Friday, January 16, 2015

The plants are multiplying


plants, multiplying

I think D has been sneaking plants into our apartment when I'm not looking. And I don't mind. I guess houseplants are finally growing on me. (You see what I did there?)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crispy shallots


One of the deviled egg recipes for last weekend included crispy shallots, which meant I had to conquer my fear of deep frying. I've never done it because I've always been afraid that I'll catch the kitchen on fire.

But look! Success!

crispy shallots

Full disclosure - there was a tiny fire. But I think I could prevent that in the future.

I used this recipe and it was perfect, except for the part about the "small saucepan," which worked great for the initial cooking, but immediately boiled over on the second round. This is when the fire occurred. Luckily I was able to turn the flame off, pour the shallots into the prepared sieve and set the oil coated saucepan down on another counter. I almost considered giving up at this point but realized that the small saucepan was giving me a tiny surface area, which is basically the last thing you want when you're trying to quickly cook something. So I poured the oil into my favorite large pan*, got the oil back up to temp, dropped the shallots in, and BOOM - magic. The final product is so delicious that it was hard not to eat all of them before I got to the party.

One other modification - the recipe tells you to use a slotted spoon to transfer the shallots after the first cooking. But since you're already going to use a mesh sieve for the second transfer, it makes more sense to use it the whole time. I just set a small mesh sieve up over a large 2 quart glass measuring cup and poured the oil right into it. It was easy to pour the oil back in the pan to get it up to the higher temperature, and a lot less messy than trying to spoon a bunch of shallots out of hot oil.

Turns out there are tons of different methods for making crispy shallots and now I'm curious about them. The one I used was essentially a double fry method - you do a long slow cook at a lower temperature and then bump up the heat for a flash fry to crisp them up. But this Ina Garten recipe does a really long, slow cooking with no flash fry at the end. I'm curious how that would work.

Small note about frying and oils - I'm obviously a frying novice, but I'd like to point out that you want to make sure you're working with an oil that has a high enough smoke point. This recipe gets you up to 350 degrees. Canola oil is usually a safe bet, but if you want to make them paleo friendly you can use refined coconut oil. It's important that it's refined! Refined coconut oil can safely get up to 350 degrees, which doesn't leave you much wiggle room so make sure you're watching the thermometer. The temp drops down as soon as you add the shallots and never gets back up to 350, so you don't need to maintain it long. The oils I looked at in Whole Foods all had labels with the smoke point on them, which made it much easier to figure out.

Save your jar, because you can pour the oil back in after the frying and use it. It'll be flavored like shallots, and it will be delicious.

* I'm still deeply obsessed with our stainless steel pans, which have held up to daily abuse for the last five years. Of course, it's been so long that the original set isn't sold anymore, which makes me sad. But if you are going to have just one amazing pan, let it be a straight sided stainless steel braising pan, about 12 inches across and 2 - 3 inches deep (it holds about 3 quarts). I had the Emeril version, which I think was just a slightly less expensive model from All-Clad. But if I had to, I'd splurge on the All-Clad high end version, or see if they have any other slightly lower end options available. This one looks most similar to what I have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kristin's nautical sip and see

My dear friend Kristin had her second baby in December and instead of a baby shower we had an open house where people could drop by and meet the baby. I was cohosting, so I only had to focus on the food. Specifically, paleo food! Kris and her family are paleo and we wanted to make sure most of the food options were compatible. As is par for the course lately, I failed to get many pictures but it was a really wonderful afternoon of eating and passing around the sleepy new baby. Welcome Matteo!

bites

cookies!

main table

I have enough friends who are paleo that I was pretty familiar with the restrictions (at the most basic - no grains, no dairy, no vegetable oils, no sugar) and it's really easy to find good recipes that meet those criteria online. I think that most people wouldn't have noticed that any of the savory food was paleo specifically.

For savory bites I made:
- bacon wrapped dates stuffed with pistachios (stuffed and wrapped a day ahead of time, baked the morning of, served room temp) - with uncured bacon instead of lamb bacon
- asian-style meatballs (made and baked the day before, served cool)
- deviled eggs three ways (eggs boiled three days ahead using this method, peeled one day ahead, fillings made one day ahead and stored in ziploc bags, filled the morning of by cutting off one corner of each bag and using them like pastry bags, except for the tuna one which had to be spooned) - with crispy shallots and jalapenos*, with tuna confit, and guacamole style.

I have never made grain free baked goods, so I made sure I picked a well reviewed recipe. These paleo chocolate chip cookies are a definite treat, but they feel healthier and fill you right up (probably because of the almond flour). Bonus - they're basically the easiest cookies you could possibly make. They were best fresh out of the oven, but alas, that wouldn't work for a party. They were still very good the next day and we're actually just finishing up the last of them today and they've gone down well with paleo and non-paleo people alike. The texture is not cookie like - it's more like a muffin top - but they're tasty.

