Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Slight Snag in the Proceedings

I broke my camera at Adriana and Rob's lovely wedding in Nicaragua.

The lens won't move. It's stuck. Also, the entire camera casing is cracked. Because I dropped it onto a stone-paved patio.

I had, in my left hand, a very full flute of champagne, acquired by pointing to the top of a normal-full flute and saying "muy champagne, por favor" while smiling at the bartender as if doing an impression of the Cheshire Cat. The bartender LOVED me. Ever my mother's daughter, in a moment of lost balance, I saved the champagne at the expense of my camera. Hey, it was good champagne!

Because of my inability to hold two things at once, the images on this blog are going to be even less photographically masterful than they were before (ha), as now we're working with bad lighting AND a sub-par camera (from my phone). Sorry.

On to tonight's dinner. My fridge is abundant with produce right now because I got a farm box last Wednesday and then promptly left town. I wanted to start using some of it up, so I decided a winter salad would be in order. Also, I've been eating a lot of meat and cheese (or, more specifically, jamon y churrasco y manchego) these past few days and thought some fruits and vegetables might be a good idea.

Growing up, we were assigned "kitchen chores" in an attempt to help my mother get dinner on the table. From the time you could follow directions until you were able to safely wield a knife, you got to set the table. Once you graduated from setting the table, you got to make the salad. I was Chief Salad Maker from age 8 until I left for college (because Liz never made it to the knife-wielding stage and Sandy somehow escaped all kitchen chores).  And we had a green salad EVERY night with dinner. On rare, rare occasions we'd have fruit salad. But 98% of the time, it was a green salad consisting of romaine, carrots, tomatoes, celery, and cucumber. The lettuce always torn, never chopped. All other pieces bite-sized and not a bit bigger. Occasionally red or green pepper got thrown in. As you might imagine, I got REALLY sick of making the same salad over and over and over again. For a decade.

Occasionally, in winter, I would make a Waldorf salad, just to mix things up a little bit. I know, I know, we are wild and crazy people. But I had to work with the ingredients we had on hand, and Mom was always good about keeping us stocked with all kinds of seasonal produce.

To be honest, I've never been much of a mayonnaise person, in that I ABSOLUTELY HATE mayonnaise. Nevertheless, it's an integral part of this salad, which is crunchy and sweet and savory all at once. If you do it right, you can't really taste the mayonnaise.

Kate's Classic Waldorf Salad
Serves 2

2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced
1 pink or red apple, cored and roughly chopped (I like Gala or Braeburn for this. The green ones are too tart.)
1/2 cup red grapes, halved
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip, that horror of horrors)
1 tablespoon yogurt
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

1. Prep your first four ingredients. They'll look like this:

2. Dump them in a medium mixing bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Dressing should be smooth.

3. Add dressing to apples, celery, grapes and walnuts and toss until coated. It'll look like this:

Lightly dressed. Not too mayo-y.
 This is particularly good as a light meal if you add some grilled chicken.

Love my new cast iron grill pan. The chicken is seasoned with a little dried thyme and marjoram, a pinch of cayenne, and some salt and pepper. So easy and so tasty.

And that was dinner. Not exciting. Definitely satisfying.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Have a Heart

I had an absolutely delightful day today. It went something like this:

I got up at a reasonable hour after a reasonable amount of sleep, for a 9am flight.

I got to the airport and parked in the first spot next to the elevators in the parking garage.

I checked in and got upgraded.

My flight was on time.

I got to Hertz and they upgraded me (which has NEVER happened before) to this:

I drove with the top down 55 miles to Camarillo.

It was sunny and gorgeous. An excellent day for singing in the car.

Somewhere near Thousand Oaks, I belted Eternal Flame at the top of my lungs.

I arrived an hour before my meeting and found a lovely cafe at which to lunch. I had a delicious spinach salad with grilled chicken, dried cranberries, goat cheese, and caramelized walnuts.

I got to the client meeting, and it was delightfully productive.

I drove back to LAX in almost no rush hour traffic, returned the car, and had a quick chat with my favorite Hertz employee, who is so kind and always remembers me.

There was no line at airport security.

I went to the gate area for an earlier flight that was leaving in 10 minutes.

I got a seat on the earlier flight. It was in the bulkhead, so I could put my feet up.

There was no one in the middle seat.

And no traffic on the way home.

I found a parking spot right away.

I checked my mail and got an absolutely wonderful and sweet note from my fabulous stepmom, Lindy.

I sat down to a Valentine's smorgasbord dinner of leftovers from Saturday's party, a menu consisting dominantly of cheese and chocolate.

And now I'm working on this blog entry.

