This is the third year I've blogged about our library holiday party, as well as the third year I've written about the Jbo Progressive Dinner; such a year for threes! The party snuck up on me this year. The people who organized it chose to have it early, on December 6, ostensibly so that the student workers were here and could get their grub on. Or so I imagine. The date arrived way too early for me, because I'm slammed with personal and professional commitments that make doing anything extra a major drag.
After an hour at the grocery store, because, really, I love grocery shopping, and I invariably end up with way more in my cart than I went for, I came home and cooked from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. Anymore, trips to the grocery store are fun-filled because I run into Doug Burgess, a history professor at ETSU who also lives in the same neighborhood as my parents-in-law. Last week Doug and I almost bumped carts several times at Food City. This week, we rolled by each other like two buggies in the night at Kroger. Then, there were at least two other folks from the university that I recognized at Kroger as well, but don't know personally.
I mention Doug for two reasons. First, I love being connected to the university and my community to the extent that I run into people I know on a regular basis. Call it the small city effect. And second, the reason Doug is always at the grocery store is that he cooks. He compiled "Doug's So You're Over Forty, Can't Cook, and Can't Get a Date Cookbook," but what he's really known for is the hot sauce he bottles and offers to faculty, staff, and students across campus. I've not tried it, but I should. Ian collects hot sauce every chance he gets, and we have gallons of it, an abundance, and so adding another mason jar to the collection is overkill.
Last night I spent four hours cooking. I loved it, but am still wiped out this afternoon. I started with Nigella's Guinness Chocolate Cake. Once that was in the oven I sliced my squash and set them to cook on the range. Then I turned to my salad. I had ideas for three or four things to make and bring, but it's not until I'm in the kitchen and I gauge my ingredients and my stamina that I decide what to make.
Originally I'd planned on bleu cheese straws, chocolate cake, and Manchego cheese and walnut stuffed dates. And maybe a Vidalia onion and goat cheese pie. But there were no Vidalia onions at the grocery store. I bought a bag of sweet onions, but I'm sure they're not the same. Also contemplated a cardamom-buttermilk pie, but only had one pie crust left in the fridge and forgot to pick up another set of those pillsbury rolled up pie crusts that are almost as good as scratch.
But since I don't have a food processor (Santa, are you reading?), I quickly ruled out the bleu cheese straws. I had picked up a couple packages of Ramen at the store because I still have cabbage left from the first batch of salad/slaw I made and was ready to try a second batch. This time it came out more how I wanted it to. The difference was a lot more Ramen noodles and the rice vinegar and peanut oil substitution. Plus, I added ground ginger and one of the roast chicken flavor packets from the noodles. And then there were grated carrots. Its taste is much improved. I made notes of the changes I made to the recipe and shall share those later, along with the original recipe. Also chopped the cabbage instead of grating it, and like the latter texture much better.
Seems like the thing that took the most time was the dates. I had that stuffed date at the Jbo Progressive Dinner and its simplicity amazed me. Luckily I found Mancheno cheese at the grocery. I was also worried about dates. The first ones I ever ate were this summer, or maybe last summer when Kellie brought home a bunch from the Middle East. Yum. I love dates. Who knew!?
But Dole sells dates in re-sealable bags in the fruit/raisin section. And walnut-availability is no biggie. I sliced the cheese into tiny bits and sliced open the dates (they were pitted), and tucked cheese and walnut inside. Easy peasy! So good, too. Surely this is a dish that people rave about. I foisted one on Ian this morning. He got home around 4 a.m., peered inside the fridge and thought the dates were something chocolate. What a disappointment for him. Then he asked me about them later this morning. I told him what it was and brought him one to eat even though he said he hates dates.
The trouble was the cake. Normally I use my larger springform pan, but I tried following Nigella's instructions to use the 9 inch pan instead of the 10 inch. Mistake! There was overflow and a muffin top. And after cooling it a good hour or so, I popped the springform latch, and a lot of the cake came away with the tin. Sad, sad cake. I frosted it anyway and thought I'd keep it at home for me and Ian. But really, we cannot consume an entire cake alone. So I brought it, bugs and all, to work for the party. It may look very homemade, which could be a good thing next to all the store-bought desserts, but one thing I know for sure is that it rocks.
Oh, and then I decided after making the squash casserole that I wouldn't bring it. Heating dishes and keeping the refrigerated is always tricky at the library. And so I wanted to bring things that didn't need either. The top of my squash casserole was rather dark. It looked unpleasant. I didn't want to share it. Then, too, I changed the recipe a bit to incorporate a medium-sized sweet onion (of the not-the-Vidalia-kind) and was afraid the taste might be too oniony. Eighty percent of the time I'll share a new dish with folks without tasting it myself because I'm confident that it's good. This squash casserole I am still unsure about. Might warm it up for dinner and see how it is.
As for all the other goodies at the holiday party, man, there was too much stuff. I tried corn pudding, beef stroganoff, hot german potato salad, sausage balls, deviled eggs, ratatouille, what else? Oh, there was way too much food. Sadly, I was forced to take a break because I worked the reference desk from 12-1. Had to eat quickly, then assume my position. But, that allows for a good hour's break for my food to settle and process and then I'll have room to sample desserts.
Last year there was some talk about compiling our recipes. One of my co-workers asked me to take on the job, but I didn't follow up. So this year, I think I'm following up. It's a shame not to have all those divine recipes at one's fingertips. Come next year, I may be compiling an in-house cookbook.