Posts Tagged 'Make Ahead'



Dinner Party Menus: Perfect Macaroni and Cheese

I spend a ridiculous amount of time on food.  Between searching recipes, reading food magazines, planning menus, shopping, cooking, and cleaning it all up, food is certainly a central element in my life.  (My husband and I keep joking about all the things I could accomplish if I gave up cooking for just one week…  Stay tuned to see if that ever actually happens!)

It occurred to me today that I might be able to save time for some of you by posting the menus I’ve put together for dinner parties at my house.  I try to plan things that go together nicely and that will allow me to do as much work as possible before my guests arrive.  (We usually have cocktails and apps around my kitchen island, so the last thing I want my guests to see is me frantically trying to put a meal on the table.)  Saving time and lessening stress is always a good thing, right?

Last night, Dr. O and I hosted a typical fall dinner party with one exception: we had a vegetarian guest.  Now, vegetarians certainly aren’t unusual and I’ve worked with more challenging diets, but I came to realize that I didn’t have many recipes in my entertaining arsenal that didn’t include meat.  I first experimented with Hearty Root Vegetable and Mushroom Stew from my copy of The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2010.  While it certainly wasn’t bad, it wasn’t dinner party food; my friend Christopher suggested that I was expecting a miracle out of a vegetable stew.  After some discussion, we came up with the menu below for six guests.

Appetizers:
Spinach dip and lemon artichoke dip from Whole Foods (I’ll take help where I can get it!)
Crackers
Cucumber slices (as a dipping alternative)
Mixed olives
Roasted, salted almonds (from Whole Foods bulk section – fantastic!)

Meal:
Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots
Simple Roasted Tomatoes (Just toss any quantity of cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper; roast for 15 to 20 minutes towards the end of the macaroni and cheese baking time.)

Dessert:
Pear and Berry Crisp

Here’s the preparation schedule I followed for a 7 p.m. dinner party.  (Yes, I am one of those people.  Having a schedule totally reduces stress and the likelihood that I’ll forget something, though.)

Anytime Friday:
Chill wine
Wash and iron napkins
Make and store crisp topping

Saturday morning or afternoon (work takes approximately 1 hour):
Slice and store shallots for green beans (refrigerator)
Rinse, trim, and store green beans (refrigerator)
Wash and dry cherry tomatoes, place them in roasting pan, and store (counter)
Wash, slice, and store cucumbers (refrigerator)
Thaw berries for crisp
Wash and slice pears for crisp
Assemble fruit portion of crisp and store (refrigerator)
Set table

5:45 p.m.: Make macaroni and cheese (hold at room temperature until baking time)

6:30 p.m.:
Put out appetizers
Put pot of water for green beans on stove (no heat yet)
Put pot for cooking shallots on stove with shallot butter inside (no heat yet)
Preheat oven for macaroni and cheese

7:00 p.m.: Guests arrive!

7:15 p.m.:
Put macaroni and cheese in oven
Start boiling bean water

7:30 p.m.:
Put tomatoes in oven (beneath macaroni)
Start cooking shallots

7:45 p.m.:
Remove macaroni from oven
Add green beans to boiling water

7:50 p.m.:
Remove tomatoes from oven
Drain green beans and toss with butter, salt, and pepper
Combine green beans with caramelized shallots
Change oven temperature to 400°F for crisp
Serve dinner

8:30 p.m.: Put crisp in oven

9:15 p.m.: Remove crisp from oven

9:35 p.m.: Serve warm crisp with vanilla ice cream

It seems like a lot of steps, but since I did things like put the bean water and shallot butter on the stove ahead of time, I’d say the actual amount of hands-on work that needs to be done while guests are standing around takes fewer than 10 minutes. Consequently, I can actually interact with and enjoy my guests (the point) instead of working myself into a frenzy (so not the point!).

The food turned out really well.  I’ve made Perfect Macaroni and Cheese (here’s a link to my post) and Pear and Berry Crisp (my post) before; both are absolutely to die for.  The tomatoes and the green beans were perfect complements to the macaroni.  I would normally serve a buttery chardonnay (like La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay) with this dinner, but my friend brought a red (2005 La Baronne Alaric) with the dish in mind; it paired beautifully.

So that’s my dinner party…  What do you think?  Do you consider this type of post helpful, or not so much?  I’d love to hear from you!

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

The requirement of last week’s gourmet club meeting was to cook with five ingredients or fewer.  Although I ultimately settled on another recipe for the dinner party, this Ginger Pumpkin Tart from Claire Robinson is super easy and very seasonally appropriate.

