Friday, July 9, 2010

Half-Way There!

Fresh Picked Sweet Corn

Dinner party number twenty-six.  Do you know what that means?  It means we’re half-way there!  Half-way through this year-long, dinner-party-a-week venture.  I can hardly believe it.  The time’s gone by so fast.  And you know what - so far, so good.   And if I do say so myself, that’s pretty darn good, because after twenty-six weeks, seventy-five dinner guests,  and one hundred and forty-eight recipes,‘so far’ is, I think, officially pretty darn far! 

I’ve also got to say, in these last six months, Ben and I both have had an astonishing amount of fun.  Sure, it’s been a crazy amount of work.  And sure, there have been a few instances, when in the hectic hours just before our guests arrive, I suddenly realize that the last thing I want to do that night is have another dinner party.  But funny thing is, those nights, when I’m kind of dreading being the hostess, and have a serious case of being just not-in-the-mood, those nights somehow always turned out to be the most fun of all. 

Summer Berries

In fact, every single night I think, has turned out to be even more fun that we’d even expected.  And this night, this Fourth of July night with a eight of our wonderful friends, a spread of great summer food, and a 360-degree rooftop view of all of Chicago’s fireworks, was perhaps one of the best nights of all. This incredible night could have surpassed even the highest expectations!

Deviled Eggs
Vegetable Crudités with Creamy Herb Dip
Watermelon & Cherries
Red, White & Blue Burgers - with Blue Cheese, Tomatoes, Radicchio & Red Onion
Rosemary-Bacon Potato Salad
Green Bean-Tomato-Corn Salad
Summer Berry Pie
S’more Pie

The menu was simple.  And darn good.  In fact, I do think deviled eggs are the epitome of darn good food.  I’d made some for an afternoon snack a few afternoons before, and when Ben and I polished off half a dozen eggs without even blinking, I knew they’d be the perfect start for our Fourth of July barbeque.  I think deviled eggs are coming back in fashion, too.  And in a serious way.  I’ve been seeing them on menus in some pretty fancy schmancy restaurants.  And they were one of the biggest hits at a party I’d catered a few months ago.  I’d made three different varieties – smoked salmon with dill, fines herbs, and curry-cumin deviled eggs.  They went like crazy!  People couldn’t get enough of these guys.  For this dinner party, I thought about maybe doing another twist, but decided in the end to stick with the basic deviled egg.  And I’m glad I did, because there’s something magic about the simple combination of egg yolks, mayonnaise and mustard.  So creamy and comforting and addictively delicious, it’s absolute perfection just as is.  And that’s the thing about perfection – you can really improve upon it.  

Snacks Before Dinner

Along with the deviled eggs, we laid out some cold slices of juicy red watermelon, a bowlful of pretty Rainier cherries, and a platter of fresh summer vegetable crudités with a creamy herb dip.  A recipe of Ina Garten’s (She alone makes me wish we had cable), this cream cheese based  sauce is easy to whip up, and utterly tasty.  Chock full of chopped parsley, green onions and dill, it’s a perfect summertime dip for veggies or chips or anything at all. 

Burger Fixin's

In honor of the Fourth, we made red, white and blue burgers.  Representing red were thick slices of heirloom Brandywine tomatoes, thin rings of red onion, crisp leaves of deep purply-red radicchio, and of course the juicy red interiors of the medium-rare burgers.  For the white and the blue – creamy, pungent Roquefort blue cheese.  Oh man, these burgers were good!  A couple people even said they were the best burgers they’d ever had.  That totally made my day.  But I can’t take all the credit – our new charcoal grill had a lot to do with it too!

Blue Cheese


The potato salad was really delicious too.  Not one of those creamy, full-0f-mayo potato salads, these tender red and white baby spuds were cloaked in an herb-flecked vinaigrette of fresh lemon juice and peppery extra virgin olive oil.  Tossed with lots of crispy smoked bacon and a good dose of finely chopped rosemary, there was all sorts of wonderful stuff happening with these potatoes.  The huge flavors of rosemary and lemon mingled together harmoniously, a perfect combination of earthy warmth and zesty coolness.  And the bacon… well, bacon never hurts anything.  And it certainly didn’t hurt this dish one bit either!

Baby Potatoes

And for a second side, a quick salad of some of summer’s best vegetables – Tender green beans, slices of sweet tomatoes, fresh corn off the cob.  Tossed with some thinly sliced red onion and a few dashes of red wine vinaigrette, this beautiful salad tasted as good as it looked.  It’s such a nice change from the ubiquitous pasta, macaroni or potato salads.  And it’s just so tasty too.  I know I’m going to be tempted to serve this delicious salad with just about every meal for the rest of the season. 

