I’ve learned a great deal in the two years I’ve been married. And as much as I loved a good party before, I’ve learned I love a long, slow dinner with family and friends even more. When I was single, I could barely scramble an egg, and I’m being completely serious. But, over the last couple of years, I’ve discovered the benefits of cooking simply with good ingredients, fresh herbs, and local and organic foods where possible, and I don’t mind saying I’ve become quite passionate about it.
As much as I travel, staying home and cooking in my pajamas with a bottle of wine has become my new full-blown obsession. In fact, about a year ago, I started reading cookbooks like they were trashy romance novels. I couldn’t stop! And with all the cooking practice I’ve been getting, I love ditching my circa ’89 New Kids on the Block slippers (Yes, I’m admitting that!) for a pair of Rag & Bone heels from my shop, H. Audrey, and hosting a dinner party. In fact, I love nothing more!
Since I’ve been doing shows and have just started my 3rd album, and since my husband is headed to Europe for 6 weeks with his band, Kings of Leon, I’ve been cooking constantly before tour schedules take over our lives. Here are some recipes I absolutely love, as well as some tips for your next great party. Enjoy!
I’ve discovered by experience that remembering the little things make a difference when you’re hosting a dinner party:
- Use scent free candles everywhere. Scented ones compete with the food.
- Dim the lights.
- Have wine and a cheese or olive plate ready and waiting when guests arrive.
- Vacuum your floors. (One of my guests once found a stray dog hair in her soup. Eewh!!)
- Use real cloth napkins.
- Set out a vintage glass pitcher of cold water.
- Use white serving pieces (Target has cheap ones!) mixed with pops of pewter trays.
- Wear a granny-chic apron.
- Play your favorite music.
Here are a few of my favorite songs to add to your playlist:
(To download this playlist from iTunes, click here)
- “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” – Bob Dylan
- “Furr” – Blitzen Trapper
- “By Your Side” – Sade
- “Human” – The Killers
- “Paranoid Android” – Radiohead
- “Picture In A Frame” – Tom Waits
- “Mama Tried” – Merle Haggard
- “Dimming of the Day” – Bonnie Raitt
- “Come On In My Kitchen” – Robert Johnson
- “Kind Of Blue” – Miles Davis
- “Hallelujah” – Jeff Buckley
- “Honey Pie” – The Beatles
- “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” – Stevie Wonder
- “Wagon Wheel” – Old Crow Medicine Show
- “Lucky Old Sun” – Louis Armstrong
- And too many more songs to name…
Now for the recipes:
Note on shopping: I go to the Germantown farmer’s market every Saturday to buy all of my groceries, and there are plenty of other good ones in town. I buy all my dairy, meat, cheese, eggs, produce, and anything else I can find there. My advice? Buy the best ingredients you can find.
- Mixed herb greens or arugula
- Feta cheese
- Pitted Kalamata olives
- Avocado or prosciutto for fun, but it’s not a must
Patricia Wells’ Classique Vinaigrette is my favorite dressing:
- 2 tbs best quality sherry vinegar
- 2 tbs best quality red wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt to taste
Combine vinegars and salt and shake vigorously, add the oil and season to taste. This can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for several weeks. I use it on everything! Goodbye store-bought salad dressings…
ROASTED LEMON CHICKEN
This is the delicious and oh-so-simple recipe from Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa). She is one of my biggest inspirations and I adore these lemon and thyme chicken breasts. You can find them in her cookbook How Easy Is That.
- 1/4 cup good olive oil
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic (9 cloves)
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (2 lemons)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on (6 to 8 ounces each)
- 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Warm the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the garlic, and cook for just one minute — but don’t allow the garlic to turn brown. Off the heat, add the white wine, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, thyme and 1 teaspoon salt, and pour into a 9-by-12-inch baking dish.
Pat the chicken breasts dry and place them skin side up over the sauce. Brush the chicken breasts with olive oil and sprinkle them liberally with salt and pepper. Cut the lemon in eight wedges and tuck it among the pieces of chicken.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts, until the chicken is done and the skin is lightly browned. If the chicken isn’t browned enough, put it under the broiler for two minutes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot with the pan juices. Serves 4.
The chicken is great served with a pine nut couscous, but lately I’ve been serving it with these Brussels sprouts, which are my favorite!
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND BACON
- About 2 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced thin
- 2 to 3 ounces smoked bacon (about 3 strips), cut into 1-inch by ¼-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon or so chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400°F. I like using convection mode for roasting, but you can also preheat a conventional oven to 425°F. Wash and trim stems and outer leaves from Brussels sprouts and cut any really big sprouts in half. Dry well, place on baking sheet and set aside. Cook the bacon in a skillet over low heat until it is crispy and most of the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Remove the fat and lay the bacon on paper towels to drain.
Drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet and caramelize the onions over low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent browning. Add oil as necessary and deglaze pan with a tablespoon or so of water if brown bits form on the bottom of the skillet.
While the onions are caramelizing, drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil over Brussels sprouts and give them a quick toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the flat side of any cut sprouts face down. Roast for about 20 minutes, giving the baking sheet a good shake once or twice to encourage even browning. They are done when the outer leaves are well browned and when a paring knife can be inserted through the middle of a sprout without much resistance. Toss the Brussels sprouts, bacon and onions together. Turn them out onto a serving platter and garnish with parsley.
STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM
- Local strawberries in season
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 tbs sugar
Mix cream and sugar until white peaks form, don’t over mix or it will resemble cottage cheese.
Place strawberries and whipped cream in a bowl and prepare to faint!!
Photos: Ashley Hylbert