Friday, May 23, 2008

My Splendid Table, My Ideal Husband, and The Week That Was

And now, the post you've all been waiting for, The Graduation Report. Everything went beautifully. Really. We had 13 guests from out of town, plus our family of five and the three other dudes that live in town, three big meals, three big events, and one amazing accomplishment to celebrate. It is quite something to see your husband handed a diploma, though I have had the privilege of seeing it once before. It is even more of something to see him hooded, an event that he alluded to years ago as being something he would really like to be part of one day, though he has forgotten ever mentioning it.

It is funny being married isn't it? I still think of George as the dorky guy with the stretched out tee shirts who sat next to me in history class and doodled the whole time, and who had the hardest time when it came to the "DTR." Not that I am not still the snotty girl that thought my North Face backpack and Vasque hiking boots were so cool, who sassed teachers and showed up 20 minutes late to class on a regular basis. The thing about George has always been what a gentle and kind person he is. But I have to say that when he encourages me or gives me a kind word, I often still think he just doesn't know because he is just a nice dorky guy. But hearing him preach over the past couple of years has reminded me that he really is a grown up with a lot of wisdom to offer. This may say more about my "God issues" than anything else, it's like I think you have to be mean to have authority- nice people just don't know what they're talking about. Or so I slip into thinking. But it is pretty cool to see your nice husband given physical symbols that say "this guy knows what he's talking about." It's kind of like what they say about preachers wearing robes, that it gives them the "uniform" of someone you can trust to preach the truth. Now if only I could get him to wear a cap, gown, and hood every day!

Besides actually seeing my dear husband be awarded his diploma, the biggest thing for me was entertaining and feeding all the folks. This went way better than I could have planned or dreamed. At one point, I had five helpers in the kitchen. And by helpers, I do not mean children that are actually in the way! I mean, Rebekah, Katie, Stephen, George, and Ami. And Ami was actually a guest at the party! Everyone else was too, but they helped before the party. Poor Ami showed up to the party and found herself slicing cheese and arranging fruit. I am sorry to say that as the party planner and chief chef, I did not actually perform any duties as photographer. But I was recently talking to a big fan of The Splendid Table, a radio show dedicated to the celebration of food, and began to get behind the idea of hearing about food without seeing it. And it's really nothing new for y'all, as I almost never have pictures. I think there must be a couple of pictures floating around out there of George in his cap and gown, but again, not in my camera. In my defense, he did not actually don cap and gown until arriving at the churches and both places were busy. I do recall posing a couple of times with him after the events, so I hope some of those come out well. Although, I have to say, I despise getting pictures back of myself. I am used to the way I look, though it frustrates me to no end considering all the work I do to not look this way, but somehow pictures of me seem to add that proverbial 10 pounds all in my face. Thus, my face looks to be the size of a dinner plate in pictures. And that is emotional for me. But that's another post. Moving on then, an unillustrated and detailed review of victuals for your reading enjoyment.

The "weekend" started on Wednesday when my dear friend Rebekah arrived with her two little ones. She drove all the way from the Ham with both children and no help, which I know from experience is exhausting. And though I had done a few things in advance, much of the cooking was left to be done. So with my sous-chef by my side, we began the task of entertaining for 14 for supper, 15 for breakfast, and 22 for heavy hors d'oeuvres. Rebekah and I have had a lot of experience cooking together and seem to have finally worked out the kinks. In my mind, it is best for Rebekah to be in charge and me to help, but this does not work as well when we are in my kitchen, feeding my guests from my menu. She did very well taking orders from an inferior cook, and I, even as the inferior cook, have learned to be confident enough to trust my plan and delegate responsibility. But really, most of the success came from other people keeping my hyper-sensitivity in mind, I think. That, and prayer. I was aware almost constantly that I had an unnatural dose of peace that I knew was an answer to prayer. Thanks, to everyone who has been praying for me.

