We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

It's Spring! Make Deviled Eggs and Lemon Cake and Pickled Shrimp and...

by Michelle

   "Allegiance, after all, has to work two ways; and one can grow weary of an allegiance which is not reciprocal."  James Baldwin

   One of the more fun chapters of my life occurred during the early to mid 2000s when my daughter attended Montessori Schoolhouse from Kindergarten through 4th grade and I had a business development position with one of the larger employers in Tucson. Most of my business travel occurred during the summers and I had the pleasure of meeting my customers at conventions hosted in fun cities such as Chicago, Boston, and Washington D.C. and not as much fun destinations like Dallas, Orlando and Las Vegas (seriously, go to Vegas 11 times in one year and you won't be diggin' it either).
  Layered on top of busy school and work schedules, my husband and I undertook the long laborious affair of remodeling our home as a do-it-yourself project. As if that wasn't enough activity, it was also the the time in our lives when we entertained like crazy. We often entertained in conjunction with my good friend who also happened to be the mother of my daughter's best friend. We did not limit our entertaining to small cozy affairs. We also threw big, raucous parties where we commingled friends, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances from all the parts of our lives. It was a mash-up of sorts and all the many different personalities came together to create a spectacle, especially at our annual Halloween bash. My friend and I had no sooner cleaned up a big mess of a party, when we began to plan our next big event. Now when I look back, I marvel at what we accomplished.

Pickled Shrimp are a tangy accompaniment served with the deviled eggs.
Juliette found the specialty egg plates while thrifting for about a $1.00 each. Score!
   In my garage there are tall and deep cabinets that house all the paraphernalia needed to cook and serve for large parties. There are big pots for making carnitas. An assortment of baking pans to make just about any type of sweet, including a square angel food cake. Elegant punch bowls for serving spiked beverages. Bowls of all sizes from the small to the enormous. Then there are the trays. So many trays including what seemed to be at the time, an ever expanding collection of etched brass platters for my Asian themed New Years Eve parties. Sometimes I think I should just have a big garage sale and rid myself of my haphazardly stacked "clutter mess". But, I can't. At least not yet. I enjoy selecting pieces to photograph for the blog and every once in awhile, as for Christmas, or my daughter's upcoming graduation party, I still need a variety of serving bowls and trays for a party. I subscribe to the theory that what you serve is just as important as how you serve it.
   This past Christmas I transformed into a lady Grinch. After Linda visited just after Thanksgiving and we had our big family celebration, the holiday season was over for me. Yes, we still exchanged presents, but there were no big family dinners or fanfare of any kind. Ixnay to the New Year's Eve party. I freed myself from all the extra curricular (and exhausting) work that comes along with the holidays, and you know what? It was great. We adopted my sister Juliette's tradition of watching films on Christmas Day as we lounged on the couch or sat comfortably cradled in our large padded chairs, resting our legs on the overstuffed armrests or on cushy ottomons. And for a simple dinner I heated defrosted homemade Beef Bourguignon and quickly whipped up fluffy mashed potatoes. Clean-up was a breeze. The dinner dishes were managed within fifteen minutes. Now that's a holiday.

   When Easter was within planning range this year I vacillated over whether to have a family dinner. Entertaining just seems like so much work now. My party flame has been extinguished and I don't quite know if I want to relight it. Every once in a while I get a party gleam in my eye and then I begin reminding myself of everything that's involved from the planning to the pre-cleaning of the house, to the grocery shopping, to the preparing of food, to the post-cleaning. Then there's the expense. It ain't cheap to entertain.
   When I invite you to my house to participate in a simple dinner or a big party, the invitation and the work associated with prepping the meal and the environment to enjoy in, is in fact, an act of love. What confounded me over time were our friends who made no effort to be reciprocal. We'd have them over again and again and yet they wouldn't invite us over, or out. Our best friends became those who showed us that they loved us back by being reciprocal in some way by either inviting us over for a meal or, if they didn't like to cook, taking us out to a favorite restaurant. And, don't even get me started on guests who bring Two Buck Chuck as a hostess gift and act like it is the greatest find in wine... ever. Two Buck Chuck is what it is. The swill masquerading as wine costs $2.00 and tastes like it too.
   While vacillating over whether to host Easter dinner, my daughter pushed me over the edge when she offered to lend a helping hand in the kitchen. I have found over the years it is so much easier when there is more than one person helping to prepare a fancy meal, or any meal for that matter. The proverb is true, many hands make light work. Plus there's the added benefit of shared camaraderie. Often, the kitchen is the best place to be. It's where the action is unfolding. That's why everyone jams themselves in to a kitchen during a party. Linda and I have so much fun working together to prepare a meal and it is great theater when we're in our groove. Linda's flown to Arizona more than a few times to help with the cooking for our big parties and special occasions, which makes the entire experience so much more enjoyable from beginning to end. Have I mentioned lately how much I adore my sisters? I do. They are fabulous in every way.

