The first M is for Magic. The second M is for More.

Don't let the Jeannie bottle fool you. No, wait, actually, do let it fool you!

Well, that’s not true. The first M is for Maple, and the second is for Mustard, but when you taste it, I think you’ll agree that either M might as well stand for “magic,” “more,” or just plain old “mmmmm.”

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty. This recipe comes courtesy of my friend Toni’s mom, who was afraid to share it lest someone take it, bottle it, market it, and make a mint off of it. Yet, in the generous spirit of open source software, I think we should spread it around and let everyone enjoy it. And if anyone takes it, bottles it, markets it, and makes a mint off of it, let’s hunt them down and stab them with our salad tongs until they beg for mercy.

After all, this is the dressing that got my children to eat salad. Let me repeat that, italicized for those of you who aren’t parents: this is the dressing that got my children to eat salad. Yeah. It’s that good. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s overly sweet, or unsophisticated, however; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like this dressing. Yeah. It’s that good.

Do yourself, and your offspring, a favor: mix up some mesclun, or even just a simple butter lettuce, and pour this stuff over. I wouldn’t be surprised if it made a great marinade for proteins, either — but you didn’t hear it from me.

Judy’s M&M Dressing

1/4 C apple cider vinegar

1/4 tsp white pepper

1/8 tsp salt

1 clove garlic minced

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 C olive oil

1/4 C sunflower or canola oil

1/4 C real maple syrup
Shake like hell (and yes, that is the original instruction from 70-something Judy) for 1-2 minutes. Use within 4-5 days.

…and a good time was had by all

Deck the antique sideboards with strings of cheap multicolored lights, fa la la la la...

I love to throw parties. No, wait, scratch that–I love to plan parties, and I love to go to parties. What I don’t love so much is all the cleaning and rearranging of furniture; the endless lists and invariable forgetting of at least one item from every list; the last-minute rush to make everything fall perfectly and seemingly effortlessly into place. Mind you, none of these things usually stop me from having parties, but being a hostess tends to bring out the worstest in me, and every time I tell Long-Suffering Husband that I’d like to entertain, I can practically see the effort it’s taking for him to not groan out loud.

This time, however, a lot of the hullaballoo and hecticness was taken care of, by none other than my very favorite grocery store, Wegmans*. In October, I was honored to be chosen as the winner of their “Family Time” contest, the prize for which was an Italian-style Sunday dinner for eight. Rather than try to decide whom among our friends we would ask to join us, LSH and I decided to throw open our doors and celebrate: my having won the contest, our upcoming anniversary, and the holiday season. To make a dinner intended to serve eight actually feed 30-40 people, we asked everyone to bring an Italian appetizer to share. The result? A convivial gathering of friends old and new, much riotous laughter, even more expressions of gustatory pleasure, and a broken wine glass or two (because it’s not a party until something gets broken).

Sorry, partygoers, but before y'all arrived, I squirreled away the summer sausage for private consumption. I love ya, but... it's summer sausage. I'm sure you understand.

But I get ahead of myself. Earlier that afternoon, a friendly fellow from Wegmans showed up with what appeared to be a normal-sized sedan, out of which he kept producing boxes and bags–a veritable parade of offerings. I took fewer trips when I moved into my college dorm. We hauled it all inside, started unpacking and taking pictures, and spent a good fifteen minutes oohing and aahing over it all.

Just like Perkins offers a bottomless cup of coffee, this seemed like the bottomless box of foccacia.

There was a fruit basket, with some cheeses, and the most darling miniature cheese board and cheese cleaver (when I’m done with it, I’m going to give it to the farmer’s wife, since it’s perfectly sized for blind mouse tails). There was a giant focaccia, and underneath that focaccia was another giant focaccia.

There were pans of sauce, pans of pasta, a beautiful long tray of nibbly things (and you know how I adore nibbly things), a box of cannoli that I had to hide from the children, a platter of salad with the same circumference as a hula hoop. Oh, it was an impressive spread, my friends.

It's a sweet little buffet of scrumptiousness. Don't eat the shiny berries in the back, though; they're poisonous

Either Wegmans had a typo, and this was supposed to be "Dinner for 18," or the lovely woman in Catering took extra special care of us.

And then I had to tart it all up with my tricolor glitter pom-pom sticks. What can I say? I am powerless when there’s glitter afoot; I have to succumb to its sparkly siren song. These little antipasto-on-a-stick numbers were my contribution to the cocktail party, above and beyond the Wegmans bounty. Clearly, I suffer from some kind of neurosis related to not having enough food. Maybe it’s in my genes, since both my grandparents lived through the Depression and, in their later years, liked to collect used light bulbs, twist ties, and toilet-paper tubes. Just in case.

It's Christmas! in Italy! and Glitterland!

