cocktail party wrap-up & chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon

Last weekend, thanks to my wonderful parents (and the frequent babysitters of Maddie and Oliver), my husband and I had a lovely two nights of being child-free. Sam and I had a busy couple of evenings planned, plus we just really needed a break. I used to hate to admit that we needed time away from the kids – because that sounds awful, right? – but it’s true. Every now and then we just need time to ourselves. Last weekend was one of those times.

One of the items on our agenda was a cocktail party. And, after weeks of planning, Saturday night was the big night.  I had an entire child-free day to prepare. It was fabulous. And the party was pretty good, too.

$2 martini glasses from Crate & Barrel. LOVE them.

After much deliberation, I made the Pamplemousse Cocktail to serve as our signature cocktail. With help from Michael of A Dash of Bitters, I learned how to prepare cocktails in advance. I love learning new things, especially when it involves tasty beverages.

Made with pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice, lime juice, and vodka.

We had lots and lots of wine. In fact, we had so much wine that three or four bottles had been opened but were still nearly full, and another three or four had a glass or two left in them. We have some neighbors whom we can usually share leftover wine with — living next to us has its perks, you know — but they weren’t home. I ended up having to pour out the leftovers. Horrible, right?

The food was done potluck style – a great way to get guests involved, and also a great way to ensure there is plenty of food for everyone. I made a few dishes, and the guests brought the rest. To reward everyone for their hard work – and as bribery so they’ll show up to our next event – we gave our friends a treat to take home.

Adorable, right?

Those fabulous champagne bottle cookies were made by a new friend, Gail of One Tough Cookie. She is pretty darn amazing. The cookies were almost too cute to eat. But not quite.

Organic Medjool dates - stuffed with pork, wrapped with pork.

One of the appetizers I made for the party is one that I’ve done before, and it’s always a hit with the menfolk. Probably because it’s stuffed with pork and wrapped with pork. Very manly. Chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped with bacon is a recipe I found in Food & Wine magazine many months ago, and it’s such a simple but oh-so-tasty recipe. It’s perfect for people who don’t eat dairy products, and it’s definitely gluten-free, so you’re guaranteed to make most people happy with it. Except those who don’t eat pork, of course. This is not for them.

Yield: Makes 24

Chorizo-Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Bacon

Adapted from this recipe from Food & Wine. I followed their recipe up until the end, and then I do something different. Instead of browning them in a skillet, I use the oven. I used organic Medjool dates that I found at my local Fresh Market store. I had to pit them myself, but it's so simple to do. Simply make a slice down the length of the date with a sharp paring knife, and then pop out the pit with the tip of the knife.

Ingredients:

24 Medjool dates, pitted
1 small cooked Spanish chorizo sausage (about 2 ounces), casings removed
12 slices bacon, halved crosswise

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Find 24 toothpicks and have them ready.
Slice the chorizo crosswise into thirds. Halve each piece lengthwise, then cut each half into 4 lengthwise strips to make a total of 24 small sticks.
Tuck a chorizo stick into each date and pinch the dates closed. Wrap a strip of bacon around each date and secure with a toothpick.
Place each date on a broiler pan (or a cooling sheet set over a half sheet pan), spacing them so that none of the dates are touching. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the bacon is cooked through. Remove from the oven and serve.

ad hoc marinated strip steak

My husband, Sam, is a real meat-and-potatoes kind of guy. He knows what he likes to eat, and it usually involves traditional – and often southern – comfort food. I love this about him, but sometimes it’s frustrating. He gets nervous when I try a new recipe that has an ingredient in it that he’s less familiar with. Miso is a great example. When I made misoyaki roast chicken, he was a good sport, but I could see the fear – terror, really – in his eyes when he saw the ingredients.

One weekend recently, I asked Sam to decide what he wanted for our Saturday evening dinner. The weekends are my time to get in the kitchen and experiment, and that weekend I wasn’t feeling very inspired. So I let him pick. And, my meat-and-potato-loving husband chose steak. Of course.

On the upside, he chose a recipe from Ad Hoc at Home, one of my favorite cookbooks lately. Even though Sam played it safe with a steak recipe, he chose one by Thomas Keller — and I couldn’t argue with that logic.

