Christmas Party

This year, we decided to have a tapas Christmas party. Allow me to clarify: I said a TAPAS party, not a TOPLESS party, much to the chagrin of no fewer than 3 people who “heard” otherwise. While it’s true that things got a little crazy when we started playing the Game of Things, everyone managed to keep their shirts on and, I hope, had a good time. I certainly did.

I had a little anxiety going into this party, because usually when we have people over, there’s a very specific reason or event, giving us a main task aside from just talking/eating/drinking/being merry. Case in point: football watching parties,

Chloe says War Eagle?

the LOST finale party (where we encouraged guests to dress up as a character from LOST and I made fish biscuits)

(obviously, we’re Kate and Ben)

and the epic Rock Band Party of 2008 where you had to dress up as a rock star to come play.

If you look really hard in that one up there, you can see one of our “groupies” in the back attempting to take off his shirt & give to the band

That’s my alter-ego, LBDiva, with K-Biz (Kid Rock’s cousin)

But Saturday was just a legitimate get-together. No dressing up. No crazy theme. Just tapas & Christmas. The task-oriented part of me started to freak out when I realized this. Is it possible to just have people over for no specific reason (other than food & wine)? Could I really be laid-back for a whole night & just enjoy some excellent company & conversation? Give my friends who didn’t know each other a chance to socialize with other cool people and make new friends? The answer was yes, because my friends just so happen to be the most awesome people on the planet.

Since it was finals week, I spent a good deal of time obsessing over anything but finals, grades, and work, and instead planned out an ambitious menu & bought Christmas decorations. Yes – you read that correctly – I decorated for Christmas.

Another great thing about this party was that our friends, who are all fantastic cooks, brought lots of treats to share and supplemented my small plates. For example, I wish I’d taken a picture of Kevin’s cranberry orange cake which was beautiful AND delicious (seriously; it looked like something out of a magazine and tasted divine. That man’s got some serious cake skills). But, once people started showing up, I went into “hostess” mode and completely spaced on taking pictures of all my food, as I originally intended to do. So you’ll just have to use your imagination to figure out what this looked like. Here are a few things I whipped up to serve:

Flatbread with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, feta & bacon

Flatbread with proscuitto, figs & goat cheese

(me making the flatbreads. I really just wanted an excuse to wear my new apron!)

Steak & chicken skewers (cheated; store bought from Harry’s)

Chipotle & Rosemary Spiced Nuts (good thing I watched the Barefoot Contessa cocktail party special the morning of the party & picked up this little gem, they were addictive & tasty!)

Cheese tray with brie, goat & gouda cheeses

Zuccini & onion frittata with gruyere

French bread with balsamic dipping sauce

White bean dip with pita chips

Triple Chocolate Brownies (a party staple at my house)

The one activity we did have was a cookie decorating contest. I made gingerbread and sugar cookies, and an assortment of colored royal icings, and let people decorate their own cookies for a prize.

Whitney & Brian, hard at work

table full of fun!

Formose closely supervised Chris & Travice’s work

We had some beautifully decorated cookies in the contest, but Brian ended up winning. I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of the story he told in sugar cookies & gingerbread men. So, let’s just say he was exceptionally creative in designing an artistic representation of a captivating story I’d told earlier in the night. His multi-cookie, “real life” scenario was the unanimous winner.

Other fun happenings of note:

* I nearly knocked Kevin’s cake out of his hands when he walked in the door. I’m that clumsy, and I was also that excited to see him. We probably both would’ve cried if that had happened.

* Dr. Jones led a very informative, impromptu bourbon tasting event for a few guests. I knew the man loved his bourbon and knew a lot about it, but little did I know he can offer a historical, social & foodie perspective on pretty much all bourbons, on the fly, with no prior preparation. I’m pretty sure he would be an excellent docent on the bourbon trail.

Kevin, Dave & Genay, probably talking about bourbon or football or Kevin’s tasty cake

* A cluster of my guests somehow got into a discussion about extreme couponing, which led me to show off my own coupon collection, in a little organized file box that I set up when I got my first apartment in 2003. I think they were secretly impressed. So, come to a party at my house; I’ll show you my coupon collection. That’s totally normal, right?

* Lee & Genay bonded over Paul Finebaum (excuse me: PAAWWWLLL Finebaum)

* Whitney & I went all kinds of ADPi & did a “sorority squat” picture (and she brought me the most precious little lion body pouf from Pier 1 – I heart Alphie and her!)

Pi Love!

* Lindsey tried to talk me into going to the Chick-fil-A bowl on New Year’s Eve. I’m pretty sure I agreed, and I’m pretty sure she knew I would, because (a) it’s hard for me to turn down a $35 Auburn game in Atlanta and (b) whenever either of us wants to talk someone into going to a game/traveling/attending something, we wait until they’ve had a couple of drinks – the answer is never “no” in those circumstances. I totally fell for our trick!

Lindsey & Darcey!

* Jay & I realized that we keep turning down each other’s invitations to go to the other’s spin classes because we are extremely loyal to our favorite spin instructors and don’t want to cheat on them

Love her!

* Speaking of spin instructors, mine was in attendance! So Chris & I made quite possibly the most epic spin class mix ever that we used in class the next morning (and I now have a new fun distraction: make spin class playlists! Who knew the gang on Sundays at 9:15 liked 80s pop as much as I do?)

* My pals from Rome showed up and got thrown into playing the Game of Things, which means they learned a lot about a lot of people in a short amount of time (but they had great stories about another party they’d been to earlier in the night)

And, on a serious note/at the risk of sounding completely corny, the best thing about the party was being surrounded by people I love dearly. I’m not sure what I did to deserve such amazing people as friends, but I’m incredibly lucky to have so many fun, outgoing, friendly people in my life. I’ve come to realize that one of the most important things in this life is to be surrounded by good people, and Saturday reminded me of just how many wonderful people I know! This was a highlight of my holiday season, and I’m so thankful that everyone came to eat, drink & be merry for a while.

I hope that all of you, dear readers, enjoy your holidays! Thanks for reading. See y’all in January!

“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.