Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Throw Down: Holiday Feast

There's an electric crackle to the air this time of year, and an expectant feeling that carries you through the holiday season. Feasting and revelry are in store, there are gifts to give and plans to make - and there will be surprises along the way; catching the first flakes of the very first snowfall, turning the corner and stumbling on a house lit by a thousand fairy lights, pulling your sworn enemy's name for Secret Santa.

Fried camembert with blueberry sauce.
At this time of year when you are rushing in eight different directions and battling crowds, or sitting at home watching your car get buried in a snowdrift that will surely turn into a solid block of ice, the important thing to do is create a sanctuary for yourself. Surround yourself with comfort and lights, food and warmth, so that you are as excited to be at home as you are to be out celebrating.

And once you create your ideal holiday place, invite your friends to share it with you. Use your guests as an excuse to get your Christmas tree up on time. Cook a scrumptous feast to say "I am so lucky to have you in my life" and "We are in this holiday weight-gain thing together, amiright?"

Click here for a playlist of Christmas music, and click here for your minute-by-minute cooking plan. You will be able to cook and plate this gorgeous meal by yourself if you give yourself enough time beforehand. If it seems overwhelming, consider splitting these tasks with a friend or loved one - what looked impossible will suddenly seem easy. But for now just sit back and join me in food-fantasyland.

The Menu
Designing the perfect menu is tricky. You want food to appear piping hot, but you want to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible while your guests are sitting at the table. This plan will allow you to do 90% of the cooking ahead of time, then just pop things in the oven or gently warm them on the stove at go time. You also want to help your guests pace themselves so they savor every bite, from fried cheese course (oh yeah, you heard me right) to the last drop of their hot chocolate. I like to print out little menues so people know what's in store, and I also like to plate the dishes myself - for portion control as much as for presentation.

Incidentally, the following menu was tailored to accomodate one friend who's trying to go easy on the lactose, and another friend who can't eat gluten. The one problematic dish is the fried camembert - which will be breaded in gluten-free crumbs, and is easily opted out, if my other friend would like to double up on prosciutto-wrapped melon. Otherwise, coconut milk, rice, and hot chocolate made out of beer are such excellent substitutions that you won't even miss the foods I'm leaving out.

First course: Fried Camembert with Blueberry Sauce and Prosciutto-Wrapped Melon
Paired with: Bordeaux

These few decadent bites will get your meal started right. The sauce can be made and stored in a pot on the stove for easy rewarming. The camembert can be breaded and stored in the fridge until your guests arrive. The melon can be pre-wrapped in prosciutto and stored in the fridge - put a damp paper towel in between the food and the lid to keep the meat from drying out. When your first guests arrive, start warming the sauce and heating oil in a fondue pot. Pour some glasses of Bordeaux to keep them company, and fry the cheese while you quickly plate the melon.

Second course: Carrot Soup with Orange and Tarragon; Apple, Potato & Onion Gratin
Paired with: Moscato

This vegetable course is sweet and sustaining - delicious comfort food. You can make the soup hours before your guests arrive - just begin gently heating it when they first start to show up. The gratin dish takes 55 minutes to cook, covered, which can be done ahead of time. Preheat the oven in anticipation of your guests, and then bake it uncovered for 20 more minutes so the top will begin to brown. You know what else takes about 20 minutes? Eating the appetizer course. Yeah, you've got this.

Main course: Shrimp Curry with Yu Choy and Kabocha Squash on a Bed of Rice
Paired with: Chablis

This delicious curry takes under 10 minutes to cook! Your prep will take some time, but that can all be laid out ready-to-go in advance. Start your rice cooker when the guests arrive, then relax and enjoy the meal. During the 10-minute cooking interlude, you can ask a helpful friend to clear dishes and pour some Chablis. The main course will be ready in no time.

Dessert: Chocolate Meringue Cookies
Paired with: Sam Adams Adult Hot Chocolate

These elegant little cookies come to us from The Best of America's Test Kitchen, so they're practically fool-proof. Also, they can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container. The hot chocolate will take a little bit of your attention, but your guests will appreciate the effort - and the chance to take a little time to digest. You may be tempted to pre-rim your martini glasses - RESIST THE URGE. Over time the lemon juice will cement the sugar to your glass.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Portrait of an Italian Thanksgiving

Here's a little photoessay I like to call: How I Gained 5 Pounds in One Afternoon. My thanks to Doug Pollock for exhaustive use of his iPhone.

