Wednesday, December 21, 2011

WIA for days on end (Also: My Big Fat Italian Jewelry Party)

Click the big pretty picture and check out the party. You can be all creepy and food-gawkery like me.

This WIAW I decided to tell you What I made/ate for a party I hosted over the weekend.

Let's start at the beginning.

A few weeks ago one of my mother in law's (heretofore referred to as MIL) friends decided to start selling Lia Sophia jewelry.

So to help that friend start her business I agreed to cohost a party with my MIL.

Learning Experience #1: Lia Sophia is ridiculously overpriced. I mean the whole company is based around this kind of gigantic pyramid scheme. I didn't think anybody I invited to my party would actually buy the jewelry... but they did. I'm hoping it wasn't because they felt like they had to. I will say, however, that their stuff is much nicer looking than the things I find at Forever 21. It's all super sparkly and KAPOW. And they have a pretty great exchange policy. So there's that. I might be kind of in love even though I know it's wrong. So very, very wrong. Thank God for Ebay.

So "cohosting" with my MIL meant that I cooked all the food and had the party at my house and invited some of my friends and family. My MIL HATES party planning, I love it. My MIL bought the wine and also invited some of her friends and family. I HATE wine, she loves it.

We work so well together.

The party was this past Saturday and I spent a WEEK cooking and prepping for it.

A week?! A freaking week?!

Oh. You'll see why in a second.

I am just not really one of those people who is like "Ehhh I'll just pick up some appetizers from Costco and buy a cake and call it a party."

I've tried. I just... can't do it.

I get all twitchy inside.


It was Italian themed so I scoured the internet for all foods Italian. Particularly desserts. Beyond Tiramisu, I was pretty clueless.

Learning Experience #2: Apparently Italians REALLY love almonds. Like a lot. Especially in paste form. They also love dried fruit. And citrus. And coffee. And wine. If it's Italian, it will have at least one of those flavors. Pretty much always.

Back to the party. I so wish I had taken more pictures, especially of everything all set up. But I didn't. And I'm still pissed about it. I do have a few pictures of the food I made because as I baked various things I snapped pictures and sent them to my MIL. But not many. Anything without a photo credit is a picture I took. Also if the picture is crappy? You'll know it's mine that way too.

Learning Experience #3
: If you spend a week of your life (or longer) prepping for an event, remember to take some freaking pictures.

So when you walk into my apartment the first room you enter is the living room. We took all the furniture out and moved it into our bedroom and my husband's office. I also took every single appliance off my kitchen counter and set it on my dresser. (I mean What? You don't keep a coffee table, a sofa, your kitchen aid, toaster oven, and an extra TV in your bedroom? Pft. Weirdo.) This gave me plenty of room to set up chairs, a table for showing off the sparkly jewelry, and food stations.

I put the wine on a small table closest to the door. That was for the benefit of anyone who felt a little like this "Hiiiii lots of strange people I don't really know that well. OH LOOK! WINE!"

There was also a small table where I set up cups, blood orange italian soda, iced tea, ice, and water.

And then the appetizer table was also in the living room.

Our Lia Sophia "Adviser" did her presentation before dinner. I figured people might want something to munch on as they listened/mingled/drank wine and I was right.

Here's what went on the appetizer table.

Croccante. It's also simply known as almond brittle.

Amaretto Truffles. Also some regular truffles rolled in smashed hazelnuts and others in unsweetened coconut. Cuz... why the hell not?

Learning Experience #4: Truffle chocolate never hardens enough to not melt all over your hands. You can wait 8 hours, like I did, and it will still melt all over your hands pretty much immediately. You can freeze it, like I did, and it will STILL melt all over your hands pretty much immediately. However? If you scoop out the chocolate and immediately roll it in some cocoa powder or powdered sugar or coconut or smashed nuts? LIFE WILL BE SO MUCH EASIER.

