Dinner Party Menu: September

dinner-party-menu-september

September! One of my favorite months. In Texas, things start cooling down. In Wisconsin, things really start cooling down and you can smell fall in the air. That crispness makes everything feel so fresh and so rejuvenating. Texas misses out on the fall season a little bit, which would be sad except that September is the start of the state fair. So, crisp Wisconsin air vs. Texas corn dogs. Tough call.

Septembers are usually busy for people, which in my mind makes it an extra good month to have a dinner party. People will appreciate it! And for you, the one cooking, make something easy! And eat outside, maybe with sunflowers as your centerpiece.  This is one of the few months where I genuinely like eating outside – a reasonable/borderline cool temperature and less bugs. Most other months I am forced to come up with an excuse to my husband why we can’t eat outside. Mosquitoes. Wind. Hot. Too sunny.  If you have any other ideas, please LMK.

The Menu

Appetizer: The best spinach artichoke dip you’ll ever make

Main:        Super delicious pulled pork tacos

Side:         Dole BBQ ranch chopped salad (store-bought)

Dessert:    Store bought pie, preferably chocolate

As I’ve said before, only make a couple of things. It makes it so much easier on you and leaves more time for sipping margaritas.

To execute:

  1. About 5 hours before, start the pork.
  2. One hour before, make the dip
  3. Right before guests arrive, shred the pork and get the tortillas/toppings ready (i.e., cheese and sour cream). Assemble salad.
  4. There’s hardly any instructions here because it’s that easy.

Roasted Vine Tomatoes

roasted-vine-tomatoes

I really like vegetables in their natural form. I can vividly remember going to the farmer’s market with my mom when I was a kid and being blown away that carrots actually had green tops on them just like the ones Bugs Bunny ate. Yep. Until then we had only been exposed to those convenient yet mysterious peeled little mini carrots. (PS – why do those look nothing like real carrots, other than the color?)

So of course I had to convince my mom to buy these crazy authentic carrots for me…and she happily agreed but then things went horribly wrong. The guy grabbed the carrots, took the money, and then before I could even protest he CHOPPED the green tops right off. Threw them away. Bagged our now-ordinary-looking carrots. I can still feel the devastation. I was sure that I would never encounter bugs bunny carrots again.

Well, I’m 34 now and I’m pleased to tell you that I have. I’ve had many opportunities to hold, eat, and cook carrots with the tops on, and I do. They taste better. They look pretty. They are so easy to roast and look great for dinner parties.

And while this recipe does not involve carrots in any way, it does involve tomatoes with the vine still attached. Like I just plucked them from my garden. You see? There’s something very simple and gorgeous about it. I didn’t actually pluck them from my garden, however, because I’m on my third straight summer of killing my tomato plants.

Anyway. Buy these tomatoes on the vine. Brush them with olive oil. Salt them with kosher salt (tomatoes love salt!). Bake them for 15-20 minutes at 350. That’s it!

Chicken Paillard (ish)

chicken-paillard-ish

Chicken paillard is one thing I see on a menu and always just keep on scrollin’.  In most circumstances, I don’t really want a pounded-thin breast of chicken atop ‘lightly dressed’ greens when I’m out to dinner. Lightly dressed? I LOVE RANCH. The full fat kind.

But recently, I’ve been trying to cook more simply during the week. Simple stuff. Relatively healthy. Not 7 million sides. And I opened my eyes and heart to chicken paillard and you know what? It’s just lovely. I breaded mine, but you could easily skip that step. I’m just trying to make sure I hang on to those last 4 pounds of baby weight.

Recipe

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded thin or butterflied
  • 1 cup italian bread crumbs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • s&p
  • olive oil
  • 1 bag butter/bibb lettuce
  • sunflower seeds
  • This lemon vinaigrette

Start by coating each of the chicken breasts in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Coat a large nonstick pan with olive and heat to medium high.  Working in batches, cook the chicken breasts about 3 minutes per side.  While the chicken is cooking, toss the lettuce with some sunflower seeds and lemon vinaigrette (I like to ‘heavily dress’). Serve the chicken ‘atop’ these greens.

The Best Lemon Vinaigrette

the-best-lemon-vinaigrette

Lemon vinaigrette is something that didn’t even slightly appeal to me until about two years ago. I just couldn’t get on the lemon bandwagon except for the sliver that they put in my cosmopolitan.  Then I went to Eatzi’s one day for a heavy dose of sampling (SW pepper dip and cinnamon roll, mainly), and I went crazy and got the lemon dressing on my salad. I was immediately obsessed. So much so that I called Eatzi’s later that day and asked what ingredients they put in it (which I’m sure was a much appreciated phone call for a place that is bustling with customers morning, noon, and night). To my surprise though, the guy couldn’t have been nicer and actually told me what was in it. He didn’t have the measurements, but this was certainly a good start. So now I make my own and we douse our salads in it. It doesn’t taste EXACTLY like Eatzi’s, but it’s darn close. And that’s how I officially stepped on the lemon bandwagon. Except lemon cake. I will never be a fan of lemon cake. Cake should never include fresh/healthy produce, IMO.

