Southern Style Bridal Shower

I recently hosted a bridal luncheon at my place for 23 ladies. My friend that is getting married lives in Charleston, so I decided that it would be fun to play off her new Southern roots. When feeding this many people, I really try to make elegant, yet easy. I cooked many of the components the day before and just assembled the day of (except that I baked the biscuits the day of, as per my previous Biscuit Bake Off post, biscuits do not have a long shelf life). I also bought a pre-sliced honey baked ham to serve with the biscuits and accompanied it with some fancy mustards and honey from the market. In addition to the below I made the Petit Cheesecakes for desert topped with fresh berries.

Shrimp Salad on Endive
makes about 15 appetizers
adapted from - Paula Deen
Make Ahead: Make the salad the day before and assemble just before serving
2 cups cooked, peeled and diced shrimp (about 1 lb)
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1 tablespoon minced green onion
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (I actually used more of this as I tasted)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (you could substitute yogurt if you want to lighten it up)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
15 Belgium endive leaves pulled from fresh bulbs (buy an entire bulb, slice the bottom off and pull leaves off)

Combine all ingredients except the endive, season to your taste, adding more lemon, salt or pepper as necessary. Lay out endive leaves on serving platter and spoon shrimp salad into leaves. tada!

Deviled Eggs
Make Ahead: Day before, cover well with plastic wrap and serve cold

Simply hard boil eggs (bring eggs and enough water to cover eggs in a pot and bring to a boil. Immediately remove from heat source once boiling and let sit, covered, for 17 minutes. Chill in ice bath until cooled and ready to handle, peel) and cut in half carefully. Place egg white halves on serving platter and yolks in bowl.

Combine the yolks with a few spoonfuls of mayo, Tabasco, salt, pepper and minced celery all to taste. Once it is the consistency and taste you like, place yolk mixture in plastic Ziploc bag. Close bag and snip just the tip off of the bag to create a make-shift pastry bag. Squeeze mixture into white halves and top with a few chopped green onions and a sprinkle of paprika.

I used these from Jenna's post. So easy and I made them 2 days ahead! Just store in layered parchment paper in air tight container.

What can I say? The Barefoot Contessa just knows what people enjoy and how to make cooking easy. I used Ina Garten's recipe from I made the entire dish the day before and popped it in the oven an hour before eating. I would maybe use the same ratio of gruyere to cheddar next time, but only because I love extra sharp cheddar.

To see how I got to this recipe, click above. I found a heart shaped cookie cutter and this copper heart mold to serve it in. Totally cheesy, but we are at a bridal shower here. I cut then in half after they cooled slightly then served sliced ham, mustards and honey with it so everyone could make their own sandwiches.

Spinach Salad
I tossed in segmented oranges, toasted sliced almonds, hearts of palm and shallots in this salad. Then I tossed it in a simple red wine vinaigrette (whisk together, red wine vinegar, dijon, minced shallot, salt, pepper. Stream olive oil into bowl while whisking together until taste is right for you). Serve in a nice salad bowl and suddenly you are a culinary star.

Just remember that with any party you are throwing to make it easy for you to get done and not stress out. Do what you can in the time that you have. Plan ahead, even make a time table for before your guests arrive to organize (ie: 9am set table; 10am set up bar; 11 am bake mac & cheese; 11:45am arrange appetizers; noon guests arrive). It helps so much to think ahead and leave some extra time for last minute details. I hope this menu can inspire you!



Artichokes 101

Artichokes are so delicious, but can be a little scary if you have never tried to cook one. The simplest preparation is to steam them and serve them with a sauce, melted butter or mayo for dipping. Below I take you through the steps so you can see for yourself how easy it is! I forgot to take pictures of how to get to the heart (the best part!), but I will explain as best I can. Don't forget the heart, seriously might be the main reason to even make them at all.

Step 1. Using a very sharp knife, cut the stem off along with the bottom row of leaves.

Step 2. Turn the artichoke around and cut off the top inch of the artichoke.

Step 3. Using a pair of kitchen shears, snip off the tops of each leaf.

Step 4. Rub the entire artichoke with a halved lemon so it does not turn brown.

Step 5. Steam for 45 minutes to 1 hour until leaves are tender and can be pulled from the artichoke easily.

And voila! You have perfect artichokes to serve with anything you desire. Fish, steaks, chicken, anything. I like to serve artichokes with a dipping sauce (combine 5 tablespoons light mayo, 1 tablespoons grainy mustard or Dijon, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, minced shallot, salt, pepper and a few dashes of Tabasco to taste).

Now once you have pulled each one of those lovely leaves off and eaten the tender ends, it is time to get to the heart. Pull off any remaining leaves and those heavy purple leaves. What you are left with is the choke (looks like a bunch of little hairs), you can use a spoon or small knife to scrape the little fibers away from the tender "meat" of the artichoke. Check the bottom of the artichoke and if the bottom is at all tough, slice the very bottom off. Cut the heart in pieces and devour.
Yum, I want these again right now just writing about it!



