I can honestly tell you that I had screamin' good fun at our dinner party Tuesday night. Our guests were just lovely, talkative, warm-hearted, accomplished, fascinating souls who were good sports and good eaters. It was a pleasure to cook for such a fun crew.
But I love the cartoon above because it shows how anxiety-provoking these affairs can be for guests and hosts. It's funny to think about all these hidden thoughts and feelings going on as we socialize and eat together. Anyway, I did learn a few things from this experience and of course, I want to share:
1. Doing 10 to 12 "small plates" is still making 10 to 12 dishes no matter how itsy bitsy the plate is. Duh. You think a girl as crafty as me would've figured this out ahead of time.
But no, it was a shocker a day into the cooking. Moral of the story: a banquet of tapas is still a ten course meal anyway you cut it. I'm so happy I did it and it really helped me stretch my cooking, but it could have been a complete train wreck.
Like when I was whipping the butter into the cognac-soaked chicken livers with a whisk and the whisk went flying across the kitchen and liver stuck to the wall for like three seconds before falling to the ground behind the trash can (Guess I should look for that..) and a huge piece of liver flung out of the bowl and slapped me across the eyes and then, kind of stuck to my nose and dripped slowly down my face and I nearly hurled into the bowl of softened pate.
"The Chicken Liver Parfait" (what a crazy name. Isn't "parfait" an ice cream dish?) from NTSC at Art of the Pig, a man truly in love with offal, actually tasted great and I'm going to give you the recipe, which was pretty easy even for me, but I had a lot of liver mishaps along that way that made me do that ugly dry heave thing where your mouth keeps opening and shutting like a sea bass, but no sound comes out.
Yeah, like that.
2. I am now prepared to be on "The Next Food Network Star" (not that I want to be or anything since being in front of a camera is my idea of bathing in cognac-soaked chicken livers) but only because my cooking life is such a freak show. And frankly, this makes for exciting TV.
I realized this as I was driving all over Manhattan with my friend, chef, resident saint and fellow blogger Kian over at Red Cook in my husband's pick up truck going from fish market to butcher shop trying to buy two things I thought I would find easily: fresh sardines and pork belly.
At about 10 O'clock am the day of the dinner party when I hadn't cooked a thing all day and I thought I would have to kill and replace two dishes - - the Sardines Escabeche and the Red Cooked Pork Belly. And I actually thought, "Oh the producers must have gone around and bought up all the sardines and pork belly to make this challenge harder...Until I remembered I wasn't actually on TV.
3. If you have ingenious and curious small kids who can do things like set their own hair on fire using nothing but two chopsticks and a hunk of pink Playdoh or ones whose innocent, impressionable heads might explode if faced with the prospect of watching 15 straight hours of Diego, you will need help to get this menu on the table.
I had a team. Because it takes a village to raise a dinner party.
I had a paid babysitter, a house cleaner, my incredible, amazing friend and neighbor Rachel who stopped working on her doctoral dissertation for two days so she could host dance parties and princess dress up games to keep my kids from missing their mother.
And I had, God bless him, Kian over at Red Cook who, when it became clear I was not going to find fresh sardines or pork belly, stopped working and went to Chinatown for me and bought both of those ingredients, delivered them to my door and also gutted the sardines when I looked at him like, "Um, yeah, what the hell am I going to do with these? I need fillets!"
I am a bitch. But feel comforted knowing I have the most awesome, patient friends on the planet.
4. Not to hurl a stereotype at you, but if you're having a dinner party, invite a lot of gay men. They will just love you up for all the work you did in the kitchen. It was like I was Gloria Gaynor (and I was thin. And not black. And not old) and the boys had hoisted me up on their shoulders and carried me around the dance floor, as the glitter ball illuminated my glistening face and I dove into my third resounding chorus of "I Will Survive". Not to work a stereotype too hard or anything.
I do love cooking for a room full of appreciative eaters. And they were appreciative and loud about it. Who wouldn't love that? Thanks guys for being so amazingly kind and supportive.
5. Note to self: "Food & Wine Magazine" is not a legitimate cooking magazine. It is a glossy, pretty promotional vehicle for American Express that masquerades as a cooking magazine and so even though they may have some good ideas for meals (like some of the tapas I made the other night) the seasoning and ingredients were so far off that I had to re-assess all the flavor profiles and re-season and re-jigger mid- cooking after I realized my dinner was going to be comprised of some good-looking dishes that tasted like communion wafer.
Lesson learned. Moral of the story: Read your "Food & Wine" in bed where it can't hurt anyone with it's blandness. Keep it out of the kitchen.
So, I'm going to give you the recipes for the tapas I think are worth repeating in my next post, but first I start with something so utterly delectable and amazing that David has actually banned the use of the ice cream machine in our house. Malted Milk Ice Cream with Crushed Malted Milk Ball Crust.
This morning, David actually said, "I'm throwing the ice cream maker in the trash so you can't make anymore of this stuff." He is soooooo off his "diet/lifestyle".
I got this recipe from Michael Ruhlman's blog who got it from David Lebovitz. It is ridiculously good and I think is one of the best flavors of ice cream I have eaten. Ever. It's also pretty easy to do if you have an ice cream maker and a great finish for folks who can't/don't/won't bake. Like me.
Make it. I dare you not to eat the whole freakin' thing.
Malted Milk Ice Cream
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts (1 1/2 liters)
1 cup (250 ml) half-and-half
3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (90 g) malt powder (see note below)
6 large egg yolks
2 cups (350 g) malted milk balls, coarsely chopped
Note: Malted milk powder can be found in the ice cream aisle of your supermarket. But sometimes it’s stocked alongside chocolate drink mixes like Ovaltine, which isn’t the same thing. But this is exactly where I found it. Most common brands of malt powder are Carnation and Horlicks.
Warm the half-and-half with the sugar in a medium saucepan. In a large bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, vanilla, and malt powder. Set a mesh strainer on top.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a wooden or heatproof plastic spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. Pour the custard through the strainer and whisk it into the malted milk mixture. Stir until cool over an ice bath.
Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As you remove the ice cream from the machine, fold in the chopped malted milk balls. Be generous with the balls, they float to the top and make this decadent crunchy topping.