Playing hostess

Growing up, one of my favorite things to do was help my mom get ready for a party, and it’s now one of the things I miss most living 600 miles away from home. Sorting through my mom’s recipes and cookbooks to come up with a menu, creating grocery lists and trips to Wegmans (and I miss Wegmans!), serving as sous chef to my mom’s head chef role, getting the house ready, chit chatting with guests, and cleaning up after everyone left–each part of the process had its own challenges and rewards, but I learned a lot in the process about being organized, being flexible, but most of all, making people feel comfortable and welcome.

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The book club I’m part of has been giving me a great excuse to start building my own entertaining skills, and I can only thank my mom for all the practice I’ve had helping her. This weekend was the second time we’ve met at my place, and I can’t explain how satisfying it is to have great guests and how good it feels to share the things I love–food, drinks, my home–and a great book doesn’t hurt (East of Eden in this case, my new favorite). Sure, it does great things for my ego when people compliment my apartment or something I cooked, but more than that, it’s the gathering and sharing that make it worthwhile.

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I tore this recipe out of Bon Appetit several years ago and finally had a reason to use it:  it’s a nice egg-y alternative to a quiche; easy to make a for a group; lots of options for everyone to customize for their own tastes; and doesn’t need more than 20 minutes in the oven, which is always a plus when it’s forecasted to be 95 degrees outside. Since I’ve learned the hard lesson about cooking an un-tested recipe for guests, and since baked eggs can be a real challenge when it comes to timing, I did a test run for lunch on Saturday; good thing, since the timing on the original is WAY off.

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I also wanted to make something to drink, and since watermelons are starting to show up at the market, I remembered a blended watermelon/lime drink I had a few years ago and found a great version that used grapefruit for the acid instead. Add some triple sec, tequila, or vodka, and this would fantastic too. (Don’t however, put a whole watermelon on your cutting board and then turn your back to go find a knife. Your kitchen will turn into a scene from a Gallagher show PDQ and you will be mopping your floors at 11:30 at night.)

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So thanks Mom, for being a good model hostess and helping me be a good hostess in my own home!

Huevos Rancheros in Tortilla Cups
Serves 6-12. This process lends itself to infinite adaptations: line the tortilla cups with cooked and well-drained spinach and cheese instead of beans; add chorizo; use eggs only and offer a variety of toppings. The most important thing is not to overcook the eggs. I will also take a moment to say again how much I love living in Chicago; when I went to get tortillas from the Mexican grocery store down the street, they were still fresh and warm when I picked them off the shelf. This must be the trade-off for no Wegmans.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon jalepeno, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoons salt
12 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas
12 large eggs

Queso fresco or chihuahua cheese
Diced avocado
Pico de gallo or salsa
Ancho pepper hot sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a bowl, combine beans, 1 tablespoon oil, jalapeno, cilantro, cumin, and salt; mash slightly.

Spray or brush a muffin tin with half of the remaining oil. Wrap tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave until warm, about 30 seconds (or wrap in damp paper towel, then a layer of tin foil, and bake until warm). Gently press 1 tortilla into each cup and spray or brush with oil.

Divide the bean mixture evenly and gently press into the bottom of the tortilla cups. Crack one egg into each tortilla cup over the beans, and sprinkle eggs with a pinch of salt. Bake until the egg whites are just set and yolks are still soft, about 16 minutes (the eggs will look under-done when removed from the oven but will continue to cook and set for about 3-5 minutes).

Gently lift tortilla cups from the muffin tin with a large spoon or spatula onto a serving platter or plates. Pass accompaniments on the side.

Grapefruit Watermelon Agua Fresca

7-8 cups watermelon juice (from about 1 medium or 2 small watermelons)
1 1/2 cups grapefruit juice (from about 2 large grapefruits)
Seltzer water

Dice watermelon into large chunks; in a blender, puree watermelon in batches. Line a mesh sieve with cheesecloth and strain juice into a pitcher or large measuring cup. Add grapefruit juice, and top off with seltzer water and ice.


5 thoughts on “Playing hostess

  1. I only wish we lived closer so we could be invited to share the delicious food you make and serve. Everything looks so delicious!!!!


  2. I may have been the head chef back then but you are so much more than a sous chef these days. I so miss your party help. I have no one to look me in the eyes and calm me down. Were you a “sous sayer” or a “party wisperer”? That role is so important. We have a week together coming up and I’m looking forward to cooking, planning and chatting like old times.


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