Chocolate covered candied almonds. This was actually my first attempt at making almond brittle. It's... clearly NOT almond brittle. However, it did taste good. So I smothered that fail in chocolate and turned it into a win.

Learning Experience #5: Chocolate is probably the answer to all of life's failures.

Chocolate dipped dried apricots rolled in smashed hazelnuts.

I also made stuffed mushrooms, caprese stuffed tomatoes, spinach-artichoke dip with crackers, garlic parmesan popcorn, baked polenta squares topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, and cream cheese and pecan stuffed dates baked in a honey-red wine sauce.

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The stand out was definitely the dates. That was unexpected.

Learning Experience #6: If you make things ahead of time, label your tupperwares. A certain person I know might have stuffed the tomatoes with the mushroom-cream-cheese mixture instead of the basil-mozzarella mixture. Also that person might not have realized it until every single tiny tomato half was delicately stuffed. Then they might have spent the next 40 minutes cussing loudly and unstuffing and restuffing the tomatoes with the proper stuffing. LABEL YOUR TUPPERWARES.

After appetizers and the presentation I served dinner. I baked french bread (Yea I know, CLEARLY not Italian) a few days before and then made it into garlic bread the day of the party. (If you put garlic on bread, it makes it Italian. It totally does. SHUT UP.) The french bread straight from the oven was absolutely amazing. I ate a huge chunk of it with butter for dinner. Yup.

But 3 days later it was not lovely at all. The garlic bread was a horrible, horrible stale tragedy of yuck. Sad story.

I also made Caesar salad (not Italian, but for some reason people think it is, so I just went with it) with homemade dressing and croutons. In addition to that, there was an olive garden-esque "Italian" salad with pepperoncinis, olives, tomatoes, onion, more homemade croutons, parmesan and that dressing.

Oooohhh that dressing. I could eat it with a spoon. I did eat it with a spoon. I also ate so much of the salad that I felt like I was going to explode.

I will definitely make more. Soon.

I swoon for Italian dressing!

And then there was four kinds of pasta. Bow ties, linguini, penne and whole wheat penne.

I even made gnocchi. I spent HOURS perfecting my gnocchi.

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Then guess what? I went to reheat it right before serving and TOTALLY forgot about it.

That perfectly fluffy and just slightly chewy gnocchi I stayed up until midnight making? Yeah. Nobody tasted it.

But it existed. I swear it did.

And 5 kinds of sauce. (Which I kept warm in crock pots... the easiest part of the entire thing was the sauces.) All homemade. Marinara, alfredo, pesto, vodka cream and arrabiata.

Then there was meat. Pork and beef meatballs. Turkey meatballs. (I browned so many balls that night.) Garlic chicken. Hot italian sausage. Mild italian sausage.

And toppings. Lots and lots of toppings. Asparagus, artichoke, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, peas, bacon, olive oil, parmesan, olives, green peppers, caramelized onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, fresh basil, fresh italian parsley, ricotta cheese, fresh tomatoes, lemon, yellow squash, zucchini, fresh crushed garlic, red pepper flakes, pine nuts, dried oregano... if you can imagine it. I had it there. Probably.

But it didn't stop there.

Oh no. After dinner? We had coffee.

I had a special table for all the coffee things as well.

A fresh brewed pot of decaf and a fresh brewed pot of regular. I even made a pitcher of chilled half-caff. I set out the typical accompaniments as well. Half and half, sugar, sweetener, kahlua (What? That's normal.), cinnamon and nutmeg.

But I also made these spoons.

That's a picture of them drying, but for the party they were arranged neatly in cups. A bouquet of dipped spoons in various flavors. Mocha, caramel, white chocolate mocha, peppermint and chai-spice.

People LOVED the spoons. I had NO idea that candy dipped spoons could be so exciting to people but they were.

And since it was an Italian themed party I of course had biscotti to accompany the coffee.

Two kinds. Because I wouldn't be me if there was only one.

Classic almond anise.

And chocolate pistachio.