To make the crust, I ground two 5.25-ounce packages of Anna’s Ginger Thins in my food processor to yield 2 1/2 cups of crumbs.  (I think any gingersnap-type cookie will do.)  I combined the crumbs with 6 tablespoons of melted butter, transferred the mixture to my 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, and pressed the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pan with the bottom of a clean measuring cup.  I put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and baked the crust at 350°F until it darkened a bit (11 minutes).  Next, I set it aside to cool.  (Make sure it gets reasonably close to room temperature before adding the filling; stick it in the refrigerator if you want to speed this up.)

For the filling, I whisked together one 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling!), 3/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk, 2 large egg yolks, and a pinch of salt (salt, pepper, and water are considered “freebie” ingredients) in a medium bowl.  I poured the filling into the cooled crust, returned the pan to the oven (still on a rimmed baking sheet, still at 350°F), and baked the tart until it was set (30 minutes).  I removed the tart from the oven, cooled it to room temperature, and then chilled it for several hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

For being so simple, this is pretty darn tasty.  It’s essentially like eating pumpkin pie, except with a ginger cookie crust.  Like any good pumpkin dessert, though, it really isn’t complete without a bit of sweetened whipped cream…  I know this takes the recipe over the five-ingredient limit, but it’s essential.

Want to try something a bit more gourmet with homemade pumpkin purée and chocolate?  Check out last year’s Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart post.

TIPS:  Apparently, the canned pumpkin supply is back to good after last year’s shortage.  Yay!  Also, the one “mistake” I made with this recipe was to push too much of the crust up the sides instead of leaving more on the bottom.  That thick crust looks absolutely gorgeous, but it was pretty difficult to cut once I got to the edge.  Sticking a fork through it?  Impossible.  We had to pick up the crust and eat it like a cookie.  (Still delicious!)  Next time, I’ll even things out a bit.

Recipe link: Ginger Pumpkin Tart

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

I make an awful lot of sugar cookies.  (I swear, I could make them in my sleep!)  I make so many, in fact, that I rarely even think about making any other kind of cut-out cookie.  When the recipe for these Chocolate-Ginger Cookies came through my inbox the other day, though, I just had to make them.  The chocolate-ginger flavor combination really feels like fall, and I already had the adorable fall cookie cutters used in the photo on the Martha Stewart Web site.

I went into this thinking that I’d be able to mimic my sugar cookie routine with a different dough, but I had to change plans quickly; the dough is pretty soft.  The downside of this is that I had to flour the heck out of my counter, the surface of the dough, and the rolling pin to make cutting and transferring the cookies possible.  The upside, though (and it’s a big one!), is that the dough produces a very tender cookie.  Here’s the recipe if you’d like to give it a try:

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies
Makes 4 dozen

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (I left this out)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup dark unsulfured molasses
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Method:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. Whisk together flour, cocoa, spices, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Cream butter and brown sugar on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg, molasses, and grated ginger; mix until combined. Add flour mixture; mix on low speed until just combined.

Halve dough; flatten into two disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate 1 hour. Transfer disks, one at a time, to a lightly floured surface; roll out to 1/4 inch thick. (If dough gets soft, freeze until firm.) Use 3-inch acorn or leaf cookie cutters to make shapes; place 1 inch apart on sheets. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

Score designs with a knife; sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are firm, 11 to 13 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2004

My notes:

  • As you can see from the ingredient list, I left out the leavening agents.  I find that cutout cookies tend to hold their shape better (especially at altitude) when I omit them.
  • I was tempted to squeeze the moisture out of my grated ginger because it was pretty wet, but I didn’t.  Baked goods usually benefit from a little extra moisture at altitude anyway.
  • The recipe said to refrigerate the cookies for 20 minutes before baking, but I froze them for 20 minutes instead.
  • I tried scoring the cookies with the designs both before and after freezing (I’m a rebel like that!).  Scoring them after freezing definitely resulted in cleaner lines.
  • My cookies were done in about 11 1/2 minutes per batch.

Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

I still love sugar cookies the best, but these were pretty tasty.  I liked the balance of ginger and chocolate, and I really enjoyed the light crunch of the sanding sugar. I’m not sure if the cookies were supposed to be tender (the Martha Stewart site indicated they’d be crisp), but mine certainly were.  They weren’t soft in a flexible way – they held their shape perfectly – but they had such a delicate crumb.  I’ll try this one again in December as gingerbread men.

Recipe link: Chocolate-Ginger Cookies

Southwestern Two-Bean Salad

As promised, here’s the recipe for Southwestern Two-Bean Salad that completes my grilling menu from the other weekend.  I chose this salad to go with the Cilantro Honey-Lime Grilled Chicken and the Hill Country Coleslaw because it’s hearty, generally crowd-pleasing, and it contained the one ingredient that tied all three dishes together: cilantro.  Its fresh summer flavor would make it right at home on just about any picnic or barbecue buffet, though; I’ve served it with pulled pork sandwiches and burgers as well.

