Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Birthday, Birds and Cherries!

The Frugal Hostess is not one of those girls who say they would rather forget their birthdays. She believes her own birthday (June 6, in case you’re making a calendar) is the second-most important day of the year, beaten out only by Christmas because of the greater volume of merry-making the latter entails. The Frugal Hostess will meet you at a restaurant, and, when you go to the bathroom, enter her birthday on your cell phone calendar with a loud alarm to remind you. She will helpfully give you a countdown of shopping days. And she will most definitely celebrate every year, no matter how old she becomes.

Birthdays rule!
TFH recently held a small birthday dinner for her friend, Birds and Cherries. Due to travel, TFH had missed BAC’s party, so the dinner was the substitution. This is a birthday gesture that anyone can make, because it is very easy (but not so easy, BAC, that you still shouldn’t think it was awesome) and yet very lovely. If you are feeling financial pressure about joining someone’s party at an expensive restaurant, say, just beg off and do this instead.

Happy Birthday, Birds and Cherries!

Hors d’ Oeuvres: TFH stuck with her tried and true favorites, which you’ve heard about before. These are the glorious trifecta of cheese and crackers, olives, and nuts. She also threw in some extras to make it more special – homemade dried cherry tomatoes, homemade pickled okra, and some gigantor caper berries. Everyone had fun making little canap├ęs of baby-sized Breton cracker (bought on accident but darn good), goat cheese schmear, and dried tomato half. Delish. The boys had martinis and the girls had highballs (sounds like maybe that should have been reversed, no?).

Dinner: This was a simple meal that didn’t take a lot of hands-on time while the guests were here. The Frugal Hostess finds herself extremely challenged when it comes to chatting, drinking a gin and tonic, getting her share of her favorite food group whores hors d’ oeuvres, and cooking something. She just can’t do it, and it’s much more important to make sure you and your guests have fun than it is to whip up some complicated nonsense that keeps you in the kitchen all night. That’s what The Frugal Husband restaurants are for.
Roast Chicken – The Frugal Husband makes this, and he uses Alice Waters’ recipe. Then he makes stock with the giblets and carcass. He is really awesome, and you should definitely be jealous.
Miniature Twice-Baked Potatoes – TFH likes this because they look so cute and can be made ahead. Recipe to follow.
Tomato Salad – TFH just happened to have bought four of the most beautiful and delicious heirloom tomatoes – the only good ones she’s had this summer, BTW – and mixed these with a chiffonade of fresh basil from the garden, smoked mozzarella, olive oil, salt and pepper. Because she is occasionally a dumb ass, The Frugal Hostess cut the tomatoes and the cheese into chunks; what she should’ve done is present the salad as stacked sliced tomatoes interspersed with cheese. Oh well.
Also, TFH found out at the last minute that a guest hated was allergic to tomatoes! Oh no! Thankfully, there were a couple of options for him in the fridge. There was a ramekin of eggplant casserole that TFH heated up, but she could have just as easily given him two mini-potatoes or told him to enjoy scurvy if he wasn’t going to eat his vegetables. If this happens to you, do your best to offer something else, but don’t worry about it if you can’t. Nothing wrong with not liking a course, and nothing wrong with not having an alternative.

Dessert: The Frugal Hostess may not have ever told you this, but she has serious (SERIOUS!) guilt about wasting food, and fruit in particular. If you buy [expensive] local and organic produce, it feels like such a sin to throw it in the compost. She may not have ever mentioned this one either, but she freaking loves to pick wild berries. Ergo, this dessert was possible from ingredients that were on hand. TFH does not recommend you buy the absurd amount of fruit it takes to make this, because it’s only a frugal dessert if you do it the way she did. So she’s not giving you the recipe. Instead, she would encourage you to make a dessert with ingredients you already have – a cake, or pie, or something. (OK, if you really, really want to know, leave a comment or email frugalhostess AT gmail DOT com).
So, for dessert, TFH made two types of sorbet. The first was vanilla pear, using a vanilla bean left over from the vanilla-making a few weeks ago, sugar, and a big container of frozen pears. Those pears had been on sale when they were fresh, but The Frugal Household was being abandoned for greener pastures (aka, vacation), so TFH peeled and froze them to assuage her crazy Fruit Guilt. The second sorbet was blackberry lime, made with lime juice stolen from the gin and tonic stash of limes, sugar, and a ton of blackberries picked and frozen earlier in the summer and saved for just such an opportunity. These were made the day before and frozen. You know, being a frozen dessert and all. The vanilla pear was very mellow, and the blackberry lime was very tart, so they made a good combination. But TFH kind of freaked out at the last minute and added some store-bought cookies to the plate. They were tasty but superfluous, and TFH does NOT recommend you do that.

