Tag Archives: entertaining

Politics, Holidays, and Artichoke Dip

9 Nov

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Holy cow.

What a whirlwind.  We’ve been in November for 9 days.  And it’s been nuts.

Let’s just look at this empirically, shall we?  With the start of November, first there was the take down of Halloween.  Halloween has just gotten too spooky.  Seriously people, enough already with the blood and goo and violent paraphernalia.  We are not the real life Walking Dead and I do imagine if a live zombie came lumbering and grumbling your way, you might poop yourself and run (it’s always a good time for an oxymoron or two).  So what’s with the increasingly growing gore of Halloween?

Growing up, my mom and I would visit local craft shops set up in parking lots and fields and ogle at all the cute pumpkin, scarecrow, turkey, and charming broomsticky things representing the start of the autumn season.  Somehow, that innocence seems to have been forgotten.  Nowadays, we’ve gone straight from this growing grossness of a spooky, dead-loving holiday to – wait for it – Christmas?

It was August 30th when I saw my first sign of Christmas.  Rob and I were in Costco and they had just displayed their wrapping ribbon.  We stopped, looked at the ribbon, looked at each other, and with a slight head shake (and most possible eye roll), kept walking.  The day before Halloween, we saw our first Christmas commercial.  However after discussing it (yes, we discuss these things), we decided it didn’t officially count because the real commercial showing Christmas is upon us is the one with the Hershey Kisses bells ringing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Yes, I am coining that as the official sign of Christmas – Hershey’s Chocolate, you’re welcome.  Anywho, despite my love, adoration, borderline slight obsession with Christmas (our house blows up into a reindeer, elk, and moose bedazzled wonderland), it’s frankly not yet time.

While the commercial world tries to build up this monstrosity of constant technology, and gimme, gimme, gimme attitudes, and desensitizes children from the innocence of these holidays – clearly, the teacher in me has a bone to pick – I am determined to not let November fly by in a disingenuous prelude to Christmas.

Also, in between good riddance-ing Halloween, avoiding a premature Christmas celebration, and fitting in the best historical foodie celebration our nation celebrates, there was probably one of the most stressful, surprising, amazing, horrible, and memorable elections our nation has probably ever seen.

Over the last few years, our national hard drive has been doused with water, sparking shards of entitlement and division and teaching blame-to-everyone-else-rather-than-accountability across our land.  So this morning, after turning off the tv around 1:45am and then still staying up way too late with anxiety and anticipation, I roused myself to full awareness around 4am to a historical headline.

And despite anyone’s political affiliation, I think most can agree that this election pushed the giant reset button on that national hard drive (and finally those horrible commercials can stop).

So, taking slow steps through this significant day, I mindfully look at my little home adorned with the peaceful signs of the season: pumpkins made from old draperies found in a southern mountain store in NC, red maple leaf placemats, and my personal favorite, antique 14-carat gold rimmed, hand-painted dessert plates adorned with turkeys, pheasants, and mallards.  They are all now in their showcased place, ready for their 43,830 minutes of fame (that’s total minutes in November, and math is cool).

By golly, all of this calls for a damn good dish.

While we are just starting to wake up to a morning chill here in North Florida, I feel the need to plunge head first into everything autumnal, even if it means I need to turn my air conditioning down to a sweater-wearing degree.  It’s also the season for entertaining, and my mind is racing with great ideas for great food with great people – no matter what the celebration.

Like this Artichoke White Bean Dip.  It’s simple, it’s easy and it is oh-so-good.  Hardly an indulgence, it’s not as dairy-filled as many artichoke dips tend to be.  Being dip-worthy, spread-worthy, put-on-a-sandwich-or-mix-with-tuna-fish-worthy, this has become a new standard for easy, crowd-pleasing recipes.

So in between tonight’s news reports claiming disbelief at what just politically happened, and the constant Pier 1 Christmas commercials, make this dip and serve it to a friend or two (with a cocktail, of course).  Its warmth and depth will comfort you with Autumn, helping bring the season back to the heart of what it is meant to be.

