Monday, September 19, 2011

Sharing is Caring

I’m a terrible sharer. Know thyself, right? Well, I really am terrible at sharing.

And honestly, I always have been. I remember this moment in kindergarten, when some kid in my class (who will go unnamed because we’re no doubt Facebook friends now) borrowed my beloved box of Cray-Pas – those awesome waxy pastel crayons, and by far my favorite art supply, ever – and broke half of them and gummed up the other half, by, for example, running the light yellow one over a dark purple. I mean, what kind of uncouth barbarian does that to the colors? Ugh.
Sharing is something I’ve really had to work on as an adult…for me, it takes active mindfulness to not be fazed when a friend borrows something and accidentally breaks it…or never returns it. My own personal version of therapy for this problem is part of the reason I got a white sofa. If you’re going to be upset about people spilling on your white sofa, you shouldn’t have one. For me, throwing parties and having a white sofa is a lesson in personal development.

I’m not kidding.

I don’t really know what my problem is. Maybe this is all because I was an only child half the time, and a fussily particular one at that. Maybe it’s because the rest of the time I was an eldest child in a house where my personal items – clothing, jewelry, books etc. – were always under threat of disappearance at the hands of an admiring younger sibling.

But as an adult I have come to understand that there are times for being selfish and times for sharing and when four pounds of cured pork shows up at your doorstep, that is definitely a time for sharing. A Tasty Salted Pig Parts Party was obviously in order.

A while ago, Gilt Taste had a steal of a deal on a bunch of delicious cured pork from La Quercia, an artisanal producer in Iowa. You might not necessarily think of Iowa first when you’re thinking of fine prosciutto or coppa, but then again, you also probably wouldn’t think of Iowa as having any ski hills, and yet, I have downhill skied in Iowa. It’s a very surprising state.

Obviously, given the lardo-lonza-coppa-prosciutto bounty delivered unto me by FedEx (and unpacked by dear Meredith while I was on a business trip to no doubt somewhere in the Midwest), I felt compelled to do a vaguely Tuscan theme for the rest of the food. Here was the final menu lineup for the cocktail party:

Piggy Parts // Coppa Piccante, Coppa Americano, Lonza, Prosciutto Piccante
Italian Cheeses // Brigante / Asiago / Aged Provolone
Assorted Breads / Crackers / Grissini
Melon / Figs / Grapes
Homemade Tomato Jam / Homemade Cherry Jam / Pumpkin Jam from Eataly
Lardo Spread (Which is literally seasoned lard. And it’s awesome.)

Pickled Items // Spicy Okra / String Beans / Olives (All from Whole Foods. I suck at pickling.)
Stuffed Peppadew Peppers // Boursin
Baby BLTs // butter lettuce / heirloom tomatoes / basil mayo / brioche

Crostini Bar
Broccoli Rabe Pesto / Fresh Mozzarella
All, served with Grilled Bread

Tirami su
Mini Peach Pies with Amaretti Topping (adapted from here, with this crust)

Wine / Italian Beer / Campari & Soda

I loved doing the shopping for this particular party because it gave me an excuse to go to North Beach – the "Italian Neighborhood" in San Francisco – to pick up some authentic grissini, Perugina Baci candies, and of course, the Amaretti di Saronno in a new tin from A. Molinari, an Italian deli that's been around for ages. 

Here are some images of the food. I’ve linked the recipes above and included my very favorite Tirami su recipe even though “Tirami su is so passé” (per Mom). Whatever Mom, it’s delicious.

Setting a Tuscan mood with sunflowers. Ok, ok, not really. In truth, I just wanted an excuse to buy flowers.

Peaches, scored and getting ready for their dip in boiling water before peeling.

Peach filling for the mini pies. Are peaches not the most beautiful fruit, all sunny and blushing at the same time? They remind me of the hybrid tea rose Peace, which we always had in the rose garden at home.

I love these amarettini cookies. The best is after the tin has been open for a couple of weeks and they get a little bit chewy. Yum. For the mini peach pies, I crushed them and added them to both the topping and the filling. I had never done that before, and it was a little risky, but I will definitely do it again.

Campari and soda. My favorite aperitif!

Fruits of the season.


I love the ingredients on the lardo. It's disturbing how delicious it is. Delicious enough to consider eschewing butter forever. And I really love butter.

A bad picture of the remaining BLTs.

More meat!

The mini peach pies.

Part of the crostini bar: (clockwise from upper left) honey roasted cherry tomatoes, broccoli rabe pesto, lardo.  The grilled bread (unforutnately unphotographed) was a major hit and so easy. Brush slices of ciabatta with olive oil and throw on the grill pan until they smoke. Done!

Rosemary crostini, ricotta, sauteed mushrooms with fontina.

What was left of the tirami su.

