Black as night Halloween dinner

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This Halloween night, I put together a meal as dark as my ride home from work will be after daylight savings this weekend. First up was the cocktail above. I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask what was in it, but despite it’s gloomy appearance, it was super fruity!

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Next up, white button mushroom stuffed with kalamata tapenade. Topped with a sliver of pecorino and broiled for 2 minutes, these were a tasty grown up riff on edible eyeballs.

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Last up, spooktacular black beans and rice! Happy Halloween, you ghosts and goblins!

Black as night Halloween dinner

20131031-194120.jpg

This Halloween night, I put together a meal as dark as my ride home from work will be after daylight savings this weekend. First up was the cocktail above. I didn’t make it and I didn’t ask what was in it, but despite it’s gloomy appearance, it was super fruity!

20131031-194357.jpg

Next up, white button mushroom stuffed with kalamata tapenade. Topped with a sliver of pecorino and broiled for 2 minutes, these were a tasty grown up riff on edible eyeballs.

20131031-194621.jpg

Last up, spooktacular black beans and rice! Happy Halloween, you ghosts and goblins!

A BIG hello to my new friend!

I am very sorry to report that there is no Insta-Party post this Wednesday. I was too busy having a fantastic time visiting my friend Jess this past weekend to work one up! However, she did make me a terrific new dip that will be making an appearance shortly. I did pick up this lovely gentleman pictured above during my visit, though. His name is Door McHandlebar. He’s quite charming, and obviously dapper. He did spend the first day of our acquaintance stuck to the side of the husband’s Jeep, but I think he is better suited to this new location. Wishing you a splendid Wednesday!

Party, On! – Fondue

Fondue

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog and what I’m trying to do/say with it. What it boils down to is I want to encourage and inspire YOU to throw a party! So, in 2012, each month I’ll be sharing a Party, On! post where I breakdown an objection I have heard that prevents someone from stepping up to the hostess plate. This month I’m tackling the number one reason I hear from people in my generation (I’m looking at you 20 to 30 somethings) – I can’t cook. Friends, welcome to the fondue party, where your guests do all the cooking! If you can wield a knife without severing a finger and manage to stir with a spoon, you CAN do this party!

Fondue and I go back a long way. In high school, my friend Rachel and I discovered her parents had not one, but two fondue sets, complete with lazy susans and tiny bowls for sauces. Harnessing my budding hostess yearnings, we set out to coordinate the finest fondue party Reston, Virginia had seen since 1973. Armed with a small budget (from several evenings of babysitting) and the original cookbook for one of the fondue sets, we gathered our ingredients and got to work.

Now, being 16, neither of us were accomplished cooks, but that was the major draw of the fondue party, we didn’t have to be! Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you a fondue party takes no effort. It actually takes quite a bit of prep work, but none of it is difficult. At our tender ages, we were still well equipped to stir together sauces and chop vegetables and meat.

If you have ever been to a Melting Pot restaurant, you already know the proper format for a fondue party: Cheese, Salad, Meat, Chocolate. You also know that 4 guests is a magic number for fondue. Any more, and there is major fork confusion. Any less, and it hardly seems worth the effort! If you’re not lucky enough to own a fondue pot, ask around and someone will gladly lend you theirs. Now, don’t freak out, but the shopping lists and instructions for each course is below.

Cream Cheese Fondue – this is NO FAIL easy-peasy cheese fondue. Plus, it’s delicious. Serves 4.

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 Tablespoon sherry or white wine

1 cup half and half

8 ounces cream cheese (light is OK)

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 baguette, cut into 1″ cubes

1 Granny Smith apple. cut into 1″ cubes

In fondue pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallots and saute 2-3 minutes until softened. Add sherry/wine and allow to almost evaporate, 1-2 minutes. Add half and half, reduce heat to low. Cut cream cheese into slices and add to pot. Stir until melted. Add Parmesan and Swiss cheeses, stir until melted. Add lemon juice, stir well. Fork those bread cubes and apples and dig in. When all the cheese is consumed, clean the fondue pot.

Salad, nothing special, just to clean the palate for the meat

One bag’o salad

Vinaigrette of your choice

Toss salad and vinaigrette. Serve.

Meat and Mushroom Fondue

1-1/2 pounds meat of your choice, chicken, steak, shrimp, fish cut into 1″ cubes

8 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and stems removed

4 cups chicken broth

Sauces (recipes below)

Heat chicken broth in fondue pot to boiling. Stab meat and cook in hot broth. Eat with sauces.

Fondue

No we’re getting to the interesting part of a fondue party – the sauces. Here are a few that I really like, but feel free to try out others.

Fondue

Sweet, Sour, and Spicy Fondue Sauce

1/8 cup hot pepper preserves

2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

Combine all ingredients and serve. Best with chicken and shrimp

Fondue

Dijon Dill Sauce

1/8 cup sour cream

1/8 cup mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried dill

Combine all ingredients and serve. Best with chicken and mushrooms.

Green Goddess Sauce

1/8 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 Tablespoons chopped green onions

1 teaspoon white vinegar

Combine all ingredients and serve. Good with pretty much everything.

Chocolate Fondue

Well, I thought I had a recipe saved, but darn if I can put my hands on it. This one from Michael Chiarello seems pretty close to what I normally do, and it’s a lot easier to link to him than go through my decade of recipe notes!

Yes, I know it’s a lot of ingredients and prep, but there really is nothing too hard about putting together a fantastic fondue party. No cooking skills required! I hope if you’ll give it a try and let me know how it goes!

