Friday, August 29, 2008

Tropical Trifecta

Andie is whipping out these helpful and informative posts while I sit on my butt and read them. Thank you, Andie! When I emailed her about our upcoming party and menu she replied with "and why isn't this in the blog?" so here it is.

My overworked husband has had a big month in August. He obtained a new letter after his name, was promoted and turns another year older. It is obviously time to celebrate with a party. Knowing that folks already had plans for the Labor Day weekend we chose the following Saturday and I went to work.

Rolling it around in my empty brain, I needed to call it something. I like titles or themes that are for my use only. He had three things to celebrate and I like alliteration, so it became a Tropical Trifecta. Tropical-esque foods and decor will be the order of the day.

Invitations were issued for a Tropical Party at Our House. The menu was started, focusing on bbq and cold dishes. We both have heavy workloads these days and that was figured into it.

Shrimp with a Green Dip (cilantro, almonds and mayo)
A yet to be determined appie

Chicken with Pineapple Mango Salsa
Hamburgers with all the trimmings

Coconut-Cilantro Rice
Veggie Skewers

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (hubby's favorite)
Banana Cupcakes

Now I am approaching d-day, with a week left to obtain everything needed and get it ready. I should mention this will be pretty much a solo endeavor, as he is working 15 hour days, our son is working nights and going to school days and the dogs are enthusiastic but limited.

We live in the middle of nowhere, 70 miles and two mountain grades (aka "the hill") from any decent stores. This weekend will include marathon cleaning and a trip down the hill. I will also get the cupcakes made and frozen. They can then be thawed and frosted the night before. A final plan of attack will be drawn up for the week so that I can get done as much as possible before Saturday.

Wish me luck...I'll update as I go along.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coriander Rubbed Pork Chops

Dinner Tonight
Coriander Rubbed Pork Chops with Orange-Hoisin Sauce
Vegetable Garnish
Steamed Wild and White Rice

One of the few Fine Cooking recipes that just didn't do it for me. A rarity. This was in my "to try - Main Course" cookbook and it was deleted. Meh.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Indian Spiced Chicken with Lime and Cilantro

Dinner Tonight

Indian Spiced Chicken with Lime and Cilantro
Grilled Flatbreads with Olive Oil
Chopped Tomato & Cucumber Salad with Mint & Feta
All of the above are from Fine Cooking, my favorite cooking magazine, by far. I took a few liberties with the recipes, but not many. Definitely the chicken and salad I'll do again.
The Grilled Flatbreads have been in my regular bag ever since they appeared in the magazine. They are just wonderful. Not that hard to make, either. I made them for the after-party and there were some left. They've made great lunches as well, combined with some leftover roasted red pepper dip and grilled chicken. They're pretty versatile.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cornish Hens

Dinner Tonight

Cornish Hens grilled on a bed of thyme with Mushroom Pan-Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
This is an experiment. Let me begin by saying that I absolutely, in no uncertain terms, thoroughly suck at photography. So the fact that I'm posting a picture on here that I took shows that I have either a.) callous disregard for your aesthetic sensitivities, or b.) big kahunas. So you should congratulate me for parading my lack of talent here.
I was in the mood for something filling and reasonably fall-like, without being too heavy, since it is still well in the 80s here. Mushrooms pretty much sums that up. I'm sick of summer. Sick of basil, corn, tomatoes, and all the other typical summer fare. They can all just rest until February, when I'm sick of braises and potatoes and root vegetables.

Party and hospitality debriefing/post-mortem

Ahhh, the aftermath of a party. Not my favorite scene to wake to in the morning, but it was pretty minimal. (And thanks to P. all those bottles and glasses were rinsed, so the smell of stale beer and liquor didn't interfere with my brewing-java-scent-fix.) We had help in the form of Eric the Great. I've never had anyone THAT good helping with a party. But more about that later. Let me give the lowdown on everything starting with lunch.

I did indeed cook all day on Saturday. About 12 hours. I decided that the menu was overall a little too fiddly, and I'll adjust that in the future. Too much poking, cutting, rolling and fidgeting with food. But did manage to get all of their lunch done and ready for transport except the soba noodle salad, which couldn't be made too far in advance. I also got the stupid skewers (never again) ready for the party, as well as the grilled flatbreads and the dips.

Sunday was some back and forth between the venue (Greenfield Lake Ampitheater) and home. I finished up the rest of the menu for the party and made the soba noodle salad to take to them for lunch. Didn't see them eat anything, so I have absolutely no idea how lunch went over, except that the production manager raved about the pecan sables at the party later. I'm not sure all the band members even knew who had provided lunch - a couple of them did and were very gracious and said thank you, but they had a busy day, and honestly might not even remember what they ate.

So the rest of Sunday I spent finishing up for the party - I wound up just doing grilled vegetables instead of skewers, and the shrimp I got were too small to skewer (thank god) so instead I turned them into an appetizer of lime-rum shrimp. Overall, I think everything went fine. People gushed about the back yard, which was really nice. P. and I have put a lot of work into it over the years, and we like it.

