Cooking For Others: Jordana’s Veggie Birthday Wish
EVENT: Jordana’s Birthday
VENUE: Jor’s Parent’s Apartment, Upper West Side
PARTY SIZE: 40
TYPE: Hardy Cocktail Buffet
MENU: Eggplant Bruschetta (P); Butternut Squash and Leek Quesadillas (P); Manchurian Cauliflower (P); Sweet Pea Crostini (C); Udon Noodles (C); Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Pretzels and Toffee (C); Cupcakes (C)
For our best friend Jordana’s 24th Birthday, Cara and I volunteered our expert, if yet to be professional, catering skills to create a fabulous vegetarian feast for 40 of our closest friends. The spread was what we like to classify as “hardy cocktail” fare; all dishes could be tactfully consumed with your fingers and the occasional, if unnecessary for this crowd, assistance of a fork (udon noodles) or toothpick (Manchurian cauliflower).
The party was held at her parent’s apartment on the upper west side, making our set up and final execution before service a little more spacious than usual.
But despite the pleasant upgrade in digs, we did all the initial prepping and cooking in the place we’ve learned to slice, dice, and love best: our small kitchen.
With the exception of the Manchurian cauliflower (modeled after the dish at Devi restaurant in NYC), all the recipes chosen for Jordana’s Veggie Birthday feast were variations of tried and true party favorites. The toppings and fillings for these dishes can be done at least one day in advance and, once ready to serve, can be enjoyed at room temperature.
More importantly, we can guarantee that these recipes are fool-proof and delicious. Because, hell, they’re what the birthday girl wished for!
Perhaps next year, Jordana will join us in the kitchen (if there’s room) to help make them herself.
From our kitchen, albeit small, to yours,
Phoebe and Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOKS
Eggplant Bruschetta with Golden Raisins, Balsamic, and Basil
Makes 30 servings
I developed this recipe while studying abroad in Rome. Six of us were crammed into a tiny apartment right off Camp dei Fiori—an exquisite outdoor market and the city’s best source for inexpensive, fresh produce. To save money for the requisite pair of Italian leather boots and nights out at the discothèque, we cooked many a family dinner, one person in the kitchen at a time.
This appetizer was a favorite of my housemates and, due to the rustic elegance of its presentation, I was always asked to make it when parents were visiting. Though the dish did little to prove how grown up and self-sufficient we were (the apartment smelled like old socks), it did its part to ensure our parents that we ate sophisticated, fabulous food all the time.
And, for the most part, we did.
5 tbsp olive oil
4 fresh french baguettes
3 medium eggplant (or two large), cut into ½ cubes
2 Vidalia onions, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 (12oz) can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (can be found and Wholefoods and specialty markets)
1 cup golden raisons, let sit in a bowl of hot water (10 min), and drain
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and red pepper to taste
3/4 cup basil, coarsely chopped ( reserve 1/4 for garnish)
In a large cast-iron skillet or casserole pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add as much eggplant as will fit in the pan without over flowing. You can either sauté the eggplant in two batches or continue to add the excess cubes as the eggplant breaks down and space frees up in the pan. Sautee for 15-20 minutes until the eggplant is soft but not falling apart, adding more olive oil as needed. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, add the remaining olive oil, garlic, and onions and sauté over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the eggplant back to the pan with the onion and garlic mixture. Continue to sauté over medium to low heat until flavors have combined (about 5 minutes).
Using the lid to keep the solid contents from spilling out, drain half of the juice from the can of tomatoes into the sink. Add the tomatoes and partial juices to the eggplant mixture. Bring the flame back up to medium-high and cook for ten more minutes, until the acidity of the tomatoes has cooked off and the eggplant is beginning to fall apart.
The eggplant mixture can be made up until this point a day or two in advance.
About an hour before serving, reheat the eggplant on the stove. Add the golden raisons, balsamic, and ½ cup of the basil. Stir to combine.
Set the oven to broil. Cut the baguettes into ½ inch slices (or thinner). Arrange the bread on cookie sheets and drizzle with a touch of olive oil. Place in the oven and cook until lightly toasted on top, but not hard.
Scoop eggplant mixture onto individual baguette slices, arrange on a large platter, and scatter with basil and a drizzle of balsamic.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Leek Quesadillas
Makes 20 – 25 servings
I read an interesting article in the October issue of Bon Appetit about Leeks. Ever since, I’ve been on a bender, and am convinced that Leek Confit (recipe part I of the below) is the most intoxicating condiment known to man. Or to The French, at least.
The soft, gooey confit forms an excellent glue for the quesadillas and protects against the age-old temptation to add too much cheese and not enough substance.
