Fancy Fruit Plates

I love getting together with friends when everyone literally brings something to the table. That kind of pot luck teamwork really makes any gathering more special and interesting because everyone brings something different. I’ve had birthday parties where five or so guests all bring a bag of the same kind of corn chips—and I love me a corn chip, but where’s the creativity? The personal touch? However, I’ve since learned that assigning food and drinks really is the best way to go so it’s clear that there won’t be any food overlap. Also, anyone with allergies or dietary restrictions can make sure that there’s something at the party for them to eat and enjoy too.

In the past, I’ve always been the first to volunteer a killer cheese plate with crackers, hummus-pita-veggie combos, mixing up sweets, and designing a spread for holiday parties, girls’ nights at my apartment, and end of the semester celebrations at work where everyone can relax and munch on plenty of good eats. Around the food is where most of any good party happens anyway, so it’s important to make that food great. With all of these experiences, I’ve amassed an impressive amount of pretty serving platters, trays, and travel-ready containers, which only excites me more to show up with something I’ve prepared.

Just this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending my good friend’s bachelorette party. Although I was unable to join in most of the daytime festivities (work, work, work), the evening portion included a bunch of girlfriends hanging out in another friend’s backyard under a brilliant August night sky. We laughed and cackled the night away, catching up on how our summers were going, and getting the details on the bride’s exciting and creative wedding preparations. My role for this part of the night was to not only provide all the paper and plastic wares for our snackfest, but I volunteered to bring some sort of fruit to accompany the other dessert treats. It is summer, after all, and fruit always makes for a refreshing bite.

Alissa & Chris about to leave for vacation in June 2017, in Deer Park, NY.

Since I’m writing about a bachelorette party that I attended this weekend, you might wonder what this has to do with Kissing Cooks, but Chris certainly had plenty of helpful input that inspired my final fruit product. For the last few weeks, he’d been hearing me debate about what fruit to bring, especially since my spending habits have been seriously budgeted and I knew that some of my fellow partygoers had allergies or dietary preferences. I didn’t want to just bring a bowl of watermelon. Not that there’s anything wrong with watermelon. I wanted something fancy (hence my affinity for pretty napkins from Sur La Table) and something very specific to me. I’m almost always looking for some whimsical or glamorous option that best represents who I am as a party participant and friend.

Since I was working most of the day and only had about two hours to prepare a fruit option, I didn’t want to rush cutting into a melon, not knowing until the last minute if the fruit was ripe enough (because that happened recently for a breakfast that Chris and I shared). I’m also not very handy when it comes to cutting on the large-scale. Give me an eggplant, cucumber, or apple, and I’ll happily chop away, but for some reason, the idea of anything the size of a football or larger gives me nightmares of a knife falling out of my hand and chopping off my toes. Yes, that was a real dream. I like my toes, so I wasn’t about to set up a situation where that could come true.

Anyway… Chris suggested chocolate covered strawberries because who doesn’t love chocolate covered strawberries? He’s knows my penchant for the more decadent things in life, so this was a great idea. Also, strawberries are relatively inexpensive if you catch the right sale because they’re very much in season right now. I was trying to build from Chris’ idea, but I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go from there.

After work that Sunday, I hurried to the local Dollar Tree for my paper and plastic supplies, which was perfect for a party of about eight guests, so I didn’t need to buy much in bulk. With the bride’s gothic / punk wedding theme in mind, I grabbed cups, plates, flatware, and napkins in purple and red to create a luxurious and appropriate color scheme to celebrate my friend’s exciting journey to the altar. I grabbed four Hershey’s milk chocolate bars, which I knew were perfectly sized for melting in a double boiler since the bars can be broken into smaller pieces, thus melting faster. Then, among the clear plastic serving items, I found small square mini dishes, perfect for portioning out a variety of fruit to each party guest. A 12-pack was only $1, but just in case, I put two packages in my basket and headed to the register.

All of a sudden, my mind raced with inspiration (thank you, Chris) and I knew what I wanted to make. I headed to Stop & Shop, where strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries were all on sale, and as per my usual groceries, I also picked up some mandarin oranges and bananas. I pictured it perfectly in my head that I’d put a little of each fruit on each of the serving dishes, drizzle half of them with chocolate (since I was using milk chocolate, I still wanted my vegan friends to enjoy the fruit too). This would create a special little sample of everything for everyone to indulge in among the other homemade dessert varieties others were providing.

