Saturday, July 03, 2010

Just Like the Sopranos, Minus the Murdering and Sweatsuits

I write a lot on this blog about my friends and my family. I think we humans, when asked to identify our foremost priorities, rarely say slaving away 70 hours a week at the office or buying more ottomans for the living room. We tend to say things like spending time with friends and family, maybe having more sex, but either way, activities involving spending more time with our people. So it is only appropriate that I say the same thing. Because my base human needs are entirely unoriginal. My friends and family are tops in my life. Followed quickly by a spell-binding book, perfect cupcake or the softest cardigan sweater. Paired right up along side spending time with my people, is my need to laugh, eat well and make people happy. So I thought, hey, let's combine all three by attempting to cook an enormous Italian meal while cramming 10 people in our tiny basil infused clown car of a dining room.


So two weeks out, Joe and I hemmed and hawed about the menu selection. I deferred to him. Yes, I know, that sounds ridiculous coming from my mouth, but I deferred to Joe. I tend to be a bit more adventurous when it comes to food and some of our expected guests are a little less so. Joe is the perfect person to choose a menu with because he shares many of the same preferences as our guests. Ok, so some of our friends despise vegetables, some have a restraining order against shellfish, naturally we went pretty straight up traditional in our menu choices.

Yay, garlic

Two nights before the big event, I wandered around World Market picking up some tasty antipasti additions, sun-dried tomato stuffed olives, red wine salami, a few bottles of blood orange soda. If it said "Imported from Italy" I put it in the cart. Then a trip to the grocery store to buy a bevy of fine cheeses, tomatoes, prosciutto, apples, romaine, anchovies, everything except croutons and ice, which I somehow forgot. When cooking for a party I tend to have to hit the grocery at least twice since I inevitably forget a key ingredient. Tara saved us on the croutons and Joe took care of the ice. Friday night swept up on me and in an effort to actually keep my cool and enjoy myself on Saturday, I started tackling prep work and a little baking. Here's the menu!

apples for the sauce

The Bravely Obey Summer Italian Feast Eats:
Antipasti: the aforementioned olives, salami, a cold artichoke dip with crudite (not really Italian but it had bacon, so it gets a pass,) prosciutto purses: these delightful little slices of prosciutto filled with grated parmiggiano-reggiano bundled up in a little packet and tied with a blanched chive, then quick sauteed in butter and served with ripe melon. Yes, they were as good as they sound if I do say so myself.

Dinner: Garlicky, lemony Caesar salad, served with fresh Italian bread followed by Gigli and Pesto Trapanese which called for spaghetti, but we didn't want two spaghetti dishes so I substituted gigli pasta. It holds the pesto well. Then we had Spaghetti alle Melle, or Spaghetti with Tomato-Apple Sauce. A light sweet tomato sauce with grated granny smith apples, onion and celery. And then Joe's delicious, savory meatballs, moist morsels that went well with the pesto and the tomato-apple sauce.

Dessert: Homemade Italian wedding cookies, more wine and more blood orange martinis, and then my favorite, the nearly homemade spumoni. I cheated and didn't make the homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream, but I did make from scratch the whipped cream with chopped toasted pistachios,
cherries and orange peel.

floured balls

Friday night I came home after work intending to begin with making the Italian wedding cookies. I figured why not start with the easiest item since the cookies are just an almond flavored shortbread. That way I could work on making other dishes while the cookie batches baked. Things did not go according to plan. Once again I forgot a key ingredient, this time, vanilla. Dumb. (Brief side note mostly for Bethany: While in San Diego last August, Bethany gave me a good size bottle of her perfect homemade vanilla. That bottle traveled half way across the country wrapped in a t-shirt in the trunk of the car and remained perfectly intact. But it couldn't make it the couple of feet from the pantry to the counter top without slipping from my hand and shattering all over our ceramic tile, I only got to use it twice.I almost cried.) Joe offered to run to the store and pick up the vanilla and a few other things, while I went ahead and fried bacon for the artichoke dip, Cuisinart-ed two pounds of cherry tomatoes and almonds for the pesto, chopped onions and celery for sauces, and plucked basil and chives from the herb garden. I finally got to experience that satisfying feeling of cooking with something I've grown myself. Excellent. Then it was spumoni time.

