A Foodie Bachelorette Party

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Credit: Meghan McDonald

I recently hit the road with some of my best friends for my bachelorette party in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t the wildest of weekends but it was absolutely the most fun I have had in awhile. I want to share some of it here because the girls planned a very personalized bachelorette weekend which, of course, included some fantastic food. It also included jumbo slices of pizza purchased from a small carryout restaurant located one block away from Town Danceboutique. We don’t need to talk about that.

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She feels pretty, oh so pretty

My wonderful sister planned a fabulous weekend of dancing, drinking, dining, and pampering that I will never forget. It all started with a trip to Town Danceboutique for the Friday night drag show, at which I was teased for being a bachelorette and then forced to awkwardly shake my money maker on stage. After the show, Town turns into a big dance party with an amazing crowd and nonstop awesome music.

The club can’t even handle me right now.

After an evening of debauchery, we slept in at our swanky hotel, Helix, which is located in the hip Logan Circle neighborhood. A few Starbucks coffees and hot showers later, everyone was ready for a food porn marathon.

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hot

We began with brunch at Co Co Sala, a “chocolate lounge” that offers a three course prix fixe brunch on weekends. First, a round of brunch cocktails took the edge off.

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Clockwise, from left: Berries & Bubbles, Fire & Ice, Wasabi Bloody Mary, Peachy Keen

We enjoyed our cocktails with the amuse bouche, which was a cocoa flavored ball of fried dough, rolled in cinnamon sugar, drizzled with chocolate caramel, and sprinkled with nuts.

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One of the highlights of brunch was the Aztec Cheese Enchilada, which is a “pepper cheese enchilada with  guava sauce and avocado,” with a ” shaved fennel & mache salad with chipotle chocolate ganache, jalapeno jack cheese & guava lime vinaigrette.”

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Another hit was the Cheese Magic, which included “twice baked upside down cheese soufflé,  leek sauce and tomato marmalade” with a “blue cheese pear salad with walnuts, cranberries, & honey balsamic vinaigrette.”

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The Grown-up Grilled Cheese was perfect for a cool and cozy late morning meal. Cheddar cheese was melted between slices of truffle-scented brioche, and then the sandwich was served alongside a cup of roasted tomato soup and a cheese fritter.

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The two best desserts were the peanut butter cheesecake with a milk chocolate and peanut brittle crunch, and the Onyx, which was a dark chocolate mousse with vanilla creme brulee, salted caramel, crispy chocolate pearls and a brownie bottom. The Onyx was so delicious that I managed to eat the whole thing, even though I was already stuffed.

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I am so happy that I’m not starving myself to fit into the wedding dress, or I may have missed out on all this amazing food. I recently came to the realization that the only reason I haven’t had a single bridezilla moment or major meltdown is that I’m not trying to lose weight. Seriously, the stress of wedding planning on top of working an amazing full time job, volunteering on the weekends, and developing my freelance writing career is enough to cause the occasional freak-out. If I were dieting on top of that, forget it. I think the reason some brides turn into psychotic, self-centered, emotionally unstable monsters is that they can’t handle the stress while being so damn hungry all the time. Not a problem for me!

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Onward to the best dinner I have had in a long time. My lovely sister (and gorgeous maid of honor) made us reservations at the number one restaurant on my list of places to try in D.C.! Dinner at  Zaytinya with my closest friends was simply wonderful. Zaytinya is a Mediterranean tapas restaurant that serves Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese inspired mezzes under the direction of Chef José Andrés.

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Zorro was here

The meal began with bread and oil, which I went easy on since the best was yet to come.

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I ordered a bottle of the Agiorgitiko, Gaia Estate 14-18h, which is a Greek rosé. After a couple of course, one bottle for the table turned into two bottles, which is exactly how you should do tapas or mezzes, in my opinion.

