Monday, October 31, 2011

A Very Coen Brothers Halloween

Happy Halloween everybody! As promised in Friday's Burn After Reading article, my Halloween prezzie to you is a costume gallery of Coen Brothers characters. Most of these are pretty simply done - perfect for throwing a Coen Brothers movie night, or if you're having trouble coming up with a last-minute costume idea for tonight.

H.I. McDunnough - Raising Arizona

Have questionable facial hair and killer sideburns? Consider throwing on a Hawaiian shirt over an old wife-beater, and you're most of the way there. A little mug-shot placard could do the trick here. Alternatively, you could put a pair of pantyhose over your head and run around with an economy-size package of pampers.

This is a great family costume - get your wife to dress as an 80's housewife or lady cop, and carry your little blond baby around all night.

Feeling lazy? Throw on a suit and bring a hula hoop - instant Norville Barnes.
Norville Barnes - The Hudsucker Proxy
Hey, ladies! Having an unseasonably cold Halloween? Pregnant and starting to show? Now is your perfect chance to throw on a khaki suit and a parka, and throw a sheriff's star on a fur-lined hat with ear flaps.
Marge Gunderson - Fargo
The best group costume? There are so many Big Lebowski options. Vaguely resemble an overweight stoner beach bum? How about a stocky Vietnam vet with a short fuse and a penchant for cargo shorts?

Walter and the Dude
The Dude and Maude
Ladies, might I suggest dressing like fantasy-Maude? Or guys, I would truly love to see Jesus if you can swing the purple jumpsuit, bowling shoes and hairnet.
Don't fuck with the Jesus

O Brother, Where Art Thou is another favorite of mine. If you and a couple of your bros are stuck on a costume, all you need is to rustle up some striped pajamas and a liberal amount of pomade. Or you can get a cheap ZZ Top beard and some coveralls and go as a Foggy Bottom Boy.

Ever see No Country for Old Men? Then you know how terrifying a combover pageboy and a denim tuxedo can be. Bonus points if you fabricate your own cattle bolt.

Anton Chigur - No Country for Old Men

Hugh as Anton Chigur - basically my inspiration for
for this entire post

Finally, one of my faves. I have always wanted to dress up as Linda Litzke - blond wig, red Hardbodies shirt. And I wouldn't say no to a sports-drinking, frosted-haired, fist-pumping, headphone- wearing Chad Feldheimer as my date.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Throw Down: Burn After Reading Movie Night

Burn After Reading is the quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It's darkly hilarious, completely twisted, it takes no prisoners and does not end up the way you'd expect. This movie night, treat your friends to a tale of grassroots espionage - fueled by wild egotism, tragic superficiality, and rabid conspiracy theories.

Movie nights are incredibly simple to throw. All you need to do is rent the movie on your way home, pop some popcorn and go! But if you'd like to make it a very special movie night, consider serving food as it appears in the movie.

Below, we’ll take you step by step through all the food served – add as many or as few of these touches as you’d like. Click here for a Very Coen Brothers Halloween where we will list some costume ideas based on characters from their many fine films. And click here for a Coen Brothers-inspired playlist.   
Do all of your cooking and plating before the party, so it will be a simple matter of plunking down a tray and getting out of the way. If you decide to serve stir-fry, this can be prepared shortly before the party, and then gently warmed over the lowest possible flame on the stove, covered, as the movie starts. If you decide to serve shu mai, place it in advance in the microwave, then simply zap it when the time comes. Popcorn should be pre-popped and dressed.
When your guests arrive let them get comfortable. Serve up a choice of Cuba Libres, wine, or soda. Give each person a plate, a cloth napkin, and a fork if you’re serving the hot foods. Aaaand ACTION!
Minute 3: Malkovitch pours himself a Cuba Libre – this is your cue to bring out some chevre on toasts for the party scene.
Minute 4: Bring out veggies and dip.
Minute 12: Bring out grapes and cold green beans – don’t forget to bring a set of tongs for serving!
Minute 20: Clooney and McDormand are about to go on their movie date. Pass around some m&ms.
Minute 21: Clooney is about to take her for some dinner – this is your cue to bring out the stir fry.
Minute 28: Jenkins and McDormand are sitting in the bar, munching on bread sticks. On your way out of the kitchen with the breadsticks, start nuking the shu mai.
Minute 38: Another dinner date! Bring out the shu mai.
Minute 47: Bring out some blackberries and cream. I like to portion it out ahead of time in ramekins for each guest, then just bring out one big tray.
Minute 49: We’re moments away from another movie date – bring out the tub of buttered popcorn.
Minute 1:09: Finish off with a little palette cleanser – some baby carrots.

