Blogging is definitely not for you if you’re overly sensitive, because there are simply going to be times when something you write is either not well received, not read, or simply isn’t the best piece of writing you’ve ever done. I’ve been writing this blog for over five years now, and all of the above have happened to me. Like everything in life sometimes you’re going to ace it, and sometimes you’re sadly going to fall flat on your face. Cooking is the same. Every meal is not going to be met with raves when you bring it to the table, and some, hopefully a fairly high percentage, are going to be hits.
Many times I’ve written about the bumpy road I followed to learning the ins and outs of my first kitchen. With each meal I cook I take something besides the end result with me. I thoroughly enjoy researching what goes on our plates here at our house. I like to blend flavors and tweak recipes to try something new and different. Alternately I like the old favorites like the Beef Wellington I just posted. I don’t expect anyone to be surprised by the recipe, it’s been around a long time, but this is the best version I’ve tried personally so I put it out there for someone looking for a good one.
Entertaining, for me these days, is for the most part fun. Personally I lean towards small intimate dinner parties or barbeques on the deck over larger groups. Human nature being what it is, people tend to gravitate towards their comfort zone. The bigger parties often end up with the people who know each other talking amongst themselves in individual pods around the room. Two to four couples create a more intimate mood with couples more likely to engage the other in conversation. This gives you an opportunity to get to get to know each other better when the evening is over. At least, it works for us.
Planning a dinner party involves some work in either case. I like to set the mood and create a colorful table with fresh flowers, a candle or two, and mix and match dishes with cloth napkins (dish towels cut in half work well if hemmed). Back when I was starting out I rarely cooked an experimental dish for company, but these days I throw it in the pot and make sure the wine cabinet is stocked.
What you put into the dinner as far as ingredients will definitely influence the end result. Fresh vegetables, a good cut of meat, excellent cheese and an intelligent wine choice really make a difference in achieving a dining experience your guests will remember.
This brings to mind a dinner party that I went to in my thirties. Danville, California, was home at that juncture of may life. An upscale, yuppified community in a beautiful hilly area on the inland side of the Bay Area. Being Team Mother for my son’s soccer team helped expand my group of acquaintances more quickly than usual when moving to a new location.
Married to my second husband at time, a gregarious sort of human who loved to entertain and thoroughly enjoyed having a group of people around him to hang on his every word, of which their were many. Women used to remark frequently how “lucky” I was to have him. This is me being quiet.
One couple often found seated at our table asked if they could reciprocate our hospitality by inviting us to a barbecue the following weekend. Offering to contribute an appetizer plans were made and directions exchanged.
Arriving at their home the following Saturday night, we found a gorgeous two story home in the country. As if the inside of the massive house wasn’t impressive enough the backyard should have been decorating the pages of House Beautiful. Three separate decorative brick patios rose in levels up the hillside culminating at a beautiful lagoon type pool where our children were already happily swimming. Clay pots large enough to decorate the pyramids were evident everywhere overflowing with lovely floral displays. A Yorkshire terrier named Charlie ran about barking warnings as people began to invade his territory. Chaos in paradise.
All this opulence overrode a comment made by a friend that the Lord of this manor was a bit tight. By this I don’t mean he was hitting the margaritas a bit heavily, but more that his wallet hadn’t been opened since Nixon was impeached.
Sitting in the lovely setting we enjoyed the sun and pleasant conversation. Baked potatoes in foil covers could be seen under the hood of the gigantic built in barbecue. Next to the edifice an enormous piece of round steak waited its turn on the grill on a serving platter. Now, I’ve done a lot of things with round steak in my time. I’ve marinated it for several days, slow cooked it, tenderized it, pressure cooked it, pounded it into Swiss steak, but barbecuing it without any of these steps never occurred to me. There is a reason for that. Intrinsically round steak can be a tough cut of meat. Slapped as is without tenderizing on the bottom of your shoe it would serve as protection if trekking from the west to the east coast.
The host explained that he had gotten the slab of meat on sale and preferred it to filets. In what universe was that? I asked at that point for a refill on my cocktail, having a feeling I might need my teeth to be slightly anesthized for chewing as the evening progressed. Asked how we liked our meat cooked, I opted for rare leaving at least an opening for getting it down. Several cocktails to the good the cook then proceeded to char the entire side of beef well done. House fires leave less cremated remains.
That first piece of meat took me fifteen minutes to break down. During that meal I left the table so many times to use the bathroom and get rid of pieces of meat I finally said I was suffering from a bladder infection, so as not to hurt my host’s feelings.
Dinner finally over, with half the meat still sitting on my plate, I was offered a doggie bag. My husband was on his own. Unusually quiet, he persevered cutting the meat in miniscule pieces so as not to choke on it. Arriving home our golden retriever, Barnaby, accepted the “doggie bag” quickly burying it under the plum tree in the back yard. That tree went bad the following year, we always wondered if there was some connection. Forgot to mention it was chocolate pudding cups for dessert. Mmmmm.
They were very nice people. We enjoyed their company and appreciated their hospitality, but I remember the dinner for all the wrong reasons.
An array of fresh fruit with an assortment of cut cheese, or a bowl of ice cream with berries is not expensive but sets the mood. If you can’t afford a nice cut of meat, a pasta with a delicate sauce or tuna salad with deviled eggs at the side. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just well thought out. I’ve eaten peanut butter and jelly with the crusts cut off and thought I was styling. That’s all I’m saying. Anyhow, my thoughts for the day.
These beans are absolutely the best. I like the sauce so much I sometimes add some chicken and serve these over a bed of pasta. The radish crisps are the perfect topping (also good by themselves or in salads.)
Greek Green Beans with Radish Crisps
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (less if you like)
2 15 1/2 oz. diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. basil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. dried dill
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese
Heat oil in deep saucepan over med. heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, about 6-8 mins. Add garlic and pepper flakes and continue cooking for 1 min.
Add green beans, tomatoes, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Cover and continue cooking for 40 mins, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and add feta and dill mixing well. Top with radish crisps.
Oil for cooking
4 large radishes, sliced thin
Heat oil over high heat. Oil should just cover bottom of pan. When shimmering add the sliced radishes in batches. Brown well on both sides until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with garlic salt.