Well the wedding of the century has finally come to an end. I’m talking, of course, about my brother’s wedding to my new sister-in-law, Anna. About a month ago I offered to do a pre-wedding party for all those who were participating in the wedding either as a member of the wedding party, or the readers, MCs, etc. As I began to plan the menu, think about the party, I relied on my life guru Ina Garten and was so pleasantly surprised by the results!
So one thing Ina always vigorously advocates is to plan ahead and to “have fun” at your own party. Quite a concept! Well, I decided to make two dips, chicken skewers, and various veggies and chips. Also, this evening was also my dear friend Aimee’s 30th birthday, so, naturally, I had to do a chocolate cake (the cake is featured below). Politeness aside, the dips were a huge hit. The party started at 8, so it was a nice post-dinner menu. My usual taste-tester girlfriend Christina loved the herb dip. In fact, I was concerned there would be none left as the night before she kept sneaking “tastes” in the refrigerator!
Herb Dip (Barefoot Contessa)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 scallions, white and green parts, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, scallions, parsley, dill, salt, and pepper in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and blend. Serve at room temperature.
Robby’s Comments – This is the third time I’ve made this dip. The first time it was entirely TOO salty. It was fine if it was on potatoes, but that was it. The second time I made it, I cult the salt down to just a pinch (maybe a 1/4 teaspoon). The second time was at a family dinner party, and my now sister-in-law was in love with it. However, my brother liked it, but thought the green onions made the chunky consistency a bit odd. Some people love green onions, but not everyone loves chunks of green onion. So, this time, I took all of the herbs, gave them a rough chop, and then threw them into a mini-cup food processor and pulsed until all of the herbs were finely chopped. Perfection! This was now an amazing dip, with all of the incredible flavors, without the awkwardness of the chunkier green onions.
Sun-dried Tomato Dip (Barefoot Contessa)
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped (8 tomatoes) (I doubled to almost a 1/2 cup)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
10 dashes, hot red pepper sauce (also doubled this–I used Tabasco)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
Puree the tomatoes, cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, red pepper sauce, salt and pepper in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the scallions and pulse twice. Serve at room temperature
Robby’s Comments – This dip was good, but it needed augmentation. I doubled the amount of sun-dried tomatoes (either mine weren’t strong, or this was meant as a weak recipe) and doubled the hot sauce. Also, I made this a day ahead of time and the flavor was so much better after it sat in the refrigerator overnight. This was the hit among the party guests, although Christina and my brother preferred the herb dip, as did my mom when she tried the two the next day. This dip went very well with the potato chips. I personally thought the carrots and celery went better with the herb dip. A lot of intense flavors in this dip (but not too spicy)–highly recommended!
Also, I don’t have a large enough food processor, so I processed the scallions and tomatoes, and then used the stand mixer with a paddle attachment to blend. Worked just fine.
Chicken Skewers (Barefoot Contessa)
Robby’s Comments – Comments first are necessary here for explanation and a word of caution. This was a blend of recipes of sorts. I had previously made Ina’s Tequila Lime Chicken on its own and thought it would be great on skewers. It was and it wasn’t. Next time I will use chicken breast chunks or stir-fry chicken pieces. If you got an end piece then the flavor was phenomenal, but if you didn’t, then the flavor wasn’t as good. No one pointed out the inconsistency, but I noticed it, as did my brother when I asked his thoughts. If I do this next time, I also won’t marinate overnight, maybe just a few hours. I also added zucchini and onions that I roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper on the skewers. They were good, but the onions were difficult because I chopped them too small and shrinkage resulted! Nevertheless, this chicken recipe is great for a chicken breast, but if you make skewers, be sure to pre-cut the chicken or get stir-fry pieces.
1/2 cup gold tequila (I used orange flavored tequila–I bought this accidentally some time ago, and then cut the orange juice down)
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (5 to 6 limes)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper (1 pepper seeded) (I don’t use this–I substitute chili pepper flakes since I like that flavor better)
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (3 cloves)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 whole (6 split) boneless chicken breasts, skin on
Combine the tequila, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, jalapeno pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken breasts. Refrigerate overnight.
