parties

A Make Ahead Dinner Party

When my friends Stefanie and Ari got engaged I knew I wanted to throw them a celebratory dinner party.  Of course coordinating the schedules of 4 busy people meant we had to wait a couple of months and do it on a Friday.  I didn’t want to sacrifice a delicious and special occasion meal just because I didn’t have all day to cook.  I do a lot of make ahead meals (just check out all the tags to that effect) but for this dinner to work EVERYTHING had to be made ahead or make in 3 minutes flat.  I did creep out of work a little early to make sure everything was perfect but it turned out to be unessecary.  If I didn’t have such curious kitties I would have even set the table the night before but no one really wants cat fur in their polenta so I just made sure everything was clean and set aside so it was easy to throw together.

Since the theme was Italian I used this fun olive themed tablecloth and napkins (shhh, they are French!).  I love the graphic nature of these large olive oil containers I get at A Litteri so once they are empty I use a can opener to take off the top, rinse them out and repurpose as a vase.  This also works really well with large cans of tomatoes.  My little mini Chianti bottles as salt and pepper shakers from our trip to Italy made another appearance as well.  We opened a bottle of Brunello we had brought back from that trip to make it extra special.  It turned out to be a wonderful stress free night celebrating great friends with lots of wine and laughter – exactly what I wish for Stef and Ari in their lives together!

A Make Ahead Dinner Party Menu

Antipasti

The easiest and most delicious way to start any meal hands down.  Buy the best ingredients ahead of time and then all you have to do is put them out.  I decided against a typical cheese board and instead took two types of cheeses and jazzed them up myself.  First I took some beautiful ricotta I bought at Righteous Cheese (who now ship nationwide!) and mixed it with meyer lemon zest, salt and pepper.  That was all it took to make store bought cheese a totally delicious spread, served with RC’s awesome rosemary crackers.

Next I drained little bocchini mozzarella (those balls of mozzarella cheese you can find at the supermarket stored in brine) and tossed them with high quality olive oil, salt, fennel seeds and crushed red pepper flakes.  To round everything out I bought some mixed olives, pistachios and sliced some Olli calabrese salamini.  They are little baby salamis made by this amazing place in VA (you can find them lots of places in the DC area but I have also seen them in other areas at Whole Foods and even Costco – check their website for the place closest to you).  Plunk some grapes in the middle and you have a nice selection for your guests to pick on before the big meal – all in less than 10 minutes.

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Osso Bucco

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The star of the night was for sure this osso bucco that I posted last month.  A special occasion dish perfect for this dinner party – I made it several days before and just popped the whole pot into the fridge once it had cooled.  The night of the party I just reheated it over low heat, covered, for about 30 minutes.  Stefanie told me Ari was crazy for bone marrow so of course I also bought some rosemary dinner rolls from Lyon Bakery in Union Market so he had bread to slather the marrow on.  I just tossed them in a 350 degree oven as we ate the antipasto and served them warm.

Sauteed Spinach with Raisins and Pine Nuts

For some green on the table I opted for the super quick sauteed spinach.  Takes no more than five minutes to wilt the several mountains of spinach you will need and then tossed with raisins and pine nuts they are supremely Italian.  There are many versions of this dish, I used one from an old cookbook but this one by Martha is pretty much the same.

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I make the spinach while the bread was warming but you could also sautee it all in advance and then just warm over low heat right before eating if you cannot spare that 5 minutes!

Make Ahead Polenta

You think you can’t make polenta ahead of time?  You think you need to stand over it and stir and stir while your guests look on???  No longer – I have this great tip gleaned from Cooks Illustrated,  cook the polenta with extra liquid and you can make it ahead.  Basically for every ounce of dried polenta you use, cook it in a cup of water (ie I cooked 4 ounces of polenta in 4 cups of milk and water.  Cook for about 20 minutes just as you would normal polenta until it’s no longer raw and pour it into a baking pan.  It will be pretty soupy but that’s fine.  Chill it overnight, top with parmesan cheese and bake in a 450 degree oven for 30 minutes you get a creamy cheesey polenta with zero hassle.

