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Parties

Saturday, December 11th, 2004

Holiday party season officially begins

Zach invited me to his holiday work party this weekend and I was excited to go and meet his co-workers. He had signed up to bring appetizers, so I thought I’d make Chile-Lime Shrimp and Zach decided on a bacon/date combo—always a good pairing in my book.

We started out at Big John’s PFI, because Zach has never been and it’s been too long between visits for me. I walk in and eye the frozen food case. I want real-butter puff pastry and frozen meat balls, but we have a long day ahead of us and no refrigeration (I really need to get a car fridge). So we head on to the canned and dried goods sections. I honestly want one or two of everything, but I use restraint and only pick up weird canned seafood (cuttlefish in its own ink, baby octopus in garlic and codfish in biscayan sauce), canned San Marzano tomatoes, Papadams, canned sweet fried peppers and Moretti polenta. I’m heading to the check-out counter, when I spot Heinz Baked Beans—I didn’t know you could get them in the states, so I’m elated to find them for a proper English Fry-Up! We, sadly, avoid the cheese case except to pick up a log of honeyed goat cheese for the date recipe.

Then we head into Sun Ya for dim sum. It was definitely good, but somehow not as great as the first time we went. Plus, they were out of baked hum bow.

Next stop Uwajimaya. At this point, we’re short on time and should be hurrying, but I had to stop in every aisle and look at all the strange food. Zach found some beautiful, plump dates, so we loaded up on those. We didn’t think we’d have enough time to get to Mutual Fish, so I had to settle for Uwajimaya shrimp. While looking for cilantro, I stumbled upon sea beans and fresh white truffles and slipped them into my cart. I passed the deli case and saw these packages wrapped in taro leaves. They were Hawaiian and filled with pork, so two of those went into my cart as well. We also needed white elephant gifts for the party, so we chose some Chococat merchandise.

After a few more shopping stops, we’re headed home to get ready and prepare the food. Although both recipes are fairly easy, it was time consuming to peel the shrimp and pit the dates. So, we get to the party (out in Issaquah) a little late, but in time for dinner. They had a spiral cut ham and soft rolls, so I was happy, but some of the other dishes were pretty funny. Cooked-to-death vegetables, boxed stuffing, a frozen lasagna that someone hadn’t even bothered to take out of the plastic microwave dish and bagged iceberg lettuce with Hidden Valley ranch dressing.

The dates that Zach made were by far the best thing at the party. They were pitted, then stuffed with a toasted almond and honey goat cheese, wrapped in bacon and broiled until golden brown. Absolutely sublime. Although we both agreed that the next time we make them, we’ll chop the nuts and mix them with the goat cheese—biting into that almond was a leap of faith for some of the guests, as it really seemed like you were eating the pit. The Chile-Lime Shrimp were my second favorite; sweet shrimp with a salty-spicy marinade skewered with a rich avocado garnish.

After dinner came dessert—more pre-packaged things from Costco. Don’t get me wrong, I like Costco baked goods. All I’m saying is that if I were serving them, I would at least take them out of the plastic containers. After dessert, we did the white elephant exchange. Zach ended up with a book on the history of condoms and I took home the Chococat coffee mugs.

Then we went to the second party of the night—Zach’s librarian group party. Woo-hoo, right? But no, it wasn’t what I expected. We ended up doing oyster shots and drinking Sailor Jerry Rum and Cokes with people nicknamed ‘Dirty’ and ‘Snatch’, until Zach had an asthma attack and I had to rush him home.

And totally not food related, but a funny story: I gave Zach my apartment keys so he could get in to use his inhaler while I parked the car, but we both completely forgot about my alarm. So he gets in and the alarm goes off. And it’s LOUD. Guardian Security calls and hangs up on him because he doesn’t know the passcode.

So I walk in and Zach has the phone in one hand and his inhaler in the other, looking bewildered. The alarm is blaring and my cat is cowering in the corner. And it’s probably midnight, so I’m sure my neighbors are really happy. I call the alarm company, but I don’t know my pass code either, so after guessing a few times, they hang up on me.

Then I’m pawing through my filing cabinets trying to find the code and twenty minutes later call the alarm company back, begging them not to send the police. They finally like the passcode I give them and promise me the cops won’t show up.

I’m not sure how many more holiday parties I can handle this season.

Saturday, October 16th, 2004

Friends of Freeland

Mom recruited me to help her with an 8-course fundraising dinner for 20 people to benefit Friends of Freeland.