Enjoy it.

Warm Artichoke White Bean Dip
makes about 28 oz, enough for a whole crowd (or one hungry night)

  • 9 oz (usually 1 box) thawed, cooked artichoke hearts
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • s&p
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • shredded cheddar cheese to top *optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, mix all above ingredients except for the olive oil.  Make sure everything is well incorporated and taste for seasoning.  When mixed, pour into an oven-proof baking dish (a ceramic pie dish works well).  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil (and cheese, if using), and put in oven until the top is browned and the mixture is hot throughout. 

Serve with crudités, bread, pitas, crackers, or simply a spoon (save the spoon for home-alone times, not so much entertaining). 

Enjoy!

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Leftovers

29 Nov

Have you ever had that feeling of happiness and sadness at the same time?  Like, when you finish reading a fantastic book, or when the lights come on after a standing ovation at the theater – it’s a feeling of complete joy but also sadness about that enjoyable experience coming to a close.  This may sound over-romanticized, but that’s how I always feel after Thanksgiving weekend is over, and this year was no exception.

My Turkey Day Trials paid off as the menu was flawless and well-prepared.  The snow day our district received the Wednesday prior was also an added bonus as I was able to get many dishes done ahead of time.  By the time the sun came up on Thursday, drying out all the snow and thawing out the ground, Rob and I were able to enjoy breakfast, watch the Macy’s Parade, watch the Dog Show, and cheer on the Patriots in the background while trussing the turkey.  The only time our schedule got tight was when I forgot to broil the yams (to toast the ever-present, much debated marshmallow topping).

As my parents knocked on the door, we had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres ready, with dinner fresh and hot on the warming tray.  It was so good to see my mom and dad again, and even better to have them stay as guests in our home.  It felt like our little house was now completely nested having such great company.

Although I may have gone overboard a bit with the food. It was my first Thanksgiving – better to have too much than too little!  Plus it made for excellent weekend-long leftovers. 🙂  Here was the menu:

Hors D’Oeuvres:
– brie cheese with onion jam and honey crisp apples
– cashews
– shrimp cocktail

Mains:
– Turkey (not stuffed, but filled with garlic, lemon, sage, rosemary, and thyme, and drenched in olive oil, salt and pepper.  I also poured a mix of white wine and turkey stock into the bottom of the roaster, so a flavorful steam would keep the bird moist).
Apple and leek stuffing
– Rob’s potatoes (silky smooth with the addition of cream cheese)
– Marshmallow yams (an old classic made super flavorful by roasting yams – skin on – adding real maple syrup to the mix, and toasting the you-know-what out of the marshmallows).

Sides:
– black & green olives
– Mandarin oranges
– Turkey gravy
– Horseradish pickled cucumbers and peppers
Applesauce
– Cranberry sauce (yes, the jellied canned kind – we wouldn’t have it any other way!)
– Dinner rolls (Alex Guarnaschelli’s recipe) with homemade sage honey butter.

Dessert:
– Pumpkin pie (since my disastrous pumpkin pie episode, I’ve made 4… let’s just say I got the recipe down).
Gingerbread, chocolate mousse, & brandied pear trifle (OMG.  Really, just OMG).
Cardamom shortbread cookies
See’s Peppermint Patties

Seriously, I think we all gained about 7 1/2 pounds each.

But this smorgasbord provided excellent leftover options, which is, arguably, the best part of Thanksgiving dinner.  The desserts made excellent accompaniments to the morning cups of joe, and the delicious buttery dinner rolls were perfect vehicles for shoveling overflowing turkey and cranberry sandwiches (with extra mayo) into our wide-open mouths.

We stayed pretty active the whole weekend seeing the sites Coos Bay had to offer.  One major highlight was the HH-65 circling our house with a fully dressed Santa Claus jubilantly waving out the side door (it’s good to have connections to people who can fly Santa around!).  We hiked, we explored, we shopped, we got rained on, and were always welcomed back to an exuberant amount of leftovers and a warm fireplace.  And when the weather got too dodgy, the games we played (or maybe how we played them) were so side-splitting funny, Seinfeld could have used us for a new pilot sitcom.