For an ice cream dessert it was slightly more complicated than I expected. I didn't make the ice cream from scratch, but I did have to manage to keep the vanilla ice cream just warm enough to spread over the bottom and sides of the serving bowl, leaving a large crater in the middle and then freeze it. Then I had to thaw the chocolate ice cream just enough to spread inside the vanilla layer. It was messy, but not bad once I refroze the whole thing for a bit. Then comes the best part, the whipped cream. For the final layer of the dessert, I quick blanched, shelled, toasted and chopped pistachios.  At the grocery store I couldn't find the fancy candied cherries and orange peel that the recipe called for so I made do with orange marmalade and maraschino cherries. I rinsed and soaked the cherries to get rid of that sickeningly sweet red water and then I rinsed most of the marmalade jam with warm water to leave just the orange peel. Chopped those all up, folded them into my whipped cream, spread it inside the ice cream crater, frozen overnight and we have spumoni.

Italian wedding cookies and spumoni

By the end of Friday night the pesto was done, cookies baked and cooled, artichoke dip chilling, veggies chopped and ready, spumoni freezing and I have accidentally watched The Hangover twice, since it's on repeat on HBO and I'm too busy to change the channel.  Ken Jeong's balls are flying across the screen while I'm shaping cookie dough balls. An odd synergy.

Browning the meatballs

Basil centerpieces

Saturday, party day! Cleaning, setting up tables, watering the basil centerpieces/party favors, and more cooking. Joe's on cooking duty with me today. He's working on the Caesar dressing and romaine chopping as well as the meatball cooking and prep. And of course bar tending and slicing melons and then oranges for the martini garnish. I'm focusing on the proscuitto purses, tomato-apple sauce (the Cuisinart once again makes quick work of grating the apples for me, I love modern technology) and then of course getting everything looking just right. By 5 o'clock everything is under control, I manage to shower and dress before anyone arrives, always a plus. And then 7 o'clock our honored guinea pigs, I mean guests, begin arriving.

tables and colors

7Days:Day1 Dinner Party!
Our people procured babysitters, got dolled up, brought wine and laughter and most importantly, empty stomachs. We were ready to feast.

Bionic arm and blood orange martini

We ate and talked about everything from books to kids to the health care debate, to Joe's delicious balls, meat balls. Disturbingly, my father made numerous jokes about Joe's tasty balls, he blames the red wine, but I blame the fact that Kristy wasn't sitting right next to him to make him behave. Lebowski quotes flew, bionic elbows lifted pink girly drinks, and I'm pretty sure we all had a damn good time.  I think everyone enjoyed the food, and I know Joe and I enjoyed the company.

A little alcohol and a lot of food later...

By the time everyone was ready for dessert, Joe and I had both had a couple of drinks. This might have impaired our ability to think logically. Trying to pry out the first piece of sliced spumoni, a rock hard spumoni, did not go smoothly. A bit of a cluster actually. And it took several minutes for either one of us to think about dunking the bowl in some warm water to loosen it up. Minus the martinis I'd like to think we would have found that solution much much faster. Once Joe finally flipped the spumoni over onto a plate to slice and serve, it looked perfect. Cookies were passed and goofy photos were snapped, with dessert scarfed down and the alcohol running out, our evening drew to a close. And I was exhausted and gleeful.

The lovely guests
With major help from Joe, and the supportive stomachs of some great friends, crossing off #15 on my little list might have been the most fun task I've crossed off yet. Though the four loads of dishes the next day, not so much.

we used every dish
I'd like to plan another dinner party soon, maybe an Asian theme next time. My Asian repertoire includes one stir fry peanut sauce noodle recipe and that's it. That means I've got some research to do. Though maybe not really soon. I think the dishwasher might commit suicide from the stress. Or maybe we'll just hire Artie Bucco to cater next time.

The smile of red wine



Anonymous said...

Spumoni secret: nested bowls... Gives you the perfect crater. Wrap the outside of the cratering bowl in saran wrap to make removing the bowl after layer one has refrozen easier. Credit: Ina Garten.


kassie lou said...

Handy tip! That Barefoot Contessa is skilled.

Kristendom said...

The dinner was absolutely lovely - you and Joe both did a great job. And it was either to your credit or the red wine's that I didn't even notice you were having issues with the spumoni :-).