Thursday night was our night with 14. It was actually remarkably easy as I use this menu almost every time I cook for a crowd in the summer. As everyone in my family but me has a summer birthday, I have had lots of practice. It is also wonderfully inexpensive. Before I get to the menu though, I want to say something about the evening that followed. We had two events that night. Most of the folks went to Amabel's and August's spring program at school which received rave reviews. I went with Rebekah over to the Baccalaureate service and I am so glad I did. I had several second thoughts about this because George was going early and sitting with the graduates and had no role to play. So what was the point? Well, I am so glad I decided to go. I did not know that a Baccalaureate is actually a worship service on the occasion of a graduation. I remember my high school Baccalaureate, a very somber and forgettable (my apologies to whomever worked hard to make it special) event with candles and I'm not really sure what else. Mostly I just remember that it was dark and that my dad forgot to put film in the camera (this after double exposing the film my prom pictures were taken on and forgetting the camera altogether at the the Awards Banquet). Covenant's Baccalaureate was anything but a somber event. There was a praise band made up of graduates, fully robed and mortar boarded (can you say "mortar boarded?" well, you can now), and y'all know I love me a praise band. Or maybe you didn't, but now you do. I crave this music, the whole RUF vibe (old hymns put to new music) and it was glorious to be sitting right behind the piano and drums. My only complaint is that I have been so long from a good old guitar in worship that I didn't know any of the songs! It was like RUF all over again though; I felt so blessed just to be there. There were also several students who gave testimonies of God's faithfulness to them during their time at Covenant. I confess I was somewhat envious of all the things these men and women seemed to be taking away with them. I feel like I must be really thick or slow or just plain hard to be at the end of this season and be as immature and unchanged as I seem to be. And in a way I felt kind of left out, left out of some awesome growing, nurturing experience. How did I miss that? Well, anyway, it was a really wonderful service.

Thursday night menu:
Sweet tea (of course!)
Pulled pork sandwiches
Cole slaw
Potato Chips
Jello Salad
Ice Cream Sandwiches

The recipes, and notes:
I am guessing most people know how to make sweet tea. But just in case, I just buy family sized tea bags, bring 2 cups of water almost to a boil, steep tea in water for like 20 minutes, add about 3/4 c. sugar and dissolve, pour into a 2qt. pitcher and fill the rest of the way with cold water.
I am also thinking most people know how to make their own pulled pork. But just in case, I buy a pork butt, which is often on sale for 99 cents a pound. I put it in ye olde crock pot the night before I want to serve it and take it out about an hour or thirty minutes before serving, pull of the fat and bones, and pull the meat apart with a pork. And I use bottled sauce. It's just that easy :)

Cole Slaw
1 head of cabbage
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. milk
1/4 c. buttermilk
2 1/2 T lemon juice
1 1/2 T white vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
-grate cabbage and carrots in food processor
-stir remaining ingredients together to make dressing
-toss cabbage and carrots in dressing
-cover and chill at least 2 hours (make the day before easily)

Cut up a watermelon, open a bag of chips, and you're pretty much in business. Sometimes I make one of those cheesy potato hashbrown casserole dealys, but beer chips are just so good. These are loved by kids, the great grandparents, and everyone in between. Jello salad is really just my way of saying that I made fruit salad suspended in strawberry Jello, according to the setting directions on the package. I think this is absolutely delicious, even at 30. And from the way the gang ate on Thursday night, I am guessing most people do. Embrace your inner child :) Speaking of whom will also enjoy ice cream sandwiches made by making the Nestle Toll House cookie recipe without the Nestle Toll House morsels. Use (what else?) M&Ms instead, bake and cool the cookies, and scoop vanilla ice cream to make sandwiches. Wrap and freeze sandwiches as you go, you know, because of the whole melting thing. For some reason, these are a huge hit. Well, I suppose it's because they are delicious. But people are kind of impressed. Because you made ice cream sandwiches. And it was darn easy, even though that part doesn't really register.

As you can see, this is the easiest meal to put together ever. But the people will love it. Trust me, they will. They will also love this crazy easy brunch from Friday morning.

Breakfast Casserole
Banana Muffins
Blueberry Scones
Fresh fruit

Although, if you are like me, you will somehow manage to stay up until 3:30 in the morning making it. But only if you start after midnight and are also making marinade for steak, washing dishes, and starting chicken for the next day. I am pretty sure I have posted the link to the blueberry scones before. The banana muffins are Rebekah's recipe, but perhaps she will leave it in the comments for us. And that breakfast casserole is the one we all know and love. I doubled the sausage and eggs this time, which fed the crowd in the same sized pan, but if I did that again, I would also double stack the bread layer because the bread was lost with such a deep layer of sausage and eggs.

