Category Archives: Foodie Fun

High performance Provenance potluck….

Wow! I knew I worked with a bunch of foodies, but I had no idea they were talented enough to open a restaurant. Seriously. I talked them out of it, though, believe me. The food at this little get together was some of the best I have had in a long time. If I would have known everyone was such good cooks I would have been crashing their family holiday get ages ago.

I don’t even know where to start. I guess with the reason for this gathering would be a good place. It was unfortunately a going away party for Jane Roberts of Sugarkist pie fame. She is hopping the pond and going to work on her British accent in London. Let’s hope she doesn’t start making steak and kidney pies instead of the tasty fruit pies she has made here for years and sold at the Logan Square Market. Leave it to me to start with dessert, but how can I not tell you about how incredible this mixed berry pie was that Jane baked for her party. You don’t think we would let the guest of honor get away with not baking a pie would you? Especially if it was going to be the last Sugarkist pie we were going to have for years! Rude and selfish, I know, especially since it was 95 degrees out and Jane doesn’t have an air conditioner.  You better believe we savored every bite. Her crust is amazing. A nice dark golden brown. You know I love a well cooked pastry, one that is not afraid of the golden brown deliciousness that means flavor.  Sugarkist pies are just that, too, kissed by sugar. Its lovely lips just grazing the plump ripe blackberries, strawberries and raspberries. I better stop that analogy now. This is a family blog!

Sugarkist Pie Deliciousness

Onto our most gracious hosts, Jeff and Erin, who held this fiesta in their lovely back yard, where Jeff had a charcoal grill, a smoker and a gas grill ready for action. This man is a grilling machine.  Jeff  had done all the cooking for Tracy’s birthday party/wedding about three months ago at Weegee’s. Tracy tricked him into it by saying it was her birthday party, whereas it really turned out to be a surprise wedding also! She’s so sneaky. Jeff would have probably freaked out if he knew he was catering her wedding!  Well, I missed the food at that party, so I was looking forward to making up for it at this party.

Jeff the grilling machine!

First of all, Erin was the most amazing hostess I have ever encountered. She was clearing plates, making sure the next round of food was brought out, making coffee, setting up dessert, making Jeff plates of food while he was cooking. And she made it all look easy. I swear she was gliding, not spazzing out and tripping over herself, like I tend to do when I host a party. Now you know why I don’t host that many.  It was very refreshing.

Erin, our lovely hostess

Booze, oh ya, there was lots of booze. That’s what’s so great about being at a party with friends who own a wine shop, good wine. I had to try all of it also, as I have to know the product I am selling. I  took notes, too. NOT! You didn’t believe that for a second, did you? I would hope you know me better than that by now.  Actually, we ran out of booze. Boys are we drinkers. Joe had to run back to the shop to get more. Oops! My favorites of the night were a Txocoli, a stone dry, yes stone dry, not bone dry, white from the Basque region of Spain. It literally tastes of the sea and wet stones. Perfect for the scorching hot night that it was. And a surprisingly light and refreshing sparkling Shiraz from Australia. I think Jeff said it was one of his favorites.

So, food. Let’s go. It all started with fifteen year old cheddar that I bought at Hooks Cheese in Mineral Point Wisconsin. I had never seen cheddar this old. They are not that common. I went up there a few months ago with my mom. She offered to buy me the cheese until she found out it was $50 a pound! But how could I not buy fifteen year old cheddar. I love Hooks cheese. We carry it at the shop. I asked Tracy if I could turn in my receipt for reimbursement. Hmmm…I don’t think I ever got an answer on that. I think she changed the subject. It was totally worth it and I was happy to share it with all my friends from the shop. I’m glad we all got to taste it. It was VERY sharp, but still fruity and starting to be a little crumbly. It was very distinct, that’s for sure. Right up my alley.  I am not one for subtlety.  The sharper, the more bitter, the better…baby!

