Friday, December 04, 2009

A Pre-Ballet Supper

"Don't try a new recipe on your guests" is an oft-repeated mantra of entertaining, and a rule that I flout ALL the time. As far as I am concerned, the main incentive for having friends over is the chance to have a bunch of unsuspecting folks to test new recipes on.

About three times a year, I get together with my friends for an evening at the ballet. During the holiday season, it is usually The Nutcracker. Toys coming to life, mice going to battle, trips to the land of sweets and ethereal snow queens- I love the whimsy and sheer nuttiness of the story! I always make a simple supper so we can all enjoy a meal together before heading to the ballet.

Last night, here's what I served my friends: baked pasta, a mixed greens salad with a tangy dressing, mini frittatas and mulled cider. Four new recipes tried in one single evening, and none of them was a disaster, to my relief. All of them had been sitting patiently in my bookmarks; I'm making great headway through my Bookmark Project this month!

The bonus was this whole dinner could be made in a single hour because all the recipes are simple and straightforward, and because the two dishes that had to go in the oven needed the same baking temperature so they could be in there together. I only have horrid night-time pics of the meal but I'll include them in this post anyway.

Recipe #29 is Mulled Apple Cider, adapted from this recipe. We have plunging temperatures in St. Louis this week and it is nice to hold a mug of warm apple cider and inhale the fruity spicy aroma.

My version- Mix the following, boil, then simmer for 30 minutes and serve hot:
½ gallon fresh apple cider
1 orange, cut into 6 slices
2 cinnamon sticks
5-6 whole cloves
½ tsp. ground allspice

This serves 5-6 people.

Next, Recipe #28 is an appetizer: Artichoke-Olive Mini Frittatas, adapted from this recipe . I love it when tasty little appetizers are so incredibly easy to put together.

-Preheat oven to 400F.
-Spray a 12-cup nonstick muffin tin with oil.
-Thaw out 12 frozen artichoke hearts in the microwave.
-Chop a handful of good quality olives.
-Shred a handful of aged cheddar (or use another favorite cheese).
-Beat 6 eggs with salt, pepper, paprika and oregano.
-Place 1 artichoke heart and some olives in each muffin cup.
-Sprinkle some cheese on each.
-Ladle the egg mixture into the cups evenly.
-Bake until puffy and golden brown.

The main course was Recipe #27 is Baked Pasta, inspired by Mark Bittman's recipe.

1. Saute 1 onion, 3-4 cloves garlic, 1 8-oz box cremini mushrooms in extra-virgin olive oil.
2. Season with salt and Italian herbs if desired.
3. Add 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
4. Stir in 1 package veggie sausage if desired.
5. Stir in ½ cup ricotta cheese is desired.

Mix with 1 lb (1 bag) par-boiled whole-wheat penne and ladle into a 9x13 baking dish. Top with mozzarella and bake at 400F until golden.

The pasta was strictly OK- I thought it was a little boring and dry in the end. I won't rush to make this recipe again.

Finally, to round off the meal, I served bagged mixed greens with Recipe #26- Herbed Buttermilk dressing, inspired by this recipe. I have 4 pots of herbs growing in my windowsill and although it is getting colder, I get a modest yield.

For this recipe, I simply blended the following in the food processor, estimating the quantities as I went along:
-homemade yogurt
-salt and pepper
-crushed garlic
-a handful of herbs: lime basil, Italian basil, mint
-lemon juice

The dressing was absolutely delicious! I thought it was a little thinner than I would have liked, and next time I will use thicker yogurt and dry the herbs thoroughly before I throw them in.

And then off we went for our date with the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Joffrey ballet company certainly did not disappoint.

I'll see you on Monday to continue our countdown- have a fantastic weekend!


  1. I love that dressing! Might try it :)

  2. Entire meal looks delicious. You are quite brave to try 4 new recipes on one day. Have a great weekend.

  3. I love, love, love Nutcracker! And I usually try new recipes on unsuspecting dinner guests too :)

  4. I'm going to try the dressing Nupur. I made mayonnaise at home 2 days ago and I have to finish it in the next week. This recipe couldn't have come at a better time.

    We are having freezing temperatures too and a cup of your mulled cider would be perfect now.