Eric the Great was the help we hired for cleanup. Turned out, he works at Coriander's, a local caterer. So he grilled all the food I prepped! Bonus! I cooked the lime rum shrimp, then I put the veggies on the grill, and the next thing I knew, he was tending them so I could socialize, then I got out the skewers that were in the fridge, and he went to town. He handled all of the grilling and serving on platters, and cleaned up. When he left at 10:30, the kitchen was well under control, and there was a load in the dishwasher running. I love him and thought briefly about trading in my husband, but it would never work. Phillip would be sad, and Eric's girlfriend who works for Marc and Sara, might come after me.

So while Eric cooked, I basically sat on my ass and held court. Nice of me, I know. A big group left around 10:30, then some other friends and the bands stayed until around midnight. There wasn't any food left, all the beer was gone, most of the lethal Planter's Punch that P. selected and I mixed up was also gone, taxis were arriving, and I was going "What just happened? Is it over?"

No, it wasn't the alcohol. It just always strikes me that there's that veeerrrryyy slooooowwww time period that starts about 7:00, when everything is ready, and I'm sitting there thinking, "Oh, this is so nice. The house looks great, the yard is beautiful, the food is ready and I don't want anyone to come. I just want to go to bed now." Then people arrive, I get in the swing of things, and then BAM! Nine minutes later, it's midnight, and everyone is leaving.

And so it went. Hopefully everyone had a nice time, and felt welcome and well-fed.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Shopping for Hospitality and After Party

Four stores and three and half hours, and all the food and drink are here. And thanks to Marc I have buckwheat noodles and his procedure for making the soba noodle salad. (Thanks!)

After we got home last night, we sat down and worked out the remaining logistics. I actually have a pretty easy day on Sunday - it's just a matter of timing the back and forth and making sure we have what we need at the venue when we need it. Here's how it shakes out:

P. takes all the beverages to his mom and dad's to store in their extra fridge. (right around the corner, and this is going to make life much easier.)
P. picks up three bags of ice for the party at Costco. I think we can store two here in our small freezer in the shed and one at his mom's.

I get up and cook all day.
P. cleans up the yard and preps it for Sunday.

P goes to the venue (Greenfield Lake) early. He'll stop by his folks' and pick up the backstage beverages, pick up some ice for that, borrow two coolers from them, and take that out there and set it up.
I'll put the finishing touches on the food and bring lunch out later and set that up. Then I'll hang around until a little after they finish eating, gather up what I can of the leftovers and come home to do whatever for the party.

What's left for me tonight is to figure out what serving pieces I need out at the venue so we can gather those up and get them ready.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Schedule for Hospitality and After Party

Finalized the menus and recipes tonight, and thanks to Master Cook, I have the shopping list ready. Took a little recipe-adding, but then I was able to export the entire menu to the shopping list. So now I'm prepared. Tomorrow evening we'll do most of the shopping, and tomorrow afternoon I'm making a quick trip out to Marc's on Market. Marc has been generous enough to allow me to use his recipe for cold soba noodle salad for hospitality for the bands backstage.

Here's the tentative schedule:

Thursday evening:
  • Shop for all supplies
  • Decide what dishes I'm using for each dish and the setup. We've already decided that we'll set up the buffet inside and let people take plates inside and out.

Friday evening:
  • Make the smoked trout dip, the roasted red pepper dip, the lemon bars, the brownies and the pecan sables

  • Meet Beth at the Farmer's Market downtown first thing and pick up produce for the grilled vegetable skewers - I'm thinking zuchinni, new potatoes, onions, red bell pepper, and eggplant. Or whatever catches my eye down there.
  • Cook everything else on the menus - this will take all day and into the evening, but everything on the menu can be prepped ahead. So all I'll need to do on Sunday for the party is set the food up in the back and put the skewers on the grill when people start arriving.
  • P. is cleaning and setting up the back yard, so I can concentrate on food prep.

Sunday (day of concert):
  • I have to get my "official schedule" from P. but as I understand it, I'm going out late morning to set up the lunch backstage, then I'm doing a lot of back and forth. I should be back home around 6:00 or so to start setup of food here. We don't expect people to arrive until 8:30, so I have gracious plenty time. We've hired someone to come and help with cleanup, and he's supposed to arrive around 7:30, so he can help me with some of the prep, although there shouldn't be much.

More later as events warrant!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Concert Hospitality and After Party menus

This weekend (Sunday), we have a concert that P. is helping produce. I'm in charge of hospitality for the bands backstage. It's a 4:00 performance, so I'm doing lunch for roughly ten. Since it's August and hot and mid-day, I'm thinking light, obviously. So here's what I have tentatively planned:

Backstage Hospitality
Tropical Fruit Salad
Vietnamese Chicken Sandwich Rolls
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Coconut Chicken Spring Rolls
Cold Soba Noodle Salad
Lemon Bars
Assorted beer, water, lemonade
(Plus the bands have some stuff in their riders that will be backstage for them.)