Ok, onto dolmas by Nicole. Wow! These babies are a production. Nicole sent me the recipe with her notes and comments, always the fun part. I don’t think about the complexity of the dolma when I am  eating it. I think grape leaf stuffed with tasty filling, yum. Let me pop three more in my mouth, dipping each end in the yogurt cucumber sauce, but this is not considered double dipping because I turned it around to the half I hadn’t taken a bite off of, because I just need more sauce, always more sauce. Oh, I confess, I am a double dipper, only among friends, though. For real.  I am going to contradict myself here. It’s my blog, I can. I loved the subtle flavors of Nicole’s dolmas. I know I just said I don’t appreciate subtlety, but I lied. It is so nice to just eat something and all the flavors meld together seamlessly, nothing jarring, very enjoyable. That’s why I think I ate so many of the dolmas. They tasted effortless. The mark of a good cook. I can’t wait to try Nicole’s mother’s recipe. Well, not the recipe, the dolmas made by Nicole from her mother’s recipe. I am a bit lazy. You know that. I am going to have to finagle an invite when I know she is making them.

I don't have a picture of the delicious dolmas, so here is a picture of the lovely Nicole instead!

Cannot leave the pre appetizer portion of the party without mentioning Aaron’s cantaloupe wrapped in speck that he brushed with a lovely sweet balsamic and honey glaze. He served it with a salad of arugula and parmesan. This dish was very well rounded with the sweet cantaloupe, salty speck and bitter arugula. Aaron seems like a pretty balanced easy going guy. This dish proved my theory.

Boy, I am at 1075 words and Jeff hasn’t even fired up the grill yet! Uh oh. Go grab another glass of wine, run to the bathroom and settle in. We have to think of another name for these poppers because they can NOT share a name with that trashy deep fried TGI Fridays appetizer, which I do love! But these do not even compare. This is the first thing that graced the grill when Jeff had it all fired up.

Poppers on the grill

Erin gets all the credit for these. You need to invite her to all your summer bbqs or holiday parties. I wonder if you can do them in the oven. Erin? Jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, caramelized shallots and dehydrated tomatoes and wrapped in bacon and grilled by Bobby Flay’s replacement on the Food Network, Jeff Tabels.  Yes, they were as good as they look. Mine was not that hot, but I saw others stick their scorched tongue in their glass of white wine to cool it down.

Poppers on the plate

Earlier in the day Jeff had put that smoker to good use and smoked a piece of salmon. I don’t like salmon except when it is smoked. Back to that lack of subtlety. This was full of smoky goodness. Nothing subtle about it at all. Great a squeeze of lemon, capers, raw red onion and creamy goodness.  It disappeared in a matter of minutes. We had to make sure he had a bite before we finished it off. Then, all manners aside, we were amongst friends here, we literally started picking the scraps off the skin!

The smoked salmon before it disappeared!

Next up, Dietzler Farms rib eye steaks and filet mignon wrapped in , what else, bacon, courtesy of our fearless leaders Tracy and Joe. They brought them, Jeff grilled them to a perfect medium rare. This guy is gooooood.

Dietzler Farms steaks grilling

There is nothing I hate more than an over cooked steak except overcooked scallops. Speaking of scallops, Jeff also grilled scallops, brushing them  in a simple combo of Golden Vadouvan curry and room temperature butter. I will have to say these are the best scallops I have ever had. They were cooked PERFECTLY.  Yes, I meant to shout that! Then Jeff goes and tells me this is the first time he ever cooked scallops and was nervous as hell. I don’t know how he did it because I have had many an overcooked scallop in many a high end restaurant.  But he did and I was grateful. This proves my theory that scallops should be treated simply. Grilled and a simple sauce and you are done. Leave them alone. Step away from the scallops. You had to say that to me because I certainly wanted to eat more than my fair share.

Perfectly cooked curried scallops

But wait, back to the steaks which were perfect as is until I tasted them with David’s compound butter. Ok, David showed up late to the party, as he was working his other job. I do blame him though for my overeating. I gotta blame someone. So I am done eating, except for dessert, and in waltzes David with this unassuming deli container of brown speckled stuff that he says is for the steak. Well, the steak was right in front of me, so I grab the knife and cut off a slice and shmeared some of this grey butter on it. Ohhhhhhhhh…”What the hell is in that David?” I ask, as I reach for the knife cut off another piece of steak  to shmear with more of this heaven. “It’s a classic beurre d’ escargot recipe that I have been wanting to make for years” he said. What that means is it is a compound butter with shallots, garlic,  parsley, absinthe, salt and pepper. He modified it by adding celery salt and replacing the regular garlic with black garlic. The black garlic made it sweeter and gave it more complexity. You need to make this. You can find black garlic at the Spice House. It is just fermented garlic. I call it magic. Needless to say, that knife got a little more use from me.