Friday night was the big shindig. I am sorry we could not invite friends, but we were on a limited budget and had limited space. It would be fun to give another party and invite all of our friends. We may do that as a "we finally have a job" celebration whenever we finally have a job. No way I was going to rent china and glasses for a bunch of randoms though ;) (Incidentally, I highly recommend renting. This was my first time. So inexpensive! So much nicer than paper!)

The menu:
Various wines
Lemon flank steak skewers with lemon dipping sauce
Crab cakes with roasted red pepper dipping sauce
Mini tortilla cups with spicy chicken and guacamole
Various cheeses, breads, and fruits

The recipes, and notes:

Lemon Flank Steak Skewers
2/3 c. olive oil
4 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
8lb. of flank steaks, cut diagonally into 1/4 inch slices
wooden skewers
lemon dipping sauce

-combine first five ingredients in ziploc and add steak; seal and chill 8 hours, turning occasionally.
-place skewers in water to cover and soak for 10 minutes
-remove steak from marinade and discard marinade.
-thread each steak slice onto a skewer (these are not kabobs, you want one steak strip per skewer)
-grill skewers, covered with grill lid, 4-5 minutes on each side
-serve with lemon dipping sauce

lemon dipping sauce
16 oz. light sour cream
1T prepared horseradish
2 tsp. lemon zest
6T lemon juice
1tsp salt
-combine all ingredients, cover and chill at least one hour.

Crab Cakes- just FYI, crab is something like $38 a pound, so don't rush out to make these and then get to the seafood counter and panic. that is why, while crab cakes are among my top three favorite foods, I have never made them before. however, this recipe is highly worth it. we decided we might half the recipe and split the cost of ingredients plus a bottle of wine three ways next time and have a girls' night. the recipe makes 36 appetizer sized cakes. mmmm boy!
1T unsalted butter
10T olive oil
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
4 stalks of celery, finely diced
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. hot pepper sauce
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb. lump crab meat, drained and picked to remove shells
3/4 c. bread crumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. mayonnaise
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
roasted red pepper dipping sauce

-in a large skillet, heat butter and two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. add next seven ingredients and saute until veggies have softened, 8-10 minutes. let cool until room temp.
-mix cooled veggie mixture with crab and next five ingredients. stir to combine well. shape mixture into 2 inch patties.
-heat oven to 250. in a large saute pan, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. add 8 to 10 crab cakes and cook until golden brown, 1-2 minutes on each side. drain on paper towels. then transfer to baking sheet and keep warm ion the oven. keep making batches, adding 4 tablespoons of olive oil as needed.
-serve hot with roasted red pepper dipping sauce
roasted red pepper dipping sauce (I might half this recipe next time; it makes a lot! I also used yellow and orange peppers along with the red in this because of that variety pack you can get at Sam's. It turned out perfectly.)
4 red bell peppers cut in half and seeded
1/2 c. mayonnaise
coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

-heat broiler, place peppers, cut side down, in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. broil until the skins start to blister, 8-10 minutes. transfer to ziploc bag to steam.
-when cool enough to handle, remove skin and place in food processor. process until a coarse puree forms. squeeze puree through cheesecloth to remove any liquid (this step seemed to do very little for me, except get a cloth really dirty). transfer to a bowl, mix with mayonnaise, and season with salt and pepper.

For the mini tortilla cups, use white corn tortillas, and steam them in the microwave between wet paper towels to make more pliable. Use a biscuit cutter to cut into small circles, brush circles with oil on both sides, and place in mini muffin cups. I really feel like you need an illustration here. But too bad; figure it out. Bake the tortilla cups on some temperature for some amount of time... See, here's where it starts to get fuzzy. I have packed next to nothing for our upcoming move to who knows where, but because my cookbooks were all out on a bench that belongs to some friends, I packed them so they could come get their bench. Consequently, I have no idea how long you should bake the cups or on what temperature. I think I'm gonna go 350 for 8 minutes. Sound good? Anyway, cook some chicken breasts up in your crockpot overnight and pour a little beer in there to keep them moist. Shred them with a fork and sprinkle them with Annie's taco seasoning. Put the chicken in the tortilla cups and garnish with a little shredded cheese, homemade guacamole, and a teeny little dollop of sour cream. Super cute, super tasty!

Annie's Taco Seasoning
1T chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Mix in small bowl. (This is equal to 1 1/4 ounce package of commercial taco seasoning.)

