Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Birthday Dinner

We had company last night for dinner to celebrate our friend's birthday.  Sometimes I wish I was capable of throwing hot dogs and burgers on the grill, opening a bag of chips and a case of beer and calling it good.  I am not one of those people.  I obsess about the menu until I get it dialed in and then I obsess about the house, the flowers, the candles, the food timing, etc.  I worked on setting the table soon after the kids finished lunch.

If you're not a cat fan, you'll probably want to avert your eyes for the next few.

In this case, one of the guests doesn't do wheat or dairy.  Which for me, lover of all things cheese and bread, it's tough to omit those things.  But since it wasn't HER birthday dinner (tee hee) I did sneak a massive small amount of cheese into one of the appetizers.

To start off, of course you need a cocktail.  I was feeling Champagne, so I made spritzers.  I mixed 1 1/2 cups of cranberry juice with 3 cups of limeade in a bottle.

To serve, I poured the juice concoction into the glasses and topped them off with Champagne.  Garnish was a slice of lime.  This would have been really good with vodka as well.

Onto the appetizers.  I love picky foods.  I could eat tapas-style dinners every night.  So it's really hard for me to narrow them down when putting together a menu.  I controlled myself this time and stopped at three.

The first one was Chipotle Black Bean Dip.  Mmmmm.  I served it with tortilla chips.

Here's the recipe (I cut all the ingredients in half when I made it):

Chipotle Black Bean Dip

1/4 C cilantro
1 C chopped red onion
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp chopped canned chipotle chiles (I used the ones packed in Adobo sauce)
1 tsp ground cumin
Two 15-ounce cans black beans, drained and rinsed
4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the cilantro, onion, garlic, chipotle chiles and cumin in a food processor and pulse until finely minced.  Add the beans and lime juice and process until mostly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of processor once.  Season with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature.  The dip can be made up to three days ahead.  Keep refrigerated in an airtight container.  Bring to room temp before serving.

Next up, shrimp.  Personally, I'm not a fan.  I've tried to like it.  I WANT to like it.  There are a zillion things you can do with shrimp that sound oh so good.  But alas, I can't get past the fact that it's shrimp.  Oh well, more for everyone else.  The name of this one sold me.

I halved this recipe as well:

Dirty Shrimp in Beer Butter Sauce

1/2 C beer (Pale Ale recommended)
2 lbs raw, peeled shrimp
4 Tbsp butter
4 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste

Saute garlic and herbs in butter until garlic is slightly browned.  Add shrimp, stirring until shrimp are pink and done.  Pour in beer, simmer 1 minute more and serve.

Last, but most certainly not least, the cheesy app.  Ahhh warm cheese.   How I love thee.

Here's a little piece of heaven:

Cheese Stuffed Jalapenos

6 oz. cream cheese, room temp
1 1/2 C cheddar, shredded
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 large jalapenos, halved lengthwise, seeds and ribs removed
1 heaping Tbsp chili powder

Combine cream cheese, cheddar and green onion; season with salt and pepper.  Fill each pepper half with about 2 Tbsp of the mixture and place on a large baking sheet.

I also filled a few mini bell peppers for The Kid and The Girl.

Sprinkle evenly with chili powder.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, longer if you like less heat, shorter if you like 'em super hot.

The original recipe has ingredients for making a Grilled Red Pepper-Tomato sauce.  I bought one at Trader Joe's to save a step.  Let me know if you want the recipe and I'd be more than happy to share it.

I spread some of the sauce out on a platter, sprinkled it with fresh cilantro leaves and placed the peppers on top.

Onto the main course.  Roasted Baby Potatoes.  Mmmmm.  I've mentioned before, the method of soaking potato wedges in water for extra crispy oven fries.  I figured, why not try it here.  I bought some mixed colored baby potatoes.

I cut the smallest ones in half and quartered the bigger ones.  I put them in a bowl, covered them with cold water and let them soak for an hour or so.

I drained them and spread them out on a large baking sheet.

Then I drizzled them with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, dried basil and garlic powder.

I roasted them at 375 for 30 minutes, stirring them halfway through.  (Get ahead alert:  I did this in the afternoon while the kids napped.  I let them cool, put them in a square metal baking pan and covered them with foil.  I stuck them back in the oven to reheat them while we were munching on apps.)

And now folks, it's time for the main attraction:  Meat.  I've been making this recipe for years.  It's one of my favorites.  Cue the cow:

BLT Steaks 

4 beef top loin steaks (or whatever steak you're feelin' that day)
4 slices of bacon, cut in half
3/4 of a bottle of balsamic vinaigrette (or about 1 cup of homemade)
2 tomatoes, sliced
Mixed greens

Season steaks with Montreal Steak Seasoning and garlic powder.  Grill until medium-rare.

Cook bacon in a large skillet, drain on paper towels.  Remove all but 1 Tbsp of grease from skillet.  Pour in vinaigrette dressing.  Cook and stir about one minute, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. 
(To prep this ahead of time, par cook your bacon in a large skillet.   Drain, cool and refrigerate if necessary. Reserve your 1 Tbsp of grease.  When your steaks are almost done, reheat bacon grease, add bacon back into pan to finish cooking and then continue as above.)

To assemble, place a pile of your mixed greens on the plate.  Top with steak, more greens, tomato and bacon.  Drizzle everything with the dressing from the skillet.

Kick it up a notch:  Last night, I turned it into a BBLTA.  I added basil and avocado to the tower.  I also added arugula to my mixed baby greens.

The entire main event was the BLT Steak, Roasted Potatoes, Bread and Red Wine.

Drum roll please:

And, what would a birthday dinner be without dessert?!  Now, let me just say, I had every intention of making a super fancy flourless chocolate torte.  I've made it before and it's delicious.  But when I was at the store getting things for the rest of the meal, one jumped right into my basket.  I'd had it before and knew it was good, so I figured, hey, why can't I cheat a little?  So I did.  I fancied it up with some chocolate sauce, strawberries and whipped cream.

And there ya go.   A meal fit for friends.  Happy birthday Jimmy!  

I've linked up to Tasty Tuesdays over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam and Tip Me Tuesday over at Tip Junkie.

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