When I arrived home, I washed and divided all the berries into plastic containers, setting up an assembly line of ingredients. Following that, I cut two bananas in long diagonal slices and peeled two oranges, which I then segmented as well. I lined a long shallow rectangular container (perfect for serving and traveling) with damask print black and white napkins and set up each of the mini plates inside. Then, as my double boiler was warming and the chocolate was melting, I distributed a slice of banana on each of the mini plates, followed by a segment of orange, one whole strawberry (with the leaf still attached because I thought the green added a beautiful pop of color among the other bright fruit hues), about four or five blueberries, and a raspberry on top. Each plate looked like a lavish bite of summer. My plastic container held 15 of the plates, so I decided to make just a little more than half of each serving with the drizzled chocolate. I had a lot more cut fruit leftover, which I set up in a smaller container to give some to my parents (who always love and encourage my colorful and pretty food creations) and also for Chris to enjoy when he came over to my apartment the next night.

Once the chocolate was drizzled, I stored everything away in the fridge to give the chocolate time to harden. I only had about 20 minutes before my half hour drive to the party, so I wanted to make sure all was complete and ready for eating. I’m so pleased with how these mini plates came out. I love chocolate with fruit, especially oranges, which I thought really brought all the flavors together nicely.

Perhaps next time, I can drizzle dark or white chocolate, or even add some sugar crystal sprinkles or shredded coconut for additional texture and sweetness. Also, if I was looking to keep the calories down, I could avoid the chocolate all together and then the dessert wouldn’t require any cooking at all, which is perfect when on a time crunch before a party. Creating these mini fruit plates was not difficult at all, but it did take some time to set everything up just as symmetrically and picturesque as I wanted. My friend, the bride, deserved all the attention and care that preparing this dessert required.

Luckily, I ended up with some extra mini plates at the end of the night because there were just so many yummy food options during the party—we all left feeling so full and satisfied. Also, I had plenty of extra strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries to enjoy for breakfast the next morning, creating a healthy and refreshing parfait of fruit flavors atop my vanilla yogurt.

Thank you so much to Chris who always offers quick-fix tips any time I’m stuck trying to figure something out. I don’t mean that for just fruit either. It’s a wonderful thing when your partner can not only help you when you’re in need, but inspire you to be creative, especially when it’s for such an important occasion as my good friend’s bachelorette party. Chris gets one big smooch for this!

Alissa & Chris at Arooga’s in Patchogue, NY in May 2017.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking!

A Night of Firsts

It was a night of firsts. 

I have to start this post out with that absolute and ominous line because it sounds very Dickensian. When fashion and food aren’t on my mind, it’s all about the books. After all, Charlie is my literary boss hero, and I’m in the middle of reading (or rather, lavishing in) David Copperfield. That’s just a little bit about me as we get to know each other! However, I digress… I don’t want readers to be mistaken that this is a nerdy literary blog, especially when our name is Kissing Cooks. This is a nerdy cooking blog, we promise. Keep reading for some food dish. (Warning #1: Puns exist here.)

So, it was a night of firsts. Tuesday, February 14, 2017 was the first night that Chris and I made lasagna together and ever; individually, it just never happened for either of us, though we can easily lose count at the number of homemade lasagna dinners that we’ve had with family and other fine dining companions over the course of our thirty plus years on Long Island, where the notions of making and having lasagna are as present as our accents. 

Additionally, this post marks the first written installment on Kissing Cooks, which is the first joint project Chris and I are sharing in our young, exciting relationship. Also, we’ve celebrated our first Valentine’s Day together this week, which was every bit the romantic and fun experience any couple could hope for. (Warning #2 [specifically to anyone whose appetite for sentimental borders on barely minimal]: We’re a mushy twosome who really dig each other, as evidenced by this inspired social media milestone in our courtship. Please don’t let that deter you from continuing with us on our yummy journey.) 

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this kitchen-centric experience is the fact that we are a gluten-free couple. Though, I’m a part-time anti-gluten glutton in supportive solidarity with Chris’ healthier dietary needs. However, this first for me is anything but limited when my favorite guy is by my side and we’re going at it, and by that, I mean clanging those pots and pans in cabinets and drawers, preparing as a pair for perfect eats on a somewhat regular basis now. If we weren’t already, we’re totally domesticating each other, what with discussions of kitchen utensil trips to IKEA (handy lists in tow) and how we can incorporate other ingredients into future meals we ogled during our first afternoon browse date through the local Whole Foods Market recently.

