Friday, January 30, 2009

Laura's baby shower and Sunday dinner

Last weekend Martha N and I co-hosted a baby shower brunch for the lovely mom-of twin boys-to-be Laura, followed by dinner for six at my place later that night. It actually worked out quite well, even if I was feeling goofy by the time dessert rolled around that night. I drank kind of a lot of leftover champagne between brunch and dinner, which no doubt had something to do with that. But the day (and food) went over well, Laura seemed happy and it was great to meet her friends and family. And socializing was a nice break from a long, overextended work week.

I've been waiting on this post because I didn't take any pictures and was hoping to get my hands on someone else's. I seriously need to invest in a new camera. Martha N made great looking (and tasting) sticky buns and a pumpkin cake, and some friends of Laura's brought all the stuff for tamales -- yet this is the only picture I have of Laura and its not even from the shower. She's taking part in an MLK day celebration at the school where she teaches, I think. Or possibly a pro-compassion rally (which has probably happened in Seattle at some point or another)? Please let me know if you have any good camera suggestions, because I am ready to invest (modestly).

Brunch needed to be easy to make and to eat. The tamale-makers needed to spread out in the kitchen (we used every kitchen item of mine and some they brought with them) and Martha N needed the oven. So something that could be put together in advance and/or in one pan. And I was really just providing space and logistical support -- Martha N took care of most of the details, including helping re-arrange the furniture so we could all sit and taking me to Pike Market early Sunday for tulips and coffee. Martha N is pretty great.

The tamales (half with chicken and kale, half just refried beans and cheese) were also great. Laura took home a few freezer bags full for when then babies come (twins! boys! holy crap), and--57-step process notwithstanding--they're pretty straightforward if you have strong leader ship (enter Laura's friend Hilary, who is originally from Texas and was elbow deep in masa at one point). Definitely a nice twist for something like a shower and 110x better than other things I've heard of (melting candy bars to look like baby poop? Tasting baby food and guessing which is the chicken and peas?). At least once you get past the amount of lard in them (giant tub of it), which I may never be able do.

For my end I found a couple of recipes on 101 Cookbooks, which is a great and good-looking blog full of healthy, simple recipes. They tend to call for a ton of ingredients, but many are staples you may already have. You can search by ingredient, which is perfect for when I have some CSA box item I want to use -- in this case, bananas. I ended up with Roasted Banana Bread with rum-soaked raisins (I've been into rum raisin things lately--like in leftover bread and pasta puddings, following Mark Bittman's suggestions). I followed the recipe almost exactly, except that I added an extra banana, skipped the pumpkin seeds and put some salted pepitas on top instead. The bread is pretty, really light (cake flour does that trick), not overly sweet, and has a richer banana flavor than most. I had mine with strawberry preserves and was pleased with myself.

I also made a vegetable and rice casserole/gratin thing that was a hybrid of a few recipes I've tried from the NY Times and 101 Cookbooks. Another good option for leftover rice or veggies. I used arborio rice because I think holds up better than other types of rice, but I bet any rice or grains would work. I'm thinking spelt might be worth trying. I used chard, mushrooms and onions--but here too I bet pretty much any vegetables would work. I meant to throw in the chopped chard stems but forgot. Some baby shower-ers asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Mushroom, chard and onion risotto casserole

2 tbs olive oil
12 oz mixed mushrooms, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 bunch chard, blanched and chopped
3-4 cups cooked risotto (arborio) rice (cooked in vegetable stock)
2 large eggs
1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
2 oz grated gruyere
2 oz grated parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
tarragon and parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook the mushrooms in olive oil until they start to soften. Add the onion, cooking until they start to turn translucent. Add the garlic and a bit of salt and pepper and stir for a minute or so longer, and then add the cooked rice and the chard. Set it aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs a bit and then add the sour cream, cottage cheese and grated cheeses -- hold on to some of the parmesan for the top, or add more if you want to. I think I added a bit more salt and pepper at this point, but the sour cream has a lot of flavor so I don't think you need much.

Combine the rice/veggie and the egg/cottage cheese mixes, and pour it into a decent-sized baking or casserole dish. I used a silicone brownie dish sprayed with a little olive oil. You want the mixture to be thick and thoroughly wet but not soupy. I used a square (8x8?) silicone brownie pan.

Bake at 350 for about 30 to 40 minutes, or until it looks bubbly and set. I put it under the broiler briefly to brown the top. Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it. I turned it out onto a cookie sheet and then pretty-side up onto a wooden cutting board with some chopped tarragon and parsley on top.

By the time we cleaned up from the shower, it was time to think about dinner. Everything was from recipes I found on-line, and I didn't fuss with them:

A big pot of French onion soup (onions came from the CSA last week), a green salad, and the easy focaccia toasted with cheese to top the soup with. And lemon bars with whipped cream from an Ina Garten recipe. I like her. Jake made a couple of steaks because he felt we were protein-deprived and we had some in the freezer. I'm eating almost no meat these days (but use stock or bullion all the time...not sure what that pans out to geo-agro-politically).

The soup is hearty and satisfying, and I pretty much followed the recipe except with more beef stock than chicken, leftover shower champagne instead of sherry, and dried herbs instead of fresh. But be warned: the first hour of cooking the onions in the oven is pretty intense fumes-wise. Jake and I felt a little queasy and went for a walk to get some air (I may have just been tired).

The lemon bars are great because you don't have to cook the custard. I was skeptical, but it turned out creamy, kind of spongy, and really rich. I thought it was almost too rich, but the whipped cream helped cut the sweet-tartness. I used a small round cake pan and a (silicone--it's sticky stuff!) cupcake pan for individual servings that folks took home. The only down side was that the crust didn't hold up in the fridge overnight (yes, I had some for breakfast). That might have been from me overworking the dough because I suck at shortbready things. But I think I would use a graham cracker crust next time, which is harder to botch and still pretty tasty.

Ok -- that's all for that. Thanks for the potato ideas, but I solved the potato problem: it suddenly occurred to me that I could give them away instead of trying to force myself to consume them. Duh. Have a great weekend!

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