Several weeks back I got to thinking: what more could I be doing for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina? Left homeless, jobless, penniless -- hopeless, even -- these sad souls were displaced to a new and unfamiliar town, separated from loved ones either by distance or, in the worst cases, death, and forced to depend on the kindness of others.
So what did I do? I threw a party.
But before you slam shut your laptop or click away in disgust, know that it was a benefit party. I invited a few friends over to the apartment and promised them some booze and homemade nibbles in exchange for a minimum $25 per person donation to the American Red Cross. It was a cozy soirée, but just the few people who dropped by raised more than $600 for charity, and enjoyed food and conversation while doing it. My thanks to everyone who came over and reached into their pockets to help people they've never met. I feel blessed to know you.
If you feel like throwing your very own Hurricane Katrina (or Rita) benefit, here's a partial list of what I served along with a few recipes.
Yield: 5-6 cocktails
I selected this as the cocktail du soir because its main ingredient, bourbon, is historically near and dear to those in N'Awlins. In a pitcher, mix 10 ounces of bourbon with a liter of club soda, 3 TBSP of sugar syrup (or to taste) and 8-10 good dashes of bitters (or to taste). In an old-fashioned glass, clatter in a handful of ice cubes, toss in a maraschino cherry hanging from a stem and pour in the drink.
Yield: 24 bites
Little Sister provided this recipe. Buy a box of pitted dates and a slab of bacon. Soak toothpicks in cold water. Cut each bacon strip in two and wrap one half slice of bacon around each date, securing with a toothpick. Bake at 375 until bacon is cooked, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Yield: 40-ish bites
An old favorite. So easy it's shameful, so don't share the recipe! In a small baking dish, mix 2 14-oz cans of artichoke hearts in water (drained and torn into bite-size pieces) with 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and enough crushed red pepper to suit your tastes. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Serve hot with tortilla chips, bread sticks or French bread (never, ever sourdough).
Yield: 2 cups
This was a Laurie Colwin favorite. Melt 2 1/2 TBSP unsalted butter in a jelly-roll pan or roasting pan (with sides) in a 350 oven. Stir in 2 tsp dried, chopped rosemary, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Toss 2 cups walnuts until well coated with the spices and spread out into one layer. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
The intriguing cookies you see on the bottom right hand of the tray are klecha, traditional Iraqi cookies filled with dates, walnuts, cinnamon and cardamom that are served at celebratory feasts. Look for a recipe from me, based on the one chef Yahya Salih of YaYa Cuisine uses, come holiday time.