After the movie's over, as guests are lingering, you can pop some more popcorn, break out some board games, or take a page out of McDormand's book and see who can find the most embarassing personals ad the internet has to offer. Kick back and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

6,000 Pageviews Giveaway!

Dear Readers,

We did it! After a little over four months, we hit our 6,000th pageview early this morning. This is cause for celebration! It's also a great time to say thank you for reading.

It's time for a giveaway.

And the winners as chosen by are . . .
Grand Prize winner: Jenniflair
2nd Prize winner: Fthrnick
3rd Prize winner: Sorsha

Hooray! Thanks for playing, kids. I hope you stick with us and keep on partying like it's $19.99. I'm already scheming about future giveaways . . .


So friends, here's how it's going to work. If you would like to enter to win one of four great prizes, all you need to do is write a comment starting with the word: Gimme! Then comment with your favorite party theme - the best party you've been to, your favorite party post from this blog, or a party theme you've always wanted to try out. And who knows? You may just see this party theme fleshed out in a future post.

One entry per email address. US RESIDENTS ONLY. Drawing closes at 11:59pm EST on Thursday, Oct. 27th. The three winners will be chosen this Friday using, and announced as an update to this post. Prizes will be shipped by December 1 at the latest.

Grand Prize: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Party in a Box
Win the Fantastic Mr. Fox DVD, a copy of my Wes Anderson-inspired playlist, instructions for how to serve food so you can eat along with the characters, and a movie quote game of my own design.

2nd Prize: TheBashionista: Take My Advice
A viewbook of all TheBashionista advice columns to date.

3rd Prize: 3 Bashionista Playlists
Take your pick of three (3).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How to NOT Poison Your Gluten-Free Friends

Contributer Liz Bean is a whiz in the kitchen - and an expert on avoiding gluten. Do your Celiac friends a huge favor and read on to learn how you, too, can defeat this sneaky allergen:
First things first, getting “glutened” is no fun anytime, but especially at a party.  A Celiac's options are often A) bring your own food with you or B) starve. Some well-meaning party hosts will make gluten-free options available - which is great! - but all it takes is a contaminated utensil or a party guest dipping a slice of bread, and now that dish is off-limits, too.
So where does gluten come from?
In a nutshell, Celiacs (your Gluten-Free Friends) cannot have anything containing:  wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats.  A note about oats – while oats themselves do not contain gluten, they are often processed on the same lines, or cultivated on the same machines as wheat, rye, and barley, so the cross-contamination threat is very high.  Many Celiacs are told to not eat oats until they are told by their doctors that they can re-introduce steel-cut gluten-free oats back into their diet, so it’s best to stay away from them as a precaution.
If you are planning to cook for your gluten-free friends, you should find out how sensitive they are.   Cross-contamination is a show stopper!  It can come from baking pans, utensils, food storage containers, cutting boards, strainers, etc.  I happen to be a very sensitive Celiac, so I cordon off my own cutting boards, spatulas, whisks, utensils and try to make sure that nobody uses those in general.  If you have gluten-free friends over often, think about getting a vinyl cutting board that you save for those occasions when you are cooking for them.  Invest in parchment paper or a silicone baking mat that you use only for gluten-free baking to avoid cross-contamination, and make sure your surfaces are spotless before you start cooking. 
To avoid cross-contamination with other foods you might be making, make the gluten-free items first! And if you're making gluten-free dips, either make sure there are no glutenous items within reach - OR give your Celiac friends a little bowl of their own before you send the rest of the dip out into the world. 
Gluten! What an unpleasant surprise.
You would be amazed at all the places that gluten is hiding. Here are the last places you would think to look:

Salad Croutons – may seem obvious to some, but I can’t tell you how many times restaurants have put croutons on my salad and are confused when I can't eat it…well croutons are made from bread, and bread is made from wheat flour, thus…gluten.
Nuts! – A lot of nuts have been processed with wheat, check your labels.
Bulk Bins – Even if what you’re buying is gluten free, you have no idea what was in there before, and if it was cleaned properly, or at all.  Stay away from using products from bulk bins when cooking for your gluten free friends!
Processed Meat – lunch meat!  Gluten…used as a filler!  Why?  Don’t know, but it happens.
Sushi – sometimes sushi fish or fillings are marinated, or the rice is doused with a type of vinegar that has wheat in it, you must check your vinegar if you make your own sushi…or just don’t use it!
Chicken broth – some are gluten-free and are noted on the container, if it doesn’t say “Gluten Free” don’t use it.
Reduced-Fat Products – Often they make up for the lack in fat by using thickening agents and flavor replacers like gluten. 
Soy Sauce – soy sauce and tamari have wheat.  Look for Gluten-Free Soy Sauce by Kikkoman or San-J. 
Gravy, Sauces, Marinades and Salad Dressings – many sauces used in cooking have gluten as a thickening agent!
Cooking/Baking Spray – more often than not have wheat in them to prevent sticking. 
Pudding or Pie Fillings – uses gluten as a thickener sometimes. 
Beer – Yep, made from barley or mixes of barley, hops, etc.
Tea – SOME tea (mostly herbal tea) has wheat, so just check your labels before offering it to your guests!

Take a hike, Gluten!
There are SO many products on the market now to use as alternatives to gluten-containing items. 
Grains and Flours that Celiacs CAN have:
Quinoa (Go with the Harvest Brand, as Eden has had some cross contamination issues),
Polenta (YUM!)
Buckwheat (despite its name, Buckwheat is NOT related to wheat and contains no gluten)
Potatoes, and sweet potatoes
Good news!
While some products have hidden gluten, many brands do not. Here's a list of Celiac-approved options:
Chicken Broth – Safe brands include: Progresso, Swanson, Pacific Foods, Imagine Foods, Kitchen Basics, and some Trader Joe’s broths - just make sure you check the label!
Gluten-Free Soy Sauce – you can find these in most grocery stores now; Kikkoman or San-J both have gluten/wheat-free Soy Sauce and Tamari, check the label to make sure.
Gluten-Free Pasta, Bread, Baking Mixes for Cookies, Cake, Pizza Crust and more are available in many grocery stores, Whole Foods Market, and health food stores.
Gluten-Free Flours – King Arthur makes great gluten-free all-purpose flour now, and it’s available in most grocery stores.  There is also Bob’s Red Mill flour mixes and baking mixes. 
Gluten-Free Crackers – Mary’s Gone Crackers are great and come in a variety of flavors - they’re tasty, and healthy!  Glutino also makes some decent crackers that everyone would enjoy.
Salad Dressings – Annie’s makes a lot of naturally gluten-free salad dressings.
Pudding/Pie Filling – Jell-O Brand is generally gluten-free, check the ingredient list.
Gluten-Free Beer – There are a few on the market:  Redbridge, Green’s, Bard’s Tale, New Grist.
Your gluten-free friends will be thrilled that you went to the trouble to make something for them, and if you have any doubts about a products you are buying, just ask them; they’ll probably know.  Be sure to alert other guests of which items are gluten-free, and make sure utensils aren’t used for other things and then put back into the gluten-free dish.  I would be prepared and save labels of items you use, just in case your friends have questions about what you used, how it was prepared, etc.  Good luck!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stole My Heart Playlist

Here's a playlist  I made for a friend who was determined to turn his life around. It's about having a heart that's been broken plenty of times before. It's about being in the trenches and singing the blues, about having hope for new beginnings, and about giving your current situation a little shake-down. A little moody, a little edgy, but always listenable, this playlist works as background music to a housewarming or a thoughtful walk through crunching autumn leaves.