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Everything we ate there was amazing and we practically licked every plate clean. Some of my favorites were:

  • Maroulosalata – heirloom lettuces, dill, mizithra cheese, red wine vinegar dressing, nasturtium flower petals
  • Bantijan Bil Laban – crispy eggplant, roasted garlic-yogurt sauce
  • Bamya – caramelized okra, fresh and crispy chickpeas, cardamom tomato stew
  • Mercimek Koftesi – traditional seared red lentil patties, preserved lemon yogurt, pomegranate, lettuce leaves

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After dinner, we took a long walk back to our adorable hotel and did a fun spa night, complete with DIY manicures and pedicures. . . and enough sparkling wine to make us just clumsy enough to forget we had wet nails and consequently ruin our manicures. The itinerary of this trip was so personalized to my tastes, and while it might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, this bachelorette weekend was so uniquely me. I am so grateful that I have such wonderful friends to come along for the ride.

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Party Rock Drink Recipe Roundup

I’m checking out for the weekend. . . for my bachelorette party!

photo credit: Carissa Schmidt

I thought I’d leave you with some of my favorite drink recipes below. On a related note, I would love to hear your favorite drink recipes (and hangover cures) in the comments. . .

Have a fun weekend!

Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

Raspberry Mint Daiquiri

Red Sky at Night

Spa Day Citrus Splash

Pomegranate Mojito

 

Vegetarian Beer Dinner

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You may recall that last year I set out to do my own vegetarian beer dinner. Three courses, three beers, two happy vegetarians. You can read about  what I served here on Vegology.

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Most beer or wine pairing dinners that I have seen are seriously lacking options for vegetarians. As much as I want to attend one, it seems like it would be a waste of money for a person who does not eat meat. Even if there were vegetarian options available, they most likely would not be paired as well with the beer as the meat dishes.

I do not expect a restaurant to accommodate my dietary restrictions, so I usually just skip out. The only exception would be the wine dinners at Secco, which always seem to have a great vegetarian option. Now I just have to rummage through the couch cushions and start saving my pennies so I can afford to attend one!

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This weekend I took matters into my own hands and hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at my house. Some of my favorite food bloggers and beer geeks came together to throw one heck of a beer pairing party. Each guest was assigned a course and asked to select a beer pairing to bring along with his or her dish. I provided a long tasting table adorned with mini notebooks for taking tasting notes. The table was decorated with beautiful fresh flowers from Amy’s Garden placed in repurposed glass beer bottles.

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Guests used little placards to label their dishes and beer pairings. When each course came up, we shared what we brought, show-and-tell style, then everyone ooh’ed and ahh’ed at each other’s beer and food pairing innovation. Some people paired with complementary flavors and some with contrasting. Both approaches worked out great. We learned that we had a lot of beer and food knowledge in one room.

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The dinner felt really cozy (read: packed dining room), and rustic (read: haphazardly decorated). I think everyone learned a lot and made some friends. I was incredibly impressed with everyone’s pairings. It went better than I had imagined. So without further ado, I present to you the Summer 2012 Vegetarian Beer Dinner!

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Summertime Tomato Gazpacho with “Grilled Cheese” Straws by Sarah and Alex

Pairing: Bison Brewing Organic Honey Basil Beer

Sarah writes Smart Kitchen, and Alex writes I Eat Asphalt.

Recipe for cheese straws via smitten kitchen, with one modification: 1/2 cup whole wheat flour + 1/4 cup white flour.

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Bruschetta with Green Apple and Gorgonzola Spread by Adrienne and Al

Pairing: Hoegaarden Original White

Adrienne writes hippie itch and she and Al both love good beer.

Bruschetta recipe via MyRecipes.com.

Photo Credit: Brittany Mullins (EatingBirdFood.com)

Vegetable Tian by Brittany and Isaac

Pairing: Allagash Curieux

Brittany writes Eating Bird Food and Isaac is a legit home brewing beer geek.

Vegetable Tian recipe via Martha Stewart Living.

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Quinoa Tabbouleh by Bob

Pairing: *Home Brew!* Dirty Southside IPA, brewed by Bob and Kyle

Bob does not blog, but he knows more about beer than most people I know, and he is Kyle’s home brewing partner. We didn’t know the Dirty Southside was ready yet, so it was a real treat and a surprise that he brought some to share.

