Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

Mediterranean Party

Party planning seems to be in my blood. I enjoy the creativity and challenge of creating a beautiful event whether it is for 4 people or 400. This weekend I was privileged to assist with a Mediterranean themed dinner party. Since it was a great success, I thought I would share with you some of my favorite parts of the party and some ideas that may help you with your next party. For those of you who entertain at home, this is my process. If you don’t, I will post some recipes this week, these are some good ones! (Please excuse my blurry low light cell phone photos as I, of course, forgot my camera. At least I didn’t forget anything important!)

Kelly


When planning a party menu, I generally start with an idea, dish, theme, color, etc as a jumping off point. In this case, we had decided on paella and Greek salad so we went with a Mediterranean theme. I then think about the size of the party and the type of people attending. In this case, it was 10 people, and a fairly sophisticated crowd. This meant I could do some more labor intensive appetizers and be creative with my ingredients. I think it is important to have a variety of colors, tastes and textures within a menu. Even if people love meatballs, pigs in a blanket and chicken fingers, it makes for a very monochromatic spread with everything looking and tasting the same. For an event like this, I wanted some healthy options since I knew we had some diet conscious people in attendance. I like to use recipes I have tried (in some form or fashion) before so I don’t have to worry about learning new techniques. In fact, we tried a few new recipes ahead of time and axed some and kept others.

Mediterranean Party Menu

Appetizers

  • Melon Balls with Prosciutto
  • Gazpacho Shooters
  • Chorizo Stuffed Dates

First Course    

  • Greek Salad

Second Course    

  • Paella
  • Bread

Dessert    

Beverages    

  • Spanish Wine
  • Citrus Champagne Sangria

Once the menu is decided, I compile all the recipes and evaluate what I already have. Then make my shopping list by both store and department. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have a list like this (then you don’t end up in dairy and realize the only thing you forgot is in produce!) I also go through each recipe and estimate how much time it will take and what I can prep ahead of time. I create a timeline for the 3-5 days ahead of the party and plan when to shop and when to prep. Things will always end up slightly different than your plan, but if you have one, it is much easier to stay relaxed! It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just get an idea in your head. Now all you have to do is relax, have fun, and follow your plan!

February 19, 2012

Chicken Noodle Soup

I have a confession; I have a fear of making soup. Why, I am not really sure. I think it has something to do with the fact that I have so many memories of my mom and my grandmother making wonderful soups. It really is a family tradition that comes from out Eastern European ancestors. I have just recently tried to make soup on my own, but this is the first that I really feel is mine. I will even pat myself on the back and give myself credit for this one. It was good. Really good. I was even surprised because I am picky about chicken soup. I think it is tarragon, I don’t think I like it. So, I used what I like instead, thyme, it made all the difference for me.

Since my mom is under the weather today, I got inspired and decided to conquer my fear. There is nothing more classic than chicken noodle soup and nothing better to nourish you out of a cold. There are many variations, but really it just consists of chicken stock, mirepoix, chicken and noodles. So simple. And yet, some are better than others, so what gives? To me, the key is in the ingredients. Starting with a great stock is key. We have already made chicken stock together, remember? Next, make sure to cut your vegetables in even pieces, the onions small and the chicken in bite sized pieces. My grandma swore that there is no need to sauté the vegetables before adding to the stock and I think she is right. Skipping that step eliminates the fat element and the vegetables still end up tender. Finally, make your own noodles. I know, I know, it seems like a lot of work, but I promise it is easy and they make a huge difference. Just try it! This will rock your socks off! I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Kelly

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients for Soup:

2 quarts chicken stock

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

3 ribs celery, sliced

3 carrots, sliced

2 chicken breasts, cubed

Small handful fresh thyme, stems removed

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

Ingredients for Noodles:

1 cup flour

2 eggs

Generous pinch of coarse salt

Tablespoon fresh thyme, stems removed

 

Bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add the thyme, bay leaves, onion, celery and carrots. Allow to simmer about 10 minutes until the vegetables are slightly tender.

Add chicken to the pot making sure not to allow the pot to boil, but maintain a simmer (it will keep the chicken tender.) Allow to cook about 20 minutes. If the stock has reduced too much, add additional water about a cup at a time, season with salt and pepper then reduce to a low simmer. To prepare the noodles, add all ingredients to a food processor with the blade. Pulse until the dough just comes together forming a ball, do not over mix. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead 3-5 times until the dough is smooth. Gently form into a ball and cover with a towel and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out the dough until it is very thin making sure to sprinkle with flour to keep from sticking and loosening the dough from the board and turning often. You should be able to nearly see through the dough when it is ready.