The perfect vehicle for beurre d' escargots

I said I was done eating, but I lied again. I haven’t even told you about the side dishes. This is why I had to imbibe in a little alka selzer when I got home. I haven’t done that in ages. Let’s see, where to start. Mary made an amazing barley and cannellini bean salad. Boy was this salad a mélange of flavors and textures. (I just like that word “mélange” and it totally fit this salad.) Pearled barley, thinly sliced fennel, walnuts, Dijon and cannellini beans. Mary even made the beans from scratch instead of just opening a can. You could tell the difference. I told you these were a bunch of serious foodies.

Jane with a plate of this amazing food!

Richard and Michael made a potato salad that was not your ordinary mayo drenched boring old potato salad. It blew mine away. I should have known not to bring the same thing, but I had already bought the potatoes and didn’t want them to rot away on my fridge. Richard said their potato salad was an homage to Michael’s father who was born in the Yucatan. He said he found the recipe years ago and modified this yummy mix of potatoes, poblano peppers, olives and eggs by using only very good olive oil, instead of the suggested vegetable oil, adding red peppers for sweetness and adding a bit of the Spice House’s Pilsen blend which has Mexican oregano and red pepper flakes in it. Flavorful and colorful, I am sure Michael’s father would be proud to have this tasty dish honoring him.

Richard and Michael are kale freaks just like me. They also simply tossed cleaned kale with a little olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice and let it sit covered on the counter for a few hours. This gently wilted the kale, making it edible raw. They served it with a great simple little cherry tomato salad and this amazing fresh Bulgarian Double Cream Feta. Oh this stuff was good. Sort of like a cross between cream cheese, brie and feta. A little salty and a whole lot creamy. This on a bagel would be heaven. They got it at Fresh Farms on Touhy and said it was only $4.99 a pound. Score!

Jane, Aaron & Joe enjoying the evening

I did bring a potato salad also, but that is all I am saying. It was good, but nothing close to as tasty as Richards. I also brought my new instant easy, told you I am lazy,  favorite, buckwheat noodles with shiso pesto. I made the pesto awhile ago with shiso from the Bloomington farm. You can also get it at any Asian grocery store. I think it is called pink mint also. The buckwheat noodles are also sold at the Asian grocery store. They are just so delicate and flavorful, yet subtle, and cook in minutes. I just tossed the pesto, a little extra sesame oil, corn and green beans with the buckwheat noodle, garnish with scallions. Done.

Last but certainly not least is dessert. Yes, I was stuffed already. That extra steak put me over the edge, thanks David, but there were still three, yes, three, desserts to tackle. I already told you about Jane’s delicious mixed berry pie about 2200 words ago! It is the best pie I have ever had. Really. I cannot think of one thing that I would change, except that she not hop the pond J   Good excuse as any to visit her in London.  Mary also made a lovely rustic plum gallette. See, we are all over achievers here. Like the barley salad was not enough, she just whipped up a plum gallette also. This is a woman with two jobs, a husband  and a teenage boy. Boy, I have no excuse to be lazy. She puts me to shame!

Tracy cutting the Sugarkist pie with a sneak peek of the yummy plum galette next to it.

Then there was the Coconut Cake with Saffron Cream from the September issue of Food and Wine that David also brought.  I told you I blame my overeating that night and my alka selzer cocktail on him. I don’t even like saffron. It tastes metallic to me, like a mixture of tin and blood. Don’t ask! This cake was so good though. The cream must have mellowed the saffron. Its flavor blended smoothly with the coconut.

This amazing cake went fast!

This dessert didn’t even have chocolate in it and I had one and a half pieces at the party and took two pieces home! Oops. Now everyone knows where all that cake went. Shoot. One piece was for Laurent. I wanted my wonderful husband to know the bliss of this coconut saffron cream cake, and the other piece was for me. I even publically threatened to decapitate him if he ate the other piece! Yes, it was that good and I have been watching too much True Blood, hence the violence! I also brought him a piece of Jane’s perfect pie. I made him share it with me, though :) If I hadn’t brought it home, he would have never tasted it, hence the “commission” .

