Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This is the End, the End of Summer

. . .and that calls for a party!

We had a small but mighty summer gathering this weekend at the house, although the majority of the day was spent on the balcony! Perfect start of fall weather: a chilly breeze instantly replaced by the warm sun. Is there anything better than sweater weather?

We had about 10 friends over for appetizers, drinks, grilled food, drinks, dessert and, did I mention, drinks. Here are a few of the highlights:

Although I would have preferred to use our tomatoes homegrown on our balcony, they are all about the size of a dime and wouldn't make for very impressive mini-skewers. Instead, I picked up some cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and picked my basil plant almost to the stem. As I picked up the first toothpick to build the individual servings, I had a thought while looking at my 3 dish serving tray. Why not make them do the work? 
The cool thing about this porcelein tray are the holes for toothpicks. I filled it up and drizzled basalmic around the larger tray as a finishing touch for folks to roll their appetizer in.

At a great Lincoln Park restaurant, Dunlay's on Clark, the Beer Cheese appetizer always ends up being part of our order. I thought I would try my hand at making this dish myself but was surprised to learn that there wasn't cream cheese in any of the recipes I was finding. What made the dip stay together if pretty much the only ingredients were cheese and a bottle of beer? Lo and behold, throwing 16 oz. of shredded sharp cheddar in the food processor with some onion and spices really does give it a cheese ball consistency!

Of course, the food processor itself was something I did not own. I figured I could get away with using my blender. After some horrible noises and five minutes straight of running it on pulse at 9:30 at night I figured I'd give my neighbors a break and give up. The bottom layer looked right, but the blender didn't have a way to un-cement itself from the bottom and get to all of the cheese on top. And so, the new Target literally down the street came in handy once again and Bob headed out to pick up a food processor. Lets be honest, I'm going to need one eventually - why not start now? Kitchen Aid red to match my hand mixer, I set my new friend up on the counter. Because it was smaller than the batch size, I had to do this in a few shifts which resulted in quite the mess, escapee cheese shreds were everywhere! 
Eventually it all came together and once the beer was added and it set in the fridge for a couple hours we were in great shape. Add some pretzel rods and tortilla chips and you've got a party. The recipe I followed most closely was from a Kentucky Derby article and explains the dip's southern roots (linked here.)
 3/4 bottle of flat beer
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 medium onion, minced
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco or hot sauce of choice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch cayenne
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Pour a 12-ounce bottle of beer of your choosing into a glass and allow it to sit until it looses its effervescence. This could take up to an hour, but don't worry if you don't have that much time. Combine all ingredients except beer in food processor and PULSE until slightly blended. Then turn processor ON and slowly pour beer through food chute. Mixture will be soft, but will harden in refrigerator.

Alas, I did not snap a pic of these bad boys, slipped my mind as we already had a load of people at the house enjoying the balcony. Rest assured, this is one I think I will make again - and plan ahead for more mushrooms. My pack had 15 when I had enough filling for double that. Good news is the filling tastes great as a spread for crackers the next day! Thanks once again allrecipes.com!

12 whole fresh mushrooms (although, as I said - I could have filled 30) 
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs minced garlic
8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp onion powder

Preheat oven to 350. Clean mushrooms and dry. Break off stems carefully, leaving a hole in the mushrooms. Chop stems finely. Saute mushroom stems and garlic in oil until fried, but not for too long. Mix cream cheese, parmesan cheese and spices together. Add stem and garlic mixture once cooled. Mixture should be very thick. Spoon into the mushroom caps that are placed on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

The grill was loaded up with brats, a party staple in my book, and chicken glazed with a basil aioli. Bob found the marinade recipe in his cookbook, "The Barbecue Bible" by Steven Raichlen that is helping him become a grill master. We tested out the recipe last week and it will definitely be one that is used regularly!

Basil Aioli
makes 1 cup
1 cup mayonnaise
3 cloves garlic, minced or through a press
24 fresh basil leaves, thinly slivered
1 Tbs lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine the mayo, garlic, basil and melon juice in a small bowl and whisk to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add to the main course sides of broccoli salad, shrimp with cocktail sauce and an apple and goat cheese lettuce salad and our table was overflowing - something always had to be in passing mode to get it all to fit!

Drink wise, we filled the fridge with 312 and Bob had a last minute idea to whip up a pitcher of vodka lemonade. Who knew that would be the hit of the night? Several packets of Crystal Light and a bottle of Russia's finest later. . . .we even finally used up my bottle of Zubrowka, my Bison Grass vodka from my trip to Poland a couple years ago. Can you tell we aren't dipping into the liquor cabinet on a regular basis?

With a batch of my lemon bars (recipe linked in this post) and a friend's ooey gooey chocolate caramel brownies to top off the meal, I think we were all pretty stuffed by the end of the night. The best news? It was Sunday and we didn't have to work the next day! Remember when I asked what was better than sweater weather? I just answered my own question.

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