It was my turn.
I’ve gorged on the rewards of my friends’ sweat and toil long enough. After savoring countless multi-course, elaborate meals created by my fellow homecooks, it was time for me to tie one on — the apron.
I’m still a wee bit (OK, a lot) uptight about cooking for 8-15 of my cultivated foodie friends. Plus, the way our club works is that the designated cook is not the same person as the designated host. So you’re cooking in someone else’s kitchen — using whatever tools they have — and you’re schlepping it across Brooklyn, Manhattan or Queens via subway.
Dinner was set for 8 p.m. Friday at the apartment of a member who lives in a part of Brooklyn I’m not too familiar with, Bed Stuy. I took the late dinner slot because I thought it would be easier for me than for those who work 9-to-6 jobs. As a freelancer, my schedule is more flexible. Most dinner slots are on weekends.
My boyfriend, David, suggested I cook a meal I’ve done before to keep it simple, ease my stress and prevent the cooking from dragging on … and on … while hungry and tired guests wait. It’s not that he’s had oodles of experience waiting for me while I cook or anything. Not at all. So his idea sounded logical.
I chose dishes I’ve made at least twice before: Almond-Crusted Chicken with Rainbow Slaw and for the appetizer, Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Cherries and Mint. My lovely mother (love you, Mom!) mailed me the recipe for the chicken and slaw years ago, which she ripped out of her “Good Housekeeping” magazine. She rightfully thought it would be something healthy and fun that I’d like to make. The goat cheese bruschetta was a recipe I featured in one of my weekly food columns in The News-Press in Southwest Florida a few years ago.
Dessert? I HAD to make ice cream sandwiches because I’ve been craving this creamy, cool, sweet, chewy combination for weeks. And I could make those ahead of time. Yeah, transporting frozen dessert for about an hour across town in a backpack might be a challenge, but I had ice packs and such. No prob.
I felt lucky I had time to do a lot of prep work the preceding days. I spent the most time figuring out the lemon-vanilla ice cream cookie sandwiches. Maybe it’s the summer heat or nostalgia for my native South Florida, but I’ve been craving lemony citrus desserts lately instead of my usual intense, rich fudgy desserts. And ice cream? Well that’s almost a daily requirement regardless of weather. After a lot of online research and because I don’t own an ice cream maker (Christmas is coming in just 6 months, wink, wink), I just mixed lemon juice and lemon zest with Haagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and re-froze it. I baked chewy lemon cookies, then spooned the softened, lemony ice cream between cookies and froze the (messy) sandwiches in individual plastic sandwich bags. I am very pleased with the results. Somehow, there were a few “extras” that didn’t make it to the dinner party. Weird how that happens.
For the bruschetta, I pitted the cherries, which took forever and made the edges of my fingernails a grimy blood-red even after scrubbing. I chopped fresh mint from our container garden on the balcony (yay!) and soaked the cherries in fresh orange juice.
The slaw required a lot of chopping, especially the red cabbage, which I’ve always declared should be called “purple cabbage” unless everyone else on Earth is colorblind. This cabbage is the same color as eggplant, which we all agree is purple, yes? Thinly slicing sticks of carrots and yellow bell peppers was no picnic either. Luckily, I was in the middle of a “Twin Peaks” marathon on Netflix, so it’s all good. I meant to crush the almonds for the chicken beforehand, but ended up not having time. So that was done onsite.
But then, oh then, I thought, “We need a carb! This is too healthy for Supper Club.” My meal wasn’t complicated enough. I decided to add buttermilk biscuits with orange-maple butter. I easily made the butter by softening a stick and adding — you guessed it —maple syrup and orange zest and refrigerating the flavored butter. But the biscuits would have to be made onsite.
Sigh. Those biscuits. Did I mention I’ve never made buttermilk biscuits before? But I thought it would add a sweet Southern touch to my meal! While my guests nibbled on bruschetta and wine among the host’s cozy courtyard, hopefully getting tipsy instead of hangry, the kitchen barely survived a flour blizzard by the time I was through. The recipe called for a full-size food processor, but all the host had was a tiny one. I ended up mixing the batter in six batches. Ugh. In retrospect, I could’ve used the host’s hand mixer and saved 30 minutes and a cupful of sanity.
My stress level rose with this unexpected development as the clock ticked toward midnight. I got snappy with my boyfriend who repeatedly offered to help. Sometimes an audience puts me on edge even more. But the easygoing guests received full plates by 11 p.m., and I was able to sit and enjoy the lively crowd and reggae music drifting through the warm summer night, easing my tense shoulders away from ears. And those ice cream sandwiches…oh, yeah.