Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Sweet Smell of Success (or Oh My Aching Back...)

Last night was my dear friends anniversary party that I spent the last week preparing for since I was catering the food. It was a great time for everyone, including me! Well, it was a great time most of the time for me and there were really only two kitchen disasters; one at home and one that involved a Rachel Ray recipe (heaven help me).

A few months ago, my two friends took me out to dinner and asked me if I would mind helping them celebrate their anniversary or more specifically the ceremonial opening of a massive bottle of French Bordeaux they received on their wedding day. They wanted me there as a guest foremost but also wondered if I would do the food as well because they couldn't think of anyone else they would would rather have cater their party. I was honoured and agreed to do the party. My friends wanted something simple that their family and friends would enjoy and allow everyone to mingle and mix; especially since it would be an eclectic mix of people. They wanted a large spread of appetizers and desserts with only three specific requests: no red meat, nothing to pedestrian with the exception of two or three dishes for a few family members who weren't too "worldly", and there had a be a re-creation of their wedding cake; German Chocolate Cake. A few dinners or meetings at their house over a bottle of wine and here was the menu we came up with:

Fried Polenta and Chorizo (and some plain with dipping sauces)
Sesame Ginger Grilled Prawns
Buttermilk Oven Fried Wings
Grilled Eggplant Stacks (rounds of marinated grilled eggplant layered with fresh mozzorella, roasted red peppers, and sprinkled withe capers)
Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Phyllo cups
Baked Brie with Fruit

Mixed Cheese Platter (nothing too exotic: Extra Sharp NY Cheddar, smoked gouda, dill havarti, herbed cherve, English Farmers, Cambert)
Homemade Potato Chips
Proscuitto wrapped honeydew and cantalope
Oven Fried Ravioli with homemade marinara
Wasabi Potato Balls (courtesy of Je Mange La Ville)
Smoked Lake Superior Whitefish Pate

German Chocolate Cake (the same one we made in Cleveland)

Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cupcakes (another request from my friends and so good I had the left over batter and frosting for dinner Friday night!)

Mini Chocolate Chip Cheese Cake
All American Cookie Platter: chocolate chip, oatmeal scotchies, blondies
Italian Cookie Platter (provided by the couple, she comes from a large Italian family and she knew she had to have this or face the family!)
Jordan Almonds

Coffee, aperitifs, and wine; including the imperial bottle of 1989 Chateau Talbot St. Julian Bordeaux that was the guest of honor.

Putting all this together was hard work but even with the long nights this week, being on my feet for over sixteen hours yesterday including both morning prep and the actual working the party and the two snafus, it was so worth seeing how happy everyone with the food. I got complements all night and except the aforementioned Rachel Ray Fried Polenta with Chorizo that everyone liked but I thought fried up like crap and weren't that spectacular tasting (the polenta got oily from the Chorizo and left a mess in the pan. Maybe I should have bought the yucky store made polenta her recipe called for instead of making my own?), by 9pm people were walking around with that happy face of a successful party.

When most of the guests left at 10pm there were hardly any leftovers with the exception of a few baskets of potato chips and a few cupcakes (the recipe makes twenty-four) and 1/2 of the cheesecake and that was when the best part party happened. After most the guests had left, leaving a few former colleagues and I including the host and hostess, we gathered up the remnants of the feast and sat around the kitchen until 1am chatting about old times and catching up while drinking the last of the very drinkable, very smooth Bordeaux.

The winning foods you ask? The grilled eggplant stacks, the fig and blue cheese stuffed phyllo cups, the wasabi potato balls (yes, yes, yes!!) and the German chocolate cake.

Fig and Blue Cheese Stuffed Phyllo Cups
Serves 30

4 packages frozen phyllo cups
2 8 oz packages of dried figs
4 Tbsp Butter
3 medium yellow onions, diced
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp thyme
1/2 lb Blue Cheese

Day Before: In food processor, chop figs until fine and place in medium bowl and set aside. In large pan and on medium heat, melt butter and caramelize onion (add more butter as needed but not too much) and add to figs. Mix salt, thyme, and vineagar and deglaze pan. Cook down to 3/4 cup on low heat. Stir sauce into fig and onion mixture and let sit overnight for flavours to marry.

To assemble: Using 1tsp of fig mixture, fill phyllo shells and top with little chunk of blue cheese, place on large rimmed cookie sheet. This can be done a couple hours ahead of party but don't do this any sooner or the mixture will soften the phyllo shells.

To bake: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake on cookie sheet for 7-10 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve immediately

Other serving ideas: The fig spread is wonderful served cold on slices of crispy French bread along side a salad