Cooking for 25… Happy belated birthday, Aunt Ginny!

My Aunt Ginny’s birthday party was last weekend, and my mother and I (and several amazing helpers) concocted and executed a menu for 25 people:

Appetizers:

Mini Sandwiches: Egg salad, Tuna salad and Avocado-Cucumber
Onion Dip

Potato Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Darlene)
Pasta Salad
Shrimp and Orzo Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Candace)
Arugula Salad (my mom made this is and it was far and away the most popular dish; almonds, green apples, fresh Parm, evoo and s&p – adapted from a Whole Foods salad)

Main Dishes:

Chicken-Zucchini Skewers
Poached Salmon w/ Avocado Sauce and Dill-Tomato Sauce

Desserts:

Birthday cakes!

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Tuna Salad Sandwich Rounds (20-24 rounds)

Ingredients:
2 cans tuna in olive oil, drained
3 tbsp mayo
1 large roasted red pepper bottled in oil , rinsed, drained, and finely chopped
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I used less)
Salt and pepper
Unsalted butter, softened
24 thin slices whole grain bread (or whatever kind you like; we used a mixture of white and wheat)
Small bunch fresh parsley, very finely chopped

Method:

Mix the tuna and next 3 ingredients in a bowl; season to taste. Chill for 15 minutes up to overnight. When ready to prepare, Scoop salad onto rounds of bread, top with remaining rounds and lightly butter the edges of the sandwiches. Roll in fresh parsley. Stack, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Egg Salad Pita Pockets (20-24 pitas)

Ingredients:
8 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped finely
4 tbsps mayonnaise
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
24 mini pita pockets (we used a mixture of white and wheat)
unsalted butter, softened
watercress sprigs for garnish

Chicken kebabs

Makes 6-8 kebabs (we quadrupled this recipe… it was epic)

1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 zucchini, sliced very thinly lengthways
6–8 metal or wooden skewers or sticks of fresh rosemary, lower leaves removed, tips kept on

Marinade
1 handful of fresh coriander
1 handful of fresh mint
3 cloves of garlic
6 spring onions
1 red chili
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Blanch the zucchini strips in salted boiling water for 30 seconds then drain and allow to cool.

Blitz all the marinade ingredients (except the olive oil) in a food processor, then loosen to a paste with a little olive oil. Add the marinade to the chicken pieces and mix well. Allow to sit for up to an hour. Then weave the zucchini strips in between the chicken pieces on the rosemary sticks or skewers. Grill for around 8 minutes, turning regularly, until cooked.

If you need to keep warm, sprinkle with a bit more oil and cover loosely with foil.

**Recipe from: JamieOliver.com

Poached Salmon with Dill-Tomato Sauce

Sauce (for 1lb salmon)
1/4 cup light mayo
1 tbsp low fat milk
1 tbsp minced fresh dill or 1 tsp dill weed
1 tbsp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1 small tomato, diced

Poaching (in the microwave!)
sprayed or lightly oil-coated ceramic or glass dish
2 salmon fillets
3 tbsps water, if more salmon use more water
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
4 lemon slices
Cover dish and salmon with plastic wrap; poke holes to vent.
Microwave on high for 6-8 minutes, turning 1/2 way through (unless, of course, you have a rotating tray in your microwave). Fish should flake easily with a fork.
Let stand 2 minutes, serve with sauce.
Thanks to my Aunt Ginny for this recipe! So easy and so delicious.

Gemelli with Tomatoes, Olives & Ricotta

Coarse salt
8 ounces gemelli (or fusilli or penne)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed (optional)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup fresh basil, torn
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain. Drizzle with just enough oil to coat, so the pasta doesn’t clump.

Pulse sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, capers, and garlic in a food processor. With machine running, add oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss together pasta, sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes, olives, basil, and salt. Transfer to serving plates. Top with a scoop of ricotta, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with pepper.

**Recipe from: Zested (the picture here is prettier than mine… check it out)

Photos:

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It was a wonderful party. I got to see my cousin Anna for the first time in years, and our two new baby cousins were there looking precious and perfect. And my Aunt Ginny, who has been there for me my whole life, was I hope at least a little surprised that we were all there!

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A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Which is greener, a meat or a veggie burger? Theory on politically-influenced baby names

-o- Happy day after Mother’s Day -o-

I have an absolutely wonderful mother. I got to spend Saturday evening with her and the rest of my family at a gala supporting Single Carrot Theater in Baltimore. We also had a wonderful brunch Sunday morning. My mom is a beautiful, kind, patient, capable, sweet, intelligent, and endlessly forgiving woman. I hope she and all the other mothers in the world had a lovely weekend.

Bonues: Nature’s toughest mothers from BBC.

