That Long-Overdue Oscar Party Post

So this post has been…a little delayed, but I still wanted to talk about my Oscar party, because a friend of mine took such nice photos for me and it seems such a shame not to share them.

See? Thanks, dude. You’re my official party photographer from now on.

This is about the fourth or fifth year that I’ve hosted an Oscar party, and it is hands down my favorite to plan. I’m always trying to make or do something different than the year before, and this year was no exception. I tend to go with finger foods for my Oscar parties — just a tad more upscale than your run of the mill chicken fingers and pigs in a blanket. Not like caviar or foie gras on toast points, but something different and fun. Another factor this year was the necessity for a few make-ahead dishes. Thanks to an overnight shift at Job 2 the night before, I made a conscious effort to cut down on the amount of work I would need to do on the actual day. It’s smart to do this any time you’re entertaining, but it was a necessity for me this time around.

For my “main” offering, I (with the help of my friend Sara via text), came up with Mediterranean style sliders with all the fixings.

I used regular ground beef for the patties, adding garlic, onion, parsley, montreal steak seasoning, and some traditional kufta spices — allspice, coriander, and a tiny bit of cardamom and cinnamon. I served the sliders with mini pita rounds (OMG SO CUTE), and toppings like sliced plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, homemade tzaziki sauce, store bought harissa, and some homemade dakkous, a mild spiced tomato sauce, so kindly made by Sara. (Side note: I also had some crumbled feta to go with these, but totally forgot to put it out when the time came. We didn’t miss it.)

These were fun and super tasty and I will be making a regular burger sized version of them this coming summer, you mark my words.

My next offering was a tasty nibble I found via Pinterest, these sweet and spicy chicken/bacon bites. Diced chicken, wrapped in bacon, rolled in a brown sugar/spice mixture and baked. Easy to assemble, a great make-ahead option (I would not roll them in the spices until you’re ready to bake though), and just damn delicious. A hit all around.

I might need these again soon. For the protein, you know.

Because I can’t host a party without something on top of a slice of baguette, I threw together these crostini with sun-dried tomato jam and herbed goat cheese, an old favorite of mine. The tomato jam is better when you make it a few days ahead of time, and all you have to do to serve is toast the bread slices, stir a little fresh thyme into softened goat cheese and have at it.

I assembled mine a little differently than Giada did hers, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Not pictured: Requisite crudite tray, because vegetables are boring. 

One thing I’ve started to do when entertaining is to offer a signature cocktail. Instead of assembling a full bar (which, let’s be real, my tiny kitchen is not equipped for), I serve just one main drink alongside a couple basic spirits, beer, or wine. This time around I crafted a pear sangria, made from pear juice, white wine, and a touch of St. Germaine. Fresh sliced pear to garnish.

Boozy! Careful with that one, it’s dangerous.

Along with our savory finger foods, I also served up some small(ish) desserts to finish up the evening. The first, which there’s no photos of because they were the last thing I served and we were all stuffing our faces full of sliders and bacon wrapped chicken deliciousness at that point, were my peanut butter tandy cakes. Always a hit.

Next were some white chocolate dipped strawberries. Simple, pretty, and…healthy? Mer. Maybe a little.

Also cute.

My final dessert was the result of seeing something on Pinterest and adapting it to suit my own cravings. I saw these mini cheesecake cookie cups and thought they would be perfect, but at the time I was planning this shindig I was craving lime. Specifically, key lime…anything. So I nixed the cherry pie filling from the original recipe, whipped up some key lime curd instead, and voila. Key lime cheesecake cookie cups. Big name. Tiny dessert. Freaking YUM.

Seriously, these might warrant a post of their own in the future.

Until then, I am working on ideas for my next party. Which is next week, so I might post about it by September.

