I hosted my Book Club earlier this month for a book we read by Elin Hilderbrand called The Five–Star Weekend. Personally, I think it’s rather cruel to require members to read during the summer at all, so I picked a Beach Book. The Five-Star Weekend is light, fluffy and is best read by the water, with a fruity drink in hand. Umbrella optional.
Having said that, I’d never read one of Hilderbrand’s books before and was impressed with how she developed the characters, their voices and the complex relationships between them. The story is about a Food Blogger whose husband dies unexpectedly, so she throws a weekend with four friends, all from different stages of her life, to cheer her up and distract her from her grief. There’s also a twist in the story that makes it more interesting. It’s a page turner!
Anyway, since she’s a Food Blogger, there were many delicious recipes mentioned in the book, but unfortunately, no recipes! Not to worry, I interpreted my version of the recipes she mentioned and, for most of them, turned to my old friend Ina (as in Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa) for help.
So her Bacon and Rosemary Pecans became Ina’s Chipotle & Rosemary Nuts and her Summer Squash Tart with Goat Cheese and Mint became Ina’s Zucchini & Goat Cheese Tart. And, while I was on an Ina kick, I made her Summer Rose Sangria, that was in the same Make It Ahead Cookbook as the tart, and it was the hit of the party. Or at least the drink that everyone wanted. I wanted a Summery menu to go with the theme and what is more summery than sangria?
I like to test recipes at least once before I serve them, so I made the Chipotle & Rosemary Nuts for friends coming over before we went to dinner one night. Or, I should say, I attempted to make them. I prepared them (1/2 the recipe), put them in the oven and gave Zeke instructions to take them out when the timer went off. I then left to take a quick shower. When I got out of the shower, there was a text from Zeke saying “the nuts are burnt” and went down to find a blackened mess on the cookie sheet.
Didn’t you smell them burning?I asked.
Many times I smell things burning, before I see them, but apparently he smelt nothing. I dumped all the nuts into the garbage and lit a candle, feeling mad and frustrated. What a waste of time, energy, money and food! I did learn something from this very minor disaster however.
- The first time you make a recipe, set the timer for less time than required and check it early. Oven temperatures vary.
- The first time you make a recipe, babysit it. Do not take a shower and rely on your husband’s defunct nose to smell it burning.
- If you pull something out of the oven, which is on the verge of burning, quickly take it off the cookie sheet or pan, so it doesn’t keep cooking! My nuts were black by the time I arrived, post-mortem.
Other lessons I’ve learned in cooking from Ina:
- Always taste a dish before you serve it. It might need a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.
- Make it easy! Nobody wants a stressed-out hostess.
Ina’s tag line and the name of one of her cookbooks, in fact is: How Easy Is That? I love this philosophy!
I did make as much ahead as I possibly could. The nuts were made ahead, the Sangria about an hour before the Book Club Meeting. The Goat Cheese Tart was assembled ahead and cooked right before people arrived. I also made ahead Ina’s Roasted Shrimp Salad, which used to be a staple for our Girl’s Weekend in the Keys (before a bad shrimp spoiled the bunch). I baked Key Lime Shortbread Cookies about a week ahead and froze them and had the ice cream base in the fridge, ready to go into the Ice Cream maker. The raspberry mixture that got swirled into it was marinating in sugar and vodka.
The hostess in the Five Star Weekend has an ice cream truck come to her house in Nantucket for dessert on the last night of the weekend. I”m not that extravagant, but do have my own Ice Cream Maker, so made a Raspberry/Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream that was to die for. This is the one thing I did do kind of last minute, because I wanted a soft texture to the ice cream, not a hard-as-rock brick.
I set up a large table in the Family Room, which is everyone’s favorite room in our house and decorated it “beachy”- with shells, flowers, candles in sand-filled vases and aqua napkins tied with twine and garnished with a little yellow flower. The music I chose was Yacht Rock.
As usual, our Book Club members spent about 15 minutes talking about the book (in the Living Room), the rest of the time catching up on our lives! But, for a light and fluffy book, there was a surprising amount of meaty conversation at this Book Club, mostly about the characters we liked and didn’t and the choices they made. It was a story about female friendship- some from childhood, others recent- and how important they are for well-being.
I did a lot of my shopping at my favorite grocery store- good old Trader Joe’s.
Here’s my complete The Five-Star Weekend Menu:
Drinks: Still Water with Cucumber, Sparkling Water, Lemonade, Summer Sangria, Rose Wine, Prosecco.
Appetizers: Chipotle & Rosemary Nuts, Roasted Onion Dip with Truffle Potato Chips and fresh vegetables.
Entree: Goat Cheese Tart with Mint, Roasted Shrimp Salad, “Make Your Own Salad” with Arugula, Roasted Corn, Sliced Hearts of Palm, Cherry Tomatoes, Sliced Avocado (from my garden), Pickled Blueberries, Vinaigrette, French Baguette with Cracked Pepper Butter.
Dessert: Raspberry Swirl Ice Cream, Key Lime Shortbread, Chocolate Cupcakes (brought by Guta).
Parting gifts were avocados from my garden (I had a ton this year!) and cellophane-wrapped Key Lime Shortbreads. I love entertaining. As corny as it sounds, I guess it’s my “love language”; how I show people I care about them. But, I have to say, I enjoy entertaining the most when it’s easy on me and I don’t have to knock myself out. That way, everyone has a good time and you can say, like Ina: “How Easy Is That?”
Up Next: Chipotle & Rosemary Roasted Nuts