I used this amazing truffle polenta we still had on hand from our Italy trip but you could flavor it with herbs or garlic or just leave it plain.  Either way it will be delicious and creamy and the perfect accompaniment to the osso bucco with all that delicious sauce.

Tiramisu

This dessert actually MUST be made in advance so all the booze and marscapone can meld with the lady fingers to create a decadent dessert.  Unfortunately, the version that I made for this dinner party was a bit of a bust so I won’t be recommending that recipe but there are only about a zillion out there.  This one from Epicurious has very good reviews and really any decent Italian cookbook should have one.  Or better yet – just buy one!  Serve with some espresso and maybe an after dinner drink and the party will be complete.  By my estimation you will spend about 30 minutes reheating things and 5 minutes with actual hands on cooking which will give you lots of time to enjoy your guests any night of the week.

Happy Hour for Two

DC is a pretty over-scheduled town.  I am as guilty as the next with every weekend jam packed with plans, usually with several groups of friends at a time.  However, every once and a while it’s nice to be able to sit down and just spend time one on one.  It had been way too long since I had some quality time with my friend Ali so I had her over for a happy hour for two.  By hosting at home you can really hear each other and not have to worry about hovering waiters or people trying to get your stools at the bar.  We got together on a Friday night so I wasn’t going to have time to cook anything.  This is what I like to call an assembled menu, where you just have to pick the best products, display them nicely and dive in!

First thing is first – wine.  I picked a white and a red so we had options.  You don’t need to be a wine expert to pick a good bottle.  Easiest way is to pick your own house wine (feel free to steal mine from that post!) and have them on hand.  Here since I bought a French baguette and French tarts I picked a nice Bordeaux and a light French white to compliment the spread.  I wanted to have a little more than just a cheese board for this happy hour because there was a lot of gossip to catch up on – just wine plus cheese usually makes for a terrible next morning!  I got a nice chunk of aged English cheddar and paired it with wheat biscuits, fig jam, sliced apples and green grapes.

I simply cannot ignore my love of goat cheese so I crumbled it up and put it in lovely, tender endive leaves.  Drizzled with honey and sprinkled with crushed pink peppercorns these are the perfect one bite.  Endive leaves is a nice way to keep your carbs in check and they make a lovely presentation.

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Since I was saving calories with the endive I decided to grab a mini baguette and serve it with high quality olive oil for dipping.  Don’t get too precious here – I just tore the baguette in half and then Ali and I could rip off what we wanted and dip away.  To round out the selection I got some green marinated olives, peppadews and marcona almonds.

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I always like to add a little something special to make my guests feel really pampered and these tiny adorable fruit tarts are just the ticket.  I got these from Whole Foods but check your local bakery and grab what looks good.  This was a great way to cap off the week and connect with my dear friend – I have included a shopping list below to make it even easier for you to have a little happy hour for two.  Cheers!

Chinese New Year Party

Happy year of the monkey!  Chinese New Year officially started yesterday but the good news is the celebration goes on for several days, through the weekend, so you can join in on the fun.  I remember going to New Year’s parties in Chinatown in Boston when I was a kid – I loved all of the colorful decorations, the exotic dragons and of course the food!  Even if you aren’t Chinese no one can argue with getting a second crack at celebrating New Years and this holiday comes with so many fun traditions.  Before throwing my party I did quite a bit of research but don’t get hung up on authenticity (and apologies in advance from any liberties I may have taken!).  The main purpose of Chinese New Year is to honor one’s ancestors so it’s all about being surrounded by friends and family and celebrating life.

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Decorating for this party is half the fun.  I got a bunch of paper lanterns and fans and hung them all over – even better, if you are careful when you take them down you can reuse them plenty of times and they store flat.  I knew I definitely wanted to get lots and lots of fortune cookies so they could double as decorations and dessert.

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Lucky Money Bags are a traditional Chinese New Year element where usually kids get these red envelopes with either real money or candy coins.  As thrilled as I am sure my friends would have been to get cash, I opted for the chocolate coins instead.  They were the perfect take home favor (though I think people started cracking into them early!).