Recipe via Epicurious, substituting cilantro for parsley.

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Zucchini and Black Bean Enchiladas by Lauren (that’s me!) and Kyle

Pairing: Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale

The homemade sauce absolutely made the enchiladas. The recipe is by Emily from Daily Garnish and you must try it.

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Hardywood Blackberry Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting by Shannon

Pairing: Hardywood Virginia Blackberry

These cupcakes were topped with a blackberry from Agriberry, the same farm that provided the blackberries for Hardywood’s beer!

Shannon writes Thirsty Richmond.

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As the sun went down, the volume in the room increased, and everyone’s notes got a little sloppy. Isaac brought out a sweet, dark, caramelly Southern Tier Creme Brulee stout. Most us us had just enough room left to taste it. There was talk of pumpkin beers and Fall home brews. A suggestion that we should do this again very soon. The beginning of a plan for a vegetarian beer dinner in the Fall?

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If I have anything to do with it, yes.

Roughing It

Hi there, friends. I know I have been missing lately, but I promise I have a good reason.

and it's not just because i've been drinking wine. . . although that is one possible explanation.

Once upon a time, I had a housewarming party. And at that same time, my furnace stopped working. So you see, it’s really very simple. . .

1. Housewarming party prep = lots of cleaning, lots of decorating, lots of late-night takeout and very little cooking

2. Broken furnace = no heat, no hot water, no way to wash dishes, lots of late-night takeout and very little cooking

3. No cooking = no creativity = no posts

I really struggled there for awhile to come up with creative and healthy dishes that required one pot or less. I didn’t want the dirty dishes to pile up, so I limited my cooking. We waited patiently for five days for the parts to come in to repair our furnace. One particularly cold day, we got our first real snow of winter here in Richmond.

And we had no heat! The thermostat inside my home read 47 degrees F when I woke up the next morning. I spent the morning bundled up in three hoodies, then went to a friend’s house to shower, and then I decided to get cooking.

I had to use the heat from the oven and stove to heat up the house, so I baked a lot of cookies and made some slow-cooked soups on the stove top. I could not properly clean the dishes until the hot water was back on a few days later, but this soup was worth dirtying a pot and ladle.

I will post the recipe later this week – I know this one’s a keeper.

Here are some other ideas I had for one-pot wonders while we were “roughing it” inside our own home.

Now that we are finally getting back into the swing of things, I promise I will catch you up on my kitchen adventures soon, with a recipe for Caldo Verde by the end of the week. In the meantime, I would love to hear your suggestions for one-pot meals and hearty soups while there is still a little chill in the air!

What to Serve Vegan and Vegetarian Party Guests

If the December holiday party season is not in full swing for you yet, it will be soon. And with the increasing number of diet labels floating around, it can be difficult to navigate the waters of holiday entertaining. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free’s, pescatarians, macriobiotics and raw dieters. . . it can all get very confusing for the holiday host. What to serve? Whom to accommodate? How to label?

I was recently asked for ideas on what to serve at a party with vegetarians and vegans in attendance and I was eager to help out. I follow a vegetarian diet myself, and while I am not at all an authority on vegan food, I cook a lot of vegan meals at home without realizing it (until it hits the plate and I am struck by the absence of cheese, cream or butter). So I guess I have a few more tricks up my veggie eating sleeve than the average home cook. If you need help figuring out what all the labels mean, there is a great resource from GAIAM that gives a brief description of each diet.

