Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Week: Harry Potter Dinner Party Invites (For Adults)

After the success of last years dinner party-it only seemed natural to have another one this year!  It did not take me long to decide the theme would be Harry Potter as I have read all the books and own all the movies (yeah, I'm nerdy like that).  Levi and I enjoy watching the movies on a lazy weekend and when I brought up the idea to have the party HP themed-he was immediately on board!

The first idea I had was the invitations.  I wanted to buy some of the fake plastic owls farm stores sell to spook birds from nesting in the barn.  They run about $20 each, but I thought maybe I could find some on sale at some point (since I decided the theme in April).  I had my family on the case, so many eyes were out looking for discounted owls.  Over the 6 months we were looking-I never found anything under $20.  At least, nothing that I wanted.

Last month, I was visiting with my grandmother and explaining to her how we still don't have the owls for delivery.  My goal was to deliver the invitations while everyone was at work-in order to surprise them when they came home-keeping the mystery alive!  I have seen other parties use white balloons, but that wasn't going to be an effective solution as too many things can happen to the balloon on a porch over a few hours time.  I needed something stationary.  Grandma suggested I use white pumpkins and draw on them.  Great idea!  At my day job, they host a farmers market during the summer/fall months and a friend worked out a deal with a vendor getting me 5 white pumpkins for $20!  Perfect!

To make the actual invitations was a real pain in the...  I utilized Pinterest for inspiration and ideas and there were SO many Harry Potter font links that didn't work I spent over an hour downloading and searching and downloading and uninstalling-I'm not really sure which one worked and which one didn't-so I apologize for not having them on here, but I'm honestly not sure which one did the trick.  It was a real mess finally getting the font, but I did eventually get the Harry Potter and Viner Hand ITC (for the handwriting font).  A couple of tips:
  • the downloads are not very clear-so you have to regularly open and close your Microsoft Word to see if its listed under 'Fonts'
  • there are so many gimmicks and junk downloads attached to many of the fonts-so be careful!
  • the Harry Potter font only works if I write out my message in a regular font, highlight the message with my mouse and then change the font.  If I change the font to Harry Potter first, it will kick it off after the first few letters or words 
After getting the font, doing the rest was fun!

I used regular white printer paper and printed out my invitations.  I used the font and wording from Pieces by Polly (I found her site the most helpful-overall).  I also used the same owl stamp Polly used (this link has envelope and letter printables too) and printed off a couple 9 3/4 tickets to include in each invitation!

Photo edited for privacy
Photo edited for privacy

I made my own envelopes using the Word Art function in Word and some trial-n-error.  I then stained all the letters and envelopes with coffee and dropped some instant coffee grounds over the top to give the paper a weathered look.  After the paper dried, I constructed the envelopes and used a red taper candle I had to make the seal and the top of a decanter to press in the seal.

After that, all I had to do was deliver the invites and wait for the RSVP's to come flying in (pun intended)!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Salisbury Steak: a great way to use venison

Venison is one of my favorite meats to work with.  Its lean, tender and oh, so delicious!  Growing up in the country, hunting wasn't an unusual way to spend your time.  While my family didn't regularly hunt, people often hunted our property during the appropriate seasons (with permission, of course).  And as a thank you, they would share some of the deer meat they acquired.  Jerky was a favorite treat, but ground venison was the traditional item of thanks-one that I still get excited to see!

I know there are a lot of arguments about hunting and the moral dilemma of it all, but this blog isn't about the political element.  I'm sharing the way I was raised: a girl growing up on a largely self-sustainable property.  The ability to live like that is so rare today-too many of us wouldn't know how to manage without the grocery store and the delivery driver.  So please set your politics aside and no Bambi jokes or I'll break out many Denis Leary lines on you!

Levi is wonderful kitchen help!

