I’m getting a bit adventurous in the kitchen these days. This may or may not be such a good thing.
After the produce contributions we received a few weeks ago, and my subsequent attempt to cook everything before it spoiled, I’ve begun inventing recipes of my own. Totally not my style, but I’m far more likely to experiment when Ryan’s not here. That made last weekend a great opportunity to try something different while he was away for his brother’s bachelor party. Friday night was Ladies’ Night. A gastronome and fellow wine enthusiast friend of mine, Tas, joined me here at the house for some grilled salmon and asparagus, some decent Cabernet, and a chick flick. The company was fantastic, the movie was good, and the food was ok too.
Saturday, following a bridal shower for my friend Sarah from college, I came home and decided to improvise some version of a pasta primavera. I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or what I needed to put in it to begin. That was just a minor problem. I’m learning this much, though: when in doubt, do it like they do on Food Network and put some extra virgin olive oil into a pan. While that was heating, I sliced some zucchini and yellow summer squash. Tossed it into the oil with some fresh minced garlic. Snapped a piece of asparagus like Rachael and Giada, to use as a guide to slice off the tough part, then chopped that into bite-sized pieces. After waiting until the squashes were tender, I added the asparagus and some green beans. While that cooked, I sprinkled in some (dried) basil, oregano, and thyme. The taste was still a bit bland, so I added the juice and zest from half a lemon, and stirred. A bit of salt and it was at least edible. I think it could use a bit more tweaking, but my compulsion to create a vegetable pasta dish passed quickly once my project was complete. (True confessions: I crave foods. Once I cook or bake whatever it is I’m hungry for, I have little interest in tasting. Right now, there’s a coffee-ice cream pie in my freezer that I’m not really hungry for.)
My next culinary experiment happened this past weekend. My friend Nicole and I held a joint jewelry party at my house on Saturday. Since the party was in the middle of the afternoon, we didn’t want to go overboard on food, so we searched for ideas of light and fun appetizers. The idea came, as usual, from my Taste of Home cookbooks: a Pizza Party! The difference this time, though, was that I didn’t actually use any of the recipes from the cookbook. The entire party was a culinary experiment. And I had 12 female guinea pigs in my house. Judging from the leftovers (or lack thereof), I’d say the experiment was a success.
I’d like to take full credit as a culinary genius, but alas, I cannot. The basic idea for the pizza party actually came from my dear friend Tas, who invited me last fall to co-host her wine-tasting party with her. She had used Indian Naan breads as the crust for the pizza appetizer she made, and topped them with bruschetta and mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to make the most adorable, elegant little pieces of pizza. Using that as my inspiration, I decided we would make three different varieties of pizzas for the party: one traditional, using pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese; one with a homemade Alfredo sauce, fresh spinach and Portobello mushrooms (on one); and a buffalo chicken pizza.
I took care of the traditional pizza, and the white pizza, even improvising my Alfredo sauce (melted butter and heavy cream, some fresh grated Parmesan cheese, and a pinch of salt). Then I sautéed some fresh spinach in some EVOO a’la Rachael Ray, spread it over the breads,and topped it with Italian blend cheese. I also sliced and sautéed some fresh Portobello mushrooms for one pizza. The traditional pizza was a no-brainer. And I left Nicole with the Buffalo-wing pizza, since I’m not a fan of spicy. She grilled some tender-style-cut chicken, basting with a BBQ-Buffalo wing sauce. Then she spread some Ranch dressing on the breads, mixed with a bit more of the wing sauce, and shredded the chicken to spread on top. Finally, she topped with some mozzarella and a few crumbles of Feta cheese. We managed to get six Naan breads in the oven at the same time, baked at 350 for about a half hour before I swapped the pans and put the top-rack pan on the bottom, and vice-versa. They baked for a bit longer, before we took them out and cut them into pieces, about 9-12 servings per “pizza”. (*Ed. Note: we baked everything on my two baking stones, rather than regular baking sheets. Not sure what difference it made, if any, but nobody complained!)
Nicole also made an amazing s’mores pizza for dessert, with melted chocolate, marshmallows and graham cracker crumbs, and topped with slivered almonds.
After consuming six Naan-bread pizzas and nearly two s’mores pizzas, the party wound down, and the fun of playing hostess (not being sarcastic here; my ultimate dream is to own a B&B when I retire from “real” work…when I find a job again!) continued while my brother Brandon and his girlfriend Emily stayed with us. This was Brandon’s first time driving here on his own, and Emily’s first time to our house. It was fun to have them, though the time went entirely too quickly as it tends to do when you’re having fun.
So today, it’s back to reality. The library program is winding down, but we have one last vacation planned before the end of the summer so I have some details to nail down before it’s time to go. Also, Kevin and Lindsay’s wedding is getting close! And they trust me enough to have asked me to help with some appetizers, so you can count on hearing from me with more culinary experiments in the next couple of weeks!
Much love friends.