Sunday, February 20, 2011

Italian feast!

Well since I just moved into this house with Rebecca about a month ago, I decided it was imperative to invite the girls over for dinner to show off both the new house and some of our cooking skills.  I've been wanting to make lasagna for awhile, but wanted to do something different, and more challenging.  So what the heck, why not make the noodles, too?  Afterall, Rebecca has the coveted Cuisinart stand mixer with the pasta attachment, once of the few kitchen gadgets I've been DYING to get for years and still do not have.  Turns out the dough part is really easy to make but I was a little bit scared of the pasta attachment so I let Rebecca take the reins on that one.  Next time. :)  Since I wanted to make sure I could make a recipe vegetarian friendly, I chose this chicken & spinach lasagna and made a separate version without the layer of chicken.  I didn't follow it exactly, because I never do, but close enough.  The container of ricotta was slightly less than what the recipe called for...didn't care.  I've never used a leek before and likely did not use it in its entirety- so it was in there, but probably not as much.  The amount of mozz that the recipe called for was simply unacceptable so I just put as much on as I thought necessary.  And, I did not layer it exactly as the recipe indicated so I had 5 layers instead of 7 but it was just fine! 

Rebecca handled the bread as she is a pro at this.  The baking stone is always in the oven and she has a wooden peel.  I don't have the recipe she used at the moment but it was some sort of herb bread amazingness.

Of course there were Italian appetizers.  Since last weekend we had so much success with the deep fryer, I figured it was worth using again.  The best Italian choices were arancini and mozzarella bites.  For the mozz bites, it was string cheese cut into bites, dipped in flour, egg, and Italian bread crumbs, and fried lightly.  For the arancini, I made risotto ( recipe here) with onions, garlic, risotto rice (duh), white wine, veggie stock, and then at the end I stirred in spinach (to match the lasagna) and grated parm.  This alone was pretty tasty but I stuck it in the fridge until completely cooled and then used my cookie scooper to roll little balls.  These were also dipped in the flour, egg, and Italian bread crumbs and then fried.  DELISH!  Not too shabby for my first attempt AND no recipe.  Of course these fried cheesy rice balls of heaven needed a dipping sauce so I used a can of diced tomatoes, a crap ton of garlic, oregano, salt, and then vodka.  I let it simmer for awhile and then pureed it with the immersion blender and added a tiny bit of cream and some fresh basil.  Holy good.  You can't see the sauce in the picture because it was so good I drank it.  Maybe it was the vodka.

To go with all this healthy fried goodness, of course we needed a salad - another no recipe situation.  Roma tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, fresh mozz, all stacked up.  Then I reduced some balsamic vinegar with a tiny bit of sugar to make a syrupy drizzle.  If you ever have the desire to burn your nostrils, boiling a pan of balsamic vinegar is definitely the way to go.  I don't know how long it boiled but it took FOREVER, then I had to let it cool, drizzle on the salad, add some olive oil and fresh basil, and isn't it pretty?  The balsamic soaked into the cheese so next time I'd wait until immediately before serving to add it, but it still tasted good to me!

Oh and these crisp little breadstick thingees - so thin and pretty and tasty!!  Rebecca's creation.

Can't forget dessert, that's my favorite part!  I found a few recipes for tiramisu completely from scratch.  The ladyfingers, the marscapone, ALL of the components.  But I realized that I didn't really have the time to devote to this project so I went with a much easier version of tiramisu that was so stupidly easy that I feel like I still need to challenge myself to the real thing.  The recipe indicates not to soak the ladyfingers for too long - they weren't kidding.  And I could have let the marscapone come to room temperature before mixing into the whipped cream but frankly, it still tasted amazing.  I froze it about an hour before the girls arrived and I think the resulting texture was perfect.  I should have made two!

Rebecca also made some ridiculously delicious brownies just in case we hadn't had enough food.  Since the tiramisu is chocolate free (other than the chocolate shavings on top), I thought it was a good touch.

The best part of the feast tho was being able to spend time with so many great girls.  The final tally ended up being 10 - which just fits around my kitchen table.  Everyone was stuck in traffic for an obnoxious amount of time to get here, and then they had to run thru a monsoon to get to my house once they found parking, so I was really glad so many girls were able to come.  Lots of wine, food, laughs - all around good time.  And discussions for the next themed dinner party...I think I know what I want to do but suggestions are welcome.

And a final challenge at the end of the night - Rebecca has a small obsession with truffles and therefore has a lot of recipes she wants to make involving truffle oil and mushrooms.  I find mushrooms to be chewy nasty little vile pieces of Styrofoam, but I have had truffle oil on something and I didn't die.  So she is challenging me to try something more with mushrooms.  And my return challenge to her was to try fish.  I really like cooking with fish (especially since my vegetarian and/or non pork & beef eating friends) will usually eat it.  So we'll see what comes of our challenges to each other!

Oh and for some reason comments aren't working on our page so I need to look into that one of these days....

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