In late February, sensing the end of Winter 2011-2012 was near, I decided to give the insanely mild winter a final farewell with a feast only those who cherish a good cold weather can appreciate: meaty shortribs braised in cabernet, served with gorgonzola polenta and mixed herb gremolata and paired with excessive amounts of wine. Yes, this meal will stick to your ribs but at least it will be warm enough outside for you to run it off. With a plan in mind, I e-mailed Alex and Emily to see whether they want to collaborate on the meal. Emily decided to provide the ingredients for the polenta to make at the apartment and Alex offered to help with the short ribs. To make the meal an event, we invited Alex’s friend Frances and fellow runner Pete, both of whom brought wine to pair with the dinner.
The afternoon of the dinner, Alex and I went to Safeway to pick up the ingredients for dinner and ended up buying all of the short ribs in stock for a total of 20 short ribs. Looking back, that was insanely excessive, but at the time, we were in the mood for excess. We also bought two of the cheapest bottles of cabernet sauvignon on the shelves in which the short ribs would braise. To make up for that purchase in bad wine karma, we picked up a bottle of sparkling wine to start off the evening as well. At evening’s end the bottle count for this gluttonous dinner would total five and a half: 2 for cooking, 1 for pre-dinner socializing, and 2.5 to go with dinner. Finally, to finish off the evening on an even more decadent note, I brought out three pints of ice cream (whiskey & pecans, dark milk chocolate, and goat cheese with port figs) from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio that my friend Gabby sent me for my birthday earlier that month. A carton of Whole Foods vanilla was also available as a palette cleanser. Sometimes, I wonder if I am giving myself or my guests heart disease by serving such rich dinners but it’s hard to think about that when facing the comforting trifecta of braised short ribs, polenta, and ice cream.
Like nearly all Americans, both roommate Alex and I are huge fans of Mad Men. Since late fall, we have frequently mentioned hosting a party to celebrate the show’s undoubtedly triumphant return from a long hiatus and the start of the fifth season. At the time, March 2012 seemed so far away and we would only drop a few words here and there like, “we should make updated versions of 60s classics,” or “everyone should dress up like characters in Mad Men.” As the day drew near, Alex and I solidified our plans for this bonanza; we would indeed make everyone dress up in Mad Men inspired garb, and delicious and updated versions of 60s classics would be had. We invited a dozen or so of our dearest Mad Men loving friends and laid out the conditions for the evening: dinner from 7:00pm until 9:00pm when the show would start, no talking while the show is on, and yes, dressing up is required under penalty of exile.
Clams Casino from Tom & Shelley
Deviled Eggs, also from Tom & Shelley
That Sunday, I tapped into my inner Betty Draper and made two bacon covered meatloaves and Mothers Ruin Punch while Alex made green bean casserole.
A glass of mother's ruin punch
Alex's Green Bean Casserole
Not to be outdone, our guests brought over inspired dishes such as deviled eggs, clams casino, scalloped potatoes, spinach salad, bacon wrapped dates, and jello with cool whip.
EJ's scalloped potatoes
Needless to say, we had a feast at hand. All in all the night was a hit: everyone had a great time, the food was really amazing, and the first episode of Mad Men’s Season 5 was very good. To top it all off, I had an extra meatloaf to last me through most of the week! To all of this, I can only say Zou, Bisou, Bisou.
Jello & Cool Whip
One of the favorite dishes Emily and I have made since we started cooking together is risotto with butternut squash and leeks. We first made it last fall when Emily, desiring a slightly healthier Sunday night dinner, suggested using butternut squash. While looking for ideas for butternut squash dishes, I was drawn to this recipe due to my love of leeks and the comfort of risotto.
The first time we made it, the risotto turned out so great I couldn’t wait to make it again so when roommate Alex offered up her acorn squash from the Green Grocer for our Sunday dinner, I jumped at the chance to make this squash and leek risotto. Fortunately, acorn and butternut squash are essentially interchangeable though acorn squash is a bit more watery. Due to its shape, the acorn squash was also a bit more difficult to work with than the butternut squash but the effort was worth it. The risotto was just as tasty as the first time we made it. I really enjoyed how the roasted squash slightly melted into the risotto. The melted leeks added a richness to the risotto that was especially delightful.
On a recent Friday I found myself without any immediate post-work plans before having to meet up with roommate Alex later that night. For me, cooking on a Friday evening is a good time to make a recipe that would normally be too time consuming for a weekday meal, yet not quite special enough for a Sunday dinner. I scoured across recipes I had previously e-mailed myself and came across one for pasta and braised chicken thighs in a saffron cream sauce. Like many other people, I am trying to incorporate more vegetables into my diet and decided to add spinach and peas into the sauce for some extra color and some extra vitamins.
Rigatoni Pasta with Braised Chicken, Spinach, Peas, and Saffron Cream (adapted from Bon Appetit)
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 pounds chicken thighs with skin and bones
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped white onions
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
2 cups dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 pound Rigatoni
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
2 cups baby spinach, packed
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add chicken, skin side down, to skillet and cook until golden, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate.
Add onions and garlic to drippings in skillet; sauté until onions are slightly softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add wine and saffron to skillet; bring to boil. Continue to boil until liquid is thickened and reduced by less than half, about 8 minutes.