Insta-Party: Whiskey Sours with Endive, Roast Beef, and Blue Cheese

Endive with roast beef, blue cheese and whiskey sours

I hear it’s a no-no to talk too much about work on your blog. So, I’ll just say I’m involved in a fun, big, time-consuming project that is zapping a lot of my creative energy. But not in a bad way, just in an ‘I’m way too exhausted to blog after work’ kind of way. Case in point, I shot this Insta-Party two weekends ago, but am only just now getting around to the write up. Once my work project goes live, I’ll clue you in about my part in it and hopefully you’ll forgive me for not starting 2012 with a bang here at the Ready, Set, Party blog!

Onto the party. How do you feel about Belgian endive? It’s a winter vegetable, so you may have seen it in little baskets in the produce aisle. It’s kind of alien looking, being all pale and kind of pointy. Then there’s the added difficulty with pronunciation because inevitably your cashier will have no idea what this tiny weird lettuce thing is. I usually spit out the Americanized EN-DIVE (just like it’s written! Easy to find on that rolling wheel of produce). But sometimes, if caught off-guard, my inner Francophile emerges and I say ON-DEEVE. Then I get a blank stare and a pointed ‘How do you spell that?’

Endive with roast beef, blue cheese and whiskey sours

Anyway, don’t let those obstacles stop you. Belgian endive leaves are a terrific vehicle for any dip or filling. And, they’re practically calorie free, for any of you still on the New Years bandwagon.

Endive, Roast Beef, Blue Cheese, serves 4

2 Belgian endives, separated into leaves and well washed

4 thin slices roast beef from the deli counter

2 ounces blue cheese

Drizzle of any old vianegrette

Pull the slices of roast beef into smaller pieces and stuff a bit into each Belgian endive leaf. Crumble the blue cheese and put a little on top of the roast beef. Drizzle each leaf with a little dressing and serve.

Endive with roast beef, blue cheese and whiskey sours

The whiskey sour is an easy classic. You can get all fancy like with homemade simple syrups and fresh squeezed citrus, or you can combine one part whiskey with two parts bottled sour mix and be ready to drink in a quarter of the time. Add a cherry if you want to amp up the fancy!

Holiday Open House…The Food (And how to make sugar coated cranberries!)

Holiday Open House Spread 2011

We had such a great time at our open house this year. So much fun, in fact, that these are the only pictures I took! About 25 of our dearest friends joined us this year. The house was pretty packed at times, but full of love and laughter and spiced cider. We started at 7:30 PM, so I went ‘light’ on the food. In the past, we’ve had heavier options (ham, homemade brined turkey breast, sandwiches), but I went strictly with finger food this year. But, we’ll start with the sweets because life is short and dessert should come first. The glorious cake above is a Barb Moore cake. It’s my mother’s signature cake, and therefore is named after her. I believe the original name was Irish Cream Cake, so you can imagine why it’s popular.

Holiday Open House Spread 2011

This, my friends, is mid-west heaven on a plate. My new boss gave each of us (several) pecan kringles. It’s dense and gooey and still flaky and so, so very good. I’m gaining 5 pounds just thinking about it.

I garnished both the kringle and Barb Moore cake with sugar coated cranberries. They were stupid easy to make, extremely pretty, and even tasted good! Do as follows to make your own: Combine 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a pot. Heat, stirring continuously until sugar dissolves. Do not allow to boil. Remove from heat and dump in 1 cup fresh and washed cranberries. Stick the pot in the fridge to cool. After an hour, drain cranberries and reserve. Get a big bowl and put some sugar in it. Toss cranberries in small batches in sugar and set on a wax paper lined tray to dry. They’ll harden up and be sparkly and delicious. I’m thinking they would be yummy dropped in some champagne, too!

Holiday Open House Spread 2011

The rest of the spread was really simple. Pesto pinwheels: Buy puff pastry. Thaw puff pastry. Spread all over with pesto and roll up. Cut into 1/4″ slices, brush with egg whites, bake at 400 for 10 minutes. SIMPLE, but yummy!

Holiday Open House Spread 2011

Cheese: Buy cheese. Cut cheese. Arrange on platter with grapes. Garnish with an adorable mouse knife given to you by your fabulous gay friend (optional).

Holiday Open House Spread 2011

Pickled mini-peppers stuffed with mozzarella: Drain and de-seed a jar of sweet mini-peppers and stuff with fresh mozzarella. Ok, these sound easy, until you know I pickled those baby peppers with my bare hands this summer. They are truly a labor of love. I bought so many pints of fresh, sweet, mini-peppers that the FARMER asked me what I was going to do with them! Answer, a delicious pickle. (He’d never even pickled them!) IF you don’t have it in you to pre-plan and pickle your own mini-peppers from Farmer Rosemary Pete, buy a jar of peppadews and stuff them with bits of  mozzarella. If you don’t live in the South and can’t find peppadews, well, try those cute little Spanish Piquillo peppers.

I’m going to have a houseful of guests from now through Christmas and then I am traveling to my grandparents’ for New Year’s, so this is the last post until 2012. I hope you all have a terrific Christmas (if you celebrate) and a wonderful New Year! Thanks for all your comments, support, tweets, pins, emails, and such. I am so lucky and looking forward to a wonderful next year here at Ready, Set, Party! Kisses!

DIY inspiration and who doesn’t hate change?

Don’t you hate how even though you know it’s coming, change can still punch you right in the face? Today is my last day at my soon-to-be-former job. It’s been an unhappy position for awhile and I am lucky enough to have found a new job that I think/hope/wish will be much better for me. But the transition has not been without anguish and it’s taken a toll. However, I am looking forward to a bright new beginning and getting back on track.

That said, I have a new DIY project in the works. These images are part of the inspiration for it. Can you guess what it might be? Check back next week for full instructions!