Saturday, February 24, 2007

Dinner with friends, and letting go of total control-- a bit!

After exhausting myself with entertaining during the last part of 2006 I decided that, in 2007, I would try a different route. So on Friday I had my first “test”. Friends were invited over for dinner and I actually allowed a guest to bring not one, but two, menu items. I had to swallow my need to plan menus, tweaking recipes and ingredients until I felt as though it was a perfect blend, and just allow myself to have a good time. It wasn’t a bad experience, after all!

Karla has been telling us about the wonderful baked ziti which she is almost-famous for, so this cold February evening seemed to be the perfect time to put that on the menu. She also brought a salad. I provided the appetizer, bread, and dessert. In splitting up the menu this way, I found myself being able to do preparation things that I had either hurried through at the last minute or dismissed in previous entertaining. I was able to actually spend time putting on makeup and getting dressed (I even ironed my slacks!). I washed and dried all of the dishes and everything was stored away. I placed a clean coffee filter in the pot, emptied the carafe of the morning’s coffee and rinsed it, and actually lit all of the candles. Before the guests arrived! The table was set, the flowers arranged, I was pleased.

We started with an appetizer which I have made before, Spinach-Artichoke Dip. I made a baguette the day before, sliced part of it on the diagonal and toasted the slices to dip into the spinach-artichoke-cheese mixture. Jack claims to dislike artichokes, but he loves this dip (his comment—“you can hardly taste the artichokes though all of the cheese!). Karla’s baked ziti was all she had promised. Tender pasta with a slightly garlicky, light tomato sauce and different varieties of (lowfat) cheese. Absolutely delicious. Her salad was really good as well (she said that it was her husband, Frankie’s, sister’s recipe) with a variety of “gourmet” greens, dried cranberries, mandarin orange slices, and walnuts in a raspberry vinaigrette. I made a loaf of the no-knead bread (actually I made 3 loaves earlier in the day) and it was a hit because it’s just so darn good!

And for dessert—Flourless Chocolate and Vanilla Marble Cake. This was an incredible cake. We only needed thin slices because it was very rich (but I think that I could have hidden in a closet and happily made myself ill by eating the entire cake). An intense bittersweet chocolate flavor with an undertone of cream cheese and vanilla. It made our mouths extremely happy! I garnished with a piping of Cool Whip and a squiggle which I made from melted Hershey Kisses (I ran out of bittersweet chocolate). I "marbled" the cake too much because the vanilla batter was so much thinner in texture than the chocolate, but that will be remedied next time. And, although I'm certain that it didn't help much (I refuse to put this one through MasterCook for the nutritional information!) I used neufachel cheese instead of the full-fat cream cheese.

Along with a bottle of shiraz (and a few Killian Red’s for Frankie), this meal, and the company, made for a very enjoyable evening. I made a loaf of bread for our guests to take home, and gave them half of the cake, obsequiously for their teenage daughters… And I was left with that excellent baked ziti for another meal.

Okay, the first try at allowing others to contribute was a success. My next chance may come next Saturday when we have another couple over for dinner.

Now, I realize that the No Knead Bread, which was published in the New York Times last fall,

has been written about to death. Discussed, analyzed, varietized for months. But I think that I have finally found the prefect recipe for making it and that’s what I’m sticking with. 360g Eagle Mills Ultragrain Flour blend, a rounded ¼ teaspoon of yeast, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 12 ounces less 1 tablespoon of water. Lots of wheat bran and cornmeal to prevent sticking. Bake at 435˚F for 43 minutes, or until 204˚F internal temperature. And allow 22 hours from mixing the dough to removing that heavenly bread from the oven. Easy, easy, easy and to think I have been searching for this type of bread, attempting (and failing at) various recipes for the last few years. And with that particular flour, which I buy at Sam’s Club, it contains 5g of fiber per slice with no grainy taste to detract from the light, airy, texture and almost-sourdough-like flavor which we enjoy so much.

I vote for the High Carb lifestyle!

Tonight’s dinner. I needed to make something relatively quick, but not pasta (since we have eaten pasta for the previous 2 nights), and Jack suggested Chinese. I started rice and took a quick look through the refrigerator and freezer. We don’t eat red meat, but we really enjoy Morningstar Farm’s Meal Starters Beef Strips. Most times I use them in fajitas, but tonight I saw the bag in the freezer and decided to make a stir-fry with the “beef” strips, red and green bell peppers, and onions in a tomato-soy seasoning sauce.

“Beef” Stir-Fry with Peppers and Onions

1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth

½ cup crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 teaspoon cornstarch

½ large red bell pepper, cut into 1” dice

½ large green bell pepper, cut into 1” dice

1 medium onion, cut into lengthwise into eight wedges

1 8-ounce package Morningstar Farm’s Meal Starters Beef Strips, unthawed

Mix broth through crushed red pepper in a small bowl. Blend in cornstarch. Set aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in wok over medium-high heat. Add peppers and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add onions and stir fry for an additional 2 minutes. Add “beef”strips and stir for 30 seconds (they may start to stick a bit, that’s okay as long as nothing burns). Add ¼ cup water and cover. Turn heat down slightly and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Uncover and stir in seasoning sauce. Cook until thickened. Serve over rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.

1 Comment:

farmgirl said...

Wow. What a fabulous meal. Congratulations on your new food blog! I found it from the hysterical comment you left on mine last night. So glad you enjoyed the biscotti (your entire "experience" leading up to it sounds exactly like something that I would do, though I probably would have just eaten the chocolate and almonds, LOL). Thanks for taking the time to let me know--and for the reminder that I was planning to start some bread dough this morning. . . : )