Scrabble Slam was the first requested game, which led to a flurry of thrown cards, and frenzied shouting of suitable-for-the-family 4-letter-words.  I, at one point, tried my hardest to get “poop” down on the table, but to no avail just kept shouting the word “poop” while someone else’s card took my spot.  Yeah, how’s that mental image treating you?

And then there was Slamwich.  Slamwich is the best game – ever.  I highly recommend this game to any foodie fan, or just anyone in general looking for an entertaining way to make, munch, and steal a sandwich.  My mom and I purchased the game in Florence after a day of shopping, and met my dad and Rob at the sports bar they were holding down watching the Oregon game.  Joining them, we sat at the bar, ordered a drink and appetizers, and proceeded to read the rules to this silly, silly game.  15 minutes later, we were drawing serious looks from across the room as we were slapping slices of bacon, cheering on our sandwich thieves, and calling out each other’s “slipslaps” with gusto.  Needless to say, we were quite a scene.

But our Slamwich efforts were soon squashed by the determination and competitiveness the Wii brought to the party.  Rob and my dad literally wore a spot in our wood (I lied – laminate) floor playing endless rounds of bowling.  It was hilarious!  Then the boxing and sword fighting started.  The squealing laughter of frantically punching the air and ducking from invisible punches, jabs and stabs filled the house.  At one point, I just sat back and thought, “This. Is. Awesome.”

As most wonderful things do, the weekend flew by.  Rob and I finished most of the leftovers with stuffing and turkey stuffed mushrooms and relaxed before getting ready to face another Monday workday.  Although this Monday our pants were quite a bit tighter, it was just a reminder of the fabulous family, food, fun, and fabulous Thanksgiving weekend memories.

Are you ready for some football?

5 Oct

Well, Rob was.  And so were our friends.  I was more ready for the food, and the chance to entertain with some of our new wedding gifts!!!

Rob and I had our first party with some people he knew from work, who are becoming my friends, too.  In all honesty, I do enjoy watching football.  It’s a great weekend when you wake up to cool, crisp mornings with tea and toast, and end the day with beer and yelling at the TV.  The Bears lost yesterday (boo), but the company and food was a win-win situation.

Although our house is not large, we comfortably fit about 8 people, all with eyeshot of the screen while keeping a good, but not uncomfortably weird, conversation distance.  Only planning this get together a day in advance, I was channeling my two Goddesses of Entertaining: Lulu and Ina.

Lulu Powers is one of those women who writes and you believe she is permanently walking on a cloud of meringue.  Or valium.  Or maybe a blissful combination of both.  But in all seriousness and respect, her stories talk of entertaining at its best – old fashioned cocktails, the unexpected pop-up guests, the late night taco feast – you name it.  The biggest thing I took from her tips was to keep things simple – people love comfortable and familiar things anytime, but especially to make them feel comfortable and at ease in your house.

Ina Garten, oh Ina, what a classy lady.  Her cooking is fabulous, her attitude is always sunny, and I think one of the main reasons I love her is how much watching her reminds me of my Grandpa (not Ina personally… just keep reading).

About a year before he passed, I was visiting him in Long Island, NY, and he and I had a fabulous time wine tasting on the North Fork, going to a show, shopping, and of course, visiting the Hamptons.  Grandpa was an excellent businessman, and in his retired time, he was also a realtor.  So, in our trip to the Hamptons, we drove along the main drag, down the streets with the high and perfectly trimmed bushes keeping beautiful landscaping in, and looky-loos like us, out. We had dressed for the day (unspoken and understood, of course), in casual yet expensive-nice attire (I was SO happy I hadn’t yet changed out my lime green Kate Spade purse!).  We looked like we could fit in perfectly, having a crisp Sauvignon Blanc on the front stoop, listening to the ocean crash in one ear and the bay tide in and out in the other.  And we got our chance.  As we were slowly making our way down to the farthest tip of the town, like the Scarecrow pointing the way to Oz, we saw it: FOR SALE, OPEN HOUSE.  Grandpa literally stopped the car in the middle of the road (no one was behind us – it’s the Hamptons for goodness sakes).  I was wide-eyed.

