Friday, December 17, 2010

Quick get-together: It's not rocket science

It doesn't take much to put a little gathering together. I'm still growing as a cook and I still have a lot to learn. But I am good enough to get my friends to actually eat what I make. I'm one of those cooks who cook from instinct. I seriously do not even know where the measuring cups are at my house. When my friends asks me for my recipes, I can list the ingredients, but I can't tell you how much of what I've put in. I just "feel" it.

Last weekend a few of my friends got together for a potluck. I made a red and green bean dessert soup. It turned out rather well. It was even better the next day after it was chilled in the fridge overnight. I'll blog about this specifically with the recipe later. During the potluck, we decided to get together again this weekend. But it turned out that I couldn't make it this weekend after all so I pushed it up by one day, to today. I was totally unprepared and hadn't any clue what I was going to make.

My original plan was me spending most of the afternoon figuring out what I'm going to make, but that was cut short when I got a last minute audition notice late last night for today. I was off in Studio City in the afternoon and didn't get back until 5pm. I had two hours to get food on the table so I resorted to what  I knew how to make, hamburgers.


But I didn't want to make hamburgers for the actual meal. It didn't feel right for the holidays. I just wanted to make the patties but present them in a different way. So I got a roll of sourdough bread to make mini-burgers. I also had to keep in mind that one of my friend is a vegetarian so I had to make a version without the meat. I had tomatoes and an onion in my fridge. I defrost the two sticks of ground beef by placing them in a bucket of warm water. This is a much better way to quickly defrost something instead of using the microwave.

After prepping everything, my vegetarian friend arrived and saw what I was doing and asked if I was making Bruschetta. I had no idea what that was, but apparently it's exactly what I'm making. Mix some diced tomatoes with diced onions, add some Italian spices, black pepper and olive oil. Serve them over a slice of bread and voila; bruschetta. I did toast the butter spread bread first in the oven. As it turned a little golden, I topped each slice with some of the tomatoes and onions. I didn't want those toasted too long turning the vegetables into mush, but just enough so that it doesn't feel raw. Put a bottle of wine next to it and it turned out to be a classy appetizer. The best part; it only took fifteen minutes to make.

(Baked Mini Half Burgers)

Then I made my baked mini half burgers. The ground beef was premixed with paprika, italian spices, creole mix, steak mix, olive oil, black pepper, eggs, onions and a little bit of rum. I sometimes add or subtract some of the spices depending on what my mood is. Yes, I am a moody cook. I would also substitute the rum with bourbon or whiskey or beer depending on what I happen to have or what I feel like. I do think adding a little bit of alcohol to the patties enhances the beef, giving it a slightly nicer aroma on the palette. Once it's mixed in for a little while, I take out little chunks and put them on each slice of the bread. I used sour dough, which I much prefer over baguettes. After baking it till the meat looked cooked, I topped it with a little bit of the tomatoes and onions and baked it just a little longer. Another very simple to make finger food.

(Oven-Baked Meatballs)

I had a lot more meat then I had bread. So I decided to just bake the rest of the meat in a meatball format. I'm a firm believer of just making do and making it work. I said this long before Tim Gunn started saying this on Project Runway. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Unwittingly I turned what would have been one dish into three different appetizer. All I really needed to do is add a little slice of pineapple under each meatball and it would really have been a totally different dish: well, next time. I baked the meatballs with the onions and tomatoes, so the flavors mixed in more with the meatballs rather than just topped with the burgers. It felt and tasted slightly different. My friends had to double check with me if the meatballs were the same as the mini burgers. So it wasn't too obvious. I didn't intend to make three dishes really, it just turned out this way.

(Harvest Veggie Udon Soup)

The main dish for the night was a veggie soup. I did this a month ago at another small gathering with my friends. I threw in some tomatoes as the base with some wild corn. My friend Mai brought some veggies over. I had no idea what she was going to bring beforehand, but I trusted it would be great. She brought bok choy, mushrooms and tofu. We just threw it all into the pot with a little bit of salt and let it do its thing. It did its thing. We added a little udon to it at the end to get a little bit of carbs into the meal. It was a healthy and light soup, and all those veggies made it very flavorful. Having friends bring over their favorite vegetables and just throwing it all into a pot feels good. It's like a communal effort and it can't really go wrong. It's also something that you can over eat just a little without feeling like you just cost yourself an entire week of working out at the gym.

We had a bottle of Artis Italian sparkling wine and a bottle of german Riesling with the meal. The meal was light so having lighter white wines were perfect for this easy and simple evening. For me, it's that simple. A few friends, some simple but delicious foods and a glass of wine makes a perfect evening. But being the holiday season, I finished the night by serving all my friends a serious cup of hot chocolate. These are not your generic Carnation/Swiss/Nestle hot cocoa. I used Bellagio Sipping Chocolate instead. I did add a little creamer since I didn't have milk and a little whip cream so it's not too rich. Not everyone can handle real sipping chocolate. Personally if it was just me, I would add a few extra teaspoons of sipping chocolate with some whole milk. But not everyone can handle the bitterness so I kept it more mainstream for everyone.

For me, it's really easy to just throw something together. It doesn't need to always be super fancy. It just needs to be real and honest. What you have in your fridge or can easily get at the grocery store can really go a long way. Keep everything light and just let the food speak for themselves. It will do its magic and a great evening is born. A quick get-together is really just an hour or two away.


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