Maddie and I prepared a double batch of Avalon and Sonora's Favorite Chimichurri
so we could send them home with a jar filled to the brim with their favorite sauce. 
   For Easter dinner we invited my nieces Avalon and Sonora, and my mother. Juliette declined our offer and opted to stay in Bisbee to enjoy time with her son Paul and his family. She sent me adorable photos of her grandsons searching for Easter eggs. Even though I had the offer of help from my daughter and could plan a more elaborate meal, in the end I did not want to complicate our time together. Naturally, there are always everyone's food preferences to take into consideration when planning a menu. Avalon doesn't care for ham. My husband doesn't particularly like lamb. Everyone loves steaks. Steak it is. Once again.
   I tend to always make one new dish for an event, which reminds me of my friend Stephanie and the time I hosted a Spanish dinner. I assume if you are coming to my house that you must be starving and want loads of food, and variety, of course. I tend to offer big portions and lots of sides. There are always several appetizers for a party and there is always a risk that guests will fill-up on cheeses, maple sugared candied walnuts, charcuterie and shrimp before the main affair hits the table.
   One of the sides for the Spanish dinner were roasted piquillo peppers stuffed with a mixture of mashed potatoes and salt cod. I was running behind on dinner because I was fussing around with the appetizers, grilled flat breads with chimichurri sauce (still one of the best things I have ever tasted). Everybody was chowing down and dinner was yet to be served. Stephanie was dressed up and looking fabulous, as always. She asked if she could assist me in any way. I hesitated, assessing her outfit and not wanting her to get messy. "There is one thing," I said reluctantly. "I need the piquillo peppers stuffed."
   Stephanie gamely put on an apron and got to work scooping the savory white mixture into the small roasted red peppers. I apologized for the chaos of the evening. Stephanie and her husband are admirably organized when they entertain and have practically the entire meal prepared in advance. I'm always amazed at their operational efficiency. Stephanie laid my concerns to rest. "Are you kidding?" she asked rhetorically. "Where else in town town would I be stuffing cod into a pepper." I still laugh at the memory. It's true. I'm always doing something crazy foodwise. And when I'm in the middle of pickling or preserving or doing some intricate activity in the kitchen, I'll repeat to myself Stephanie's line. By the way, the cod stuffed peppers weren't that great (they are likely an acquired taste), but who cares? The rest of Spanish themed dinner was pretty amazing.

   For our lovely Spring dinner to celebrate Easter, I broke no new ground. That's how I kept things simple. I settled on the favorites. And by doing so, Maddie and I could practically make everything without a recipe. My husband grilled New York steaks and we rounded out the menu with loaded baked potatoes, pickled shrimpsautéed and caramelized mushrooms, grape tomato halves with balsamic syrup vinaigrette and chimichurri.
   When I greeted my nieces at the door and said there will be lemon cake and strawberries they both cheered. And they were especially happy that I made a double recipe of chimichurri with the plan of sending them home with a full jar of the condiment. My Easter surprise for Maddie was a special cheese that Linda introduced us to when we lived in California with her for a year. Maddie couldn't wait to dig into the rich creamy deliciousness that's called Mt. Tam Triple Cream Cheese by Cowgirl Creamery.

My daughter brushes lemon glaze and drizzles frosting on Lemon Cakes
while I peel the hard boiled egg.
   With Easter dinner I did not satisfy my need to make one new dish to accompany all the tried and true menu favorites. I have Maddie's upcoming graduation "fiesta" to try my hand at a few new recipes. Namely, I want to make Horchata as well as a Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca. I may also indulge in my need for menu overkill by also preparing Pineapple Ginger Agua Fresca. The younger ladies in my life have been investigating the pleasures of fondue lately, so I will also whip up Queso Fundido in the copper fondue pot that Juliette found for me on one of her regular thrifting jaunts.
   Even though I no longer have a huge desire to entertain, especially like we did during the glory years when my daughter was just a young girl and we had a big group of friends from all walks of life, I do still recognize the importance to connect, to share a meal together, to share stories and above all, share laughter. We all seem to live such busy lives now that if we don't carve out time to simply be together, it just doesn't happen at all. So, I'll slog through the bits that I really don't really care for anymore to get to the end goal... time well spent with family and friends enjoying each others company and strengthening our relationships through the time honored tradition of sharing a well-crated meal.

