Dinner party/Brunch/Inauguration playdate

Just to recap on the rest of the kitchen activities of this weekend:

Saturday night Brian and Liz brought their little K over for dinner.  K is two months younger than E (exactly) and they are very cute together crawling around together and occasionally using each other as a step stool or for balance when pulling up.  We had an Italian dinner (little K has sensitivities to dairy so I chucked the idea of French food!)  We had a very delicious chicken roasted with pancetta and olives, minus the olives, an escarole fennel and frisee salad without the frisee, and polenta with franklin’s teleme cheese except we substituted mascarpone and an argentinian parmesan cheese.  We also had dandelion greens after I couldn’t find broccoli raab (as usual, I forgot to take into account how much greens shrink when cooked and didn’t buy enough).  I did find a recipe for calvados sorbet, and since we had leftover sparking cider and calvados from Christmas, I tried it.  Believe it or not many of these recipes used some items I had sitting around so I was very pleased.  The chicken was a really great recipe–very easy because you just mix olive oil and the herbs and toss the chicken in it and pop it in the oven.  Really easy and really delicious–I love the taste of rosemary which heavily features in this recipe.  The polenta had a very mild flavor–almost bland but I wonder if it was the argentinian “reggianito parmisano” which is nowhere near as salty as parmesan.  (I love the name:  very easy to confuse with “pamigiano reggiano”–but it’s also like 1/4 the price.  It doesn’t actually taste that much like parmesan–not much salt and not that same grainy texture as parmesan–but it’s not a bad cheese–I’m just not sure it’s a substiute).  Still, there’s something very soothing about eating polenta, perfect for a cold winter night in fact.  The whole stirring constantly requirement is a bit of an obstacle to me making it more often (luckily I was able to enlist Brian to stand and stir for me to have a break!  Yes, that’s true class on the part of your hostess here.)

Italian dinner

We went to a brunch on Monday and I made vanilla cranberry coffeecake and an onion tart with fennel and mustard.  The vanilla cranberry cake was another great way to use up things in the kitchen.  I had bought some cranberries jsut before christmas but they were still sitting around (cranberries keep for a month in the fridge, before you are horrified).  Also I had some very dried up vanilla beans purchased about 11 months ago.  I wondered if I could still use them and checked the internet–while they are supposed to keep 6-9 months I also saw you could rehydrate them by soaking in water.  I figured it was worth a shot and it actually worked:  I soaked them in water and was able to slice them open and scrape out the vanilla bean.  The vanilla bean paste is mixed in with the flour which is then used to mix with the cranberries, the cake, and the topping.  Using fresh cranberries is not required by the recipe but I can’t imagine not doing so after tasting the result with fresh cranberries.  While they were finely chopped in the food processor, they had a bit more substance then I feel would be the case if they were frozen first–I bet those would have just ended up mushier in the end.   (I half wonder why I am admitting to all these things as I know my co-brunchers read this blog.  I hope you appreciate my ingenuity in “these tough economic times” to not let anything go to waste!  I’m actually kind of excited at salvaging those super-pricey vanilla beans!)

Cranberry vanilla coffeecake

As for the onion tart (which has the important virtue that it can be made with things in the pantry)–this seemed to be a variation of the pissaladiere of Alsace, but no anchovies (I’m starting to acquire a taste, but those guys are very much an acquired taste)!  I had made pissaladiere before from the Mark Bittman cookbook, but have to say this turned out better.  I think the amount of dough called for was less so the crust was thinner and therefore there was more chance to taste the onion, fennel and mustard.  While this takes a while to make (rising the dough, caramelizing the onions) it’s not something that requires constant attention once it gets going.  I made both the topping and the tart the day before:  the onions were prepared in the morning and I made the dough in the evening.  The dough rose nicely overnight in the fridge–the ability to use temperature to speed up and slow down yeast really is a fantastic way to fit bread making into real life–and then I rolled it out and spread the toppings.  I’m hoping to try a butternut squash tart soon–now that I’m getting more comfortable with rolling things out with the rolling pin.  My rollpat mat is fantastic and very much worth the price!

onion-tart

We took the sweet and the savory to a friends for a brunch on Monday–I was glad I had leftovers to take home because I was too busy eating they great things our hosts and other guests had prepared to get much chance to try the cake and tart.  E had a playgroup on Tuesday around the time of the inauguration so we re-served the tart and cake and the mamas watched Obama.

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