Your amounts will just have to depend on how much you want to make. Clearly you want the most of avocados. Adjust everything else accordingly. For the mini tortilla cups, you have to really finely dice everything.
Avocados, peeled, pitted, diced
Tomatoes, chopped
Cilantro (gross, I always use Parsley instead- you know if you are a cilantro hater; you either love it or you hate it)
Jalepeno, finely diced
Red onion, finely diced
Lime juice
Kosher salt

For the various cheeses, breads, and fruits, go to Trader Joe's. Or, if you have no Trader Joe's, just buy some fun cheese from your nicer cheese section in your deli. I had some St. Andre cheese and a white cheddar (gotta have something for the less adventurous). I would love more cheese recommendations for next time if anyone has any. But just know that George vetoed goat cheese. We had some of those fun tiny toasts and some lightly toasted pita rounds, truly nothing too glamorous because I don't know what the heck I'm doing yet when it comes to cheeses. I meant to put out some spiced pecans, but forgot. And we had some really pretty grapes in various colors and strawberries.

I hope not to insult anyone when I explain bruschetta. You pretty much just grill bread slices and then rub them with garlic. After that, drizzle them with olive oil, top them with diced tomatoes, basil, salt, and a little more olive oil. Some people toss the tomatoes and basil in balsamic vinegar first. I think I didn't for the party, but I usually do. It's just been since last summer that I made it, and it's the kind of thing you never actually put on a recipe card, though trying to recall it whilst making a half dozen other things is enough to make you decide to write it out after all!

Writing this post out makes it seem like I didn't really do that much, even though this post has taken me all week to complete. But it really was a nice party. I wanted it to be very elegant, because how often does your husband finish a four year master's program? Let's hope just once! I wanted it to be nice for our friends and family as well. The preparation for the party was a lot like the entire four year experience. I could not have done it without my kitchen helpers, without my mother's crystal and silver serving pieces, without the grandparents, aunt, and uncle occupying the kids for the day, without the extra money George's parents gave us for groceries, without the wine my parents and George's mom brought, and without things I know I am forgetting. In the same way, we could not have gotten through seminary without the constant financial and prayer support of all of our parents, siblings, and friends. And now, on to the next thing, which is yet to be revealed. Though, take heart, we have a few strong leads. But for now, I am being summoned. Can you believe I have never seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? Neither could George. That all changes now.


jennifer h said...

I have such a different philosophy of entertaining than you, Abby, so all that you did sounds really impressive. Just because you thought it was "easy" doesn't make it necessarily so. It sounds lovely, and I am sure George and all your family appreciated the effort you put forth to make it that way.

Congrats to George and to all of you!

George Edema said...

I sure appreciated it. All three meals were spectacular. Abby did a great job.

On Friday, when we were all frantically working to get things done, I felt like we were on Iron Chef America. It was a lot of fun.

Jessie said...

It was beautiful. And we definitely are doing girls night...although I am not convinced we need to half the recipe!

Wrights said...

Sounds so wonderful, Abby! That does not sound like a simple menu and you not doing much! I can't wait to try some of your recipes! Congrats to all of you. I am glad the weekend was lots of fun and special for y'all.

courtney said...

I am so excited for all of you. It sounds like you loved everyone well this weekend by feeding their most basic needs!!! Congrats to you and to George. I know how mightily you are all going to be used....


elizabeth campbell said...

Oh, Abby, that sounds soo wonderful, and I definitely didn't feel when I was reading it that you didn't really do much--quite the contrary, it was very intimidating, and I would NEVER have known where to start with all that....I would definitely have had to buy half that stuff pre-made, and given myself a huge pat on the back just for thinking of it :) I know y'all are so proud of George and I'm so thankful it was such an enjoyable and special weekend for y'all!

Abby said...

thanks, y'all! i hope i didn't sound like i was being silly, false modesty or something like that. but you know, when you put a week's worth of work into one blog post, it sort of makes it seem easy. but i admit to working very hard! and i would only repeat it for something equally as important.

e.c. said...

Question on the pork: do you put it in the crock pot the night before to serve it the following evening, or was this for lunch? In other words, does it cook all night and all day until the next, or would you just put it in early in the morning for that evening. Also, do you add anything in addition to the bottled sauce? Water? Seasoning?

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