In honor of the recent birthday of our sister, Lisa, we hosted a cozy supper at our home to kick off an evening of birthday festivities. What began as a pre-party nosh on beer and delivery pizza quickly became a homemade comfort food buffet. (We just can’t help ourselves.) Poor Hus-b, he always knows this is going to happen before we do. He probably starts mentally inventorying our bar the minute we assure him how “casual” a party is going to be. What can we say? We adore entertaining, but we also can’t resist the siren song of monogrammed cocktail napkins.
This is not to say, however, that the party is always picture-perfect here at the P&V house. On this particular occasion, the tablecloth wasn’t pressed, we used casual wine tumblers instead of crystal (read: dishwasher safe), and packed in fourteen people at a table meant for six. But you better believe that the salad dressing was homemade and our cocktails chilled by fresh-squeezed Persian lime and meyer lemon ice cubes. Ultimately, you have to decide which aspects of a party matter to you and which ones you’re okay half-assing. (That is, unless you’re an insomniac with a staff like our dear Martha.)
We usually decide to focus on the food, both because we know how much it pleases guests and, selfishly, because we enjoy cooking so very much. The menu for this particular occasion sprung from my vegetarian sister’s favorite comfort foods. I used to joke when we were children that she was a “noodle-tarian” because she loved pasta and didn’t care much for vegetables. Her palate has grown exponentially since then, of course, but the items on this menu remain some of her absolute favorites.
The Tipsy Pig’s Macaroni & Cheese. Disclaimer: this is not a macaroni and cheese recipe. The Tipsy Pig (an inexplicably popular restaurant in San Francisco’s Marina District) can call this dish whatever they like, but in truth it is a bacon alfredo. A very good bacon alfredo, and an especially successful dish for entertaining. It scales beautifully (we doubled the recipe without complications), is cooked on the stove top (thus preserving oven real estate) and the cheese sauce base can be prepared several days in advance of your event. We served both bacon-laden and vegetarian options, and offered an array of hot sauces (including our beloved sriracha) to accompany them. (PS, if you haven’t used a food processor to shred cheese before, you are doing way too much work. It’s amazing, especially when shredding cheese in quantity. Throw out your box grater NOW.)
Lisa’s Favorite Salad with Herbed Buttermilk Ranch Dressing. Like many children, my sister was not a fan of vegetables, a matter which was only complicated by the fact that she was a vegetarian. Our mother made it her mission to get actual nutrition into her stubborn rice, pasta and potato-loving child, and one of her victories was a salad of lettuce, cucumber and red bell pepper topped with Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing.
We wanted to recreate this salad for our sister but we drew the line at bottled dressing. (We also have an issue with mayonnaise, which grosses us out so much that we can’t even bear keeping a jar in our refrigerator for guests.) So, I was delighted to find this recipe for ranch dressing at the adorably-named blog, Baked Bree, which subbed buttermilk and sour cream for mayo and freshened up the flavor with cider vinegar and loads of dill, parsley and chives. We further swapped some 2% Greek yogurt for the sour cream and one of our new household staples was born. We are OBSESSED with this stuff and feel totally reinvigorated about salad consumption with a jar of this vibrant, flavorful dressing on hand.
Tater Tots. We suppose we could have made our own tater tots, but why, really, when Oreida already makes some of the most delicious tots on the planet? Our kitchen may now stink like a fast food restaurant and our insides may be rotten with transfats, but darn it if these tots aren’t the perfect crunchy accompaniment to macaroni and cheese. A match made in lunch lady heaven!
Oreo Parfaits. Cookies and cream was one of our sister’s favorite childhood ice cream flavors, so we constructed individual mason jar parfaits of vanilla ice cream, crushed Oreo crumbs and Hershey’s chocolate syrup. It’s amazing how something basic and store-bought can be transformed by presentation, non?