Monday, August 3, 2009

Impromptu Parties

My neighbor Danielle and I count throwing parties to be among our favorite things. This week, because a friend's pool party was rained out, we decided at the last minute to throw a "celebration party," at which everyone is forced to come up with something worth celebrating. The venue was Danielle and Justin's beautiful Midtown house. From bosses being out of town to healthy babies, everyone came up with an occasion. The guest list was small; we simply wanted to have an excuse to try out some new recipes, which we did with success. The menu was simple, colorful, and might I add, delicious:

A Celebratory Menu

French 86s (A variation on a French 75)
Tomato Tarts
Gruyere Cheese Puffs with Chicken, Artichoke and Spinach Salad
Olive Tapenade with White Truffle Oil
"Redneck Rolls" (Beef Tenderloin, Cream Cheese, Roasted Red Pepper, Caramelized Onion Sushi Rolls)
Champagne-Marinated Grapes
Crudites with Carrot-Ginger Dip
Lemon Glazed Pecans
Mini Cheesecakes with Blueberry-Lemon Compote

Danielle, an outstanding cook, made the cheese puffs and chicken salad, sushi rolls, crudites and dip, and cheesecakes. I contributed the mixed drink, tarts, crostini, grapes, and pecans. All were eaten with relish.

French 86s
Makes 1 pitcher, or approximately 15 drinks

We originally wanted to serve a pitcher of French 75s, which are a potent concotion of gin, Champagne, lemon juice and superfine sugar. I made a pitcher of it, and we tasted, and decided it was too strong. In went 2 cans of ginger ale. I already added the lemon slices, although if I had anticipated the addition of the soda, I would switch the citrus to lime. Because of the high alcohol content, my guests called this "Danger Juice."

1 and 1/2 bottles of dry Champagne
2 cans ginger ale
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 cup of gin
juice of 2 limes
1/2 lime, sliced into thin rounds

Pour sugar and lime juice in pitcher, stir to dissolve sugar. Pour gin in and Champagne, stir to combine. Place a few lime rounds in the pitcher for color. Serve in Champagne flutes.

Tomato Tarts
Makes 24 tarts*

This recipe is adapted from Paula Deen of the Food Network. She used Cheddar cheese and dried thyme; I used shredded Monterey Jack and fresh basil. This was a first for me, but a raging success. Let them cool a bit before eating, because they are white hot when fresh out of the oven.

1 sheet puff pastry
5 Roma tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup basil, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet well with cooking spray. With a 1 and 1/2 to 2 inch biscuit cutter, cut 24 rounds out of the puff pastry, place on baking sheet. Sprinkle a teaspoon of Monterey Jack cheese on each round. Place a tomato slice on each round. Sprinkle a teaspoon of Parmesan on each round, and a bit of basil as well. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 15 minutes until puffed and browned.

*Because these went so fast, I would make 2 batches for my next party.

Olive Tapenade with White Truffle Oil
Makes 2 cups of tapenade, about 32 toasts

Because of the astronomical price of white truffle oil, I halved the amount in this recipe. My $22 1.4 ounce bottle is almost gone, and I'm not about to run out and buy another one. Yes, this makes me culinarily cheap. This recipe is adapted from my favorite party cookbook, "Cocktail Parties, Straight Up!" by Lauren Purcell and Anne Purcell-Grissinger. It is definitely my favorite olive tapenade: chunky, richly flavored, and quite salty.

12 ounces black olives, chopped finely
6 ounces pimiento stuffed green olives, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a decorative bowl. Serve with toasted baguette rounds or water crackers.

Lemon-Blueberry Compote
Makes 2 1/2 cups

Danielle made the tiny cheesecakes, I made the topping. The recipe came out a little more liquidy than I would have liked, so here I have omitted the few tablespoons of water I added to the blueberries. Use the rest on pancakes, topped with whipped cream!

1 pint blueberries
1/4 cup white sugar
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir, uncovered, until mixture turns a deep purple and blueberries appear glossy and plump. Simmer until thickened slightly. Pour into a jar and refrigerate until needed.

Champagne-Marinated Grapes
Makes 3 cups

To allow the grapes to absorb more of the flavor from the Champagne, I made small slits with a sharp knife in the side of each grape. I wouldn't recommend this, since it made the grapes too soft and wilted in the end. For this recipe, I increased the marinating time and added more lemon juice to prevent browning.

2 pounds green grapes
1/2 bottle dry Champagne
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
juice from 2 lemons
zest from 2 lemons

Combine Champagne, 1/2 cup sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl, stir to dissolve sugar. Cut grapes in small bunches. Add grapes. Store in refrigerator for 24 hours or at least overnight. Just before serving, toss grapes with lemon zest and 2 tablespoons superfine sugar.

Just to tickle your tastebuds, I've included the pictures of Danielle's creations.

Crudites with Carrot-Ginger Dip

"Redneck Rolls"

Gruyere Cheese Puffs with Chicken, Artichoke and Spinach Salad

All photos by Danielle Hovey

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