Since not everyone has exactly the same paleo rules, I included food tags slightly more detailed than usual, listing the ingredients for each dish.

To please any carb hungry guests one of our other friends made beautiful sugar cookies, big platters of non-paleo sandwiches, hummus and vegetables and we also had a giant batch of guacamole (paleo) and tortilla chips (not paleo, I think). I also made non-paleo chocolate toffee cookies.

I wasn't in charge of the decorations but I wanted to add a bit of nautical flair to the food platters, so I cut blue cardstock into strips about 1" wide and freehand cut waves. D saw me doing it and asked if he could try and he ended up being so much better at it that I asked him to cut the rest (benefits of having an architect for a partner!). I packed them flat and then attached them to the edge of the cake stands and platters with Zots once I arrived. Easy-peasy.

It was such a lovely, low key way to celebrate with the family and I'm honored that I was able to be a part of it. Congratulations, Kris!



*Because regular mayo is usually made with canola oil and isn't paleo compliant, I tried making homemade mayo with avocado oil. And failed, four times, even after frantically googling several different recipes. I was starting with Nom Nom's recipe and it just didn't work for me. I managed to salvage a small batch of mayo by re-emulsifying it with another egg yolk and it was enough for the eggs, but I seriously don't know what was happening. I think the avocado oil might be more temperamental because I've never had a problem getting my Caesar salad dressing to emulsify, even when I'm being much lazier.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rena's baby shower


eucalyptus three ways

mini arrangements

wreaths

frosting tints

Packed

centerpiece

sweets

savories

My little sister is due in March and I was so excited to throw this shower. It was fairly large - about 35 people - and incredibly joyful. I wanted to make sure that it had some personal details while still being manageable for me to host.

January can be a rough month for flowers, especially if you are looking for them the weekend AFTER the holidays. When I went to the flower mart on Friday a lot of the vendors weren't even there. Luckily I'd planned on using tons of eucalyptus, which is easy to get (and inexpensive!). I knew I wanted a few real flowers for color, but I wasn't wedded to anything in particular, which is good because all I could get was roses. So I ended up with three dozen roses (I was lucky and they had some that were reduced in price because they were fully blown, which is how I like them anyways, so they were just $4.75 per dozen) and huge bundles of three types of eucalyptus. All told, I only spent $45 on foliage.

Our seating was 60" rounds, which are kind of beasts in terms of decoration. A small arrangement can get marooned. Instead I picked up 18" wire wreath forms from Joann's and made large eucalyptus wreaths. This was definitely a move born of ignorance. I'd never made a wreath before, so I had no idea how time consuming it would be. Fun, but time consuming. I think I spent at least an hour per wreath. Luckily I only had to make five and I could watch mindless television. The wreaths looked full and gorgeous on Friday, but were definitely slightly wilted and dried by Sunday. It's fine, because eucalyptus dries well, you just lose a bit of fullness. I made a few small vase arrangements and ended up using them in the center of the wreaths. I didn't add the roses to the wreaths until they were already in place at the shower because I didn't want to deal with them getting wilted and crushed in transport. I 100% could not have done this project if I had to work a full schedule the week before the shower.

I had originally planned to do a baby photo guessing game with pictures from the guests, but realized that it was too difficult with two large families. Instead I just printed them and used them as part of the centerpieces. Each table had photos of the guests seated there plus one of Rena. It was a fun little detail, especially when you could spot the family resemblances. And yes, I did assign seats. I feel pretty strongly about this in general, but at a large party where not everyone knows each other I wanted to make sure that no one felt like the new kid in the cafeteria. I tried to leave an empty seat at each table to facilitate mingling (especially because I knew Rena would want to spend some time at each table).

I knew I couldn't do all the food myself but I also couldn't afford to fully cater it. I did a hybrid instead, making the desserts (because I love them) and two enormous salads and purchasing sandwiches from Lee's. Rena loves Lee's vegetarian bahn mi, so this was an easy choice. I think Lee's is mostly a So Cal thing, although it looks like they might have locations elsewhere? Instead of ordering party platters I just ordered a ton of sandwiches and cut them up. I got about half and half traditional European style and bahn mi. I picked up chips and dip from Costco to round the whole thing out. Don't worry - I took that photo before all the sandwiches were out - there was more food. (Per usual - I had to go boxes for the leftover food to be sent home with guests)

I underestimated the drink situation, which is a mistake I won't make again. I think we had just enough to squeak through the party, which horrified me because unless there's plenty left over I worry that people didn't have enough. I had purchased 6 bottles of sparkling lemonade, 3 bottles of wine and 3 bottles of champagne (plus copious amounts of sparkling water - we didn't run out of water) and there were just two measly glasses of champagne left at the end. I hope no one went thirsty. I probably should have done 10 bottles of lemonade and 8 bottles of alcohol. I normally use one of those drink calculators to figure out what to buy but I was frazzled and 6 seemed like a nice round number. Live and learn.

