Wednesday, December 19, 2007

shoppingsmycardio interviews: holiday party help from little black apron!


i recently got a chance to check out a new book on the stacks called little black apron. i have to admit that it takes a lot for a cooking/entertaining book to really impress me, but these ladies have done it. the book is geared toward the single girl with zero culinary experience...so that makes it the perfect gift for your little sis headed off to college, or your culinarily clueless BFF (gotta love that alliteration, don't you?). but even though it includes introductory information (like how to make a smart grocery list), it also ups the ante with loads of delish, and healthy recipies - all of which are sized for one, which i would have killed for when i was single.

but my favorite part of the book is the section on entertaining, where the authors (nutritionist jodi citrin, chef katie nuanes, and writer melissa gibson) have teamed up to turn entertaining into a science - literally. instead of party 'tips,' they have full-blown party formulas. so, say you want to throw a bridal shower - they have a guide that tells you exactly how many portions of how many different entrees, desserts and drinks you need to make, so the guesswork is gone. just make 5 recipes of curried scallops, double the caramelized onion frittata...and so on. i love it!

but even more exciting news: for those of us that still have holiday parties to throw, the authors of little black apron agreed to do a Q&A for us to help us be those impossibly chic hostesses we dream of being.

shoppingsmycardio: I absolutely love the concept of this book – I wish I’d had it around back in my single days. How did you come up with the idea?

Little Black Apron:
We came up with the concept in a bar! It surfaced during a conversation over being single and living in a city. The more we talked about our experiences in the kitchen the more we knew that other girls had to feel the same way. We would work all day, come home, be under-whelmed by what was in our refrigerator and inevitably order take out. Thus, we were spending a considerable amount of money on food, gaining weight and losing out on cooking nutritious meals for ourselves.

SMC: The three of you seem like such a perfect team. How did you all come together on this project?

LBA:
Katie and I met through a mutual friend in San Francisco. We literally began talking about the concept in a bar that evening and by the next morning began working on an outline. Jodi and I are best friends from college (Duke University) and she immediately loved the concept when I explained it to her. Katie and I knew that the book required an additional angle and voice, and nutrition seemed like the perfect fit. The irony is that we wrote the entire book over email and Katie (living in Orange County) and Jodi (living in NYC) didn’t meet “in person” until after we’d turned in our first draft.

SMC: So, initially, this book looks like “just another cookbook.” But you’ve included a lot of basic culinary and dietary info as a primer, which you don’t see done very often. Was that an important part of the book to you, or did you approach this primarily as a cookbook project?

LBA:
The book was written for the cooking neophyte. We knew, based on our experiences and those of our fellow single friends, that most women didn’t know anything about their kitchen – from a grater to Gorgonzola. We wanted to breakdown the misconception that the kitchen is an intimidating arena. Like most things in life, if you have an understanding of basic vernacular and have the right tools, you’re much more apt to succeed at the task; cooking is no exception.

SMC: With the holidays upon us, I’d love to pick your brains for some tips and tricks for holiday parties. It just feels like so much work around the holidays to put a party together. But of course, we all want to see our friends and family together this time of year. What’s your favorite way to throw a low-key holiday get-together?

LBA:
Inspiration from a dish you want to try or simply no reason at all, other than surrounding yourself by those whom you adore, entertaining is the perfect way to hone your cooking skills. Below is an outline for a simple and chic bash that any girl can pull off. The trick to any successful event is planning. Set a theme, plan your menu, plot a timeline/schedule, and create a budget.

SMC: And if you really want to go all-out, can you give us some guidelines for that type of event?

LBA:
Outlined below is a "chic, but cheap" New Year's Eve soiree that is sure to be a crowd pleaser for anyone's guests. We believe that every event should have a theme. For this New Year's Eve, why not intrigue your guests with the seductive and sultry atmosphere of Morocco. Create an ambiance of North Africa from your decorations to your dessert: A Night in Marrakech.

Below are a few recipes that are the perfect way to cater to your guests without breaking your pocketbook. The recipes are pulled from our book The Little Black Apron: A Single Girl's Guide to Cooking with Style & Grace, but have been increased from "portions for one" to portions for a party that serves guests.

