Monday, August 6, 2007

We have just completed a marathon of entertaining in the past 2 months. I was able to keep to my “guests every other weekend only” rule, but even entertaining twice a month has its toll. I’m tired! Okay, it may also be the heat and the 95% humidity as well. I do love to have friends over for a meal or for a weekend. I enjoy the planning, the preparation, the anticipation of good food and great company. But I love the cooking. I adore being in the kitchen for a few days, working from a schedule, trying new recipes. My back aches and my feet hurt afterward, but it is just so much fun. In total contrast to what I have read (“don’t use new recipes on company, stick with tried-and-true dishes”), I always try out new recipes on my guests. I believe that I have gotten to the point where I am able to analyze the ingredients and “tweak” to make the final dish more flavorful, spicier, less fattening, etc. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable process. And, of course, there’s The Moment. It’s that time when all of the food is on the table, the wine glasses are filled, the candles (or torches) lit, and my friends are laughing and talking and I just want to save that moment. Hold it forever.

The “every other weekend” rule came about so I don’t kill myself trying to do everything, all of the time. After a weekend of entertaining, the guests leave and I start to clean up. The kitchen, at this point, is the least of the problem. There is cleaning the guest rooms, scrubbing the bathrooms, vacuuming the rooms where we have congregated (and ate!). A couple of days of this, after all of the preparation and also cooking and clean-up while our guests are actually in the house, and I crash. I need at least one day and possibly two. Energize. Extra yoga, extra stretching, extra exercise. And, most importantly, extra sleep! And, because I always cook too much, we have wonderful leftovers to eat for those couple of days while I regroup. It’s like a reward for all of my efforts and I take full advantage. Then it’s back to weeding and watering the vegetable garden and flower beds, house chores, etc. Until I realize that I have to begin planning for the next event. I need that break between guests, no matter how very much I enjoy having them.

We had friends for dinner this past Saturday and now there’s nothing on my
plate for two more weeks. So I now have time to update my blog and get caught up on correspondence that I have allowed to slide over the past 5-6 weeks.

I have planned to post only standout recipes here, but I’m going through my notes and many of them were great and I want to share. This is going to take a while… :)

I don’t know if I mentioned this in any previous posts, but we have a house on a lake an hour away from the farm. It’s beautiful and rather secluded and we enjoy entertaining there during the summer.

Our first large group of guests arrived in early July for a long weekend. This year, I asked each couple to bring some contributions to the meals. I am a control freak and this was a decidedly adventurous experiment for me. However, everything turned out wonderfully and I’m going to have to expand on this concept in the future. I also accepted help in the kitchen. That was a biggie, too. I have a few friends who get together and cook or bake with me occasionally, but we’ve been doing this for several years and I was uncertain about the expertise of my other friends. For example, for this lake house gathering, Tammy offered several times to help and I took her up on her kind offer. For dinner one evening, I asked her to slice zucchini that would be threaded on skewers and grilled. She asked how thick the slices should be and I took my knife and showed her. “About ¾ of an inch” I said. I turned away for a second to grab my kitchen ruler (heaven help me, I measure things!) and when I turned back she was happily chopping away. One inch slices. Inch-and-a quarter slices. My mouth dropped open and I saw my husband gesturing to me from the other side of the counter. “Let it go!” he mouthed. I did. I slipped the ruler back into the drawer. And it was fine. I also said nothing about the irregular chunks of eggplant and red pepper. I accepted a wine refill and thought “who cares, it will still taste good.”. And it did!

The Old Dog can be taught New Tricks!!!

Anyway, one meal was a great pasta dish taken from Cuisine at Home magazine called BLT Pasta. Actually, it should be called BST Pasta, since the lettuce in it is actually spinach, but who cares about details (ME!!!!). With this pasta, I asked Tammy to bring a salad that would be dressed with a blueberry vinaigrette which I had been experimenting with. She prepared a wonderful salad of butter lettuce, spring greens, pear, blueberry, pine nuts, and goat cheese. It was sensational with that dressing.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Blueberry Vinaigrette

Recipe By : Vicci

Servings : 24

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

1/2 medium shallot

1 large garlic clove

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar -- I prefer white balsamic, although a very good, mild dark

balsamic will be very good, too

1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

3/4 cup olive oil

With the food processor running, drop in the shallot and garlic clove and mince finely. Stop the processor and add the next 5 ingredients (sugar through vinegar). Process until well blended. Add the blueberries and pulse until they are very well chopped. With the processor running, pour in the olive oil in a steady stream and process until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer mixture to a large bottle and chill overnight to meld flavors.