Cubano Sandwiches: My Weekend Project

In the day-to-day minutiae that has become my post-operative diet, I do get the occasional craving for a certain food or meal. I try to stay as vigilant as possible, but I’m not averse to treating myself to something tasty from time to time. This weekend was one of those times, and I blame Jon Favreau. Last week I watched the movie Chef on Netflix, forgetting just how much food porn was involved. If you haven’t seen Chef, you should. It’s totally funny and adorable, and one of my favorite movies of 2014. The soundtrack is pretty swinging, too. But the best part about the movie? The Cubanos.

Have you ever had a Cubano? It’s a hot pressed sandwich brought to the states by Cuban immigrants in Florida. It’s a soft fluffy roll, spread with good old yellow mustard and stuffed full with roasted pork, deli ham, swiss cheese, and pickles, and traditionally toasted on a flattop grill, or a plancha. It’s heaven on a bun, and damn it, I wanted one this week. So, while I was avoiding the arctic tundra outside, I set to making Cubano magic this weekend.

We start with a mojo (mo-hoe), or citrus marinade for the pork roast. Zest one grapefruit, two oranges, and two limes, juice all the fruit, and toss it all with the pork roast along with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Allow to marinate for about 25-30 minutes. Truss pork shoulder with string (or do like I didn’t and leave it in the string it comes in, silly goose), sprinkle all over with Goya Adobo seasoning, and spread minced garlic over the top (I honestly prefer the jarred garlic for this). Roast at 400 for an hour and a half to two hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the roast reads 140-145 degrees (or however done you prefer your pork).

Cover with foil and allow to rest. Slice thinly and set aside. The pork can be made ahead of time – you can even make this as a main dish and use the leftovers when you’re in the mood for Cubano goodness.

Mmm, pork. Porky pork pork.

Now, time to make the sandwiches! Grab your other ingredients. 

Sliced deli ham, deli swiss cheese, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sliced dill pickles, and a soft roll. I used small club rolls to keep the sandwiches surgically-altered-stomach-friendly, but any soft roll will do.

Cubanos assemble! Spread each side of the roll with mayo and mustard, and layer the pork, ham, pickle, and cheese from bottom to top. Top with remaining half of roll. (Note: I heat the roasted pork and ham in a pan slightly before assembling, to make sure the sandwich is warm all the way through.)

Now, heat up your grill, griddle, or pan. I used my good old panini press. If you have a press with flat plates use that instead. If you don’t have a sandwich press, you can make these between two pans, using a couple large cans to weigh the top pan down. Spread the outside of the sandwich with some softened butter (I KNOW. You can skip this, but your bread might not be as toasty good as one would like.), and press on the grill until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted and gooey.

Yum.

Slice in half and serve your new favorite sandwich.

Cubano Sandwiches

  • 3 lb Pork Shoulder Roast
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 limes
  • 2 oranges
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tsp Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 2 TB jarred minced garlic
  • Soft sliced rolls
  • Sliced deli ham
  • Sliced domestic swiss cheese
  • Sliced dill pickles
  • Mayonnaise
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Softened butter for toasting

Place pork roast in large bowl. Zest all fruit and set aside. Juice fruit and pour into bowl with pork and toss with zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Truss pork and place on roasting pan. Sprinkle Adobo all over roast. Spread minced garlic on top of pork and roast in oven at 400 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle of the roast reads approximately 140 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest. Slice thinly and set aside.

Heat a slice of pork and ham each in a small pan until warmed through and slightly browned. Spread mayonnaise, then mustard over each half of roll, top bottom half with pork, ham, pickle, and cheese, and top half of roll. Spread softened butter on outside of roll and toast sandwich on a panini press or sandwich grill for 3-5 minutes until the roll is toasted and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Recipe Round-up: Summer At Jenn’s

It’s June 20th, which means summer is here! And this year after such a miserable winter and a spring that was spent doing not much more than work, I’ve been looking forward to warm, sunny days and floating away the afternoon in the pool all the more.

Along with the sun and warmer weather comes recipes I love to dig out when it’s just “too damn hot to cook”, and I figured I would re-share them in case you needed some summertime inspiration.

