Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Let Me Entertain You, Let Me Make You Smile

by EP

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One of my new years resolutions was to entertain more. I have a lovely little home, I love to cook, and I love to socialize - why not combine them by entertaining friends? The problem is, when you are so used to cooking for one, as I do most days, you overlook such skills necessary for entertaining as: serving food on time, serving enough food, working in courses, talking to others while cooking/following a recipe, etc. But, the only way to get better at something is to practice, right? Of course right.

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But seriously, how cute is my little apartment?
I've had two dinner parties in 2014 thus far, and I hope there will be many more! For the first, I invited friends Katie, Ryan, and Julie over for an Israel-themed dinner. Ryan and Katie are doing a fun project where they are "cooking around the world" alphabetically - 26 meals from an alphabetical list of countries. They were kind enough to invite me over for their Russian meal, which was lovely and tasty (Ryan even made blinis!). I asked what their "I" country was and they said India, but this leaves out Italy and Israel, both great food destinations, so I invited them for Israel night. This of course gave me a chance to cook from "Jerusalem," about which I've already blogged. I love it so.

One of the first rules of entertaining is don't make something you've never made before. I actually abided by this rule and mostly made dishes that I'd made at least once:

- Apps: homemade hummus, crudites, pita
- Salad: Spinach salad with dates, onion, pita, and almonds
- Main course: Pasta with feta, yogurt, basil, peas, and spiced pine nuts
- Dessert: Pistachio-almond cigars with vanilla ice cream

I've already blogged about the authentic hummus and wonderful spinach salad and pasta in my Jerusalem post, and they were once again delicious. I am confident my guests enjoyed them. I even made the spinach salad again for myself a few days later (since I still had all the ingredients) and it was so satisfying.

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For dessert, I decided to make something I'd never made before: pistachio-almond cigars. This involved making a paste of ground pistachios and almonds, sugar, water, vanilla, and an egg yolk, and then making a phyllo cigar filled with said paste. I'd like to blame the phyllo for "not behaving" or being "finnicky," but I'll own up to the fact(s) that: (1) I was impatient and tried to use partially frozen phyllo that (2) I forgot to take out in advance. Through some trial and error I was able to fill, form, and fry some of the cigars.

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Toasted pistachios and almonds, ground
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But there were some other problems, like the filling was seeping out and frying (and then burning) in the hot oil. I had to change the oil halfway through. I also found that for all this trouble, it didn't make very many cigars. I was worried there wouldn't be enough dessert for the group.

So, I called Xani for some dessert triage. She suggested that I chop up the finished cigars and serve them with ice cream, to make them go a little further (and spare me from having to make more cigars). While it pained me a little to destroy the cigars that I had carefully formed, in the end this was the perfect solution. The cigars were pretty sweet so having them in smaller pieces was great, and the nutty flavor went great with vanilla ice cream. I sprinkled some crushed pistachios on top for a final flourish. (Note: who knew Ben & Jerry's vanilla was so tasty?) Thanks Xani!

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My guests enjoyed the dessert (as did I!) and it was a great way to end our meal. (I'll add that in between dinner and dessert, we played a little Foodie Fight Rematch and had a great time!)

This past weekend I had friends over again. I invited my good friends Mark and Craig over for a casual Sunday dinner during the Superbowl. While I was tempted to make "game-day" themed foods, I went with old stand-bys instead to make it less stressful. Plus, we were enjoying our conversation so much, we barely paid attention to the game (not that there was much to pay attention to except the commercials and half-time show!).

I served:

- Apps: Genoa salami, soppressata, and crackers; raw almonds
- Salad: Spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette
- Main: Smitten Kitchen butternut squash gallette
- Dessert: Amateur Gourmet brownies, with vanilla ice cream

Since we were not having meat in the main course, I served some charcuterie as our pre-dinner snack. Likewise, there was a lot of cheese in the gallette, so I didn't feel compelled to serve cheese as an hors d'eouvre.

Everything went off without a hitch, I'm happy to report. While I had made the dough for the gallette the night before, and the butternut squash filling (featuring roasted butternut squash, fontina cheese, caramelized onions with a bit of cayenne, and sage) earlier in the day, I rolled out the dough and put the gallette together in front of my guests while carrying on a conversation. Now that's a skill. But since I'd made it before, it was doable.

The gallette was well-received and just as good as I remembered from when I made it in the fall. Sweet, salty, a little spicy, and so savory. I used sage as the herb (instead of thyme - either was acceptable) and it added a wonderful aroma. We all had seconds!

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We all had seconds, yet there was a whole half of the gallette leftover! The recipe makes a huge portion.

The brownies went into the oven a little later than planned, a few minutes before Mark and Craig arrived. I was going to make a more complicated brownie from the Ottolenghi cookbook (featuring caramel and raspberry jam) but I didn't think I'd have time, so I made a game-time decision (har har) to go with an old standby, the Amateur Gourmet's "Best Brownies of Your Life." I'll note that I took direction from Ottolenghi, though, who strongly warned about overcooked brownies, and said it's better to slightly undercook them and then let them set up in the fridge before cutting. This is what I attempted to do and they were moist and chewy and so chocolate-y. Good lesson, there. The sprinkle of coarse salt over the top (before baking) didn't hurt one bit, either.

It's almost like I'm getting the hang of this! I can't wait to have more folks over. Friends - get in touch!!

Happy entertaining,


  1. I liked Xani's save on the dessert...reminds me of something out of Chopped.

    I have a certain number of friends that have eaten with me enough that they are happy to put up with experiments. I like these kinds of socializing the best because they are more relaxed and allow me to be creative which I don't do that much with daily cooking.

  2. I think besides your food preparation skill, your article writing is also very entertaining. Food is much more entertaining if a person prepares it with all his/her heart and focus on right taste and right quantity.

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