I know! You just have to make this, right? 
Ok, here's the recipe:

Vitullo Tirami Su (adapted from The Italian Baker by Carole Field)
1 pound 2 ounces (500 grams) fresh mascarpone (get the latest expiration date you can)
3 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
Grand Marnier, approx. ½ cup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ladyfingers – the soft kind, not the crunchy kind. Either get two packages (you can usually get them in the bakery at any big supermarket) or make them from scratch. I recommend the former.
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ ounce bar semi-sweet chocolate (optional)

With a handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the mascarpone on medium speed until smooth. (DO NOT OVERBEAT OR IT WILL GET CHUNKY AND GROSS.)
Add the cream, 1 ½ cups confectioners sugar, 3-4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier and the vanilla. Beat on high speed until thickened, smooth and creamy. (It should have the consistency of thick pudding). In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar with a spoon and set aside.

Put one layer of ladyfingers in a 9x13 pan. Brush the ladyfingers with Grand Marnier. (Don’t soak them in booze. The tops of the ladyfingers should be just dampened.)
Spread half the mascarpone mixture on this layer. Sift half of the cocoa-sugar mixture on the mascarpone layer. Add another layer of ladyfingers, brush with liqueur, and spread the rest of the mascarpone on top. Sift the remaining cocoa-sugar mixture on top. If you want to be fancy, grate the semi-sweet chocolate over the cocoa using a vegetable peeler.

NOTE: This is MUCH better if made at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in advance.
Another note: You can make this in any size pan you want, but I recommend not doing more than 3 layers of ladyfingers or it gets a little overwhelming.

Truffles and Baci in a little piggy bowl.

Seriously, how cute is this?

The best part of the party was actually that I sliced my right index finger pretty aggressively with a huge serrated knife while slicing some of the coppa, just minutes before guests were due to arrive.  I managed to clean up the trail of blood leading from kitchen through breakfast room to bathroom and grab some gauze for my finger before anyone arrived, but I knew the finger situation was a bit dire…it wouldn’t stop bleeding…

Despite personal injury, here's why it was the best part: part of the reason I absolutely love and adore my friends is that when they showed up, I was able to easily hand over the entire party to them (while I made a quick trip to the ER for wound irrigation and assessment of whether stitches were necessary) without batting an eyelash. When I got back from the ER an hour or so later, the party was in full effect and everyone was having a good time. It was kind of awesome.

Big thanks to Jeff for letting people in the door, and Rayleen, Britta, and Blake for ensuring everyone was welcomed, well fed and wine-d in my absence.  And of course, even more thanks to Meredith for accompanying me to the ER and not making fun of me for flirting shamelessly with Dr. McDreamy…er…McDermott.

It was a good party.

Thursday, September 08, 2011


Sometimes you’re not at home.

Sometimes you’re on vacation. Not often enough, really. But still. You’re in a rental condo. The kitchen is equipped in “third-world” manner, which reminds you of many years ago, in your actual youth, when you were cooking at your Dad’s house. (“Dad, cooking in your kitchen is like what I imagine cooking in the Third World to be like.”) Because you are a spoiled brat whose Mom owned a first generation Cuisinart.

On this vacation, you’re with wonderful friends. Friends who you just adore traveling with. Friends who don’t get annoyed at you for wanting to cease hiking after you’ve essentially climbed up a stony, muddy, ant-infested mountain for two miles – making good use of your “walking stick” a.k.a. tiki torch without the torch part – only to be thrown into a state of crankiness verging on misery after ineffective fording of a “river” that put you face down, scraped and bruised, on some slimy rocks with tropical waters rushing over you. Friends who say things like “Guys, I am really getting concerned. We are rapidly approaching happy hour and we have no wine.” Good, dear friends.

Unfortunately, vacation grocery shopping frequently isn’t inline with the expectations of a person who lives in the salad bowl that is Northern California. And thus, sacrifices must be made. Jarred salsa must be purchased.

I know. It hurts me, too. On the inside.

Fear not, my friends! Even you can rescue jarred salsa. Here’s how.

1. Get yourself some fresh cilantro. I don’t care where you are, there’s a grocery store with cilantro. If you’re on vacation anywhere warm, this cilantro probably costs an entire dollar. Buy a bunch.

2. Chop some of it up, and add it to your salsa. There are no quantities here. Maybe like a fistful? I don’t know. How much do you like cilantro? Yes, the knives in the vacation rental will not be sharp. Do not worry. It’s ok if you bruise the cilantro.

3. OPTIONAL: If you happen to be lucky – so lucky as we were, with someone GIVING AWAY fresh avocados from their tree on the lanai – (What? I love Kaua’i! Why I am I flying home?!?!) chop up half an avocado or so and toss that in.

4. Relish in the magic you’ve created: cooked salsa that tastes totally fresh and fantastic. (P.S. This trick also works great in the winter – Super Bowl party, anyone? – when tomatoes suck and you’re just really craving some chips and salsa.)

On a separate note – some food (and other) highlights from Kaua’i:

Have you ever seen this? The Princeville, Kaua’I FoodLand was selling variegated lemons. Crazy tropical zebra lemons!

Why yes, that is a chicken crossing the road.

I think he wanted to take a ride in a helicopter without doors. Sorry, Chicken!

These were my “crispy poached eggs” at the Kaua’i Grill at the St. Regis. Ridiculously delicious. In honesty, I need to work on my adjectives because I have no words – no words – to describe these.

And here’s the Black Pepper Octopus. Per Mom’s advice, these were indeed incredible. As was everything we ate at dinner.

Butterfish sashimi. Oh, how I worship you.