My inner bag lady really wanted to fish the used sticks out of the garbage, so they could be reused. But I drowned her with wine.

Just as I finished impaling bocconcini and artyhearts on the sparkle sticks, the guests began to arrive…bearing food. Copious amounts of food. In the event that a freak, flash blizzard made the entire guest list snowbound inside our house, we would even then be eating leftovers for days. There was that much food. Our wonderful friends brought dips, chips, beer bread, more dips, baguettes, pizza bread with a dip, a red cabbage-and-sausage casserole, pate and artisanal ham from The Piggery in Ithaca, more cheeses, beer, wine, vodka and mixers.

Luckily, Dr. Atkins had a prior committment and couldn't make it.

Needless to say, it was all scrumptious. Scrump-diddly-umptious, even. After an initial lap around the living room to socialize, it seemed as though most guests stationed themselves at strategic points around the buffet, in proximity to their favorite foods. The children, who were upstairs watching movies while simultaneously tearing all the bedclothes and mattresses off the beds and playing Legos, would make occasional sallies downstairs for bread and dip, and of course for the cannolis when I eventually, reluctantly put those out.

And although we were very nearly literally pressing food upon people (“Hold still; I’m just going to tuck this meatball into your neckline, OK? It’ll make a great little snack later”), and despite the fact that more than once I was heard to exclaim, in my best Italian nonna voice, “Mangia! Mangia! Eat, you’re too skinny…” we were still left with a staggering amount of food. It was like Thanksgiving all over again; we ate leftovers for lunch and dinner for the next three days, then finally cried Uncle and packed up the rest for the freezer. It’s going to be a long, long time before I have to buy sauce. Or focaccia. But you know what? I’m just fine with that.

*N.B.: I am not professionally affiliated with Wegmans, although it is my devout wish to be so, especially since they recently were named #3 on Fortune‘s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. Nay, I just adore (and spend way too much money at) Wegmans.

File Under E for Eww, but Also Under D for Delish

So I have decided that there is no possible way–at least for an ordinary gal like me, who has a run-of-the-mill digital camera, limited time for staging food photo shoots, and children running amok while she’s taking pictures–to take an attractive picture of a plate of beef Stroganoff. But you know what? I have never in my life let a lack of beauty stop me from doing what I wanted to do, and I’m not about to start now.

Beef Stroganoff is the kind of halfway-elegant comfort food that you don’t feel horribly ashamed to admit that you enjoy (unlike, say, Beef-A-Roni or a grilled-cheese sandwich with grape jelly spread on top), but which still fills that need for noodles, gravy and beef that comes over us all once in a while, veg*ns excepted (although I’d be willing to bet that a fair number of them feel that need and go to great lengths to oppress it. What else could explain the existence of seitan?).

Beef Stroganoff

1 lb. beef sirloin or tenderloin, trimmed and sliced

1 Tbs. flour

8 oz. cremini or button mushrooms, sliced

2 shallots, sliced

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup bouillon

1/2 cup sour cream

2 Tbs parsley, chopped

Toss the beef slices in the flour. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, shallow pan; add the shallots and mushrooms. Saute briefly. Add the floured meat. Cook until the meat is seared; add the white wine and beef broth. Deglaze the pan. Cover. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the beef is tender. Uncover. Let cook until the sauce is reduced, if necessary. Add sour cream and parsley, reducing heat. Stir until combined. Serve over egg noodles or rice.

Tell me in the comments what your acceptable comfort foods are.

Brussels Sprouts, Unironically Delicious

Let’s just skip all the jokes about the brussels sprouts, shall we? I mean, after all, aren’t we above that? Don’t we have better, more sophisticated things to laugh at, like Alec Baldwin poking gentle fun at NPR? Caramelized brussels sprouts are delicious, especially if you get the teeny-tiny ones, and if you are sure to anoint them liberally with lemon juice and parmesan cheese when you take them out of the oven.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

1 lb. brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, halved
1-2 T olive oil
kosher salt, pepper
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Toss the brussels sprouts with the olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally, making sure that all sides get browned and crispy as evenly as possible. Trust me, these are the best bits. This may take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, depending on how small the sprouts are. Remove from oven, place in a large bowl, eat all the browned and crispy bits before anyone else can get to them, then toss the remaining sprouts with lemon juice, parmesan, and extra salt.

Believe it or not, these are better cold.

(Part of) The Legacy Lives On

fresh from the fryin' pan

Picture it: Lower Manhattan, 1988. I was a wide-eyed naif, fresh off the bus from a small Upstate town, enrolled at NYU but getting my real education on the streets of the big city. It was a year of many firsts: my first iced coffee, my first gay friends, my first VISA card, my first pair of $140 shoes, my first time doing cocaine with drag queens in the men’s room of an exclusive Manhattan nightclub.

