My gift, which was appropriately called "Foodies".
I turned thirty-three on the 30th. It was a perfectly good reason to throw a luxury dinner party and a challenge I was ready to take on for Project Food Blog. Big, fat thank yous are on the menu as well. One for all of you who voted and another to the three fabulous judges, who have kept me in the game.
What was the first thing I did for this challenge? I looked up the word luxury in the dictionary, of course.
Merriam Webster Online defines luxury as such:
: a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort : sumptuous environment
: an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease
Initially, the word luxury, inspired thoughts of polo, big hats, hearty belly laughs and cigars; clanking champagne flutes, small talk and haute couture; mansions, hired help, elaborate marble fire places; smoking jackets, baby grand pianos and creepily thin moustaches.
But since that isn’t the case at the Zabaneh household (except for hearty belly laughs and the occasional clanking of champagne glasses), I thought what would luxury be for us?
Luxury would be dinner, without being Mommy, manners police or a short order cook for my three little ones.
Luxury would be champagne or any sparkling wine. I love champagne.
Luxury would be having adult conversation without interruption (and that does not count the chat with the cashier at Hobby Lobby the other day).
Luxury would be finding my pink tweezers when I need them.
Luxury would be having a butler.
All except for the last one was doable. And the second-to-the-last, well, that one has nothing to do with a party, but it sure would be a wonderful luxury to have. So that is how I planned my party- around what we would consider to be luxury, at this point in our lives.
The color scheme.
Since ease and comfort are definitions of luxury, I decided to take advantage of that. I made a three course meal that had one simple cocktail for the night (although, the tequila somehow snuck it's way out of it's cozy pantry abode and the beers seemed to have found themselves chilling on ice, because others -a.k.a "the guys"- felt they needed to fortify their alcohol consumption) and prepared many things ahead of time.
See what mean?
Here's my time line:
2 days ahead: Menu plan and go shopping for all the ingredients
1 day ahead: I made the chocolate sorbet and cookie dough. Washed the lettuce, made the vinaigrette and got all crafty with my menu. I also had all the silverware, plates, chargers and glasses polished and ready to go. I practiced napkin folding while watching Top Chef: Just Desserts on Bravo.
I found the gorgeous green chargers at two bucks a pop. The napkins are actually bandannas from the kid’s craft aisle and my runner was this brown butcher paper stuff that comes on a huge roll. I cut it the length of my table and chose hot pink ribbon to go along the edges to bring in more pink. I simply used double stick tape to adhere it to the paper. The dishes I used are just our daily dishes, but with the addition of the charger, fancy napkin and name card, it looked pretty chic.
That was my little tutorial on how to set the table, my way.
Silverware was limited. I literally emptied the entire silverware drawer and was scrounging for one more of the short forks (don't know the technical name) and couldn't find it. Someone got two long forks instead of a short and long. Oh who cares, really. Several of my nice regular-sized spoons had gone for a spin in the garbage disposal, leaving them jaded and potentially harmful. I finally came up with a motley crew of silverware, not at all as luxurious as I wanted but completely reliable. I suppose after moving 9 times in eleven years, you lose some of your silverware. That's the only way I can figure it. No matter, I scrubbed and polished what I had with Bar Keeper’s Friend until is was shimmering. I felt like a butler and was loving it.
"I just love that hot pink ribbon on the runner."
Heather is already calculating how to attack that proscuitto.
Hearty, belly laughs = luxury.
We look a bit like statues. And what's with the ketchup bottle? I know...NOT luxurious. It was extra dressing if anyone needed it. But it hung around far too long at the table.
Panforte was one of my luxury items, as it is twenty dollars a pound. But it is simply one of my most favorite things ever. I thought it would go well in Ina's Ultimate Ginger Cookie and it did. Because of the cinnamon in the chocolate sorbet and the cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg in the cookies, they buddied-up together swimmingly. They also became my breakfast the next morning with a hot cup of coffee.