The recipe is really about the marinade. Warming the marinade on the stove caused the flavors from the herbs to mingle together and blend harmoniously. The delightful aroma of the olive oil, garlic, and herbs filled the kitchen. Keller’s recipe calls for skirt steak, but since Sam couldn’t find it at our grocery, he bought strip steak instead. In reality, any cut of steak would be fine for this recipe. We marinated the steak for about 4 hours and, though we thought about grilling the steaks, I decided to follow Keller’s method of starting on the stovetop then finishing in the oven.

The verdict? Simple – it was a great steak. The meat was perfectly tender, and I could taste hints of rosemary, garlic, and thyme from the marinade. Next time, I might try marinating the steak for longer – just to see what the difference in flavor is – and I might have my husband grill the steaks instead. After all, if he chooses the recipe, he should do a bit of the work, right?

Ad Hoc Marinated Strip Steak

Only slightly tweaked from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home recipe on page 53. Instead of skirt steak, I used strip steak. I also cut down the amount of steak from six servings to two servings.

Ingredients:

Ingredients for Marinade:

6 thyme sprigs
2 eight-inch rosemary sprigs
4 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
5 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on
2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Remaining Ingredients:

Two 8 ounce steaks [We used strip steak, but you can use whatever cut you like.]
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, smashed, skin left on

Directions:

Combine the thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, and oil in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let the marinade cool to room temperature.

Trim steaks of any excess fat and discard. Cut the steaks crosswise into 2 to 3 equal pieces, depending on the size of the steaks. Put the steaks in a resealable plastic bag, add the marinade, and seal, squeezing out any excess air. Marinate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours, in the refrigerator.

Remove the meat from the marinade and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking. Discard the marinade. Dry the meat with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; set a roasting rack in a roasting pan. (For this step I used a cooling rack like this one set in a half sheet pan.)

Heat some canola oil in a large frying pan over high heat. (Have a splatter screen ready.) When the oil shimmers, add half the meat and quickly brown the first side. Turn the meat and, working quickly, add 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 thyme sprigs, and 1 garlic clove, and brown the meat on the second side, basting constantly; the entire cooking process should only take about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the meat to the roasting rack and spoon the butter, garlic, and thyme over the top. Wipe the pan, and repeat with the remaining steaks.

Transfer the roasting rack and pan (or cooling rack and half sheet pan) to the oven and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the center of the meat registers 125 degrees. Remove from oven and let the meat rest on the rack in a warm place for about 10 minutes for medium-rare. (I cooked mine until a temperature of about 135 since I like my steak more on the medium side.) Serve, garnishing steaks with the garlic and thyme.

sweet summer corn and black bean salad

Summer may not officially start until June, but our local markets are filling up with traditional summer fruits and vegetables. Bins of grass green watermelons are slowly appearing in the produce section. The vendors at our farmers’ market are selling zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. My own little garden is producing its first cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, and summer squash. And, maybe best of all, fresh sweet corn is making its arrival.

About a week ago, I sent my husband to the grocery to pick up some fresh summer corn. We had decided to grill steaks on the gas grill for dinner, and when I think of grilling, I almost automatically think of corn on the cob. Wanting to mix things up a bit – because I’m wild and crazy like that – I did something a little different with the corn.

I sauteed the kernels just for a few minutes, added some black beans, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and some torn romaine lettuce. The salad was colorful, with a lovely sweetness from the corn and tomatoes. The beans provided a savory element in the salad, and all-in-all, the salad was light and refreshing.

It was a perfect summer, or almost summer, salad.

Yield: Serves 6.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

You can vary the amount of lettuce and tomatoes depending on your taste. Also, you can vary the salad dressing. I didn't bother making my own dressing this time but instead used a good bottle of light ranch dressing.

Ingredients:

2-3 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears corn)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 head of romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 to 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 to 1/2 cup ranch dressing, or other salad dressing of your choice

Directions:

Preheat large sauté pan on medium high heat, 2-3 minutes. Sauté corn kernels in the olive oil until tender, about 2-4 minutes. Transfer corn to large bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients - black beans, lettuce, tomatoes - and toss with salad dressing, adding more if needed. Serve.