TND – What’s Making Me Happy This Week

September 21, 2011

Last week I was critical and complaining about trends in food TV. Friday afternoon devolved in a series of small annoyances which cumulatively were enough to make me wish I kept a bottle of scotch in my desk drawer the way that everyone in the 1950’s seems to have (or so television would suggest). I spent the first half of this week playing phone tag with a restaurant manager so that I could complain about mediocre service we’d had on Sunday afternoon. In the light of all that negativity, I feel the need to redress the balance with a burst of positive thoughts. One of the podcasts I listen to ends every show with a segment called “What’s Making You Happy This Week”, so in that spirit here’s a list of what’s making me happy this week.

I’m still floating on the excitement of having done something totally unusual last Thursday. I went out (on a week night!) for cocktails at a dimly lit swanky bar in Harvard Square. I nibbled on excellent hummus and pita chips, sipped a silly cocktail involving champagne and St. Germain (the Scarlet Street), and gossiped with folk I don’t get to see nearly often enough. It felt all kinds of decadent.

Speaking of cocktails, I have finally nailed down a menu that I’m happy with for a cocktail party that we’re throwing in a few weeks. It feels balanced between warm and cold, smooth and crunchy, unctuous and fresh. I just need to figure out what I can serve the soup in that I have eight of, is small enough that it can easily be held in one hand, but not so small that you only get a mouthful of soup.

There’s a lovely luminal period between Summer and Fall that lasts for about three weeks when both late summer produce (peaches, nectarines, tomatoes and corn) is still available, and early Winter staples (apples, squashes, new potatoes) have started to show up at the farmer’s markets. We are squarely in the middle of that period, and when it’s not raining that’s making me very happy.

Also making me happy this week is the prospect of not doing much of anything this weekend. I’ve looked at our schedule for the next six weeks or so, and it’s exhausting just to contemplate. A friend asked me if there was a good weekend to schedule a frying party and I had to admit that the only weekend day that appeared to be free between now and the beginning of November was October 22nd. I plan to celebrate not doing much of anything this weekend by taking some prints to be framed, and trying out the new burger place in the center of town (they’ve just opened, but they’re always packed which I’m taking as a good sign).

And finally, what’s making me happy, is staging the concluding event of my roommate’s extended birthday celebrations which started with the cocktails last Thursday, extended through the traditional visit to a Newport Mansion and partaking of high tea, and ended yesterday in a birthday Dinner with a truly excellently silly dessert.

Grilled Ham Steaks
Curried Fruit
Honey-Cider Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans

Dessert Panini

Grilled Ham Steaks

Recipe (?) previously given: More Than One Standard Deviation From the Norm

Curried Fruit
It has been forever since I made this, and when I looked up the recipe I realized why – it’s so much butter and sugar.

Recipe previously given: Curried Fruit & the Internet

Recipe mildly amended as follows:

I upped the amount of fruit to 6lb (combination of nectarines, peaches and apples because that’s what’s in season at the moment).
I cut the butter to 6 Tbsp (1 Tbsp/lb of fruit)
I cut the sugar to about 1/3 cup (the peaches and the nectarines are sweet enough to not need much sugar)
I added about 1 tsp of garam masala because I hadn’t discovered the wonders of garam masala the last time I made this.

No ill effects from the marginally decreased quantities of butter and sugar were detected. There were certainly no leftovers.

Honey-Cider Mashed Sweet Potatoes
(serves 8-10)

There’s a restaurant in Lexington called Lexx which makes the most amazing mashed sweet potatoes with honey and cinnamon. These are not as good as those, mostly I suspect because I’m not using anywhere near as much butter or honey. They’re still good though.

8 medium sweet potatoes (about 4 ½-5 lb), peeled & cut into 1” chunks
2-3 large apples (about 1 lb), peeled & cut into 1” chunks
6 Tbsp butter
2/3 cup cider (you could also use water)
½ cup honey
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
3 whole allspice berries
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp bourbon (optional – Calvados would be good too)

Tie the whole cloves, allspice and cinnamon stick in small piece of cheesecloth, or a tea bag (you can just add them to the pot, but they’re easier to remove at the end if they’re all tied up together).

Bring the cider, honey, butter, vanilla, bourbon and spices to a simmer in a large pot with a tight fitting lid. When the butter has melted add the sweet potatoes and apples, stirring to coat. Cover and cook at a simmer for about an hour, or until the sweet potatoes are fall apart tender, stirring periodically. Remove the spice sachet and mash to desired smoothness (I like mine a little chunky, some people like it really smooth). Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional honey/cinnamon.

Green Beans
My roommate’s request – actually weirdly she asked for the green beans before she got to anything else on the menu. Freak.

The season won’t last much longer, I have to take advantage while I can.

Dessert Panini
The thing you have to understand is that this is a truly ridiculous dessert. Tasty, messy in the best way, nostalgic, and absolutely ridiculous.

It’s loosely inspired by a recipe I ran across on epicurious for Caramelized Chocolate Banana Marshmallow Sandwiches. However, instead of buttering regular bread with butter and brown sugar I used a chocolate bread from When Pigs Fly that I have always wanted an excuse to buy, but never been able to justify. It’s not quite sweet enough to be a tea bread, but it’s got chocolate chips in it so it’s too sweet to serve with a savory course. They keep suggesting it for breakfast, but I’ve never quite been able to talk myself into eating it as toast, not even on a Sunday morning (that being said, it would make the world’s most decadent French Toast – with maybe a strawberry syrup and whipped cream).

I need to suggest dessert panini to them when they’re trying to sell it, because it was the perfect vehicle for a peanut butter, banana and Fluff filling (I skipped the roasting the marshmallows part of the epicurious recipe both because using Fluff is so much easier, and also because recipe reviews suggested that Fluff was actually marginally less deadly sweet than actual marshmallows). I also did a version with blackberry jam, sliced strawberries and Fluff. Both versions were good – I preferred the peanut butter iteration, but other people liked the jam and fruit combination more. I think it probably depends on your feelings about peanut butter.

Melt some butter in a small saucepan.

Brush one side of a piece of bread with melted butter. Turn over and spread the other side with fluff (don’t be stingy). Brush one side of another piece of bread with melted butter. Turn over and spread the other side with peanut butter or jam (again, don’t be stingy). Layer on bananas, or whatever fruit floats your boat (or no fruit at all). Place the first piece of bread on top and transfer to a hot grill pan that has been lightly brushed with melted butter.

Wrap the bottom of a baking sheet with tin foil, lightly brush with melted butter and place on top of the paninis, evenly distribute a couple of cans of tomatoes/beans/whatever you have on hand that’s heavy on top (if you have an actual panini press you can skip this step). Grill for 2-3 minutes. Flip the paninis and grill for another 2-3 minutes until the outsides are crispy and the insides are gooey.

Slice in half or thirds and serve with many napkins.


One comment

  1. […] previously given:  What’s Making Me Happy This Week – although this time I deployed my immersion blender to achieve a creamily smooth puree rather […]

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