Here's the tracklist:
1. Love Will Tear Us Apart/Joy Division
2. I Turn My Camera On/Spoon
3. Nothing Ever Happened/Deerhunter
4. Nothing to You/Two Gallants
5. F*ck and Run/Liz Phair
6. Bullets/Tunng
7. Strongest Man in the World/Menomena
8. Ghosts/Ladytron
9. Werewolf/Coco Rosie
10. Stole My Heart/Little & Ashley
11. Cape Canaveral/Conor Oberst
12. Your Hand in Mine/Explosions in the Sky

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage Browned Butter and Candied Ginger

Squash your boring dinner routine! Cara Valla, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscuro, is about to share the secrets of her phenomenal butternut squash soup:

We are coming into winter squash season and I cannot help but get excited! Today we are sticking to a limited ingredient list that will get you in and out of the grocery store quickly so you can savor some time spent at home as the oven warms the house and some good food and good friends go to work at warming the soul.

Butternut Squash Soup
            2 ½ lbs. butternut squash
            1 apple, thinly sliced
            2 Tbsp. olive oil
            2 shallots, finely chopped
            small piece ginger, peeled and finely chopped (the size of about 4 quarters stacked on top of
     each other)
            ¼ cup apple brandy or dark rum
            4 cups stock (vegetable stock, chicken stock or water; depending on dietary
            1 sprig thyme
            Salt and pepper to taste

- Chop butternut squash and apple into 1 inch cubes or smaller
- Season and sautee squash and apple in olive oil with chopped shallot and ginger until slightly browned
- Deglaze with brandy or rum
- Add stock and thyme, cover and let cook about 20 -30 minutes or until squash is softened
- Blend all soup in blender, or in food processor
- Heat to reduce if needed and season with salt and pepper
- To serve, ladle soup into warmed bowls, top each serving with a Tbsp of Browned Butter (recipe below), a sprinkling of Candied Ginger (store-bought or home-made - recipe below) and a dollop of Savory Whipped Cream (recipe also below). A nice hunk of crusty bread and some parmesean wouldn’t hurt either!
Buon appetito!

Sage Browned Butter
  For each portion of soup you serve you will use about 1 Tbsp of butter but you can make as much of this butter as you want and even reserve it to add flavor to dishes later!

½ cup butter (if using unsalted butter just add a pinch of salt when heating)
5 large sage leaves, chopped
a touch of an acidic element (white balsamic, champagne vinegar or even a little white wine work best)

- Cut butter into cubes and place in pan over medium heat with chopped sage
- Heat until butter just begins to brown (there will literally be flecks of brown from
the butter solids that have begun to cook)
- When the butter is browned, remove from heat and add in a touch of acid (white wine, citrus juice, or vinegar) The acid will halt the browning process so the butter does not burn!

Candied Ginger
  This recipe is very simple but it requires the use of a Silpat, which is a plastic-like pad that is used to line cookie sheets when doing certain types of pastry work. It is ideal for this type of recipe because the candied ginger and its cooking liquid need to cook before eating and if left to cool on parchment it will become a sticky mess, or if left to cook on a sheet pan and you will end up prying ginger pieces off with a spatula. If you do not have a Silpat this is an excellent addition to any kitchen!
            1 cup ginger
            ¾ cup white sugar
            1 qt. water
- Peel and cut ginger into bite-size pieces. Thickness should be about 5 mm  (keep in mind that ginger is very fibrous so whenever possible cut across the grain!)
- Disolve sugar in water and add ginger.  Boil ginger in sugar water for at least 45 minutes. If water reduces too much, add a little more.
-  When ginger is tender in texture and has lost its aggressive spice, strain out and let cool on silpat for half an hour.
-  When ginger is room temperature, toss in granulated sugar and leave out to dry at room temperature overnight.

Savory Whipped cream
½ cup heavy cream (this cream will more than double in volume)
pinch of salt
black pepper
lemon zest from ½ lemon
- Whip cream vigorously in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form.
- Season with salt and pepper and zest from lemon and dollop on soup right before serving.
- Since there is no cream in the soup this last minute addition lets you accommodate for dairy allergies/intolerances and gives a beautiful visual affect as well!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Does "No Gifts" REALLY Mean "No Gifts?"

