Look Ma! I Could be the New Julia Child!

Only trust me, without exactly the same c.v.!

Here’s today’s little known fact –  as much as I love theatre and good books and excellent movies, I think I love to feed my friends and family even more.

One of the reasons we wanted to live in this house is because it’s almost perfect for entertaining, and I had great hopes that there would be parties here all the time.  As things have turned out, we haven’t done as much entertaining as we would like, but the ones we have had have been GREAT!

And I’m not saying that just because I’m bragging (although apparently I am!) but  also because I know not just how to cook, but how to cook well and how to present the food, for sit down and more formal dinner parties to informal suppers to brunch to cocktail parties… all of which we’ve done in the past seven months in this house, and all of which were the norm in our lives in Owen Sound.

That house was small, adorable but small, so generally we kept our dinner and brunch parties at four to six guests plus us.  But then there were the cocktail parties that got a little… large.  My favourite may very well be the one we held after I performed with the Georgian Bay Symphony (I narrated Peter And The Wolf, a gig I would love to repeat, if anyone is looking for a really good, albeit non-musical, narrator!).  To this day, we are not sure how many people came, but we think it may have hit 85.  We were crowded.  But boy, was it fun.  And everyone was well-fed.  I did most of the food prep myself, but had a caterer friend come in to help set things up and bring in a couple of extra dishes.

One of my favourite tricks is to fill this giant white shell I inherited from my mother and fill it with cracked ice, and then mound cold poached shrimp on top of the ice, with small bowls of different dipping sauces around the shell.  It’s pretty easy to prep, looks spectacular all ‘dressed’ and, because almost everybody loves shrimp, it’s always popular.

I have also used the shell to hold chips or other salty nibbles.  Four or five bags of – and I always, always mix them – of potato chips (rippled) and corn chips and tortilla crisps and pretzels, and this time the shell is surround by bowls of home-made dips.  See, that’s the thing for me about entertaining – do some easy things like opening and dumping out salty nibbles, and then do a coupe of thoughtful things like making your own dips.

Probably the worst dinner party I ever had was one when I cooked both the main course and the dessert out of the New York Times Cookbook.  THEY WERE DISASTERS.  I followed those recipes religiously and they turned out so bad I could hardly stand to serve them.  It’s not like I was poisoning anyone but still…  Part of the problem with the dessert is – and I knew better – I made it for the first time for this party.  Such a no-no.  But I’m a pretty confident pastry cook and the recipe, although it had many steps, seemed to be pretty straight forward.  The multi- and very thin layer of chocolate cake with the chocolate cream filling turned out to be like giant cookies with a filling that didn’t stay put.  Really chocolate-y, which saved the day, but still…

Threw out the book the next day.  Which surprised Jeff no end, because it’s the only time I have thrown out a cookery book.

I can barely stand to recycle my cooking magazines, but sometimes I just have to do that.  But the cookery books? Not so much.  I love them.  I love to collect them, to read them, to dream about them, and even to cook from them.  My whole family is like that, actually.  My sister-in-law Rita likes to talk about one of her first Christmases with us that she calls “The Christmas of the Cook Books” – she counted 28 books that were gifted amongst us, and not one was the same with another!

When I was working in radio, I was very fortunate to interview a number of cookbook authors, including my friend Margaret Howard, as well as Christopher Kimball (“Cook’s Illustrated”) and Pamela Steele amongst many others.  And because I was interviewing them, their publishers sent me their latest book which would be like giving Paris Hilton a new Chanel purse… without the cocaine of course.

All of this takes us to the point of this post:  I’ve entered a favourite recipe of my own creation into the “Recipes to Riches” competition AND I’ve asked for an application form for Jeff & I to appear on “Dinner Party Wars”.  As I have the perfect face for radio, I’m not sure we’ll get anywhere with either of these applications, despite our fabulous success with dinner parties and the incredible goodness that is my entry for the entree category of the cooking contest.

This ultimate goal of this contest is to market President’s Choice products, because the winning entries are supposed to have the potential freeze and become part of the PC line of products.  As a devoted PC fan (have you tried their frozen balls of souffle goodness that you bake into souffles?  To die for!), this is very appealing to me and my cooking ego.  Also, I’m hoping it will give me a chance to meet Galen Weston.  I keep saying I’m going to write him and tell him that I really admire how much better he’s gotten over the past several years doing his commercials.

I really missed Dave Nichols when he left Loblaws, and I really missed the President’s Choice flyer that was produced under his watch.  I stopped reading it for about five years or so, it was so boooorrrring (I told that to a bunch of PC people at the Thornbury Chili Cook-off and they were really pissed with me, which I understand, but if you put out bad product to the consumer, people, you should be prepared when they tell you it’s a bad product). The flyer is a whole lot better, but still not nearly as much fun as it was, and frankly, when I’m spending that much money on a PC product, I would like it to come with a sense of humour too.  And Galen still has his moments of stiffness, but at least now I believe he likes his products and his company, and that’s a huge step up from what he was like!

Also, Galen, I want to know why Loblaws no longer produces soft drinks in glass bottles.  If you really are trying to be as green as you say you are, that’s a really, really good place to begin.

So back to the contest… First prize in each of the seven categories is $25,000 and the grand prize is $250,000.  This is why I want to audition.  I will be SHOCKED beyond any belief if I am accepted (remember, face for radio… plus I’m middle-aged and built like the German peasant I am… not TV friendly, even if I am as funny as hell and quite adorable otherwise) but it’s fun to enter.

Must run… the homemade mac & cheese timer just went off.  Bechamel sauce, flavoured with Dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce & roasted garlic, to which a lot of shredded cheese (medium cheddar & mozzarella) is added, and then mixed with penne.  Pour into greased casserole dish, sprinkle with a few panko crumbs and bake for about  20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Serve with a crisp green salad and a tall, cold glass of cider.  Mmmmm….

Who really wants KD now???