Dinner Party!

I hosted my first dinner party last week. It was small, just me and three guests. I worried about the menu because one of the guests is a picky eater. I only cook vegetarian and he doesn’t like/won’t eat vegetables. I also wanted to make something that would go with French Bread so I could get the next bread on my list from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge done–nixing pizza or cheese enchiladas (as suggested by picky eater).

The Menu:

Edamame

Rosemary Roasted Almonds (From September 2009 issue of Cooking Light)

Olives (From Whole Foods olive bar)

French Bread (From The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, made into 2 oz rolls)

Toasted Goat Cheese Ravioli with Red Pepper Dip (from September/October 2009 issue of Clean Eating magazine)

Creamy Rigatoni with Gruyère and Brie (from September 2009 issue of Cooking Light)

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with Sea Salt and Ground Coriander (from Orangette)

Dessert was the Chocolate Caramel Crunch Tart for next week’s Tuesdays with Dorie…more on that on Tuesday. As for wine, I threw myself on the mercy of the wine guy at the 3rd/Fairfax Whole Foods in Los Angeles. He asked me questions on my menu and walked me around the entire wine section. For a starter wine, he suggested the 2008 Marquis de Goulaine Rosé d’Anjou.  For dinner he suggested the 2007 Protos Verdejo, a Spanish white wine. The wine choices were excellent and reasonably priced. I’m definitely going back to him.

The dinner was a big success and loved every minute of it. I prepped most of the day, but was relaxed and carefree for the party. The guests enjoyed everything and we’re all looking forward to doing it again.

Fig & Feta Focaccia

A quick post to show the other type of focaccia I made this week for The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge.  I made a pizza version of this a couple week’s ago (and did not blog about it! Took picture to Tweet my lunch, though) and it was so delicious I knew I would make it when focaccia came up in the rotation.

Fig & Feta Pizza

Fig & Feta Pizza

It’s just plain foccacia with sliced figs, crumbled feta, chopped rosemary, and lots of extra-virgin olive oil.

Caramelized Shallot and Golden Raisin Focaccia

I was a good baker and read the recipe instructions for Focaccia from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice ahead of time. I knew the dough required an overnight rest in the refrigerator. I planned on making the dough Saturday night after my day of diving and baking it Sunday. Little did I know how exhausted I would be after the dive. Wow. It was a great day and a horrible day all rolled into one, but the great outweighs the horrible.

I ended up getting seasick on the way out to Catalina from Long Beach. It was bad. Everyone told me I would feel better once I was in the water and it was true! The nausea went away once I was underwater.  The first dive was amazing. The kelp forests were cool, it was a magical and peaceful place. Unfortunately once I surfaced, I felt sick again. It took all my strength and willpower to gear up for the second dive. I had to keep telling myself, “if you can do this, you can do anything…”.

The second dive was even better than the first, but by the end of it I was so weak and tired it wasn’t safe for me to attempt the third dive of the day.  I was disappointed with myself. I really wanted to be PADI Open Water certified by the end of day. The good news is that I get to go diving again. 🙂 On Saturday we’re doing a beach dive and I can’t wait.  I really like diving and I’m considering going for my Advanced Open Water certification (which amazes all my friends because all I did was complain about how I don’t like dealing with the equipment and prep).

Back to the Focaccia. Because of my long day, I was almost too tired to brush my teeth let alone make bread. I wanted to complete the Focaccia on Sunday, so I omitted the overnight rest in the refrigerator. I did chill it for a bit, but I don’t think anyone considers two hours to be overnight. 😛 The overnight rest is to enhance flavor, but when you are drenching something in olive oil how much more flavor enhancement do you need??

I incorporated golden raisins into the the dough as suggested in a side bar and topped the Focaccia with caramelized shallots and rosemary. I was inspired by my recent meal at Bouchon where I had the most delicious Gnocchi à la Parisienne made with caramelized shallots and golden raisins. I just borrowed the Bouchon cookbook from the library and it turns out that Parisienne gnocchi is different from traditional gnocchi in that it is made from pâte à choux, the dough usually used for profiteroles or éclairs.  No wonder they were so good. I’m going to attempt the gnocchi in the near future…

Gnocchi à la Parisienne

Gnocchi à la Parisienne

The Caramelized Shallot and Golden Raisin Focaccia was awesome. The taste was great. I really love the taste combination of sweet and savory.  I made the focaccia as part of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge. We’re a group of bakers baking our way in order through the book. This is also my Vegan Tuesday recipe. I had some for lunch yesterday. YUM.

Honey-Wheat English Muffins

I’ve baked the English Muffins from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice before and they were delicious as written.  I made them again for The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, but this time decided to make a honey-wheat variety. I used 1/2 traditional whole-wheat flour and added 1 tablespoon of honey instead of the sugar. I made them 2 ounces each  and was able to yield 8 instead of 6 muffins. They turned out great–light and fluffy and pretty tasty.

Or at least I thought so, until I tasted THE BEST BREAD EVER. I went to Bouchon for dinner while in Las Vegas. I can only dream of baking bread this good. The crust was unbelievable, it was just the right crunch, just sweet enough, and the inside was light and fluffy. It all just melted in my mouth. I bonded with the person that refilled our water over the bread. I was giddy and excited and he told me the bread was his favorite too. I can’t wait for Bouchon to open in Beverly Hills. (By the way, the rest of the meal was amazing–but this is about the bread!)

THE BEST BREAD EVER

THE BEST BREAD EVER

Peach and Pecan Celebration Bread

In the introduction to the Cranberry & Walnut Celebration Bread in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart discusses how the bread is reminiscent and in celebration of Thanksgiving.  Because it is August and I just baked a bread with cranberries and walnuts, I decided to use diced dried peaches and pecans. It’s a little more seasonal. I’m celebrating the peak of summer, my favorite season.

Peter Reinhart also suggests shaping the bread using an elaborate double-braid method where there is one giant braid and a smaller braid balanced on top of it. Balancing things isn’t my strong suit, so I shaped my bread into a simple boule.

The bread was okay. I thought the fruit-to-nut ratio was off. I would increase the nuts and decrease the fruits. I felt it also needed more flavors. Maybe cinnamon? or cardamon? or Chinese 5-spice?

If you would like more information about The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, please visit HERE.