Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Martha Betty Crocker Stewart

My all-time favorite way to entertain is to have one special someone or a special couple over for a semi-formal, sit-down, candelabra-lit dining-room dinner for which I have cooked and prepared everything from cocktails and hors d'oeurves all the way through every course (including carefully selected wine served in cut crystal goblets) up to and including dessert and after-dinner drinks, preferably following a particular theme. (It's especially nice if that special someone stays over and then I cook them breakfast in the morning; such a breakfast can be just about anything, but in my view, has to at least include waffles).

But I haven't been able to do that for oh-so-long, especially being in this apartment in which there isn't room for even me to eat. I have to eat at my desk, which I think is disgusting.

But nobody I know seems to entertain that way any more, anyway. Instead, it's all pot-luck parties. I used to despise pot-luck, which you will understand is the opposite polarity from the kind of entertaining I just described that I like doing, everything being organized and integrated, instead it is a hodge-podge of whatever it is that people decide to make (if anything), which almost always has to be something that can be made ahead and then travels well which isn't really the best of dining. I think my mother used to dislike potlucks, as well, because she saw them as a cop-out for the hostess (since my mother was the most awesome dinner-party-giver ever), but she didn't dislike them as much as she disliked cocktail parties, which she saw as something people gave as en masse paybacks for all the wonderful real dinner parties they had been invited to. I don't think my parents ever in their life gave a cocktail party; instead, they had friends over, two or three couples at a time (not the hundreds who come to drop in at cocktail parties), for some real food and awesome conversation and deep, mature companionship. As a child, I loved experiencing from afar this very adult entertainment; the delicious aromas of the food, the tinkling of the bar ware, the joyful laughter of the ladies, and the earnest discussions of the men. They made me eager to grow up into the mysterious and serious world of the adult.

But potlucks are the only kind of parties anymore, so I do go to them and I always bring a main dish that I made (and something different each time I go, since I like to explore, although there was a group of vegans I partied with when I lived elsewhere who would always beg me to bring my textured vegetable protein tamales, so for them I always made those...and tamales you can make ahead and they travel well, in fact, they are a perfect picnic food. I'll never forget the tamales I bought on the Copper Canyon Railroad that runs from Los Mochis to Chihuahua in Mexico. Women would board the train carrying buckets filled with tamales covered with a hot dish cloth and walk up and down the aisles of the train selling them until the next station, when they would get off and another bunch would get on in their place and in this way hop-scotching station by station all the way up the line. Unbelievably delicious and quite safe to eat.). I don't really understand these people who happily get away with bringing "nothing", and by that I mean a bag of chips and maybe some dip, or a six-pack of beer, or napkins and paper cups. Gee whiz, how hard is it to cook something? Even the most pathetic of bachelors ought to learn how to cook at least his special spaghetti or an omelette or maybe a chocolate pie.

Speaking of chocolate pie, when I was so sick with the stomach flu or maybe it was something else a couple of weeks ago, I reverted back to feeling like I was a five-year-old (I wanted my Mommy!) and I began to crave certain foods that I remembered enjoying way back then that I don't think I have had since I was five. For example, I was craving Jello and also Jello Instant Pudding. As I started to eat again after three days of expelling toxins from both ends, the first thing I made was (lime) Jello, because I just happened to have some in the house that somebody gave me a couple of years ago. And then when I was strong enough to go to the store, I bought some chocolate and some vanilla Jello Instant Pudding. I also bought other things I was craving, such as peanut butter and grape jelly for PBJ sandwiches, and tiny bags of plain potato chips (not Fritos, Cheetos, Doritos, or any other "os" that I normally might select now). I got Root Beer and Seven-Up (which is hard to's always Sprite everywhere) and apple sauce. Then, being a little more adult but still self-indulgent, I also bought Carrs Table Wafer crackers and Alouette artichoke and asparagus cheese spread.

I was invited to a party a few days later (pot luck) and WAS going to make some kind of a main dish, but happened to treat myself to some Alouette and crackers and inside the Alouette wrapper was a recipe for cheese-stuffed mushroom caps that looked delicious. So on a whim I made those, instead, and nothing could be easier. You wash the mushrooms, gently pull the stem stubs out of the caps, fill the caps with 1T of Alouette spreadable cheese each, put them on a cookie sheet cap-side down, sprinkle on each 1t of seasoned bread crumbs and cook in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. The whole thing was so easy that I made them at work and cooked them in the oven in the employee kitchen right before the party, which was right after work. And people loved them. One woman who is a phenomenal cook asked me for the recipe and she made them herself for a party she went to two days later.

Tonight I made myself chocolate-flavor Jello Instant Pudding...I kid you not, this takes FIVE MINUTES and I can't imagine who would complain about the flavor. Call it "Silken Chocolate Mousse" if you want. They had a recipe for what would have to be a killer pot luck dessert: Chocolate Jello Instant Pudding stirred with Cool Whip and poured into a pre-made Oreo pie crust. WHO CAN'T DO THIS? Now, if you want to be really fancy, you can grind up some peppermint candy and mix it into the chocolate pudding--great for Christmas.

While I love making dishes that take quite a lot of time (and maybe skill), I absolutely do not complain about using plain old American foods that I loved when I was five years old that can be put together to make something that will bring tears to the eyes of any adult. We all need comfort, don't we? And the other guests will be thrilled and impressed, whereas you bringing the six-pack or the bag of chips, not so much.

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