The party was too large for anyone's house but luckily D's grandmother has a clubhouse in her community that we could use for free and they had the tables and chairs, which meant I only had to rent linens. It was amazing, even if the large space was a little harder to work with than a home. And you know what makes up for green upholstered chairs and green carpet? Enormous refrigerators in the fully concealed back kitchen. I'm so lucky that we had this option because otherwise I was looking at a renting a space in a community center and it's a bit pricey and also more restrictive.

Whew. The list of logistics makes it sound much less fun than it actually was. Once the party was underway it was wonderful. Rena looked adorable (sorry - I neglected to get any of my signature no-head blog photos and I'm a bit squeamish about putting innocent people's faces front and center on the blog) and it was lovely to get the chance to catch up with everyone in the lull after the holidays.

I can't wait to meet my niece in March! Hoping I can take a little time off and make a trip up there around the due date. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Holiday snippets


gingerbread spread
{gingerbread spread}

dividing
{dividing}

cookie boxes
{cookie boxes}

new toy!
{new toy!}

christmas cookie platter
{christmas traditions}

December ended up being crazier than we anticipated. D had been job hunting, knowing he needed a new job by January 1st. He landed a great one mid-December, and we're both super grateful, but they needed him immediately and the transition was hectic for us on the home front. Hence the desperate searching for dog walkers* and some frantic schedule juggling on our end, complicated a bit by some family illnesses that ended up meaning a lot of back and forth to OC. Luckily I get some time off around the holidays, so we had two weeks of full blown crazy and then a bit of a reprieve, which I used to crank out about a million Christmas cookies, probably because I was still running on adrenaline.

We had the annual gingerbread house party and it was good to get back into the tradition. It was smaller this year, which I think was a nice way to get us back in the swing of things.

I divided up all the cookies into platters for each festivity (we celebrate at three different houses between Christmas Eve and Christmas) plus boxes for our drop in visits at other places. This year I tried making an identification key for the cookie boxes. I just arranged all the cookies in the boxes and then wrote the names on a sheet of parchment paper.

The holiday itself was lovely. We don't exchange gifts anymore, so we just sit around and drink champagne and eat cookies most of the day.

Okay, we did get gifts for Circe, because we couldn't resist. D's grandmother bought her this crazy ball with little noise sliders inside and it's amazing - she has never loved anything so much in her entire life. She'll play with it until she's panting and about to drop from exhaustion and we finally take it away from her. Then she gets a drink of water and begs for it again. Of course, we can't let her play with it much in our apartment (we're upstairs, and we're not assholes) but we've started taking her out to an empty lot so she can get her time in.

January 1st kind of passed me by. I haven't done my budget. I haven't even sat down and had time for reflection. I threw a baby shower for my sister over the weekend (more on that tomorrow!) and I have one more baby shower to help with this weekend and then I think I'll sit down and reflect a bit. I'm not big on firm resolutions, but I have the feeling that this could be a transitional year with lots of changes and I'd like some time to get my head on straight.

Hope you all had a wonderful December!



*We did find a dog walker and I'm so glad, because the transition has been heart breaking enough as it is. Poor Circe is having a difficult time adjusting. Maybe I'll post later on everything we're doing to try to make it easier, although I'm afraid it will completely expose me as the most dog obsessed person ever. Seriously, I feel like the only way I could be weirder was if I actually quit my job just to stay home with her.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Homemade crackers

Possibly the most unnecessary holiday task to add to your list. Yet still kind of fun.

fig almond crackers
{fig almond crackers}

I made these for Friendsgiving and while it would have been much smarter not to give myself an extra task, I have to admit they were pretty delicious. And they actually held up well, so I could definitely have baked them a day or two ahead and stored them in a ziploc bag.

These crackers are easy (I think I put together the dough in less than 15 minutes) and they can be stored in the freezer and baked off as needed. I still have a half log that I'm looking forward to using and I'm even contemplating making another batch.

I've clearly been brainwashed by MSL.

Recipe is here - no need for edits. I used vermouth instead of port to avoid buying one more bottle of rarely used alcohol and it worked perfectly well. They are really good with creamy brie. They're more delicate than grocery store crackers, but our guests agreed that the deliciousness outweighed any inconvenience.

A word of warning - I also made the cheddar and gruyere version and I was so frustrated with them. It took a lot of cheese (that had to be finely grated by hand) and then they froze so solid that even after letting them sit out for longer than I was supposed to they still cracked into giant pieces when I tried to slice them. The final product was decent tasting, but I would never make them again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Emily's shower!


