sherbet punch and hostessing tips

In my family, almost all of us are born in March, June and December.

Seems like everyone else I know is born in October.

Which brings me to my nemesis, sherbet punch.

My friend SJ had a (in her words) “non-important” birthday this past Saturday.  She didn’t want to make a big deal, because it wasn’t a nice round number, and frankly, I think she was a little apprehensive about the number anyway.  However, thanks in large part to my mother and overly festive family, I do not believe in such things as “non-important” birthdays.  Every birthday is cause for celebration, much like a random Tuesday is the perfect time for champagne and popcorn for dinner.  Life is short, might as well enjoy it.  Besides, who looks back and says “man, I wish I hadn’t thrown/gone to that great party”?  NO ONE.

So, I berated talked SJ into letting me throw a party for her.

Happy Birthday napkin

She had one request: sherbet punch.

I hate sherbet punch.  It is sweet and dairy filled and gross and seems like the last possible thing you’d want to mix with alcohol.  What’s wrong with sangria?  Isn’t that fruit punch for grownups?  So, I did what I always do.  I asked the twitters and e-mailed some friends and asked the Kitchn and did all those things at a late enough date that I was basically left to my own devices.  Oh, and did I mention that the punch had to be gluten-free?  Because it did.

My Saturday schedule is always a bit hectic.  I am either completely exhausted by Friday evening, or am not exhausted and stay out too late.  I have to be at the market by 7:45am Saturday (I can push it to 8:10 if I stop here for coffee for Sarah, my stand coworker).  I’m home by a little before 2:00, assuming I don’t make any stops.  This past Saturday, that left me with 4 hours to shower, shop, and get the party and myself together.  To top it off, in a fit of inspiration, we had decided on a vaguely mid-century theme- think 50’s bridge club gathering for hors d’oeuvres.

Between the time constraints and my constant pathological need to entertain, I’ve learned a few things about hostessing, and I thought I’d share:

1) Get dressed.  30 minutes before go time, shower and put your outfit on- shoes, makeup, the whole nine.  It is far more festive to cook in a party dress than in gross jeans and t-shirt flecked with apple butter.  Also, you are wearing a party dress, so WEAR AN APRON.

2) Don’t kill yourself, chances are no one will notice.  I am insane and make everything from scratch.  I will happily cater to your most esoteric requests. That makes this rule is hard for me to stick to, but you should learn from my neurosis.  For this party, I only “made” the sherbet punch.  I bought cheese (the remainders bin at Whole Foods is the best friend of every cheese tray ever), pulled out some pickled pears and pickled tomatoes I’d made earlier, and bought some gluten-free crackers, vegetables, and hummus.

3) Accept help.  Another one that’s hard for me to deal with.  Saturday I completely forgot to pick up charcuterie, so when someone asked if he could bring anything, I texted back “OMG YES PLEASE.”  Problem solved

4) Disposable is okay, sort of.  I am trying to banish paper from my house.  No paper towels, no napkins, nothing.  This is dumb.  I bought small appetizer plates and festive napkins, and did not have to do dishes later (see #2).  Will I do that for a sit down dinner?  Probably not.  But every now and then, it’s okay.

5) Have a good roommate.  Mine has Thursdays off (no class, no work), and so cleaned the house in a fit of procrastination.  If that doesn’t work for you, sweep, wipe off the table, and use candles.  No one will be able to tell you haven’t cleaned the glass on that mirror in 3 months.

sherbet punch

photo: DCBenji

And now, what I bet you’ve all been waiting for…SJ’s Not Gross Sherbet Punch!

SJ’s Birthday Sherbet Punch
Serves….12?  depends on how well your friends play the part of “lush”

  • 1 container Edy’s (you can use another, but it might not be gluten-free) berry sherbet
  • 2 750 mL bottles of the DRIEST champagne/cava/prosecco/sparkling wine you can find
  • 1 cup of vodka (gluten-free note: most processing removes all the gluten, but you can go with something distilled from grapes or corn if you’re not comfortable with that.)
  • 1/2- 1 cup of lemon juice (I imagine other citrus would work, but this is what I had)
  • 1/2 lime, halved and thinly sliced
  • handful of raspberries, fresh or frozen

1) Combine sherbet, champers, and vodka in a punchbowl.  Be careful, it will foam.  Add the vodka and lemon juice to taste.

2) Stir well (AND CAREFULLY).  Once you’re done, the punch will separate into three layers- dark pink juice at the bottom, mystery light pink mixed layer, and then a layer of white/pale pink foam on the top.

3) Scatter the raspberries over the punch, then carefully place lime slices on the foam- if you’ve mixed correctly, they’ll stay suspended on the top and look pretty.

4) Yell at your friends not to muss your creation, and ladle FROM THE MIDDLE ONLY PLEASE.  Serve with a slice of lime in each glass.  Marvel at your domesticity and the fact that you now own a punchbowl.

5) Smile smugly as the birthday girl keeps gushing “it’s so PRETTY!”

Operation Pickle All The Things: Pickled Seckel Pears

I am on a mission friends.

I am going to pickle all the things.

I’ve mastered marmalade.  I’ve mastered jam.  I can can tomatoes drunk and barely awake, or hungover and almost asleep.  There remains but one canned mountain I have yet to climb (pressure canning doesn’t count).