Look at that spread!! That little lady on the bottom left is clam dip . . . guhhhhh. So good. We've got sliced salami. We've got glad corn. Mango avocado salsa. A professional-grade cheese board complete with sliced pears, a beet rosette, dates, and wasabi peas. As if that wasn't enough, we've got some olives and tapenade with bread.

Dear pears, meet your betrothed . . .
you and this hunk of cheese are going
to be very happy together.

The high art of beet presentation.

Wasabi peas . . . ZING!

Fresh artisinal bread.

Bar starting line-up. Cousin Lauren was mixing
some outrageous dark & stormies.
First course! Dad's mulligatawny soup with apples.
Let the feasting truly begin! Here's some stuffing
and some candied sweet potatoes - mom's specialty.
Beets & lovely mustard greens.

Susan looks suspicious of Uncle Bob. Or turkey. Or both.
Mashed potatoes, brussells sprouts, cranberry sauce.
Lauren also makes a mean caffe coretto.
Pies: Aunt Sue's pumpkin and Susan Lynne's
vegan blueberry.
Aunt Sue's apple pie and Lisa's lime squares. Yum!!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Playlist

This playlist is here to get you through Black Friday - whether you're hosting a Misfits Thanksgiving Dinner, or battling crowds at the mall. Classic and modern rock and hip hop - it can temper that murderous parking lot rage, or it can get your guests fist-pumping and downing shots in anticipation of fried turkey and pumpkin pie. Keep it rockin,' kids. 

Here's the track list:
1. Rock You Like a Hurricane/Scorpion
2. Living Loving Maid/Led Zeppelin
3. Top of the Pops/the Rezillos
4. Give Me Some of Your Loving/Tilts
5. Motorhead/Hawkwind
6. Take it All Away/Girlschool
7. Jealous Girls/The Gossip
8. Dead Funny/Archie Bronson Outfit
9. Good Weekend/Art Brut
10. More than Your Mouth Can Hold/Silverhead
11. Doctor Doctor/UFO
12. Friends/Gary Numan & Tubeway Army
13. Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts/Wolf Parade
14. What You Need/INXS
15. Worked Up So Sexual/The Faint
16. Mass Destruction/Faithless
17. Gangster Trippin'/Fatboy Slim
18. How Do U Want It/2Pac & K-Ci & Jojo
19. The Fire/The Roots & John Legend

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nonna's Sausage Bread

Contributer Cara McAvoy, sous chef at San Francisco's Chiaroscuro, shares a cherished recipe from our grandmother's kitchen:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Think of this as your last chance to enjoy time around the table with loved ones - before the next month gets completely ridiculous. Savor it!

This recipe was one of my Nonna's that I would always look forward to around the holidays. We're Italian, which loosely translates to mean: "People who take their appetizer course seriously." And we know a thing or two about sausage and peppers.

Nonna's Sausage Bread
4-6 pork sausages
extra virgin olive oil
2 onions
2 cloves garlic
2 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
salt & pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh time
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 package store-bought pizza dough
1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cut sausage into small pieces and render in olive oil over medium high heat.
3. Remove sausage from pan reserving the fat.
4. Slice thinly the onions, garlic and peppers.
5. Add all vegetables to pork fat (adding a little more olive oil if needed)
6. Season the vegetables (the salt will help draw the water out so they wont burn) and stir often.
7. When onions are caramelized and peppers are soft and sexy add in the fresh thyme and the cooked sausage.
8. Remove from heat and and add in cheese.
9. Roll out the pizza dough into a rectangle.
10. Spoon sausage scrumptiousness along the rectangle and roll up.
11. Place on an oiled cooked sheet and brush with olive oil.
12. Bake in the oven at 350F for 20 to 30 minutes depending on thickness.

Any left-over sausage would also be wonderful as a stuffing mixed with cashews and apricots with rosemary!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Throw Down: Misfits Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to share in the bounty of the harvest, give thanks for our loved ones, and kick off a glorious long weekend with a day of feasting, carousing and swapping stories. If you're lucky. Thanksgiving can also be a time of epic indigestion, scorched turkeys, and family dysfunction playing two shows daily.