Salisbury Steak (serves 8)

1lb. ground venison (or ground beef)
1pkt brown gravy 
1 medium onion diced (divided)
3/4c breadcrumbs
2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter
1-4 oz can mushrooms (I use 2 because we love them!)
1 1/2c water
salt & pepper
olive oil

In mixing bowl, combine venison, 1/2 the chopped onion, breadcrumbs, eggs and salt and pepper.  Mix together and form into 8 patties.  Pat some flour on the outside.

In medium skillet heat olive oil over med-high heat.  Place the patties into the skillet to brown on each side.  Do not cook all the way through.  Remove patties from skillet and place in a 9x13 baking dish. 

In the skillet, keep the juices from the patties.  Add the butter, remaining onion and mushrooms.  Cook until onion softens.  Add the water and brown gravy contents.  Mix together until powder dissolves-gravy will be watery.  Pour contents over patties.  Cover with foil and bake in oven at 350 F for 1 hour.

Serve over rice or mashed potatoes.

At the risk of full-disclosure, we were fixing this and listening to Christmas Carols on Pandora...its a great way to spend the evening together!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Levi's Slow-Cooker Italian Beef

When Levi and I started dating he told me he likes to cook.  Now, I appreciate a man who cooks, but I've never dated one who did-or maybe, I never let one in my kitchen...I cant remember.  None-the-less, from time-to-time I let Levi venture into the kitchen and make one of his (three) signature dishes.

Italian beef is something I never order in a restaurant-this delightful dish, to me, is a home-specific dinner.  It makes me think of cold days, football and the glow from the fire place.  It should make me think of doing nothing at all, because with this dish, I dont even have to get off the couch to tell Levi where to find something!  Ladies, teach your man this dish-you'll thank me for it!

Levi's Slow-Cooker Italian Beef (Serves 8)

2lb Roast
1 Italian Dressing packet
1 jar pepperoncinis (whole)
1 12oz can beer (we use lager) OR 1 1/2c beef stock
1 pkg Hoagies
1 pkg Mozzerella Cheese

Directions: Pour beer (or stock), Italian packet and a splash of pepperoncini juice to crockpot and whish together.  Gently add the roast and top with pepperoncini peppers.  Cover and cook for 8 hours.

Serve on hoagies with pepperoncinis and mozzerella.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Voo-Doo Dinner Party

 I have been wanting to have a party in the apartment for some time now.  But our little cozy apartment isn't conducive for a lot of people to comfortably enjoy themselves (this is about the point Levi reminds me we need to start house hunting).  So last year we agreed to have a dinner party with ourselves and 6 guests and have it the weekend before Halloween so we could have a theme.

That was about as far as I got in the theme planning at that point.  I get very menu inspired and started pouring over the internet and my cookbooks looking for ideas of what to cook.  I think I changed the menu 5 times.  One of the items I was wanting to try was cassoulet, but it takes a long time to make and since I've never made it before-I didn't want 6 people to become guinea pigs.

In addition, when looking at the time table I had to make the dinner (the party was on a Friday evening and I get off work at 2p), some of the items were not going to allow me to finish in time.  So I then decided to go with my strongest suit-my jambalaya.  I first found a recipe for jambalaya in a tiny book my mother gave me about casseroles.  Over time, I made many substitutions and changed so many of the original elements to suit my own taste I dont even use the recipe anymore.  Levi loves the jambalaya and it does go over well in any environment-even my parents who don't like too many onions and are sensitive to spice enjoy it. 

Eventually, the menu looked a little like this:
7p: Beer tasting with Crab fondue and french bread
8p: Mussels in white wine sauce
8:15p: Wilted lettuce with bacon vinaigrette
8:30p: Jambalaya with a side of cooked asparagus
9:00p: Lemon Tarts and Limoncello

I decided the theme should be Voo-Doo Cajun and I made little voo-doo dolls for each person and found little cardboard coffins to use as the place settings.  I thought with the theme, I could get away with simple table decor so I found a piece of black fabric left over from our costumes and set tapered candles and Mardi Gras beads and masks on it in the center of the table (I got mine in New Orleans, but you can find them at any party store).  I went to the dollar store for silver plates (aluminum platters) and made menu cards that I typed out in French.   I burned the edges with a lighter to give them a creepy feel.

