Monday, January 2, 2012

full of the joys

It’s that time of the year!

The time we invite everyone we know to stuff themselves into our house and stuff themselves with delicious, delicious food!

This year was no exception.


Some goodies, in no particular order.


What is skordalia? Good question! Due to an overabundance of potatoes (Steve was going home for Christmas and said I had to take his uneaten potatoes or they would “go bad”. Do potatoes ever go bad, ever?), I thought it would be great to make the garlic-packed, olive-oil rich tangy Greek potato dip known as skordalia.

You begin with 4-6 cloves of garlic (!), which I tried to mellow out by mincing up and then mashing into a paste with kosher salt.


Then (so fun!) I got out the POTATO RICER we inherited from my grandmother. I had yet to play with this but I love cool (yet useful) kitchen tools.


Sure enough, the potatoes, once cooked (I steamed mine) come out in strands as thin as rice.


You give them an initial mash…


Then richen them up with red wine vinegar, a LOT of olive oil, and white pepper.


So simple, so delicious.

Though I was concerned that party guests would be confused (because for some reason rather than forming a smooth dip this resembled mashed potatoes instead; perhaps I used an overly starchy type of potato?), and also thought they deserved fair warning for the sake of their breath of the EXTREME quantities of garlic contained therein.



Last year’s retro-chic date walnut blue cheese ball was ridiculously popular, so it seemed obvious to bring it back.

Once again I doubled it, but instead of doing an awkward oblong football shape as I did last year, I patted it out into a pretty impressive rectangle.


Yet people seemed confused by the final product.

Fortunately, I ensure that everything I make is delicious enough that I enjoy, even cherish having leftovers of them.

The piece de resistance is always the turkey, and the reason people lovvvvvvvvvvvve our turkey is because we brine it.

Seriously, I know it’s an extra step in the cooking process and I know space is an issue, but it idiot-proofs the entire cooking process. You can cook it for a really really long time at high heat, you can likely make all kinds of mistakes, you can forget to baste it… it WILL taste awesome.

And if space is really an issue, you can throw it in a bag… in a bowl… in a box… with binder clips :D


And put it in your nice cold garage!


As for the carving of the turkey, it is usually done by my uncle Louie, but he and my aunt Dena were returning from visiting grandbaby Jack (!) in Austin (my awesome cousin Rachel whose happy and delicious home in Austin I’ve waxed rhapsodies of here in the blog had a baby!).


I got myself a YouTube tutorial and CARVED ME SOME TURKEY! My sister thoughtfully got some blurry action shots.

DSC08909 DSC08910 DSC08911

Like most things boys brag about doing, it turns out to be RIDICULOUSLY easy.


Yes, I spent most of the evening bragging to anyone who would listen that I had carved the turkey. My sister plans to get it put on a shirt for me.

And so the table was laid.

When you need a good centerpiece, it’s hard to go wrong with fresh fruit and candles.


Everyone likes cheese. Obviously. So we had that in great quantities. And also in various rearranged forms including pinwheels of mozzarella and prosciutto; wonderful tangy Lebanese kefir cheese (labneh); my date “ball” (log) in its final form with walnuts and parsley atop. And more in the Greek department with a tray of taramosalata (fish roe dip); caponata (eggplant awesomeness); and olives. And stuffed grape leaves.


Very popular (if, I must admit, slightly overcooked), was my artichoke dip (the usual family recipe- artichoke hearts, cheddar cheese, garlic, mayo).

We did a variety of crackers and breads for dunkables and I also put out crudite for the gluten-intolerant among us (and that’s not all! See further on!)


We had years of guests sort of ignoring shrimp and didn’t bother serving it last year. But my sister demanded it this year, saying “Everyone loves shrimp cocktail!” And by everyone she meant my sister.

An attractive shrimp station.


The main attraction was rolls for sammiches and my beautiful turkey…


… as well as some ham (do yourself a favor and buy bone in if you want it to taste good!)


Now, unsurprisingly from earlier posts this holiday season, I also decided it was important to make some Christmas cookies. Shocking, I know.

The most labor-intensive (but visually rewarding upon completion) was this Cooking Light recipe for coconut biscotti. It begins with a somewhat sticky dough (that, somewhat disconcertingly, contains NO BUTTER! I really wasn’t sure how I felt about this).


“Patting it out” was easier in theory than in practice, and getting the right size was a bit tricky.


Then I had to get that sticky mass on a cookie sheet. Thank goodness for teamwork!