Southwestern Two-Bean Salad
Serves 12

Dressing ingredients:
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Salad ingredients:
2 cans (15 ounces each) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 1/4 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped (1/4 – 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro

Method:
For the dressing, whisk together vinegar, oil, sugar, cumin, oregano, salt and black pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

For the salad, drain and rinse beans.  Place beans in a large bowl.  Drain corn. Chop bell pepper and add corn and bell pepper to beans.

Chop onion and jalapeno peppers.  Snip cilantro using kitchen shears (or chop it). Add onion, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and dressing to bean mixture.  Mix gently. Cover and refrigerate 2 – 3 hours to allow flavors to blend.

Source: Pampered Chef’s Casual Cooking

Southwestern Two-Bean Salad

I just love this salad.  It’s light and fresh, and I like the way the tender texture of the beans contrasts with the crunch of the peppers and the corn.  Plus, it’s inexpensive to make, it keeps wonderfully, and it adapts well for a variety of menus. Give it a try!

TIPS:  Since it’s summer and fresh corn is readily available, I substituted fresh corn for the canned.  I cut the kernels off of two cobs, placed the corn in a colander, poured boiling water over it, and drained it before adding it to the salad.

Also, since my mom recently fell victim to “jalapeno eyes,” a note about working with jalapenos: After handling jalapenos, always (!) make sure you wash your hands (or wear gloves).  If you have jalapeno oil on your hands and you touch your skin (or heaven forbid, your eyes), it will burn.  I accidentally touched the corner of my mouth recently with jalapeno hands, and while it wasn’t excruciating, I could definitely feel the heat.  If you’re generally cautious about spicy food, though, don’t let this scare you out of using jalapenos in the salad.  Removing the seeds and membranes tones them down considerably.  I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy food, and I could barely taste them.

Curried Chicken Salad

Dr. O and I finally had our first picnic of the summer last week.  He loves – and I mean loves – ’80s music, so I thought it would be fun for us to check out That Eighties Band (music will play when the window opens – beware! 🙂 ) when they played a free outdoor concert at the Streets of Southglenn.  An outdoor concert definitely equals a picnic event, so I set to planning the perfect menu.

I decided to plan the meal around a recipe I’ve wanted to try for a long time: Ina Garten’s Curried Chicken Salad.  For sides, I went with extremely easy, portable treats: grapes, pepper strips with hummus, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. It was picnic perfection.  I enjoyed the chicken salad so much that I made it again on Monday, but this time I took pictures.  Here’s Ina’s recipe if you’d like to give it a try:

Curried Chicken Salad
Serves 6

Ingredients:
3 whole (6 split) chicken breasts, bone-in, skin-on
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman’s)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup chutney (recommended: Major Grey’s)
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 cup medium-diced celery (2 large stalks)
1/4 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (2 scallions)
1/4 cup raisins
1 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Method:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.  Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and dice the chicken into large bite-size pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Process until smooth.

Combine the chicken with enough dressing to moisten well.  Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well.  Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.  Add the cashews and serve at room temperature.

Source: Ina Garten/FoodNetwork.com

Curried Chicken Salad

If you like curry, this chicken salad is simply the best.  It’s creamy (mayo), crunchy (celery and cashews), sweet (raisins), and spicy (curry and scallions).  I could happily eat it at least once a week for the rest of my life, and it’s my new go-to summer recipe.  Yum, yum, yum!

In the interest of full disclosure, I did modify the recipe a bit the second time around since it has three small issues: One, the full-fat mayo and the olive oil are heavy on calories; two, you end up with far more dressing than you need if you make the recipe as written; three, there’s absolutely no need to dirty the food processor in order to make the dressing.  Here’s my lightened, easier version, which is still incredibly delicious:

Lighter Curried Chicken Salad
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Curried Chicken Salad
Makes four 1-cup servings

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Kosher salt
3/4 cup light mayonnaise (recommended: Hellman’s Light)
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons chutney (recommended: Major Grey’s)
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 cup medium-diced celery
2 tablespoons chopped scallions, white and green parts (1 large scallion)
2 tablespoons raisins
1/4 cup whole roasted, salted cashews

Method:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the chicken breast and boil for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside until cool enough to handle.  Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces.

For the dressing, combine the mayonnaise, wine, chutney, curry powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk to combine.

Combine the chicken and the dressing.  (You’ll use most, if not all of it.)  Add the celery, scallions, and raisins, and mix well.  Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to blend.  Top each serving with 1 tablespoon of cashews and serve at room temperature.

