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Entries in Recipes & how-to's (56)


Notes on (hosting) a dinner party: Celebrating the season, entertaining tips

Last Tuesday evening, I hosted a small dinner party at my apartment.  To honor the fact that the next day was, at least according to the calendar, the official "first day of summer," I chose a menu that reflected the warm and bountiful season upon us:

**White winesArneis, Rioja

**Imported and domestic cheeses:  Dried pears, walnuts, sliced baguette and pecan/raisin bread

**SaladBlueberries, Feta, and Mint

**EntreeRick Bayless' Quick-Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic

**Sourdough bread (to dip and sop-up all of the garlicky goodness from the shrimp dish)

**Dessert:  Homemade key lime pie


After I play hostess, I always seem to have a plethora of tips/shortcuts in my head that I intend to write down.  For the next time I have people over.  But, more often than not, I don't actually take the time to sit down and jot notes.  Until today.

Here are some of my tried-and-true entertaining tips for all of you fabulous hosts/hostesses out there:

  • Prepare your menu:  If you don't have the budget to offer your guests a meat/poultry/fish/vegetarian option, then find out, ahead of time, if anyone has any allergies/dietary restrictions.  God forbid you serve shellfish to an allergic, or present pork to someone who's kosher/halal.
  • Fresh flowers:  I buy 2-bunches from Trader Joe's - divide them in to various smaller bunches - and place multi, colorful bouquets all over my apartment.  Flowers smell nice, brighten up your space, and last for about a week!
  • Tidy up!  If you don't have ample time to clean, I understand.  However, at least make your bathroom a priority:  Clean your toilet bowl and have an extra roll of toilet-paper handy/in a logical location.  Use a Windex-like spray to wipe your mirror clean of toothpaste and water stains.  And, if you're really type-A, provide paper hand-towels by your sink.  I hate having to wipe my just-washed hands on someone's gnarly shower towel!  Blech. 
  • For casual get-togethers:  Use paper/plastic plates, napkins, utensils, and cups.  Everything is disposable and makes cleanup *much* less of a nightmare. 
  • Do as much as you can ahead of time:  Block time out of your busy schedule to prepare/cook as many of the items on your menu as possible, within reason.  For this most recent gathering, I made the key lime pie on Sunday afternoon.  Thank goodness, because crushing graham crackers by hand took me a good 20-minutes! 
  • Write down what you're serving and what you're serving it in:  Jot down every appetizer, beverage, entree, and dessert.  Assign a serving dish and serving utensil to go with each.  You may realize that you do not, in fact, have a soup ladle or something as common as a bottle opener!  
  • Do not make plans the night before:  It was tough, but I managed to keep my Monday evening free so that I could attend to any last-minute cleaning - organizing - and prepping.  Since I get off of work at 5pm and my guests would arrive on Tuesday night between 7/7:30pm, I did not want to rush/stress any more than I had to day-of.
  • Clean as you go:  This is a priceless tip that I learned while interning at the Marriott WTC in college.  Especially when cooking, don't let dishes, utensils, cups, etc. pile up - clean them as you use them. 
  • Once all of your guests arrive:  Give them about 30-ish minutes to enjoy a beverage(s) and appetizers.  I like to serve the "main course" at the 30-minutes-post-everyone's-arrival mark.

Food tips:

  • Have fresh plates/bowls/utensils on-hand for each course:  I prefer plastic and paper products for entertaining, as most of my gatherings are on the casual-end of the spectrum.  Plus, I do not have enough dishes or glassware to serve more than 4-guests at one time.  Sigh.
  • Cheese plate:  An hour before your guests are scheduled to arrive, take your cheeses out of the fridge and arrange on a platter (I like to follow Artisanal's "Cheese Clock").  Accompany with proper knives/spreaders.   
  • Bread:  For a crispy crust and a warm interior, heat oven to 200-degrees F.  Place sliced and/or whole bread on a cookie sheet and allow to warm for approximately 12-minutes (for slices) and 15-20 minutes (whole), respectively.  If you have less time on your hands, raise the temperature to 300-degrees, and cut warming times in half.

OK, so now you've read mine; do you have any great entertaining tips to share?  I'd love to hear from you!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


Recipe: The world's best Matzo Ball Soup

Matzo Ball Soup.  It's the ultimate Jewish comfort food. 

Have you ever noticed that no two bowls of matzo ball soup are alike?  Well, that's because every Bubby/restaurateur/home cook has his or her own variation on the classic.  Perhaps it's mixing seltzer water with the matzo meal (...this creates fluffier 'balls).  Or maybe it's adding rice/noodles, vegetables, or shredded chicken to the broth, in hopes of creating more bulk.  Do you have a specific variation?