Mom's Deviled Eggs

   Deviled eggs are currently all the rage with extravagant fillings and gourmet toppings. I make them the way my mom always made them while I was growing up with mayo, a little yellow mustard, salt, a pinch of white pepper and enough sweet pickle relish to cut the richness of the yolks. Of course, you can spoon the filling into the eggs, just like my mom always did. My daughter loves to pipe frosting on cakes and on cookies, so she happily took charge of filling the eggs. I kept encouraging her to pipe more filling to make nice big mounds on the egg whites. She was concerned there wouldn't be enough filling for all the eggs but there is, trust me. Towards the end, she went back and added additional filling to already piped eggs to use all the leftover mix.
   My mom always used a fork to mash and blend the egg yolks. However, if you want to achieve a super smooth filling, blend the egg yolks in a food processor. It makes a huge difference with the silkiness of the final mix. Also, Maddie and I made the filling ahead of time and immediately transferred it to the piping bag fitted with a coupler, decorative tip and plastic cap. The egg whites were placed on the egg trays and covered with plastic wrap. The trays were stacked in the refrigerator alongside the filled pastry bag. Ten minutes before our guests were due to arrive, Maddie quickly grabbed the items from the refrigerator and piped the filling decoratively into the egg shells. This is also a good strategy if you need to transport deviled eggs to another location. Pack everything separately and when you reach your destination, quickly pipe the filling into the egg white cups. It's a quick task.
   One last thought... older eggs peel more easily than fresher eggs. Eggs that have been hanging around in your refrigerator for a week to ten days are best for hard boiling. Also, the boiled eggs peel easiest after the initial cooling period. From what I have read, peeled eggs will keep for a week when stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

I'm caught in action cooking
 on Easter for my family.
Ingredients for homemade mayonnaise made with the aid of a stick blender (yields 2 cups, halve recipe if you prefer but I like having homemade mayo on hand in the refrigerator):
2 egg yolks
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil or macadamia nut oil
1 cup avocado oil
1-1/2 Tbsps white wine or Champagne vinegar
2 tsps Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1 dozen eggs
about 1/2 cup mayo, preferably homemade
2 to 3 tsps of French's mustard
about 3 Tbsps or sweet pickle relish
sea salt and white or black pepper, to taste
paprika for garnish

1 stick blender to make homemade mayonnaise
a large saucepan or medium stock pot with matching lid to boil the eggs
a food processor to achieve a silky smooth filling
a 16" piping bag and large decorative tip, such as #1M and a matching coupler for fancy eggs

1. To make mayo, in a cocktail shaker, or other tall narrowish vessel, add all the ingredients. Slowly pull the stick blender from the bottom to the top. The mixture will emulsify in 10 to 15 seconds. The mayo will keep for a week stored covered in the refrigerator. Yield: About 2 cups, so you'll have extra for other recipes, such as Chicken Curry Salad. Or make half... it's up to you!
2. To boil eggs, add the eggs carefully to the pan. Add enough water to cover the eggs by one inch. Place the pan on a burner and turn to high. Bring the water to a boil and let boil for 60 seconds. Cover the pot, turn off the burner and let the eggs sit in the very hot water for 11 minutes. Pour off the hot water. Add cold water to the pot to cover the eggs and stop the cooking process. Pour off the warm water and refill the pot again with cold water to cover the eggs. Add a layer of ice to quickly cool the water. Let the eggs sit for about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. Peel the eggs. Keep the eggs in a tightly sealed container until ready to make the filling. 

3. Cut each egg in half with a straight blade; avoid a serrated knife. Add the egg yolks to a food processor as you work. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, whirl the egg yolks until the yolks are blended, about 10 seconds. Add mayo, a little mustard, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Taste. Add more mustard and seasoning, if needed. Process again. Add pickle relish and pulse to blend. Taste. Add more pickle relish, if needed. Quickly process again to blend ingredients. When you are satisfied with the flavor, transfer the filling to a piping bag fitted with a coupler and decorative tip set and attach matching plastic cap. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
4. Just before serving, decoratively fill the cup of each egg white with filling. Be generous with your piping. There's more filling than you might suspect. Sprinkle a little paprika over each egg as a decorative embellishment. Serve and enjoy the creamy deliciousness.

Maddie saved a tray of prepped eggs and over the next couple of days
we piped deviled eggs whenever the hankering struck.

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