……………………………………………………. Baking our mark

Summer Dinner Party July 5, 2012

Filed under: Dinner — krandle @ 8:45 pm
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To me, a dinner party is basically any dinner I cook for extra people and that takes more time than usual. (For example, if you showed up at my house and I fed you a stir fry that I was reheating, that isn’t a dinner party. But, if you showed up and it took more than an hour to cook, that’s a dinner party.)

I’ve run through this menu twice in dinner party-like scenarios now, and I’m convinced it’s a keeper. It’s not very often I find a chicken recipe that people rave about – and this one earned rave reviews even from people who don’t care too much about food!

Other great parts of this menu include:

  • The vegetable side can be varied based on the vegetables you have on hand; the general cooking principles and dressing transfer even to what I had in my garden (zucchini, green beans and radishes)
  • If prep is done properly, this meal takes only about an hour to assemble. (This was easier the second time around.)
  • Because of the way this is put together, it’s really easy to have everything come out hot at the same time. (This is a huge boon to me, since I struggle with end timing.)

So, I give you this summer’s dinner party menu:

Goat cheese-wrapped grapes (as an appetizer)

Pecan-crusted chicken with fresh raspberry sauce

Asparagus, pea and radish salad

Mustard-roasted potatoes

Basil French 75

Simple dessert (a skillet cookie and a fresh fruit crumble both worked nicely)


Tips on preparation:

  • Do the sauces/dips earlier that day or the day before, but add the citrus juices and fresh herbs right before you cook. This works for the dressing for the vegetables, mustard stuff for the potatoes, raspberry sauce for the chicken, mustard dip for the chicken and breadcrumb/nut mixture for the chicken. For one dinner I made with this menu, I made the sauces/etc. ahead of time, then packed everything up and made dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen in another state; it worked remarkably well, and everything transported quite nicely.
  • The grape appetizer can be made a few hours ahead of time, but it’s not great to leave the grapes overnight. The nuts get soggy if they sit for too long near the cheese.
  • When it’s time to cook, prep the veggies first. While you’ll cook them last, they can be chopped and readied first. (You can do the asparagus a few hours ahead of time as well; blanch it beforehand to save time later.)
  • The potatoes need to start cooking first. And, although the chicken should ideally be roasted at a lower oven temperature, roasting them at the higher temp after browning them is totally fine. The chicken does not dry out or burn, and you ensure that you can have everything come out on time when the potatoes and chicken are in the oven at the same time.
  • Get someone else to help make the drinks; basil french 75s are easy, so someone else can take that off your plate.


Chipotle Mac and Cheese October 17, 2011

Finally – the leaves are beginning to turn and it’s cold enough that I get to wear  blazer-weight jackets around outside. That also means I get to start cooking heavier foods (without feeling guilty about it).

Mac and cheese was first on the list this fall. (Pumpkin things are coming next.) Now, we love mac and cheese here – we’ve made pumpkin Gruyere mac, nacho mac, and three cheese mac, and some other random cheese/pasta dishes.

This weekend, I was all about this easy chipotle mac. (I love all things chipotle, so I tweaked the original recipe to be spicier and more adobo-y. Watch out.)

Chipotle Mac and Cheese

3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 – 3 Tbs. chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped
2 Tbs butter
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
2.5 cups milk
1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 lb noodles, such as macaroni, cooked al dente
8-oz cheese, such as cheddar and monterey jack, grated
1/8 cup breadcrumbs

In a large saucepan, cook butter, onion, garlic, and chipotles, stirring until onion is soft. Then, add flour and cook for about 3 more minutes. Whisking constantly, add the milk, then bring the mixture to a boil.   Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add pasta to the mixture, then stir in the cheese. Transfer the combination to a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.


Really Green Quiche July 1, 2011

We’ve been featuring a couple of different quiche recipes recently (namely, K’s delicious takes on the dish involving kale and mushrooms as well as a basic standby). I’m adding another one to the mix because 1. you can’t have enough egg recipes, 2. I need to make something that keeps well (a nasty sprained foot has kept me off my feet and out of the kitchen for a little bit) and 3. I have a ton of raw greens and too much cheese at the moment (not necessarily a bad thing!)

The crust for this is store-bought in the refrigerated section… hypocritical, I know. (My last quiche recipe stressed the merits of making your own, and I still think it’s a good idea to do it when you can.) We all have our days though, and injury trumps effort for the moment.

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup milk

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded fresh spinach

1 1/2 cups shredded fresh kale

1/2 cup black olives, cut in half or whole

1/2 cup cauliflower, large pieces cut in half

1/2 cup orange bell peppers, sliced

1 medium onion

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Black pepper, garlic powder, paprika to taste. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Roll out the pie crust and place in a 9″ pie plate and set aside.  Start prepping the filling by sauteing the onion in olive and adding the greens.  Saute until wilted, spice to taste, and remove from heat.  Dice the remaining vegetables. (Feel free to substitute according to what you have!)  Then, whisk the eggs together and stir in the milk. Layer the greens/onion and remaining vegetables into the pie shell and pour the egg mixture evenly over everything. Bake in the oven, uncovered, for  40-60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the eggs have set. Serve with a salad and enjoy that heaping dose of iron-laden veggies.


Goodbye Spring Dinner: Chocolate Cupcakes with Fresh Berries June 21, 2011

I know everyone else wants June 21 to be the first days of summer…but I think of it as a farewell to spring. Not that I love spring or anything, but I just really don’t like summer. (For everyone with a vision of beaches dancing in their heads, I now want you to think about walking 3 miles in business attire every day. I also want you to think about how you didn’t actually do all the pushups you intended to do, so you don’t look any better in your summer outfits this summer than you did last summer.)