Tomato, Green Bean & Corn Salad

Ten of us around the table meant that one pie would be a little too little, but two pies would be a little too much.  When it comes to dessert, I always like to err on the side of too much.  And so two pies it was.  The first pie – the raspberry, blueberry, blackberry pie – came about for two reasons.  One, because it looks fittingly patriotic.  I satisfies at least the red and blue requirements.  And two, because it’s totally easy.  With a graham cracker crust and a no-need-to-bake filling, this is my kind of pie!  I always get a huge kick out of those cooking magazines that come out every July with pictures of very red white and blue, flag-inspired desserts, all structurally correct with a blueberry rectangle up in the corner and the right number of raspberry stripes.  I always think that someday I’ll make a flag tart or cake like this, but this year, it just wasn’t in the cards.  This year I was after easy.  And this pie was certainly that.  What’s more, it was as delicious as it was easy.  Flag shaped, round or triangular, red white and blue, or pink orange or green, delicious is always a must.

S'more Pie

The grand finale for this festive dinner, my S’more pie!  This was a big hit all around.  I’ve been toying with the idea of a s’more pie for a while now, and finally decided to try it out.   A buttery graham cracker crust, a rich filling of dense bittersweet chocolate ganache, and a poofy topping of homemade marshmallow fluff.  A quick stint under the broiler (or spin under a blowtorch if you’re lucky enough to have one of those) and you’ve got a perfectly golden browned s’more pie.  S’mores have got to be one of my all time favorite summertime desserts.  Without a campfire on our back deck, this pie was a great substitute, with all the delicious charm of the original fireside treat.  A perfect dessert for watching fireworks!

Deviled Eggs
Serves 6-8
The trick to making these look extra cute and sophisticated: slicing the eggs in half width-wise rather than length-wise.  They’ll look smaller and dainty this way.  (Also, make sure to use large eggs, rather than extra-large or jumbo.)  To make sure the eggs stand up and don’t wobble, slice just the barest sliver off each end to form a base. 
Deviled Eggs
12 large eggs
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbl whole grain mustard
1 Tbl finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

First hard-boil the eggs: Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower the eggs into the boiling water.  Lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer – If the water bubbles too vigorously, the eggs will knock into each other and crack.  Simmer gently for 14 minutes.  Lift the eggs from the simmering water with the slotted spoon and transfer them to a bowl filled with ice water.  Allow the eggs to rest in the ice water until cool, about five minutes.  Peel the eggs.

Slice a small sliver off the top and bottom ends of each egg.  Slice the eggs in half, width-wise.  Scoop out the cooked yolks and reserve in a mixing bowl.  Carefully rinse the whites under cool running water and place on a double layer of paper towels to dry. 

Thoroughly mash the yolks with a potato masher, or push them through a mesh sieve.  Add the mayonnaise, mustard and parsley to the egg yolks and continue to mash until well combined.  Taste the egg yolk mixture and season as needed with salt and pepper.  Fill a pastry bag, fitted with a medium star tip, with the egg yolk mixture.  Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg white cups, filling them in a circular motion and forming a small dollop rising above the egg white.  Serve at room temperature.


Creamy Herb Dip
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten
Makes about 2 cups 
 Creamy Herb Dip with Vegetables
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 scallions, finely chopped, both white and green parts
2 Tbl parsley, finely chopped
1 Tbl fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Combine the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-high until well blended.  Add the scallions, parsley, dill, salt and pepper and beat until evenly combined.  Store refrigerated in an air-tight container, up to two days.  Serve at room temperature. 


Red, White & Blue Burgers
Serves 6
 Blue Cheese Burger
2 1/4 # ground beef chuck, 80% lean
6 oz strongly flavored blue cheese
6 burger buns
1/2 stick butter, melted
1 head radicchio, leaves separated
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
vegetable oil, for grilling
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the grill to very hot, about 30 minutes. Here’s a way to tell if your grill is at the right temperature.  Hold your hand right over it.  If you you can keep it there for five seconds, it’s not hot enough.  If you can’t hold it there for even half a second, it's too hot.  When the grill is hot, scrape it clean with a metal brush.  Soak a rag or a bunch of paper towels with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil, and using tongs, rub it over the grill rack. 
Gently shape the ground beef into six 6-ounce patties, being careful not to over-work the meat (or the burgers will turn out less tender).  Slice the buns in half, then brush the insides evenly with melted butter. 
Just before grilling, generously season both sides of each patty with salt and pepper.
Arrange the burgers over the hottest area of the grill, over direct heat. Grill, uncovered, without pressing down on the patties (For some reason, people always want to do this.  They think it speeds up the cooking time.  But all it accomplishes is to squeeze out precious juice).  Cook until well seared on the first side, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Flip the burgers over with a metal spatula, top each with about an ounce of blue cheese, then continue cooking - about 2 minutes for rare, 2 1/2 minutes for medium-rare, 3 minutes for medium, 4 minutes for medium-well and about 4 minutes on each side for well done.  Remove the burgers, then toast the buns on the grill, cut side down, until lightly browned, about a minute. 
On top of each bottom bun place two large radicchio leaves. The set the burger, cheese side up, on top of the radicchio.  Top the burger with the sliced onions, then the tomato slices.  Sprinkles with a bit of salt.  Top everything with the top bun.  Serve immediately.


