Kitchen Fun!


During a manicure at the Nail Bar (literally a nail place that does your manicure at a wood-and-tile bar while you sip wine or cocktails) I offered to let a friend come over one Saturday and we’d spend the day in the kitchen, preparing awesome food and then have a small dinner party with our significant others. And lots of wine.

After many reschedules, we finally had our kitchen day.

Dinner is Served

Dinner is Served!

The Menu

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts

Individual Beef Wellingtons with Onion Marmalade and Goat Cheese
Garlic Green Beans
Oven-Roasted Red Potatoes

Crullers with Vanilla Ice Cream

Q arrived just after 2pm and we donned our matching aprons and got to work.

Desserts were first (as they should be) since they needed to be prepped, piped and chilled before being fried. And then they could sit.

This was one of the Q’s requests, as the light and airy cruller is her favorite and she really wanted to learn how to make them herself. It’s a testament to our friendship that I agreed as I really don’t like to fry things and these are basically fried cream puffs, unfilled but topped with a glaze. We used Gale Gand’s recipe (via Food Network Online) which says it yields 12 (but I think a single batch will give more than that, based on our own yield). Well, we figured since it was early and we’d want to snack test them for quality we’d increase it by half and make sure we still had plenty for after dinner.

Crullers, pre-frying

There's a definite learning-curve with piping the dough.

To pipe the crullers you need a pastry bag and a large star tip, which gives you the traditional “tractor tire” ridges. Trace a 3″ circle while keeping even pressure applied to the bag and the same distance from the parchment-lined sheet pan (about half a inch). When you get back to the beginning, stop the pressure but continue to follow the circle around so that the tail hides in the rest of the grooves.

While those chilled, we got started on the next long project: the onion marmalade. Usually a wellington is topped with either pâté or a duxelles (minced mushrooms, etc. cooked down to a pâté-like consistency). Since neither of our guys are big mushroom fans, I decided it would be fun to try something new. A quick search yielded a recipe that seemed promising. It was also time-consuming, taking up most of the afternoon waiting for the liquid to reduce. It did give us time to start frying the crullers, though, and glaze them (tip: for all that’s good and flavorful, add some good vanilla to the glaze.)

frying crullers

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!

I want to try the onion recipe again because it’s truly delicious but almost too sweet (yes, I know, I can hardly believe I typed those words, myself) and I want to make it slightly quicker. Not instant, just quicker.

Meanwhile, we pre-cooked the fillets for the wellingtons according to this recipe. In the past I’ve always baked it just the once and been a little apprehensive about getting the meat done enough while not overcooking the pastry. This method of baking the meat til rare, cooling, assembling and then baking just long enough to heat everything and brown the pastry worked so well I’ve adopted it as my new favorite method.

The side dishes are the epitome of simple: steamed green beans sauteed with garlic, olive oil and a last minute addition of the bacon leftover from the marmalade. The potatoes are steamed first, then tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, sage and rosemary with just a dash of chili powder before going into the oven to get nice and golden-brown.

The last thing to be started was the appetizer: bacon-wrapped artichokes are, truly, as simple as they sound. Wrap half an artichoke heart with half a slice of bacon, place on a foil-lined pan and broil until crispy.

Let's Eat

Let's Eat

Glaze Upon Pastry Perfection

Dinner was lovely. It took us about 4 hours to cook and the meal lasted close to 3. Q & I had finished off a bottle of Arbor Mist Blackberry Merlot while we cooked, served a bottle of my favorite Pinot Evil during dinner and then had coffee and Blackberry Wine from Chautauqua Winery with the crullers and ice cream (did you know Breyers has a Lactose Free version? I’m officially in heaven!).

Eclairs and lamb have already been requested for the next Kitchen Day.

On the Subject of Picky Eaters


Last week I was all set to explain the many and varied ways picky eaters were among my top pet peeves and some creative ways to circumvent the pouty faces and upturned noses. Then I found something that made me change my stance.

More than one way to look at it.

There are lots of ways to be a picky eater. Having allergies, vegetarianism or being vegan count, as are some religious constraints. Being on a diet could be considered being a picky eater. None of these were the sort of thing I was thinking about, though, when I was forming the earlier version of this blog post.

Nor was I thinking about cases like one close friend who has, as she describes it, “texture issues.” Texture issues are apparently way more common than I knew and, according to can often go hand in hand with anxiety disorders, OCD and other conditions. From what I’ve read in the responses to an article in Psychology Today, it seems many in this group are unhappy with their restricted diets and wish it were as easy to change as we omnivores suggest it should be.

Not all picky eaters have a medical reason for their behavior. Perhaps my peeve lies more with the unadventurous. Case in point: my 2nd (now ex-) husband who turned up his nose at dinner one night saying he was 40 years old and if he hadn’t tried it or liked it by now, he wasn’t going to bother.

Attitude is Everything

It’s natural for a child to go through a choosy stage. We usually expect adults, though, to have largely outgrown this behavior. Especially in a guest-at-dinner situation, a person who pulls faces and grumbles about there being nothing they can eat gets very little sympathy from me whether I am a fellow guest or the hostess. A diner who, instead, works with her hostess to ensure that everyone is accommodated, however, earns serious gold stars and is someone who I would bend over backwards to satisfy at future events.

As the Hostess

It’s certainly not necessary or expected for you to play short order cook at your next dinner party, but some polite inquiries and careful planning may make dinner a happier affair for all considered.

  • Always ask new guests if they have any allergies you should be aware of. Most folks will take this opportunity to tell you about other serious food issues, as well.
  • Plan your menu in advance so if questions arise, you have the answers available.
  • Buffets generally offer more choices, giving choosy eaters a chance to select what works best for them.
  • Leave sauces and dressings on the side to be passed around and added at the guests’ discretion.
  • Consider modular foods like a create-your-own pasta station or sauce add-ins.

As the Guest

Even the most accomplished hostess is seldom omniscient about her guests’ likes and dislikes. It is the guest’s job, therefore, to help without being pushy.

  • Ask politely about the menu when you are invited for a meal.
  • Offer to bring a dish, especially if your diet is severely restricted (like gluten-free or kosher).
  • Maybe eat a little something before a party so that you’re not left in the lurch by unappetizing options.
  • Excuse yourself and make an early exit if there really is nothing available to you and you find the fare triggers some distasteful reflex that would disrupt the rest of the guests.

Even though I’ve been an omnivore for most of my life, recent health matters require me to abstain from certain ingredients like tomato sauce. If I know a get-together is going to order out for pizza after the main business is settled, I’ll leave before then or eat before I get there. It may not always be the best option, but I’d much rather leave than make my hostess uncomfortable or make a big deal about what is, essentially, a private matter.

Agree? Disagree? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments, I’d love to hear what you think.