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I tried to keep the menu fun and sort of bite sized so everyone could mix and mingle with food in hand or chopstick.  This is a great excuse to head to your local Asian market (my favorite in the DC area is H Mart) and grab things you usually don’t cook with.  You can also grab take out containers, steaming baskets and chopsticks while you are there.  I cheated a bit and bought some frozen shrimp shu mai which helped round out the spread.

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Since I bought the shrimp dumplings that freed me up to make my own pork ones.  These delicious Sichuan pork wontons also called Chao Shou were actually really easy to make since you can buy the wonton wrappers in advance and just fill and boil them.  Dressed in black vinegar and chili oil they pack a nice kick.

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In addition to the dumplings and of course a nice selection of wine and beer (we tried to find Tsingtao but no luck) we had individual containers of cold sesame noodles.  I used a classic New York Times recipe (sans the cucumber, ick!) and doubled it up.  I thought it would be fun if everyone had their own little take out container so grabbed these mini ones from Webstaurant Store, an awesome online restaurant supply place.

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Last but not least I wanted to make sure to have a substantial meat dish and what is better than meat on a stick?  Chicken satay was a great choice because it was easy to eat and also really good room temperature.

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I hope everyone has a delicious and happy Chinese New Year!

Cookie Decorating Party

It’s easy to get bogged down during the holidays with all of the very important staff adults “have to do” like attend boring work parties, address and send hundreds of Christmas cards, not to mention the daily vacuuming of pine needles.  An easy fix is to spend an afternoon with some kids decorating cookies.  Seriously, I came up with the idea of this party because I thought it would be fun for some of the little people in my life but the adults had just as much fun as the kids.  It was so therapeutic that my friend Tara said she hadn’t been that relaxed in months! So bust out the frosting and sprinkles and have yourself a party.

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Keep the party low key so you can enjoy yourself – I took several short cuts.  First and foremost cover your table!!  We made a ridiculous mess but I had put down craft paper before we started and at the end of the party I just rolled it up and tossed it (along with about 3 pounds of marshmallows).  I went a step further and bought premade dough.  Did you know they even sell it rolled out for you??  Normally I am a bit of a snob about these things but in the interest of my sanity, and the fact that I knew the cookie would just end up being a means of delivering frosting I took the shortcut and was glad I did.  If you want to make your own this recipe has always worked for me.

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It is important to make the cookies in advance, even the day before if you want.  Cutting out cookies is hard enough for adults let alone kids but also you can’t frost them until they are completely cooled.  Trust me you don’t want to be the one telling the kids they have to wait an hour to decorate!  Turns out I had a million different holiday cutters (shocker) so we had snowmen, wreaths, trees, stars, gingerbread men, and snowflakes.

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I decided to make my own frosting but you can certainly buy tubes of the premade stuff.  Just make sure you have lots as the icing went fast!  I used Wilton’s Royal Icing recipe – it’s great because it hardens fast but you may need to tinker with the proportions, I found I needed a lot more water than called for.  To make the different colors I really like gel coloring because you need a lot less of it than standard liquid food coloring and the colors are a lot richer.  I did white, red, green, blue, yellow and purple cause heck it was a girls cookie party.  I also put out some mini marshmallows and Hershey Kisses for decorating/snacking.  My friends Karin and Tara brought their adorable girls Sophie and Grayson who dove right in.

It is also important to have some non-cookie food to munch on.  I made mini pizzas and a cheese board (with some bubbly for the adults of course).  It was such a fun way to spend the afternoon and in the end each kid had a special box with their names on them to pack up their cookies and take them home.

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Everyone had a great time and with about 1 hour of prep time I was able to pull this off.  Who can argue with a party that comes with a cookie goodie bag?  I think this just might become an annual tradition….

