Birthday Game Night, Complete with Snacks

I celebrated my birthday a couple weeks ago in my usual fashion – an all-night rager at a local club that didn’t end until the local police showed up.

Kidding. I actually just hosted game night with some of my favorite people. I love a good game night party – it’s super informal, you just need a few finger foods, a big bowl of popcorn, a plate of cupcakes and plenty of booze.

This year I knew I would be out of the house most for of the day leading up to the party and therefore wouldn’t have a ton of prep time so I came up with a super simple menu – a couple parts make ahead, one part crock pot, and one part big old bowl of stove-popped popcorn. I’ll start with the dips – I stirred together a spinach dip and served it with some cut up veggies, pretzels and store-bought pita chips.

Always a classic. If you don’t know how to make a spinach dip by now… Here you go.

I also served something that became a new favorite this year, Mexican Street Corn dip. A friend of mine served it at a Cinco de Mayo party and I bugged her for the recipe immediately. I think I’ve made it four times since May. The recipe calls for you to stir everything together on the stove but I just throw it all together in the crock pot and let it rip for an hour or two, it’s perfectly gooey and melty, plus it stays warm throughout your whole party.

Ugh. It’s so good. Serve with lots of tortilla chips. It reheats fantastically, too.

I made some stovetop garlic parmesan popcorn as well. Just pop the corn, melt some butter with some cracked peeled garlic cloves, allow to infuse, drain and pour over the popped corn, and sprinkle some fresh grated parmesan cheese on top.

That was the easy-peasy, throw-together-at-the-last-minute stuff. The make ahead stuff was easy too, but just a tad more time consuming so I started the night before.

I made these Chocolate Hazelnut cupcakes with a toasted bourbon meringue frosting, because they sounded rich, decadent and delicious and it was an excuse to use my food torch so OF COURSE I was going to make them.

Mine didn’t come out quite as pretty as the original recipe (I don’t think I gave the meringue enough time in the mixer), but I enjoyed them immensely.

As a sort of “main dish” to all this finger food, I was in the mood for something cheesesteak-y. Let’s be honest, when am I not in the mood for something cheesesteak-y? Cheesesteak anything is amazing. But for my birthday I decided to dress it up just a tad in some puff pastry. Roll, slice, bake, done.

I’ll give this a full write up in my next post, because I’m getting a little long winded here, and I just wanted to share birthday goodies before September is over. I’ve got a few other recipes waiting for write ups, and Harvest Fest brunch is coming next week! I’m still working out my menu for that but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m so excited for fall and what the rest of this year brings!

But for real in the meantime? I might need to make the cheesesteak rolls again. Yum.

 

The Ridiculously Long Rest-Of-My-Summer Recap, or: Shit, I Forgot I Had A Blog.

So I seem to have fallen off a bit, haven’t I? Just your luck I’ve decided to do a quick(ish) (though probably not really, it is me we’re talking about here) recap on the rest of my summer. It all went pretty nicely until one sucky week in August. But I’ll get to that in a while.

Firstly: High Tea with my favorite ladies at Jessica’s Tea Room

A group of my nearest and dearest and I were trying to come up with a way to celebrate my friend Vanessa’s graduation from one school and acceptance (including a full scholarship, thank you very much) to another. I got the idea from a coworker to take her to Jessica’s Tea Room at the Weaversville Inn. It just seemed so fun and out of the ordinary, and Vanessa just happens to love a nice cup of tea. Perfect! We all got dressed up very fancily and surprised her with high tea on a gorgeous Saturday in June. The food was delicious, the tea was refreshing, the service was outstanding, and the company, as always, was the best ever.

Of course when we got there, we had iPhones at the ready. Because why do something if you’re not going to Instagram it immediately?

We all opted for High Tea service, which included a pot of tea (duh) for each (hot or iced), scones and banana bread, soup or small salad, choice of two finger sandwiches, entree, and dessert.

The finger sandwiches weren’t quite what we expected and were the one dull spot in an otherwise fantastic meal. A little too heavy, a little too much bread.

I opted for the turkey, bacon, and cheddar puff pastry blossom for my entree. It was simple yet delicious, and I’m going to be copying this at home very soon.

Grilled chicken salad with apples and dried cranberries.

Of course I have no shots of our actual tea. However! There were a variety of mini desserts offered to finish our meal, of which we each were able to choose two.

 

The desserts obviously are not made in house but the rest of the menu is, and the service and experience alone were enough for me to overlook a couple frozen mini eclairs. If you’re in the mood for something fun or different to do in the Valley, or even if you’re just feeling a little fancy, I highly recommend checking them out.

Secondly: Five Courses/Five Chefs Benefit for the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival

A friend is on the board of directors for the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival, and they scored a major benefit this year with a five course meal prepared by five different Lehigh Valley chefs, all hosted at Molinari’s on South 3rd Street. When I saw the list of chefs I jumped at the chance to go and was not disappointed.