Just like many of you, my matzo ball soup recipe is mirrored after that of my beloved late grandma's.  There was just something about her version that had so much more depth and flavor than everybody else's.  And it wasn't until she passed that I figured out Grandma's secret weapon:  Dill.  She used a lot of dill. 

Mimicking Grandma's heavy hand on the dill weed jar - coupled with my own unique spin on the classic - I think that I've created the world's best bowl of matzo ball soup.  And I'm confident that you, too, will agree!

This recipe is dedicated to you, Grandma Jean.  xoxo


Ingredients, serves 4-5

*Note:  While I do use all of the contents included in the Manischewitz box (pictured below), I've changed some of the quanities and ingredients to suit my taste.  Having made this soup and followed my own directions hundreds of times, I am confident that my instructions will work for you, too.  My point is this:  Do not follow the directions on the back of the Manischewitz box.  Follow mine, instead!

  • 1 box of Manischewitz Matzo Ball & Soup Mix
  • 32 ounces of chicken (or vegetable) broth ~ This adds so much flavor to a recipe that, otherwise, just calls for water!
  • 32 ounces of water
  • *Optional:  1 cup chopped carrots (about 1" cuts)
  • *Optional:  1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill weed ~ Grandma's secret weapon!
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • *Optional, to be added when soup is complete:  1 cup cooked and shredded chicken and/or 1 cup cooked noodles of your choice

Photo: Manischewitz

In a 3-quart pot, add packet containing Manischewitz soup mix, broth, water, *carrots, *celery, and 1 tablespoon of dill weed.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a boil.

In a small bowl, mix the eggs and oil.  Add 1 tablespoon of dill weed and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.  Add packet containing matzo ball mix, and stir with a fork until evenly mixed.  Cover and place in refrigerator for 15-minutes.

With clean hands, form matzo batter in to balls (about 1" in diameter) and carefully drop the balls in to the boiling soup. 

Reduce flame to a simmer, and cover tightly for 20-minutes.

*Optional:  Add 1 cup cooked and shredded chicken and/or 1 cup cooked noodles of your choice.



Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


An evening with Mindy Fox: Salads that will change your mind...about salads.

This isn't the first cookbook that Mindy Fox has written.  Actually, it's her third.  But, unlike the previous two that she has co-authored, Salads: Beyond the Bowl is unique in that it contains 100 recipes.  All for some variation of a salad...

Does the word "salad" make you yawn?  Scare you, perhaps?  OK, fine, but don't roll your eyes and stop reading this post just yet.  Why?  Because, I think I can change your leaf-hating prerogative.  Look, I'll admit that, up until last night, "salad" frightened me and made me yawn, too.  I mean, it's generally so boring.  So...healthy.  Cold.  Wet.  And it never seems to have the right ratio of dressing to greens.  In fact, just typing out these boring, rainy adjectives is making me yawn... 

However, I figured that, if I was going to attend the cookbook launch for an author who was quoted as saying, "The one food that I would take with me to a desert island would be salad," I knew that I had better start practicing my best "salad poker face."  

When I arrived at the serene loft space for the launch, I was taken aback by the gorgeous, poster-sized photos of Mindy's salads adorning the walls.  A bowl of greens topped with crumbled feta, grilled shrimp, and pickled purple onions - a close-up shot of octopus tentacle "tendrils," set against a black background.  Those were just two of my favorite images.   

As I made my way further in to the space, I came upon a table topped with two different salad samples.  Salads that looked nothing like the generic, leafy, green crap that I so often refrain...and run from. 

Clearly, Mindy and I had not been eating the same salads all of these years...

Blueberries, Feta, and Mint:  How often do you see blueberries and feta cheese together?  Never.  I knew that I had to sample this salad first, because I was so perplexed by its unique ingredients. 

The sweetest, most plump blueberries were topped with salty feta cheese crumbles, torn mint leaves, sea salt crystals, coarsely-ground black pepper, and finished with a heavy drizzle of a strong, rich and peppery olive oil.  It would be safe to say that this is the "salad" that changed the way I think about salads. 

PS:  I bought Mindy's cookbook and will share this recipe with you, further below!

Panzanella di Farro:  Based on looks, alone, I wasn't as eager to sample this salad.  Maybe it was all of those vegetables?  However, after one bite, I was blown away by its electrifying flavor and burst of different textures.

