Sunday, January 3, 2016

Happy New Year!


Hope you all rang in 2016 with abundant joy and all due hopefulness for a fantastic year to come!

Charming Suitor and I have built a lovely tradition in our time together.  We have a small group of friends over for great food and lots of bubbly, very casual and cuddly.  Sometimes there are movies, sometimes not, sometimes we make it to midnight, sometimes we don't.  But we eat and drink well and laugh a lot and always feel like we are starting the year in the right way with the right people.

The lovely part of this is that the group came together completely organically.  It started six years ago with just us and one other couple...we made the decision spontaneously on Xmas eve when chatting at a friend's party and realized none of us had made plans or been invited anywhere.  So we made our own little dinner party, and had such a great time, we decided to make it a habit.  The following year, another couple, also finding themselves without plans, joined our merry band.  We were six for that year and the next, and then the following, happy fortune!  Dear friends who had been living in Texas for a decade called on Dec. 28 to inform us that they had moved home to Chicago, and we immediately looped them into our group.  And then we were eight for that year and last year.  This year they had a grip scheduled for the holiday, but another couple of dear pals who usually have their own celebration admitted to just not being up for it this year, and so we grabbed them up.  All of these couples come from different parts of our lives, different social circles, but they mesh and blend beautifully and we love that NYE is so easy.  Just a quick email to let our usual suspects know what time to come!

The one challenge with having the same people every year is the menu.  After all, you want every year to have its own bit of specialness.  Some things remain the same...we always begin with oysters, potato chips, and a couple magnums of champagne.  Simple, appetite whetting, and a perfect starter.  We've done "retro", with prime rib, twice baked potatoes, and creamed spinach.  We've done Southern, with a slow roasted pork shoulder, creamy grits, ham hock greens and black eyed peas.  We've done upscale comfort food with spicy braised short ribs and celery root puree.  We always pull out the good china and the fancy silver and make everything pretty.  There is always a salad course, a cheese course and a dessert course.  Sometimes an intermezzo, that little bit of sorbet or granita to cleanse the palate after the entree.  Elegant abundance is our motto.

But we wanted to do something fun and surprising this year.  So our idea was to start as usual, and give everyone a menu that looked super fancy, and then shock them with a buffet of street food classics, all presented on or in our fanciest silver serveware!

Here is the menu, as best as I could translate our offerings into French...

Doesn't that sound FANCY???

Here is what we were serving:

Miniature Chicago Style Hot Dogs with the traditional toppings
Pulled Pork Sliders
Spicy Asian Peanut Noodles
Cole Slaw with Lime Dressing
Intermezzo (sorbet)
Cheese Course (Ro-Tel Velveeta Dip with Tostino's Tortilla Rolls for dipping)
Chocolate Cream Pie

We still set the table beautifully...

We also set up a bar that included a punch bowl of ice stocked with mini glass bottles of Coke and Diet Coke and pony sized Miller High Life (because it is the Champagne of Beers), in addition to more real bubbly, since the best wine with all these foods is definitely champagne.

And then the buffet...

Everyone got their own bamboo tray with doily to pick up their dinners.

Pulled pork on homemade rolls with homemade pickled red onions and dill pickle slices, in little cardboard boxes.

Vienna Beef makes these adorable half-size franks, and I made the classic poppyseed rolls.

In Chicago, we are pretty particular about our dogs, and the toppings are essential.  Yellow mustard, neon green relish, chopped onion, sliced tomato, dill pickle spear, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt.  I did all of these toppings to scale for the mini-dogs, using mini dill pickles to make the spears and cherry tomatoes for the slices, so that when assembled the scale was perfect!

Gotta drag 'em thru the garden here in Chicago...

Spicy peanut noodles in little Chinese takeout boxes with chopsticks

The noodles next to the slaw cups.

Now a couple of years back, I came upon this magical piece of serveware technology at a flea market.