This was the menu:
Smoked Trout Rillettes
Duck Rillettes
Mini Cheese Palmiers
Crab & Dill Toasts
Celeriac Soup
Sweet-potato Ravioli with Sage & Pecans and Green Pea Ravioli with Truffle Butter Sauce
Avocado & Pear Sorbet
Boeuf a la Ficelle with Horseradish Cream or Grilled Halibut with Cilantro Lime Butter
Fig, Prosciutto and Arugula Salad
Cheese Course (Truffle Cheese from Whole Foods—very expensive and very delicious)
French Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Sauce

Everything turned out great and tasted amazing. Yes, it was exhausting, but for a good cause.




Saturday, October 2nd, 2004

Garden Party

G & C graciously offered to let me host a party at their beautiful home at the Dunn Gardens. I was really excited but also a little nervous about cooking in a kitchen that’s not my own.

I decided on a seafood menu, so I picked up some gorgeous salmon and prawns at mutual fish (my favorite fish monger) and headed north. There was a scheduling glitch and I was locked out of the kitchen until an hour before the party started! I was panicked and wandering about the garden trying to reach someone on the phone. Finally I just started de-veining shrimp on the gardening bench outside.

Once we got in, it was a mad rush, but I had a few friends helping, so we managed to get everything prepared just as the last guest arrived. G & C were pouring their famous lemon drops, which they spent months taste-testing and perfecting, and the guests brought some great wine.

Food seems to taste better when it’s not prepared in a rush, so I was a little disappointed with the results, but everyone had a good time.

Chile-Lime Shrimp with Avocado
Figs of the Gods (port stewed figs served on gorgonzola toasts)
Sauteed Mushrooms on Toast
Sweet-potato Ravioli with Sage & Pecans
Horseradish Crusted Salmon with Beet Sauce & Mashed Potatoes
Soft Chocolate Cakes

I totally forgot to take pictures of the food and I didn’t realize my camera was set to the red-eye double flash setting, so it looks like we had dinner at Glamor Shots…

Saturday, July 24th, 2004

Viva el Puerco!

Never did I realize that planning a pig roast would be so much work…

Step 1: Research

Months before the party, I started my online research. Most sites recommended burying the pig in the ground, but my mom’s place has a septic system, so I quickly ruled that method out. Next I looked at spit roasting but reconsidered after reading horror stories of pigs falling off their spits and being engulfed in flames. When I came across the Three Guys From Miami method I knew I had a winner; it was easy, safe and (relatively) cheap.

Step 2: Party invitations

The next step was to send out invitations and figure out how many people would be attending. My friend Zach made a beautiful invitation, which apparently no one bothered to read. After calling everyone because only 2 people RVSP’d, I estimated that 25-35 people would be attending and I was ready to reserve a pig.

Step 3: Ordering the pig

I wanted a quality pig, so I called Don & Joe’s Meats on what happened to be the 4th of July.

Me: Hi, I’d like to order a pig.

D&J: Um, you need to pre-order those. Try Uwajimaya. (What he really meant: Are you freaking insane? Lady, you can’t call us up on the biggest BBQ day of the year and order a whole pig…)

Me: I am calling to pre-order.

D&J: Oh. [Long pause.] Okay, what size do you want?

Me: 60 lbs.

D&J: How do you want it prepared?

Me: Butterflied please.

D&J: We can butterfly the body but not the head.

Me: Why not the head?

D&J: Our bone saws break when they go through teeth.

Me: [Long pause.] Oh.

At this point I was getting nervous; would I be able to hack through a pig skull with a hatchet? I flashed back to the time I made duck soup and had to decapitate the duck. I didn’t handle that well. Then I remembered having to chop up a lobster while it was still alive; I screamed until it finally stopped moving, which took almost 30 minutes. Hmmmm…

Step 4: Picking up the pig

The day before the party, we went down to the Pike Place Market to pick up the pig which was, thankfully, packaged in a box; I didn’t need to lose my nerve just yet. I was giddy and dancing around while the butchers laughed and helped me load it into the truck.

Step 5: Prepping the pig

After we got up to Whidbey, we opened up the box and were slightly terrified. The pig was bright, bright pink with a trail of blood dripping from his mouth. He belonged in some sort of B-grade horror movie. My friend Kait likes to dissect things so she made swift work of splitting the head while I made the mojo. We slathered the pig in the marinade, wrapped him in plastic and a tarp, deposited him in the bathtub and topped him off with ice.