The formal invitations were snail-mailed (if you want people to take you seriously-regular mail is the way to get a response) and slightly vague to the theme as I hadn't really decided what I was doing at that point.  I did specify, no costumes, for a few reasons: 1. This being a couples dinner-guys are less likely to get excited about dressing up. 2. I didn't want the added hassle. 3. We all had parties the next night and I wanted this to be as easy and relaxing on my friends as possible.

For the record: I did reach out to everyone regarding food preferences and allergies and everyone said they didn't have any.  So I felt my menu was fine.

The day of:
I had been cooking all day and setting up the living room for dinner.  Levi came home at 5p to help get things ready and we were in fairly good shape by the time people started to arrive.  I was still cooking, but the fondue and beer tasting were ready to go and Levi took charge in getting people set up with a drink and snack.

After the final couple arrived I announced the menu, since I was pretty sure no one spoke French (I don't, but I had a lovely translator help me).  At that point, three people informed me that they don't eat seafood!  My gracious hostess escaped me for a moment because I'm pretty sure my response was, "Well, you're screwed."  Maybe not my finest moment, but after cooking for 5 hours-who's all that charming?

Everyone sat around the table and started digging into the mussels.  Well, about half of us dug, 3 people picked at theirs, but eventually we had one convert!  He ate as many as I did and I love them!  Since we were moving slowly through them, Levi and Conan decided to have a race to finish the rest of the mussels (yes, we get very classy sometimes)-I do believe Conan won.

The jambalaya was a hit and everyone (yes, everyone) loved it and had multiple helpings.  The lemon tart and limoncello (that Lisa and I made) were also a big hit!

Everyone left happy and full and we ended up having a wonderful time!  But I did go through that experience with a few takaways:
1. Avoid menu items that cant be prepared ahead of time-even if it only takes a few minutes, you end up spending much of your time in the kitchen.
2. A beer tasting is a great way to get people talking at the beginning of the party (especially when not everyone knows each other).  We get the large bottles of beer so we don't have to invest in so many 6-packs and they're perfect for a tasting. 
3. Place cards gives you an opportunity to strategize the party and put people next to each other who may have more in common. For example: I usually don't put a quiet person next to a louder person.

Nest Post: Jambalaya Recipe

Have any tips or ideas?  Please share in the comments below!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

100th Post! And Amazing White Chili

It's Foodigen's 100th Post!  I've been overwhelmed by the support of readers and am happy to be apart of a world so ever-evolving!  Thank you to everyone who has emailed, called and commented with support and even questions!  This has been a wonderful few months with more excitement and opportunities than I ever expected!

For the 100th post, I thought I would share a favorite recipe in my home.  Originated in my friend Lisa's (see Chicago posts) kitchen a few years ago-this twist on White Chili has made something I find to be dull, exciting again!  And for those of you who love cilantro-you wont be disappointed!  Did I mention this is a one-pot wonder too?

White Chili with Cilantro
Serves 6-8

1 lb. ground chicken or turkey
1 small white onion-diced
2 cans (15-16oz) white beans
1 packet McCormick White Chicken Chili Seasoning
1 Tbsp. oil
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups white wine
1 16oz container of sour cream
1 bunch fresh cilantro

Heat oil in large pot.  Add chicken or turkey and onion and cook meat through.  Add white beans (with liquid), seasoning packet, chicken stock, white wine and cook for approx 45 minutes on the stove uncovered.  You are looking for the liquids to reduce and thicken up.

Remove pot from heat and dish out desired quantities of soup.  Let everyone add sour cream and cilantro to individual bowls-to taste.  Do not add sour cream or cilantro to the large pot!  Mix together and enjoy!

I usually add a large dollop of sour cream and about 1/2 cup chopped cilantro to each bowl.  Its amazing the layers of flavors this chili has.

Pro tip: Do not bypass the importance of the white wine.  It is critical for the flavor balance in this dish!