Saturday, May 23, 2009

last night's dinner menu

Last night I celebrated my 30th birthday a couple of days early (so everyone can get on with their Memorial weekend plans).

I love planning for dinner. I wanted something light, easy, and spring-y.

This was the result...

Sun-Dried Tomato and Olive Spread
I love having lots of spreads and dips at a party. I like variety. I find that if I have about 3 appetizers like this, I don't have to make several entrees. (Ok, friends, now you know my little secret.) This spread is really easy...

Just combine lots of sun-dried tomatoes (the oil-packed kind*), an assortment of pitted olives, a few garlic cloves, really good extra virgin olive oil (or you can use the olive oil the tomatoes were packed in), and balsamic vinegar in a food processor. I think I added some basil leaves too. Season with salt and pepper. Best if made a day or so ahead.

I do love make-ahead dishes.

*If you don't have oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, you can pour a little boiling water over the dry sun-dried tomatoes, then let it sit for a while to rehydrate before putting it in the food processor.

Artichoke Spread
Ooey-gooey, hot and bubbly. Enough said.

See recipe here.

Edamame Hummus
(darn, no photo... and everyone raved about its pretty green color)

I love hummus, but good old chickpea hummus didn't fit the bill for my spring menu... so here's an edamame version. I like having a bag of edamame in my freezer at all times. This is one good reason.

1/2 bag of frozen shelled edamame, steamed for 5 minutes or until soft
about 2 tablespoons sesame tahini
1 large clove garlic, or 2 small ones... or more if you prefer
lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

I. love. my. food processor. I made this on a spur of the moment once my friends started arriving. It took all of 5 minutes, maybe, and 3 taste-testers to make sure we had the "just right" garlic-lemon-olive oil-salt ratio.

One friend announced pretty early on that he would claim the leftover dip, so I sent the rest home with him. He was quite happy. I wasn't able to take a photo of it, but I find great happiness in feeding friends, so it's ok. And, that gives me a reason to make it again. Not that I really need reasons for good food. ;-)

Pesto Pea Soup
I wanted a light spring soup. Hearty split pea soup is usually my fall/winter soup of choice, but frozen green peas did the trick for a lighter soup appropriate for this time of year.

1 large onion
2 carrots
2 celery stalks
3 cups water
3 cups vegetable broth
2 lbs frozen green peas
salt and pepper
1/4 to 1/2 cup basil pesto

Saute the onion until soft, then add the carrots and celery. Add water and broth and let this simmer for a good half hour or so. Add the frozen peas and let it simmer some more until heated through. Use a hand blender/immersion blender* to puree the soup until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Add pesto.

*If you're using a regular blender and not a hand blender or immersion blender, be careful... from experience, hot liquids like soup get pretty wild and crazy in a regular blender and it can cause a big mess. Try taking off the cap in the center of the lid of the blender, and cover with a dish towel instead when you turn it on. But don't say I didn't warn you... I'd say go for the hand blender if you have it.

Orzo with Spinach, Kalamata Olives, and Feta (aka Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad)

I love this teeny-tiny pasta. It's so versatile, and it doesn't overpower the flavors of the other ingredients.

(for a crowd)

3 cups whole wheat orzo
spinach - I did a shortcut and used frozen chopped spinach, about half a bag
3 small shallots
3-4 cloves garlic
white wine
a generous handful of pine nuts, toasted in a skillet until golden brown
extra virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
about 1/2 cup of chopped kalamata olives
sea salt and pepper
good feta cheese (The real deal, sheep's milk feta. I find most of the cow's milk feta cheese brands out there to be too salty.)

Cook the orzo until al dente, then drain. Mix in the spinach while the orzo is hot, so that the steam from the pasta makes the leaves wilt and you don't have to cook the spinach separately. (I do love short cuts.)

Saute the shallots until soft and caramelized, then add a good splash of white wine to deglaze the pan. Let it simmer, uncovered, until the wine reduces to about half. Add garlic and cook until soft but not browned. Add this to the pasta, and mix in the olives. Season with salt and pepper.

I also like making this a day ahead to allow the pasta to absorb the flavors. Bring to room temperature before serving, and add the crumbled feta.

White Sangria
I've made red sangria before, but I think the white version goes better with this selection of dishes.

(for a crowd)

3 bottles white wine (I used whatever I had at home - a bottle of pinot grigio and a bottle of moscato, and another kind of white wine I can't remember)
1 1/2 cups peach schnapps
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1 liter sparkling water, lemon flavored (this is not necessary, but I'm a lightweight with wine)
2 cups seedless green grapes, halved

Combine everything but the sparkling water in a large pitcher. Actually I think I used 2 large pitchers. This is also better if made the night before. I add the sparkling water before serving. Then, IF I have leftover sangria, I freeze them in ice cube trays for the next party so that I can add sangria ice cubes to the drink. The flavor won't be diluted when the ice cubes melt.