Dear Bashionista,

I was recently invited to a wedding and the couple is adamant about not wanting people to give gifts. They invited those gift-inclined to make a charitable donation instead. But the concept of going to a wedding empty-handed is so alien to me that it's giving me an anxiety attack. Plus, I'm sure that someone will bring a gift, and then those of us who didn't are going to feel like jerks.

What do you do when people say, "No gifts, please"?

Do you take them at their word?  Do you bring a token gift?  Any ideas?

Carol D.

Before you make a decision about whether or not to bring a gift, try to suss out the couple's motivation here. While this request seems radical and confusing to you, they may have an excellent reason for bucking tradition, even if it is giving you a panic attack.

Maybe they live in a small apartment and their kitchen is already overflowing with all the plates, silverware, linens and gadgets they will ever need. Maybe they're already well-established financially and think it's crass to ask people to give them things they don't really need, when their guests are already paying for plane tickets and accomodations. Maybe they know that some of their friends are flat broke, and they want to spare them the embarassment of adding their Starbucks gift card to a table overflowing with lavish gifts.

Maybe your friends are seriously committed to a particular charity, and knowing they selflessly funneled money toward it will make them feel awesome. Or maybe after the wedding they're moving to an ashram in India and they're giving away all their worldly possessions. I don't know your friends! But here are a few things I am certain of:

1. The couple is not doing this to trick you.

"No gifts" seriously means "No gifts"! They are not sitting there thinking, Well, now we're going to find out who our *real* friends are . . . you know, the ones who refuse to take our wishes seriously. They are actually envisioning driving away from the wedding without having to find bags for all their gifts, which they will then have to cram into their getaway car. They are envisioning not having to write thank-you notes. Or they are actually not thinking about any of this, and are just looking forward to all that non-materialistic marital bliss people talk about. You absolutely do not have to get them a gift.

2. The couple is not doing this to make you uncomfortable.

So if not bringing a gift is making you supremely uncomfortable, then bring a gift - not because you have to, but because you want to. If you do go this route, think about what would be right for the *couple* - they are bucking tradition, so you should, too. A big shiny stand-up mixer, or anything that will take up a lot of storage space? Inappropriate. A small and thoughtful token gift? Something with familial value that you have always intended to pass on to the bride or groom? An envelope filled with cold, hard cash? Yes, yes and yes.

3. No gifts really means no gifts necessary!

Which means that if your initial reaction was one of relief, go with that. The couple is trying to do something nice for you, so for pete's sake, let them. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty if you do show up and see that other people have gifts in hand - they are working through their own issues. The couple doesn't love you any less. After the wedding, drop them a note to let them know what a fabulous time you had, or email them fun candid pictures you might have taken. If it's the thought that counts, and it really is, then just let them know you're thinking of them and wishing them well.

Having trouble thinking of a token gift for a wedding or a less formal event? Check out this article from awhile back:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Throw Down: Gluten-Free Housewarming

Gluten-free pizza!
 When my roommate moved in, we wanted to do something special to celebrate and at the same time get her situated. I already have loads and loads of kitchen stuff, but my roommate can't eat gluten, and she really wanted some new, pristine kitchen items that she could keep gluten-free - especially items like plastic cutting boards, to which gluten clings tenaciously, and a toaster.

We decided to throw a gluten-free housewarming. For one night we would create a gluten-free paradise, educate our friends about how food doesn't need to have gluten to be incredibly delicious, and in return we'd ask for a little something towards the housewarming effort.

My roommate created a wish list - basically, a housewarming registry. Guests were encouraged to check out the list if they were so inspired, or gift her a gluten-free cookbook. No time or money to shop for a gift? No problem - guests were told they could just leave a small donation. I got a tall, thin box, we wrapped it in gift wrap, cut a donation slot in the top, and wrote on the outside: When I grow up, I'm going to be a gluten-free bread machine!

Click here for a playlist that will get your party cookin', and click here for a tutorial on how not to poison the gluten-free people in your life.

Sample Menu

Featured Beverage: Woodchuck Hard Apple Cider
Little known and upsetting fact: Beer contains gluten! So drown your sorrows in some tasty hard cider - it'll do the trick.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Steampunk Photo Gallery

Feast your eyes on these simply splendid Steampunk costumes!