This will keep for 2 weeks in the refrigerator.


"2 cups"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 68 Calories (kcal); 7g Total Fat (1g Saturated); (87% calories from fat); trace Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 75mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 0 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

The pasta was delicious. Although I doubled the recipe (to make “8 servings”), it barely served 6 of us. I use turkey bacon instead of the regular and can’t imagine it being that much different. The smoky bacon flavor was very dominant. I also used more spinach than is called for, and subbed whole wheat linguine for the bucatini pasta.

* Exported from MasterCook *

BLT Pasta

Servings : 4

Preparation Time :40:00

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 large garlic cloves

2 cups bread cubes -- take from a nice, dense loaf of French or Italian bread

1 tablespoon olive oil -- divided

4 pieces turkey bacon

2 cups halved cherry tomatoes

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup thinly sliced leeks

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

8 ounces whole wheat linguine

3 cups fresh spinach -- sliced into 1" wide strips

1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

Mince the garlic in a food processor, then add the cubed bread and process until coarse crumbs. Heat one teaspoon of the olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the bread crumbs. Toast until golden, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, sauté the turkey bacon in a medium skillet until done. Drain on paper towels, and slice crosswise into 1/4" wide strips.

Add the linguine to the boiling water and cook until al dente.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet and caramelize the tomatoes and sugar over medium heat until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add leeks and sauté until they are wilted, about 3 more minutes. Add the wine and stir, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Simmer until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Carefully scoop 1/3 cup of the boiling water from the pasta pot and add to the tomato mixture along with the broth, vinegar, and pepper flakes. Simmer until the mixture is reduced by about 1/3 (5 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.

Drain pasta. Add the spinach leaves to the tomato sauce, then dump the hot linguine into the skillet and toss until the spinach is wilted. Sprinkle in the bacon pieces and toss a couple of more times. Divide onto 4 serving plates and sprinkle each serving with garlic bread crumbs.


"adapted from Cuisine at Home June 2007"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 361 Calories (kcal); 9g Total Fat (2 saturated); (23% calories from fat); 15g Protein; 53g Carbohydrate; 12mg Cholesterol; 548mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : Can also use dry white wine and white balsamic vinegar for a subtle variation in taste.

Another standout recipe for this weekend was vegetable kebabs. Now, not ordinarily an exciting side dish, these were made special but the vinaigrette which was brushed onto the kebabs as they cooked, then drizzled over the veggies prior to serving.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Vegetable Kebabs

Servings: 8

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar -- preferably white

1 small garlic clove -- minced

1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1 pound zucchini -- small are best; cut crosswise into 3/4" slices

5 teaspoons olive oil

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt -- divided

2/3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper -- divided

1 1/2 pounds baby eggplant -- cut crosswise into 3/4" slices

2 large red bell peppers -- cut into 1 1/2" pieces

3/4 pound cherry tomatoes

1 large sweet onion -- cut into 1 1/2" pieces

Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 1 hour, or use metal skewers

In a large bowl, toss zucchini with 1 teaspoons of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Thread on skewers.

In the same bowl, repeat the process with the eggplant, then the peppers, then the cherry tomatoes, then the onion. With each, use 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Thread each kind of vegetable on separate skewers (this will make the veggies cook more evenly since tomatoes take less time to cook than onion, red peppers take less time to cook than eggplant, etc.).

At this point, after the vegetables are skewered, they can be placed on a tray, covered with plastic, and refrigerated for up to 12 hours.

Prepare the grill (medium-hot charcoal or moderate, about 350 degrees, for a gas grill)

Spray the skewers lightly with cooking spray, then grill the kebabs, turning once, until tender. Brush kebabs with vinaigrette once during cooking. Transfer cooked vegetables from the skewers to a platter and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.


"adapted from Gourmet magazine August 2006"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 116 Calories (kcal); 10g Total Fat (1g Saturated); (72% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 7g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : I usually quadruple the vinaigrette to use for other meals (grilling vegetables, chicken, fish, etc). It keeps in the refrigerator for a month.

This is all I can manage for today. :) Hopefully more soon!