Anyways – to say farewell to the cool(er) days of spring (and to accommodate the busy schedules of our socializing compatriots), I had a little weekday dinner with some lovely friends who were brave enough to try whatever the heck I wanted to serve and nice enough to bring some really delicious beer.

Goodbye Spring Dinner Menu

Burrata, Strawberry and Basil Salad  [in case you haven’t heard, burrata is quite the “in” thing right now–this was my excuse to serve one]

Squash Salad

Apricot Chicken over Ginger Rice

-Summer cupcakes: Chocolate cupcakes with fresh berries

Summer cupcakes

Starting with your favorite chocolate cake base (homemade or from a box, whatever suits you), whip up a batch of mini-cupcakes. Mini-cupcakes are best since it allows you to stack more berries on top…without making the desserts so large that no one can bite them. Plus, as I’ve pointed out before, where a girl won’t eat a full cupcake, she’ll eat a mini-cupcake or two since they’re small.

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pint fresh berries of your choice (Raspberries and blackberries are lovely)
And if you’re feeling fancy:
3 oz. chocolate
1/2 Tbs. butter

If you’re doing the fancy version, first melt the chocolate and butter, blending well and being careful not to burn or otherwise destroy the chocolate. Spread this nice, shiny mixture on top of each cupcake and let it cool. It doesn’t need to be pretty, since you’re just going to cover it up with whipped cream.

In a large bowl using a handmixer, or in the bowl of your large mixer using the whisk attachment, combine whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla. Whip the cream until it becomes fluffy. Be careful not to over-blend, or you’ll make butter. The amount of time needed will vary largely based on the tool you’re using.

Scoop the whipped cream into a large ziploc bag, close the top, then cut off one corner of the bag to make a handy piping bag. (If you have a piping bag, go ahead and use that.) Pipe the whipped cream onto each cupcake, putting enough on to allow the berries to stick to something.

Top with as many berries as will fit on the top of each cupcake.

[Ok, ok, it’s not really a recipe – you know how to do all this stuff already – but maybe you just needed a new idea for an easy summer dessert that looks much more elegant than the effort warrants.]


Aztec Quiche June 17, 2011

This recipe is from my mom. It’s one of the first recipes that I typed down off of her recipe cards after I got my first kitchen in college and I’ve been making it pretty frequently ever since. M has eaten this quiche more than once, and even she has never complained about the calories because it’s just too tasty to care. I don’t really know why it’s Aztec quiche, but whatever – just go with it. It’s so delicious that you won’t care what it’s called. Green chilies and cumin are some of my favorite flavors, and in this fantastically easy dish, things are no different.

The most beautiful thing about this quiche is that it can be frozen for a few weeks with no deterioration in its flavor or consistency. When you pull it out of the freezer, thaw it, and bake it, it tastes just as good as if you’d baked it immediately after you assembled it. And, when you’re hosting a big brunch, having a frozen quiche that you just have to defrost and bake is ideal since it allows you to spread out prep time.

Yes, it does go so fast that you don't have time to take a photo of it when you put it out at a brunch table

Aztec Quiche

2 1/2 cups grated cheese (a blend of 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack and 1 cup cheddar works particularly well; this time, I used 2 cups smoked Gouda and 1/2 cup Monterey Jack)
Pie shell (I buy a refrigerated pie crust round from the store, then put it in the pan I’m going to use)
4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 cup half and half
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin, or more to taste

Spread 2 cups cheese over the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle diced chilies over the cheese. In a separate bowl, combine the half and half, eggs, and seasonings. Pour carefully into the pie shell and top with the remaining cheese. Freeze.

When thawed (or if you opt not to freeze), bake uncovered at 325 for 40-60 minutes.


Artichoke-Mushroom Stuffed Chicken Breasts June 7, 2011

Just a quick little recipe that was incredibly easy – and really very delicious. It’s good as stuffed chicken breasts…and also when they are sliced and put into wraps and put on top of salads. And since it’s hot and I don’t want to eat too much that is also hot, chicken that’s versatile enough to be served as cold leftovers is just the ticket. [See below for recipe]



Roasted Pepper & Tomato Sauce June 3, 2011

I should preface this one with the admittance that all of my ingredients were purchased at a produce market in Southern New Jersey, for under $20. Yeah. The ingredients listed don’t even include other miscellaneous extras and fruit that I bought there too. Sigh. I really need to figure out a Brooklyn-equivalent for getting this much produce for such a wonderful price… suggestions are more than welcome if there are fellow bk people reading this!

Now, more about this recipe.  This one takes a little bit of planning and slightly more effort, but is so, so worth it. I started making my own tomato sauce while living in a Le Corbusier-meets-Brutalism apartment in Munich about 3 years ago. My kitchen (i.e., a sink and mini fridge with two hotplates) was essentially a 24-inch wide hallway between the bedroom, and well, the door… so very early on I had to figure out what to do with cooking. I decided I didn’t want to bother with buying a microwave or toaster oven, and made it through an entire year using 6 pieces of flatware, 2 plates, 2 cups, and 2 pots. I don’t know if I could ever do that again, but looking back it was probably good for me… and pays a cheeky homage to all those purist ideas of a minimal lifestyle, right Le Corb?

Anyway, it turns out making tomato sauce from scratch is pretty amenable to the hot plate (and oven-less) set-up, so it became a habit. This is actually relaxing to make too, what with all the beautifully colored vegetables, methodical chopping, and savory smells. It’s also vegan and vegetarian.  If it wasn’t so freaking hot outside I would probably make this once a week. Click for the recipe!