Sunday, May 17, 2009

Welcome! Come eat!

We kicked off our unofficial start to the summer with our first barbecue this weekend. Joining us in the gluttony were close friends from our former days of glory - Brooklynites and Binghamton U. alumnae among them.

On the menu:

appetizers - assorted cheese and antipasti; fruit platter; roasted cashews.

entree - cheddar stuffed hamburgers, marinated lime-jalapeno chicken, grilled with pineapple salsa, hotdogs.

sides - broccoli salad, strawberry-spinach salad w/ poppy seed dressing, Barefoot Contessa Mac-n-cheese.

dessert - ice cream sandwiches.

Barefoot Contessa's book, "Family Style," has a wonderful introduction that explains in detail her philosophy behind entertaining. After reading it, a few years ago, I embraced her planning approach and use it whenever we host more than a a few people.

Jeff thinks I go crazy before any party, and he's right. That's part of my style too. I go a little nuts before, but once I get that out of my system, I'm fine by the time the guests arrive. Unfortunately, he bears the brunt of my loony tune-iness for the days leading up to the big event.

I digress. Here's how we did it.

Friday: Preparing the ice cream sandwiches. I used prepackaged tollhouse cookie dough, which I had on hand. I love Costco.

They bake up quickly. Another reader has suggested using packaged cookies, which I might keep in mind next time, as it eliminates a few steps.

I chilled the cookies in the fridge overnight because I wanted to create a cool surface for spreading the ice cream (I learned this lesson quickly after I did a sample cookie).

Then Mina and I went for a walk. We dragged Oscar too.

Saturday, things got a little crazy.

I finished making the ice cream sandwiches.

with mint chocolate chip...

with chocolate ice cream and sprinkles.

And with cookies and cream. But why have it like this....

when you could have it like this?

Behold! The diet-be-damned freezer! Following another reader's suggestion, I chilled them unwrapped for awhile till they were nice and firm. After that, I went back and wrapped them individually.

The only tip I have for these things is to work quickly - the ice cream needs to be a little soft to spread it on the cookie, but then it starts melting right away, so you don't have a lot of time to goof around with it. Have the sprinkles/chips handy, and a plate to put everything on right away, and space cleared in your freezer. Once they're firmed up, it's easy to wrap them and store them for later.

Next - prep the burgers. Time to dig in the spice cabinet. Ah... Shan! My secret ingredient to all things meat.

Stuffing with cheddar.

Shaping. The recipe is one I modified from Martha. I changed all the seasonings, since she didn't have any. But I liked her suggestion of denting the center of the burger to allow the whole thing to cook. I'd suggest cooking them a little longer than you think because they are really dense. I tend to like my burgers a little pink inside, but most people don't.

Next - prepped the mac and cheese. I did the bulk of it Saturday (grating - argh) and such. Barefoot Contessa makes it with a roux of flour and butter and milk, which I always need time with. I got it right this time without any fuss. She recommends using Gruyere cheese - which I've never tried. But, it came out delicious.

Into the pan with you - to be finished on Sunday with some toasted breadcrumbs and fresh tomato. Look how nicely Jordan is playing in the background there, with minimal parental supervision. That gave Jeff plenty of time to mug for the camera.

And finally, I made "Ashley's broccoli salad," with some modifications. Into the fridge, baby! I love dishes you can prepare ahead. By the way, I'd like to thank you Ashley and other readers for variations on this salad. I really loved the flavors. I used cranberries, as I had those on hand. Omitted the bacon for some, and added more almond slivers. Really, really good.

And now, we dance!

And then clean the deck.

On Sunday morning, I slept in till 8:00. Totally unexpected, but it happens. It might have something to do with the fact that I was up three times during the night escorting one monkey after another to the bathroom to pee. Sometimes it seems like life was a lot simpler when they wore diapers. Jeff was kind enough not to wake me. But he did make fun of me endlessly when I did awake.

I digress.

Anyway, did some last minute stuff - made a strawberry salad, a fruit platter for the kids, made the salsa, set the table. The weather didn't want to cooperate, and our big plans to have a fun outdoor, casual meal went by the wayside. Oh well.

Finally - our guests arrived! And that's what makes it worthwhile.

The kids ate...

The grownups ate... we talked, caught up on life events, discussed plans for the summer. It was really great being with friends we've known for so long. We've been through college together, shared apartments together, cooked meals together, watched everyone settle down and get married, shared good times, and bad ones too.

Just yesterday, it seemed like we were sharing Chimays in Bay Ridge .. and now, we have six kids among us. Oh boy. Did those years fly by.

Good food. Good friends.

And I am back to counting points and running tomorrow.
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