Cocktail Party

Last night was the cocktail party for my husband’s work, which I attended as his plus-one. This is a yearly event held early every Christmas holiday season, and the general purpose is for middle- and upper-management to schmooze with clients. In years past it was open to all employees, which I got a kick out of because it was one of the few chances to see a lot of the non-managerial staff dressed in their finest, since so many of them never get more formal than jeans and a T-shirt for the average work day. I do miss that.

Of course, I don’t have anyone that I need to schmooze with; as the spouse of an employee, my role is mostly ornamental, although I am expected to occasionally make polite conversation. Mostly, it’s pretty much understood that I am there for the free food and drink. And boy, does the company put out a spread! This year the event was held at the newly-renovated NAC (National Arts Centre), although for many years prior it was held in a banquet hall at the nearby Westin Hotel.

The cold buffet was splendid. There was a wide array of Quebec cheeses (foreground center and background right), along with a delightfully large selection of sushi and sashimi (background left, where people are serving themselves).

The cold buffet also featured a couple of charcuterie platters (front and center) and, my favourite on the cold buffet, maple whiskey planked Chinook salmon with onion marmalade and caper remoulade.

There was an oyster bar where some of the caterers were shucking oysters fresh all evening. I’m told that there’s a real technique to doing so without slicing the crap out of your fingers; I’m pretty sure I’d rather not give it a try, myself. These oysters were tasty and fresh, and although I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea, I quite enjoyed them. My husband tried his first oyster on the half shell last night and proclaimed it to be “meh”, mostly because of the slimy texture.

There were also a number of hot food stations scattered throughout the halls. Of course, the portions were tiny so that one could have a bite of this and a bite of that, but there was no limit as to how many each guest could take. There was a take on the traditional roast turkey with dressing, gravy, and cranberry sauce. The plate was garnished with microgreens. (What is it with this microgreen trend lately? They’re everywhere! It’s like how everything used to be garnished with parsley in the 70’s.) This was decent, with the highest point being the flavour of the gravy, but overall it was missing “oomph”.

The lamb was much nicer than the turkey, with a very soft texture and a savoury accompanying sauce (which I believe was polenta-based). And, of course, microgreens.

The funniest dish of the evening was what the servers called a “beef martini”. In each martini glass, starting from the bottom, was mashed potato, roast beef in gravy, tomatoes, microgreens (!), and crispy fried bamboo shoots. Despite the name, the dish is meant to be eaten with a fork, not drunk. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, the tomatoes were perfectly seasoned, and the crispy topping set the rest off in an interesting fashion. There was usually a line at this station throughout the night.

My favourite dish of the evening by far was the seared scallops and jumbo shrimp in Maker’s Mark whisky, on a smear of Gruyere white sauce, with a scattering of microgreens (!!). The seafood was cooked up fresh to order and there was always a line at this station, with people coming back again for more over and over again. The scallops were melt-in-your mouth, and although the shrimp were not as excellent in comparison, they were still very good.

After speeches by the company’s head honchos, the desserts were brought out. There were French macarons, which I had seen many times but I had never actually tried before. I had expected them to be more crispy and wafer-like, but they were actually quite soft.

As always, the chocolate-covered strawberries were a hit.

I didn’t try all of the dessert mouthfulls, but the peach thingies (upper left corner) were quite nice. The brown desserts at the center of the photo were not chocolate like I’d anticipated; they rather surprised me with a strong sour lemon flavour. Once I got over my initial shock, they were quite nice. And the traditional Nanaimo bars on the right hand side of the photo were pretty good too.

All in all, I had a lovely time at the cocktail party. I returned home stuffed to the gills and just a little bit tipsy. I loved the new venue, with its huge windows and views of the Chateau Laurier, War Memorial, and Parliament Buildings. I liked every food I tried, and I even loved a few of them. I do miss a few dishes that were standards at the old venue, like the roast lamb stuffed with rice pilaf (I’m pretty sure they did that same dish every year for over a decade and each time it was cleaned down to the bones). Last year they also served Oka cheese melted raclette style from a half-wheel and spread over something… Bread? Potatoes? I ccan’t remember now, all I remember is that the cheese was delicious and I was really hoping for it again. However, I’d trade the Oka for this year’s scallops in a heartbeat.

