A labor of love

My good friend Michelle is expecting not one but TWO babies (both girls) in January. Clearly, this occasion could not go uncelebrated! Since Michelle already has a five-year-old daughter, she’s pretty set with girly pink schwack and supplies, but I figured she could never have enough diapers. Therefore, I swiped an idea from another baby shower I attended last summer and decided to throw her a “Pamper Michelle” party, asking everyone to bring a pack of diapers in lieu of gifts.

I wanted the food to be reflective of babies and twins, so opted for mini versions of standard party fare. Several recipes were previously untested dishes I’d been wanting to try, and this seemed a perfect excuse. Two of them – sweet potato biscuit sandwiches with ham and honey mustard, and pickled shrimp — came courtesy of last month’s Bon Appetit. Thanks, BA editors!

My first batch of biscuits turned out a little too flat and a little too brown. Fortunately, I had enough ingredients to bang out a second batch lickety split. This time, I didn’t roll them out quite as thin and I didn’t bake them quite as long. The result – yummy, although next time, I’ll use a saltier ham and a spicier Dijon to really up the flavor punch.

Sweet potato biscuit sandwiches with ham and honey mustard

The shrimp, too, turned out to be an interesting experiment. I had quite a prep list going, so to simplify things, I bought frozen cooked cocktail shrimp instead of boiling my own. The thing was, they didn’t thaw as quickly as I’d hoped in the fridge, so when the time came to throw them into the pickling liquid, they were still slightly frozen.

The pickling liquid itself was tricky. The recipe called for equal parts vinegar and olive oil, but when I tasted it, it was ALL oil. You couldn’t make out any of the other flavors – lemon, garlic, bay leaves, etc. I siphoned off a bunch of the oil and added more vinegar, salt and sugar. As the shrimp finished thawing in the pickling juice and released water, I worried that the flavors would end up being even more diluted.

In a happy stroke of luck, by the time I drained off the pickling liquid and plated up the shrimp, I found they’d taken on a ton of flavor after all! In fact, they were quite addictive, if I say so myself. The crowd seemed to agree – there wasn’t much left at the end of the night!

Pickled shrimp

Elsewhere on the menu – I took a basic cheeseball recipe, used a mini-ice cream scooper to form one-inch balls and rolled them in parsley, paprika and chopped almonds. The intention was to make them look like little truffles. See what you think…

Individual cheeseballs and crackers

Instead of the boring old sectioned veggies-and-dip platter, I decided it would be pretty and Christmasy to do all red and green vegetables and mix them together. I thought it looked lovely, and would definitely use this idea again with color-coordinated noshes.

"Christmas" crudite

For dessert, I made mini-cupcakes and frosted them to look like little roses. Also, in honor of the twins, I made two kinds of fudge – chocolate marshmallow and cookies ‘n creme.

Fudge two ways - on top, cookies 'n creme; on bottom, chocolate marshmallow

To wash it all down, I bought wine and beer, but also wanted to have something fancy and non-alcoholic for the mom-to-be. I made a quick punch of cranberry juice and ginger ale, coated the rims of the glasses with crystallized ginger sugar, and made a gorgeous ice mold to float in the punch bowl.

Cranberry ginger punch

All in all, a good time was had by all, and I think Michelle appreciated the chance to enjoy some quality time with the gals, which was the main goal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my catering biz lately, and in 2010, I would like to focus on baby and bridal showers. I feel they’re what I do best, and what I enjoy most. I like the food, I like the theme. So if you know of anyone who’s tying the knot or getting pregnant in 2010, please pass along my name and direct them to my blog for pics and details!