Like this spinach and strawberry salad with goat cheese and citrus vinaigrette.

100_1250 by you.

Quick, easy, and perfect for Meatless Monday.

Or this Watermelon “Plank” salad with feta and balsamic glaze.

Wonderful as a main dish or as a side.

Here’s a ‘non-recipe’ post for a grilled chicken and smoked mozzarella panini with store made pesto and sun dried tomato spread, and a mango, black bean and quinoa salad. So easy, and great to take for a summer picnic, or tailgating at the drive-in, perhaps?

Can I get an amen?

This roasted parmesan zucchini is perfect if you’re a gardener with superfluous squash lying around.

Culinary OCD, that’s me.

And since you can’t have a “summer food” post without mentioning the holy mother of summer foods, here’s an Heirloom Tomato Crostini that is the best no-cook meal for the hottest nights of the season.

Gosh, I can’t wait for good tomatoes.

This kicked-up gazpacho is also perfect for all those fresh garden “‘maters”, and it makes a TON of soup. No worries about what to take for lunch for a week!

100_1297 by you.

And finally, since I can’t finish a post like this without a little something sweet, here is a peach blackberry crostata with honey-ginger glaze and cardamom spiced fresh whipped cream that is sure to impress any of your summer dinner guests.

I’m itching to make that one again, in addition to experimenting with some other summer crostatas.

Hope your summer is a fantastic one, kids. Spend time doing everything you want to do, or doing nothing at all.

 

 

“Borrowed” Bang Bang Shrimp

So…I have a slight problem. I took my very first trip to Bonefish Grill with some coworkers earlier this year, and made the mistake of ordering their Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer. It’s a lovely dish, sizzling hot crispy fried shrimp tossed with a spicy creamy dressing, served over a bed of cool lettuce. Ever since then, I need to have this dish at least once a month. Some might call this an obsession or addiction. I just say they’re damn good shrimp and I’m glad they’re half price on Wednesdays.

I saw a Bang Bang copycat recipe on Pinterest a while back and thought about giving it a try many times, but I always talked myself out of it for one reason or another. I hate deep frying in the house. What if there’s an ingredient I can’t find somewhere? What if the recipe is wrong and it doesn’t taste the same and I wasted how much money on fresh shrimp? And oh, hey, the restaurant is ten minutes away and they’ll make it for me, plus they’ve got some slamming cocktails. But…

sometimes you just have to suck it up and go for it.

I read the recipe and realized I actually had everything I would need at home, with the exception of the shrimp. The sauce is simple, especially if you’re a condiment hoarder like me. And if you like spice? Even better. It’s not an overly spicy dish, but with a name like “Bang Bang Shrimp”, you know it’s got a kick to it.

Serve the shrimp in a fancy dish on a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce and some chopsticks and it’s like I’m AT the restaurant.

Minus my requisite martini.

Bonefish Grill Copycat Bang Bang Shrimp

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
  • 1 TB minced garlic
  • 2 tsp sriracha sauce
  • juice of one lime
  • pinch red pepper flake
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 lb 21-25 shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup cornstarch seasoned with salt and pepper
  • Peanut oil, for frying (can use canola or vegetable)
  • 1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced

Set the oil on high heat in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir mayonnaise, chili sauce, garlic, sriracha, lime juice, chili flake, salt and pepper together in a bowl and set aside. Dredge shrimp in seasoned cornstarch and fry in batches for approximately three minutes (or until cooked through). Drain each batch on paper towels and immediately place in a bowl. Toss shrimp with a few spoonfuls of sauce until coated and place on bed of iceberg lettuce. Top with sliced scallions and serve.

Now, someone bring me a martini. Or two. This ain’t amateur hour.

Boneless Pork Chops with Cherry Merlot Sauce

I came up with this one over the weekend. I knew I wanted boneless pork chops with some sort of fruity-saucy accompaniment, but wasn’t sure what kind of fruit until I was walking through the store. Usually when you think pork chops, you think apples or apple sauce. Well, Peter Brady, let me show you something a little different.