Halloween Party Leftovers

After about a week of junk food and candy, I thought it was about time to start making some healthy food again. I needed (and still need) to use up some leftover food from the Halloween party on the weekend before it goes bad, so dinner planning for the last few days has been centered on that.

On Monday night I improvised some sushi bowls, which contained garlic shrimp (from my freezer), smoked salmon (leftover), lumpfish caviar (which I had meant to put on the deviled eggs and then completely forgot about), avocado slices, and steamed Swiss chard (from my garden) in a drizzle of teriyaki sauce. I was looking for a better way to serve Swiss chard that my kids might actually eat, and although this wasn’t horrible, I don’t think it was all that great either. I need to experiment more.

Last night’s dinner was French toast and apple slices. I think that French toast looks absolutely hilarious when it’s made with Voodoo Bread. I mean, it tasted just like normal Nan’s Pan Rolls bread dipped in eggs and fried, but the colours definitely made it much more fun. My kids are really into this “rainbow bread”, as they call it. Perhaps I could make it in different colours for other holidays, even if I can’t quite get it into the proper swirl.

Halloween Party Food

I hosted our family’s annual Halloween party this past Saturday, and of course that meant lots of food. I put out bowls of chips, Cheetos (the “Bag of Bones” kind that are shaped like dismembered skeletons), pretzels, cheese & crackers, a shrimp ring, a meat tray, a veggie tray, and fruit. And then I added the food that I’d actually cooked.

Salsa and guacamole served with black corn chips are a perennial favourite, but I had fun with the presentation this year. I got the idea to use the “puking” pumpkin from a BuzzFeed 7 Terrifying Halloween Food Ideas video. The guacamole was store-bought, but the salsa was the Blender Salsa (page 92, Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014)) that I’d canned earlier this season. I did want to try the “Rotten Deviled Eggs” from the same BuzzFeed video, but I ran out of time and just ended up making normal deviled eggs instead. They went over well anyway, and disappeared quickly.

I did a huge amount (at least for me) of baking in the days leading up to the party so that I could serve a wide variety of sweets. I made Applesauce Cake (page 720, Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer et al, 2006 edition) into cupcakes, which I iced with Quick Brown Butter Icing (page 794, Joy of Cooking). When I was preparing the batter for the cupcakes, I put the margarine (which I had substituted for butter) in the microwave to soften it… And then I forgot about it. I didn’t realize I’d left it out of the batter until the cupcakes were already baking in the oven. They turned out okay anyway, but they were a little drier than I’d have liked.

I made pumpkin pie tarts using the Purity Pastry crust (page 73, The All New Purity Cook Book (Elizabeth Driver, 2001)) and Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling (page 686, Joy of Cooking). To make the pie dairy-free, I used canned coconut milk instead of heavy cream or evaporated milk. I wasn’t the only person who was going to be at the party who has issues with dairy, so I tried to avoid it whenever possible when cooking this time.

I forgot to include this find when I wrote about thrifting a while back, but I did find a cookie press for about $4.00. I’ve always loved spritz cookies; they were a favourite when I went to bake sales and bazaars, but I couldn’t make them at home since I didn’t have the appropriate tools.

I guess most people would associate this kind of cookie with Christmas rather than Halloween, but there’s nothing saying they can’t be eaten any time, really. I used the Spritz Cookies recipe from page 248 of The Canadian Living Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1987), which calls for butter, but I substituted margarine. Not surprisingly, the cookies weren’t as buttery as they could have been, but they were still pretty darned good.

Some time ago I asked one of my friends for her all-time favourite cookie recipe, and she said it was Elevator Lady Spice Cookies on page 99 of The I hate to Cook Book (1966 edition). I’d been looking for an excuse to try them out. Given the powdered cloves and ginger in the recipe, these cookies remind me a bit of a ginger snap in flavour, but with a less brittle texture. As a bonus, this recipe doesn’t contain any dairy in the first place, so I didn’t have to make any substitutions (like many older recipes it uses lard instead of butter as the fat, since it is cheaper).

