Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yummy Christmassy Dinner Party

The table was beautiful, as were all the dishes before we dug into them, but oh my god I forgot to take pics so, here are the "morning after" (aka leftover) pics of the Tomato Goat Cheese Tart and the Salted Caramel Pie (with peanut and chocolate additions):

This Tomato Goat Cheese Tart is amazing.  The crust is fantastic, and I think I'll use it for other things.  Crunchy, flaky, perfectly cheesy and seasoned.  Next time, instead of Italian herbs, I'll use just rosemary to see.  Couldn't more highly recommend this recipe.  I couldn't find my mini-tartlet pans for the life of me so I made a large one.  It turned out great, but next time I will do the minis, because I think it will work better with the goat cheese filling.  Either way is great:

To start the meal I made this Mario Batali Pappa al Pomodoro -- Tomato & Bread Italian Soup.  It's more thick than most soups, so I gave everyone smaller portions so as not to fill them up too much: actually made the tomato base -- pre water and bread additions -- the night before so as to fully steep with flavors.

Then for dessert, this great Food & Wine recipe for Salted Caramel Pie.  I added peanuts (Salted Blistered from Trader Joe's) to crust and stirred in a big handful of semisweet chocolate chips into the caramel at the end also.  Then I added chopped nuts and chocolate to decorate.  I served with Salted Caramel and Chocolate Ice Cream.  Also, I hardly put any sugar in the topping because the pie is so sweet.  It offset the sweetness well.  Finally, I whipped 3 cups of cream instead of 2, as recipe states:

So, the full menu:

  • Cocktail -- Prosecco, Orange Liqueur, Juice of one Tangerine, and Pomegranate Juice Cocktail (slices of tangerine in glass) -- all to taste
  • Italian Tomato Bread Soup
  • Tomato Basil Goat Cheese Tart
  • Salad with Parmiggiano and Toasted Almonds (balsamic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and juice of one tangerine)
  • Green Beans sauteed with garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, yellow tomatoes, lemon juice
  • Warm Sourdough Bread
  • Salted Caramel Pie + Ice Creams
Buon Yummy Natale!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do You Know a Trader Joe's Virgin?

My lovely friend Peter lives in London and my constant postings about Trader Joe's have been driving him crazy for a long time.   But, he need suffer no more.  He is going to New York and wants some guidance on how to approach his first Trader Joe's visit.  So, this one's for Peter.... and Tara who is in Canada, too, who I think is equally frustrated with my darned Trader Joe's ingredient lists.

Peter took me for a lovely walking tour all over London a couple months ago.  When I think of embarking on the Trader Joe's tour, I find it almost as daunting as a city tour!  There are so many hidden gems, off the beaten path, and so many areas you might accidentally miss due to other bright and shiny things being right near by.   So, I'll break the store up into sections:

1.  Fresh Flowers -- Really inexpensive here. I suggest making your own flower arrangements.  For instance, they often have tulips and gerber daisies and some sort of lily.  Mixing these all up is lovely.  They also often have calalillies -- purple, white, pink and yellow...lovely.
2.  Fresh Veggies and Fruits -- Gams you might miss are Broccoli Slaw which is broccoli stems and carrots mixed together in the crunchiest, yummiest mix.   Just throw vinegar and olive oil on it, some salt and papper, and a few toasted nuts.  They also have a bijillion kinds of lettuce.  My current favorite combo (sold separately) is butter lettuce and arugula.  Also, they always have regular green beans, but you want to get the Haricot Verts in little plastic bags.  These, as well as several other veggies sold like this, have bags that can be snipped and thrown in the microwave for quick veggie treat.  Bottom line: take your time in this aisle.
3.  Cheese -- Trader Joe's Started with nuts, chees, and wine, so they know how to choose 'em.  Trust them.  Current faves are the Aged Gouda, and for the holidays, the goat cheese logs rolled in Cranberry or Blueberry -- both are amazing.  The Blueberry is a little sweeter. 
All the goat cheeses are incredible.  Another daily fave is the Whipped Goat Cheese (look for little blue and white tub).  You can't go wrong with anything that draws you...OMG like the Baked Brie they already
4.  Nuts/Dried Fruits --   My faves: dry toasted almonds (two cuts available), toasted salted Pepitas (OMG what an amazing snack or salad spicer upper), dried cranberries with orange flavoring (must try, great on salads in this season especially), and the very best peanuts on planet Earth:

Old Fashioned Blister Peanuts.   Just literally don't leave the store without them.
5.  Chips/Crackers -- Current favorite cracker is the Pita Crackers -- they are so thick and crunchy and exquisitely salted.   The Low Fat Cheese Crunchies (a cheeto rip off that is so much better than the original, much cheesier and yummier) are hard to put down.  Every chip I've ever tried was absolutely delish.  They have a bijillion potato chips and a bijillion tortilla chips to choose from.
6.  Frozen Foods -- The pastas in a bag are remarkable good.  Throw a handful of fresh spinach or other lightly sauteed veggies to just kick them up a little and they are spectacular.  New favorite the Bento Box -- gloriously spiced and balanced, a lovely light supper.  Something you will ALWAYS find in my freezer -- Jasmine Rice.  Each box has three bags.  Pop in the microwave and miraculously perfectly cooked rice is ready to bless any dish!  The frozen thin pizzas are my faves in that section. 
7.  Chocolate and Cookies -- Peter-- YOU WILL BE IN HEAVEN -- you will need a while to slowly linger down this aisle.  The chocolates and cookies, by the way are all above the frozen foods.  So, dress accordingly, as you will be here for a while.  My most favorite new thing at TJs are these unbelievably brilliant Chocolate Mint Wafers.  Imagine this: ice cream cone wafer about an inch in diameter, covered with divine dark chocolate and sprinkled with teeny tiny candy cane bits.  Two different kinds of crunch and lots of richness.  Also, I'm sorry but TJs food creators are GENIUSES:

The other aisles are Coffee/Tea, Dry Goods (pasta, canned foods, etc.), Liquor, and Dairy... all things delicious found in all of them, but I think I've hit all the "stars" of Trader Joe's that are must-visits, or must-buys if you can fit them in your suitcase!

Everyone else: free to pass this on to all the "Trader Joe's Virgins" you know.

Buon Joe Appetito!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tangerine Dreams & Chocolate Orgasms

I will tell you right now that people's Facebook updates affect me.  The media genius, lovely, wonderfully talented Summers McKay, was posting about her recent trip to Mexico.  Therefore when I opened up my latest Food & Wine magazine I was SUSCEPTIBLE to the following three recipes that I simply HAD to make for friends:

Now, why do I only have a picture of the table the day after?  Well, because I had to taste the first inspiring recipe before my guests arrived and was pretty damn drunk after only 1/2 a TANGERINE MARGARITA!  I highly recommend adjusting this recipe by adding maybe twice as much fresh tangerine juice:   Oh my God were they delicious once I added more tangerine juice.   I should say -- if you are a lightweight like me, you may want to adjust the recipe.   But what is more delightful a task than juicing wondrously ripe and wonderful tangerines?  Nada!

Next, inspiring dish by the same chef:  Crunchy Cabbage Icebox Salad.  And, for those of you on Weight Watchers -- it's only 4 points a serving.  YUMMALICIOUS, crunchy, healthy:

Then, in my inimitable Lazy Way, I just threw on the counter for the guests to make their own taco or quesadilla the following:  roasted chicken (from Ralphs, who one of my guests said makes the best roasted chicken -- being a vegetarian I was happy to hear I hit the mark!), grated cheese, olives, three kinds of salsa, chopped cilantro, chopped chives, beans, sliced avocado with lime juice to preserve them during cocktails, and two kinds of tortillas. 

For dessert, another Jenn Louis genius recipe from the same Food & Wine spread: Honey Roasted Pineapple:  So delicious and for maybe less than a point, especially since I halved the honey. 

To go with the light dessert, I found -- also at Ralphs (you never hear me mention anything but Trader Joe's but today they are the stars!) -- CHUAO CHOCOLATE!  I had no idea they were in stores now. I have been to their boutiques a few times always for multi-chocolate-orgasmic experiences.  To find them in stores is nothing short of a Christmas miracle -- and it turns out they are EVERYWHERE NOW --

To end the Mexico-inspired evening I chose my two very favorite blends that both have some good heat.  FIRECRACKER is a must, must, must, must, must -- did I say MUST?  I'm not kidding you must try Firecracker.  I make people close their eyes when they first try it because it's literally as if fireworks are going off in your head when you eat it!  OUTRAGEOUS!
The Heat Is On Chocolate Bar Set

So, thank you Summers McKay for an evening of deliciousness and dreams galore.