  5. Nupur, the baked pasta looks very good!

  6. How fun - I've been meaning to go see The Nutcracker for a while now. What a wonderful spread - you sure have a knack for putting together interesting menus! Now I simply must try those mini frittattas.

  7. I have to confess that I hardly follow recipes. Perhaps one day when I have the time. Perhaps I will change that by following this post.. food and ballet..sounds great. But I always enjoy dropping by your space to read.


    Suganthi (aka thodarumm... got tired of using pseudonyms).

  8. If you like baked penne, try Giada's recipe, made with roasted vegetables. It is really good. I don't usually use recipes for pastas, but that one is in my permanent files.

  9. Nupur, I tried the dressing w/ dried mint. It tasted just like the house dressing in my favorite lebanese restaurant. Loved it.


  10. Both frittatas and baked pasta look delicious.. perfect party platter! I wonder have you ever tried substituting eggs in frittatas for partial egg-whites (that is most egg whites, few yolks)? Does it affect the taste of texture a lot?

  11. Herbed dressing is my favorite!! Love your version of this classic! I flout this rule all the time, because i rarely stick to recipes :-D.

    This is one perfect meal before a fun evening at a ballet! Hope you had a great time with friends!

  12. the mini frittatas look so cute (and tasty too). Must buy a muffin pan soon.

  13. Brave you Nupur...but all four dishes looks so yum. loving this series.

  14. Everything looks so good. I love the frittata muffins!

  15. I like all recipes. I had never made tarts before and took them to a pot luck!

  16. A-and_N- It is worth a try.

    Pavani- If any of them had flopped, my poor guests would have been hungry ;)

    Simran- Ah, good to know that I'm not the only one!

    Mamatha- You made mayo at home?! That's great, I don't think I've done that yet. I'm so thrilled that the dressing worked for you. And coming to think of it, it does have a distinct mid-Eastern flavor!

    Mona- It was OK :)

    Chaitanya- Oh, you should go, it is such a holiday classic. I am sure there are performances in your city during this month.

    Suganthi- Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Holidays to you too!

    evolvingtastes- Ooh, thanks for that tip. I looked up Giada's recipe and it sounds terrific!

    PJ- No, I haven't tried using more egg whites than whole eggs in these frittatas but I am quite sure it will work as long as some yolks are left in there.

    musical- I don't stick to recipes word for word either, usually some "adaptation" creeps in! I did have a wonderful time at the ballet :)

    Lavanya- Yes, a muffin pan is quite handy to have around, not just for muffins but for appetizers like these.

    sayantani- I'm glad you like this ongoing project!

    Divya Vikram- The frittata muffins were really tasty!

    Raaga- LOL That sounds like something I would do too!

  17. I wish I lived somewhere closer so that I could attend your get together Nupur :). Your spread looks lovely.

  18. Mulled Apple cider - just what i'd love to try.. bookmarked!
    Hope u had a gr8 time at the ballet.

  19. the dressing looks really tryable. I haven't surfed awhile and u have cooked up a storm!

  20. Shilpa- Oh, I so wish you lived closer too! :)

    Manasi- The ballet was simply fantastic!

    Mallugirl- Good to see you!

  21. I love the dressing and frittata. Artichokes and olives make me want to eat it now.

  22. Nupur, I am planning to make Mulled cider and take it to a friends, I have a few questions:

    1. I have seen sparkling apple cider, is that acceptable? If not, what brand do u suggest?

    2. Can this be made ahead of time? Like a couple of days bottled and then re-heated and still retain all the flavor and taste?

  23. Soma- I am a fan of artichokes and olived too :)

    Manasi- No, I don't think sparkling apple cider would work because when you boil it, the fizz will go off (which is the whole point of the sparkling cider). The kind used here comes in jugs (like the plastic jugs milk comes in). See a picture here:
    These are usually found in the refrigerated juice section. The brand varies locally and any brand would be fine.
    Also, no, I would not make it ahead of time, it only takes 30 minutes of unattended time to make anyway.

  24. Thank U Nupur! I was thinking of making (& taking) it with me to a friends.
    But I will make it, it is just too tempting!


Thanks for leaving a comment- I try to respond to every single one.