This is called an "Entree Server" and is comprised of a large chafing dish, surrounded by three covered oval serving dishes, a gravy boat, a salt shaker, and a small condiment bowl, all set into a large lazy susan with a hollow bottom that can be filled with hot water to keep things warm.  You would put your entree protein in the chafing dish, with its gravy in the gravy boat, potatoes and two vegetable side dishes in the oval servers, and mustard or mint jelly or the like in the bowl.  It is enormous. A full TWO FEET ACROSS.  When I pointed it out to Charming Suitor he laughed, thinking I was joking, and pointing it out for its ridiculousness.

I was most certainly not joking, and did some excellent haggling with the owner, and ten minutes later, shaking his head in disbelief, CS gamely loaded it into the truck.

But if you are going to serve some non fancy food on NYE, isn't this thing the way to do it?

Chili never looked so good!

Sour cream, oyster crackers, shredded cheddar, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos...all the acoutrements.
Then it was time for the intermezzo...

Yes, yes I did make my own Push-ups.

Filled with strawberry champagne sorbet...aren't they cute???
Sadly, we forgot to document the cheese course, so you will have to imagine little individual olivewood paddles topped with small white ramekins of Ro-Tel Velveeta dip and a cluster of the new Tostino's Rolls, which are like their round tortilla chips rolled into little tubes of crunchy goodness.  This course may have gotten the biggest laughs...

Finally, a classic Chocolate Cream Pie.

Someday I will learn how to get nice slices of pie out of the pie pan.  Someday...
It was definitely one of the more fun meals we ever thought up, and cleanup was pretty much a breeze since most of the stuff was disposable.  We settled down in the media room to snuggle on the couch and partake of the Thin Man Marathon on TCM...we watched the star go up the building, lots of hugs and smooches and then sent our guests back out into the world ready to start 2016.

I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you all how grateful I am that you are still here with me, and I can't wait to share the stuff that is coming down the pike in the coming year!  There is a new book, and a new kitchen, and lots of new recipes and entertaining ideas to share.

Finally, there is STILL TIME to enter to win both a copy of Recipe for Disaster and a copy of Big Delicious Life... no one has guessed the right color of our new wall ovens from BlueStar.  If you haven't read that post, you can do that HERE.

All you have to do is comment either on that post or this one with your guess of the color we picked.  Some things to remember:  Our Poggenpohl  cabinets are this:

The floors are wood in a medium walnut finish, the walls are white, the trim is stained wood, and the counters are mostly white.  The rest of the appliances are stainless.

While some of you have gotten very specific with the color picks, choosing the actual color number from the palette of 256 available, I don't need it to be that complicated.  Just name a color!

And if you have your own fun traditions for NYE, don't forget to share with the group below as well.

Finally, a quick and easy recipe.  These spicy peanut and sesame noodles are good luck for the new year, the long noodles represent longevity.  It is my friend Doug's recipe and so perfect it needs no change or embellishment.  Its a great buffet dish for a party, but top it with the grilled meat of your choice and it is a meal unto itself.

Doug’s Sesame Noodles

1 lb. linguini
4 T peanut oil

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
6 T peanut butter
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp sugar (optional)
6 T sesame seeds
3 garlic cloves (or more) finely minced
½-1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
Green onions and sliced seedless cucumber for garnish

Cook the noodles to al dente; toss with 2 T peanut oil; set aside.

Mix together soy sauce, vinegar, peanut butter, sesame oil, ginger, sugar.

Toast the sesame seeds in a large pot.  Remove and set aside to cool.  In the same pot, sauté garlic in 2 T peanut oil; add red pepper flakes and sauté for a minute or two.  Add the noodles and the soy mixture.  Toss and mix over medium heat just until heated through.  Cool to room temperature.  Garnish with chopped green onions and sliced, cucumbers.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. I'm going to say gray- leaning toward the taupe family.

  2. BLUE. I think you picked BLUE ovens in honor of the name of the company. Happy 2016 i remain your devoted fan. xx

  3. 6019! (mostly because I think its an adorable color)

  4. Purple - a nice contrast to your other colors

  5. Turquoise. For that pop of color!