In my world, Valentine's Day rarely gets better than this, a day where everything almost magically goes exactly, perfectly right. It got me to thinking about past Valentine's Days - some of which have been good, some decidedly less so, some downright disastrous. I will leave those stories to my memories. Suffice it to say, food poisoning and potted plants do not make for a romantic Valentine's Day. Trust me.

At some point in my life, I decided that I wasn't going to be a Valentine's hater. What I am a hater about is people bitching about Valentine's Day. What is the problem, people?? It's a day when you have license to eat chocolate without feeling guilty, and project love to everyone. How can anyone be bitter about that? All you need is love! Just because I'm single doesn't mean there aren't people that I love, and who love me. I refer to these people as "family and friends." And I like to celebrate them today, because they are wonderful people.

In all honesty, I didn't get my act together as much this year as in years past - I usually make and send Valentines but the two weeks of traveling prior to today really precluded serious crafts. (I still have those darn cocktail napkins I've been planning to make since October on my project list.) What I did do was manage to get a few things together for a Valentine's-themed party on Saturday. I think it was a good party because the last guests left after 3am Sunday morning. And it's taken me a few days to clean up.

Herewith, the menu:

Heart Goat Cheese, Heart Brie, Manchego and Mahon with Jams (Pumpkin and Violet) and Grapes
Mango-Avocado Salsa and Chips
Peppadew Peppers Stuffed with Boursin
O-love and Artichoke Heart Tapenade with Crostini and Carrot Sticks
Meatball Parmigiana Sliders

Outrageous Heart Brownies
Mini Black Bottom Cupcakes
Peanut Butter and Jam Heart Cookies
Conversation Hearts Candy
Hershey Kisses

Cherub’s Cup
Wine, Champagne, Beer

And now, in pictures:

The beginning of the brownies. Lots of chocolate and butter.
These brownies could probably kill you.

Ok, not probably. The will definitely kill you. At least this recipe makes 100+ brownies!

Now, with flour. I used half whole wheat and half all-purpose. It worked well.

Brownie batter spread in the pan.
 I saw this trick on Martha Stewart's show - what a brilliant idea to use binder clips to keep the parchment paper in place! I now keep four of these in the kitchen drawer.

These look done to me. A toothpick confirms the diagnosis.

I cut half the brownies into squares for Jen & Ryan's Super-Housewarming-Bowl Party last weekend, then froze the remaining brownies. (They freeze really well.) The day of my party, I took them out of the freezer in the morning and used a cookie cutter to cut them into heart shapes. Super cute and super easy.

Peanut Butter and Jam Heart Cookies. Another recipe from Martha. She and her minions are geniuses for coming up with this stuff. I mean, seriously. How cute is this? I can't wait to make these again next year. I might make them "heartless" in the interim. Turns out they are delicious for breakfast, too.  

Valentine's Torta - goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.

I couldn't pass up this heart-shaped bamboo cutting board. It was the perfect way to serve two of my favorite cheeses - Manchego and Mahon.

The olive and artichoke tapenade. Mer (who, along with Christine, came over early to help)
assembled the platter. I normally split my veggies and carbs into quarters instead of sixths, but Mer's way looks better. Definitely doing this next time!

Christine added the "e" to this label on the wine. It looked so professional, everyone thought the wine was really named "Valentine".  (She also took over assembly of the sliders, of which I do not have a picture. But they turned out looking just like the picture in the recipe link above.)

Mango-Avocado salsa and chips. Honestly, the salsa was not as well-loved as some of the other things I made, but I had two mangos from the farm box that were ripe and needed to be used. One perhaps slightly inebriated guest who shall remain nameless offered the suggestion that "the guacamole needs to be smushed up more."

Oh well. I thought it was tasty and am looking forward to having it on a piece of grilled fish tomorrow for dinner.
This stuff will knock you on your ass. Kind of like the little diapered man's arrow, I suppose.
(Tito's, for those of you unfamiliar, is the best vodka on God's green Earth.)

Heart-shaped brownies and mini black bottom cupcakes. A veritable tower of choco-love.

Stuffed peppadews. This is the EASIEST "recipe" and a crowd pleaser to boot. Take a jar of peppadew peppers, drain them and pat them dry with paper towels. Pipe boursin that's been softened with a little cream or milk into their centers. The end. (You can pipe them with a plastic sandwich bag with a tiny corner cut off if you don't have a pastry bag and tips.)

Requisite candy.

If it can be made into a heart, I will make it so. No food is safe from my paring knife when there's a Valentine's theme at stake.

Hearts over the bar table.

Red roses, of course!

Happy Valentine's Day!