Friday, January 16, 2015

The plants are multiplying

plants, multiplying

I think D has been sneaking plants into our apartment when I'm not looking. And I don't mind. I guess houseplants are finally growing on me. (You see what I did there?)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Crispy shallots

One of the deviled egg recipes for last weekend included crispy shallots, which meant I had to conquer my fear of deep frying. I've never done it because I've always been afraid that I'll catch the kitchen on fire.

But look! Success!

crispy shallots

Full disclosure - there was a tiny fire. But I think I could prevent that in the future.

I used this recipe and it was perfect, except for the part about the "small saucepan," which worked great for the initial cooking, but immediately boiled over on the second round. This is when the fire occurred. Luckily I was able to turn the flame off, pour the shallots into the prepared sieve and set the oil coated saucepan down on another counter. I almost considered giving up at this point but realized that the small saucepan was giving me a tiny surface area, which is basically the last thing you want when you're trying to quickly cook something. So I poured the oil into my favorite large pan*, got the oil back up to temp, dropped the shallots in, and BOOM - magic. The final product is so delicious that it was hard not to eat all of them before I got to the party.

One other modification - the recipe tells you to use a slotted spoon to transfer the shallots after the first cooking. But since you're already going to use a mesh sieve for the second transfer, it makes more sense to use it the whole time. I just set a small mesh sieve up over a large 2 quart glass measuring cup and poured the oil right into it. It was easy to pour the oil back in the pan to get it up to the higher temperature, and a lot less messy than trying to spoon a bunch of shallots out of hot oil.

Turns out there are tons of different methods for making crispy shallots and now I'm curious about them. The one I used was essentially a double fry method - you do a long slow cook at a lower temperature and then bump up the heat for a flash fry to crisp them up. But this Ina Garten recipe does a really long, slow cooking with no flash fry at the end. I'm curious how that would work.

Small note about frying and oils - I'm obviously a frying novice, but I'd like to point out that you want to make sure you're working with an oil that has a high enough smoke point. This recipe gets you up to 350 degrees. Canola oil is usually a safe bet, but if you want to make them paleo friendly you can use refined coconut oil. It's important that it's refined! Refined coconut oil can safely get up to 350 degrees, which doesn't leave you much wiggle room so make sure you're watching the thermometer. The temp drops down as soon as you add the shallots and never gets back up to 350, so you don't need to maintain it long. The oils I looked at in Whole Foods all had labels with the smoke point on them, which made it much easier to figure out.

Save your jar, because you can pour the oil back in after the frying and use it. It'll be flavored like shallots, and it will be delicious.

* I'm still deeply obsessed with our stainless steel pans, which have held up to daily abuse for the last five years. Of course, it's been so long that the original set isn't sold anymore, which makes me sad. But if you are going to have just one amazing pan, let it be a straight sided stainless steel braising pan, about 12 inches across and 2 - 3 inches deep (it holds about 3 quarts). I had the Emeril version, which I think was just a slightly less expensive model from All-Clad. But if I had to, I'd splurge on the All-Clad high end version, or see if they have any other slightly lower end options available. This one looks most similar to what I have.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Kristin's nautical sip and see

My dear friend Kristin had her second baby in December and instead of a baby shower we had an open house where people could drop by and meet the baby. I was cohosting, so I only had to focus on the food. Specifically, paleo food! Kris and her family are paleo and we wanted to make sure most of the food options were compatible. As is par for the course lately, I failed to get many pictures but it was a really wonderful afternoon of eating and passing around the sleepy new baby. Welcome Matteo!



main table

I have enough friends who are paleo that I was pretty familiar with the restrictions (at the most basic - no grains, no dairy, no vegetable oils, no sugar) and it's really easy to find good recipes that meet those criteria online. I think that most people wouldn't have noticed that any of the savory food was paleo specifically.

For savory bites I made:
- bacon wrapped dates stuffed with pistachios (stuffed and wrapped a day ahead of time, baked the morning of, served room temp) - with uncured bacon instead of lamb bacon
- asian-style meatballs (made and baked the day before, served cool)
- deviled eggs three ways (eggs boiled three days ahead using this method, peeled one day ahead, fillings made one day ahead and stored in ziploc bags, filled the morning of by cutting off one corner of each bag and using them like pastry bags, except for the tuna one which had to be spooned) - with crispy shallots and jalapenos*, with tuna confit, and guacamole style.

I have never made grain free baked goods, so I made sure I picked a well reviewed recipe. These paleo chocolate chip cookies are a definite treat, but they feel healthier and fill you right up (probably because of the almond flour). Bonus - they're basically the easiest cookies you could possibly make. They were best fresh out of the oven, but alas, that wouldn't work for a party. They were still very good the next day and we're actually just finishing up the last of them today and they've gone down well with paleo and non-paleo people alike. The texture is not cookie like - it's more like a muffin top - but they're tasty.

Since not everyone has exactly the same paleo rules, I included food tags slightly more detailed than usual, listing the ingredients for each dish.

To please any carb hungry guests one of our other friends made beautiful sugar cookies, big platters of non-paleo sandwiches, hummus and vegetables and we also had a giant batch of guacamole (paleo) and tortilla chips (not paleo, I think). I also made non-paleo chocolate toffee cookies.