Some people completely outdid themselves. Linda Lea took a page out of Rasputina's book for this outfit. She's wearing a dress over a skirt, both artfully gathered, boots with that classic Victorian heel, a form-fitting top, a lacey ruffle necklace she threw together, and a top hat over some very Rasputiney braids. A whole lot of steam, and a nice bit of punk. And Paul looks dashing in two pieces of a three-piece suit. Most of the guys were rocking vests and the adhesive mustaches I picked up.

Katie's costume was ingenious, and I believe it all came out of her closet. A lacey white top, one satin skirt artfully gathered into a can-can skirt, great lace-up boots, and best of all, a holster for her pistol way up her thigh.

Jenn constructed unbelievable costumes for herself and Jon - I can only imagine how much time this took.

Jon's got an aviator's cap and leather-rimmed goggles, and that pipe is classic. His cravat, watch fob, and homemade wrist-guards full of gadgets steal the show. Suddenly he's not just a guy wearing a leather jacket and khakis - he's a Victorian man riding a fast aeroplane to the FUTURE.

Here's a shot of Jenn from the back.

Jenn has her own astonishing wristguard and matching watchfob. That gorgeous, tailored plush vest is covering the bit of bustle she constructed, and last but not least, she's built a hat to match, complete with feathers, lace and gears, which appear to be watch parts.

Fear not! You don't need to have professional costuming experience to put together your own steampunk look. My costume was pretty simple to put together. I splurged on some little booties with a Victorian heel - booties which I wear all the time now. I borrowed a floor-length bridesmaid's dress, and folded the bodice down inside the skirt, so it appeared to be a full satin skirt. I happen to have an antique blouse, which I wore under an H&M vest I've had in my closet for years. I punked it up with an aviatrix hat which I picked up for cheap at an Army Navy surplus store.

Goggles and a vest? Instant steampunk.
Shannon is on an adventure! Sweeet holster for her
ray gun, totally hot leather cincher, Victorian key
around her neck, and googles for high speed travel.
What better time for an antique mink stole than at a
party that takes place about 100 years before
PETA was establisehd?
Way to rock that vest and watch chain, Rob!

Craig's armband and cravat are great touches.

Ladies, get ready for some sexy corseting!

Jane is giving me Victorian boot envy.

And Fish's pointy lace-up boots should help her
evade the clutches of Jack the Ripper.

Heyyyyo, mustache party!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Steampunk Playlist

These are some of my favorite, rousing, classical pieces, and movie scores that carry you forward majestically, or chill you with their haunting violins. There's also a fair bit of Celtic music, which to me is perfect steampunk - old-fashioned and simultaneously thrilling to our modern sensibilities.

This playlist lasts an hour. If you're looking for a whole night of Steampunk, I recommend select tracks from Rasputina, about half the tracks off the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack, and all of the Dracula soundtrack (the one recorded by Kronos Quartet to accompany the silent classic).

 Here's the tracklist at hand:

1. Southampton/James Horner
2. Carnival of the Animals: I. Introduction and Royal March of the Lion: Camille Saint-Saens/Barry Wordsworth and the London Symphony Orchestra
3. Carnival of the Animals: VII: Aquarium: Camille Saint-Saens/Barry Wordsworth and the London Symphony Orchestra
4. The Mirror/Michael Reisman and Philip Glass Ensemble
5. The Chase/Philip Glass
6. In the Time of Cholera/Antonio Pinto
7. Love/Antonio Pinto
8. Discombobulate/Hans Zimmer
9. Not in Blood, But in Bond/Hans Zimmer
10. The Kiss/Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones
11. Another Brick in Hadrian's Wall/Hans Zimmer
12. The Legend Spreads/James Horner and the London Symphony Orchestra
13. An Irish Party in Third Class/Gaelic Storm
14. Mouth Music/Eddie Curran's Favorite/Dolores Keane & John Faulkner
15. Tommy Peoples/Mary Shore/Dolores Keane & John Faulkner
16. The Home Ruler/Cross the Fence/Dolores Keane & John Faulkner
17. Kyle Brack Rambler/Miss McGuinness/Speed the Plough/Dolores Keane & John Faulkner
18. I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before/Hans Zimmer
19. Carnival of the Animals: XIV: Finale: Camille Saint-Saens/Barry Wordsworth and the London Symphony Orchestra
20. 1816, The Year Without a Summer/Rasputina

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Figs with Gorgonzola and Honey

You know what word I hate? Appeteaser. Appeteaser. People! They are called appetizers, and they're too damn awesome to demean with silly nicknames. Let's stick with appetizers, or maybe small bites. Either way, let's eat them.

