New Year’s Day & Chocolate Cake

Happy New Year from LBDelicious! I hope all y’all got to eat as much delicious, traditional New Year’s Day food as we did this weekend. We had a pretty low-key New Year’s Eve so that I could run a 10K as fast as I possibly could the next morning. I used this fast run as an excuse to eat as much as possible the rest of the day, where we had about 3 different invitations to hang out with 3 different groups of people in 3 different parts of town! I felt super popular, but I felt really bad that we had to miss my friend Whitney’s “stop in and eat” party, because she can also cook like a mad woman and her friends are cool. So Whitney: if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry we missed out on your fun party! Next year, we’re in.

After the race, we went to Shaun & Jenn’s house for a small “recovery” gathering where we ate our black eyed peas, delicious little cornbread bites, and tasty snacks. I’ve decided I love New Year’s Day food – everyone does it differently but it’s all delicious!

Our friends Laura & Heyward then cooked us a traditional New Year’s Day dinner feast that rivaled any New Year’s Day feast I’ve ever had.

Some backstory: I’ve been friends with Laura since 1999, when we both ended up in ADPi at UNA and subsequently got 4 jam-packed years of fun memories involving all sorts of random sorority- and college-related activities. Which old school picture should I choose to represent us here on my publicly viewable blog? The one of us dressed up for sorority recruitment as Peter Pan and Tinkerbell (“come join us in search of the ADPi treasure!”)? Or just one from a sorority formal, where we looked slightly prettier and less like we needed to be committed?

Since I want to keep Laura as a friend, I think I’ll go with one from a formal. Ah, memories.

Somehow, after college(s),we both ended up married to super cool people and living in the Atlanta area. And we all love delicious food, and try to enjoy it together often. Thanks to Laura & H, we’ve ventured out and tried restaurants we never would have gone to on our own. They’ve introduced us to some favorites, like Bone Garden Cantina, Varasano’s Pizza, Double Zero Napolitano, Ormsby’s, Muss & Turner’s, and, the place that ruined “regular ham” for us forever: Iberian Pig.

They graciously invited us over on Sunday night for a traditional New Year’s Day dinner feast. You think you know someone, since they’ve been in your life in some form for the past 13 years, and then they cook you dinner and you realize that you had NO. IDEA. just how incredible their kitchen skills are.

 They went all out for this one. We know that black eyed peas are traditional New Year’s Day fare, but since H doesn’t prefer them, we did lima beans instead. I’m not kidding you: they were the most fantastic lima beans I’ve ever had. There they are, front and center in the table. Behind them is the pan of cornbread I made from Cat Cora’s recipe, which is my new favorite recipe and was one of my small contributions to the meal.

Laura also whipped up some collard greens, which she explained was a complicated process that resulted in the most delicious, sublime, buttery greens ever. Notice the little ramekin with the pot liquor for cornbread dipping. Mmmmm. When we walked in their house, this was what I smelled first.

That delicious smell was quickly followed by my favorite smell next to freshly cut grass: barbecued porky goodness.

No, you know what? Barbecued pork IS my favorite smell ever. Forget the freshly cut grass thing.Pork reigns supreme.

H was in charge of the BBQ pork shoulder. It was above and beyond restaurant quality. He also made his own sauces – two of them – one from his homeland of Greenville, another Lexington style. I, unashamedly, doused my mound(s) of roasted porky goodness with a little of both. I can’t tell you which I liked more, because they were both that awesome.

We basically pigged out once we sat down to eat. There was a lot of food, and we put a really good dent in it. To make things even better, they sent us home with leftovers! They aren’t in the restaurant business yet, but when they decide to start up their food truck, go ahead & plan to enjoy several good meals with them.

No meal is complete without dessert, even if that meal resulted in your being so stuffed you just have to lay on a couch watching NFL for a few hours to let things digest. Laura also happens to be a fantastic baker, and one of her specialities is cooking with beer and liquor. I wish I’d taken a picture of her beer & plum tart that we somehow made room for after a couple hours. It was a gorgeous, perfect little holiday cake that tasted a lot like gingerbread and did not taste anything like beer. Tasty and awesome!

I knew Laura was making dessert, but the night before, I made Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake in both bundt cake and cupcake form to have as the dessert for our super low-key New Year’s Eve. The cupcakes were basically gone thanks mostly to my being a stress eater and worrying that Auburn was going to lose, but the cake didn’t get touched – so it got brought to the party on Sunday.

Let me tell you: I love that chocolate cake. It’s been my favorite chocolate cake that I’ve made, ever. I didn’t make her icing, and instead made up a vanilla buttercream with a secret superstar ingredient: mascarpone cheese!

So, in this blog devoted to how amazing my friends can cook, here’s the one little original recipe I have to share with you:

Vanilla Buttercream Mascarpone Frosting

Let a stick of butter come to room temperature. With an electric mixer, whip the butter, and gradually add about 1 cup powdered sugar. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 4-6 ounces of mascarpone cheese. Taste, and add more powdered sugar for sweetness and to make the icing harden slightly.

End of recipe.