Flourless Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

Hooray!

I always get really excited when one of my favorite baking recipes from Dallas works here in Denver without any high-altitude modifications.  Today’s recipe – Flourless Peanut-Chocolate Cookies from the March 2005 issue of Everyday Food – is one of those recipes.  I loved these cookies so much when we were in Dallas and got so many compliments on them…  I’m just thrilled I can share them here as well.

And let me tell you something, folks: These cookies are not only delicious, they’re ridiculously easy.  Like, you-don’t-even-need-a-mixer easy.  Here’s how I made them.

In a large bowl, I stirred together 1 cup of creamy peanut butter, 3/4 cup of granulated sugar, 1 large egg (lightly beaten), 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon of table salt until well combined.  Next, I stirred in 3/4 cup of semisweet chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of roasted salted peanuts.

From here, I deviated a bit.  The recipe says to use moistened hands to roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls.  I used my 1 1/2-inch cookie scoop for the first batch (with the dough leveled instead of heaping) and my hands for the second batch so I could see which method gave me the best cookie shape.  (The scoop won by a mile!)  The recipe also said to bake all the cookies at once with one rack in the top third of the oven and one in the bottom third.  I feel like I get more consistent results when I bake my cookies in the middle of the oven, so I decided to do separate batches.  With that said, I placed the dough balls about 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.  (I ended up with 21 cookies.)  I baked each batch at 350°F until they were golden and puffed (13 minutes in my oven).  I cooled them on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Flourless Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

Oh, heavens.  They were just as I had remembered, except maybe ever so slightly less puffed than they were in Dallas.  No matter…  The Queen of Portion Control (me, as often as I can stand it) has already eaten two of these and it isn’t even 5 p.m. yet.

The cookies are very peanut butter-y, and I love the chunky texture created by the whole peanuts in the dough.  They aren’t soft and chewy but they certainly aren’t crisp either…  They’re somewhere in between.  They’re a little bit crumbly like a good shortbread, which is another thing I can hardly resist.

So anyway, if you like peanuts and chocolate, make these!  You’ll enjoy them.  And my fellow high-altitude bakers can rest easy knowing this won’t be yet another batch of cookies that spread into sad, crispy discs.

Recipe link: Flourless Peanut-Chocolate Cookies

Spinach and Berries Salad with Dill

I’m pretty particular about my grocery shopping.  I usually plan a menu for the week, write a store list (divided by areas of the grocery store since I’m a bit crazy like that), and stick to it.  It’s good for the budget, and it I rarely throw anything away since I only buy what I plan to use.  During my last trip to Costco, though, I noticed a killer deal on blueberries and just couldn’t pass ’em up.  So this time I had to work backwards and figure out what to make from what I’d bought.

I have Colorado Colore (a Junior League cookbook) on loan from my local library and the cover recipe is this gorgeous salad that incorporates – drumroll, please – blueberries!  I knew it would be perfect with the leftover burgers I had in my freezer, so I put it on the menu.  Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it:

Spinach and Berries Salad with Dill
Serves 8 to 10

Red Wine Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Salad Ingredients:
1 cup slivered almonds
1 pound baby spinach leaves
1 pound baby butterhead lettuce
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1/2 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 pint fresh raspberries
1/2 pint fresh blueberries
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill weed

Method:
For the vinaigrette, combine the olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, pepper, dry mustard and onion powder in a jar (or airtight container) with a tight-fitting lid. Shake to mix.  Chill until serving time.

For the salad, spread the almonds on a baking sheet.  Toast at 350°F for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring after 3 to 4 minutes.  Let stand until cool. Toss the almonds, spinach, lettuce, green onions, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and dill weed in a large salad bowl.  Add the vinaigrette just before serving and toss to coat.

Source: Colorado Colore

Spinach and Berries Salad with Dill

(Those of you who are really paying attention might notice that my salad is missing raspberries.  I accidentally used all of my stash on some trifles earlier in the day, but I’ll be sure to include them next time.)

This salad is incredibly delicious!  There are so many different flavors, but they really work together: sweetness from the berries, a hint of heat from the scallions, smokiness from the almonds, the herbaceous quality of the dill.  I really loved the texture of the toasted almonds and the berries with the lettuce, and the dressing was pure tangy, garlicky goodness.  Mmmmm.  Add the fact that it’s visually stunning, and we have a winner.  I’m not ready to rank it above my favorite summer salad of all time, but it’s definitely going into summer recipe rotation.

A word of warning: This recipe makes a HUGE salad.  (Gigantic!  Enormous!)  I made a quarter recipe, and I swear we had enough salad for four people.  Good thing it was fantastic!




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