Champagne Shopping Binge

"The champagne shopping binge/ is over/ The check is about to arrive/ and nobody knows how much it will be/ I know I don't give a shit not now" -From "FROM A DISCARDED IMAGE" by Franz Wright

Friday, February 10, 2006

Way better than a vacuum...

The best part about birthdays is the parties (see below). The second best part is the presents. (The worst part is the realization that I am getting ever closer to thirty and yet marriage, kids, house ownership and all other signs of true adulthood are just as far away as ever, but that’s another story for another day.)

This year, my fantastic roomies managed to outdo themselves in the gift department. Along with a fab black shrug from Banana (which I love but am still trying to figure out how to wear), they got me the cutest pastel pink apron from Williams Sonoma, with matching pink spatulas. And a subscription to Bon Appetit! Hooray! I’ll admit that the Rachael Ray 365 cookbook has sat on the bookshelf, unopened, since Christmas, but I was determined to actually use the magazine.

And so I have. I started with the white bean and sausage soup featured on the cover, because I figured soup was appropriate for the cold winter weather, and because I wanted the bragging rights of actually cooking something that was on the cover of a magazine. Of course, this winter (until now) has been tropical, but I didn’t let details like that stop me…

I substituted chicken sausage for regular (had some left over from the birthday shindig that I wanted to use up) but otherwise stuck pretty much to the recipe for once. And, miracle of miracles, my soup ended up looking and tasting like soup. It was a long process (have to soak the beans, cook the veggies, simmer the soup, blend, re-heat, etc.) but terrifically easy. Served with a salad and some warm rye bread, it made the perfect Monday night 24-watching dinner. Creamy and delicious, and so healthy too!

A few thoughts for next time:

The recipe originally called for spicy sausage, I think with the substitution of chicken it was a little bland. We added a few drops of tobasco and it was perfect. Need to find a way to make it a little spicier next time.

The recipe instructed me to reserve 1.5 cups of the soup from the blender, I actually did about 2. Even still, it was a little too blended for my taste. Next time, I’ll reserve more for a chunkier texture.

Happy Birthday to Me

I am the type of girl who celebrates “Birthmonth” and, while I was excited to be co-hosting my birthday party with three friends, I wanted something just for me. I started with the idea to have a small cocktail party with a few friends, before we headed to Essex for the giant quadruple birthday extravaganza. “A few friends” quickly grew to seventeen people, including the new boy (talk about pressure!).

But, by choosing a menu that could be largely made ahead, and ordering everything from FreshDirect ahead of time (SO nice to have all the ingredients – including the bubbly – delivered straight to your door) I cut down on a lot of stress. With the help of my roomies and H, the evening was a smashing success. Although really, if you have enough champagne, it’s hard not to have a successful evening…

The Menu:

Champagne and Lillet cocktail (put one sugar cube on the bottom of a glass, add ounce of Lillet, top with champagne, finish with an orange twist) – this was supposed to have a dash of angostura bitters, but those proved difficult to locate, so I left it out. Festive and fun, although the sugar cube, while providing an entertaining stream of bubbles, made the last few sips almost unbearably sweet.

Baked brie wrapped in pastry with cherry and almonds, served with green apples – if you use Pilsbury crescent rolls for the pastry, this crowd pleaser is so ridiculously easy to make, it’s almost embarrassing…
Chicken sausage and sage bites with apricot sauce – a true crowd pleasure, I adapted a Rachael Ray recipe by substituting chicken sausage for regular. Yummy.
Cucumbers with boursin and ham – a nice alternative to carb-based apps.
Smoke salmon with watercress, dill, and crème fraiche on pumpernickel – this one was good, but maybe not worth it. I’m not sure that people really feel like eating smoked salmon before they go out.
Olives – because sometimes you just don’t want to do any work. And besides, I got the cutest olive dish ever in Positano in September.
White bean crostini – actually, my roomie made this one, making it a) delicious and b) easy (for me at least!).
Chocolate covered strawberries – not nearly as pretty as the professional ones, but still really tasty and easy. Double dipped half of them in white chocolate, which was pretty much overkill.

Of course, since our apartment is approximately the size of a shoebox, the challenge was to figure out where to put this amazing spread. Ended up throwing a sheet over the box the TV came in, putting some flowers on top, and calling it a table. Sigh. One day I’ll have a real dining room…