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Easy Peasy Brunch Menu

Since this week is the Patriots bye week our Sunday is wide open.  This doesn’t happen too often in the fall – the perfect excuse to throw an impromptu brunch party.  Having people over for brunch is one of my favorite ways to entertain.  It’s pretty inexpensive, there is usually bubbly involved and people can go about their business later in the day.  The key is to have some simple to throw together dishes, that only necessitate a quick run to the store.  Actually you may just have all of this stuff in your pantry already.  For me brunch is about having something salty and something sweet so you don’t have to decide between the two.  Oh and bacon.  Of course bacon.  Add a bubbly drink on top and you will have some very happy friends.

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If it’s nice out doing brunch outdoors is really fun and adds to the festivity of it.  Just because you are outdoors though doesn’t mean should always turn to paper plates and solo cups.  I like to use real linens, footed glasses and sparkly flatware.  I found these amazing gold accented plates at Home Goods that go perfectly with my Izon flatware set from Target.  When the menu is this easy it’s always nice to make extra effort with the presentation.

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Easy Peasy Brunch Menu

Aperol Spritz

This is the easiest pitcher drink you will ever make.  Slice an orange and drop it into a pitcher with some ice.  Top with a whole bottle of Aperol and a whole bottle of bubbly (go ahead and make it with prosecco or cava to save some money).  I like to add about a cup of Lillet Blanc as well, but it’s not necessary.  Done!  This drink is sparkly, citrusy and a little bitter – perfect for cutting through rich food like the frittata and low alcohol enough that you can still run errands after brunch.

Pasta Carbonara Frittata with radicchio and arugula salad

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This frittata is delicious and has all the elements of pasta carbonara.  It is pretty rich (pasta, cream, bacon, eggs…) but the recipe also has a delightful side salad made with bitter greens.  The radicchio and arugula salad tossed with the lemony vinaigrette are the perfect foil to the frittata and side of bacon.  Everything in this menu is about balance and this is the perfect centerpiece.  Prep all the salad ingredients and cook off the pasta before hand so you only have about 10 minutes of actual cooking to do.

Baked Bacon

Baking bacon is so much easier than cooking it in a pan.  You don’t have to doge grease splatters and the bacon comes out nice and crispy and flat.  There was bacon in the frittata but who ever accused a brunch of too much bacon??  Place the bacon on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and cook at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes.  This way you can make trays and trays of bacon at one time if you are doing brunch for a crowd.  If you want to bake this off at the same time as the frittata all the better – go ahead and crank the temperature to 425 as indicated for the frittata, and just start checking on the bacon at the 10 minute mark to make sure you don’t burn it.

Nutty’s French Toast

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This post has to be the one I get the most positive feedback on.  These mini french toasts stuffed with nutella are perfect for this easy brunch.  I made them as a psuedo dessert but you could certainly serve them alongside with the frittata.  Good news is they only take a couple of minutes to make so if you do make them at the end you only have to slip away for a few moments.  When you come back with these babies your friends will be smitten!

Tapas Party

Make sure you carefully enunciate when you invite folks to this party – speak too quickly and folks will think you are hosting a topless party (yes it happened more than once!).  Themed cocktail parties are really fun to do and so easy, this time I went Spanish.  Sometimes when I am trying to come up with a menu I can get paralyzed by all of the options but if you focus on one cuisine or type of food, not only will your menu be more cohesive but it will be much easier to put it all together.  Patrick had been craving patatas bravas for a while so I decided I would try my hand at making my own aioli and then heck if I am making my own mayo might as well invite some people over, and then well we might as well have a Spanish theme…this is usually how my party snowball starts.  We hosted this on a busy weekend so unlike most cocktail parties, I committed to only making 2 things and purchasing the rest.  A little part of me died doing this, but honestly no one notices, and I didn’t end up looking like the Tasmanian devil right before our friends arrived.