Decorations: Being herself, The Frugal Hostess didn’t have money time for decorations but did have a lot of crap craft supplies on hand. She set the table using her best china and silver, and then set about trying to come up with something festive to add. She looked in the basement for an old Happy Birthday banner that she’s sure she hoarded stored, but it was no where to be found. After some searching, though, she discovered these really cool skinny birthday candles. She had three different colors and thought about trying to make a big birthday menorah. However, since that made little sense, she kept searching. As she arranged her nicest crystal bowl in the center of the table and filled it with used wine corks, inspiration struck! Champagne corks and candles! Brilliant!
Each person got a champagne cork stuffed with a candle (use a screwdriver to make the hole), a card stamped with Happy Birthday in silver ink, and a single match. When the guests were seated, each person lit their match off the candles in the middle of the table and used it to light their personal birthday candle. Festive! Fun! Pretty! Free!
In all, the party was super fun, and The Frugal Hostess was delighted to spend time with BAC and her paramour. You should do it too!

Recipe for Miniature Twice-Baked Potatoes
(makes six)

Six fist-sized red potatoes
Cheese (about a cup)
Butter (like, half a stick)
Sour cream or plain yogurt (2-3 tablespoons)
Five pieces of bacon
Salt & pepper

1. Stab the potatoes with a fork all over, then microwave on high for four minutes. Check them out. If they seem soft enough, move on to step two. If not, turn and continue to microwave in 2-3 minute increments until they are an edible degree of hardness. Also take the butter out to soften while you’re cooking the potatoes.
2. Let them cool. Don’t be a hero.
3. Once cool, take a sharp knife and cut off the top and the bottom. You’re cutting the top so you can dig in there and get out all the potato, so that cut may need to be deeper. You’re cutting the bottom just enough that it will stand up straight, so you’ll just be cutting off a little bit.
4. Use a melon baller to scoop out the cooked potato into a bowl. Be careful; The Frugal Hostess has accidentally scooped through the bottom and the side of one before, and that you do not want. You could probably use a teaspoon or other small spoon, but a melon baller is extremely satisfying to use because the potato comes out in cute little balls.
5. Simultaneously, microwave five pieces of bacon. The secret trick to this dish is in this step. If you can, use a glass baking dish (like a casserole dish) to microwave the bacon. Once done, take out the bacon slices and let them drain on a paper towel. Pour off the melted bacon fat into a jar (seriously, if you don’t save that stuff, you are insane). DO NOT clean the dish; set it and its bacon-covered goodness aside. Feel free to eat one piece of bacon at this point (you really only need three or four), and chop up the rest.
6. Now, add the butter, sour cream or plain yogurt, salt and pepper, bacon, and cheese. On the cheese, TFH likes either shredded cheddar or crumbled blue cheese, but any cheese will do. In any case, buy the big blocks and do it yourself rather than paying double for pre-shredded or pre-crumbled cheese. You could also add some chopped green onions or scallions. Mix all that up. If you need to, use a masher or fork to combine everything. Also, if you need to, eat a little more bacon; no one will mind.
7. Stuff the mixture back into your little potato shells. You will have enough left for a few good bites for yourself. Arrange the stuffed potatoes in the dish that is coated with bacon fat. Yes, it is genius. This can be refrigerated overnight or popped into the oven. Since the ingredients are fully cooked, you’ll just need to warm and brown them before serving, so try 350 for 15 minutes or so. TFH usually makes these ahead and puts them in with whatever’s cooking to heat up, so she knows that they are fine cooked at pretty much any temperature.
(Thanks to The Frugal Mother for this rocking recipe!)

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