August 18, 2012

Linguine & Clams

Linguine & clams is a dinner that I have wanted to do all summer long.  In May, Greg and I were stuck at the Cabo airport and I spent the time making lists of all of the parties I wanted to do this summer, and this menu was at the top of the list.  So when my friend Brittany asked me to help put together a surprise dinner party for her friend's birthday, and mentioned that pasta is her favorite, I knew this was the moment.  Italian food is just so good for a party because it's simple, seasonal and comforting to all.  Being obsessed with bright green castelvetrano olives, I've been wanting to try Chris Cosentino's roasted version from his inspiring cookbook Beginnings: they did not disappoint.  In the same way that warming nuts makes them extra special, the olives took on a deeper layer of flavor after spending fifteen minutes in a hot oven.  Unsure of what to do with the cute baby zucchini and patty pan squashes that I bought at the farmers market, I decided to fill them with the toppings I normally put on top of crostini.  I'm excited to have a new vessel for appetizers.  The menu got rounded out by some of my summer go-to sides and finished off with my new favorite dessert for entertaining.  I've been noticing semifreddos on the menus of several restaurants and pulled out a recipe that I clipped from the June 2011 Bon Appetit but had yet to try (there is a messy stack of hundreds more such clippings in my desk).  The creamy cool layers of strawberry, pistachio and vanilla were a fantastic end to an el fresco Italian summer dinner.  Click on links to the recipes for the olives & semifreddo below.
The Menu






mixed cherry tomato &  basil crostini

lemon & artichoke crostini

ricotta, sun-dried tomato & thyme stuffed squash

white beans & pepper stuffed baby zucchini


to start

cantaloupe, honeydew melon, prosciutto & mint

grilled peaches, burrata & arugula

grilled caesar salad


linguine & clams


warm espresso chocolate cookies
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August 11, 2012

Mediterranean Grill Party: Cheat A Little...

If last year was the year of Southern BBQ, then this summer has been the time for  Mediterranean grill--with some twists.  Whether it's to eat a little lighter & fresher, or simply for the sake of mixing things up, people really enjoy these bright, and often refreshing, flavors.  Snacks like hummus, eggplant spread, stuffed grape leaves, pistachios, pita chips & crudités can be store-bought, prettily arranged, set out and left alone.  (Full disclosure: I'm a maniac and make it all from scratch, but I know not everyone has the time).  Though I'm a big fan of mixing store-bought ingredients with homemade, it is really important where one gets the goods.  I'm a believer in the extra stops: they're worth it.  For instance, finding a great Middle Eastern market or falafel stand with fresh hummus, makes for a far more delicious spread than anything pre-packaged from the store.  And while there are some great ice creams in each frozen aisle, nothing beats local Carmela ice cream, sold at farmers markets and in their new retail location.  We put out a dozen pints of their seasonal flavors--strawberry buttermilk, mint chip with cacoa nibs and, my favorite, lavender honey--and it was a real treat for guests to scoop up their own summery sundaes.  It could've been a party in and of itself.  In between the snacks and the sweets, we grilled kebabs and made salads with plenty of crunch, tang, salt & sweet.  It's also the summer of the grilled peach; I can't stop.   Arugula, balsamic and Marcona almonds are the peach's best friends.  (When the peach is feeling amorous it also likes to flirt with burrata and gorgonzola).  And, even if you buy everything else, make your own tzatziki...I get so many compliments on the Barefoot Contessa's recipe: it's worth every step (straining the yogurt with cheesecloth is key).  

The Menu


mint iced tea

cucumber mint gimlets


stuffed grape leaves

crudites with hummus & eggplant caviar

olives & pistachios

fig crackers with fig jam, french feta & mint


rosemary lamb kebabs

oregano lemon chicken kebab

zucchini, summer squash & pepper kebabs


farro, ricotta, artichoke, kalamata olives & dill

sprouted chickpeas, lentils, sunflower sprouts, sunflower seeds, fennel & lemon

cherry tomatoes, cucumber, french feta, pita chips & red wine vinaigrette

grilled peaches, marcona almonds & arugula

melon & mint


lavender honey, strawberry buttermilk, mint cacao chip, lemon basil sorbet, peach, dark chocolate cacao nib

figs, berries & candy toppings

chocolate chip cookies

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August 2, 2012

Quinceanera Fiesta

I can't take all of the credit for this one.  The entire inspiration for this party came from my friend Courtney, who threw herself a Quinceanera for her 29th birthday party.  For those who don't know, a Quinceanera is the birthday celebration for a fifteen year old girl in many Latin American cultures--similar to a Sweet Sixteen.  Courtney's party was very festive and something about this theme just screams fun.  So, when my friend Amie wanted an especially raging 40th birthday shindig, the bright colors, crazy dresses and spicy foods that I associate with a Quinceanera, seemed like a great fit.  Luckily she was down so we really went for it: a mariachi band, a donkey, a tequila bar (with a signature drink named after the guest of honor) and a turquoise and pink color scheme.  Now, by a landslide, my favorite part of this party hung in the air above the guests.  There is a magical corner in Los Angeles known as the pinata district.  I was absolutely giddy on my trip there to buy decorations for the party; I couldn't stop buying large donkey pinatas.  It was so exciting that I lost all sense of practicalities: e.g. how would I get over a dozen donkeys into my car? Well, with the seats laid flat, pinatas piled like lincoln logs and bright crepe paper sticking out of open windows, I made my way home on the 101 freeway, looking like a certifiable crazy person.  (There may or may not have been a donkey--or two--on my lap).  I'm not saying it wasn't dangerous, but I will say that it was well worth the risk.  Pinatas are fun--fact--and having so many was very high visual impact.  The other high impact moment of the night was the pig that roasted on a spit throughout the party.  Once sliced, the juicy pork was served alongside drunken beans, grilled corn with queso fresco, chili, cilantro & lime, caesar salad and saffron rice.  For dessert, warm churros in cups of sweet dulce de leche sauce, were a real treat.  Luckily, after enjoying plenty of 'The Amie"s, a smoky ginger margarita, Amie's friends enjoyed their first Quinceanera as much as I loved mine.
The Menu


the amie
silver tequila, ginger, mescal, lime

spicy fiesta
silver tequila, serrano chills, lime

gin, cucumber, lime

quinceanera paloma
vodka, grapefruit

corona & pacifico


padron peppers

salsa bar with chips
tomatillo mint salsa, roasted chipotle salsa, pico de gallo, fire salsa & limey quacamole

ceviche on scallop shells

shrimp cocktail

oysters on the half shell


roast pig 

drunken pinto beans with corona 

saffron rice

roasted corn, cilantro, lime, chili & queso fresco

caesar salad


cinnamon churros with dulce de leche sauce

mexican spiced chocolate cookies