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The key to really fleshing out a cocktail party without a lot of work is of course your best friend – the cheese board.  Unwrap a bunch of cheeses and done.  I also keep a variety of crackers on hand and some accompaniments to compliment the cheese.  To keep with the theme I put out membrillo paste, a Spanish quince jelly type spread that goes well with sheep and goat cheeses.  I got it at Righteous Cheese, an incredible cheese shop in Union Market, but you can find it pretty easily at your local cheese counter.  For the cheese selections you always want to have a mix of soft and hard cheeses, mild and strong, and a mix of cow, sheep and cow.  We of course had a manchego, the king of Spanish cheeses, along with a cabrales blue, an incredible washed rind goat and a cheddar.  No, cheddar is not Spanish but when you host your own party, you make your own rules!  When you do a cheese board make sure to fill in the empty spaces on the board with crackers or grapes so it doesn’t look chintzy.  I used this beautiful board my darling friend Erica had made for me – I have my own merch now!  Also make sure to set out cheese knives that can actually do the job – nothing worse than wanting a nice hunk of a hard cheese just to be greeted by a wimpy little knife.  I have this amazing cheese cleaver from Sabre that we got in Paris, that can really handle any cheese, a great wire cutter thingy also from Righteous Cheese and then I have these  gold bamboo spreaders from Home Goods that I can pair with soft cheese.

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In addition to the cheese board we also had Spanish marcona almonds, sliced chorizo, olives and grapes.  Put them on a footed silver compote or in a lovely bowl and BAM! you have a pretty good spread.  Of course I had to satisfy the patatas bravas craving right?  If you have never had them, they are crispy potatoes sprinkled with smoked paprika, sometimes with a spicy tomato sauce and always with a really garlicy aioli sauce.  To make this classic tapas a little more cocktail party friendly I cooked up some pee wee potatoes and make an aioli with smoked paprika in it to dip them in.  Some recipes I saw had you add garlic and paprika to mayo but making aioli was so easy and MUCH better than anything made with premade mayo.  I used this Food and Wine recipe and it was delicious.

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I had to make sure there was meat on the table so I also made some grilled chicken skewers to dip into my Uncle Bill’s amazing chimichurri sauce (recipe below).  Notice the extra char on the skewers – a good reminder to everyone to soak those sticks but also to watch them on the grill!

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Last but not least was the booze – we did a mix of riojas, albarinos and cava along with beer.  Usually I would have also made a signature cocktail but I was keeping this simple, right?  No, ok confession time – I tried and failed to make sangria popsicles to go with the meal.  Oh well, the night was a success anyway – try a tapas party next time you are looking to mix things up.  Have a great weekend!

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Red Wine Chimichurri

  • 2 cups fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons dry red wine 
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2  jalapeños, roasted and peeled (do this like the rajas)
  • 1 garlic clove

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender along with 2 tablespoons of water and puree until smooth.  Season with salt.  This sauce keeps in the fridge for several days and is great with steak or fish as well.

Breakfast for Dinner Party

Happy national waffle day!  I saw this being promoted at Whole Foods last week and wanted to do a post on it.  Oh course I then realized that I make my waffles from a box so not exactly thrilling, artisan stuff.  Then all of a sudden a dinner party menu popped into my head.  Use the waffles as dessert and build a whole menu around breakfast foods.  When I was in college the cook at my sorority house would do breakfast for dinner once a month and it was always the most popular night.  It makes you feel like a kid to eat a stack of waffles for dinner and even better if you can pair it with a mimosa!  For breakfasts and brunches I always try to get a good balance of salty and sweet.  This menu brings all of that and appropriate sophistication so your friends don’t think you sold scrambled eggs as a dinner party.  For the decor I tried to keep it somewhat rustic and simple since breakfast isn’t really the time for fussiness.

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Menu

Everything Bagel Bilinis

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I wanted an appetizer to start the meal that was classic breakfast with a twist.  I spread room temperature marscapone cheese on plain bagel chips and sprinkled with sea salt and everything bagel spice.  You could definitely use cream cheese but I had marscapone on hand and I think it added a richer sophistication to the canape.  I have the Better Than Everything Bagel Seasoning Blend which is great but you could also make you own using poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crushed pepper, and onion and garlic flakes.  I served these with champagne to start the meal.