Chris & Alissa enjoying brunch at Maureen’s Kitchen in Smithtown, NY in January 2017.

Let’s clear a few things up first. We’re not likely to post actual recipes on here. As much as I love writing about food and feasting my eyes on beautifully photographed, glossy-paged cook books by professional celebrity chefs (Hey Giada de Laurentiis, if you’re reading!), Kissing Cooks is more about inspiring others with our takes on the experience of cooking together, and less about exact formulas for how what we’ve created said dishes. As (let’s be honest) beginner-level home cooks, we love to use recipes found on Pinterest as a reference for whatever our latest meal plan includes. It’s important to mention that Chris and I are not cooking rebels or defying what it takes to create a well-intentioned and delicious recipe, nor do we think that we’re experts in anything involving food. We just love to eat. We love to kiss. And we love food memories. So in order to marry those pleasurable activities, a wordy and picture-heavyish log of our cooking concoctions shall thrive here. What happens in the kitchen certainly won’t stay in the kitchen, at least in our case.

In my own gastronomic quests (specifically baking from the box), I intently read the cardboard container from favorites like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Duncan Hines. Then, after a few trials of chocolate, I’ve tinkered here and there to discover the necessary tweaks for optimal flavor indulgence and well-accessorized presentation, honing my kitchen instincts. Like an outfit a person wears, how one dresses their food and home (like at the kitchen table) help to create more texture and delight for the whole darn memory. Aside from box baking and pantry scavenging, my only other qualifications for just such a project as Kissing Cooks is binging superfluous hours of cooking shows (for example: The Chew, anything Giada does [are you out there, girl?], and more). I’ve studied a wee bit in the world of food (see our About page to get hella jealous of my festive Florentine feats). Most significantly, I have been actually eating food ALL OF MY LIFE (Chris too!)! Not to mention that said lifetime of eating also includes inspiration from my parents whose time in the kitchen while I was growing up has not only taught me the foundations of food preparation and the importance of time spent together at the dinner table, but a lot about how to manage “adulting,” because such a word is a commonplace verb nowadays.

Let’s get back to the lasagna, shall we? As usual, Chris and I co-piloted: he multitasked, managing the foundation to any delectable lasagna dish comprised of pasta (Tinkyada brown rice lasagna noodles), sauce (Prego traditional), and ground turkey (Jennie-O) browning in some extra virgin olive oil. Whereas I prepared a luscious mixture of (the following store brand, budget-friendly ingredients, including) ricotta and mozzarella cheese (both part skim), two large eggs, and all the appropriate seasonings we love like garlic powder, oregano, and parsley (also, this was my first time actually preparing ricotta with a dash of nutmeg—and it was totally worth it, flavor-wise). In between, we maintained with the cleaning-washing-drying dynamic to stay one step ahead when different kitchenware items were no longer needed (a task I take very seriously since my little one-bedroom apartment doesn’t include a dishwasher, aside from my left and right hands). We referenced a helpful recipe from McCormick for bake time and temperature specifics, which worked out perfectly for a hot minute (not literarlly) to clean up a bit more, set the table accordingly, and watch the latest cackle-inducing episode of New Girl, our go-to what-to-do-during-cook-time show.

Once all was baked and rested, we dug into that sucker like pigs searching for truffles… and man, was it good! We didn’t need to prepare any garlic bread or side salad because we just wanted that lasagna—and seconds of that lasagna, to boot! The best part (for me, at least—Chris wasn’t asked his opinion here) is a tie between the actual preparation of the meal and finally getting our butts seated to enjoy it with each other. While he and I could never run out of goofy, thoughtful, or sweet things to say to each other, the precious silence in between each bite and sip of Pinot Grigio (Cupcake Vineyards) meant more to me than any twelve-hundred-plus-word blog could express.

What’s better is that the icing on the cake (or equivalent silver-lining cheesy topping on the dish, again strictly for me) was that there were plenty of leftovers for Chris and me to relive the gorgeousness of flavor and affection for at least two-to-three more meals the following day or so.

We had such a blast. We’re still talking about it, even a day after the fact. We plan on making some version of this meal again for family and friends in the future. I can’t wait to make more lasagna memories with Chris. Also, I’d like to thank our readers (probably close friends and immediate family) for taking the time to share in the development of Kissing Cooks.

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.