“I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.”

This is another very simple recipe, with just a little bit nicer result than your normal grilled chicken breast or sautéed chop. The sauce isn’t too rich or sour, and the fruit adds just the right amount of sweetness to complement the chop and the wine. I added a few healthy grinds of fresh black pepper to add a little depth of flavor.

The chops cook quickly, and the sauce comes together in a matter of seconds. You can literally have this on your table in less than 15 minutes.

I’m always worried when I make something for the first time that I don’t have a recipe for – something original. I’m still a bit unsure of myself when it comes to pairings and flavorings and what “goes” with what. I was questioning myself all week as to whether or not I should sautee an onion in the sauce, or add a vegetable to braise. Ultimately, I decided that the chop and the sauce could stand on their own.

And I was right.

I served this with a simple herb roasted potato (‘recipe’ to follow) and these green beans (minus the shallots). Definitely a keeper.

Boneless Pork Chops with Cherry Merlot Sauce

  • 3 or 4 boneless pork chops
  • 1 cup frozen cherries, thawed, with juice (mash them up a little with a fork or potato masher)
  • 1 cup merlot (use something you would drink. This is a personal favorite.)
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 TB butter
  • Salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch or two of sugar (optional)

1. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Pat chops dry and season with salt and pepper. Add chops to the pan and cook 3-5 minutes on either side. Remove from pan.

2. Add wine to pan and deglaze, scraping all the brown bits into the wine. Add butter and allow to thicken slightly.

3. Add mashed cherries with juice, 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper, and a couple of pinches of sugar if desired. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

4. Spoon sauce over chops and serve.

Herb Roasted Parmesan Potatoes

I only cooked one potato for this meal, you can adjust this for as many people as you like. 

  • 1 medium potato, cut into large dice
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 tsp herbs de provence
  • 1 TB grated parmigianno regianno
  • salt & pepper

Heat oven to 375. Toss diced potato with oil, herbs, and salt & pepper. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

Toss with parmesan cheese & bake for an additional five minutes.

Serve.

Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Fest Burger & Beer Bash

Two weekends ago, the 4th Annual Lehigh Valley Food & Wine Festival was held at the Sands Event Center. The event was held over two and a half days, starting Friday afternoon and continuing through Sunday. I attended Friday night’s event, the Burger & Beer Bash (if I’m not mistaken, this is the first year they’ve held this event), and the Grand Tasting on Sunday (Next post).

The burger bash was held in a tent just outside the casino in the north parking lot. I found this a bit confusing, seeing as I had purchased my ticket at the Sands Event Center and as far as I could tell, there was no indication on my ticket that the event would take place on the north lot, nor did I see any signs that indicated where it was being held when I drove onto the casino grounds that night. I walked into the hotel and out around the Event Center looking for the Burger Bash before speaking to someone that actually knew where it was being held (note: this person had no affiliation with either the casino or the F & W event whatsoever, the one staff member I did flag down to speak to had no idea). Once I moved my car and parked in the parking deck, I then found out I had to walk into and through the casino to access the tent. A bit of a frustrating start to my evening.

But maybe it was just me and my infinite stupidity unable to find the tent, because by the time I actually got into the Bash it was pretty well packed, with lines at all the burger and beer tasting tables not 30 minutes into the event. There were a number of different restaurants offering up burger choices, ranging from Roosevelt’s 21st and Copperhead Grill to Pearly Baker’s and of course all of the Sands restaurants. Beer choices ranged from the mundane (Coors, Yuengling) to the more craft brew type (Goose Island, Victory).

Entertainment was provided by the Amish Outlaws, and if ArtsQuest is listening, they’d do well to book the Outlaws for a show at Musikfest because they are a hell of a lot of fun. They played covers ranging from country to hip hop and everything in between. My personal favorite was a cover of Kanye West’s “Stronger”. Yes, you read that right.