That icing is good, but it pales in comparison to what our fantastic foodie friends made for us on New Year’s Day this year. If the quality or quantity of the food I ate was any indication for what 2012 will be like, I’ll have plenty of cash (because I ate a ton of greens), be super lucky (thanks to the variety of beans I ate) and have lots of forward progress (because I ate lots of pig).

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“Thank You” Dinner

On Sunday night, Dave and I had my friend (well, okay, “our friend” but he was my friend way before I knew Dave) Josh, his roommate Billy and his girlfriend Laura over for dinner. I called it a “thank you dinner” since Josh was nice enough to let us to stay at the beach with him and his parents over Memorial Day Weekend, and the crew that showed up for dinner was the exact same crew who we enjoyed spending time with at the beach that weekend, which was one of the best weekends we had all summer. I really hoped that this meal would say “thanks,” “you’re awesome,” “it’s hard to believe we’ve been friends since 2003 and that makes me feel pretty old,” “it’s good to have a friend like you whose name is attached to many stories from Auburn that I often share for humorous effect and some I will forever insist never happened,” and “remember when you & Billy capsized the sailboat, Laura & I freaked out, and Super Dave kayaked out to rescue you?” (all 100% truths, by the way). But I also wanted to make the meal even more special because this crew was coming all the way OTP (outside the perimeter, for those non-Atlantans) to our house, which is a trek most ITP (inside the perimeter) folks do not enjoy making.

And if there’s one meal I have in my repertoire that has not yet disappointed anyone (granted, I’ve only made it for Dave so far, but I swear it’s one of the reasons he wanted to marry me), it’s Giada’s filet with gorgonzola and porcini mushroom cream sauce, rosemary roasted potatoes, roasted asparagus, and for dessert, apple pastries with homemade caramel and ice cream. I knew this might work for tonight for several reasons: (a) while at the beach, Billy, Laura and I discussed blue cheese at least twice, (b) you can’t go wrong with steak for dinner, unless you’re having vegans or vegetarians over, and (c) Josh was one of the first people I knew who openly admitted to watching Giada for the pornographic nature of her show, sometimes putting her on mute just to watch her work. I figured making one of her signature dishes would probably be okay.

(sorry to do this to you, G. for those who are unfamiliar, gratuitous video of semi-pornographic Giada.)

To help document the occasion, Laura took several pictures at various points during the meal. She almost video recorded the whole thing, but I’m secretly glad she didn’t because at one point while I was searing the steaks, the smoke alarm went off and we had to open all the doors in the house to let out an intense amount of smoke. While I totally *meant* to do that, it might not have appeared that way on camera. So, instead, here are some lovely pics she took to help me tell the story of the meal.

First: I follow Giada’s filet recipe to the letter. It’s perfect. Really, it is. No substitutions are needed. I splurged on the filet and got really good quality gorgonzola, which makes all the difference, especially if you’re not totally crazy about blue cheese in the first place. I’m not crazy about blue cheese, but I love, love, love this dish, because I get good quality gorgonzola from the cheese case at Harry’s in Marietta. I swear it makes a difference.

Here’s a shot of me sautéing some shallots in white wine and adding my reconstituted porcini mushrooms. Mmmm. Shallots. Mushrooms. White wine.

The trickiest part about cooking steaks is figuring out exactly when they’re done perfectly. I’m not very good at it, so I just guessed. On Sunday, I seared the steaks (about 2″ thick) for 2-3 minutes on each side (all 4 sides, mind you), then popped them into a convection oven at 375 for 7 minutes. They rested for about 5, and they were all pretty close to medium. Here I am, showing off the goods!

Mmmm. Steaks.

Steaks are delicious, but that gorgonzola sauce was the true winner of the night. Here’s Josh attempting to drink the sauce through a straw.

Apparently, he liked the sauce. Mrs. Allen, if you’re reading this: I’m sorry I enabled this particular photograph. And I promise your son demonstrated more manners than this the rest of the night. He even led us in a discussion of proper manners earlier in the evening.

And, apparently, the sides were a hit, too. For the potatoes, all I did was take about 8 medium-sized red potatoes, dice them into 1″ cubes, toss them on a sheet pan with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and some fresh rosemary, and cooked them at 400 for about 25 minutes, tossing once.

For the asparagus, really I did the same thing… cleaned & trimmed the ends off, tossed in oil, salt & pepper, and roasted at 400 for about 15 minutes. The warmer drawer on my kick-ass stove kept them pretty toasty until we were ready to eat.

See? Clean plates & smiles all around!

Dave looks pretty happy… that’s Josh’s clean plate there front & center… I’m surprised he didn’t pick it up and lick it.

Showing this one because it’s not often I look tan. Whatever filter Josh has on his camera, I need it for all future pictures of me.

The dessert warrants its own post, so I’ll save that one for later. I swear, it’s delicious, and cheap.

So, it seems like “thank you dinner” was a success. The best part for me was having a house full of friends & an excuse to go a little crazy at the grocery store this week. This meal is a perfect way to easily impress people, or just say how much you appreciate them driving to the ‘burbs for dinner.