Food and Wine Custardy Baked Orzo with Spinach Bacon and Feta and Toast with Chive Butter

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 a This dish is the reason why I was able to do this dinner party on a weeknight.  Instead of making eggs, frying up bacon and then trying to get a salad or veggie in there somewhere I threw them all into a casserole.  This delicious recipe from Food and Wine magazine was a hit and the left overs were terrific the next day.  It’s a lot like a frittata but even easier because you don’t have to worry about flipping it.  The addition of greek yogurt I thought odd at first but it really gives the dish a nice tang and helps bind the whole thing together.  I also toasted up some sourdough bread that I had in the freezer and whipped up a quick herb butter to serve along side of it.  Just mash up room temperature butter with any herbs of your choosing, I went with chives here and some sea salt.

Kahlua Waffles with Coffee Gelato

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I have tried making waffles from scratch and cannot tell the difference at all from those that came from a box.  I like Trader Joe’s Buttermilk Pancake Mix but I honestly think any box mix will do.  To class these up I substituted Kahlua for half of the water that the mix calls for.  You can make the batter in advance and just keep it in the fridge until you are ready to make the waffles.  I topped it with coffee gelato, sticking with the breakfast theme, and some dark and milk chocolate balls for texture.  It was a delicious and fun evening with zero stress.  Best of all any leftovers can be eaten the next morning for breakfast of course!

Take Your Travels Home – an Italian Dinner Party

In April I travelled to Italy for 2 weeks with my mom and Patrick.  We started our trip in Bologna, which is in the region considered the “food belt” of Italy, and then made our way down to Florence and Rome with stops in Ravenna, Parma, and Siena.  At first we started counting how many delicious bottles of wine and bowls of pasta we consumed but it was starting to get ridiculous by day five so we stopped.  Needless to say we ate very well and have a true appreciation for the amazing fresh food products there.  Whenever I am travelling in a place like Italy, busting with fresh vegetables and cheeses in all the lovely outdoor markets, I am desperate to just cook and cook.  Until I get a villa in Tuscany that’s probably not in the cards but I do bring as much back with me as possible.  I try to pack as light so we have room to bring back the good stuff you just cant get here in the states – its tough leaving that extra pair of shoes behind but its worth it when you can drizzle fresh green olive oil straight from the fields.

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Our amazing friends watched the kitties while we were gone and I figured what better way to thank them then dishing up some of the goodies we smuggled in along with a menu full of our favorite dishes.  I also had brought home some beautiful entertaining pieces like this amazing cobalt blue acrylic pitcher.  In Florence I purchased small Chianti bottles and then repurposed them as salt and pepper shakers.  To add a little elegance to the evening I bought place cards from one of the beautiful paper stores in Siena.

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Of course lots of delicious Italian reds were drunk and both Dave and Ashley and Devin and Erica went home with hand painted olive dishes from Florence as a thank you.  Honestly, no one wants to sit through a slide show of your vacation no matter how awesome it was – but here is a delicious and fun way to share your experiences with folks back home.

Menu

Cheese plate with Parmesan and fennel sausage from Florence

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Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

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Porchetta Style Roast Pork

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Fennel Salad

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Affogato with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

The cheese and sausage we got from the incredible Mercato Centrale in Florence.  I had been there once before and described it as my version of heaven but they have managed to make it even better.  The first floor food market, which has been in operation for hundreds of years, has everything you can imagine from cured meats, to vinegars and fresh vegetables.  However, now you can take an escalator to the 2nd floor and a whole new layer to the market opens up.  It’s as if the next generation of the families that operate downstairs decided they needed their own new hip spot to play.  There is a cooking school, a small Eataly outpost and amazing spots to have pizza, a beer or watch cheese being made.  The bolognese was inspired of course by our time in Bologna but honestly it was not the best version I have ever made.  The taste was really rich and deep but I didn’t love the texture so stay tuned and hopefully I will find a version I like that’s blog worthy.  The porchetta is my attempt at a version we had at Il Latini in Florence.  This is a unique Italian experience that’s a little confusing at first (definitely get a reservation) but so incredible.  Food just keeps coming and coming including this ridiculous meat plate with porchetta, Florentine steak and a whole duck!  It was delicious and one of the best nights we had.  I threw in a fennel salad with lemon dressing just to lighten things up, basically fennel sliced thinly with a little red onion, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  To finish things off we had Sambuca we brought from Rome and affogato, the world’s easiest dessert.  Scoop vanilla gelato into bowls and pour over hot espresso – done.  I added chopped chocolate covered espresso beans for crunch.  It was a great night and a terrific way to remember our trip.  Buon appetito!