Rosemary-Bacon Potato Salad
Serves 6-8
  Potato Salad with Rosemary & Bacon
8 oz bacon
1 1/2 # baby red potatoes
1 1/2 # baby white potatoes
2 Tbl dry white wine
2 Tbl chicken stock
2 Tbl lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp lemon zest
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl parsley, finely chopped
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400ᵒF.  Cook the bacon until just crispy, about 20 minutes.  Drain on paper towels, then roughly chop, and set aside. 
Add the whole potatoes to a large pot of boiling, salted water and simmer until they are tender, about 20-25 minutes.  Drain in a colander and allow to cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, slice each potato in half or quarters, depending on the side.  Add the sliced potatoes to a large mixing bowl.  Add the wine and chicken stock and toss gently.  Allow to rest about 10 minutes, to let the liquids be absorbed by the potatoes.
Make the vinaigrette: Combine the lemon juice, mustard, rosemary, lemon zest, garlic, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream and whisking as you pour. 
Drizzle the vinaigrette over the potatoes.  Add the chopped bacon and the parsley, season with a bit of salt and pepper, then toss gently to combine. Serve warm or at room temp.


Green Bean-Tomato-Corn Salad
Serves 6
  Tomato-Green Bean-Corn Salad
1 small garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
2 Tbl red wine vinegar
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl vegetable oil
3 ears corn, husks and silk removed
1 1/2 # green beans, trimmed and sliced in half on a slight diagonal
3 cups ripe, multicolored, small heirloom tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced, soaked in cool water for 15 minutes then drained
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the vinaigrette:  Combine the garlic, mustard, thyme, vinegar, a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Whisk together, and slowly pour in the olive oil, then the vegetable oil, both in a thin stream and whisking as you pour.  Reserve.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add the shucked corn and cook until tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Remove the corn with tongs, and set aside to cool.  Slice the corn kernels off the cob and place in a large mixing bowl.
Return the water to a boil, then add the green beans.  Cook until tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Drain the beans, pat dry with paper towels, then add to the bowl with the corn.
Add the sliced tomatoes and onions to the corn and green beans.  Drizzle with the vinaigrette, season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, then toss to coat.  Let stand for at least 30 minutes, to allow the flavors to meld.  Serve at room temperature. 


Summer Berry Pie
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, Summer Entertaining Issue, August 2009
Serves 8-10
Summer Berry Pie
For the graham cracker crust:
1 package graham crackers (9 crackers), crumbled
2 Tbl sugar
5 Tbl unsalted butter, melted
For the berry filling:
9 oz (about 2 cups) raspberries
11 oz (about 2 cups) blackberries
10 oz (about 2 cups) blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbl cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbl lemon juice
2 Tbl red currant jelly
For the whipped cream:
1  cup heavy cream
1 Tbl sugar
1 tsp vanilla
For the graham cracker crust:  Preheat the oven to 325ᵒF and arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.  Place the crumbled graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until finely ground.  (If you don’t have a food processor, place the crackers in a large zip-lock bag, then crush the crackers with a rolling pin.)  Add the sugar and melted butter and pulse or stir until well combined.  Evenly press the mixture into the bottoms and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate, forming a neat border around the edge.  Bake until the crust is set and golden, about 15-18 minutes.  Set aside on a wire cooling rack. 
For the berry filling:  In a food processor, combine 2 1/2 cups of the berries until smooth and fully pureed, about 1 minute.  Strain the puree through a mesh sieve into a small saucepot, pressing on the seeds to extract as much juice as possible.  (You should have between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 cups berry puree.) 
In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt, then whisk this mixture into the berry puree.  Over medium heat, bring the puree to a boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  When the mixture reaches a boil and thickens to a consistency similar to pudding, turn off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and set aside to cool  slightly.
While the puree is cooling, place the remaining berries in a medium mixing  bowl.  In another small saucepot, heat the jelly over low heat until it melts into a liquid.  Drizzle the melted jelly over the mixed berries, and toss them gently to coat with the jelly glaze. 
Pour the slightly cooled berry puree mixture into the cooled pie crust.  Top with the jelly-glazed berries.  Loosely cover the pie with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the puree has set and the pie is cold, about 3 hours or up to 1 day. 
For the whipped cream:  Whip the cream to soft peaks (When you stick a spoon into the cream and lift it out, a point will form then droop down after a second or two).  Add sugar and vanilla and whip to firm peaks (The point formed in the cream will stand straight up and not fall over).
Cut the pie into wedges and top each slice with a generous dollop of whipped cream.