Starters/Appetizers:
Store-bought spreads are an easy way to satisfy your guests before the main event. All of the items below can be purchased at your local supermarket, but we've found that Trader Joe's is perfect!!

Hummus (2-3 containers)
Babaganoush (1 container)
Toasted Pita (1/2-1 pita per person)

Main:
North African Carrot Salad
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
juice of 3-4 lemons
2 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
15-20 carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle into 1/8" slices
3/4 cup golden raisins
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the oil, lemon juice, honey, and cumin in a bowl and mix well.
2. Add the cilantro, carrots, raisins, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Maple Dijon Salmon
5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons maple syrup
2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (aka green onions), use both white and green parts
3 tablespoons garam masala (North African spice blend, found on teh spice aisle of your grocery store)
10 4-6 ounce salmon filets, pin bones removed (the bones that run through the middle of the filet...ask your fish guy to do this, or it's just as easy to do it yourself with a pair of needle nose pliers)
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees
2. In a bowl, combine mustard, syrup, scallions and garam masala
3. Oil a baking sheet with the olive oil. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper and place on th ebaking sheet, then spread about 1 tablespoon of the dijon mixture on each filet
4. Bake the filet for 5-6 minutes, then top each filet with another tablespoon of the dijon mixture and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove each filet using a thin spatula

Cous Cous with Apricots and Smokey Almonds
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 1/2 cups cous cous
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped dried apricots
1 cup chopped smoked almonds
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the chicken broth to a boil
2. Add the cous cous and cinnamon, stir, and cover with foil or a lid. Turn off the heat.
3. Let the cous cous sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork to separate all of the grains
4. Stir in butter until melted, than add apricots, almonds, parsley, salt and pepper and combine well

Dessert:
Vanilla Bean Frozen Yogurt with Figs, Honey and Pistachios
10 scoops low-fat vanilla bean frozen yogurt
20 small ripe figs, stems trimmed, cut into quarters
1/2-3/4 cup lavender honey (or your favorite variety)
3/4 cup chopped toasted pistachios

1. Scoop the frozen yogurt into bowls and top witht the figs
2. Drizzle honey over the figs, then top with pistachios

SMC: That sounds amazing! What are some unique, creative ideas to really make a party special? I love seeing the little touches that really great hostesses use to make their event stand out in your mind.

LBA:
Below are a handful of very inexpensive, yet chic decorations and entertaining staples that can be used for other occasions, but again, won't put a host/hostess into the red on the first of the year. They can be found at any Cost Plus World Market and many times Target! All items are under $25:
* Lanterns w/ candles
* Moroccan bowls and platters
* Tangine bowl
* Throw pillows
* Party Favors: Sparklers tied with monogrammed wine charms in the shape of blue starts (with silver metallic pen)

SMC: What is your absolute favorite recipe in the book?
Katie:
Seared Pepperonata Tuna Steak
Jodi: Baked Chicken Smothered in Tomato Sauce and Ricotta
Melissa: Maple, Bacon Brussels Sprouts

SMC: Since we do a lot more shopping than sauteeing here at shoppingsmycardio, tell us about your favorite, no-fail party outfit.

LBA:
For casual, your favorite pair of jeans, a fabulous (but comfortable) top. From there, depending on what type of shoe-a-holic you are, complete the get-up with stellar knee-high boots, chic flats or fabulous stilettos. For evening, a simple black dress (every girl should have one that fits her perfectly). Dress it up or down depending on how swank the event. Again, your go-to pair of shoes is a must and will set the tone for your ensemble and moreover, illustrate your unique personality. This goes for jewelry as well. We each have our own personal style – Jodi (trendy, colorful and themed with each outfit); Katie (chunky and mismatched with lots of metallic); Melissa (lots of jewelry that seems to never comes off or change by outfit).

SMC: What is your one best tip about cooking or entertaining?

LBA:
Do not be afraid. Have faith that with all of your failures (cooking and entertaining) you will inevitably become a better chef and hostess. Learn from these mishaps, with time and many burnt souffl├ęs later, you will evolve into a wonderful chef and hostess.
wow! thank you so much to the wonderful ladies behind little black apron - there is some wonderful advice there that's sure to make even the most hostess-phobic girl into a born entertainer. and um, if anyone's making that delish maple dijon salmon for new year's, feel free to send an invite my way!