Wednesday, January 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes: A Party To Remember

On New Year's Eve, our friends invited us to spend the evening at their house. My parents were with us and my mother helped prepare the food and drinks we brought. In my last post, I showed you the sea bass and avocado-orange salad we made ('cuz that's what Landon and Jamie had for dinner on New Year's Eve in A Walk to Remember); today I'll show you the extras we prepared, all inspired by events in Nicholas Sparks' third novel.

Landon isn't all that into Jamie at first, and frankly I don't think she's all that into him, either. Jamie always wears the same brown sweater to school, carries her Bible everywhere she goes, and is generally uncool. When it's time for the Homecoming dance, Landon is in desperate need for a date, and decides that going to the dance with Jamie wouldn't be nearly as humiliating as showing up alone or not at all. He convinces himself--reluctantly--to ask her out, and runs to her house after school one day in hopes of reaching her before the geekiest boy in school does, and thus ruin Landon's chance to be seen at the dance at all.

"Would you like some lemonade while we sit?" she asked. "I just made some."
"I'd love some," I said...
...A moment later Jamie returned with the lemonade, and we took a seat in two chairs near the corner of the porch. I knew she and her father sat there in the evenings because I passed by their house now and then. As soon as we were seated, I saw Mrs. Hastings, her neighbor across the street, wave to us. Jamie waved back while I sort of scooted my chair so that Mrs. Hastings couldn't see my face. Even though I was going to ask Jamie to the dance, I didn't want anyone--even Mrs. Hastings--to see me there... (p. 40-41)

During the summer one of our favorite treats is pink lemonade, and when we use fresh local strawberries to give it its pink color and delicious flavor, it's amazing. Even though strawberries are out of season right now, I decided to make this anyway because we love it. I use a recipe from my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh strawberries (about 6 ounces)
Zest of 2 lemons, peeled off in strips with a vegetable peeler (avoid the white pith)
2 cups fresh lemon juice
(I cheat with this one. I use the juice from the lemons I've peeled--which isn't much--and the rest comes from a bottle.)

Combine the sugar and strawberries with 2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the berries begin to release their color and soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest. Set aside and let cool completely. The berries will continue to soften and release their color while the syrup cools.

Pour the cooled syrup and berries into a fine sieve set over a pitcher or bowl. With the back of a spoon or a rubber spatula, press lightly on the berries to extract most of the syrup. Discard the solids.

Add the lemon juice and 2 1/2 cups cold water to the syrup mixture and stir until well blended. The lemonade can be served immediately over ice or refrigerated for up to two days. Yields about 7 cups and serves six to eight. (From the September 2006 issue of Fine Cooking, page 58-59)

It was yummy, but I will admit that the summer version is much better; even the pink is brighter and prettier. Come June I'll be making some for sure.


For the grownups we made lemon drop martinis. I even went to Target and bought a martini shaker figuring that one of these days I'll learn how to make mojitos and appletinis and such with it; and besides, since I'm probably going to have to quit drinking beer soon (click here for my post on Musings of a Catholic Mom about that), a nice lemon drop martini would be an excellent replacement for a cold Sam Adams. Anyway, I experimented with a few recipes, and the one I liked was this:
•1½ ounce vodka
•½ ounce triple sec
•1 tsp superfine sugar
•¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
•4-5 ice cubes
•Superfine sugar, for the martini glass rim
•Lemon twist
Firstly chill the martini glasses in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before serving. Now take a cocktail shaker and pour vodka, lemon juice, triple sec, sugar and at least 4-5 ice cubes and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Rim the edged of the martini glass with lemon twist, after it is completely chilled. For a coated rim, dunk in a small amount of sugar. Now pour the strained drink into the chilled glass, garnish with a lemon slice and serve.


If you want to fill your martini glass to the brim, you might want to try doubling the recipe; although truthfully half a martini is probably enough for me on most days.

This one I made from limoncello and vodka. Quite yummy, but too strong. I couldn't finish it. But doesn't it look good? (click here for these recipes and more)


I was out with Eric on Saturday night following Beaufort's third consecutive state championship in football, about a week after rehearsals had started. We were hanging out at the waterfront outside of Cecil's Diner, eating hushpuppies and watching people cruising in their cars, when I saw Jamie walking down the street...I turned my back to her and pulled the collar up on my jacket, but even Margaret--who had banana pudding where her brain should have been--was smart enough to know who she was looking for.
"Landon, your girlfriend is here."
"She's not my girlfriend," I said.
(p. 83-84)

I used the recipe for Beer Battered Hush Puppies I found on p. 71 of my favorite cookbook, The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook:

1 1/2 cups self-rising yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup self-rising flour
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 medium sized green pepper, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
(since Moe can't eat eggs, I used Egg Replacer instead--1 1/2 heaping teaspoons mix with 2 tablespoons water)
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
1/2 cup beer
Vegetable oil

Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; stir well. Add onion, pepper, and tomato. Stir n egg, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce. Add beer, stirring well.
Pour oil to a depth of 2 inches into a small Dutch oven; heat to 375 degrees. Carefully drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls into hot oil; fry hush puppies a few at a time, 1 to 2 minutes or until golden, turning once. Drain on paper towels. Yield: 3 1/2 dozen.

