Saturday, August 2, 2008
It Was 20 Years Ago Today...
OK well, not today. But 20 years ago this year that I graduated from high school and our reunion is tonight. As with every big milestone that comes my way, I have a hard time believing that this much time has passed. And having just celebrated a birthday, I feel kind of, um, old. Actually - maybe it's just that I feel tired because for some insane reason, we are hosting (and I am cooking for) this reunion.
Now before you think that I have completely gone off my rocker, I went to a very small high school. There were only 45 people in my graduating class and only about 15 or so are coming. So along with spouses or significant others, we will have somewhere around 30 people here. We have a good party house - an open floor plan and french doors that open to the patio outside, but any way you slice it, 30 is a lot of people to have in your house. And a lot of people to cook for.
Uncharacteristically for me, I haven't planned obsessively regarding the menu. Usually if I have any kind of party - even a small dinner party - I spend a lot of time thinking about what to make and tracking down all the right recipes. Maybe because it's summer and I just feel like we have a lot going on, tonight just kind snuck up on me. Several months ago, Randy and I talked about how we should handle the food and I brought up either having it catered or doing a potluck. He thought the potluck idea was "cheesy" and I thought finding a caterer and pricing it and going over menu ideas sounded exhausting, so here I am catering it myself. People may find it strange that I find the idea of working with a caterer more tiring than cooking all the food myself. I admit - it's weird. But that's me.
If it were wintertime, I would probably make some giant pan of incredibly rich macaroni and cheese and then fill in with side dishes. But I don't think mac and cheese translates as well in the summer - lighter food always tastes better in the warmer months. So, I decided that we (i.e. Randy) should grill salmon and I would make lots of flavorful salads to compliment it and be the main course for any vegetarians besides me. So, on the menu...
Dates Filled with Goat Cheese and Pistachios
Cheese and Crackers
Deviled Eggs (made with curry and mango chutney this time)
Pasta Salad with Broccoli
Grilled Zucchini with Lemon and Mint
Green Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Avocado
Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Bread
Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Now, I am not usually one to brag but I have to do so for just a moment. When all is said and done, I will have made all of this (except the cheese and crackers and the salmon) in two days. In the few years that I have been a personal chef and mother, I have learned to be really fast when I cook. I can multi-task incredibly well - the only area in my life where I can. But even I am impressed that I am accomplishing this much in this short a period of time.
Done bragging. Part of the secret to this success is choosing recipes that don't require a ton of work or time. I usually advocate choosing things that can be made well in advance, but because we only have one (over-stuffed) refrigerator, I couldn't do too much too far ahead of time. I will give you one great tip. I made both the potato and pasta salad yesterday and there is a TON of both of them. The only way I could store them in my fridge was to put them in gallon zip bags and stack them one on top of the other. I have done this before and it works beautifully.
The recipes I am going to share today are both for dessert. This time of year it seems almost a crime to not use the berries that are overrunning the markets. I couldn't decide whether to feature raspberries or blueberries, so I did both. The raspberry cake is something I make multiple times a summer. It is one of the most bang for your buck recipes out there. In just about an hour you have a cake that is fresh tasting with a complex flavor and also looks beautiful. Even if you are not a baker, you should have this in your repetoire. As for the blueberry cobbler - it is about the easiest thing I have ever made in my oven. And, now that it is the day after the party, I can tell you it was the most commented on of the desserts. It's not a beauty but it doesn't really matter when it tastes this good.
Raspberry Cake with Marsala, Creme Fraiche, and Raspberries
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine
I have made this in a 9 inch springform pan for years and it turned out fine.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 cup Marsala
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
14 tbsp. (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup plus 4 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
4 cups raspberries
2 cups creme fraiche or sour cream
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Butter 10-inch diameter spring form pan. Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Combine Marsala and orange juice in measuring cup. Beat 12 tbsp. butter and one cup sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs, vanilla, and lemon peel. Beat in Marsala mixture in 2 additions alternately with flour mixture in 3 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups rasberries.
Bake cake until top is gently set, about 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Dot top of cake with 2 tbsp. butter and sprinkle with 2 tbsp. sugar. Continue baking until tester inserted into center of cake come out clean, about 15 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Release pan sides; transfer cake to platter. Cool to room temperature.
Mix creme fraiche and 2 tbsp. sugar in small bowl. (Cake and creme fraiche mixture can be made 8 hours ahead. Let cake stand at room temperature. Cover and chill creme fraiche.) Cut cake into wedges and serve with creme fraiche mixture and additional raspberries.
Bill's Blueberry Cobbler
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
I don't know who Bill is but this is one easy recipe. For my party, I doubled this and baked it in a 8x11 inch pan. I put the butter in the pan and put it in the oven to melt it.
3/4 stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup milk
2 cups blueberries (about 11 oz)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In an 8 inch square or other 2 quart baking dish, melt butter. Into a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg and stir in sugar until combined well. Add milk and whisk batter until it is just combined. Pour batter into melted butter; do not stir. Pour berries into center of batter; do not stir. Bake cobbler in middle of oven for 40 minutes or until cake portion is golden and berries exude juices.
Serve cobbler warm or at room temperature.