxury is in what you make of it. In this case it was a special cut of steak served with an herb butter that was a hit (and surprised Nora with its ingredients), a pan of roasted Autumn veggies to ring in my favorite season, and Summer's last gasp with roasted tomatoes and a wonderful Lemon Meringue Tart (one of my favorite desserts of all time). All this was accompanied by good wine, good friends and good music and at the end of the evening everyone went home full, happy, and joyful to be alive. To me, that's luxury and that's all that counts - not the folks at PFB!

Savory Palmiers

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator
2 tbs. pesto
2 tbs. crumbled or shredded cheese (goat cheese, Parmesan, or mozzarella all work nicely)
2 tbs. sun dried tomatoes chopped
2 tbs. toasted pine nuts

Lightly flour a surface and roll puff pastry out to about 9 1/2 inches by 11 1/2 inches. Spread puff pastry with pesto and sprinkle with cheese, tomatoes and pine nuts. Sprinkle with 1/8 tsp. kosher salt.

Working from short ends, fold each end halfway to center. Then fold each side again toward center until edges almost touch. Fold one side over the other (like closing a book) and press lightly. Cover rolls with plastic wrap and refrigerate 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°. Remove palmiers roll from refrigerator and slice in 1/4-inch sections. Lay each piece on baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 2-inches apart. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Marscarpone Puffs

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed in refrigerator
4-5 tbs. marscarpone cheese or cream cheese
1 egg, beaten with 1 tbs. water

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly flour a surface and roll puff pastry large enough to cut out 8 3-inch circles. Using a round 3-inch cookie cutter, cut 8 circles from the pastry. In center of 4 of the circles places about 1 1/2 tbs. of cheese. Top with other half of circles and press edges lightly. Using the tines of a fork, press the edges down to create a crenelated pattern. Brush tops of pastries with egg wash and place in oven for 8-12 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Remove from oven and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Autumn Vegetables

2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced in 1/2-inch squares
2 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch squares
2 cups parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch squares
2 cups carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch squares
2 cloves garlic, minced
Good olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place the vegetables on a sheet pan and drizzle with 1/3 cup olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 tbs. salt and 1 tsp. pepper and toss together. Spread in a single layer and roast for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, stir the vegetables with the garlic and continue cooking for 30 more minutes or until vegetables are tender and just beginning to brown.

Roasted Tomatoes

12 Plum or Roma Tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 tbs. aged balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°

Arrange tomatoes on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes or just until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Bistro Steaks with Proven├žal Butter

Note: If you can find Hanger or Skirt steaks those work well for this. No butcher or store in our area had any when I shopped so I used a Tenderloin which turned out very nicely.

1 large clove of garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets, drained and finely chopped
1 tbs. capers, drained
2 tbs. fresh chives, minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
6 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature

4 hanger steaks (8 to 10 oz. each)
4 tbs. good olive oil
4 tsp. Herbs de Provence
Kosher salt
Coarsely cracked black pepper

For the butter: Place garlic, anchovy, capers, chives, thyme, lemon zest, and black pepper in a food processor and pulse until they are combined. Add butter and process to combine all ingredients. Place the mixture on a piece of parchment or waxed paper and form into a roll about 5 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in paper and place in refrigerator to chill.

Heat a grill (I used a grill pan because it is simply too hot to grill in Tucson still!).

Allow steaks to come to room temperature. Place the steaks on a platter and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle each steak with herbs de Provence and season with salt and pepper. Set aside a room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place steaks on hot grill and grill on each side for about 4 minutes for Medium Rare (140° on instant read thermometer). Remove steaks to a platter and cover tightly with foil and allow steaks to rest 15 minutes. Top hot steaks with a slice or two of Proven├žal butter. Serve.

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