Tuesday, July 27, 2004

I thought for months we were going to a wedding last weekend.

Turns out it's next weekend. So instead, we had a dinner party.

For hors d'ouevres and dessert I turned to The Texas Cookbook, a book PG tipped me off about and which I've had great success with in the past. So I thought I'd try Mary Faulk Koock's cheese straws. Now, y'all, Ms. Koock can be MADDENINGLY vague about things like, you know, amount and temperature and time. In this recipe, she takes you as far as the rolling and cutting stage and then ends. No mention of the fact that you need to, you know, bake them. Fortunately I was aware that you should bake them, but unaware for how long or at what temperature.

So I grabbed the two cookbooks nearby that seemed most likely to contain cheese straw recipes- The Houston Junior League Cookbook and River Road Recipes. These being Texas cheese straws, I went with the HJL's recommendation of a hotter oven (The Lousianans want you to bake your cheese straws at 200 forever, or something like that) and they came out great. This being our first post-wedding dinner party, I served the cheese straws in the middle of our nice divided tray, with olives and marcona almonds.

Undeterred by this, I also made a chocolate pound cake from this same book, mainly because it was described as having been served to LBJ, and I'm a sucker for things like that. Of course, Ms. Koock just tells you to use one package of German chocolate, which gave me a bit of a hissy in the grocery store, since chocolate usually comes in 8 oz packages but for some reason the German chocolate was in a 4 oz and was that standard or just this brand and what to do? I went with the 4 oz package, taking Ms. Koock at her word. Of course, she then tells you to soften it in a warm oven- so not melt it? Melt it? Who knows, I sure don't! I softened it and mostly melted it and wound up with a not too chocolatey poundcake with some chocolate chunks in it. Frankly, the cake was a bit of a disaster, as I noted in my dinner party notebook, but nonetheless, people went back for seconds and thirds. I think they were either mesmerized by the beauty of our cake stand or it was the beer we served with dinner.

Dinner was all from The Minimalist Entertains- spare ribs with black bean sauce, a panfried noodle cake, and stirfried shrimp with leeks and ginger. I cut down on the spare ribs to serve 5, instead of 8, and even with that, don't see how those ribs could have all fit flat in one layer in a big skillet like Mark Bittman says. There's no way 7-8 pounds could. Unless Mark Bittman has a 24 inch skillet or something, and that I would like to see. I didn't cut down on the noodle cake or the shrimp, and it all got eaten. It was all delicious and super easy. I kind of thought this book was a cheater's way to throw a dinner party, with the recipes all assembled for you and the timing all laid out, but who cares? It's easy and delicious and made the whole evening feel, for me, almost effortless. (Not so much so for Jeff when he did the dishes after, but Mark Bittman can't help him there, alas.)