For the Leek Confit:
4 medium leeks, trimmed to the white part, cut in half and finely sliced
3 tbsp butter
½ cup of water or stock
salt to taste
For the Squash:
1 large butternut squash (1 ½ to 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 ½ tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp chili powder
½ tbsp cumin
salt to taste
12 large torillas (2-3 packages)
2-3 packages shredded cheese – Monterey Jack or Mexican Blend
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Spread the squash onto a cookie sheet, add the salt, maple syrup, chili powder, cumin and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss to coat. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, stirring once, until the squash is tender and slightly browned on top.
On the stove, melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat in a medium casserole pot. Add the leeks and sauté for 5 minutes until the butter is incorporated and they begin to wilt. Add the water or stock, turn the flame to low, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally. Cook slowly until the leeks are completely soft and beginning to turn to mush. Take the lid off and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Both squash and leek toppings can be made a few days before serving. The leek confit can keep in the fridge for up to a week and is a delicious addition to scrambled eggs, sautéed veggies, or grilled chicken.
When you’re ready to serve, pre-heat the oven to broil. Spoon the leek mixture, butternut squash, and shredded cheese over half the tortilla round. Fold over, and press down until secure (the leeks should act as glue).
Arrange tortillas on cookie sheets and bake until brown on top and cheese is melted, about 3–5 minutes.
Cut into thirds, arrange on platter, and serve immediately.
Jill’s Sweet Pea Crostini
makes 10-15 servings
Jill, my older sister, doesn’t cook much. I take that back. She used to not cook much, but since renovating her kitchen, she’s grown ever more at home in it, though she will never be free from our teasing that she doesn’t have a chef’s bone in her body. I’ve yet to taste her sweet pea crostini, she’s described it to me in such delicious detail, I developed my own version.
Truly, this is foolproof. Still, here’s the one caveat I can think up: Don’t overcook the frozen peas. You want them green and vibrant, NOT olive-colored and limp.
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1⁄2 tsp red pepper flakes
10 oz frozen peas, preferably a brand you know tastes delish
2 tbsp white wine
1⁄2 cup fresh basil or mint, or a combination, plus more for garnish
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
Place a saucepan large enough to fit the peas over low, low heat. Melt the butter and add the onions and red pepper flakes. Sauté the onions as slowly as you can, letting them get translucent and only slightly brown. This takes about half an hour, but more important than the time is being careful not to burn the onions.
Add the peas, the white wine, and a quarter cup of water to the onions. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the liquid to the boil, stirring the peas around so all of them defrost. When heated through, transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the fresh herbs.
Blend until the peas are about the consistency of ricotta cheese (though don’t put the actual cheese in quite yet), adding water if it’s too thick to process.
Cool in the refrigerator. When the mixture no longer feels warm to the touch, stir in the ricotta cheese.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Scoop onto toasted baguette rounds (as in the Eggplant Brushetta), and garnish with additional chopped herbs.
Bittersweet Chocolate Bark with Pretzels and Toffee
Makes 10 servings
Chocolate bark might have the most inflated compliment-to-difficulty ratio of any dish in my repertoire. It can be prepared in the time it takes to melt and re-harden chocolate, transforms even mediocre ingredients into nuanced tastes, and uses virtually no equipment. Best of all, people love it in all its incarnations.
Making this dish kept me remarkably sane when I moved into a kitchen-less dorm freshman year and so missed preparing food that I whipped up batches and batches of it in a college-issued microwave set up in (yes, gross) our suite’s bathroom—just to be “cooking”. The variations are endless, but here’s the version that got gobbled away—before the cupcakes, even—at Jordana’s.
1/2 bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 bag of milk chocolate chips
2 cups of thin, salted pretzels
1 cup of heath bar pieces
Spread foil, wax paper, or parchment on a cookie sheet. Clear a spot in your freezer where the sheet can lay virtually flat.
Crush the pretzels in a sealed baggy with a wooden spoon or other non-breakable object. Pieces should be in the range of 1⁄4 inch. Don’t pulverize, but don’t leave the pieces too big.
Melt the chocolate together in the microwave in a glass or plastic microwave-safe dish until they are close to melted. Don’t let the chocolate bubble—stirring it when you take it out will melt those last pieces.
Add the pretzels and heath bar to the chocolate mix, stirring to coat. Spread the mixture on the prepared pan thinly, so there are no spots showing and it’s as even as a pretzel-loaded concoction can be. Freeze for an hour, until the chocolate is set. Break into uneven, two-bite sized pieces.
Store in a covered container in the fridge or freezer.
A little something extra: If you feel like getting fancy, you can make swirls of milk or white chocolate on top of the bark. After you’ve frozen it but before you break it up, melt another cup or so of a contrasting chocolate in the microwave. Dip a fork into the melted chocolate, and flick your wrist as you drizzle it atop the surface. Freeze for another half hour, until set, and break as above.