Monday, October 25, 2010

House Swarming

This weekend Alex and I threw a housewarming party to celebrate the good riddance of all moving boxes in our new apartment. If by chance you are reading this and we’re pretty good friends and you didn’t get an invitation, I have no idea why. I’m sorry for being a jerkface.

Obsessing might be a strong word for my method of party planning, but it’s not far off. I started to meticulously consider the menu the second the facebook invitations went out. I knew I wanted a fall-ish theme but nothing too Halloween-y. I knew I wanted to make food that would be easy to eat without any kind of utensil and could fit onto a cocktail napkin.

It started pretty innocently and then escalated into a frenzy of party preparedness. I spotted the perfect cocktail napkins at Target. I made a return trip to actually purchase said napkins when I didn’t see a better alternative anywhere else. I made maple spiced nuts a day ahead of time, Bon Appetit’s Halloween candy bark the morning of, then whipped up Martha’s blue cheese walnut spread and stuffed sweet potato skins just hours until party time. Sounds easy, right?

See the cocktail napkins? Adorable.

Sort of. I’ve learned that I have a knack for complicating simple recipes. That’s made worse by a habit of second-guessing myself and rushing through steps that need more time. The sweet potato skins could have been crisper and less gloopy looking, the blue cheese spread needed more slices of apples and pears for munching, and the pieces of candy on the candy bark didn’t adhere very well.

That said, it all came out relatively okay. I shouted at Alex and the dog a few times during the process and repeatedly banished them both from the kitchen. Everything was in place by party o’clock though, and guests began to file in. My parents were the first to arrive, and they brought a homemade spice cake and a crock pot for a gift – party officially started!

Then things started to unwind into craziness. Maureen brought a moving, flashing skull with a dip that looked like muscle tissue. Laura and David brought macaroons and punch, and when that was gone, another punch was improvised.

Late into the night, we decided to move the party to Lackman. We corralled everyone out the door and, in an effort to keep the dog out of a potential smorgasbord of food on the kitchen counter, we put her upstairs in the bathroom.

Imagine how surprised we were when we came home and the dog greeted us at the front door. Like a little velociraptor, she had figured out how to work the door handle and set herself loose on a buffet of party food. Macaroon wrappers littered the floor. She had pink cheese dip matted in the fur under her chin. The loaves of spice cake were conspicuously missing. Of all our guests that night, she partied the hardest.

We cleaned up as best as a couple of drunk people can at 2AM with help from Meg and Eric. Later, the dog paid for her overindulgence with a night of gastrointestinal distress. So in turn, we paid for it too. But that’s what hosting a party is all about, I guess. I’d like to think that she learned a lesson, but I know that’s not true. She’d steal my lunch just as soon as I turned my back on it. We’re the ones who learned a lesson – jam the door shut with a chair when you leave your dog in the bathroom.

Photos lovingly stolen from Alex. And thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate our new home!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Kingdom for a Scone

It’s fall again. Floors are cold when I get out of bed in the morning, jackets are apropos except in the heat of the middle of the day, and most importantly, grocery stores across the city are stocking their shelves with cans of pureed pumpkin. For someone who has admitted to being a raging fall-aholic, someone like yours truly, that means it’s time to binge.

Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cream cheese. These things have been consumed in my kitchen, maybe at the same time. And now, I’ve introduced a new pumpkin pastry to my repertoire, the pumpkin scone.

On one of our recent textbook fall days, I got it into my head that I need a pumpkin scone from Starbucks. I know, I know. I hung my head in shame as I passed Coffee Emporium, a place with better coffee and wonderful local pastries. I could have enjoyed anything in their pastry case and supported a local business, but my illness took hold and it had to be a pumpkin scone from Starbucks.

It has this layer of icing that your teeth sink into, sweet enough to kind of make your tongue tingle, and then you meet the scone, and if it was just recently thawed out and put into the pastry case it’s pretty moist and tender for a scone. For a fall-aholic, it’s pretty much crack.

So I get all the way down to 4th street, ashamed of myself, and they’re out of pumpkin scones. I could try another Starbucks nearby, but by now I just want a pastry and a seat by the window so I order a piece of pumpkin bread knowing full well it won’t satisfy my craving.

Some time later, I found this recipe. The accompanying images brought back all of those sensations of biting into the pumpkin scone with such intensity, I knew I had to try and make them. I did, and it was my first scone attempt ever.

As I was folding the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, doubt began to flash through my mind.

“What if I screw these up? What if I just threw away all that time and effort when I could just go buy a pumpkin scone at Starbucks?”