S’more Pie
Serves 10-12
  S'more  Pie
For the graham cracker crust:
1 package graham crackers (9 crackers), crumbled
1/4 cup sugar
5 Tbl unsalted butter, melted
For the chocolate filling:
7 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 large egg
pinch of salt
For the marshmallow topping:
1/4 cup cool water
1 1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 Tbl water
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
For the graham cracker crust:  Preheat the oven to 325ᵒF and arrange a rack in the middle of the oven.  Place the crumbled graham crackers in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until finely ground.  (If you don’t have a food processor, place the crackers in a large zip-lock bag, then crush the crackers with a rolling pin.)  Add the sugar and melted butter and pulse or stir until well combined.  Evenly press the mixture into the bottoms and sides of a 9-inch glass pie plate, forming a neat border around the edge.  Bake until the crust is set and golden, about 15 minutes.  Set aside on a wire rack.  (Leave the oven on.)
For the chocolate filling:  Place the chocolate in a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Bring the cream to a boil, then pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Let the chocolate and cream stand for about 2 minutes, and then whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is well combined and smooth.  Add the egg and a pinch of salt and whisk gently until jut combined.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the graham cracker crust.  Bake until the filling is softly set, about 25-30 minutes.  Cool pie to room temperature on a wire rack, about 1 hour.
For the marshmallow topping:  (Precede with these steps, only once the chocolate pie is cooled to room temperature.)  Add the 1/4 water to the bowl of an electric stand mixer, then evenly sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water.  Allow it to rest 10 minutes. Combine the sugar, corn syrup and 2 Tbl water in a small sauce pan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil until the temperature reaches 250ᵒF (the hard-ball stage).   
Using the whisk attachment, and running the stand mixer at low speed, drizzle the hot sugar syrup into the gelatin mixture (avoid the whisk).  Once all the syrup is added, add the pinch of salt and increase the speed to high.  Whisk until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the vanilla, and mix to combine. 
Pour the marshmallow mixture over the cooled chocolate filling, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula, and making sure to keep the marshmallow topping within the crust border.
Chill uncovered for 1 hour, then cover loosely with plastic wrap and continue to chill for 4 more hours, or up to one day.
When ready to serve, protect the edges of the pie with the pie shield or foil and place the pie about 4-inches beneath the oven broil.  Broil until the marshmallow topping is evenly golden brown, about 3-4 minutes, rotating the pie frequently while it broils.  Alternatively, brown the top of the pie with a blow torch.  Slice the pie with a thin, sharp knife, wiping the knife clean with a damp towel between each slice. 


  1. Seriously, get a patent on that s'more pie. Because it was What I really enjoyed was the giant blowtorch casually sitting in the kitchen.

  2. I might try that corn/green bean/tomato salad sometime - absolutely love the color!!

  3. Thanks, everybody! You are all too nice :).

  4. Hi Kate! I have a question for you. I followed your directions for boiling the eggs. The last time I did it, everything was perfect! The shells fell off of the eggs! I just tried again and peeling the eggs was like pulling a bandaid off cotton candy. I think they weren't quite done yet. So my questions is: After you cook the eggs and they've cooled, you open 'em up to discover they're not quite done yet, is there anything you can do to cook them a little longer without making them rubber?

  5. Hi Katie! Bummer! I hate when that happens! Your tricky peeling problem was most likely due to 'old' eggs. Not gone bad, or anything like that, but just not as fresh as they could be. (Of course, on the other end of the spectrum. eggs that are way too fresh can be difficult to peel too!) But yeah, age, rather than under-cooking, is most likely the culprit. I know this because sometimes I soft boil eggs too (i.e., basically under-cook them), and if they're at the right level of freshness, I don't have any extra trouble with the peeling. But to answer the question about re-cooking your eggs if you happen to pull them out of the water before they're done to your liking... I've never tried this before, but it could work... you could add the peeled but whole eggs back to simmering water for a few minutes more. It's probably more likely to work (and avoid causing rubberiness) if you don't cool them down first. Or you could even try nuking them in the microwave for a bit. Maybe try 30 seconds to start. Worth a try, I suppose. :) Hope this helps, and thanks for asking!