Step 6: Making the frame

Per the TGFM method, all we had to do was find some cinderblocks, some pieces of metal, and someone who can weld. Luckily, I know a lot of artists who work in metal. We headed over to a friend’s house, who graciously let us use her welding shop. Kait, again to the rescue, with her (slightly rusty) welding skills. It was a miserably hot day and every minute that passed felt like an hour.

Step 7: Putting together the oven

When we got back to the house we found a nice, large flat spot in the front of the house where we arranged the cinderblocks. My mother over-worries things and became convinced that the heat from the oven would cause an underground fire and the whole property would go up in flames. I humored her by watering the dirt around the area for about 15 minutes. Then we covered the cinderblocks in tin foil to make a giant oven.

Step 8: Cooking the pig

The day of the party was another blistering hot day, so lighting the oven was not fun. I got the coals started in the Weber, then I miserably transferred them to the corners of the oven, one small shovel-full at a time. It was hot, hot, hot. We strapped the pig into the frame, ceremoniously laid him on the oven and tucked him in with foil. Time for cocktails. Kait and Zach made some great Mojito’s and we kicked back and waited for the guests to arrive.

It was actually so hot that day that no one could leave the shade, which made playing croquet in the full-sun back yard out of the question. So we all hung out in the shaded front yard, drinking and watching the pig cook. After four hours the pig was up to temp and we unveiled it. It was a beautiful sight.

Step 9: Crisping the skin

The skin needed a little more crisping but the meat was already cooked, so with the help of half the party we took the pig off the oven, spread out the fire and removed three layers of cinderblock so that the pig was just inches from the coals. Another 30 minutes on the coals and the pig was perfect.

Step 10: Carving the pig

Getting a sixty-pound pig onto a carving board was way trickier than I had anticipated, but again, with lots of help we got it off the rack and onto the table. I donned my pink plastic dish gloves, picked up a cleaver and went to town. I probably had a few drinks in me by this point and I have to say that I’ve never had so much fun carving up a piece of meat.

Step 11: Eating

The end result? The meat was good and tender, but not the falling-off-the-bone tender you’d get from burying the pig and slow roasting it for 24 hours. I also wasn’t wild about the marinade—it seemed too citrus-y and I think it may have pre-cooked the meat a bit too much. Next time I’ll try a more savory marinade with lots of salt, garlic and sage and cook the pig in the same method, but over a much lower heat and for a longer period of time.

Everyone else brought some really great Cuban dishes, but the standouts were Kait’s Black Beans and Kathy’s Coconut Bread. We finished off the meal with a delicious caramel dessert that I first heard of at The Pink Door. It sounds crazy and a little trashy, but the only ingredient is sweetened condensed milk. We topped the caramel with fresh whipped cream and toasted walnuts—it was fantastic.

After we recovered from eating too much food, we played croquet by torchlight way into the night. A few of us die-hards stayed up even later playing dominoes and finishing off the rum. It was the perfect way to spend a hot Seattle summer weekend.

Saturday, June 26th, 2004

Ravioli Party

My mother has a friend that loves ravioli. He loves them so much that she decided to throw him a 5-course dinner party—with every course being a different ravioli. A few of the guests came over early and helped us roll the dough and form the ravioli. I was in charge of making the sauces and some of the fillings.

I had the bright idea of making scorecards so everyone could rate the ravioli. And I was obsessively diligent about making the guests fill them out. At the end of the night, the results were a shocker.

Squash and Mascarpone Ravioli with Truffle Butter (from Lumiére Light) – 81 overall score
I was expecting so much more from this recipe since I LOVE Lumiére, but this was just boring to me. I much prefer my Sweet-potato ravioli recipe.

Beet Ravioli with Butter & Poppy Seeds – 74 overall score
A really simple filling, with not many ingredients or spices. It was surprisingly flavorful, considering. Very light and delicious. My third favorite.

Fontina Ravioli with Porcini Sauce – 70 overall score
I once had a wonderful Fontina Val d’Aosta ravioli dish at Brasa, so this was my attempt to recreate it. This was probably my favorite. The ravioli were cheesy pillows that burst with flavor when you bit into them and the creamy porcini sauce was a rich foil.

Smoked Black Cod Ravioli with Baby Leeks and Chive Cream – 74 overall score
My second favorite; mom and I have been making this recipe for years. The filling is a wonderful, delicate mousse and the cream-based sauce is very light.

Beef Ravioli with Tomato Sauce – 54 overall score
This was an adaptation of my Grandmother’s ravioli recipe (minus the sheep brains). It was good, but seemed unsophisticated compared to the other ravs. My least favorite.