That my friends were one of the tastiest  parties I have ever been too, not to mention the wonderful conversations among friends. It really reminded me of my most favorite day on the face of this earth, New Years Eve. You’ve heard about that foodie frenzy  among friends that happens every year that I live for. This group of people is as special to me and as talented. I am so lucky to work with this amazing group of people. I vote to make this happen quarterly. Actually Mary and I decided these quarterly parties should be themed. Next quarter will be Spanish appetizers, paired with Spanish wine , of course. Sangria anyone? I might just have to kick it up a notch next time, now that I know what I am up against. Let the friendly competition begin!

An amazing group of people eating an amzing meal!

Good Luck in London Jane. You and your pies will be missed dearly!

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Coming soon to a bar near you….

Oh boy, am I in trouble…..I have been MIA for a few weeks.  Here comes my excuse…I have been totally immersed in a Nia White Belt training for seven days, twelve hours a day.  And I had to get ready for my birthday party and then I had my birthday party and then I had to recover from my birthday party enough to tell you about it.  That should cover those few weeks. Phew! I know, I know, you are going what the heck is a Nia White Belt Training? Nia is something else that I am totally passionate about, just like food. It is the only form of exercise that I do and the only thing that I have stuck with…ever…for eight years now.   Nia is a form of movement that combines martial arts, dance arts and healing arts. Nia is all about Mind, Body, Emotion and Spirit. It is exercise and therapy all in one, and boy do I need both! There is no way I could describe the life changing experience I had without going over 3,000 words, so I will spare you. All I can say is click on the link find yourself a Nia class and give it a shot. I highly recommend Jamie Klausing’s classes. She is a Nia Black Belt that has been practicing for twelve years. She truly is an amazing teacher, an inspiration and a friend.

Here we go, my birthday party. Don’t ask how old, that is rude, you know. It is enough to say that I have stopped counting, or can’t count that high. Whatever. You probably want to know how much I weight now too, huh? No go on that one for sure. Actually, I would probably rather tell you my weight than my age!  See, I didn’t forget how to go on a tangent…and you were worried!

My birthday party is really the only party we have every year. I keep saying that we need to change that. My favorite thing to do is hang out with friends, especially my friends, because they are all foodies and amazing cooks. I guess I wouldn’t be hanging out with people who weren’t my friends or other people’s friends. Although that is how we got a lot of our friends. They were other people’s friends first, friends of friends and now they are some of our most favorite people on the face of the earth.  I am jumping into these tangents full force.

While there was good food at this party, that is a given, the focus was really on the booze this time! The theme was “cocktails” and not just any old cocktail like tired cosmopolitans or boring gin and tonics, cocktails made with the syrups I am making for the syrup company I am launching in the fall. Hmmmm, does that mean I can write off this party? I hope so. I invited my accountant.

I asked everyone to bring a bottle of booze, well, groups of people, otherwise that would have been out of control. At that our liquor cabinet is still full. I suggested that not everyone bring vodka, so everybody brought gin instead! It was funny. Actually that was said mostly for effect, mostly. We did have a lot of gin. We did have some creative bottles, though, too. Margaret brought grappa, excellent canvas. Erica got all old school and cleaned out her father’s liquor cabinet, just like in high school, and brought  Godiva , obviously we went to high school in two different decades, Kahlua, Crème de Banana, Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Amaretto. Luckily we didn’t get desperate enough to use the Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Although that would have been my choice over the cocktail made with ketchup and mustard. Sort of like a Bloody Mary, but not good, at all. Sorry Bil. Can’t say my friends are not creative.

I started out by trying all the cocktails people were making. Oh boy did that practice end soon! Yikes! Way to get trashed fast. This was my 34th birthday, not my 21st. (Don’t even think of writing in to tell me about my “typo”) It’s funny, as people were mixing away they would comment, “oh, this one is not so exciting”, and I would say, “Why don’t you just dump it and start over?” That was ALWAYS met with a “We can’t WASTE it!” It’s not like thirsty alcoholics in rural Appalachia would benefit from these drinks if you didn’t drink them. Waste them, so you do not get wasted people. Oops, too late.

Chris was the only smart one, she made tiny cocktails, tasters really. Boy does she have a great palate. The very first drink she made was named “Coke”. It was Godiva, club soda and Café de Olla Syrup (Brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, molasses and orange extract). It really did taste like Coca Cola. Don’t ask me how, but it did. Really. I still had my wits and my taste buds at that point.

