Though today is my actual birthday, I started celebrating in delicious style no less, a little early with friends late last week (hot girls out on the town for a very hot dinner) and this past weekend, and the best birthday present I got was a dinner party...thrown by moi!
You see, because of a nasty workload, I don't get to cook at home much these days. In fact, it is quite accurate to say that if it weren't for online food blogger events like the Paper Chef, Sugar High Friday, and Is My Blog Burning? where I down two espressos at 10 PM and stay up all night to bake a fresh fig and honey mascarpone tart or a buttermilk feta cheese souffle, I wouldn't be cooking at all. So an opportunity to cook dinner for a group of friends is truly a treat.
We started with bread and a trio of tuna tapenade, roast garlic and cannelini bean puree, and chopped fresh tomato and basil. An antipasto platter had marinated artichokes, cheese, pepperoni, salami,and melon balls wrapped in prosciutto. Yes, I said melon balls. I wouldn't have used melon at all (why taint prosciutto with fruit?!) but you know, I have to use that silly melon-baller at least once a year!
Salad was simple - just greens and a few other colorful vegetables tossed with a red wine vinaigrette. I roasted my very own red bell pepper! I've done it many times before, but it always amazes me when I end up with a pile sweet, roasted peppers.
Ooh la la, I'm going to get all fancy and use the word "primi!"
Our primi was herbed ricotta gnocchi. Though I am not a complete stranger to ricotta (Hi, I know you through Lasagne, right?), we met formally for the first time at an event back in the spring time - Paper Chef. And what can I say? Ricotta and I spent one hot night in the kitchen together. White chocolate ricotta cheesecake in almond crust with fresh berries ended up being a short-lived fling. I didn't think much about it after. I'm a wiser and more mature woman now and I've learned to enjoy the moment for what it is, and then just let it go. ;)
But though I tried not to think about ricotta, I couldn't help it. It seemed like everywhere I turned, I was reminded of ricotta. Had ricotta always been there, and I had just never noticed it until after our cheesecake? Or really, was ricotta now everywhere? Plastered on the L.A. Times with a naughty drizzle of honey. Going for a slippery romp in melted butter in the May issue of Bon Appetit. Massaged into a ball of mozzarella. I couldn't get away from ricotta, even if I tried. I was a mess.
So I gave in and went back to ricotta.
This time, it was a little more serious - ricotta gnocchi. It sounds like it could be complicated, but really, it only requires time. Time to get ready by draining for several hours (of course, if ricotta is fresh, you can go at it right out of the gate). Time to work eggs, herbs, grated parmesan into ricotta, with a gentle nuzzle of flour at the end. Time to let it cool down in the fridge. Time to massage the ricotta into little balls. Time to let the balls rest in the fridge again. Then they go for a slippery dip in simmering water. They come out soft, puffed, and glossy, and lounge in melted buttery afterglow.
But alas, for all the time I invested into ricotta gnocchi, there was something missing. There was no chemistry. There was no spark. Ricotta gnocchi wasn't bad. In fact, I could even say it was good, but did I want to spend every day of the rest of my life with it? Not really. Would ricotta gnocchi work for one night at a party? It sure did. :)
But chemistry there was with Tyler Florence. Er, I mean with Tyler’s book, which was my first birthday gift. (My Mom’s gift to me *raises eyebrows* last month doesn’t count). Already, I have flipped through Eat This Book from cover to cover at least five times, and I’ve only had it since Thursday night :) I used his recipe for chicken in white wine with lemons as inspiration, and ended up with chicken breast in a white wine, lemon, and caper sauce. Big broad pieces of chicken breast would have looked much prettier, but hey, in a teeny tiny L.A. apartment where people have to eat with plates on their laps, it's function over fashion. The chicken had to be cut so my guests didn' have to balance a plate on their laps while using a fork and knife.
What a luckyluckylucky girl I am, for not only did I get to cook over the weekend, but I'm dining out all week, too. Turning 29 every year ain't so bad after all :)