1 bottle chilled Prosecco (I used Presto Brut)
4 pure cane sugar cubes
Zest of half an orange
Couple hours before dinner, place sugar cubes with zest in an air-tight container and let the orange infuse the sugar cubes.
To make the cocktail, place one cube at the bottom of the glass and slowly pour the Prosecco over and garnish with orange rind.
How many blonds does it take to make a cocktail?
Butter Leaf Salad with Burrata Cheese and Crispy Proscuitto
1 head butter lettuce
1 ball of Burrata cheese
4 slices proscuitto
drizzle of agave nectar
Good quality balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lay proscuitto out on a parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly brush agave nectar on each slice and bake 13-15 minutes, until crispy. Let cool slightly before placing it on salad.
Arrange whole lettuce leaves on each chilled salad plate. Cut burrata cheese into quarters and place one quarter on each base of lettuce. Break proscuitto into big shards and place on top. Drizzle with vinegar and oil. Serve.
Basil and Olive Focaccia (which I called Herbed Olive Bread)
Adapted from Paul Hollywood’s 100 Great Breads
• Scant 4 cups bread flour, extra for dusting
• 1 tbsp salt
• ¼ cup olive oil
• 1 oz. yeast
• 1 ¼ cups water
• 1 handfuls leaves basil (and 2 tsp. fresh minced rosemary, my addition)
• 2/3 cup black, pitted olives (I used green)
• 2/3 cup black, pitted olives (I used green)
Salt water glaze
• 1 1/2 tblsp. salt, dissolved
• 1/2 cup warm water
Put the flour, salt, half the olive oil, the yeast and water into a large bowl and mix with your hand for three minutes until all the flour has been picked up.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well for six minutes. The dough should be quite sticky. Put the dough back in the bowl and leave at room temperature for two hours.
Lightly oil a baking tray. Mix the basil into the dough then flatten the dough out onto the baking tray to about 1” thick. Brush the top of the dough with a little olive oil and make indentations in the top with your fingers. Leave to rise for one hour.
Set the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the salt with the warm water to make the salt-water glaze and brush liberally over the top of the bread. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool a little before serving.
That's what a hostess loves to see...
Chicken with Mustard Mascarpone Marsala Sauce
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’ recipes
• 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, each breast cut crosswise into 3 pieces
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 5 tablespoons butter, divided
• 3/4 cup chopped onion
• 1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
• 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 1 cup dry Marsala wine
• 1 cup (8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used only 1 tbls.)
• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus whole sprigs, for garnish
• 12 ounces dried fettuccine
While the chicken cools, melt 2 tablespoons of butter to the same skillet over medium-high heat, then add the onion and saute until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 12 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until it is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Stir in the mascarpone and mustard. Cut the chicken breasts crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chopped parsley. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and pepper.
• 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
• 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in 2 cups water and the espresso. Cook over low heat until the ingredients are dissolved. Off the heat, stir in the coffee liqueur. Transfer to plastic containers and refrigerate until very cold.
Freeze the mixture in an ice cream freezer according to the manufacturer's directions. The sorbet will still be soft; place it in a plastic container and freeze for 1 hour or overnight, until firm enough to scoop.
Ultimate Ginger Cookie (Which I call Ginger Panforte Cookies)
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipes
• 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
• 1/4 cup vegetable oil
• 1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
• 1 extra-large egg, at room temperature
• 1 1/4 cups chopped crystallized ginger (Instead, I used 6 ounces panforte)
• Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt and then combine the mixture with your hands. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat for 1 more minute. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the panforte and mix until combined.
The glorious panforte.
Scoop the dough with 2 spoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 3/4-inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
It was a frivolous evening and one I will always remember. The joy I took in preparing this meal is in the top five of my life. I loved every single step of it. From menu conception to the final bite of my chocolate sorbet, I found myself very happy to be thirty-three...and tipsy.
Voting begins Oct. 4th. I will send you a reminder, so keep your eyes luxuriously open for that!
Love ya, Foodies!