It just occurred to me that biscotti might not even be Italian... It could be French. It sure SOUNDS Italian though so... Shhhh. Don't burst my bubble.

And then? After the appetizers, the salad, the pasta and the coffee?

There was dessert.


3 kinds of cupcakes. I photographed none of them because I am super lame.

An Italian cream cake with lemon frosting.

A chocolate cupcake with orange cannoli filling in place of frosting and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

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And lastly, a tiramisu cupcake with mascarpone frosting.

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Learning Experience #7: You can totally freeze cupcake batter in Ziplock bags for a few days with absolutely no bad side-effects. And as an added bonus? It's way easier to cut a corner off the bag and "pipe" it into the paper than it is to spoon it from the bowl. Just be careful you don't squeeze the bag so hard the seam bursts open and chocolate cake batter falls all over the floor. Your dog might lick some and you might be completely paranoid that he's going to die a painful chocolate poisoning induced death. True story. But don't worry, he's okay.

Of course I didn't stop at cupcakes.

I also made Florentines. A delicious, lacey almond-orange cookie.

And I made Italian butter cookies. Some had a maraschino cherry in the center, some didn't.

I absolutely did not hand-make those shapes. My mother in law has this awesome contraption from Pampered Chef that did it for me. (Now Pampered Chef? That's a pyramid scheme I could totally get down with. Their little garlic crusher thing? LIFE CHANGING.)

Oh. But that still wasn't it.

I also made zabaglione. Which, by the way, is a whipped custard that tastes like Marsala wine. Cuz... Marsala wine is a key ingredient.

Learning Experience #8: If something you don't like the taste of (random example: wine) is the key flavor in a dessert, you probably will not like said dessert. Just saying.

Aaaaaaand I made panna cotta.

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Of all the desserts the panna cotta was mmmmm'ed and OMG'ed over the most.

If you have never made panna cotta?



Don't do it.

I thought my life was totally ruined when I learned I could make the best creme brulee ever at home.

Well panna cotta is 100x easier than creme brulee and the taste is very similar, albeit less creamy.

But still?


And dangerous.

So freaking dangerous.


I warned you.

Don't do it.

And, finally... that was it.

That was everything I made.

Pretty sure.

We invited 55 people. I planned to feed 40. The universe conspired against me and almost everybody we invited got sick so only about 25 showed up.

Everybody ate appetizers but maybe 18 ate dinner and 10 had dessert.

Thankfully? My husband's grandpa and step-dad came after the party and helped "clean up".

I still had a ton of left overs. I froze some and gave a lot away.

I'm eating some today.

See? The lunch I just ate.

I ate some yesterday. And the day before that. And the day before that. I'll probably have leftovers tomorrow.

But you know what?

Totally worth it.

And while I don't have any pictures of the actual party to show for it, I did get 5 beautiful necklaces at a very reasonable price, and everybody who showed up was wined and dined and desserted way beyond their expectations.

So I'm considering it all a major success.

Although I'm still a little bitter about the gnocchi nobody tasted.

Freaking gnocchi. I always suspected you were concentrated evil in pillowy potato form.


  1. ahhhhhhhhh soooo much yummy looking food!! I wish I had a giant plate with a little of everything!!

  2. and you win.

    I thought I liked to cook for people, but no, you win. good job. I'd say heres a cookie... but uh seems like you might have enough food.

    wow! congrats on making such a huge spread. jealy jealy

  3. Gosh I wish I could cook like you! The most I've ever made is maybe 3 dishes for thanksgiving!

  4. Okay my stomach has not wanted to eat anything all day long until I saw this! Now my tummy is literally growling!

  5. Oh my goodness- what a gorgeous spread of food! I am so impressed by everything that you put together. It sounds like you've had an amaaazing time. And that jewelry sounds fabulous- despite the high prices!
    Maybe I'm italian at heart because allll of the foods they love are my favorites!

  6. Wow, everything looks so delicious!