Monday, September 20, 2010

A Party for Allison

Me and my friends, at Fordham

Disclaimer: This post is a little sappy.  Skip ahead to the recipes if you'd like to avoid the sap.  But what can I say, I love my friends!

Let me tell y'all about a very special lady in my life.  Her name is Allison, and she lives in Dallas.  She and I met at Fordham, and ever since she left New York for her hometown, it just hasn't been the same.  Life is a little drearier and, dare I say, food is a little blander when she's not around.

This past Labor Day weekend, however, Allison came to visit us all here in New York for a whole week.  And it was a wonderful week.  It just felt so right to have her here with us for our weekly Tuesday night dinner, for happy hour after work, and for late night mac and cheese.

To know Al Pal is to love her, and one of the best things about Allison visiting was eating with her.  That's pretty much all we did, all week long.  This is a girl that enjoys the finer things in life, but also relishes down-home, unpretentious, plain good food.  It is a joy and a pleasure to share a meal with her.

When Allison's friend Hilary told me that she was throwing a dinner party for Allison and she needed a cook, I volunteered right away.  Hilary is a holistic health coach (check out her website here and her blog here) and just loves nutritious, healthful foods, so I knew that I would have to create a very well balanced, and delicious, meal.  I was skeptical at first, since I didn't know whether Allison would want something a little richer, a little more luxurious for her party.  But Allison, sweet as ever, told me that she was confident in my abilities and that she was looking forward to eating my food.

And eat we did!  As I looked around the room at everyone eating up their whole grains and quinoa and roasted veggies and salmon, it seemed to me that they all felt what I was feeling as I was cooking.  Now I know that sounds kooky, but I really cooked those dishes with love, love for Allison and love for food, and immense gratitude for my amazing, awe-inspiring group of close friends.  And as everyone showered Allison with kisses and hugs, and scraped their plates clean, I knew we all felt the same way.

I hope I did her proud.  Now if only she would move here so that I could cook for her more often...

A Party for Allison
Grilled Wild Salmon
Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto
Roasted Eggplant and Squash
Whole Grains with Herbs
Three Bean Salad
Garlicky Kale
Apple Crisp

Quinoa with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto
This quinoa dish is similar to the one I made for Eat In Week.  The addition of broccoli and avocado brings color and flavor to the dish, while lots of lemon juice brightens it up and gives it a tart kick.

2 cups dry quinoa, cooked according to instructions on package (or boiled in 4 cups water)
1 pound cherry tomatoes
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, and cubed
2 large stalks broccoli
2 lemons
1 bunch basil, leaves separated and stems discarded
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Rinse tomatoes, halve them, and toss them with some olive oil and salt.  Spread in one layer on a baking sheet and pop into the oven until beginning to brown and slightly shriveled, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim and wash the broccoli.  I like to use the stems, so I use a vegetable peeler to take off the outer layer of the stalk.  Cut the upper part into bite-sized florets and slice the stalk.  In a large pot, bring about an inch of water to boil.  Using a steamer insert, steam the broccoli until just done but still crisp, making sure the broccoli isn't touching the water when it's in the steamer.

To make the pesto, you can use a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  Begin by grinding or processing the basil and the garlic.  Add salt and pepper to taste and continue to grind until a paste is formed.  Add the juice of a lemon.  Slowly incorporate olive oil (in a separate bowl if using a mortar and pestle) until desired consistency is reached, using about 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil.  My pesto was on the thinner side, since I didn't use cheese or pine nuts.

Combine quinoa, roasted tomatoes, avocado, and broccoli, in a large bowl.  Toss with pesto and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Finish with a drizzle more of olive oil and the juice of a lemon.

Roasted Eggplant and Squash

2 large eggplants, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 squash (zucchini and yellow), washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss eggplant and squash with about 1/4 cup olive oil and generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Spread over 2 rimmed baking sheets (more if necessary) and bake until golden brown and tender, about 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately toss with balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Serve hot!

Whole Grains and Herbs

1 cup wheat berries
1 cup pearled barley
1 cup brown rice
2 lemons
4 Tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Cook grains (separately) according to package directions.  (Wheat berries can be cooked in lots of boiling water, until tender, and then drained.  Same with barley.  1 cup brown rice should be cooked in 2 cups water, brought to a boil, then simmered.)  Combine grains and herbs in a large bowl.  Squeeze over the juice of 2 lemons (watch the seeds) and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle over with about 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil, to taste.

Three Bean Salad

1 (15 ounce) can garbanzo beans
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
2 leeks, trimmed, tough dark green ends discarded, and washed (by splitting lengthwise down the middle and soaking in cold water or rinsing thoroughly under running water)
3 shallots
1 lemon
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
olive oil
salt and pepper

Drain and rinse beans, then combine in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Finely slice leeks and set aside.  Trim and peel shallots, slice those, and set them aside as well.  In a large skillet, heat a turn of olive oil over medium-high heat.  When hot, add leeks and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until very soft and tender, about 10 minutes.  Combine this with the beans and toss with vinegar and the juice of 1 lemon.  Add olive oil to finish, about 1/4 cup.  Check for seasoning; serve.

Garlicky Kale

2 large bunches kale
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
salt and pepper

Clean and dry kale.  Tear or cut into bite-sized pieces.  In a large skillet, heat a generous turn of olive oil over medium-high heat.  When hot, add garlic and cook until just fragrant.  Add kale (in separate batches probably) and cook until tender but still bright green.


The other stuff:

The salmon was simply marinated and grilled on the stove in a grill pan.  The marinade recipe came from Hilary.  Care to share it with us, Hilary?  Maybe in the comments or on your blog?

The apple crisp was haphazardly thrown together with some cored and sliced apples, rolled oats, hazelnut flour, vegan butter, vanilla extract, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  One of these days I'll write the recipe down, I promise!


  1. Kat's creative cooking abilities surpass even the the highest of expectations and this dinner was certainly an example of such wonderful talent. The food was rich, healthy, flavorful and my favorite - Colorful! And the love and wonderful company was the cherry on top of an amazing evening. Readers - if you only pick one of these divine dishes I recommend the Quinoa, it was one of the most original dishes I've had the pleasure of experiencing.

    Thank you again to my amazing and beautiful friend and hostess, Hilary and to my amazing and beautiful food, Kat.

  2. Looked fabulous! I miss you girls! Kat your blog is amazing I read it every week!!

  3. Kat!!! Thank you, thank you for cooking for that evening--it was really magical. And I learned so much from you in the kitchen! It was a blessing to put our heads together and channel our energies into honoring Allison.

    Also, you guuuyyyyssss, the food was frickin fantastic! I enjoyed the leftovers for days and days =) The quinoa pesto was my favorite as well.

    Here's the salmon recipe, an old family favorite that originates from the Northwestern Native American salmon bakes:

    NOTE: This is enough for lots of salmon. Store unused portion in the refrigerator. It lasts a long time.
    - 1/2 cup tamari (I use Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead)
    - 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    - 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
    - 3 garlic cloves, minced
    - 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
    - 2 teaspoons brown sugar (I use raw agave nectar instead)
    - 1/4 cup olive oil

    Combine ingredients and brush on fresh, wild salmon fillet about 1/2-1 hour before cooking. Sometimes I use a fork to prong the flesh in several places before brushing on the marinade. I cook over medium heat on grill until done, or under a broiler, 10 minutes per 1-inch thick of flesh.

    Test the salmon for doneness by gently pressing on the flesh. When it begins to resist, remove it from the heat. If it is firm, it's overdone.

    Enjoy! Much love to Allison, and you to, Kat! xoxo, Hilary