Vegetarians and vegans can enjoy a variety of party foods, and accommodating them requires just a little bit of forethought. Here are my favorite vegan-friendly party foods:

  • Tofu Lettuce Wraps from Whole Foods
  • Chips, Salsa and Guacamole (some prepared guacamole includes sour cream and some chips are fried in lard so be sure to check the ingredient lists)
  • Veggies and hummus or white bean dip
  • Tofu Spring Rolls with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Eating Bird Food
  • Mexican Bean Salad from AllRecipes (a favorite in my office for herbivores and omnivores alike)
  • Olive Medley Pinwheels from Better Homes & Gardens (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “cream cheese”)
  • Mixed Nuts
  • Seven Layer Dip from Peas and Thank You (substitute Tofutti brand vegan “sour cream” and vegan cheese substitute like Daiya brand shreds)

Olive Medley Pinwheels

Also, I thought I would remind you of some of the things to stay away from to make sure you are truly serving vegan food. It usually gets trickiest with prepared and bottled or canned foods, so be sure to check ingredient lists on anything that isn’t fresh produce. If you have any other suggestions or corrections, please jump in on the comments.

  • meat and fish (of course)
  • eggs (some pastas contain egg)
  • milk, cheese, butter and other dairy
  • honey (yes, some hard core vegans avoid honey)
  • whey protein (this common ingredient is milk-derived and sometimes added to vegetarian items for protein)
  • other hidden non-vegan items to look out for on ingredient lists: dehydrated chicken or beef, anchovies or anchovy paste, chicken broth, dehydrated milk

You do not have to make a big deal about what each guest can eat, so some labels can get your message across concisely. That way you do not feel like you have to usher your guest around the food table or constantly field questions about what is “safe.” I recommend that you use small place cards or signs to label foods as “vegetarian” or “vegan”. Or you could simply list animal products and common allergens in each prepared dish, like “contains chicken” or “contains peanuts.”

I think that if you have just a few options for the vegans and vegetarians in attendance, even if it isn’t the most exciting food on the planet, they are really going to appreciate the gesture. You are already going out of your way by inviting us into your home, and throwing a few vegetables our way doesn’t hurt. However I am always extremely impressed and grateful when a party host thinks to prepare something creative and meatless that I can enjoy. Most people don’t even think to have something vegan or vegetarian friendly so you will make your guests feel welcome just by making an effort.

Happy Hosting!

When Life Hands You Lemons. . .

 

When life hands you lemons, buy yourself a bottle of blueberry vodka and make this lemonade.

I celebrated a birthday last week with a few of my closest friends. We had planned a Potluck Picnic in White, one week before my actual 25th birthday. I think a 25th birthday is a pretty big deal and I was looking forward to having a huge party. But then I ended up making work-related plans on my real birthday (don’t worry, they are really cool plans, even though I’ll be working) and the big bash was out. Summer birthday bummer.

So I opted for an intimate gathering in a local park, with guests dressed in white so we could find each other, family style shared dishes and refreshing libations, punctuated by cool music and fun backyard games. I drew inspiration from Paris’s Diner en Blanc and invited my closest Richmond friends. And then this happened.

And then it climbed. . . and climbed. . . and climbed.

On Friday night, with a Saturday evening forecast of 100 degrees F and a heat index of 116, I reconsidered the picnic idea. The weather channel warned of excessive heat and scattered thunderstorms, and I decided to move the picnic indoors. Lucky me, my guests showed up just as excited as ever.

We made lemonade. In personalized cups, with a few fresh blueberries splashed right in.

Some friends brought salads, and others brought desserts.

Instead of croquet, we played jenga. Like croquet, it gets increasingly difficult after a few blueberry vodka lemonades.

I served fresh white cupcakes. . . with decorations!

As usual, my co-host was a constant source of entertainment.

For the record, he had no more than a sip of this lemonade.

Blueberry Vodka Lemonade

Ingredients – one serving:

  • 2 ounces blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 ounces fresh lemonade (not from concentrate!)
  • 4-5 fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup crushed ice

Ingredients – one pitcher (8 servings):

  • 2 cups blueberry flavored vodka
  • 6 cups fresh lemonade
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 4 cups crushed ice

Preparation:

  1. Combine all ingredients (in a glass or pitcher).
  2. Add more lemonade and/or vodka to taste.
  3. Stir and enjoy!

Thank you to all my friends who made this birthday event extra special!

