Dinner Party of Blue, White and Chocolate – Part II

Here is my appetizer table from my most recent dinner party! I love presenting apps on a simple wood cutting board.



Click here for the recipe for the puff pastry tarts, adapted from Ina Garten.  This is a very Barefoot Contessa-heavy menu because her recipes are just soooo good and I can’t help it.

Instead of the large puff pastry rounds she recommends, I cut smaller squares from the rolled-out puff pastry and tucked them into muffin pan cups that I had sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. I pricked the bottom of the puff pastry with a fork so it wouldn’t rise, and then layered the onions, tomato and cheeses according to the recipe.


Blue Cheese Crackers (adapted from Ina Garten)

Really these are thicker than most store-bought crackers. They have more of a Melba toast crunch to them.

  • 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature – make sure the butter is very soft.  Microwave for five seconds if you have to.
  • 8 ounces Stilton cheese, crumbled (about 12 ounces with rind), at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 extra-large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Using a mixer, cream the butter and Stilton together for 2-3 minutes, or until smooth and fluffy. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until it’s in large clumps, under 1 minute. Add a few more tablespoons of flour if it is still extremely creamy (as mine was). Add 1-2 tablespoons of water and mix until it all sticks together (gather it together with your hands to see if it holds).

Dump the dough onto a floured board, press it into a ball, and roll into a 12-inch long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the walnuts in a square on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing firmly so the walnuts are pressed into the dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 4 days.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the log 3/8ths-inch thick with a sharp knife and place the crackers on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove pan from the oven and flip all the crackers, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature with a quince or fig jam, or cheeses.

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Rose-Colored Inspiration

Someone lovely sent me two dozen roses today.  They’re assorted dark pink, light pink, peach and yellow, and I adore these colors together more than I expected.

I usually choose the classic monocolor bouquet when I buy roses at the market – peach roses are my favorite, with just enough pink and just enough yellow, they are frothy pieces of heaven – so this multicolor bouquet is a wonderful new bit of eye candy.  Wouldn’t they be gorgeous placed in equally colorful vases?

I would pump up the volume by placing tins like these or multicolored bud vases over a turquoise-blue tablecloth and sky-blue napkins, simply folded so they don’t compete with the eye being drawn to the centerpieces.  It would be a table joyously about color.

On a table this colorful, we have to make sure the food doesn’t clash.  I’m thinking of using yellows of polenta and yellow peppers, greens of vegetables or salad, pinks and blues of berries and maybe some purple eggplant.  This is a slightly unconventional menu, featuring an egg at dinner, but I feel like it goes strangely well with the burst of color on the table.

Menu for a Rose-Colored Table

Americana Dinner Party Menu

Using potato chips as appetizers for a dinner party has been intriguing me since yesterday. I’ve been mulling over a dinner party menu that would go well with them – especially with the potato chip and a slice of banana idea. It’s such a classic American snack that it almost begs for a classic American menu to go with it – one that’s whimsical and casual like potato chips, but made with high quality ingredients and a feeling of specialness that makes it fun to create for guests.



Americana Menu


  • Thick-cut potato chips (homemade or store-bought) with thin slices of ripe banana on each one

Main Courses:

  • Homemade burgers (whatever kind of burger you prefer; I would make turkey burgers) with toppings such as brie, gorgonzola, heirloom tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, arugula and whole-grain mustard. You could even put a fried egg on top for those who want!


  • Classic banana splits with multiple ice cream options, sauces and fun candies

Serve this to friends with whom you can be casual and get messy! Keep the table fairly clear to make room for all the topping options, and serve family style.

New Ways to Use Pantry Ingredients


Cooking Light came up with some ways to use classic ingredients in new ways: cinnamon, soy sauce, peanut butter and several others.

My favorite idea of theirs is to use thyme and Parmesan cheese in savory waffles or pancakes – how yummy and unusual for a dinner party! I would top them with sauteed mushrooms, maybe in a creamy sauce with a little chicken, if you like that sort of thing, and a dollop of creme fraiche on top. Mmmmmmmm!! Of course, you could leave the chicken out for a vegetarian meal, or even replace it with some soy veggie crumble for a little heartiness.

I can’t find a recipe I like for what I have in mind – I’m just going to have to try it out and see if I can get it right. This one is closest, though I wouldn’t fry the chicken first: Creamy Chicken with Mushrooms.

Lucky Meal for the New Year Dinner Party

Happy New Year!

I have a strong feeling this is going to be a good year. I feel it. I wish the best for each of you with a fresh start and renewed energy, and I look forward to sharing many gorgeous and yummy things with all of you here in the next year.



Epicurous has a lovely description of lucky foods from around the world to usher in a most lucky 2010 – and Nancy, my step-grandma, cooked the Southern ones here: collard greens for lots of greenbacks and black-eyed peas for pocket change, she said! I took hasty photos with my iphone and then lost it the next day in I’m not sure which snowboarding tumble in roughly three feet of heavy powder. So no photos from me, and I have to go buy a new phone today.

I’m a midwesterner – now New Yorker – and have absolutely no instincts in my blood for real down home cooking, so it’s all new to me. When Nancy made these dishes last year, I found out that traditionally you cook collard greens with ham hock! I never knew there were dishes with meat in them that didn’t specify that there was, in fact, meat in them. My poor little non-ham-eating heart was shocked. So she substituted chicken broth for the ham for my sister and I and it may not have been strictly traditional, but it was damn good. This year, she actually started three days before, when she cooked the collard greens and then set them in a ziploc bag in the garage to keep cool and steep. Two days before, she put the black-eyed peas in a huge bowl of water to soak, and then the day of she made grits. You could make them with veggie broth just as well, for a nice vegetarian meal.