“Can we go in?”  The longing in my voice was, I’m sure, unmistakable.

“Well, let’s see.”  Calm as a cucumber.  “I think, well, hmm.”  He starts to look in the center console for, what I imagined to be, his realtor cards.  No luck.  The click of the console woke me to reality – I got a glimpse of a Hamptons mansion, but only true Hamptonites would be let inside.

And then, as if he was doing what he was meant to come to the Hamptons for, Grandpa turned the car up the driveway.

“What…. what are you doing?”  My heart was literally pounding.

Grandpa’s voice was normal – his calm self, with a bit of business savvy.  “I’m a realtor, and you are my granddaughter interested in seeing Hamptons property.”

It was true.  He was.  I was.  And I was about to poop my casual yet expensive-looking pants.

We toured the house, and it was an experience I will never forget.  The highest point in the house had a “lookout room” that had a 300 degree view with the bay on one side, ocean on the other.  We could see the pool/jacuzzi combination just below, and the tennis courts off in the distance.

We left the house elated, and treated ourselves to a fabulous lunch at 75 Main (I had linguini with clams, he had chicken, and we shared an earthy local Pinot Noir).  We were Hamptonites that day (Grandpa keeping his New York cool much better than I), and I hope to one day relive a similar experience in memory of him.

So, with my nod to Lulu and Ina (and the memory of my Grandpa), I tried to entertain like the best of them – comfortable yet elegant, casual and fun, all while keeping it classy.

I stuck with the basics for the nibblies: farm carrots sliced in ranch, M&Ms, salty and buttery cashews, and the ever popular BBQ seasoned popcorn – yes, I made it from popping kernels on the stove and concocted a blend of real spices.  I knew our guests, and they aren’t huge wine drinkers, but do drink wine.  So I stuck with easy-to-drink wine, inexpensive, with neat lables – Mad Housewife, and Lucky Duck.  We also got the seasonal Pumpkin Ale and Rob’s fave, Hoptober Ale.

Being a football party, everything qualified as finger foods, and the two winners were the Crab Pizza, and Turkey Burger Sliders.  People were questionable about the Crab Pizza, but one taste of the sweet, buttery crab, with tangy cheese, and a bit of a salty bite, and they were hooked.  I must say, this is a nod to my mom, who taught me how to make the crab pizza when I was a (hardly) starving student in my apartment in college longing for her home-cooked classics.  And the Turkey Burger Sliders with some carmelized onions, bread and butter pickles, and my Sweet Mustard Sauce…. finger licking yum.

It was no linguini with clams, but I know my Grandpa, my mom, Ina, and Lulu would have been proud.  Fun, friends, good food, and good memories – what more can you ask for?  (Well, maybe the Bears to win.)

(sorry, not a lot of pics in this one – we got caught up cooking.  But trust me, it all looked – and tasted – good!)

Crab Pizza

  • 1/4 c good, precooked, crab meat (I used Dungeness, but that’s just what’s left over from season)
  • 1 brick cream cheese (8 oz), room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp garlic salt
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • about 4 dashes of Worcheshire sauce
  • prepared pizza dough (with cornmeal for dusting pizza stone)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Spread pizza dough on pizza stone or sheet tray sprinkled with corn meal.  Prick with a fork many times, evenly, to keep dough thin.

Mix crabmeat, cream cheese, garlic salt, and pepper together in a bowl.  Spread evenly on top of pizza.  Dash the Worcheshire sauce on top (I do a circular pattern), and put in oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until dough is golden and firm.

Let sit out of oven for a few minutes.  Then, slice and serve hot!

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