Sprinkle again with flour and roll the dough up lengthwise so you can cut the dough into strips easily. Cut the dough into desired width.

Unroll each noodle and make them into a nest to allow them to dry a bit while the soup simmers. Make sure to toss in a bit of flour to keep them from sticking.

When they are ready to go into the soup, shake them through a strainer to remove the extra flour.

Add to the boiling soup just before you are ready to serve and allow to cook approximately 3 minutes. Remove bay leaves, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Scoop into bowls and enjoy!

 

**P.S. If the stock and noodles really scare you, use prepared stock and egg noodles. It will still be good J

February 12, 2012

Peruvian Ground Beef Stew

There are some recipes like beef stew (or in our family, ground beef hash) that are comfort food staples. Just the smell brings back memories of home and family. There are others, like this stew, that are derivatives of those classics and may be (Gasp!) better than the original. This one came about when we started making Grandma’s traditional beef stew but found ourselves without all the ingredients. It became a game of saving the stew, and I think it came out amazing. It is both hearty and light at the same time and saves really well. In fact, I ate it for three days. The sweet potatoes helped to thicken it without any flour (a great option for those of you who are gluten free!) Let us know what you think!

Kelly & Mary

1 ¼ lb 85% Ground Beef

1 large onion

2 t Hungarian Sweet Paprika

Salt & Pepper

1 quart beef broth

2 T Ancho chili powder

1 t Guajillo chili

1 Yellow Pepper, chopped

½ cup petite frozen peas

2 sweet potatoes, chopped

1 pasilla negro chile

1 clove garlic

Brown the ground beef, making sure to break the beef up forming small crumbles.

When you have a good amount of liquid and fat coming out of the meat, use a paper towel to remove some of the fat. Add the chili powders, paprika and salt and pepper and continue to cook until browned. When the beef is browned, add the onion and cook until fragrant and translucent.

Add sweet potatoes. Pour in the beef broth and then add water to cover.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer for about an hour. Meanwhile, toast the whole pasilla chile over an open flame (or a frying pan) until slightly toasted and fragrant, about 1-2 min. Break into pieces into a blender add 1 cup of water and 1 clove of garlic and blend about 30 seconds.

Strain puree into a pan and simmer until reduced by about half. Add to the stew along with the rest of the vegetables. (You don’t HAVE to do this step since it is a bit of a process, but I loved the smokiness and depth that this added.) Allow to simmer 15-20 more min to marry the flavors and allow the peppers to soften.

Top with a bit of goat cheese, Greek yogurt or sour cream and enjoy with a salad and tortillas or bread.

Yum Yum Yum.

February 4, 2012

Super Bowl Chili

Chili is always good, any time of the year but if you add 18″ of snow on the ground AND the Super Bowl, you have the perfect combination. This is such a great Super Bowl compliment because you can prepare it ahead and leave it simmering and let people enjoy it as they are ready. We like to lay out a variety of toppings and accompaniments and leave it to our guests. It is low key and always delicious. We tend to like our chili a little spicier than some people, so we might tone this down a little for company and leave some Tabasco out for adjustments. You could make up some cornbread to serve with the chili or go easy and stick to chips, saltines or tortillas. Now grab a bowl and enjoy the game (or the commercials)!

Mary & Kelly

Chili

Serves 6

1 ¼ Lbs 85% Lean Ground Beef

1 large can Hunts tomato sauce

1 large can Kuners chili beans

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 T Gebhardts chili powder

3 T Ancho chili powder

1-3 T Guajillo chili powder

1 t Oregano

Salt & Pepper

Brown the ground beef, making sure to break the beef up forming small crumbles.

When you have a good amount of liquid and fat coming out of the meat, use a paper towel to remove some of the fat.

Add the chili powder and salt and pepper and continue to cook until browned.

When the beef is browned, add the onion and garlic and cook until fragrant and translucent. Add the tomato sauce. Pour off some of the excess chili sauce from the beans, then add to the pot.

Allow to simmer for about an hour, adding water if necessary. Taste for seasonings and adjust as necessary. The color should be deep red.

If you are making this for children you can add 1-2 tablespoons of sugar as my grandma did. If the flavor is flat, add a little vinegar (red wine, sherry or apple cider are best). You can continue to simmer and add more water or seasoning as you like. You can always add some water if you like a thinner consistency or to stretch this if more people show up!

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