I'd never made hush puppies before, and had never heard of putting green peppers or tomatoes in them, but actually it made them quite good. I think next time I make these particular ones, I'll chop the tomatoes, peppers and onions in the food processor to make the pieces smaller.


We even made Christmas cookies because on Christmas Eve when Landon and Jamie visit an orphanage where Jamie volunteers, they're having a party and cookies and punch are served. Once again, I used a favorite recipe from The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook (p. 144):

Rolled Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
(again, I substituted Egg Replacer)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Decorator sugar crystals

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually ad 1 cup sugar, beating well. Add egg and vanilla, beat well.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating just until blended. Shape dough into a ball, cover and chill 1 hour.
Divide dough into thirds. Work with 1 portion of dough at a time, storing remaining dough in refrigerator. Roll each portion to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a 3-inch cookie cutter and place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sugar crystals. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes or until edges of cookies are lightly browned. Cool slightly on cookie sheets, remove to wire racks to cool completely. Yield: 20 cookies.

I didn't make punch. (I could have--there was punch at Landon and Jamie's homecoming dance, too, and someone spiked it unbeknownst to the teachers.) When we arrived at my friend's house, we found she had provided sangria for the grownups, and Hawaiian Punch for the kids. Problem solved.


Okay, here's the thing. I know I could have gotten away with just the sea bass and salad from my earlier post. This blog would be quite tedious if I cooked every type of food that Nick mentions in his books. Since it was New Year's, and we were going to a party, I decided to cook a few extra things this time around, like the lemonade and the hushpuppies and the Christmas cookies. In fact, I think someone eats hushpuppies in practically every book, and I even made them again the very next weekend with yet another Sparks restaurant meal--thus breaking my no-restaurant rule once again. I used a different recipe the second time--and I liked it even better than the one in Take #4. I'm looking forward to sharing that one with you in my next post.


My friend made chicken Brunswick stew, a delicious seafood pasta salad, a yummy fruit salad, a to-die-for chocolate cake, her famous "Dump Cake" (which is a sweet dessert with a fruit filling, kind of like a really sweet cobbler. Which reminds me, I keep forgetting to get the recipe from her.) It was truly a feast to remember!


Now I'm about to do something else I haven't done on this blog yet: tell you what I did with some of the leftovers. I thought it was at least worthy of a Quick Take. So, I present to you...drumroll...Beef sausage and sea bass gumbo with strawberry-apple salad!

I wanted to use every bit of leftover sea bass (since it was SO good; and besides, it's not cheap), and after browsing for some stews, bisques, and soups, I settled on a gumbo of sorts. I didn't use any particular recipe; in fact, the way I prepared it was similar to the beef stew I blogged about.
There wasn't much sea bass left, and since I had some local grass fed beef kielbasa in my freezer, I decided to use it as well. I cut the sausage into chunks and browned it in a pot along with some chopped onion and celery and minced garlic. I added a can of diced tomatoes with the juice (Does this sound like the beef stew yet?), carrots, some chicken broth, cajun seasoning, and a half cup of uncooked rice. I brought this to a boil, and after it had simmered for about 10 minutes I added a peeled and chopped potato. About 40 minutes later--my very first gumbo!

The leftover hushpuppies were great with it, especially crumbled on top.

I'm told (actually, I read on the internet) that REAL gumbo has okra as a main ingredient. Since we're not okra eaters (although I cooked it for our crab feast because I wanted to be true to The Notebook) we naturally don't have it in stock. I also don't know if it's a faux pas to make gumbo with potatoes AND rice (I found recipes with one or the other but not both) but I don't care. Both went in.

I also had some carmelized nuts left over from the avocado salad, as well as more strawberries; these went into an apple salad along with some clementine sections, a little mayo, and a squirt of honey.


Soon I'll share with you what I cooked for Larry's fourteenth birthday dinner--and yes, hushpuppies are involved! Stay tuned to Cooking Nick's Books for that, and check out Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

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