Ready for 2011

I have had quite a year, and to tell you the truth, when midnight rolled around, I was happy to kiss 2010 goodbye. While attending a lovely party last night, my dearest friends and I toasted to life, to luck, to friends, to family, to the end of 2010, and to the start of 2011. While I’m being honest here, I’ll admit that there was a whole lot of toasting going on.

Because it is in my research-y nature to read up on various subjects that interest me, I spent a bit of time over the last week learning about New Year traditions and superstitions from around the world. Previously I had a limited knowledge of what practices were believed to bring luck in the coming year. Basically it was limited to the practice of putting on a party dress and glitter mascara, drinking a gallon of champagne, and hoping to get lucky, along with something about eating twelve grapes at midnight. Clearly I needed a little culture.

We’ll start in the Southern United States since that is where I currently reside. People from here traditionally eat black eyed peas on New Year’s Eve and Day because they are thought to bring you luck in the next year. When I was asked to bring an appetizer to the New Year’s Eve party, I knew I had to incorporate a little superstition into my dish. I had not heard before that black eyed peas held the keys to luck and wealth, so I was skeptical as to the prevalence of this superstition in modern times. However it was apparent that there are still plenty of believers when I picked up the last can of black eyed peas off the grocery store shelf. They were already out of dried peas, and I was able to snatch up the last can just in time.

I discovered a lot of lucky foods that are eaten to ensure wealth and prosperity. Many of them are round foods that symbolize coins. This brings us back to the grapes I mentioned earlier; Spaniards eat twelve round grapes at midnight. This custom is found in various South American countries as well. I personally took my midnight grapes in bubbly liquid form this year. Does that count?

Other round foods that are believed to be lucky are lentils, round cakes (Greece and Mexico), and dough fritters called ollie bollen in the Netherlands. Greens are also eaten due to their resemblance to folded cash. Stewed kale is eaten in Denmark and collard greens are eaten in the southern U.S. The Japanese eat noodles for luck, and the belief is that you must not break or chew them until the entire length of the noodle is in your mouth. Pomegranates are eaten for luck in Mediterranean countries. I have already shared a ton of ways to enjoy pomegranate seeds here in case you want to try them out yourself.

I personally created two dishes this year, not necessarily because I believe in the superstition, but because I like to be festive and I believe in good foods. I think you will find both of these recipes to be good in more ways than one. And if you aren’t into eating your way to good luck in 2011, you could steal a page from the Mexicans’ book and express your superstition via your undergarments. In Mexico and many other countries, red underwear is worn on New Year’s Eve to bring the wearer luck in love, and yellow is worn to guarantee wealth and prosperity.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the legumes and the greens. They have yet to fail me.

Lucky Black-eyed Pea Dip (serves a small army)

Ingredients:

1-15 oz can black-eyed peas

1-15 oz can black beans

1-15 oz can white beans (Great Northern or Cannelini)

1-15 oz can white corn

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup finely chopped parsley

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp hot sauce

Preparation:

1. Rinse and drain black-eyed peas, beans, and corn and combine in a large mixing bowl.

2. To the bean mixture, add onion, garlic, and parsley and stir to combine.

3. In a separate small bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard, basil, and hot sauce. Add dressing to bean mixture and stir to combine.

4. Refrigerate 4 to 24 hours and serve with tortilla chips.

And for New Year’s Day. . .

Potato, Kale, and Lentil Stew (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups mirepoix (any combination of diced onion, carrots, and/or celery will do – use what you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup red wine

4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes (or whatever you have on hand, seriously, this is like peasant stew)

6 cups vegetable broth

1 cup small green lentils

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

4-5 cups kale, torn into 1- to 2-inch pieces

Preparation:

1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add mirepoix and garlic and saute until onion is almost translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

2. Add red wine to the pot and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and lentils. Add cumin, coriander, and cayenne and stir to combine. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until lentils are not quite al dente.

4. Add salt, pepper, and kale to pot. Cover and cook for 15 minutes more.

5. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve in large bowls to your gaggle of hungry and slightly hungover friends, who are yearning for health and prosperity in the new year.

Cheers anyone?