Friday, July 19, 2013

My Recipe Files are Lifesavers!

OK, so I promised this several weeks ago. You should know by now that blogging on my end never follows the schedule that the rest of my life routinely requires. I just have to say that good intentions ought to get me credit. Yet, imagine finding out in May that you will be teaching not 1, not 2, but 3 courses at a local university beginning in mid-August AND between then you have to deliver a written module for an academic publication! Yikes. Thankfully I'm never not lacking for rising to a challenge.

So, when it was time to host a dinner party the end of June (that we'd had on the books for well over a month), I had to go to my well-organized files for ideas and inspiration. Here is where I am so glad that over the years I have spent the time on tearing and filing. About 6 years ago when the issues of Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Real Simple and Southern Living were piling up in every corner of my pantry, closet, and kitchen, I knew I had to come up with a plan. Sure, today just about everything is online. But I'm both a visual and tactical person. I still love a magazine in my hand, on the plane with me, and then referring to it beyond a typical monthly life. 

So, rather than move pounds and pounds of magazines from Dallas to Houston, I worked hard to cull through all in my possession, tearing out the recipes and ideas I knew I would actually attempt some day and leaving the rest. (Rather than filling a landfill, they were either recycled through my former great city of Plano's recycling program or donated to a local school for art projects). Next, I gathered an extra file box and a bunch of file folders and my Dymo LetraTag handheld labeler and went to town creating categories and filing away my glossies for future reference. Most files were just like the kind you would find in a traditional recipe box. But, since I happen to be a cheesecake fanatic/connoisseur, that was a separate file. Whenever the mags pile up, I take to tearing and filing yet again.

Fast forward June and party planning. I am happy to report God has gifted me with the distinctive talent of reading a recipe and being able to tell you if it is a winner or loser, all subject to my (& our family's) tastes and preferences. This knack has certainly served me well over the years, as typically any dinner party in my house consistently includes about 75% new recipes. Now, if you are not experienced in the kitchen, then plug your ears and pretend you never heard that. However, if you know your away around more than the basics, it actually isn't all that scary to try out new recipes on your guests--especially if you are halfway decent at pairing types and flavors. For instance, Home Economics 101 taught me you eat with your eyes first, so don't make the plate boring and colorless. Let's face it, chicken breasts with white cauliflower and mashed potatoes might all taste well together, but certainly don't look appealing (unless your theme is black and white and they are served on black plates--but that's another post).

Back to the party...friends were coming, I was knee-deep in writing and needed a "pull out the stops' menu for summer dining. I thought of gazpacho right away, but usually it is based on tomatoes, which I despise in raw/cold form! To the rescue were my files for Appetizers, Soups, Main Dishes-Pork, and Desserts. Here's how the menu shaped up, every item of which came from my mag files and was a recipe I'd never tried before! And, as promised, I've included Bon Appetit's amazing summer Watermelon Gazpacho recipe, tweaked just a bit (another knack), which kicked off the main meal smashingly!

Main Meal:

1 3-lb seedless watermelon, diced (about 5 cups), divided
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced (about 1 cup) - Note: I used English cucumber, seedless!
1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded, diced (about 1 cup) - Note: I used an orange bell pepper
1 medium-size yellow bell pepper, seeded, diced (about 1 cup)
1 small jalapeno chile, seeded minced
3 pale green inner celery stalks, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 small red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 T fresh lime juice
2 T red wine vinegar
1/4 t salt

Puree 4 cups watermelon in blender until smooth (I used my food processor but it was messy!). Transfer puree to large bowl. Add remaining 1 cup diced watermelon and next 10 ingredients; stir to combine. Cover gazpacho and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours (mine was in the fridge about 6 hours and was fine, as I did all the chopping of everything except watermelon the night before then put it all together morning of). Bon Appetit calls for topping with a dollop of creme fraiche which I simply didn't do, but it would have been great. I just couldn't find any at my store when power shopping a few days previous. Oh, and I told you it was messy using my food processor but I thought the remnants of watermelon juice on my Harrods towel (thanks to my sweet daughter, Lexi for bringing across the pond for me), looked pretty enough to capture for posterity. Enjoy!