Southern California weather (and not that crazy rain or forest fire or earthquake stuff - the clear, sunny skies with a gentle breeze kind of SoCal weather) meant virtually the whole weekend was spent outside. Friday night, dinner in the backyard (small plates - mozzarella and tomatoes and balsalmic vinegar salad, plus spiced pecans with gorgonzola, a lovely simple dish I enjoyed at a sushi restaurant in Dallas the night before the trauma of oral boards and attempted to recreate). Saturday morning we started with the Grogans Mill farmers' market (OK, Joe started with a long, refreshing run. I started with the farmers' market, about halfway through his day), lunch in the backyard, dog walk, trip to the dog park while some folks toured the house (please, please, someone buy this house!), and a flurry of cooking for an impromptu Sunday afternoon gathering.
And today, more dog walks and more cooking and a delightful visit with college friends and family. While the bestest part of the gathering was the time with the people we love, a close second was getting to prepare a small feast for said people! We had brisket, strawberry spinach salad, cole slaw, orange feta mint salad (yes, that's right - 3 salads!), chard-sweet potato casserole, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and sangria. One of my signs of a successful party (and one we rarely encounter in my family, as each attendee to family gatherings brings enough food for his or her own moderately-sized army) is having no leftovers when the guests exeunt, laden with Ziplocs and Glad containers of their favorites. We have in our fridge a small container of spinach salad, one of chard-sweet potato casserole, and ladlefuls of brisket sauce, with scraps of tender beef hiding in its depths. Plus I think there are 2 remaining of the 6 cookies Mary left for us. That's it. I hope that everyone enjoyed a second helping of the goodies tonight for dinner - I'm thinking of finishing off the casserole any moment now.
It was so pleasant just to chill with friends. Kids played on the Wii, then we pulled out the slightly abused Slip'n'Slide, clamped the torn edge, added buckets of water to weigh it down, and the 2 1-year-olds (more or less) got their first taste of spouts of water shooting up into their faces while held by their mothers. Needless to say, they loved it. Many tears of joy were shed.
I know, there's nothing too profound about a strawberry spinach salad, but I thought the vinaigrette was pretty tasty, so I'll include the recipe. The casserole was surprisingly yummy - I thought it was going to be a complete wash, particularly since it seemed the sweet potato would refused to soften, but the bits were pretty tiny and only 1 in 10 was on the firm side. The sangria, prepared by my miraculous husband, was the hit of the party. We'll make more next time, because that's one leftover I don't mind in the least.
adapted from Foodista
4 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (we used peach-infused balsalmic vinegar we picked up at the farmers' market)
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp light brown sugar
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp sesame seeds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 package spinach leaves
1 pint strawberries, sliced
¼ cup gorgonzola cheese (or bleu cheese)
Chopped pecans (we used spiced pecans I had on hand)
bacon, cooked and crumbled (didn't use)
grape tomatoes (didn't use)
sliced red onion
In a small bowl, mix together the first 6 ingredients of the dressing. Slowly add the olive oil, while whisking vigorously to create an emulsion. Add salt & pepper, to taste.
Just before serving toss the spinach and strawberries with the dressing. Enjoy immediately.
1-2 sweet potatoes (1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/3-inch cubes
1/2 pound bread, crusts on, cut into half-inch cubes
8 ounces cheddar cheese, cut in 1/3-inch cubes
2 Tbsp butter
2 large onions, chopped
2 large bunches Swiss chard, washed well, stems separated and chopped, leaves chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs, whisked
1 1/4 cup whole milk (I used 1% milk and I think it was just fine)
1/2 cup cream
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp ground sage (or 2 Tbsp fresh sage)
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Generous sprinkle of freshly ground pepper
Chard: In a large skillet, melt the butter till shimmery. Add the onions and cook until just soft. Set aside half the onions. Add the chard stems and saute until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the leaves, a big handful at a time, and gently stir until wilted. Keep adding handfuls until all is wilted. Add salt and set aside.
Custard: Mix all custard ingredients together.
Assembly: (If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375F.) In a large bowl, combine the squash, bread, cheese and cooked onions. Transfer HALF the mixture to a lightly buttered baking dish about 8x11 or 9x13. Arrange the cooked chard evenly on top, then the remaining squash-bread-cheese mixture. If making ahead, you may choose to stop here. Gently pour custard mix over top, being careful to wet all the bread pieces, especially.
BAKE Bake for 45 minutes at 375F. Remove from oven. If any pieces of sweet potato are still firm, gently push them into the custard. Cover and bake for another 15 or so minutes [I found that the sweet potato needed a lot more time to cook - total time in oven was about 85 minutes - but I was warming up brisket with it for a good 45 minutes]. Let rest for about 10 minutes or so before serving. Reheats well.
To prep ahead: This bread pudding can be made ahead in two ways. It can be fully assembled then baked a few hours later, or the bread-squash-chard-cheddar mixture and the custard mixture can be prepped the day before then combined just before baking. With the first method, the bread pudding is slightly crusty on top, very good. With the second, the bread pudding is more custard-y, also very good. [I did the second, and it was sorta custard-y. I think I could have used more of the custard, maybe because I used more chard than the recipe suggested - what can I say, I had a wagon-full!]
found on the Recipe Girl's blog - she got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated (which I can't wait to start receiving any day now, thanks to my generous hubby, who also prepared this delicious concoction all on his own)
We doubled the recipe and made only slight modifications - added apples and used powdered sugar
2 large juice oranges, washed; one orange sliced, remaining orange juiced
1 large lemon, washed and sliced
1 apple, sliced
¼ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup Triple Sec
One 750 ml bottle inexpensive, fruity, medium-bodied red wine, chilled
Add sliced orange and lemon and sugar to large pitcher; mash gently with wooden spoon until fruit releases some juice, but is not totally crushed, and sugar dissolves, about 1 minute. Stir in orange juice, Triple Sec, wine, and apple slices; refrigerate for at least 2, and up to 8, hours.
Before serving, add 6 to 8 ice cubes and stir briskly to distribute settled fruit and pulp; serve immediately.
Some of the recipes we researched called for brandy; in the interest of creating the optimal sipping experience, we did use a small portion of our concoction (the part that didn't fit into the pretty pitcher) to test the brandy option. We found that the fruit immediately absorbed the brandy, which made for some potent apple slices but didn't add much to our sangria. You're welcome.