st. patrick’s day is my husband’s birthday

we invited some close friends over for an early birthday bash for brian. his birthday is on march 17, which falls in the middle of the week. anyone who is irish (or just fun in general) knows that this mid week crap simply will not do. so we did friday night. i prepared some very good, mostly irish foods. i should also mention that everything, except for the cheese plate, the goat cheese in the salad, and the chocolate stout cake, was vegan. let me tell you, this was the easiest meal i have ever made for company. it fed 16 people (perfectly, too- there was 1 serving of everything left over. hello, lunch) and ended up being a pretty well balanced meal. i was really afraid that we wouldn’t have enough for everyone. it couldn’t have turned out much better.

this is what we had:

dubliner’s aged cheddar with rye toasts and cranberries

shepherd’s pie

roasted mushroom and asparagus salad with goat cheese

sage and lemon gnocchi with steamed summer squash

roasted butternut squash

chocolate stout cake with whiskey ganache and irish cream and whiskey icing (the holy trinity)

here are a few of the recipes:

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shepherd’s pie

1 lb small red and white potatoes

2 cups vegetable broth

2 lb carrots scrubbed, not peeled, ends gone, cut into thick “coins”

1 lb sweet peas (yes, you can use frozen.. but barely steam them)

3 pkg smoked tempeh cut in half to shorten (each package is 12 oz)

pinches of dried spices to taste: thyme, salt, pepper, sage

dash of olive oil

directions:

1. preheat oven to 450f.

2. in a large stock pot, bring both broth and potatoes to boil and let cook until soft. you will be able to easily insert a knife into potato when it’s done. remove from heat and let cool. you can sort of do this part while everything else is cooking. once potatoes are cool, transfer them to a food processor (skin, broth, and all), and puree. this may have to be done in segments. transfer pureed potato stuffs back to pot. you can season the potatoes at this point. stir in well salt, pepper, thyme, and any other spice you wish. i like to keep it simple, though. be sure to cover taters when you are done.

3. coat carrots in very small amount of oil. sprinkle with salt and pepper lightly. spread carrots on baking sheet evenly and roast for 20 minutes or so, until they are soft and cooked through. dump them into whatever you’ll be serving your shepherd’s pie in. i used the bottom half of my tajine because it is huge, and i didn’t want to have to use 2 pie dishes.

4. pour peas over carrots. yes, they can still be frozen. you are going to bake this whole thing and it needs a little water anyhow. at this point, i poured a concoction of 2 tsp molasses, a little salt, 2 tsp vegetarian worcestershire, a little olive oil, thyme, and cornstarch or arrowroot (well mixed) over pie mixture. gently stir in about 3/4 cup or so of potato mixture. just stir until veggies are evenly coated with it. this will sort of glue everything together inside while it bakes.

5. in large, deep skillet, place tempeh with a cup or so of water. cook over medium heat, covered, for 15 or so minutes. if your water cooks out before tempeh is done, add more so it doesn’t burn. you don’t want to dry cook the tempeh, it gets yucky. when cooked, place tempeh over carrots and peas evenly.

6. now the rest of the potato puree is spread evenly over pie filling. this part is a little difficult, because the puree is very starchy and by now is sticky. i filled a pastry bag and spread it that way, then evened it all out with a rubber spatula. do how you want.

7. now bake! i baked it for about 20 minutes, just until the top was brown and a little flaky. it was beautiful, though, it did bake over some. it’s all part of the show. pull from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes. everything needs to “coagulate”, as rich said last night. you could serve this with some sort of gravy if you wish. it didn’t really need it though, i thought it was perfect. vegetarian comfort food.

sage and lemon gnocchi with steamed summer squash

1 yellow squash

1 green zucchini

2 lbs dry potato only gnocchi (you could make ’em yourself pretty easily, if you’d like)

small hand full fresh sage, chopped

juice of 1 lemon plus a little zest

salt and pepper to taste

directions

1. clean and cut squash into coins. sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and small pinch of sage over and steam. once cooked, set aside in serving bowl.