The batter was crumbly dry, and I fought back my doubt as I tried to mix it into something that resembled a pastry dough, cursing and wiping beads of sweat from my forehead. Alex saw I was stressing out and came over to the kitchen to try and offer some encouragement. I instructed him to get out of the kitchen. There may have been flames. I wasn’t in a mood to be coddled, not yet. (I apologized to him later)

Eventually, I harassed the dough into a rectangular shape, cut some triangles, and popped them into the oven. Thirteen minutes later, something resembling scones came out. They got two layers of icing – one a straight up milk/confectioner’s sugar mix and a second treatment with some cinnamon/nutmeg/ground ginger thrown in.

Are they the pumpkin scones of my dreams? Not exactly, but they’re a damn good substitute. And I didn’t have to set foot in a Starbucks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hudy Turns 125, a Personal Pantry Triumph and Special Delivery from La Poste

Today’s post comes to you in three sections. They’re not really full posts in themselves, so I’m wrapping them up together in a little grab bag of deliciousness.

1. Easy Pumpkin Bread, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Pantry
I made up my mind Saturday afternoon to make pumpkin bread, knowing full well I had only one meager can of pumpkin and not much else in my pantry. Here’s what I had on hand:

  • One egg
  • Lots of light brown sugar
  • AP flour
  • About a 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • A reasonable selection of spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice etc.
  • Vegetable oil

So I looked for a recipe that would not require milk, several eggs or too much white sugar. What do you know, I found one on… iVillage? I gave it a shot. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll be down one can of pumpkin? No big deal.

It turned out pretty well! The recipe made a very wet dough, but the bread rose nicely in the oven and made my chilly apartment warm. It also gave me a nice sense of perseverance. I stared down into the depths of my vacuous pantry and I went forth and made pumpkin bread anyway.

I also had some time to consider the power of the spray nozzle. Under normal circumstances, it would take me a solid three minutes to clean out the clinging remnants of a can of pumpkin puree. With the nozzle? Three seconds. I pull it out of its holster by the sink with a whir, point into the can and pull the trigger. I am powerful.

2. Hudy: It’s What’s for Dinner
City Cellars and Hoperatives hosted a great get-together on Thursday night celebrating Hudepohl’s 125th Anniversary as well as its new Amber lager. Chef Josh Campbell of Mayberry fame was at the grill, serving up wings, flatbread and lamb sliders with a tangy yogurt sauce.

For our $15 tickets, we got three drinks and all the sliders, wings and flatbread we could lay our hands on. What a deal! For an idea of just how good this food was, imagine this scenario: A server brings a platter of hot-off-the-grill flatbread from the crowded patio to a back room and no less than four fully-grown men see what’s happening and follow him to the flatbread’s final destination. The next time Hoperatives, Hudy or Chef Josh throw a party, buy yourself a ticket and you will be well rewarded.

3. Special Delivery: La Poste Preview
There’s a particularly *cool guy that I’ve gotten to know recently who goes by the name Chris Dooley. That’s not a made-up name, that’s his real name. By day, he’s a server at everybody’s favorite hot dog joint, Senate. By night, he’s (going to be) serving at La Poste, the new restaurant in the old Tink’s space. He graciously invited Alex and me to a friends and family preview night this weekend.

We got to try out a couple of dishes, all delivered by servers wearing blue shirts in an upscale nod to postal uniforms. The space, as promised, hasn't changed much. Anyway, I loved it before, so I'm glad it's pretty much the same. There's going to be a serious wine list with selections for every budget. Some bottles exceed $200, but on the other end of the scale they've got some nice options for under $30.

We tried the scallop - okay we tried a lot of scallops. They were easily my favorite. Buttery, melt-in-your-mouth and then a little tang from a - what was it, blue cheese mousse? I should have taken notes. There was some bacon involved too. Anyway, they were excellent.

And guess what? You can get some scallops of your own, because La Poste opens tonight! I'm almost sure that they were fully booked for opening night. Check their Facebook page if you want to secure a reservation, though. Alex and I will be visiting again later this month to celebrate our one year date-i-versary (aww) and to snag some more wine and scallops.

*Alex's note: Chris Dooley isn't as cool as he seems. I mean sure, he's been to the moon. Twice. And yes, he beds super models. And not even modern day super models, ones from the past. Like 1800's super models. I'm not sure how he does it. But that's Chris Dooley. Anyway, to get back to my point, Chris Dooley is a communist. Fact.