Sunday, December 11, 2005

Oh, the Fabulousness

At left, you see a picture of Black Box Shiraz (nee Syrah), which formed the basis for the terrific mulled wine that I served at a party at our house last night. I should perhaps be forbidden from throwing parties for a while because while there are areas in which I have been known to exercise something resembling self-restraint, food preparation is not among them. It is a given that I am going to make too much food, and I've come to accept this fact. (After all, I like making food, and I like making too much food too much, which, as we all know, is impossible. Don't ask me what that last sentence means: wait for the Cliff's Notes.) Still, I was probably spending time messing with food that I could have been spending messing with the guests, and I've been all in all day today, so in future I will have to trim my sails a bit.

The problem, as I see it, with a party that is not a dinner party is that there's not the usual course structure which makes it easy to figure out how much food one ought to make. When you're basically dealing with appetizers and desserts, but you still want people to be well fed (I always remind people when I'm inviting them over that it would be foolhardy to have eaten within five hours of the party), you naturally want to provide people with the largest variety of choices available. And when do you stop? This dilemma (along with the preference to have everyone seated in the same room and relaxed for an extended period of time) is probably why I so rarely have parties that are not dinner parties.

My future rule of thumb in these situations is going to be that if the table is full and there is something waiting in the refrigerator that I have totally forgotten about until an hour into the party, then I've made perhaps three dishes too many. Still, too much food is not nearly the problem that too little food is, and as far as I can tell, everyone had a very good time, even the straight guy. (I introduced him as "the token breeder" when he got there, and while he found that at least somewhat amusing, I decided I would omit that information thereafter, and since most of the people arrived after he did, I don't think that most of the guests ever figured out that he was straight, especially given that a couple of people have already asked me for his number.) Getting thirteen gay men (and one closeted heterosexual) to all have fun for nearly four hours in a setting where no one gets drunk and neither Cher nor Madonna is so much as mentioned is no small accomplishment, so I'm very pleased.

V. remarked this morning at breakfast (leftover deviled eggs and the last wild mushroom pithviers, plus some brie and wheat bread) that while there was much food left over (we were fourteen, and there was easily enough food for thirty, even though I was expecting fourteen), the guests did make a heroic effort to eat and had eaten far more than we'd had any right to expect them to eat. I swear that I was only joking when, early in the party, I walked into the dining room and proclaimed, "No one gets to leave until everything is eaten."

In addition to the things that I purchased (a humongous vegetable platter from Costco, eggnog, [V. persuaded me that I was already going overboard and that I could just buy a carton of eggnog, but never again; God only knows what was in that stuff], masses of crackers and tortilla chips) and the things that V. purchased (Italian cold cuts, various kinds of rolls) and the things that required only minimal preparation (I defrosted a few pounds of pre-cooked peeled, deveined shrimp; I cut the top off of a Brie and sprinkled chopped fresh dill and paprika in a not-so-convincing yin yang pattern), I made mulled wine, guacamole, chicken wings, salmon mousse, wild mushroom pithviers, deviled eggs, orange almond shortbreads with ganache, lime almond shortbreads with lime curd, chocolate pecan fudge, and, of course, black cakeblack cake. There were also accompanying sauces and assorted other beverages. Pretty much everything was fabulous. (I have a long history of fear and loathing of what I used to call the f-word. I would not go so far as to say that I'm prepared to embrace "fabulous," and I am certainly the last person that anyone would use the word to describe, but I have decided that it is the appropriate adjective for certain things, including especially my deviled eggs which were so good the last time I made them that I actually went to my archives and looked up the recipe and followed it. And how were they? Fabulous.)

One of the reasons that I love to entertain in the winter is that the cold weather gives you an excuse to serve many foods that some people (though probably not I) would consider too rich during the warmer months. When it's below freezing, as it was last night, and when you have people arriving for a party that's not a dinner party and thus arriving over the course of an hour or more, it's particularly nice to be able to usher each new guest into the kitchen and offer him a mug of mulled wine. It takes the chill off, it makes guests feel very welcome, and it puts everyone in a good mood. It also makes the house smell terrific, and as potent potables go, it's pretty weak, so you don't have to worry about anyone having trouble driving a few hours later.

Anapestic's Mulled Wine

One box (3 liters) Black Box Australian Shiraz
3 sticks cinnamon
4 whole star anise
4 green cardomom pods
1 lime
1 lemon
2 cups whole cranberries
3 cups sugar

Put the wine in a stockpot and place over a medium flame. Bruise the spices and add them to the pot.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest from the lemon. Add the zest to the pot. Cut the lemon and lime in half. Squeeze the juice into the pot and then add the squeezed halves. Add the cranberries and half of the sugar.

Bring to a simmer and simmer for an hour. Taste the wine and add as much more of the sugar as you think you need. Serve in mugs.

I had picked up some cinnamon bark in the Hispanic section of one of the local supermarkets. The pieces were much bigger than the cinnamon sticks that you usually see. Apparently, the normal cinnamon sticks are not true cinnamon at all, and perhaps what I found in the market were, but in any case, because it was so much bigger, I just used one piece. I think that three cinnamon sticks would be the appropriate substitute.

I needed the full three cups of sugar for the batch I made last night, and no one thought that it was overly sweet. The cranberries and the citrus rind add a good deal of tartness and bitterness along with flavor, so you need a good amount of sugar.

You could strain this before serving, but I just held my ladle against the side of the pot when dipping to avoid getting whole cranberries in anyone's cup. It would be unpleasant to bite into one while you were drinking this.

This seemed like a lot of mulled wine to me, but it was almost all gone by the end of the evening. I think it should easily serve a dozen people, however.


Anonymous lindy said...

Re wild mushroom pithviers: How did you set this up to serve it for this kind of party? I am thinking of having something of this kind at my boxing day do.

I wasn't sure though if I would precut it and spoil its lovely looks, or put a knife with it and let folks mangle it.

Obviously it would be best if I could just serve it to each person, but I get tied up at these things, and can't.

With say, the linzer torte and the cake, I cut them up neatly, and put them back together, and they look okay. I trust my guests to slice their own cheese, etc. But I feel that the lovely derby hat look of the pithviers might be spoiled by precutting it. What say?

4:41 AM  
Blogger anapestic said...

I made three small pithviers, about five to six inches in diameter each, and I cut each in six wedges and put them back together in circles to serve so that each guest could take a wedge. I'll expand on the preparation in a future post.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Schorsch said...

Usually I only read your comments on Faustus' blog - and finally I dared to follow the link to this one. It looks like we're soul mates in terms of producing excess party leftovers. A while ago I was surprised to find a cure: It starts with the shopping list: Buy no more than 1.2 pounds of (raw) food per person invited. In doubt, round up. Easy to calculate... and still fun. As it is great fun to read your blog!

1:19 PM  

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