Pumpkin Cookies//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I made these soft, moist cookies using the Pumpkin Cookies recipe from the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum. To make them dairy-free, I substituted margarine for butter and almond milk for cow’s milk. These were a big hit and a number of my friends asked if they could take a few home with them!

I splurged at the dollar store and bought some mini muffin tins so that I could make some miniature Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins. Since there is milk in the chocolate chips and these wouldn’t be the same without them, I didn’t even try to make this recipe dairy-free. They’re still a fan favourite; out of three dozen mini muffins, I only had three left over after the party, which all mysteriously disappeared first thing the next morning.

At my friends’ request, I made up another loaf of Voodoo Bread. I learned from my mistakes and used gloves when I kneaded the bread this time. I still didn’t get the well-defined swirl that I was looking for, but it was still a really cool-looking bread.

Not pictured because I forgot, I also had three bread machines going at the same time and made three different kinds of bread, all from Bread Machine: How to Prepare and Bake the Perfect Loaf (Jennie Shapter, 2002):

– Egg-Enriched White Loaf (page 67), where I substituted equal amounts of olive oil for the butter in the original recipe.
– Light Rye and Caraway Bread (page 75), where I substituted canola oil for sunflower oil (I have a friend who is violently allergic to sunflowers), and I omitted skimmed milk powder, simply adding 1 Tbsp water.
– Golden Pumpkin Bread (page 167), where I made a lot of changes because I was missing a bunch of the ingredients called for in the recipe. I substituted whole wheat flour for cornmeal, maple syrup for golden syrup, almond milk for buttermilk, and I omitted the pumpkin seeds. Despite all of the changes, it still turned out great!

Last but not least, I made up a batch of Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookie Dough, which is a favourite recipe of mine since my childhood. I used margarine instead of butter, but the recipe calls for either, so it still tastes nigh on identical to what I remember. With my parents’ help, my kids rolled out the dough, cut it out, and then painted it with a glaze made of egg whites/yolks (depending on the colour) mixed with food colouring. Even with all of the different dishes that I put out for this party, the Cookie Monster Cookies were my favourite. All of the other food was good, but you can’t beat nostalgia.

Another dish I would like to try, but I ran out of time, was Tasty’s Peek-A-Boo Pound Cake. Perhaps I could make something similar for Christmas with a different shape inside?

Potluck Dinner

Last night I attended a potluck dinner held in honour of a members of my husband’s extended family visiting all the way from Germany. For the occasion, my in-laws rented the party room in their friends’ posh apartment building, which was the fanciest location in which I have ever attended a potluck. However, the view of the Rideau River and Rivierain Park were gorgeous coming up onto sunset. (I’m assuming the views of downtown at sunrise would be equally spectacular, but at by evening the sun was too much in our eyes to appreciate it.)

Given that the guests of honour were international, I went all out and cooked up a storm of dishes to bring along. I wanted them to get a taste of the favourite Canadian dishes that I grew up with.

On the far left is the fancy version of my mother’s potato salad (recipe here). At the center is maple pecan butter tarts, using the recipe found on page 234 of The Canadian Living Cookbook (Carol Ferguson, 1987). Despite these being one of my absolute favourite desserts ever, this was my first time ever baking them. I think they turned out rather well, although the filling did overflow the crust a little bit. Lastly, I made up a batch of my Nan’s Pan Rolls.

I always worry that my cooking won’t hit the right note with the guests at a party, but this time every last bit of food I brought was consumed. I actually should have made a double batch of the potato salad, because a number of people came back for seconds and were audibly disappointed when there was none left. I got quite a few compliments on the rolls and tarts, too, but I think the potato salad was the biggest hit. The German grandmother hunted me down and made sure to make it clear, in her few words of English and copious hand gestures, that she absolutely loved it. I couldn’t be more pleased.