Heat a grill with coals and brush the rack with oil to prevent the chicken from sticking. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade, sprinkle well with salt and pepper, and grill them skin-side down for about 5 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn the chicken and cook for another 10 minutes, until just cooked through. Remove from the grill to a plate. Cover tightly and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Beatty’s Chocolate Cake a la Aimee (Barefoot Contessa)
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
(Shout out to my girlfriend, Christina, for having the steadier hand and smoothing this cake to perfection!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-inch x 2-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
Place 1 layer, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.
Robby’s Comments – Ugh, this cake. I shouldn’t complain. Sure it looks nice and sweet up there, but in reality…okay, be positive, my grandmother always says. First and foremost, incredible flavor. So rich, so moist, incredible. No question about it, this flavor is bar-none for a chocolate cake. But man does this cake have rising issues. I tested this recipe a week before the party (baking and I are frenemies, so I always test a baked recipe before a big party.)
(At the beginning, please know this is a very runny batter, so don’t get scared.)
During the test-run, I followed the recipe to the letter and the cakes collapsed in the center. I read reviews online and suggestions poured in to use a 9-inch pan, so that’s what I did the day of. The result: collapsed AGAIN!! Very frustrating and nothing a little frosting couldn’t fix, but still irritating. I plan to re-test this recipe again and cut down the baking soda (as it does seem a bit high) and will post an update then. I also will do an oven temperature check as well. I want this recipe right, because the flavor is just too good to let levening get in the way of a great cake.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (Barefoot Contessa)
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate (recommended: Callebaut)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
Chop the chocolate (I used chocolate chips) and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature. (See above)
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. (See above)
Add the egg yolk and vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of the hottest tap water. On low speed, add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don’t whip! Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
Robby’s Comments – The coffee in the frosting was a bit overwhelming during the test, so I reduced it by half and it was much better (I liked it the first time, but I’m a coffee addict).
The only change I made in this recipe was the filling. I love strawberry filling in chocolate cake, as well as raspberries. So, since my friend Aimee prefers raspberries and it’s her birthday cake, I made raspberry curd to go in the middle. It was a hit! And it cut the intensity of a VERY chocolate cake.
Raspberry Filling (http://www.food.com/recipe/raspberry-cake-filling-152347)
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best, but…)
1/4 cup sugar
In a small sauce pan, combined all of the ingredients and slowly bring to a boil over medium-high heat (keep stirring until thickened for best results). Let cool completely before spreading onto cake.
Robby’s Comments – I blended the raspberry and lemon juice mixture after it heated for awhile, but before adding cornstarch. I also refrigerated the mixture overnight to allow it to congeal. The result was great!
So, at Ina’s suggestion, I prepped everything ahead of time AND changed the way I normally do cocktails. In the past, I’ve become a bartender. Running back-and-forth to the fridge, fishing out liquor from the cabinet, accommodating any and all tastes and strange desires. This time, I followed the advice of the guru and put out the 4 major liquors (tequila, vodka, rum, and whisky). My cousin loaned me her mini ice bucket and I filled carafes with orange juice and cranberry juice, along with various sodas. I chopped up limes, oranges, and put out green olives and maraschino cherries into a bar caddy thing my cousin also lent me. I put it all out as you see above and LEFT IT ALONE. I didn’t tend bar and didn’t need to. Everyone loved the “build-your-own” cocktail and the cocktail station was the major conversation area of the party! I advise everyone to take this approach. Everyone knows their basic likes and dislikes and this will help the host have a great time, without being worked into a frenzy.
The party was a blast and, best of all, I had fun and didn’t have to stand in the kitchen throughout the night. I was thrilled to have given the wedding party a chance to kick up their heels and enjoy Ryan and Anna’s last night as singles. The wedding the next day was great and I was so honored to have helped that along in my own way! Congrats to the happy couple!