Recipe

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 large)
  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher/coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1/2 minced garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, whisk or shake hard to combine and thicken, and serve it on everything! PS this would probably be a great summer chicken marinade.

Dinner Party Series: August

dinner-party-series-august

I’m failing on the blog front lately, but I can’t help it. My twins are BUSY and I’m hanging on by a thread. Not just from keeping up with them all day long, but making sure they’re learning and growing each day – that’s a challenge. Or maybe that’s just pressure moms put on themselves unnecessarily; babies used to literally grow up in caves and they were still helping their moms hunt for dinner by the age of 5.

Anyway, this dinner party post is too late. You really only have 8 days left to use it. Just kidding! Because I’m selecting grilled pizza for this month, and pizza is good ALWAYS. And I’m using grilled pizza for this month because we just went to a dinner party at my friend Annie’s house and grilled pizzas were the theme, and it was perfect. It was so much fun, really interactive, and at the end we got to eat PIZZA. I also feel like we all really bonded over the stressful yet satisfying act of rolling out pizza crust into something reasonable looking.

I’m offering two approaches here – buy the pizza stuff and make the salad, or make the pizza stuff and buy the salad.

Menu

Appetizer: Simple platter of roasted nuts and summer fruit

Pizza:        Homemade grilled pizza here and here or buy all the stuff    somewhere like Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas

Salad:        Italian Chopped Salad or buy a prepared/bagged salad at the store

Dessert:    Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

To execute:

  1. Bake cheesecake the day before.
  2. If making pizza, prepare the dough the night before or morning of. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Prepare nut/fruit plate before guests arrive.
  4. Prepare salad before guests arrive.
  5. When ready to grill pizzas, roll out the dough, brush with oil, and grill on high heat first without the toppings. When dough crisps up, add toppings and return to grill until cheese melts.

Teddy Bear Birthday Cake

teddy-bear-birthday-cake

I can tell you right now that one of the greatest joys of my life will be making my boys’ birthday cakes year after year. I love nothing more than homemade chocolate cake, and when I’m making one for such a happy joyous occasion, my heart explodes. I can’t wait to make them in the form of C-3PO or Batman or Sponge Bob of whoever these little guys of mine are obsessed with at the moment. And BTW, they WILL each get their own cake every year. They didn’t this year because they just really have no idea, and I personally am not in a place where I need two birthday cakes kicking around the house. I simply cannot control myself.

I’m not going to say how fast this year went because that’s a given. What has truly surprised me though is the amount of shear joy I get from these two little boys, and the strong bond that we have after only one year of life together. I can’t imagine a world without them in it. I also can’t imagine having only one of them – they are undeniably a perfect pair and my heart grew times a thousand to make room for the true love and obsession I have for these two baby boys.

Onto the cake. Just to put it out there, I am a terrible froster, terrible cake slicer, terrible artist, and I have zero patience for cake decorating. When I make my own birthday cake I literally slap on the frosting and douse it in sprinkles.  So when you consider making this cake, a) you’ll obviously note my less than perfect frosting job – but I’m telling myself that’s part of the baby theme and b) know that if I can make this, you FOR SURE can.  There’s something about my hands that just don’t agree with frosting cakes. So. I would definitely say as far as shaped cakes go, this is easy!

What you’ll need:

  • 2 8 inch round cake pans, buttered, floured, and lined with parchment (bottom)
  • 1 3.5 inch round cookie cutter
  • 1 large marshmallow
  • 2 flat chocolate discs (or something similar, for eyeballs)
  • Black gel icing (in a tube)

Cake Recipe

Frosting

  • 5 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 sticks butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup + 1-2 tablespoons milk, divided
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted and divided
  • 1/3 cup semi- sweet chocolate chips, melted

Make the cake in the two 8 inch round pans, and let cool completely.  One will be for the face, the other will be used for the ears and nose.  Level the cake with a serrated knife if necessary.  Using the cookie cutter, cut out 3 circles from one of the cakes. One will be the snout, the other two will be the ears. Using a knife, cut off little rounded edges on the bottom of the ears so that they can lay flat against the top of the head.

To make the frosting, cream the butter and powdered sugar together. Add the vanilla and 1/4 cup of the milk. Add in just 1 tablespoon of the cocoa.  This will be the light brown frosting for the ears and snout. Remove about 1 cup of this frosting to a separate bowl.  In main bowl, add in remaining 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, melted chocolate chips, and remaining 1 tablespoon of milk (more as needed).  Frost the bear’s face and ears with the dark chocolate frosting. Frost the snout with the light brown, and add little dollops of the light brown for the center of the ears.

For the eye, cut two white eyeballs from the marshmallow by cutting off either end about 1/8 inch thick.  Secure the chocolate disk onto the marshmallow using a little frosting.  Place the frosted snout on the bear’s face, then add the eyes on top.  Paint on a nose and mouth with the black gel.  And that’s it! The snout tasted the best.

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