TURNING 30 in America can be traumatic. For a woman it's supposed to be doubly traumatic. So what could I do? I flaunted it, I decided to give my own party to celebrate turning 30.
As I began putting the menu together I realized that serving my tried-and-true hors d'oeuvre favorites would be especially appropriate. Not only would I be cooking for friends, I had gotten most of the recipes from them as well.Every recipe had its significance: Linda's marinated vegetables (the ones we ate while we watched the last "Mary Tyler Moore Show"), Mrs. Brewer's Greek cheese pies (she'd learned to make them during the years the family lived in Greece), Gerry's caponata (made for a welcoming party when I began working at Georgetown University), Winifred's jazzed-up cream cheese (served because she's a native New Orleanian and was trying to get us in the proper spirit for Mardi Gras). Almost every recipe had a personal history and a story about the way it came into my recipe collection.
Once I had the menu worked out -- a full month ahead of time -- I could start making out the invitation list, figuring out how much ice I would need, finding and sending stunning invitations, deciding how many and what kind of crackers to buy. All the little things that can drive you over the brink.
There was only one dish that I could make ahead of time and freeze: tiropita, the Greek cheese pies. They could be heated during the party (they repuff nicely, and after being frozen the phyllo dough seems to reheat successfully). So I began spending spare hours making and freezing small triangles of feta- and parmesan-filled phyllo. Otherwise, I couldn't start most of the actual food preparation until within a week of the party. Fortunately several of the dishes would get better with a week's marination.
I decided to limit the bar to white wine, gine and tonics and beer ("lite" and regular).
The week before the party my countdown schedule was in effect. Every night when I came home from work I had a cooking task cut out for me. There was a moment of midweek panic when it seemed to take forever to make the hummus (the chick peas resisted being put through a food mill). But Erika came over, told me stories, popped the skins off the chick peas before I put them through the mill, and I remained relatively calm.
Midweek I went to my local liquor store; they helped me figure out how much to order, told me I could return any unopened leftovers, and we arranged for delivery the afternoon before the party. I also hired a student to do the kitchen work at the party: heat the artichoke dip; keep the ice bucket filled, sliced limes available and bowls filled; and heat the tiropita mid-evening. sHis name was Peter and I was pleased; I'd always wanted a houseboy.
The day of the party everything fell into place without a hitch. I even took a half-hour nap in the afternoon.
The party? Ah, it was wonderful. The last folks didn't leave until after 3 a.m. It was an evening of good friends and good food. And I think, in the words of countless small-town newspapers, "a good time was had by all."
I know I had a great time. And we never did run out of ice.
Among the party foods served at the 30th birthday bash are the following: MARINATED VEGETABLES 1/2 small head cauliflower 2 carrots 2 stalks celery 1 green pepper 4-ounce jar green olives 4-ounce can black olives 4-ounces pimiento Broccoli String beans 1/2 pound mushrooms 3/4 cup red vinegar 1/2 cup olive oil 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon oregano 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Slice all the vegetables into chunky, bite-size pieces. In a large saucepan or kettle combine vinegar, oil, sugar, salt, oregano and pepper. Add all the vegetables except the mushrooms. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to cover all the vegetables with marinade. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms to the hot mixture. Stir. When cool enough to handle, put into a container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving. The mixture will keep for several weeks. TIROPITA (Greek Cheese Pies) (Makes about 80) 1/4 cup butter 2 1/2 tablespoons sifted flour 1 1/2 cups hot milk Salt Freshly ground pepper Pinch of nutmeg 1/2 pound feta cheese 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 2 beaten eggs 1-pound box of phyllo pastry sheets
In a saucepan melt the butter and mix in the flour until smooth. Gradually add the milk and spices, stirring constantly. Simmer until the sauce becomes quite thick. After it has thickened, set it to cool.
In a bowl mash the feta and mix it with the cooled sauce, parmesan and beaten eggs. Blend thoroughly. Cut a sheet of phyllo dough into strips approximately 2 inches wide, following the guidelines on the box for working with phyllo. Put 1 to 2 teaspoons of the filling mixture on each strip, and fold the strip to form a triangular pie. (The method is similar to folding a flag.) Keep the remaining sheets of phyllo covered with a damp cloth.Fry the cheese triangles on both sides in butter, and serve hot.
To served the pies later, cook them and then freeze them. While they are still frozen, heat them on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, or until they have puffed up again and are heated through. HOT ARTICHOKE DIP 2 20-ounce cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped 1 cup mayonnaise 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
In a blender blend ingredients thoroughly. Scrape into a heat-proof dish than can be used for serving, and bake in a 350-degree over for 30 minutes, or until heated through and a crust forms. Serve with fresh vegetables and bread sticks. CAPONATA ALLA SICILIANA 2 large eggplants Olive oil 3 medium onions, chopped 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes 1 cup diced celery 2 ounces capers (drained and rinsed) 1/3 cup pine nuts (pignoli) 2 tablespoons sugar 4 tablespoons wine vinegar Salt to taste Freshly ground pepper to taste 1 small can black olives
Diced peeled eggplants into 1-inch cubes. Fry in very hot olive oil until soft and lightly browned. Place on paper towels to drain off the excess oil.
In the same pan saute the onions until golden brown. Add the tomatoes, which have been drained and coarsely chopped. Add the celery and simmer the mixture until the celery is tender (about 15 minutes).
Place the eggplant cubes in a large pot, add the onion mixture, capers and pine nuts. Mix the sugar and vinegar together in a small saucepan. Stir until dissolved. Add salt and pepper to taste, and heat slightly. Add to the eggplant mixture, cover and cook slowly for 1/2 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. Cut the olives in half and add them to the mixture. Chill, covered. Keeps for 1 week or more and improves in flavor. $5SPICY INDIAN MIX 1 large can shoestring potatoes 2 cans chow mein noodles Part of a box of crisp rice cereal 1 cup shelled peanuts 1/4 cup peanut oil 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds 1 teaspoon chili powder 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon sugar
Combine the first 4 ingredients and mix together with your hands. (Determine the amount of rice cereal to add by how much you like it and how the proportions of the mixture look.)
In the largest pot you have (a turkey roaster is excellent) heat the peanut oil. Add the mustard seeds, wait until they pop, and turn off the heat. Add all the spices.
When the spices are completely dissolved in the oil add the nibble mixture by handfuls. With a long-handled spoon stir and stir and stir to even distribute the spices. The mixture can be stored in air-tight plastic bags. Adapted from "The Grabbag" by Ita Jones NEW ORLEANS-STYLE CREAM CHEESE
Part of the joy of this unusual combination is how easy it is to create. The recipe only works, however, if you use Pickapeppa Sauce, a Jamaican concoction similar to worcestershire sauce and enhanced with the addition of mangoes, raisins and tamarinds. (Pickapeppa Sauce is found in the specialty or imported food sections of most grocery stores.) 8-ounce package cream sauce Bottle of Pickapeppa Sauce Crackers
Put a dollop of Pickapeppa Sauce on a plate, and place the block of cream cheese in it. Pour additional sauce over the cream cheese until it is well covered. Serve with a variety of crackers.