But after its first round in the oven, it started to look REAL pretty!


Oh, I should add that while that biscotti slicing was happening… there were recipes on the laptop, ingredients on the counter…


… additional cookies being put on baking sheets…


… and still more cookie dough chilling in the fridge.


But back to that biscotti!

You sliced it after its first round of baking into that familiar biscotti shape.


Then laid it out sideways on a baking sheet so that both top and bottom would brown evenly.


One toasty oven trip later, and I had perfect looking golden coconut biscotti!

Gosh I was proud of these.

They were also quite yummy


Next: let’s talk GLUTEN FREE.

We have a dear friend at church (who sings soprano in the choir with me) with Celiac disease. I wanted her to enjoy some delicious cookies at our party, and moreover wanted her to enjoy something that she’d been lacking since going gluten free (because I love a challenge :D) So I said, “What cookie have you missed the most?” and she said shortbread.

So some poring over the Internet and a test run later, I came up with:

Gluten Free Shortbread Cookies

6 T cornstarch
½ cup white rice flour
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
6 ¼ tablespoons of butter, still cool, cut into very small pieces

Toss together cornstarch, rice flour, and sugar. Use your fingers to crumble in the butter until just combined (it will be more like a piecrust than a cookie dough- it’ll be easier to push together once it’s been chilled)

Chill for at least one hour in the refrigerator.

Take spoonfuls of the butter and roll them into balls, using the warmth of your hands to hold them together. Press down in a crosshatch pattern with a fork sprayed with cooking spray (you should spray the fork intermittently to keep it from sticking to the dough).

Preheat oven to 300. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned.

Optional: if you want prettier cookies, approximately halfway through baking time, use the side of a fork to gently push pieces that have broken/oozed off the cookie back to the central cookie mass. All the butter will kind of fuse them together and the finished cookies will be prettier and more entire!

The cookies look a little busted going onto the sheet…


But, particularly if you do the recommended touch-up during the baking time, they end up right adorable and hold together surprisingly well (a great big thank you to BUTTER!)


And the taste is great. Again: BUTTER!


For the most intriguing flavor and texture, I’d definitely recommend lemon cornmeal cookies. Another from Cooking Light, I found them to be a really unique cookie.


As usual for our party, I made my all time favorite cookies, macadamia butter cookies with dried cranberries


And then, when I pulled out a tin to store the cookies in before the big party day, I found these:


The cookie tin had been in storage in our garage, and so we realized that these guys must have been left over from the last time I made gingerbread people! (Yes, I made them this year, but didn’t decorate them).

Here’s the thing: I know from checking in my blog that we didn’t make gingerbread men for the party last year… or the year before. These were MANY YEARS OLD! Moreover, they still smelled FINE and were suprisingly supple feeling on the outside due to, I supposed, an impressively airtight container!

Awesome. Regretfully, fearing health concerns, I threw them away.

We still had PLENTY of cookies!


Along with my contributions, we had several trays of delicious baklava made by my mom, as well as her labor-of-love Linzer hearts.


I tried to make brownies but something went horribly wrong and they were DRY! Not terrible, but tasted more like cake than my usual blissful fudgy brownies. So I melted a huge amount of sour cherry preserves and drizzle them on top, and called them “cherry chocolate cake bites”. Huge hit.


Gluten free for our gluten free loved one!


Biscotti, beautifully vertical as arranged by my sister, rather whimsically, in my ice cream bowl.


And thus ends my pictures, upon the arrival of our first guests, because everyone knows the best thing about a party, no matter what incredible culinary creations are present, is the people.

I really am full of the joys, even at the prospect of returning to work tomorrow, because I was reminded at that party, as I am most days, at what an amazing group of family and friends we really do have. My super awesome boyfriend hung out with my super awesome family, my super awesome neighbors bonded with my super awesome church members.

Guys, let’s promise ourselves that this Christmas/holiday joy should carry over, because anyone who is loved is blessed every day.


marie said...

I am definitely clicking on the biscotti link as I LOVE coconut and biscotti so the two together sound fabulous. I also love garlic so please pass the Skordalia!

Steven Alexander Heathcliff Basil Bert said...

Ileana, I agree with pushing for the Christmas joy to carry over. It's seemed work that way and I can only hope it continues.

Your party was off-the-hook fun and exciting, the food was incredible (I'm thinking the turkey, cheese ball, and baklava.), and the level of merriment was at glory-level.