Today was Matthew’s big birthday blow-out. About 20 guests were greeted at the door by Oma and ordered to take their shoes off (the light carpeting, you see) before being served appetizers. I decided to produce a number of dips and other finger foods after abandoning my initial idea of ordering pizza. I mean, good God, what was the point of busting my hump for two years in cooking school? A little later, I thought, “The hell with it,” and made a badass chicken liver pate with aspic, as well. Then, in the vein of “in for a penny, in for a pound,” I added a hot crab dip and some decorative work. The dips turned out great. I made Alton Brown’s California dip from scratch (as opposed to opening a package of dry onion soup mix) utilizing a boatload of real onions. Find the recipe yourself on the Food Network, but note that it took me much longer to caramelize the onions than the recipe says. Also, letting it sit for a day really helped it develop. I will never, ever make it from mix again. The second most popular was the muhammara, a ground walnut, red pepper and eggplant spread that has a bit of a kick from ground chili peppers. Next in line was the pine nut sauce from Tapas: Traditional and Contemporary Tapas Dishes (2004), published by Paragon Books Ltd. This recipe is so easy and produces very big flavor. I paired it with new potatoes that had been steamed and chilled to provide a diversion from the 15 Acme sourdough baguettes that accompanied everything else. We also provided cubed foccacia, which, as I write this the next day, is in a crouton state of mind. I threw together the spicy sauce from Nobu: the Cookbook (2001), by Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, which is basically a homemade mayo with some chili oil and white pepper. Honestly, that is one good sauce slash dip. If you are too lazy to make the mayo part yourself, mix chili oil and white pepper with a good commercial mayonnaise. I do this all the time when I want to serve a roast chicken with some zip to it. Oh, yeah, back to the birthday party. I managed to offer up blanched haricot verts (yes, I know I sound like a pretentious jackass) and sliced English cukes, but they were almost all still there at the end of the party. Maybe the crab dip was to blame, but I will let you be the judge. Mix one cup each of mayonnaise, sour cream, softened cream cheese and grated parmesan. Then fold in at least one cup of lump crabmeat and a bit of white pepper. Make sure all the ingredients are high-quality. If you use cheap and/or terrible mayo (both do not always apply to the same product) you will have a terrible dip. Do not, under any circumstances, use Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip is a blight upon the earth. Bake this mass in a heavy casserole for 30 minutes or so — until browned and bubbly — at 375 F. Then take it out and serve it next to a crudités platter and report back to me. I predict no leftover crab product and plastic bags full of baby carrots in the fridge. The one thing that did not move was the pate, though I consider it a personal triumph. Maybe it was poor marketing, but I did have it near the crab dip, which brought them in like flies. Maybe it was just too rich for the Bay Area, or too 1950s. Maybe the aspic was scary. Many people find aspics frightening. I can report however that we are eating it today and it is fabulous – well worth the work and ingredients. The recipe can be found in Cooking with Bon Appétit: Appetizers (1982), and is listed as a goose liver pate. For fun I carved a few lemons, made a large tomato rose and curled scallions.
I also did my famous “crazy potato,” scooping out balls all around a whole, unpeeled potato with a melon baller, dyeing the balls with food coloring, and then stuffing them back into the hollows, color side out. This thing is really whacked out by the end of an event. Oh, for crying out loud, Berry jumped into the onion dip again! Get him out of there before the guests arrive!