Mindy made a good one with the Café de Olla Syrup also, and vermouth, mint and apricot nectar. Those are the drinks that intrigued me, the drinks made with the spiced syrups like Cardamom Rose Water, the Café de Olla and the Fig Vanilla Black Pepper.

Dana Joy of Real Food Rehab was also a natural, naturally. Her one drink contribution was sake, lychee and Lemongrass Shiso Syrup.  I think she only had one cocktail. How was that possible? I think the Bills and the Davids made up for it, so it all worked out in the end. Sort of.

The most interesting booze of the night arrived late, but we managed to polish off half a bottle of it. Richard and Michael brought Saffron Infused Gin made by a micro distiller in Dijon, France. Way to go boys.

This stuff was the color of my hair, a beautiful shade of orange and very unique. We all jumped on it. Laurent made an excellent drink with the saffron gin, lemon juice, lemon twist, mint, Hibiscus Basil Orange Blossom Syrup and fresh peach juice that our overachiever friend Seth juiced from Michigan peaches from the farmers market. Not a combo that I would have thought of at all, but boy did it work.

Another interesting alcohol was the bottle that Liz brought. We don’t know what it is! She has moved it from apartment to apartment to apartment and decided to put it out of its misery by bringing it to the party. Perfect. The writing on the bottle is Japanese, all Japanese. Hmmmmm. It looks and smells like a sake that has been aged in wood barrels. Not that I really know what a sake aged in wood barrels looks or smells like. It tastes a little like a whiskey but smoother. If anyone has any insight, send it my way. We went through a quarter bottle of it. I don’t see any recipes using it though.

As I go through the notebook I put out, I see tons of recipes from Jen and Bil. I am glad my friends took this task I put upon them so seriously. I kept screaming “Write it down” all night, but I don’t think anyone listened but those two. And Bil took it a step further and actually wrote down proportions. He is one serious mixologist or at least one serious drinker. (I shall leave that one alone.)

Jen took it a step further and named her soon to be infamous signature cocktail creation of Prosecco, gin, lemon zest and Tangerine Lavender Honey Syrup. People were already asking for it by name at the party. Coming to a bar near you soon…the Dutch 74. It has quite a ring to it, doesn’t it? I asked Jen if the name had any significance.  She said (or texted)  “ It’s based on a French 75, so I named it after my ancestry and year of birth.” (Oops, gave away your age if people are not too lazy to do the math. Not something you have to worry about yet, like some of us!) How awesome is that? It kicks a French 75s butt! Now who wants to be the first to put it on their cocktail menu? Violet Hour? Whistler? Come on, give the Dutch 74 its righteous place in cocktail history.

Now to wade through all the recipes and first figure out what the heck they say, as you could guess, it gets more illegible as the night continues, and then figure out proportions. (You can only ask drunk people to write down so much, besides Bil, who is on the almost on the cusp of Virgo, which explains it, in my mind, at least!)

Sounds like another party in the making!

"The Trouble Twins"

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Empty Bottle, full house……

If getting up at the crack of dawn to trek to a “clean cut” Lincoln Park Farmers Market  is not your idea of a great way to start a Saturday morning, check out the rebellious and  rockin’ Farmers Market at The Empty Bottle in Ukrainian Village, the third Saturday of the month. It starts at noon, just in time for a Bloody Mary made with Tomato Mountain Bloody Mary Mix, or my favorite, Templeton Rye Whiskey and Earth First Organics’ Apple Cider.

There weren’t any veggies this time of year at the market, but The Empty Bottle packed a full house of people sampling, tasting and buying delicious local culinary creations. I was so excited. There was something new to try each time I turned around. Right when you walk in the door is Macaron Chicago tempting you with caramel fleur de sel, apple cider, pecan honey, or chocolate orange macarons. These macarons are nothing like the dense coconut mounds we tend to think of as macaroons in the US. They are delicate, pillowy and light, but packed full of flavor. Beth bakes her confections locally out of Logan Square Kitchen, a shared use kitchen on Milwaukee Ave.