Whether you are choosing to abstain from Thanksgiving this year, you can't escape working black Friday, or you just don't have the money for plane fare, I will take you where Martha Stewart fears to tread: to a Misfits Thanksgiving.  Click here for a Black Friday playlist. And click here for an Italian Thanksgiving photo gallery.

This is your chance to flip the script. A freshly-ironed cream tablecloth on a card table looks like a sad version of traditional Thanksgiving. Instead, have an awesome version of a rock & roll Thanksgiving. Try a black tablecloth and red votives. Make a centerpiece out of strange found objects in your house. Phrenology head? Check. Candleabra with dripping red candles? A cornucopia made out of an empty plastic skull? A hookah with apple-cinnamon- or pumpkin-pie-flavored shisha? Go crazy.

Buy a bunch of shot bottles and attach placecards with little bits of ribbon - or write names out on little labels and slap them on.

Odds are, you'll have to dig pretty deep to find friends who are planless on Thanksgiving. There's a good chance they won't all know each other beforehand. It couldn't hurt to have some icebreaking games on hand to get things rolling. Tuck some Trivial Pursuit cards into the napkin at each place setting. Consider other games for after the meal - Scruples is a great one for getting to know each other.

The joy of a Misfits Thanksgiving is that you do not have to work that hard. You are free to discard every tradition - or don't, if frying a turkey is something you've been itching to do. Choose the menu that suits you perfectly - whether you are passionate about slaving in the kitchen, or you can't cook to save your life. Your fellow misfits would be perfectly happy doing it up potluck style if that's what you're leaning towards.

Personally, I love Thanksgiving, but I hate traditional Thanksgiving food. Turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, BLURG. No thank you. Here's what I've got a hankering for:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Time Machine Playlist

Here's the link to a playlist to accompany your 7 Ages of Man party. It's a time machine, taking you for a smooth ride through 100 years of America's most popular bands. We start with songs that live in the memories of your favorite elders, and move all the way up to songs that came out five minutes ago. It's a trip.

Here's the tracklist:

1. Over There/Hollywood Studio Orchestra
2. California Here I Come/Al Jolson
3. Everybody Loves My Baby/Fats Waller & His Rhythm
4. Sweet Georgia Brown/Bing Crosby
5. I Got Rhythm/Django Reinhardt
6. Papa Loves Mambo/Perry Como
7. The Tennessee Waltz/Patti Page
8. Comes Love/Billie Holliday
9. Sexy Sadie/The Beatles
10. Another Brick in the Wall/Pink Floyd
11. What it Takes/Aerosmith
12. Come as You Are/Nirvana
13. The Sweetest Thing/U2
14. Too Much Love/LCD Soundsystem
15. Single Ladies/Beyonce
16. Power/Kanye West
17. Someone Like You/Adele

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things Dipped In Chocolate

I don't have a whole lot to say about this one.

...Chocolate.  Pretzels.  Dipping.  What could be bad?

Having a tray full of things dipped in chocolate on display is a surefire way to get party guests to like you, and turning the whole thing into a party activity (let's drink drinks and dip things in chocolate!) is an idea full of promise, I assure you.

This recipe is for pretzels, but if I have anything to say about it (and it turns out I sort of do), you could substitute pretty much anything (I mean not anything, let's be real) for the pretzels: strawberries (sexy!), shortbread cookies (festive!), oreos (naughty!).  Sky is the limit.  Get dipping, party people.

Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

  • 11 ounces chocolate (dark, milk or white, your choice)
  • 1 package pretzel rods
  • sprinkles or other small candies for decorating

In a fairly deep bowl, melt the chocolate, either using a double boiler or the microwave (just make sure you don't use a metal bowl if you're going the microwave route.  For obvious reasons).  When you're finished, the chocolate should be slightly warm and thoroughly melted.

Stir the chocolate well, using a clean spoon, until it no longer feels warm to the touch (it should feel about body temperature).  Immediately start dipping your pretzels into the chocolate -- hold one end of the pretzel rod and dunk the other into the bowl a few times to thoroughly coat it.  Once each pretzel is sufficiently covered in chocolate, place it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to dry and sprinkle it with decorations while it's still wet. 