And my first taste of falafel, late at night, from the incomparable Mahmoun’s on St. Mark’s Place. Bear in mind that I grew up eating middle-class, Midwestern food: tuna sandwiches, meatloaf, various casseroles combining chicken and Campbell’s Soups. Falafel was a revelation to me, as was Indian food, real Chinese (by “real” I mean “not canned LaChoy from the grocery store”), gyros, Ukrainian fare, and half-moon cookies from the 2nd Avenue Deli.

But, oh, that late-night falafel. We would take the plump little foil-wrapped packets back to our dorm rooms and picnic on the floor in the hallway outside our rooms. After eating, we’d smoke one last cigarette, putting them out on the carpet–the mind reels. What teenage hubris. What insufferable pricks we were! Remember when you could smoke indoors and use the floor as an ashtray?

A lot has changed since then. I don’t smoke anymore, I don’t do cocaine anymore, and I don’t do credit cards. I still have lots of gay friends and I still love falafel. Only now, living some 440 miles from Mahmoun’s, I have learned to make my own. For a while I used those boxed mixes, but I have recently discovered how crazy easy it is to make falafel from scratch, from real honest-to-goodness dried chickpeas. It helps to have a kickass blender, like my Vitamix, but a regular blender and some patience might do the trick. I don’t know; I don’t have either of those things.

Use My Favorite Falafel from Epicurious as a jumping off point, like I did. But, listen, this is so simple it’s laughable. Soak the chickpeas, drain, throw them in your blender, grind. Add some spices and a bit of flour to make a workable dough. Chill. Form into balls or patties. Bake or fry. Stuff into pitas. Devour.

Pita, or as we like to call it, "pouffy bread"--and lest you think I'm closed-minded, some of my best breads are pouffy

Yeah, I’m that kind of pretentious poseur who makes her own pita bread. Sometimes–I do also buy it in the store. But again, this is so easy it’s almost painful. If you have flour and time, you can make pita.

I got this recipe from Pete Bakes! His introductory blurb says, “Hello, my name is Pete, and I like to bake stuff.” Doesn’t that alone make you want to marry him, sight unseen?

An impossible-to-eat-daintily sandwich. But who cares?

We stuffed our homemade pita with the homemade falafel, tomato, cucumber, something called Yoga Sprouts that I bought on a whim from the co-op (and yes, I bought them because they were called Yoga Sprouts, and somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that if I ate them, I would be able to hold Tree Pose a little longer. Long-Suffering Husband doesn’t call me “Madison Avenue’s Bitch” for nothing) and tahini sauce, made from whizzing together tahini paste, some low-fat yogurt, and lemon juice. If I weren’t so exhausted from making every damn thing from scratch, I would’ve thrown some garlic in there too.

It was delicious, though. If I had closed my eyes, I might almost have imagined that I was back in the dorms at NYU, balling up my foil and napkin, inhaling the unmistakable smell of smouldering industrial carpet.

Charred Meat and Swiss Chard

This is why I don't grill.

I love to entertain. In my secret Walter Mitty life, I’m a trophy wife with more money than God and a cadre of devoted and adoring friends who spend weekends at our lake home; I spend hours planning and preparing elaborate dinner parties and brunches and picnic lunches to take on the yacht. I make things like “reductions” and “coulis.” My butcher knows me by name. And of course I have a personal trainer and/or liposuctionist to help me fit into sleek Prada cocktail dresses, so I look fabulous while refilling everyone’s Prosecco (it’s the new champagne).

The reality, however, is that most of my entertaining is done in a backyard littered with brightly colored plastic toys, and the menu usually involves some form of processed meat. I do love me some Zweigle’s.

I burned the bread, too!

This weekend’s festivities were pretty impromptu; Long-Suffering Husband was out of town fetching some heirloom furniture from his folks, so I gathered a few good family friends to grill up some dogs and burgers. At the eleventh hour, I stumbled upon this delectable little number over at Sippity Sup: Chard Wrapped Grilled Mozzarella.

Unfortunately, I skimmed the recipe and missed the step in which you blanch the chard leaves, so they were a bitch to fold around the cheese. And I had no kalamatas, but I did have roasted red pepper. The end result was, as is so often the case with my cooking, not so very nice to look at, but pretty darn tasty nonetheless.

We plopped ’em atop the burned bread (or in the case of a gluten-free guest, atop a burned hamburger). They were the hit of the afternoon, not least because they weren’t charred to a cinder like the other foods. I’m excited to make them again, the proper way, and to experiment with other add-ins.

All in all, it was a good time. Much laughter, much shrieking from the children, and when it was all over (to quote an ex-roommate), my feets hurt. Both of them. Still, I’m glad that next time, I can turn the BBQ tongs over to my husband, and go back to swanning around with a bottle of Prosecco in my hand. Who knows, maybe I’ll even act like a trophy wife and share.

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