Right next to the heavenly macarons is Besto Pesto. The pesto is a bright fresh green color and is packed with basil flavor. They get their basil locally from Smits Farms. The pesto is great as a bread dip or paired with One Sister’s pastas or pierogi, which also happens to be at the market. My friend got some lamb pierogi that were very plump and rustic looking. I think the bright pesto will pair great with the gaminess of the lamb. Both of these small batch food producers will be featured at a tasting on February 13th at Provenance Food and Wine in Logan Square from 3:00-6:00. Sounds like a great start to a romantic Valentine’s Dinner at home!

I don’t know how I got started on this Valentine’s Day theme, but it IS a nice segway, so that’s how I am rollin’ for now! LOVE. Can you be in love with a loaf of bread? Don’t know if it is pc, but it was love at first sight when I saw the rustic crusty boules from Crumb (even in the crappy lighting at the bar, I knew they were beautiful, and I had to go home with one…or two of them.). I bought the walnut bread and the spicy provolone. One is great to eat with cheese and the other is filled with cheese, how could you go wrong?  Nice and crusty on the outside, so chewy on the inside. Fresh…. yeasty…. yummy. (I know, I’m babbling, sorry…love does that to me.)  I heard that Anne does a cranberry focaccia for the Logan Square Market. I can’t wait to try that next week. Let’s hope Chicago catches on quick and demands more venues…soon! You can follow Anne on Twitter to see where she’ll be next. Oh, you will need a loaf of this crusty goodness to go with the above mentioned pasta and pesto Valentine’s Dinner that you’re cooking at home.

I purposefully went to the farmers market, full, so I wouldn’t be tempted. That didn’t work, so I just threw in the towel and got fuller….but happy. I sampled Nice Cream’s ice creams. They have great flavors like spicy chocolate, gingersnap cookie, and vanilla mint. I am not a vanilla ice cream girl, give me something with chocolate and caramel and nuts any day, but this vanilla mint ice cream was amazing. They use real mint fresh from the garden, so it tastes like mint, not fake mint flavor and no garish green color either. Plus, it is actually has chocolate chunks in it, too, so it passed my test. Nice Cream has lots of pluses, besides the fact that it tastes great. Kris makes her nice cream with local, sustainable ingredients right down to the gingersnap cookies from Swim Café on Chicago Ave. Kris changes her flavors seasonally and will be rolling out exciting new flavors like Brownies n’ Stout made with Goose Island Bourbon County Stout and Tinycakes Brownies at Provenance Food and Wine in Logan Square on January 23rd from 4:00-6:00 and on January 30th at the Lincoln Square location from 2:00-4:00. I just love how Tracy at Provenance supports so many small, local, sustainable, artisan food producers. This whole post is a “shout out” to local small business people.

I was so happy to see Celestial Kitchens at the Empty Bottle. Celeste makes incredibly good pastries. They are textbook examples of what a pastry should look like and taste like. End of story. It’s that simple. Bacon scones, pear tarts, apple pies, beautiful quiches…..and her prices are so reasonable; $5 for a very filling Quiche Lorraine. What a steal! I have had her peanut butter and jelly bars in the past. To. Die. For. (Sorry, I won’t use that expression again, but I had to pull it out for these bars. It is worth the eye rolls!) Celestial Kitchens sells her perfect pastries at Cipollina, Milk and Honey, and Pastoral. Maybe we can start a mass movement to make them available at more cafes!

That was a wonderful Saturday well spent at the Empty Bottle Farmers Market. I don’t know how I am going to wait until February 20th for the next market and a chance to try and buy all those wonderful, local, artisan food products again. I can just taste that rye & cider cocktail….what a nice, new, 3rd Saturday of the month tradition.

P.S. I went a little “link crazy” in this post, but, like I said earlier, this is a post full of “shout outs” to local small businesses. We all need to support them, so they continue to survive and thrive and make Chicago a great city that buys local.

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Milling around appetizers and more…..

New Years Eve. I never much cared for the holiday until nine years ago when we were invited to a party by a foodie friend. The jist of it was that each couple cooked a course. We ate from 7:00 in the evening until 2:00 in the morning and now it is my favorite holiday ever! Oh my gosh, the excitement of NYE starts New Years Day, even before that first cup of coffee, when we start planning what we are going to make the next year. This is a serious “competition”. On the surface that is not what it is all about, but underneath it all, that is what drives us! Everyone pulls out all stops. Provencal fish soup with saffron rouille; cucumber kimchi with Asian pear, Korean chile, pine nuts and chives; strawberry black pepper granita; crushed potato cakes with arugula, black caviar and crème fraiche.