An appetizer party is a great way to showcase your skills as a chef while avoiding the cost and time commitment of making a big, fancy dinner. Make a few quick, solid appetizers, stock up the bar, and your party is on it's way to full swing. With plates of little bites strategically placed around the party, your guests will be encouraged to mix, mingle and munch (as well as other alliterative verbs), and everyone will feel satisfied but not too full to dance. Which is really the whole point of a party, no?

Good appetizer options include: chips and dip, crudite, bruschetta on toast, grilled chicken skewers, and, my favorite, roasted figs with gorgonzola and honey. Here's the recipe.

Roasted Figs with Gorgonzola and Honey

This recipe is a snap to make, and the figs are delicious both warm and at room temperature. Be sure to leave out an empty bowl for the discarded fig stems.
  • 10-12 fresh figs, any color (I used black mission figs), sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup gorgonzola crumbles
  • 1/4 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

Cover a cookie sheet with tin foil (this makes for easy clean up), and lay the figs on the sheet, cut side up.

Drizzle the olive oil over the figs, lightly coating each one, and then sprinkle each with a bit of thyme, salt and pepper. Place the figs in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until figs look slightly puckery and juice is beginning to leak from the fruit. Remove from the oven.

While the figs are still warm, place a few crumbles of gorgonzola on top of each fig. Once all of the figs have been gorgonzola-ed, drizzle the honey lightly on top. Remove figs to a serving platter. Enjoy!

Makes 20-24 pieces.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

We are Violating Fire Codes

Dear Bashionista,

I have two great roommates, and between the three of us, we have a multitude of friends. The trouble is, when we throw a party it gets way out of hand. There are just too many people crammed into a tight space, and before you know it, things are being knocked over, no one can get to the beer cooler, and everyone's a big sweaty mess.

How can we throw a party and invite all the people we want to see, and at the same time limit it, and at the SAME time, not hurt anyone's feelings??

Linda M.

Ah, the perils of being popular! How can you balance your desire to have nice things with your desire to keep from excluding anyone? From planning a wedding to figuring out how many people can safely fit around a fondue pot, as a host you've got to whittle down the guest list to something manageable. That isn't easy, and it's especially hard when you have three Little Miss Populars under one 1,000 square-foot roof.

I have a solution to your problem: A three-tiered party system.

1) The Big Bash

Once a year, throw a giant rager. Each of you can invite your whole guest list. Be sure to plan this during warm weather, when people can spill out into the backyard, and onto porches. Don't have a yard? Consider teaming up and renting a venue. Throw a party for the ages, and hopefully get the huge party urge out of your system for the next 364 days.

2) The Birthday Party

The only time you'll be able to keep your party mid-sized is when it's *your* party - especially when you're the one footing the whole bill. Let your roommates know that it's nothing personal, but you just want your besties around for your special day. Tell them it's fine if they want to bring a friend or two, but you don't want a house full of strangers crowding you - you want to get lots of face time with your guests. And naturally, you can extend this same courtesy with them on their birthdays.

3) The Private Party

If four parties a year isn't enough to satisfy your entertaining spirit, then by all means, plan some additional smaller parties. Let your roommates know you're just having a few friends over Saturday night - and by a few, you mean fewer than 10. If they each bring a friend that's fine, but more people than that would make movie night, game night, or your chili cook-off really unwieldy. If your other friends catch wind of it, hopefully they'll understand that there's only so much room on your couch or so many burners on your stove, and that it's nothing personal that they weren't invited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Throw Down: Steampunk Villains and Detectives

Exhibit A . . . drool.
If you're as excited as I am about the upcoming Sherlock Holmes sequel, then a Steampunk party might be for you! New to the Steampunk craze? It's a genre of science fiction that takes place in a steam-powered era, usually Victorian London, occasionally the Wild West, where the author begs the question: what if computers had been invented at a time where everything was powered by steam and manufactured out of gorgeous leather and wood and brass?

