Friday, March 4, 2011

Dinner Soiree!

Last month, B and I had the honor of hosting two of our favorite friends over for dinner. Liz and Nikki are this fantastic couple who are creative, funny, unique, and really down to earth. Our conversations are never dull, and whenever I'm with them I secretly hope they'll never leave! B and I always feel so great after hanging out with them, and our dinner with them was no exception!

Liz and B hanging around the dining room.

Liz is gluten-free, so I wanted to create a menu that was utterly delicious, but also completely safe for her to eat as well. For a while I freaked out about this, not knowing what to make, and scoured the internet for gluten-free recipes. There's some pretty cool stuff out there, but a lot of the recipes just weren't things that I wanted to eat (or that I knew B wouldn't like - he's a fairly picky eater). Lying in bed a few nights before the dinner, I confessed to B that I still had no idea what I was going to make, and that I needed his help in brainstorming what would be okay. We finally realized that French Onion Soup is gluten-free, and unbelievably delicious, so we decided on that, with a fruit, cheese, and meat tray to start, and a little mixed green salad with homemade dressing on the side. It felt like the perfect meal for a frigid winter evening!

B and I in our dining room with the cheese platter. Maybe one day I'll get around to posting an apartment tour, but as much as I love interior design our first place isn't much to look at!

For the cheese platter: sharp cheddar cheese and manchego; organic, grass-fed salami (I can't remember the brand now but it was from Whole Foods and SO delicious); rice crackers, ritz crackers; gala apples and purple grapes. We served the appetizers on a silver platter that my Grandmother gave me for my wedding - a family heirloom with a 'D' engraved in the center, and a low china bowl that was my great-grandmother's 50th wedding anniversary present. It felt great to be able to take these heirlooms out of the hutch and actually use them!

Me in our very messy kitchen, preparing the last of the cheese platter. The apron I'm wearing was made by my dearest friend, Hannah McBride, for my bridal shower! I wear it every time I make something!

For the soup: I basically followed Deb's recipe for Onion Soup, but I tweaked a few things. Here are my Bench Notes:
- I used a lot more onions than what is called for. In fact, I used closer to 10-15 CUPS of onions (5-7 very large yellow onions) in my soup. I peeled and quartered the onions, and then used the top/vegetable slicing blade on my food processor to slice them up to the perfect size.
- I use the largest and widest pot I have to make this soup - it helps cook everything down quicker.
- Because I'm using more onions, it takes a little bit longer for them to caramelize and cook down, so I leave myself 1.5-2 hours to make this whole recipe.
- I generally don't simmer it for the last 30 minutes or so. If we're ready to eat, we just eat it about 5-10 minutes after I add the beef stock to the onions (also, I use Better-than-Bouillon - never the actual bouillon cubes).
- I used dry vermouth instead of cognac because I didn't have any, but it didn't make much of a difference. I've made it before and left the alcohol out and it's come out fine.
- For cheeses, I do a mix of gruyere and mozzarella, with maybe a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan.
- We serve this with slices of crusty baguette that we dip in, and it's absolutely divine. To make this gluten free, I bought some frozen gluten-free stuffing pieces from Whole Food's (it's in their frozen bakery section). I just let them come to room temperature, and they were crunchy and delicious!! That was the only part of the meal that we got a special thing just for Liz, but we all ate the 'croutons' (as we dubbed them) because they were THAT good!
- For the vinaigrette, I followed Deb's recipe that she has underneath the Onion Soup recipe, but I made it all in the food processor. I didn't have any champagne vinegar, so I used regular vinegar, and I softened it with some lemon juice. Instead of a clove of garlic OR a shallot, I did both, and it came out magnificently. The dressing looked creamy but tasted light and fresh, and had a bit of a kick to it. It was enjoyed by all!

And that was our evening! Delectable food, endless wine and fabulous company. I can't wait to get together with Liz and Nikki again!! :)

ps: All photos taken by the incredible Nikki Jarecki, hence why she isn't IN any of them!

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