Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year’s Party: Cooking with Lianne & Three Recipes

The guests arrived at around nine in the evening, but we started cooking at one-thirty. We were exhausted before the party even started, there was way too much food, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.I am home in Montreal for the holidays, and spent most of New Year’s Eve and into the early hours of New Year’s Day with my friend Lianne who threw a New Year’s party for our nearest and dearest. We spent the morning shopping and the afternoon in the kitchen together, so I had the rare opportunity to cook with a partner. Cooking with someone else who loves to cook and is creative and adventurous in the kitchen can be both fun and frustrating. While both of us share the same passion for food, we often disagree about the way things should be done, whether it’s how the celery should be cut for the crudités platter, or how much food is enough food. Lianne and I have very different cooking styles: we both like to be creative, but while I like to look at books and recipes for ideas and to get some basic techniques for what I am about to make, Lianne usually dives right in and likes to experiment without peeking inside a single cookbook. Still, on occasion, our creative visions intersect and we agree enthusiastically on things. So a conversation between us might go like this:

Me: Shouldn't you be baking that uncovered?
Lianne: No, I'm going to keep it covered.
Me: But don't you want the sauce to reduce and thicken a little?
Lianne: No, I want the sauce to stay the way it is.
Me: Maybe you could take to cover off for the last five minutes.
Lianne: Nope, I'm going to leave it on.
Me: Fine, do whatever you want.
Lianne: OK, I will.

Or, it could go like this:

Lianne: So I'll add some hot sauce, some brown sugar—
Me: Oh, you should add some vinegar to give it a little acidity.
Lianne: Yeah, good idea! I am so with you on the vinegar.
Me: Maybe a little tomato sauce?
Lianne: Hm, no, I don't want it to be like a pasta sauce.
Me: No, just a tiny bit to give it a hint of tomato.
Lianne: So maybe a bit of tomato paste?
Me: Yeah, that would work. And some soy sauce.
Lianne: Yes, soy sauce!

But whether we were working like a well-oiled machine, or disagreeing on everything, we had fun with it and got to enjoy together one of the great pleasures of the holidays: communal cooking. The kitchen was messy and cluttered—we balanced platters of hors d'oeuvres on bags of vegetables, placed cutting boards on stools because there was no more counter space, and filled the sink with dishes, but we made it work. We joked and bickered and collaborated and disagreed, but it was all part of the process, and we relaxed considerably once Lianne's boyfriend started serving us gin and tonics. It was New Year's Eve and we were spending it together and amongst all our friends—we had plenty to smile about.
So, because I want this post to be somewhat informative and not just my disorganized ramblings on the pains and pleasures of cooking with your best friend, allow me to leave you with a few pieces of advice:

• When it's -20 degrees C outside, don't put your pretty blue cheese appetizer served on endive leaves out to keep them cold—they will freeze and then wilt when you bring them in. We learned this the hard way.
• When throwing a cocktail party, prepare less food than you think you will need—it will probably still be too much. It was for us.
• Yes, olive oil does indeed smoke when heated to too high a temperature.
• Breadcrumbs soaked in a little milk add delicious moistness to meatballs.
• Sometimes, you need to throw your cookbooks aside and trust your own culinary instincts.
• Sometimes, no matter how many great ideas you have, you might learn a thing or two by studying a perfected recipe.
• Cook with your best friend, even if you spend the whole time arguing, because you will grow closer from the experience and love each other despite your disagreements.
And a few recipes:

Sweet-Chili BBQ Chicken Wings
From: Lianne
2 lbs. chicken wings
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. paprika
1 tbsp. Montreal steak spice
Preheat oven 350 F.

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place chicken wings in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for about 20 minutes until the wings are almost cooked through and the skin is just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl to make the sauce. When the wings are done, transfer them into the bowl with the sauce and toss to coat the wings well. Using tongs, place the wings back on the baking sheet and return them to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, until wings are cooked through and their outsides are crispy. Serve hot.

Stuffed Mushrooms
From my Mom

24 medium mushrooms
1/4 cup finely chopped green onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. snipped parsley
1/2 tsp. dried basil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a baking sheet or cover with parchment paper.

Remove mushroom stems (loosen the stem by gently pressing it on all sides with your thumb, then remove with a gentle pull; use a spoon to scoop out any of the stem you may have missed) and finely chop the stems. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the stems, onions, and garlic and sauté until they are tender. Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Fill mushroom caps generously with stuffing mixture to just shy of overflowing. Place mushrooms, filled side up, onto the baking sheet. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Crème Brulée
From Lianne. Makes 4 crème brulées.

5 egg yokes
1/4 cup white sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 275 F.

Combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Pour mixture into four ramekins. Place ramekins in a baking dish and fill the dish with water to about 3/4 of the height of the ramekins. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from oven.
Remove the ramekins from the baking dish and allow them to cool slightly at room temperature (so that the ramekins won't crack). Once they are cool enough to touch, place in the refrigerator and chill until the custard has set.

Sprinkle a thin layer of white sugar over the contents of the ramekins. There are two methods for caramelizing the crème brulée: if you have a handheld blowtorch, fire the tops of the crème brulées, moving it quickly over the entire surface. If you don't have a blowtorch, the crème brulées can be caramelized under the broiler: place the ramekins in a baking dish and place on the oven rack in the top position under a preheated broiler. Leave the oven door open and watch them carefully--they will only take a minute or a little more to caramelize and they will go from good to burnt very quickly, so watch it carefully and remove as soon as you start seeing some brown spots. Serve immediately—you want the custard to be chilled and the caramelized top to be hot.
A big shout-out to anyone who is checking out Bring Your Appetite because you heard me on Montreal's CJAD. Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Ah Ha! I recognize all that yummy food! Great job Jess in even filling ME up on appetizers and party food. And it was beyond delicious, all of it!

  2. ohhhh yeah... stuffed mushrooms! an old-school classic and still a crowd pleaser.

  3. You forgot to say what brand of gin it was!