Pickles.

Marisa McClellan, author of the incredibly useful Food in Jars, has started a new column at Serious Eats – “In a Pickle.”  And let me tell you, it is CALLING to me.  It’s a good match, you see.  I come home from the market with mounds of produce.  Some I freeze, most I eat.  The gobs of arugula I turn into pesto (more on that later).  The tomatoes I can, the plums become jam.  It’s still not enough.

Upon reading McClellan’s column a few weeks ago, she ended with the following:

“Try them on your Thanksgiving cheeseboard

SOLD.

salt, apple cider vinegar, pears, sugar

It took some doing though.  After checking Target, Whole Foods, Yes! Market, Giant, and calling the Spice and Tea Exchange, Safeway, and Harris Teeter, and Hill’s Kitchen, I could not find pickling salt ANYWHERE.  This is when it’s good to have a food scientist in your rolodex.  A quick consult to the Twitters, and Brock informed me that my kosher salt was just fine. (aside: pickling salt is pure salt, and doesn’t contain iodine, anti-caking agents, or other impurities, which can give you a cloudy brine.  Brock said that the anti-caking agent in kosher salt- I used Morton’s- is fine, and wouldn’t cloud the brine.  I should probably also mention that Brock is directly responsible for my canning prowess.  Thanks Brock!)

Fully stocked, I soldiered on.  Lacking whole cloves, I used star anise.  I’ve left out detailed instructions for canning, but I’m happy to answer questions.  I’ll cover canning in a later post.

Pickled Seckel Pears
Adapted from Marisa McClellan, Serious Eats

    • 3 pounds Seckel pears
    • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
    • 2 cups water
    • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
    • 2 teaspoon pickling salt (I ground kosher salt with a mortar and pestle and measured 2 teaspoons)
    • 2-3 cinnamon sticks, broken
    • 5 star anise pods
    • 15 peppercorns
    • Other things: 5 pint jars with tops, basic canning setup: stockpot, tongs, funnel, jar lifters, dishtowels

1) Take the tops of the jars and rings off, place them in a heatproof bowl with the tongs and funnel.  Place the jars upside down in a 225-250 degree oven to sterilize.

2) While the jars sterilize, wash, halve, and core your pears (I used a melon baller, at McClellan’s recommendation).  Sterilize the jar tops, funnel and tongs in boiling water

3) Once the jars are cool, divide the cinnamon stick bits, peppercorns, and star anise among the jars.  Pack the pears, cut side down, in the jars, leaving about an inch of space at the top.

4) In a medium pot, mix the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, and bring to a boil.  Once it begins to boil, use the funnel (or pour into a pyrex cup) to pour the brine into the jars, leaving a half inch of head space.  Tap and use a spatula to get any air bubbles out.

5) Process in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, no more, no less.  When done, remove the jars and let them cool on the counter.

I should note, when I did this, I could only fit 3 jars at a time in my pot.  The first batch, with two jars, fell over, and I wasn’t so sure about the seal.  The beauty of pickles is that if you don’t want to go through the canning process, or something goes wrong, just stick them in the fridge.  Instant refrigerator pickles!  I actually used them for a party this past weekend, but we’ll get to that later.  At some point, I’d like to try these with cardamom pods, because really, who doesn’t love cardamom?

pickled pears in jars

Now, does anyone know where I can get some mustard seeds?

sunday funday

Despite my best efforts in college, I am still something of an overachiever.  I have a problem saying no to people I love, and a dreadful tendency to burn the candle at both ends, and maybe in the middle a little as well.  A spate of weddings, a visit from my mom, and a heavy workload at my 9-5 (or 7-7 as the case may be) left me exhausted, definitely unwilling, and possibly unable to do anything this weekend.

Wait, I don’t mean that.  I mean…I didn’t want to have any obligatons.  No parties to attend, no dates for drinks (but not with you.  I always want to hang out with you), no family members needing help tiling, no nothing.  I am too much of a busybody to ACTUALLY do nothing.

So I got a pedicure.  I watched crappy TV.  I bought muffin rings and work clothes.  I spent Saturday evening with a horrible headache (bad) on the couch, watching Law and Order: SVU (not bad, also, you’ll notice I did not lump SVU in with “crappy tv” because it is the.best.show.ever.)  I woke up blessedly hangover-free and shockingly cheery at 6:45 Sunday morning.  I read Martha Stewart Living and called my mom lazed in bed until almost 8, and then commenced a bout of errand running that puts every last one of you to shame.  I visited Whole Foods (twice), the hardware store, my favorite coffee shop, the farmers market, Target, Giant, Yes! and Home Rule and spent a lot of time trying to find pickling salt.  And I still arrived home in just enough time to see Cam Newton throw his first interception…in the first 15 seconds of the Panthers game.

All of this is to say that I had grand plans for Sunday afternoon.  Soups to make and pears to pickle and tomatoes to can.  And I did none of it.  Not a single thing.  I sat on the couch with some of my favorite women in the world and yelled at the football and drank a lot of mimosas and ate too many nachos.  And you know what?  I don’t regret it at all.

Of course, this meant I had to rectify the situation on Monday.  Stay tuned.