My friends are excellent cooks. One friend brought a cauliflower dish, this friend brought roasted sweet potato and pears, another brought home-baked whole grain bread (pictured below... isn't that seedy bread lovely? Thanks, RZ).

And this friend brought pasta salad with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach, and navy beans (below).

I was planning to make dessert, but my friends drew the line at the birthday cake and said, "You are NOT baking your own birthday cake!" I was planning to bake cupcakes from my go-to cupcake cookbook, but I conceded.

After my errands yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to come home to a slice of sinfully delicious chocolate cake from the Bonbonerie, along with a birthday card, from this friend. You were missed last night, but I had several bites of dinner in your honor. :)

Two friends brought cupcakes from Sweeterie.

photo credit: EyesOpenWide
(thanks for the beautiful cupcake photo!)

I think the cupcakes deserve a separate blog entry. More on that later...

A wonderful gathering of friends from around the world, a cool spring night, and lots of laughter on the balcony.

Thank you my dear, dear friends, for celebrating with me!

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phenomenal women

I've hit a dry writing spell the past couple of weeks (as you can tell from my last entry, "thinking in pictures").

So I guess this is a very delayed Mother's Day entry.

I've been thinking a lot about my 95-year-old grandmother in the Philippines. Her injury, and her resulting weakness. Her hospital stay. She now has a tube for feeding...which really sounds much worse than it is, but we all think it will help. Now she is back home, and smiling, responding, and talking again. She is still tiny and frail as she has always been, but my parents think she will bounce right back when she gets the nutrients she needs.


My grandmother has such a calm approach to life. "Whatever will be, will be" is probably her mantra. She takes things as they come.

I've been thinking about all the women in my family. My mother, my grandmother, my great-aunts. All phenomenal women. My own family's "Steel Magnolias."

Afternoon tea with Mom
photo taken July 2008, Columbus

My mother... a petite powerhouse who's larger than life. Strong, fiercely independent, yet nurturing. She weathers any storm with so much grace and faith. She's a friend I can talk to for hours, whether face to face over tea or coffee, or through this amazing PC-to-phone technology (for which we are thankful..we just deal with the 12 hour time zone difference). She's everyone's friend, everyone's mom.

photo taken July 2008, Krohn Conservatory

My grandmother... who used to tell the the best stories. Like the courtship between herself and my grandfather. Her brave encounters with the Japanese during World War II. How she cared for a large extended family with so little. How she always made sure everyone else had plenty and would insist at least 3 times that you have another helping of her delicious treats. My grandma, who at 94 traveled to Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, and the United States. And she said she wanted to go to Rome next.

photo taken by Dad, December 2008
Boracay Island, Philippines

My great-aunt Tita Vely, who I haven't seen in a few years, and who has recently become my honest-to-goodness "pen pal". I was pleasantly surprised to receive a handwritten letter in the mail from her a few weeks ago (I just love snail mail.). I wrote her back, longhand, 3 pages long. I told my mother about it and she said that Tita Vely always gushed about my "adventures" here when they talked. My mother says that Tita Vely has always had an adventurous side, which is probably why she was so happy to hear about my life here. She's beautiful and feisty, and she reminds me of Katherine Hepburn.

Then there's Tita Aida, another great-aunt. She always told the funniest stories during family gatherings on lazy Sunday afternoons. Her jokes always made me laugh so hard I'd start crying.

And my grandmother on my dad's side, who passed away last year. She raised my dad pretty much on her own when my grandfather died in the war when my father was a baby. She always came to the rescue when my brothers and I were sick, with her magical herbal brew.

And there are other strong, independent women in my family. I'll be turning 30 tomorrow and with that comes some reflection on what my life has been and where I am headed. With this gene pool I'm hoping to "grow up" to be like them. Or to have little pieces of all of them in me.

To the mothers (and other women) in my family - here's to you. To your strength, grace, and inner beauty.

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Saturday, May 2, 2009

good morning!

Saturday morning indulgence: chocolate croissant, thanks to this place.

... motivation to get out of bed.
... 5 minutes of shameless consumption, melted chocolate trickling down the chin.
... inspiration for the next great idea.

More on that later...

ed. 5.16.09: By the way, this is what the page above says:
"Seek and celebrate excellence.
Craft your vision.
Determine your measure.
Ask for what you want."
- Mary Anne Radmacher
Definitely words to live by!

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