A melange of briny, sliced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, corn kernels, and edible flowers were combined with plump barley beads and tossed in a savory, garlic-y dressing that exploded with pep and delight. 


Now, in addition to Mindy's mind-blowing salads, a handful of her finest food-and-wine purveyor friends provided accompaniments that perfectly complimented Ms. Fox's recipes:

Bountiful bread baskets from Hot Bread Kitchen

A Grana Padano cheese wheel

*Did you know that Grana Padano cheese is lactose-free?  Now that is some food-for-thought!

A phenomenal olive oil tasting, courtesy of DeMedici Imports

*Did you know that olive oil tastings and wine tastings are almost identical in structure?

In the top picture, orange segments were sprinkled with sea salt and paired with Colonna, a very light, subtle olive oil.  The sample was consumed like a "shot." 

In the bottom picture, a piece of French chocolate was sprinkled with sea salt and paired with Albereto, a heavier, more spicy and peppery olive oil.  This sample was also consumed like a "shot."  

Both samples were delightful, but my preference was the AlberetoThough that *could* be because it was paired with French chocolate!

An exquisite brut, courtesy of Ferrari


As if the evening could not get more exciting or delicious, the lovely Gail Simmons arrived!   Moments after my irregular, star-struck heartbeat resumed its regular pace, I walked over to the cookbook-topped table, and began to flip through its glossy pages and intrigue-provoking chapters.  And, that's when it hit me:  Salads don't have to be boring, one-note, restrictive "dieter's lunches."  No, they can be amazingly delicious side dishes or even entrees, incorporating fruits, grains, meat, fish, poultry, cheese, nuts...you name it.  "That's it.  I have to have this cookbook!" I exclaimed to my friend, Helen.

Afer purchasing Salads: Beyond the Bowl, I approached Mindy to congratulate her and confess that, because of this particular evening, I had been transformed in to a "salad optimist."  Oh, and I also asked her to autograph my copy.  :)

Like Mindy says, it's not so much the "health" aspect of salads; for her, it's "...how delicious and show stopping a well-made salad can be."  Because, at the end of the day, shouldn't healthy also taste fabulous?  Salads: Beyond the Bowl certainly makes that possible. 

And, speaking of, I cannot WAIT to whip up Mindy's amazing recipe for "Blueberries, Feta, and Mint," which I plan to make this weekend!  You, should, too! 

RECIPE:  Blueberries, Feta, and Mint

Ingredients - serves 4

  • 3 cups blueberries (about 1.5 pints)
  • 1 cup mint leaves, large leaves torn
  • 5 ounces feta cheese (1 cup), crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons very good extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky course sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed

Divide the blueberries among small shallow serving bowls, then sprinkle with the mint and cheese.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the oil over each serving.  Crush several generous pinches of salt over each dish and sprinkle with the pepper



Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle


(Recipe) Table for one: Pan-roasted Monkfish with Mushrooms & melted Scallions

Today marks my 8-year anniversary of living in NYC!  And, because I'm dining out this evening, I decided to celebrate last night by treating myself to a kick ass, home-cooked meal.  I found a lovely recipe for "Pan Roasted Monkfish with Mushrooms & Scallions" in Food and Wine and, with a couple of tweaks, I made this dish my own.   


Ingredients, serves 1-2

Recipe adapted from Food and Wine

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 scallions, cut in to 1-inch pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 ounces mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • 1 lb. monkfish OR halibut filet (membranes and dark meat removed), cut in to 2 even pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional:  lemon wedge

Heat oven to 450-degrees.  In an oven-proof pot, heat the oil over moderately high heat.  Add the scallions and the garlic, and sautee until scallions begin to soften - about 4 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Continue to sautee until mushrooms start to brown and soften, about 6-8 minutes.

See how the scallions look "melted?"Sprinkle fish filets with salt and pepper.  Place fish on top of mushroom/scallion mixture, and transfer the pot to the oven.  Roast until the fish is just done, about 12-minutes for 3/4-inch thick filets.  *Note that the cook time could take up to 14 minutes.  Eye carefully.  Fish should be white and firm to the touch.

Remove fish from the pot.  Put the pot on top of the stove.  Add milk.  Bring to a simmer and continue simmering until sauce starts to thicken and is no longer runny. 

The mixture should look similar to the photo, above, with no runny liquid.Serve fish atop or under the mushroom/scallion mixture.  Squeeze top with lemon wedge (optional).

Et voila! Bon appetit.~~~

Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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