Fist things first, however: LOOK AT MY PRETTY DRESS. LOOK AT IT.

Ahem. Would it kill you to smile, Jenn?

(Apologies for the following few pictures, all I had on me for the dinner was my iPhone, and by the end of the meal, the light was nonexistent.)

First course was foie gras (there’s always foie at these things, isn’t there?) with banana bread and some sort of fruit gastrique, by Tim Wildrick from Edge Restaurant.

I’m not the biggest fan of foie on its own, it’s a little too rich and fatty for me. Combined with the other elements of the dish, however, this was pretty tasty.

Our soup course was a work of art. Tortellini with morels and proscuitto, with the broth poured over it separately. This is a trick you’d usually see at Bolete, but this night was done by Chef Mike Joyce of Molinari’s.

 

I don’t remember everything that was in it, but I do remember it was delightful. (Have you gone to Molinari’s yet? You really should.)

Next up, the most perfectly cooked scallop I’ve ever had over heirloom risotto with a pea puree, all by Chef Lee Chizmar of Bolete.

Chef Chizmar is a fricking genius, by the way.  You should head to Bolete, too, while you’re at it. Their tavern menu alone is outstanding.

On to the meat. Mmm, beef. Chef Domenic Lombardo from The Mint on West Broad knows his way around a steak.

That dry aged beef was outstanding. I’ve been lukewarm on The Mint in the past but I do believe this dish earned them a mulligan.

And finally…oh, my babies. Brace yourselves for this. This masterpiece of a dessert, by Alan Pitotti at Dolce Patisserie in Hellertown. Yes. Hellertown.

I remember lemon mousse. The fluffiest, most delicate lemon mousse. Tartly flavored, but not overly so. A strawberry sauce. And – on the right side of the plate – a chocolate pesto. I don’t know how he did it, I don’t understand how it all worked, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the most original, most outstanding dessert I’ve ever had. All of this food, of course, was accompanied by fantastic wines hand-picked by South Italy Imports. This meal was the single most amazing gastronomic experience of my life. Kudos to the Southside Bethlehem Film Festival for putting it all together, and thank you, thank you, thank you, to all the chefs who participated. It was a meal I won’t forget.

Thirdly: Haley’s High School Graduation

It’s really hard to think about the fact that it was just a little over 19 years ago that my baby cousin came into this world. She’s turned into an intelligent, strong willed, beautiful young woman and it’s been an absolute delight to watch her grow up. We’re all so proud of her and her accomplishments over the years.

Way to go, kid. I love ya.

Fourthly: Color Me Rad 5K and Musikfest 2013

In early August I volunteered to throw orange-tinted corn starch at people during the Musikfest Color Me Rad 5K. It was a fun, if exhausting, experience, even in the rain. However, given the crappy weather, the slippery, uneven ground conditions, and a shitty pair of sneakers, my ankle was not happy with me by the end of the morning. I could barely walk the rest of the day, which put the kibosh on my Musikfest plans for that evening.

As a matter of fact, pretty much ALL of Musikfest 2013 was shot to hell for me, between my inability to walk the first weekend and the worst summer cold ever during the week. I was able sneak over on the second Saturday for about 90 minutes before I started wheezing in the heat and humidity.

Ah, well. I got my Take-A-Taco, and that’s all that matters.

This made me so happy it was a little embarrassing. 

Fifthly: Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z Legends of Summer Tour at Hershey Park

When I heard that JT and Hova were going on tour together I knew I needed to see them, no matter where or how much it would cost. As luck would have it, the tour had a random stop in Hershey, PA, and I got my hands on a couple of pre-sale tickets. Great seats, great show, amazing night. Justin is a wonderful entertainer, and Jay-Z is just incredible live. I’m so very glad I got to catch this tour.

You get that sexy on, JT.

Sixthly: I have a new boyfriend, and his name is Gabriel.

Look what my friends Susan and Danny made!

Snuggly new babies are the best.

And, finally, the last part of my summer was also the best part. I always consider the weekend which I celebrate my birthday to be the “end” of summer. This past weekend I turned 38, and I was able to spend time with all of my favorite people during it.

There is always Hello Kitty when I have a birthday. 

Yes, I made my own red velvet cake for my birthday. You would too, for this cake. 

It started with burgers, beers, and birthday cake with friends on Friday night. I had to work a bit on Saturday morning, but I got to see my bestie the few hours I was there.

Saturday night I hit the casino to see Russell Brand on his Messiah Complex tour, and it was ‘unbelievably satisfying’. I even got close enough for a few good pictures.

Sigh.

Follow all this up with dinner and mini-golf with mom and dad on Sunday and I was a happy girl this weekend.

Have I mentioned how freaking much I love this dress?

He cheats. 

Looking back, I had a pretty great summer. There were definitely more good times than bad, and that’s all we can really ask for.

Plus I got a tiara, and who doesn’t need a tiara, really?