ChampagneYou could make this lucky New Years meal anytime during the year – nothing wrong with a little luck in April or August, presented with full New Years flair of gold and silver all over the place. Anytime you need a fresh start and a little favor with the gods, it would make a great dinner party and would be so happily different from the usual holidays at the usual times. Give everyone New Years hats and noisemakers, and celebrate each person’s rebirth in whatever way they want! It could be a lovely addition to a happiness group or to cheer someone up.

Total Californian Immersion Project Dinner Party

{This guest post was written by my good friend Teal Pennebaker, who lives in San Francisco and created www.analyzewords.com}

First, some background/disclaimers:

  1. I rarely cook. In fact I just got a kitchen, like, two months ago. Hey, the perils of being 27 and living in the land’o’expensive real estate.
  2. I’m not a details person.
  3. I’m also not an entertainer who notices aesthetics (or “cleanliness”). I fear my friend Danielle would be horrified if she saw the state of my tiny apartment when I have people over.
  4. I was recently given an Alice Waters cookbook and was reminded of how much I admire her cooking but find her unbelievably obnoxious in her elitist message of only eating fresh things and not – God forbid! – microwaving.

My conscience is now cleared. Let the tale of my foray into cooking and entertaining begin.

I’m new to Northern California – I’ve been in Alice Waters’ vaunted stomping grounds a mere 11 months. And as much as I hate being the cliché, I admit that I’ve really taken to the “healthy lifestyle.” Or at least the parts that involve going to farmers markets (i.e. “free sample festivals”) and shamelessly wearing yoga clothes everywhere.

But I often still feel like the new kid, so last week I decided I needed to kick my total California immersion project into high gear. Time to follow my mantra: go big or go home, kids.


I’d been warned before I moved west that San Fransiscoans love their dinner parties. And since I was now the owner of Alice Waters’ cookbook and knew my favorite free sample festival was mere days away, I saw an opportunity. I decided to cook for some friends and actually attempt to commit to this local ingredient business that has made California cuisine famous. The big event – which I termed the “Alice Waters Will Cry Dinner” – would take place on a blistery Tuesday night in San Francisco.

To be extra true to my roots – very Alice Waters – I spent the days leading up to the dinner surfing the Internets, trying to find the perfect recipe for chile rellenos, a staple of my childhood diet. In my homestate of Texas we like our chile rellenos hearty (there’s a reason two of our largest cities always end up on the “fattest places to live” lists), stuffed with beef and/or cheese, deep fried and swimming in ranchero sauce and sour cream. And, also true to my roots, the recipes online either followed the traditional Texan deep frying routine or some weird Midwestern casserole take on the dish.

Cali-healthy these recipes were not. Every other person I know here has a start up  – this would be mine! I’d create a healthy chile relleno. So on Sunday I hit the farmers market and bought a bunch of things that sounded like they’d taste good stuffed in a chile. “Garlic? Sure! Dried kale? Think I’ll pass.”

Not planning social events ahead is another staple of NorCal living. And so a day before the dinner party, I recruited (via email, natch) two of my favorite San Franciscoans, Dan and Chava, to serve as guinea pigs for my Alice Waters Will Cry dinner party. When they arrived on Tuesday, I shoved chips and salsa towards them, and demanded they start snacking and drinking wine (from Sonoma … because Napa, everyone tells me, is the overpriced stuff).

Another disclaimer—I can be a nervous entertainer. No one wants to be known as The Girl Who Poisoned Her Guests or, perhaps worse, That Bland Cook. I figured the drunker my friends, the less discerning they would be. Safety net of sorts.

As Dan and Chava discussed the virtues of working at funky local corporations, I went to task.  I stir-fried, I broiled, I baked, I simmered and I stuffed. (Alice would say that, right?) Oh yes – into the dark green poblanos went a mix of eggs, onion, garlic, tomatoes, corn (canned – sorry Alice!), cilantro, spinach, jalapeno and cheddar cheese. I topped the myriad of gorgeous colors with a ranchero sauce I’d spent the week researching. I’d finally settled on a recipe I’d dug up after extensive Bing’ing, and tweaked it a bit with canned chipotles (again, apologies). I created a last minute side of black beans and leftover stuffing (one thing I love about Danielle’s meals – all the sides – and decided last minute to emulate).


“Friends,” I declared, “dinner is ready.”

Chava had laid out a tablecloth – how much we’ve grown up since our days of eating cold pizza on dorm room floors – and Dan refilled the wine. We clinked glasses and dug in. The colors were gorgeous and the taste was pretty damn good. We plowed through the meal, exchanging stories, laughing, mocking and reloading our glasses.  When our plates had been cleared, I tossed everyone a clementine (very seasonal) and opened a box of Paul Newman’s chocolate coated toffee pretzels (I’m sure Paul and Alice would be friends – liberal! Organic lovers!). “Dessert has been served,” I said.

It was delightful.  For the first time since I moved west, I felt completely at home. It wasn’t just that I’d be able to claim some sort of Alice Waters-inspired moral superiority since I’d used so many damn local and organic ingredients. It was more that things came together perfectly—the company, the flavors, the warmed kitchen on a surprisingly frigid Bay Area night. I finally, contentedly, felt local.

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