Where do I start?
I’ve been away for almost two weeks due to a family emergency and I had nothing planned or even the right mind frame to pull old posts or inventory to share during that time.
So much has happened in that time that I really am at a loss on where to begin cooking and blogging again! Not sure I’ve been in this odd mental space before. For now, I thought I’d quickly say hi and circle back on the birthday party I did end up having.
In my last post, I mentioned wanting to host an intimate soireé but wasn’t convinced either way. Birthdays are a big deal in our family and we go big when celebrating. This year was a bit different. I didn’t go home and no one came down to see me…. so I quickly resigned to spending a quiet evening at home and I did just that. It really couldn’t have been much better.
After pondering having friends over for dinner during the weekend, I convinced myself that cooking and entertaining a certain few usual suspects would be pacify my feelings of missing the standard engagements. Plus, I knew one friend in particular would bring me a most luscious chocolate cake. The same exact one he brought me last year.
I’m admittedly way over the top when it comes to hosting friends, even if it’s just a simple visit. I can be quite picky about my décor, the theme, colors (down to the napkins) and even background music. Mami taught me that. Good or bad, it just is what it is. In this case however, it just meant I was already foreseeing the massive amount of cleaning I’d have to do if I wanted to do something so elaborate.
That single action—-having to clean a kitchen sink full of dirty dishes quickly redlined my invite list down to 10 from 30. And so as it would go, I prepared a 4 course dinner. Elaborate and a bit swanky, but only for 10.
I’d recently purchased what seems to be the entire serve ware collection for the Missoni for Target line which I was eager to display. Appetizer plates, serving bowls, salad plates, espresso mugs, martini shakers, platters, glasses — the whole bit. All colorful, all vexing, zigzag patterned!
That was the most fun part, really. Most of the food I cooked wasn’t anything new to my guests. But serving it in a fashionable way with my new designer goodies was just going to make everything taste better. If you think I’m crazy for thinking dinner ware could make food sexier and tastier, think again! A would be $200 platter for $20?? Yeah, that’s sexy and delicious!
So the menu… quickly….the appetizer was the highlight of the evening since I’d not made it before. I was introduced to this spicy yet intricately flavored crostini with halloumi cheese a week or so prior at the Travel & Adventure show in Atlanta. The local chef presenting the dish (whom I helped prep and serve) and the rep from Cyprus Tourism gave me a lot of the excess ingredients. What do to! Nothing but to make it for myself and share something new and exotic with my friends.
Crositini with cheese can be just any crostini with cheese, right? If you know me, you know there has to be a twist to just about anything. This wasn’t just any pan tostadito con queso. This combo was inspired by Cyprus cuisine, one I’ve never touched. Not a single ingredient stood out but the cheese was the one ingredient that was picked by meddling fingers from the stovetop grill as I cooked it. Its texture is much like mozzarella. The one downside to cooking halloumi is how quickly it hardens after the slightest bit of air hits it. It can be eaten fresh, but grilled or lightly fried in olive oil tastes amazing and expands is properties.
Though the Cyprus Tourism rep at the event whispered that the recipe wasn’t 100% authentic, she admitted loving it. And so did I. A bit too spicy for my palate, but truly a perfect blend of heat, texture and colors.
I’ll tell you it’s the perfect appetizer to impress your guests, especially those with high spice index tolerance.
Besides that, I made garbanzos con pata y panza (chick peas with tripe and cow’s feet) served over basmati rice, this salad, and tostones with an vibrant orange and garlic mojo smothering them. Cocktails were POM Lite martini’s made with blue agave tequila thanks to my friends at Sauza. Dinner could not end without the aforementioned cake, which was finally finished last night—10 days later!
From the sounds of it, dinner was a mesh of lovely global flavors that worked well and made everyone cheerfully toast to another year. Somehow, the international influences transported my friends to parts of the world they’d not been before. Even the tripe was a huge hit—you know how some people can be about eating different foods — a bit over the top picky!
- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- 8 slices Halloumi cheese, 1/2″ thick
- 2 large peppers, cored, de-seeded and cut into 3/4” strips
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
- 16 black olives, pitted
- 1 tbsp. each of chopped fresh mint, and chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the dressing
- 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp. chopped fresh coriander leaves
- 1 small red chili, de-seeded and chopped
Method:Heat oil in a large pan and stir fry the peppers on medium heat until fully cooked. Add garlic, capers, olives and herbs and cook for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Set aside. On a stovetop grill pan, grill the Halloumi slices until brown on both sides, turning once.
When ready to serve, place 6 toasted slices of baguette or crusty bread on a plate, place one piece of cheese on crostini. Top each crostini with even amount of pepper mixture. Drizzle the dressing over Halloumi and red peppers. Serve immediately.