This is a stylish party to throw - it's partly an homage to Victorian style, and partly a crazy technological fantasy. There's a tinge of the sinister and mysterious, and also a sense of wonderment and belief in . . . Progress!

Click here for a Steampunk playlist, and click here for a photo gallery of costume ideas.


For this party, I wanted to create the mood of gas-lit London streets - and at the same time, I knew I needed enough light to take pictures of the amazing costumes my friends showed up in. To solve this problem, I separated my living room and dining room with red plush curtains which were hung on a shower curtain rod with the help of a handy friend. I kept the living room brightly lit, but I also strung a piece of fishing line and then draped fabric around our TV to give it the look of a punch & judy show.

The dining room was lit solely by candlelight, and inspired outbursts of ballroom dancing, and canoodling on the loveseat.


I highly recommend screening movies on mute - they'll help you get swept up in the Steampunk spirit. Some of my favorites are Sherlock Holmes, The Illusionist, and The Prestige.


Jenn constructed her own wrist guard!
Fashion-wise, Steampunk is pretty broad - it can range from Victorian with a slight nod to sci fi technology, all the way to punk with some gothic accessorizing. Generally speaking, ladies should wear long gowns, gentlemen suits or vests, and then go crazy from there. If you want to give your guests a leg up, you can give them props to pose with in pictures. Goggles are hands down the most popular Steampunk accessory, but you might also consider ray guns, canes, Victorian fans and shawls for ladies, top hats and adhesive mustaches for gents.

Sample Menu

Vegetable crudite and fresh fruit

Featured Cocktail: Cara's Boozy Apple Cider

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sweet and Savory Fondue Recipes

Fondue night was a hit! We feasted on meatballs in a rose sauce out of the slow cooker and a cheese fondue for our main course. For dessert we dipped pound cake in a grapefruit compote, and ate strawberries drenched in chocolate.

My friends brought their four-year-old daughter, who was the life of the party, especially after her chocolate high. She got an impromptu dance party started and figured out how fun it is to run and slide across my dining room floor.

 Before the chocolate kicked in, we kept her occupied with dominoes in my kitchen (kids seem to universally love Mexican train dominoes) and gazing at my lava lamp (before inviting a four-year-old to view your lava lamp, it helps to have a firm grasp of basic thermodynamics - otherwise the "why" game could be embarassing for you).

Here are my go-to fondues, one savory and one sweet, both from The Fondue Cookbook by Hamlyn Press.

Neuchatel Fondue

1 whole garlic clove
2/3 cup dry white wine1 tsp lemon juice
10 oz Emmentaler cheese, grated
10 oz Gruyere cheese, grated
1 Tbsp cornstarch
3 Tbsp Kirsch
pinch of white pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
pinch of paprika
cubes of French bread, to serve

1. Rub the inside of a fondue pot with the cut clove of garlic, then discard the garlic. Pour the wine into the pot with the lemon juice and heat gently on the stove. Gradually add the cheese, stirring in a figure eight motion, until all the cheese is combined.
2. Blend the cornstarch and Kirsch together and as soon as the cheese mixture begins to bubble, add to the fondue. Continue to cook gently for a further 2-3 minutes and season, according to taste, with the pepper, nutmeg and paprika.
3. Transfer the fondue pot to the table and keep warm on a burner. Serve with cubes of French bread to dip into the fondue.

Chocolate Fondue

1/2 cup heavy cream
8 oz semisweet chocolate morsels
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pound cake, cubed, and strawberries to serve

1. Fill the fondue pot one-third full with water. Place the porcelain bowl insert in the pot and heat on the stove. Put the cream in the bowl and heat gently. As soon as the cream starts to bubble around the edges, turn off the heat and whisk in the chocolate. When the chocolate has melted, add the vanilla and stir well to mix.
2. Transfer the fondue to the table and keep warm on the burner.
3. Serve with cubes of pound cake and strawberries.