What's nice about cooking is, you don't really have to be GOOD to be fabulous.
I wouldn't describe myself as wickedly good in the kitchen. My dishes are fairly successful half the time and an outright failure every so often, but now and then? I nail it. Here are a few recent hits: two absurdly easy party ideas and two dinner entrees.
The first dish is called ...
CHAMPAGNE GRAPES! (I guess.)
I made this for our housewarming party, and the guests flipped out. Get two pounds of red grapes and cut them into clumps of two or three grapes. Put them in a big bowl, then pour an entire bottle of champagne over them. I used Moet & Chandon White Star (much to my husband's horror -- but I don't regret it!) Cover and chill in fridge for 8-10 hours. Go in a couple times and gently rearrange the grapes so all the fruit has time to soak in the champagne. Drain, put on a plate, and you're done! The marvelous thing is that you can actually see the grapes plump up as they absorb the champagne. Everyone went nuts for these juicy little babies. One problem: Sitting on a plate, they just look like .... grapes. So you might want to put out a sign that says something like "This fruit may get you drunk!"
Next up, also from the housewarming:
Merely five ingredients: Beefsteak tomatoes (I used maybe 6); white bread (four loaves; crusts cut off); bacon (one package); mustard (dijon) and mayonnaise (don't you EVEN buy non-fat.)
Mix 1/4 cup mustard and 1.5 cups of mayo. That's your spread. Then assemble sandwiches with tomato slices (one per sandwich if your tomatoes are big enough), a little spread and bacon. Cut into triangles. Voila! When your guests eat this, their eyes will roll back in their heads. (Thank you to Epicurious for both of these recipes. Good ol' Epicurious!)
Now, let's have dinner. Generally I'm a very health-conscious cook and I make dinners that are serviceable, affordable and low in fat and calories. Tasty, but not a lot of excitement. But last week I was feeling inspired by an extra carton of heavy cream in the fridge, so I created the following dish. Let's call it:
POACHED SALMON WITH CREAMY ASPARAGUS PASTA!
I used: Two nice-sized salmon fillets; chicken broth; basil; heavy cream; asparagus; bowtie pasta; parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, butter.
1. This is so easy. Smear cold butter in the bottom of a glass baking dish. Lay salmon skin-side down, then pour in enough chicken broth to almost cover the salmon. (But not quite.) Salt and pepper the fish, then lay entire sprigs of fresh herbs right into the broth between the fillets. (I used lemon basil from my herb garden! Dill works great, too.) Put uncovered into 400-degree oven for around 15 minutes, or until salmon is fully cooked. When the fish is cool enough to handle, remove skin and break salmon into chunks. Set aside.
2. Bring large pot of water to boil. (I did this while the salmon was cooling.) Add cut asparagus (inchlong pieces) and cook until tender but firm. Scoop out asparagus with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Add pasta to asparagus water and cook until it's how you like it. I used a half-pound of bowties.
3. When pasta is almost ready, melt a chunk of butter in a large skillet. Add asparagus, one small carton of heavy cream, and liberal amounts of salt and pepper. When sauce begins to thicken, add cooked pasta, salmon, more chopped fresh basil, and parmesan cheese. Let it cook a few more minutes until it's nice and thick. That's it! Go on, try it. It's delicious! And quite pretty.
Last one. CAN YOU HANDLE THE TASTINESS?!?!
ROASTED TOMATO PASTA WITH CAPERS AND OLIVES!
This is a delicious dish I created from thin air, which is rare for me, since I'm normally a strict recipe-follower. I was thinking one morning, "Man, we have nothing to eat for dinner!" But then my mother-in-law brought over a huge bowl of cherry tomatoes from her neighbor's garden. Inspiration! Everything else I had on hand. Here's how you do it:
Ingredients: 1.5-2 lbs halved cherry tomatoes; 1 diced red pepper; crushed red pepper; garlic; balsamic vinegar; olive oil; fresh basil; capers; kalamata olives; parmesan cheese; penne.
1. Mix tomatoes, red pepper, a couple teaspoons of crushed red pepper, 2 minced cloves of garlic, splash of balsamic and 1/4 cup olive oil in a 9x13 baking dish. Pop into 375-degree oven for 45-50 minutes, and stir once or twice during baking.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta (about a half-pound) in boiling water. When it's to your liking, drain and put back in pot. Pour in the tomato mixture, along with a handful of chopped fresh basil,1/3 cup capers and 1/2 cup halved, pitted kalamata olives. Mix together and let it thicken up over low heat, maybe 5-10 minutes. Serve with fresh grated parmesan cheese!
I hope you find a good occasion to try one of these recipes, and let me know how it goes!