Place the pretzel-filled baking sheet into the refrigerator to set up, and hold them there until ready to eat.

Where Am I Going to Put All These Kids?

Dear Bashionista,

I'm hosting a large family gathering with a slew of my little neices and nephews. I love having them here, but my apartment is so small! And we don't have a yard for them to run around and play in. What can I do to keep them entertained?  

Laurie F.

This is a tough question! Finding the right solution will depend on the age of kids, the difference in age of the kids, the number of kids, and the number of kilowatts of rambunctious energy they are likely to generate. Here are a few good rules of thumb:

1) Create a distraction

If you're an auntie, or just someone whose friends are starting to have more and more kids, it's a great idea to collect items that kids will like playing with - every kid is different, so be creative and attentive to what they're into. For example, my friends' four-year-old loves to come over and play Mexican train dominoes, run around with this rubber koi fish and molded rubber lizard I have, geek out looking at my lava lamps, try to put on all of my bracelets at once, set up a game of Mousetrap, and shut the lights in a room and play with this plastic beer glass I got at Mardi Gras that has a rainbow strobe light effect. If you're not keen on the idea of having rubber animals and games lying around your house, just put together a box of kid toys & curiousities and take it out when your young guests arrive.

Don't underestimate the power of books to keep kids quiet and contented! If you're planning on sitting through a long meal at a table full of adults, add some age-appropriate books to your collection.

Simple NON-MESSY art projects can work, too. Coloring books and crayons are good to have on hand. If you're dealing with younger kids, it couldn't hurt to cover your coffee table in newspaper or butcher paper. Just wrap it up like a present so you can relax in the next room without worrying about permanent artistic damage to your furniture.

Games are also a great way for kids to entertain themselves and bond with each other. Make an age-appropriate selection before your guests arrive and leave them out on display.

2) Give them space

If the kids are old enough not to stick their fingers in the electrical sockets, but young enough to lack the stamina to sit through a whole meal, try giving them their own space to hang out and relax. Clean out your back bedroom and set up a tv to play some kid-friendly DVDs.

3) Kick them out of the house

It's a fact: kids have about 17 times as much energy as you do, and it's got to go SOMEWHERE. If you don't have a yard you can either A) accept that you will have kids running all over your house, B) take them outside so they can wear themselves out. Carve out some time after dinner or while the meal is being prepared when parents or older siblings can take the little guys to the closest park or playground. This can become the highlight of the holiday - a chance for some people to work off a heavy meal, and a chance for others to gossip in the kid-free kitchen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Throw Down: Seven Ages of Man

The littlest bashionista
 Hello, nerds! Shakespeare just gave me a great idea for a party. As he opines that all the world is a stage, he breaks down the life of man (and woman) into seven ages. Well, if the world is a stage, then each of these ages will make for a great costume opportunity.

The Bard breaks it down thusly: Infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice (umm, ok), pantaloon (what the heck is a pantaloon??), and second childhood.

Here's a more modern spin on it: Babies. Kids. Teens. Yuppies. Moms & dads. Mid-life crises. Dirty old men and sassy old broads. Invite your friends to show up dressed as the most ridiculous time of life they can think of. You handle the rest.

Click here for a Seven Ages playlist. And join us on Tuesday for a Seven Ages photo gallery - as you assemble your all-ages buffet, consider framing a little picture to go with each dish (check your local dollar store for frames - you might get lucky and hit the mother lode). I'll also list some movies you might consider screening silently. No party is going to be seven movies long - but if you have a second tv, you could set up another screening area.