The venue was quite packed, which led to a longer wait at a few of the more popular burger stands, and, despite the size of the tent, there was some bottlenecking to get through the crowd at certain areas – specifically if there were two popular tables across from each other, but from all appearances the event seemed to be quite successful. I didn’t get to taste all the burgers, there were simply too many and personally, when I’m alone at a super crowded event like this I’m more of the “get in, get done, get home” type, so I didn’t linger. I was able to taste a good amount of the burgers, mainly focusing on the offerings from the Sands restaurants and other places that I’ve been meaning to try, like Sagra and Spuds. My personal favorite was the bruschetta burger from Emeril’s Italian Table, with the crab-stuffed burger from Spuds coming in second. The voters’ overall favorite, however, was the offering from Roosevelt’s 21st, which I unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity to sample. I think I’ll try to tag team this event next year and split all the burgers in order to be able to taste them all.

That way I can go back for seconds.

Peach Blackberry Crostata

Every summer I get anxious for peaches to come in season. They’re one of my favorite fruits, but I’m a bit picky about when I purchase/eat them. There seems to be about a 4 to 5 week period where the local peaches are just *perfect*. Fragrant, firm yet supple flesh, sweet, juicy to the point of messiness… Uh…peaches. I’m talking about peaches. I swear.

Round temptresses of fruity deliciousness.

Anyway. I’ve been all about baking with peaches this summer and experimenting with new flavors/spices. I attempted a peach/bourbon cupcake for a friend’s birthday party last month, but the peaches I had were just not that great, and the flavor just did not come through. I honestly think peaches and cake don’t mesh very well, unless the peach is in big slices throughout. Peach pie/pastry works much better for this very reason. The beautiful flavor/texture of the fruit takes center stage, while the pastry is more of a vehicle for peach enjoyment. A flaky, buttery Vespa, if you will.

In an email conversation with my mother a month or so ago, she mentioned making a peach/blackberry pie for my dad with some frozen peaches she had from last summer, and I was immediately jealous and plotting my own peach/blackberry deliciousness when peach season came around this year. This is what I came up with.

Before baking.

I really like the more rustic quality of the crostata (or tart, or free-form pie, whatever you’d like to call it). I think it’s got more personality and is, in its own way, prettier than a traditional pie. Also I can’t crimp a pie crust to save my damn life. This is easier and much less time-consuming. Including time for crust making/resting in the refrigerator, I literally had this made and in my mouth within an hour (hour and fifteen, tops). The wait nearly killed me.

I’m good.

Peach & Blackberry Crostata with Honey Ginger Glaze and Cardamom-Spiced Whipped Cream

For the Crostata:

  • 1 pastry/pie crust, store bought, or any recipe you prefer. I used Martha’s, but I might bulk it up a bit next time, the bottom ended up a little thin.
  • 4-6 ripe peaches
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 2 TB sugar
  • 2 TB flour
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg – beaten with a small amount of water (for egg wash)
  • 1-2 TB turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel, pit, and slice peaches. Toss with blackberries, sugar, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Set aside. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle counter liberally with flour/coat rolling pin. Roll out pastry on counter until it’s about 12-14 inches across and slide onto baking sheet. Pile peach/blackberry mixture onto dough, leaving a 1-2″ border outside. Fold dough up around the sides of the fruit mixture. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until crust is browned and fruit is bubbling. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3-4 slices of fresh ginger

And the whipped cream:

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom

While the crostata is baking, heat honey and ginger in a small sauce pot over medium heat until honey is thinned out slightly and infused with ginger. Remove from heat, allow to cool and thicken slightly. Remove sliced ginger. Drizzle honey over warm crostata. Whip cream in electric stand mixer or in a bowl with a hand mixer (or hell, just by hand), drizzling in sugar as it whips until soft peaks form. Stir in ground cardamom. Top still warm crostata with whipped cream and serve. Serves 4-6 people.

You need this in your life, truly.

Go forth and bake, Peaches.