Snow Day Meat and Potatoes

The snow just keeps coming, so inside I am making things that make me happy. As I have written before, I have a love of risotto and love to make it. When I came across this recipe in the new Bon Appetit, I had to try it. You cook the potatoes "risotto style," as in, in stock, slowly until they are tender and have given off some of their creamy starch. It was easy to make and did not require a lot of work. It is key to cut your potatoes as close to the same size as possible so that they cook evenly. I was not that great at doing it, but now I know!

Beef Tenderloin with Potato "Risotto"
Bon Appetit February 2010
serves 6 (I halved it for 2 and we ate every bite)

1 tablespoon of butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 pound yukon gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/8 inch thick slices, then 1/8 inch cubes
1/8 teaspoon of cayenne
1 1/2 cup chicken stock, plus more
1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream (I used half and half to make it lighter)
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped chives (I forgot to get these, so my picture is chive-less)
6-6oz beef tenderloin steaks (1 inch thick)
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cover and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Add potatoes and cayenne pepper; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1 1/2 cups chicken broth; increase heat and bring to a boil (below).

Reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, adding more chicken stock by the tablespoonfuls if dry (mixture should be creamy with some sauce, not dry), about 8 minutes. Add cream and simmer until potatoes are tender but still hold their shape, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Stir in cheese and chives. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm over medium heat, stirring often.

Sprinkle steaks with coarse salt and pepper, then chopped thyme. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add steaks and cook to desired doneness, adding more oil as needed, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare.

Divide potato risotto among plates, Place steaks on plates and serve. Server with a Shiraz if desired.



Biscuit Bake-Off!



(from left going clock-wise: first attempt at scratch, Pillsbury Grands Homestyle Biscuits, Pillsbury Flaky Layers Buttermilk Biscuits, my second attempt at scratch)

It was one of those night that I wake up at 3:45am and my mind starts on my tasks for the next day/week/month/year. I seriously treasure my sleep, so these nights tend to make me some what of a monster. As I was thinking of my life over the next few weeks, my mind wandered to the bridal shower that I am cooking for next week. I have been mulling over in my head since I planned the menu whether to use a store bought easy-to-assemble biscuit or a from-scratch biscuit (obviously I know this is better, but I am thinking of timing and my one busy oven) to accompany the sliced honey ham that will be part of the luncheon. The bride is living in the South now and I am making a southern ladies lunch (Mac & Cheese is involved), but more on that later. After 4 different attempts here are the results.

The taste factor plays a big role in this for me. Although it may stress me out, the from scratch buttermilk biscuits do not contain that weird tang that the store bought biscuits do. If I did not have the time to bake them, I would recommend the Pillsbury Flaky Layers Biscuits. Let me clarify that baking is NOT my forte. The measuring, double checking of recipe, clean up and the ridiculous amount of flour that ends up on me is just not my thing. So when I attempted the from scratch biscuits the first time around I added 2 tablespoons of extra butter, it was super sticky, impossible to cut and they ended up small and flat. The second attempt was much better and I am enjoying one right now with strawberry jam.

So in the end I am going to risk the stress that comes with trying a recipe for only the third time on the day of (I found that biscuits can not be made the day ahead, another reason I am really not into this baking thing) an event. Just over here jumping off a cliff, although I may be picking up a couple cans of biscuits (just in case!).

Note: I doubled the cooking time on the above recipe. It took almost 20 minutes for mine to brown, so keep an eye on them.



Skinny Chicken Parm

Leave it to Martha and her staff to come up with a light chicken Parmesan that could actually satisfy. I have to admit that while I was making this recipe I was thinking there is no way that myself (somewhat of an Italian food junkie) and my husband were going to think that this could even hold a candle to my normally fried, heavily breaded and completely cheesed out version. But alas, it did not disappoint. I am currently detoxing from a week of endless chips and salsa, margaritas and big meals thrice daily. So in an effort to lose the Mexican pounds I gained, I am lightening things up in the kitchen this week. We paired this dinner with a yummy wine brought to us recently by a friend. It was fruity, not heavy, but could stand up to this dinner. Ripassa Valolicella Superiore 2005. I recommend it!

Chicken Parmigiana
Martha Stewart Living, February 2010
serves 6

3 oz. baked whole grain wheat crackers (like Triscuits, about 12)
1/3 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large egg whites
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 0z each) (I used 3 big breasts and pounded them thin for 3 people)
3 oz part skim mozzarella cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (about 1/2 cup) (I used Parmesan as I could not see not using it, it's in the name!)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pulse crackers, parsley, oregano and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until finely ground. Season with pepper, and transfer to a plate. Puree tomatoes, onion, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt with an immersion blender or in a clean food processor until smooth.
2. Coat a 9-by-13 inch baking dish with oil. Lightly whisk the egg whites and transfer to a shallow dish. Dip each chicken breast in the egg whites to fully coat both sides; let excess drip off. Dredge chicken in crumb mixture, lightly pressing to coat both sides.
3. Transfer chicken to prepared baking dish, and flip once to coat in oil. Bake until crisp, about 10 minutes.
4. Pour tomato sauce over chicken, allowing for some sauce underneath each piece ( I had to use tongs to do this). Top with cheeses and bake until bubbling and top is lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Each serving only has 307 calories, so that is pretty great. I have to say I think I used a heavy hand with the mozzarella, but I will live. I served this with whole wheat spaghetti tossed in just a bit of olive oil. It was delicious!

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