For the after-party, which should start around 8:30ish, we're expecting around 40. The idea here is to provide food people can eat with a fork and no knife, hence all the skewers. Plus, it's easy assembly for me to do ahead of time. I'll put them all together, store them in the fridge, then I can just throw them on the grill when people start arriving. So here's the menu for that:

After Party Menu
Planter's Punch
Ginger Lemonade

Smoked Trout Dip with Crostini
Roasted Red Pepper Dip with Pita Chips

Garlic and Mustard Beef Skewers
Lemongrass and Chili Shrimp Skewers
Spiced Chicken Skeweres
Grilled Vegetable Skewers
Grilled Flatbreads

Pecan Sables
Assorted ice cream sandwiches and bars

I'll post some prep notes for this later. I'm working out my schedule for prepping the yard and food. Keep your fingers crossed for nice weather!

Tandoori Chicken Thighs

Dinner Tonight
Tandoori Chicken Thighs
Cumin corn and tomatoes
Steamed rice

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Red Bank Wine

Our friends Eric and Sara own Red Bank Wine at Mayfaire. I am not a wine expert. I know what I like (thanks largely to them) but I confess that I am extremely limited. That's why we love going there. Phillip and I walk in the door, menus in hand, and say "Hey guys, hook us up." Within 15 minutes (30 if we hang out and chat for a bit) we're walking out the door with six bottles of wine that are perfectly (and I mean perfectly) matched to the six menus I have in my hand.

If I'm not quite that organized, or if I just don't need wines for food pairings, I still go in and say "Hey guys, hook me up." and Sara will say "Well, what are you in the mood for? More buttery Chards?" (yes, I'm a Chard ho. I told you I was extremely limited.) And I will say "Why yes! How did you know?" And they will pick out a nice assortment for me. One of the really nice things about them is that they rotate their stock regularly. So there's always something new to try.

Parties? You bet. Eric and Sara set us up. They always get the right combination of reds and whites, based on the season and the food I'm serving, and it's all good stuff. (Since the two of them are always in attendance as guests, they get to pick their favorites.)

We love shopping there and it's always nice to support small, locally owned businesses. The knowledge they have about wines and food/wine pairings is some of the best in town. Bonus for us that they're pals.

Master Cook

Master Cook software has been a godsend. Ronda turned me on to it years ago. (She's much more proficient at it than I am.) You can check out all the features from the link, but here's how I use it:

I have set up my own cookbooks in the software. I have to say that I quickly deleted the ones that were included with the package. They didn't do much for me. I have a tendency to see something and say "oo! That looks good! I want to try that!" and then I promptly forget about it, or stick it in with my tried and trues and then lose track of what was good and what should have been tossed and what I haven't tried yet. So I set my cookbooks up as To Try - Main Course. Then I have a Main Course cookbook. The same applies to Appetizers, Breads, Desserts, Salads, etc. Each has a regular cookbook and a "To Try" cookbook. When I want to try something new, I peruse my "To Try" cookbook. If I like it enough to cook it again, it gets moved to my permanent collection. If I don't like it enough to cook it again, it gets deleted. So I manage to keep the cookbooks clutter-free.

Recipes are easy to import into the cookbooks from the web. I do still subscribe to cooking magazines, but thankfully, they all post most of their recipes online. With pictures! So MasterCook has this excellent toolbar for web pages that allows you to highlight the title, the ingredients, the directions and everything else, including the picture, and import it directly into the software. No tedious typing. (Although the software makes that pretty easy as well, with auto-fill for common measurements and ingredients.)

There's a menu/meals section that allows you to insert recipes (or text) into a menu and save it. So if I'm planning a dinner party, for example, I'll insert the recipes into the menu. Then when it's time to cook, I can export the entire menu to a shopping list, which makes a list of all the ingredients for all the recipes (including amounts) and allows me to check what I need. I can also printout the menu recipes so that I can walk into the kitchen with all the recipes printed (front and back) out and not have to shuffle through a stack of cookbooks and magazines.

One of the things I love about the menu/meal section is that it allows me to keep track of guests and what I've served them for dinner. Yes, I realize it's a little over the top. But I like to serve my guests something different each time they come here to eat, and as often as we entertain, remembering what I've served to whom and when - forget it. Plus, it's a nice memory jog of pleasant evenings. There's an area for notes, which I can use for a debriefing or just to jot down "We played five rounds of spades and Carol and I SMEARED Phillip and David." I can even import a picture or a video of our guests, which is way cool. (Especially since I have a Flip and love to take videos of stuff.)

The Pantry area allows me to make a list of items I keep in my kitchen, again with an auto-fill option that makes setting it up pretty darned easy. Then I can uncheck items I'm out of, and generate a shopping list based on those items.

Setting everything up is a little time-consuming, but the time it saves me ultimately with planning menus and shopping lists is definitely worth it. I can plan a week's worth of menus with recipes, generate a shopping list with everything I need, and have my week's cooking ready to go in about thirty minutes.

It does a lot more than this, but I've just given you a general idea of how I use it.