-o- Which is greener: a steak or a veggie burger? -o-

If you love the planet, you love veggies… right? Conventional wisdom holds that beef – factory raised, hormone injected, delicious delicious beef – is terrible for the planet and you’re terrible for eating each raw tasty morsel. However, people are beginning to realize that its the overproduction of food that destroys its ‘green-ness.’

Raw veggies are of course the best for the energy-in energy-out ratio, but veggie burgers and all of the processes required to make them taste like beef could be worse that grass-fed beef people are trying to replace it with.

Experts weigh in on a Mother Jones forum.

-o- Top 10 Twitter pics of the week from Mashable’s Charlie White -o-

These are always so fun. Love Beyonce’s dress. Check them out: Slideshow.

-o- According to The Washington Post, graduates are facing a better markets this year -o-

Finally some good news on the employment front. While the recession has been relatively easy on those with higher degrees, matriculating students still didn’t have it easy. Now, students graduating have better chances of finding jobs than those who have graduated in the last three years. Here’s the article from The Washington Post.

-o- Van Halen’s “No Brown M&Ms backstage rule” -o-

Turns out he had a really good reason: Over-sexed over drugged rockstars try to get away with whatever they can. While that may regularly be the case, Van Halen’s brown M&Ms were really an ingenuous idea to detect venue neglect. If you haven’t heard the rumors and reasons… check out the NPR piece and video.

-o- Partisan divide in baby-naming? -o-

This is really kind of funny. Is nothing off limits? It’s not that people are consciously giving their kids  political names like Bill O’Rights, Ellie Phants, or Don Q. Kong (hmmm…). However political divides apparently influence parents and the names they give their kids. To find out how and to determine if you agree, see the NPR article.

-o- Cooking this week: Pasta Salad -o-

Here’s a Pasta Pomodoro salad from The Parsley Thief; we plan to add some shredded rotisserie chicken. Mmmmm. Doesn’t this look incredible?

(Image credit: The Parsley Thief)

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Thanks to Brian for helping me out this week… and happy four-year anniversary to my perfect man.

New cookware, new recipes: Mac & Cheese and Cajun-spiced Flounder

Fun fun fun! The other day I decided to take a whole evening to cook. Not go to the gym, not clean, not get ahead on work for the next day… just cook. I got to use new cookware and new recipes, and everything turned out wonderfully! Enjoy!

Brian’s mother Diane found the Dutch oven (right) in a hole-in-the-wall shop in Baltimore and bought me one for a gift. I purchased my first and only piece of Le Creuset ware (left) on Rue La La, my daily temptress.

Skillet Cajun Spiced Flounder with Tomatoes (from SkinnyTaste)

(source)

Ingredients:

Olive oil
Flounder fillets (I used 2 large, 8 oz. pieces of fish – any other flaky white fish would do as well)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green pepper, diced
5-6 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
Approx. 1 tbsp. cajun seasoning (I made my own: paprika, cayenne, oregano, garlic powder and S+P)

Method:

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet large enough to hold all the fish comfortably. I got to use my new Dutch oven!!! Cook the garlic and onion for a few minutes until soft and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, peppers and spices and saute until the tomatoes and peppers begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Next, add the fish fillets and submerge in the sauce as completely as you can.

Let the fish simmer for 12-15 minutes until done. It will easily flake with a fork.

Enjoy! Here’s the original recipe from SkinnyTaste.com.

Macaroni and Cheese (from What to Cook and How to Cook It by Jane Hornby)

I was SO excited to make this. I’d been staring at the recipe in the cookbooks for over a year and decided it was high time to give in.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized onion
1 bay leaf
3 cups milk (I used 2 cups whole and 1 cup 2%)
1 tsp salt
12 oz macaroni (any tube-shaped pasta will work fine)
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
7 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
fresh nutmeg (optional)
4 ripe tomatoes, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the macaroni. While the water heats up, add the milk, the onion (roughly chopped) and the bay leaf to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium hit until little bubbles just start to form (see photo). Remove from the heat and let sit and infuse for 10 minutes or more.

Add the salt to the pasta water and then the macaroni. Return to a boil and cook until almost done (8 minutes or so) then drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water.

Once the milk has infused, remove the onion and bay leaf with a slotted spoon discard. Then stir the butter and flour into the milk and cook over medium-high heat, stirring with a whisk until sauce has thickened (the cookbook says 5 minutes, it only took me about 3).

Preheat the oven to 350. Add the mustard, nutmeg (if using, which I did… yay Penzey Spices) and about two-thirds of each of the cheeses to the sauce. Stir well and season to taste. If the pasta has stuck together, add a bit of cooking water to loosen, then pour the pasta and sauce into the baking dish, stirring well.

Sprinkle the remaining cheeses over top and add the tomato slices. Top with a bit more salt and pepper and then bake for about 30 minutes.

Mmmm… Enjoy!