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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Today On My Counter ...

My apartment is pretty small, so I don’t entertain much. But every once in a while I get into “host mode” and want to show off my culinary skills a little and have a few friends over. So earlier this evening, I held a small dinner party for six friends and myself: my good friend Stacy and her husband, my touchy-feely friends Beth and Richie, and my pals Calvin and Mike.

Stacy came early to help me prep … she can’t cook worth a damn but she can use a knife and a cutting board like a professional chef. I decided to pull out all the stops since I hadn’t seen these guys in quite a while in an intimate setting. I made my cold beef and celery salad which coats tender slices of chilled sirloin, crunchy celery, and grape tomatoes, paper-thin sauteed carrots, and feta crumbles in olive oil, garlic, and various spices. For my entrée, I selected meatloaf served with steamed asparagus drizzled with cream and lime sauce.

Calvin arrived, greated me with a restrained hug, and, as is his way, grunted a "hello" to Stacy and her husband and then positioned himself in a quiet corner to watch some sports. Beth and Richie arrived next, playfully arguing about whom was the better card player. Mike was last but he had had stops to make … for the wine and liquor he wanted to contribute to the dinner. I think Mike may have a problem! Glug … glug!!

All in all, it was a good evening. I had made some black bean and pineapple salsa from scratch, so I took my time getting the meal on the table while my guests crunched and munched … their oohs and aahs over the spicy salsa like sweet music to my ears. Dinner was full of laughter and lively conversation. Beth told a few outrageous stories about her co-workers, which I tried to match but failed miserably. And several of us had to keep assuring Mike that his vodka "contribution" went equally well with meat or fish. After watching introverted Calvin finish the last scrap of meatloaf, everyone piled their plates on the pass-through ledge and then moved into the living room. For close to two hours we continued our loud get-together by playing pinochle, watching part of an NBA game I had dvr’d the day before, and just reconnecting.

Then I went to the kitchen to get things ready for my showstopper dessert. Step One was warming up my trusty Hamilton Beach 12-cup stainless steel deep fryer. Everyone should have a deep fryer for special treats and occasionally indulging in wonderful homemade french fries. When I was a kid, my parents had this huge fryer model shaped like a big bucket for doing fresh battered fish. It was silvery … not stainless … and dented and dinged up pretty bad. I distinctly remember bands of electrical tape in several places and a few times when the cord actually sparked and sputtered. I even think my Mom blew a fuse or two using that old, clunky contraption. But the meals it helped create … INCREDIBLE!!!!

My fryer isn’t much bigger than a sneaker shoebox. It has a dishwasher safe inner “pot” and an outer skin that barely even gets warm when the unit is operating. The appliance uses computerized temperature controls for added safety and very stable cooking temperatures. It even has a double filtration system so I can get the longest “life” out of my cooking oil, and an automatic shut off system so the chances of me accidentally burning my place down are greatly reduced.

Step Two was getting the batter I had prepared earlier out of the frig and giving it a quick stir with a whisk. It was a standard pancake batter mix (with egg, milk, and a bit of vegetable oil), but when making it for a dessert application like this I always add an extra egg and “doctor” it with vanilla, brown sugar, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Step Three … and my favorite … was to call my guests into the less-than-spacious kitchen and reveal their deep-fried dessert choices. Oreos. Milky Way bars. And Snickers bars. I had them all arranged on a small platter, with the candy bars cut into thirds. I purchased a few extra serving spoons at the “dollar store” so everyone could gently dip their choices in the batter and then carefully drop them in the hot oil. Mike was being an ass. He rushed the process and dropped his coated cookie from several inches above the lip of the fryer. Beth got “sizzled” by some stray oil and she gave Mike a look that could wither a steel beam. He apologized and behaved himself. Once the items are dropped into the oil, the cooking usually takes less than a minute. And luckily, the treats bob toward the surface, letting you know that they’re ready to be “rescued” and dropped into a bowl of powdered sugar.

While I put a few things away, the group retreated back into the living area. From the sounds people were making, they either liked the dessert or had started an impromptu orgy. I made myself a small assortment of tidbits, shut off the fryer, and joined my friends to continue our evening of high-caloric communing.

POINT OF RANT: No one left my party even thinking about food … they probably couldn’t even imagine EVER being hungry again!!

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