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Welcome to a Capitol Contessa! Grab a margarita

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I am so excited to get this thing going – what started as a slightly boozy idea at the Fainting Goat on New Years Day, is finally a published product.  The minute I mentioned I was thinking about doing a blog my husband Patrick told me to take 60 days to conceptualize and 60 days to execute which roughly takes us to today.  I would not have even imagined starting this journey without him and his incredible support.  He will always be my number one guinea pig but I am glad that this forum will give me the opportunity to try out new ideas and recipes on a larger universe. My friend Ben brilliantly pointed out that if one is launching an entertainment blog there should be a party involved!  With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner we decided a fiesta with plenty of margaritas were in order.  I was so glad to have my friends and family to celebrate with me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I tried to keep it pretty simple by grilling tacos and we got super lucky to have a beautiful D.C. spring day.  The cookies, margarita mix, and most of the taco fillings were prepped in advance so all I had to do day of was make the cornbread, guacamole and guacamole salad and have Patrick grill the steak and chicken for tacos.  This kind of party is great for a crowd because everyone can find something they like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Menu

Cornbread by Martha Stewart

Guacamole Salad  by the Barefoot Contessa

Steak and Chicken Soft Tacos

Homemade Guacamole and store-bought salsa

Alfajores Cookies by Fine Cooking

Grate some cheese, chop some onion and plop sour cream into bowls and you officially have a taco bar.  Aided by the dozen or so hot sauces Patrick keeps on hand we had quite the spread and plenty of leftovers for Sunday.

DSC04510 It’s not a party without a cocktail and for this one we went with a household favorite – Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air.  If you have ever been lucky enough to go to Oyamel in D.C. you will be familiar with Jose Andres’ amazing salt air – it’s the perfect solution to getting a salty little touch with each sip of your margarita without ending up with salt crystals all over the front of your shirt.  I was so happy to learn you don’t have to be a gastronomic genius to figure this out – thank you Washingtonian Mag for sharing this with the masses.  I also gave out the tequilla as a favor because you never get too old for goodie bags right?  People just love getting to take a bit of the party back home with them. DSC04513

Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air

– 1 habanero pepper, stemmed and cut in half
– 2 cups silver tequila (or the whole bottle if you want to infuse it all)
– 3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
– 4 cups water, divided
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/2 teaspoon soy lecithin powder (get this at a nutrition store or online, I got mine on amazon)
– 2 cups sugar
– 1 cup triple sec or Grand Marnier (which I prefer)

First you want to infuse the tequila – I suggest go ahead and do the whole bottle as it lasts forever in the fridge and is great to have on hand. If you don’t want to go whole hog just pour out 2 cups which is what you will need for 8 margaritas. Place the cut habanero in the tequila carefully as these little peppers are HOT. I use disposable gloves whenever handling hot peppers so taking out my contacts later doesn’t become a painful event. Let the pepper infuse into the tequila for 3 hours or more depending on how much heat you want (if you want less you could also use a jalapeno instead). At this point you toss the pepper and keep the tequila in the fridge indefinitely for when you want to use it.

For the margaritas first make a simple syrup by combining 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved. Let cool (this is a good thing to make in advance as well as it lasts forever in the fridge and simple syrup is great in lots of cocktails and iced coffee). Combine the simple syrup, 2 cups of the lime juice, 2 cups of the spicy tequila, and the Grand Marnier in a large pitcher. Stir and taste – if it’s too hot you can add lime juice or water to dilute.

To make the salt air combine 1 cup of the lime juice, 2 cups of the water, the salt and the soy lecithin in a large bowl. Tilt the bowl so the liquid is at the bottom away from you and use an immersion blender until you create a good layer of foam. Pour the margaritas into chilled glasses and top with a scoop of foam. If you run out of foam no worries, just blend again to create more. Enjoy!

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