I wasn't in charge of the decorations but I wanted to add a bit of nautical flair to the food platters, so I cut blue cardstock into strips about 1" wide and freehand cut waves. D saw me doing it and asked if he could try and he ended up being so much better at it that I asked him to cut the rest (benefits of having an architect for a partner!). I packed them flat and then attached them to the edge of the cake stands and platters with Zots once I arrived. Easy-peasy.

It was such a lovely, low key way to celebrate with the family and I'm honored that I was able to be a part of it. Congratulations, Kris!

*Because regular mayo is usually made with canola oil and isn't paleo compliant, I tried making homemade mayo with avocado oil. And failed, four times, even after frantically googling several different recipes. I was starting with Nom Nom's recipe and it just didn't work for me. I managed to salvage a small batch of mayo by re-emulsifying it with another egg yolk and it was enough for the eggs, but I seriously don't know what was happening. I think the avocado oil might be more temperamental because I've never had a problem getting my Caesar salad dressing to emulsify, even when I'm being much lazier.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Rena's baby shower

eucalyptus three ways

mini arrangements


frosting tints





My little sister is due in March and I was so excited to throw this shower. It was fairly large - about 35 people - and incredibly joyful. I wanted to make sure that it had some personal details while still being manageable for me to host.

January can be a rough month for flowers, especially if you are looking for them the weekend AFTER the holidays. When I went to the flower mart on Friday a lot of the vendors weren't even there. Luckily I'd planned on using tons of eucalyptus, which is easy to get (and inexpensive!). I knew I wanted a few real flowers for color, but I wasn't wedded to anything in particular, which is good because all I could get was roses. So I ended up with three dozen roses (I was lucky and they had some that were reduced in price because they were fully blown, which is how I like them anyways, so they were just $4.75 per dozen) and huge bundles of three types of eucalyptus. All told, I only spent $45 on foliage.

Our seating was 60" rounds, which are kind of beasts in terms of decoration. A small arrangement can get marooned. Instead I picked up 18" wire wreath forms from Joann's and made large eucalyptus wreaths. This was definitely a move born of ignorance. I'd never made a wreath before, so I had no idea how time consuming it would be. Fun, but time consuming. I think I spent at least an hour per wreath. Luckily I only had to make five and I could watch mindless television. The wreaths looked full and gorgeous on Friday, but were definitely slightly wilted and dried by Sunday. It's fine, because eucalyptus dries well, you just lose a bit of fullness. I made a few small vase arrangements and ended up using them in the center of the wreaths. I didn't add the roses to the wreaths until they were already in place at the shower because I didn't want to deal with them getting wilted and crushed in transport. I 100% could not have done this project if I had to work a full schedule the week before the shower.

I had originally planned to do a baby photo guessing game with pictures from the guests, but realized that it was too difficult with two large families. Instead I just printed them and used them as part of the centerpieces. Each table had photos of the guests seated there plus one of Rena. It was a fun little detail, especially when you could spot the family resemblances. And yes, I did assign seats. I feel pretty strongly about this in general, but at a large party where not everyone knows each other I wanted to make sure that no one felt like the new kid in the cafeteria. I tried to leave an empty seat at each table to facilitate mingling (especially because I knew Rena would want to spend some time at each table).

I knew I couldn't do all the food myself but I also couldn't afford to fully cater it. I did a hybrid instead, making the desserts (because I love them) and two enormous salads and purchasing sandwiches from Lee's. Rena loves Lee's vegetarian bahn mi, so this was an easy choice. I think Lee's is mostly a So Cal thing, although it looks like they might have locations elsewhere? Instead of ordering party platters I just ordered a ton of sandwiches and cut them up. I got about half and half traditional European style and bahn mi. I picked up chips and dip from Costco to round the whole thing out. Don't worry - I took that photo before all the sandwiches were out - there was more food. (Per usual - I had to go boxes for the leftover food to be sent home with guests)

I underestimated the drink situation, which is a mistake I won't make again. I think we had just enough to squeak through the party, which horrified me because unless there's plenty left over I worry that people didn't have enough. I had purchased 6 bottles of sparkling lemonade, 3 bottles of wine and 3 bottles of champagne (plus copious amounts of sparkling water - we didn't run out of water) and there were just two measly glasses of champagne left at the end. I hope no one went thirsty. I probably should have done 10 bottles of lemonade and 8 bottles of alcohol. I normally use one of those drink calculators to figure out what to buy but I was frazzled and 6 seemed like a nice round number. Live and learn.

The party was too large for anyone's house but luckily D's grandmother has a clubhouse in her community that we could use for free and they had the tables and chairs, which meant I only had to rent linens. It was amazing, even if the large space was a little harder to work with than a home. And you know what makes up for green upholstered chairs and green carpet? Enormous refrigerators in the fully concealed back kitchen. I'm so lucky that we had this option because otherwise I was looking at a renting a space in a community center and it's a bit pricey and also more restrictive.

Whew. The list of logistics makes it sound much less fun than it actually was. Once the party was underway it was wonderful. Rena looked adorable (sorry - I neglected to get any of my signature no-head blog photos and I'm a bit squeamish about putting innocent people's faces front and center on the blog) and it was lovely to get the chance to catch up with everyone in the lull after the holidays.

I can't wait to meet my niece in March! Hoping I can take a little time off and make a trip up there around the due date. Fingers crossed!