2. boil big pot of water, seasoned with big pinch of sage, salt, and pepper. once boil is really going, drop in half the gnocchi. stir once so they don’t stick to each other. once they float, scoop them out and drop them over squash. don’t drain them, just use fry skimmer or slotted spoon. repeat with other half of gnocchi. gently stir in a few tbsp of cooking water. squeeze lemon juice and 1/6 tsp zest or so. salt and pepper to taste. give a good stir, and serve immediately. i would shy away from heavy seasonings here. this is a really good, simple dish. i really enjoyed.

chocolate stout cake with all the booze frostings:

for the stout cake, i followed a recipe i found on tastespotting.com. most of the found online are very similar. the one i followed yielded 3 8″ round layer cakes, which is a ridiculous amount of cake. i only had 2 round pans, and poured remaining batter into cupcakes. actually, 12 cupcakes, and too much batter in one of the 8″, to the point where a lot of it baked over. i could have done 20 cupcakes, i’ll bet. stout cake recipes are really easy to find online. so i did a lot of digging for something that stood out. the recipe i chose used a little more beer than others, so i knew it would be super moist. it was delicious. i encourage you to use the same recipe i did at http://dozenflours.com/2009/03/chocolate-stout-mega-cake.html. i did sub  half whole wheat pastry flour and half white whole wheat without a hitch.  i’ll tell you, though, about the ganache filling and the icing.

ganache

8 ounces good bittersweet (60%) chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut into smaller pieces
several tbsp good irish whiskey

directions:

chop chocolate, even if it is in chip form, and place in large heatproof glass bowl. heat cream in saucepan until it simmers, then pour over chocolate, and cover with lid or large plate. wait a minute or 2 to let it melt the chocolate, then stir until smooth. you could return it to double boiler if it’s not warm enough, just be careful not to over heat or let any water splash into it. while still very warm, stir in butter until combined, then booze. i started with 1 tbsp, and kept going until i probably ended up with 1/8 cup… probably more. i can’t really say. i really like the flavor of whiskey. just slowly add until you get what you want. i like a strong bite back. keep it stirred. let it cool down until it’s spreadable. if you use it when it’s too liquidy and warm, it’s just going to end up all over. do yourself a favor, and stir it slowly, waiting for it to cool. the ganache is really beautiful, so melty in your mouth. feel free to really pile it on between layers, but keep in mind that the layers could slide around if you move this cake around too much.

icing

4 cups powdered sugar

1 stick room temp butter (unsalted, duh)

lots of irish cream liquor, start with a few tbsp, end up with 1/4 cup… or more..

small lots of irish whiskey to taste

directions:

cream butter in stand mixer, adding 1/2 powdered sugar. slowly add sugar in, mixer on med. once 2 cups is added, start adding irish cream by the tbsp. ok so i ended up using 4 tbsp. add another 1/2 cup sugar at a time. if it seems thick, you can add whiskey or irish cream. i added a lot of both. this was more of a “wing it” thing than following a recipe.  i whipped the crap out of the icing, and really like super fluffy creamy icing. if it seems a little too thin, try whipping on high for a few minutes, and if that doesn’t do it, add a little sugar. you just want this spreadable. it doesn’t have to be piped, so a little sloppy is actually ok, and adds a little moisture to the cake. my frosting ended up super boozy, floppy, wet, fluffy… boozy. it was super good. i just dumped a lot on to cover the cake and covered. if you have extra (you probably will), you can frost your cupcakes. i also had enough left over to make a mocha icing to pipe along the bottom of the cake. i had about 1 cup of frosting left, so added 1 tbsp instant coffee granules and 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder. i whipped it in the mixer until i knew the coffee was dissolved. you could add more cocoa powder to thicken if you need to, then throw it in a pastry bag and have at it. this turned out beautifully. i think it’s the prettiest cake i’ve ever made. i think everyone liked it.

i love to entertain. i don’t know why. my parents entertained a lot when i was little. very little. some of my earliest memories are of parties that my parents would have. we lived on a river in ohio, middle of no where, surrounded by woods and fields. in the wintertime, when the river was frozen through, they would have huge parties on the ice. kegs, food, fun. i remember all the people in their snow pants, being loud and merry. they loved to have people over, no matter what time of year, without yielding the weather, or anything else that was thrown their way. i wonder if this is where my love for entertaining comes from. i love when my friends come over, and i love when i can feed and loosen them up. i love the games, the loudness, conversation, debates, arguments… all of it. i guess it’s my way of repaying everything they do for us. so brian’s birthday party that i threw him last night was maybe an act of selfishness. i got to fulfill my love of hosting. but it seems like everyone enjoyed themselves, especially brian. he loves the party just as much as i do.

happy birthday, old boy!

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