One year Seth, culinary school alum, constructed a whole medical themed “milling around” appetizer course, lobster bisque in syringes, tuna tartar with tobiko in Petri dishes, breadsticks in beakers. I will never choose the “milling around” appetizer course after that! Tough act to follow. We’ve come a long way. For foodies, there were quite a few obstacles to overcome, lactose intolerance, veganism (shudder), aversion to gelatin. That usually meant making two versions of a dish, such as Seth “meat is my middle name” Deysach always has to do, papradelle with braised lamb shank, wild mushrooms and veal demi glace for half the crew and papradelle minus the lamb shank and veal demi glace for the rest of the crew. Yes, we have come a long way, with everyone now at least being fishatarians, thank goodness. I think Laura’s lobster poached in five pounds of butter seven years ago might have been their downfall.

Yes, this party has evolved…courses are now served on matching dishes courtesy of Searah and Dawne and their addiction to shopping at CB2! Here is the exact email with photo included! No kidding!

“And I just wanted to let you know that we have the following dishes (so you can plan your plating!)…
24 Orange Apostrophe-shaped plates (very small)
14 Round white “bread” plates
12 Medium sized white appetizer plates (with rounded corners)
20 Large white dinner plates (with rounded corners)
16 Clear straight-sided double old-fashioned glasses (not good for hot)
20 Smallish White Oval Bowls


I have to say, I am a bit of a wine snob and was appalled that people spent days making their dishes and would bring Yellow Tail Chardonnay to quaff, or should I say swig. I talked everyone into handing over $25 per person and finalizing their dish by the day before, that was the hardest part, and I now pair all nine courses with appropriate wine, with Greg’s help, the bigger wine snob of the group!  We aren’t drinking gewürztraminer (as it starts at $17 a bottle, but we aren’t drinking liters of wine anymore either.) Last year was the most amazing, when Damien of Candid Wines paired our entire menu from his portfolio. Even the Yellow Tail die hards were swooning!

This year was a smaller group, eleven people instead of the normal eighteen. The emails, eighty in total, started flying on December 7th, to be exact, with everyone claiming their course. Searah always makes dessert and mignardise; those after dessert sweets that you eat at least four of, even though “you can’t eat another bite”. She has mignardise tattooed on the back of her neck, so no one argues with her. Plus she went to pastry school, enough said. I think this year was the best dessert yet, salted caramel pots de crème with chocolate sesame tuilles. Heaven!

Since Mr. Meat was absent this year, we took over the entrée, smoking duck and salmon days before the big event. These wonderful smoky meats were plated with roasted corn arepas, which I had been testing for weeks, a sour cherry sauce and topped with a slaw of shredded napa cabbage, Brussels sprouts & julienned beets in a creamy mustard dressing. Phew, a mouthful, a yummy one, though.

Cullen took a different strategy to impress. He went rustic and hearty, with a simple yellow winter vegetable soup of sweet potatoes, rutabagas, apples, carrots & paprika. This may have been understated, but talk about impressive. This is my new winter staple and it can be yours, too. The recipe follows.  It’s warming, comforting and simply delicious. Oh ya, I forgot to tell you, the secret weapon in it is butter. Mmmm…. Mmmmm… good. Thanks Cullen.

Actually I want to thank Laura, too, for inviting us to this wonderful celebration of good friends, good food and great style. I can’t think of a better way to spend NYE.

“Yellow Winter Vegetable Soup”

Serves 8-10 (or 15!)

3 carrots, coarsely chopped.
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped.
1 rutabaga, peeled and coarsely chopped.
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped.
10 cups chicken stock
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 stick of butter, softened.
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.

6 green onions, chopped
1 tsp. paprika

Place the carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and apples in big pot and cover with chicken stock.  Stir in the salt and pepper.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Cook until vegetables, are very tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain and reserve the stock.  Return the cooked vegetables to the pot.  Add the butter, nutmeg, rosemary.  Roughly mash veggies with a potato masher until chunky.  Return the stock to the pot and bring to a low simmer.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into individual bowls.  (ed. note.–where else would you ladle it???)

Garnish with green onions and paprika.

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