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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Sharon Tessandori said...

Mia I love these recipes! You've inspired me to have a par-tay and use some myself!

Happy Birthday sweet friend. I find your images inspiring and words beautiful. :)

Jen said...

Oh my goodness ... I am about to cry thinking about what I missed on Friday! Happy, happy birthday ... so glad it was a lovely celebration.

Mia said...

Hi Sharon! Thanks for the greeting! These recipes are really easy, and some of them work as make-ahead dishes too. Jen - thanks for the greeting too! Hope your camping trip was fun. Talk soon...

Kim said...

Mia, Thank you so much for including me in your birthday celebration! It was a delight to celebrate YOU. I love all of your recipes, and your pictures are amazing! Inspired by you, I took some food pictures of our wedding anniversary dinner, and found I have a lot to learn. You are a master food stylist/photographer/artist.

Mia said...

Kim, thank YOU for being there! Oh I have SO much to learn about food photography too... and I go to food blogs for inspiration :)

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