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December 16, 2010

Is that a carrot in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


The table, all ready and set to go. One of my favorite things about entertaining is that doesn't cost anything to set a pretty table. Look closely and you may see my placemats are from a discount store, none of my wineglasses match, I have Ikea dishes and my water glasses are vintage thrift-store finds. My centerpiece is a lavish, too -- three green apples with circles carved out so that you can fit in a snug little votive candle. (Three apples gave their lives for art! Blame Martha Stewart.) I love setting the table with everything clean and sparkly and pretty and simple all collected together.

Until now I have not been much of a cook. I've always tried, sure, but I wasn't very good at it and even when something turned out well I just didn't like cooking. Now I know why. Cooking takes time! It takes patience to shop and chop and wash and grate and peel and simmer and meld. Cooking from scratch seems to be a lot cheaper than eating out but it sure can take time and I always hated that, I was always rushed and pressed and pinched. Cooking was a chore.

These days cooking has become a little treat. It helps that I'm getting better at it, and when you have more time than anything else it's not a bad way to spend an afternoon. I invited two friends over for a meal and I loved how happy they were with it. It made me feel so good to cook up something fresh and warm and tasty for my friends and I didn't set the oven on fire, or the broiler, or the dishcloth. Nothing scorched or boiled over or needed the fire department to help save life and property. Though I have met a few very helpful firemen in my time.

My girlfriends have busy lives and packed schedules and there's something about cooking a good meal that makes me feel like I'm taking care of people in my own way. One of my friends is on a vegan diet. You all know of course that I'm not a vegan, I'm a big fat omnivore. But (unlike the goofballs who write to tell me I'm a meat murderer every time I cook a pot roast) I respect other people's choices and I do love a challenge. I was kind of excited about the prospect of cooking a whole meal totally vegan (and gluten free. Ya'll, that is a lot of NOs all in one meal!) Especially because she is the kind of friend who would never ask for that or expect it, she'd be happy with a banana and a root beer.

For the dinner party I started off with a tray of carrots, celery, radishes, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, parsnips, peppers... you name it. I made a trip to the Farmer's Market and got whatever was fresh and cheap. And I made dip of course -- one hummus with garlic and one hummus with kalamata olives. I started a few days ahead of time by soaking the chickpeas, cooking them up, pureeing them in the food processor, adding in the lemon and tahini and all that. I also added a ranch dip for the non-vegans which I kind-of-sort-of made, stirring a mix into some yogurt.

For dinner we started with a beet and carrot shredded salad that I plan to tell you all about in more detail tomorrow. For the main meal I made red bell peppers stuffed with a soft risotto made with pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion and vegetable stock (non-vegans got the option of some shredded Gruyere on top). On the side I made sauteed zucchini with caramelized onions and a simple crispy potato cake with chopped scallions on top. Potato cakes are the best dinner party meal, it's like hashbrowns gone upscale. You just shred some russet potatoes and add onions (if you want) and cook the whole thing in oil until crispy. You can even use the pre-shredded grocery store hashbrowns to save time. I never had the time before to shred my own potatoes! Or cheese. Or salad. I think I prefer being short on dough to being short on time. At least I am no longer puddled up in a corner eating my hair and crying for my mommy.

ANYWAY. That was dinner. I am not a dessert person and I don't know how to bake so we just had fruit and chocolate for dessert. It was fine, no one complained.

I feel so happy and proud of this meal! It's not the one-time-only huge things in life that give me satisfaction, it's little stuff, like pulling off a nice (edible) meal that shows my friends I love them.

Once an Art Director, always an art director. I cut the peppers exactly in half, stems and all. I got perhaps more excited about it than is normal.

My dad suggested parboiling them ahead of time and then shocking them in a bath of ice water. Would you have ever in eleventeen hundred years believed I would be a person who parboils? A bunny boiler perhaps, but a parboiler? Has the world stopped spinning on its axis?

My un-glam picture of our little meal.

I meant to play Christmas carols but instead we listened to James Taylor and some old French songs and we had wine and conversation and it was a perfect day. Not because it was fancy (see: hashbrowns, above, and mismatched wineglasses) but because it had all the good stuff like laughing and talking and relaxing. And now I understand why people like cooking. I actually get it. And anyway everything tastes better when you caramelize an onion and light only your apples on fire.

Posted by laurie at December 16, 2010 8:44 AM