Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hosting Book Club - The Food

We hold book club in the evenings, usually lasting 2 1/2 to 3 hours, so providing a little nosh is key. After all, we need something other than wine for dinner! I picked out a few easy appetizers I knew I could make between getting home from work at 5:45 and the 7:30 start time. I was able to make the blue cheese spread the night before as it could be chilled before serving. This definitely helped my prep timeline and I would always suggest picking out at least one appetizer that you can make ahead of time. Likewise, if you have a chance earlier in the week before your get-together, make sure all the dishes you need are cleaned and ready to go.

Blue Cheese Spread
8oz block cream cheese
1/2 cup (2oz) blue cheese crumbles
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

2 Tbs chopped onion
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Place cream cheese in a bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until creamy. Add blue cheese and next 3 ingredients; stir well. Spoon into serving dish. Combine pecans and cranberries; sprinkle over cheese mixture. Serve immediately, or cover and chill until ready to serve. I served this with bagel chips, baguette slices and apples.

I like to make Quiche Lorraine for take-to-work lunches, but about a year ago my swiss/bacon/onion standard got a face lift thanks to an awesome recipe from Cooking Light. No need to mess with pastry crust - these guys stay together perfectly on their own! For these two-bite quiches, I took the same recipe I usually use a 9" pie plate for and split the batter up into for a 24 hole mini-muffin pan. The original recipe calls for smoked turkey ham which I have yet to find at the store, so I stick with ham proper.

Crustless Ham and Spinach Quiche
Cooking Spray
3/4 cup (4oz) cubed ham
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (3oz) shredded Swiss cheese, divided
1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves (chopped if making mini-quiches)
1 cup fat-free cottage cheese
1/2 cup evaporated fat-free milk
1/4 cup (1oz) shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4oz)
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350°. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add ham, onion, and pepper to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until ham is lightly browned. Sprinkle 1/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese in a 9-inch pie plate or mini-muffin pan coated with cooking spray. Top with ham mixture. Combine remaining 1/2 cup Swiss cheese, spinach, and next 5 ingredients (through egg whites) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to egg mixture, stirring with a whisk until blended. Pour egg mixture over ham mixture. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center of quiche comes out clean.

TBM Bites 
It doesn't get much better than Caprese salads. I made some bite-sized TBMs by scooping out the insides of cherry tomatoes and stuffing in a piece of mozzerella and a sliver of basil from my herb garden. A little balsamic drizzled over the top and voila. After taking this picture I realized I should have used a different serving plate rather than have red on red. . . . rookie mistake, Lyd.

Because of my exotic book choice of Interpreter of Maladies, I wanted to attempt to add some Indian flavors to my appetizers. Never having made Indian food before, I decided to start with an find that sounded quite manageable: Gulab Jamun, an Indian dessert of spongy milky balls soaked in a rose scented syrup. I looked past the fact that the shapes of my dessert did not resemble balls in the least and overall was very happy with how they turned out. I also learned of a few new foodie items such as Ghee, Rose Water and Cardamom. I decided to leave out the almonds, raisins and pistachios just to uncomplicate the recipe a bit, but might try them for next time.

Gulab Jamun

20 servings
1 1/2 cups dry milk powder
3 Tbs all-purpose flour
2 Tbs ghee (clarified butter), melted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup warm milk
1 Tbs chopped almonds (optional)
1 Tbs chopped pistachio nuts (optional)
1 Tbs golden raisins (optional)

1 pinch ground cardamom
1 quart vegetable oil for deep frying

 1 1/4 cups white sugar
7 fluid oz water
1 tsp rose water

1 pinch ground cardamom

In a large bowl, stir together the milk powder, flour, baking powder, and cardamom. Stir in the almonds, pistachios and golden raisins. Mix in the melted ghee, then pour in the milk a bit at a time, and continue to mix until well blended. Cover and let rest for at least 20 minutes.

In a large skillet, stir together the sugar, water, rose water and a pinch of cardamom. Bring to a boil, and simmer for just a minute. Set aside. Fill a large heavy skillet halfway with oil. Heat over medium heat for at least 5 minutes. Knead the dough, and form into about 20 small balls. Reduce the heat of the oil to low, and fry the balls in one or two batches. After about 2 minutes, they will start to float, and expand to twice their original size, but the color will not change much. After the jamun float, increase the heat to medium, and turn them frequently until light golden. Remove from the oil to paper towels using a slotted spoon, and allow to cool. Drain on paper towels and allow to cool slightly. Place the balls into the skillet with the syrup. Simmer over medium heat for about a minute or longer if you really want the syrups to absorb, squeezing them gently to soak up the syrup. Serve immediately, or chill.

Proving that all recipes have their shortcuts, one of the reviewers on made an interesting note: she replaced the flour and baking powder with 1/2 cup bisquick.

So now I can proudly say I've made Indian food (I'll just glaze over the fact that it was a relatively easy dessert). What should I tackle next?

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