Emily's baby shower was last weekend and it was as lovely as you might expect.

I "cohosted" with two other friends, which was amazing because we divvied up the work and I put dibs on dessert (duh) and went nuts with it. I can't claim any credit for the gorgeous decorations or flowers. I was busy enjoying myself during the party and didn't snap many pictures, but here are a few, followed by some recipe links and info.

stamping

dessert set up

cake!

sugarfina candy!

candy bags

to go boxes

Desserts: For the desserts I kept E's tastes in mind (plenty of chocolate, no nuts mixed in) and tried to choose a variety of recipes that would ensure everyone would find something to enjoy. I also wanted to include a couple of desserts that hearkened back to childhood favorites, since we were celebrating the arrival of a child.

For the standbys, I chose these reliably crowd pleasing chocolate cookies (modified to use toffee instead of nuts), rosemary butter cookies, and one of E's favorites -  white chocolate chip cookies (sorry - I just used the recipe on the bag and then threw the bag away without writing it down - bad blogger). For all of these, I made the dough a couple weeks ahead of time and froze it.

I wanted rice krispie treats, but a bit fancier, so I used this recipe for a salted caramel version and they turned out great. The only modification I made was that I used a dry caramel process instead of wet, which is just my personal preference because it's a bit faster. This is just a fancy way of saying that I left out the water the recipe calls for and just cooked the sugar until it turned a nice deep amber and then tossed in the butter, cream and salt.

Emily loves s'mores so I wanted a cookie version. I found several recipes for s'mores bars, picked one, annnnd .... it was a dismal failure. The graham cracker crust was too crumbly and couldn't be cut without falling apart completely. The chocolate layer was overly sweet and hard as a brick. It was a big bummer. I contemplated that pan for awhile and acknowledged that the sane thing to do would be to shrug my shoulders, toss it in the trash and pretend I never planned to make them. There was more than enough dessert without them. It will probably surprise exactly none of you to hear that I couldn't let the dream go and made a new batch that I cobbled together from multiple different recipes. I'm pretty proud of how they turned out and I'll share that recipe soon. Okay, soonish. I should really test them again first so I can give you the yield and everything.

I also made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting (used the German buttercream recipe I love and did the cream cheese modification) and decorated it all fancy. I was using this tutorial, and I accidentally made the colors way brighter than I intended and didn't have enough spare frosting to tone it down. The problem with amateur cake decorating is that it's hard to find enough occasions to practice. I'm sure I'd do better next time, but how often do I need a three layer cake? (I did finally treat myself to a cheap cake turntable and actual icing comb, and they made the decorating so much easier)

Drinks: For starting the party we wanted to have a drink option that would be equally delicious with or without alcohol. I opted for this grapefruit shrub and added a bit of lime juice and then cut it with Le Croix grapefruit flavored sparkling water. For the spiked version I added some vodka but with a light hand, since it was only noon. I didn't do exact proportions, but I think it was about 1 part shrub: 5 parts sparkling water: 1/4 part lime juice. For the spiked version, it was about 1 part shrub: 1/2 part vodka: 4 parts sparkling water: 1/4 part lime juice. Again, sorry for the horribly inexact recipe. Things got a little hectic pre-party, as they tend to do.

Small details: One of my favorite ways to add a quick personal touch is with a custom stamp. I think I've mentioned this before, but it's really easy (and not that expensive) to get a stamp made. I've been using rubberstamps.net for years and I like them because they ship quickly and I can usually find a discount code. I use Illustrator for design work, but you could do this in Powerpoint or Word as well, it just might be a little more time consuming!

I used the custom stamp on simple paper bags so guests could take home candy from the Sugarfina candy bar. I smuggled out several bulging bags of candy for myself because they do gummies like no one else does. I used a gold pigment stamp pad and ended up having to emboss them because the pigment ink didn't dry well on the slightly waxed surface of the bags.

I also used the stamp (and embossed it) on bakery boxes I'd purchased so we could pawn off the leftover dessert easily. This is one of my top recommendations for parties with lots of dessert - have something ready so you can send leftovers home. You can get bakery boxes at most cake shops (this is what I did for our wedding) or online (I ordered these ones for the shower and will be using up the rest of them for years).

I always like to make labels for the food so people don't have to choose blindly. I designed these ones in Illustrator, printed them and then just attached them to bamboo skewers. I didn't manage to get any decent pictures of them so you'll have to trust me that they existed.

In order to keep the design consistent I used the same fonts for the stamp and the labels. Miss B is my favorite font person, so I searched her blog for a great handwritten font recommendation, came across Bombshell Pro, and promptly recognized it from E's blog which made it seem like a match made in heaven. I used Bebas and 5AM Gender for the bold font (these two are very similar so I sometimes mix and match them).

It was such a special day and I'm really looking forward to meeting this little girl.