Eats & drinks: a bowl of ring pops (for the pacifier effect) and (an empty and thoroughly cleaned) carton of milk for a centerpiece.
Big house: Have a front porch? Cover it with blankets and treat it like a giant playpen. Bonus if you can score a musical mobile and giant stuffed animals.
Small house: lay out your softest blanket and some stuffed animals in a corner of the room.
Movie: Baby Einstein: Baby Beethoven

Eats & drinks: Take your pick of favorite kid foods. Hostess cakes? Pb&J with the crusts cut off? A bowl of your favorite candy? Pair it with a bowl of juice boxes on ice.
Big House: Have a room you can transform into a playroom? Go crazy. Set out a bunch of kid games. Track down a refrigerator box. Build a tent fort.
Small House: Set out a display of your favorite childhood items.
Movie: Toy Story 3

Eats & drinks: Have some pizzas delivered and pair them with good old-fashioned sodie pop.
Big House: This may be your very last chance to play five-minutes-in -the-closet - if you've got the storage space, you have my blessing.
Small House: Consider a midnight session of truth-or-dare or spin-the-bottle.
Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Eats & drinks: Consider a fancy cheese platter and some red wine. Or a tray of nice appetizers and champagne.
Big house: Dedicate one room to a dance party
Small house: The party music will be your biggest nod to the young folks. Keep it rockin'!
Movie: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Moms & Dads
Eats & drinks: Serve something healthy - like vegetables & dip - or something that'll feed a crowd - like a casserole. Then set up an instant coffee station.
Big house: Create a den where people can lounge around and kick their feet up in front of the tv.
Small house: Set your computer up with an automatic slide show of cute kid pictures.
Movie: The Kids Are All Right

Mid-Life Crises
Eats & drinks: Drown your sorrows in bonbons and martinis, beer nuts and bourbon.
Big house: Set up a bar area complete with stools for all the barflies.
Small house: Decorate behind the bar with pictures of your favorite obselete celebrities.
Movie: Another Year

Dirty Old Men & Sassy Old Broads
Eats & drinks: Set out a container of prunes (not that you'll be getting any takers) and set up a tea service.
Big house: I would kill for a shuffleboard court.
Small house: Set up some table space for Mexican train dominoes.
Movie: Driving Miss Daisy

Monday, November 14, 2011

Vampires & Slayers Costume Gallery

Let me tell you a little secret: I'm not usually a fan of Halloween parties. I've never thrown one - because I have no desire to compete with a multitude of parties - and I generally stress out about coming up with a costume. This probably seems strange to everyone who knows me, because I have more costumes than Weird Al Yankovic, and I get dressed up all the time.

The thing is, I love *theme* parties - I like being creative within parameters. Also, no offense to Halloween, but I find November to be infinitely more creepy than robust, pumpkin-ale-soaked, Indian-summery October. That's why for years I've been throwing a big November costume party. My guests have enough advance notice that their one costume can do double duty for Halloween parties and mine, and I get to create a fantastical, creepy world for all of us to inhabit. Also, if I'm lucky, I can swoop in and buy discounted Halloween overstock.

Vampires & Slayers was a great time. About half the people dressed up and half didn't. Here's a little photo gallery of my favorite costumes:

Dracula loves alternate-reality evil Willow
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, circa 1989
Vampires . . . slain!
Goth vampire-enthusiast
That's a vampire-slaying wand
Oh no! My steampunk-vampire mom just killed daddy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vampires & Slayers Playlist

Shannon as alternate-reality
We have a guest DJ this week! Shannon Daly put together 2 kickass playlists for the Vampire party, and I have distilled them down to one spine-tingling hour. Here's the link. Some are songs and themes from Vampire movies and shows, and others are just cleverly thematic. This mix will do you right at your next Vampires & Slayers bash, and it's perfect for listening to as shadows lengthen and you curl up in your favorite chair to watch leaves blow across rain-slick streets.

Here's the tracklist:

1. Main Title Theme - Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Mask
2. Bloody Mary/Lady Gaga
3. Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)/The Wombats
4. Something to Die For/The Sounds
5. Heads Will Roll/Yeah Yeah Yeahs
6. Temptation Waits/Garbage
7. Blood and Roses/The Smithereens
8. Fresh Blood/The Eels
9. The Vampires of New York/Marcy Playground
10. Blood Makes Noise/Suzanne Vega
11. Cry, Little Sister (Theme from The Lost Boys)/Gerard McMann
12. Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)/Stevie Nicks
13. Bad Things/Jace Everett
14. After Dark (from Dusk 'til Dawn)/Tito & Tarantula
15. Damn These Vampires/The Mountain Goats
16. I Want to Be Evil/Eartha Kitt