Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The return of the hostess!

After a long long pause, I can proudly say that I have attended and contributed to my first dinner party. You should see the stupid grin on my face. This actually means quite a lot to me. I thought this would be that phantom limb that would always kind of itch and burn me, but alas I find, I do still actually have it! It was just hanging by a thread. (Sorry for that unnecessary gross imagery).

Yes, it is true. My girlfriends German K and Hong Kong P and I decided to throw a dinner party for our lovely friends J and O. They had invited us to a lovely picnic several months back and to pay them back, we threw them a dinner party. Foiled once by the flu (on J and O's part, not our own), we had to reschedule a month later, and finally the day had come. We were going to have our fancy dinner party.

And the timing couldn't have been better. It was raining cats and dogs and all of us were having hellish work weeks.

But none of that matters when you have good friends, good foods...and a hell of a lot of wine.

And all of those things we had.

But I get ahead of myself.

First I had to make my part. And what was I making? The main course. Because Hong Kong P can barely use the stove (she's only tried to make pasta for friends once and those friends still tell me stories about how it has scarred them for life...I'm actually not joking...every time cooking is brought up in conversation she is also brought up in the context of "terrible cook") and German K for some reason has no confidence in her cooking whatsoever...I don't believe she actually cooks for herself either. She's never mentioned making anything for herself, anyhow. I get the impression most of my friends don't actually cook meals. I'm not sure how people survive here, considering how expensive eating out is.

Funny side story: I once was talking to Hong Kong P about finances and how much money we spend every month on food. I mentioned that I'm a notoriously bad eater (as I've mentioned in previous posts, I seem not to remember to eat on a regular basis, and make my subsidized lunch at work my main meal of the day for several reasons), and I probably spend somewhere less than 20euros on groceries every 2 weeks or so. Hong Kong P was horrified. Though she doesn't cook much, she eats out probably 4-5 times a week to supplement her meager cooking regimen, estimating this eating-out budget at around 25euros a pop. That's about 125euros a week. You do the math.  I actually never eat out except for the times that I've mentioned on this blog. Apparently I'm a frugal superstar. No wonder people think I'm retarded at eating. Turns out I am.

Anyway, it was quickly decided that I would (very obviously) make the main course. And what did I decide for that main course? Well, since German K is diabetic, and doesn't eat anything but seafood, and J and O are Finnish and probably have incredibly high standards for seafood (I didn't want to go up against that cultural expectation), and Hong Kong P will eat anything and everything (hilariously she is tiny but is always hungry), I decided to go vegetarian. But it needed to be tasty vegetarian. Like wholesome awesome vegetarian.

So I went with eggplant parmesan. Seemed like a safe bet. And according to the recipes I shipped with me (it's a folder of printed recipes I've made before), apparently I'd made it before. Though for the life of me I can't remember doing so (this is what old age does to you...sigh ~_~). Well, I was gonna give it a go anyway!

Shopping for ingredients the night before was an adventure in it of itself. Finland is an interesting place to buy ingredients. Their produce section is incredible, despite what one might think, and they have almost everything you could think of available, just at a detestably high price. Avocados? Sure! Just for 3euros a pop. You get my point.

Anyway, I ended up spending something like 35euros for this eggplant parmesan. But I also overbought all of my ingredients. By about double. Apparently I can't guestimate worth a damn anymore either.

So, putting all of my ingredients on the counter and reading my recipe like a spell for witchcraft, I readied myself. My first real cooking adventure! It'd been awhile since I'd followed a recipe. Let's hope it actually turned out well.

And it did, thank god.

Yep, I set up stations and went to work like an organized factory, pumping out battered eggplant slices and systematically putting them into my hilariously tiny oven. 

Since I'm a fool and only shipped a baking sheet that won't fit into my oven (I didn't realize there were different sized ovens in this world...~_~), I had to use the actual pan I was going to make said eggplant parmesan in as well as my glass 8x8 (the only other baking implement I had...other than two loaf pans, which weren't gonna cut it, since you have to do these guys single layer otherwise they get angry and stick together when you prebake them). Let's just say this particular step took a little longer than it should have, according to the recipe.

And instead of using three eggplants, as the recipe dictated, I only used about 1 2/3. So I was left with a f-ton of eggplant slices. Whatever, into the freezer you go, my little friends.

Since I only had limited time after getting off of work (I had a meeting that made me stay in the office until 5pm) and the beginning of the dinner party (8pm), I had to make this rapid fast. Needless to say I was multitasking. And singing along to my music. And probably dancing.

A mess was made but the eggplant parmesan was successfully made. And pretty well, considering all things. I had to make my own Italian breadcrumbs because Finland doesn't know what those are. I ground up the Finnish version of Ritz crackers and mixed in Italian spices. They baked up gorgeous. I also mixed three jars of spaghetti sauce together and doctored it up to make the red sauce. Delicious. I even topped the entire thing off with organic basil I dried myself from when I was still part of my last CSA (so proud of that, btw, even though it's the easiest thing in the world).

And before I knew it I was cleaning up and getting dressed and running in the rain with my foiled eggplant parmesan (to be baked at German K's apartment, since the last thing I wanted to do was run with piping hot anything for two blocks).

And she had done a gorgeous job getting her apartment ready for the occasion. Just look at this deco job:

She even put down name cards for everyone! Fabulous. I've always loved that stuff. So Real Simple. Love that magazine. Martha Stewart may be the devil, but she does know how to do cool stuff around the house. Or at least her design consultants do.

Anyway, I baked my eggplant parmesan up and it smelled amazing. Fit right inside this cozy apartment and our mouths watered as we waited for everyone else to come.

J and O arrived next, with several bottles of wine in tow. Naturally Hong Kong P was the last to arrive. She's chronically late and we expect it now. We've tried to tell her events actually start half an hour earlier than they really do so she'll arrive on time, but unfortunately she's too smart for that. Alas, she'll always arrive tardy, no matter what.

Finally it was time to sit down and enjoy our homecooked meal.

Hong Kong P was in charge of the salad. She'd test-run this recipe about 3 times before presenting it to us so we knew no one would get food poisoning. She'd even gone to Stockmann (the fancy department store) to get the ingredients so nothing would be called into question. She still managed to turn on the oven instead of the stove when toasting her pine nuts...but we'll forgive her for that. The salad was delicious. Fresh ripe figs, toasted pine nuts, tomatoes, and bleu cheese with drizzled balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Simple and amazing. She was proud that it also looked spectacular. Good job Hong Kong P!

Next was my eggplant parmesan. I'm happy to say, it turned out well:

I totally macerated it while serving, but whatever, it's the taste that matters. And the presentation was good until I tried to give people proper square slices. It was almost completely decimated, so I feel accomplished. J and O both went for seconds. :)

And for dessert German K went above and beyond. She made berry sherbert (by hand, nonetheless), and a berries and cream trifle. Both were awesome. Sorry for the lack of pictures, I was having too much great conversation and wine to deal with such things. :)

Our laughter and stories went deep into the night and we actually outlasted the rain. That's the kind of dinner party it was.

Good times.

We hope to have another one in the future. Winter time is great for things like this. And it's only going to get colder here (because it seemingly never gets warmer here, haha. ~_~).

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