Beaujolais Nouveau Day Celebration

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There’s probably no holiday I look forward to more than Beaujolais Nouveau Day.  It’s my favorite excuse to gather all my friends for a night of cheap wine and expensive cheese, and this year’s celebration was one of the best.  All told, I think we managed to cram fourteen cheeses, eighteen wine bottles, and more than twenty friends into our tiny apartment.  It was a cozy, laughter-filled night, and I still feel so warm and fuzzy from spending a wonderful night with such good people.

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A wedding party in Houston

Is there anything better than when awesome people find happiness with other awesome people?  Recently two of my favorite people got hitched, and they threw a big party in Houston to celebrate.  We couldn’t be happier for them, and were thrilled to travel down south to spend a fantastic evening eating cake, drinking champagne, and dancing the night away with friends and family.

Bourbon and cake

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The Mister has always been a big fan of birthdays, and this year marked his thirtieth.  We knew we’d be out of town on his actual birthday for a wedding celebration, and while we made fun plans for the day itself, a thirtieth birthday is something special.  Wanting a chance to celebrate with his nearest and dearest, we figured we could throw a little shindig at our apartment the weekend before.

That Saturday night, we hosted about twenty of our closest friends for a night of bourbon tasting.  We had a few nibbles from Trader Joe’s, some amazing cheeses, and, of course, our favorite dark chocolate cake with raspberry preserves between the layers.  The real highlight however, was the ten or so bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys set out for guests to try.  The Mister even made up info sheets for each bottle with details about their make and price.

He was in his element that night, giving mini-lectures about the different varieties, telling stories about our travels along the Kentucky bourbon trail, delighting everyone with the giant spheres of ice he’d made for the tasting, and teaching our friends to make quick bourbon cocktails with his homemade ginger or burnt sugar syrups.  I’m usually more of a gin and tonic kind of girl, but that night the pretty bottle of Willett was just my speed.

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Ringing in the new year

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Happy 2014, everyone!  We rang in the new year by eating out at our favorite Salvadoran restaurant, having champagne at a friend’s apartment, and then dancing the night away to funk, soul and r&b in Mt. Pleasant.  It was a great way to start off the year and I’m really looking forward to the year to come!

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Beaujolais Nouveau Party

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Last Friday, the Mister and I invited our good friends over to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day.  It’s our favorite excuse for a party and this is the fourth year that we’ve hosted.  Over the course of about six hours, we welcomed around twenty friends, shared fourteen bottles of beaujolais nouveau, and devoured ten kinds of cheese, two kinds of charcuterie, and one large block of pate.

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Beaujolais nouveau is a vin primeur, a wine meant to be drunk the same year it’s harvested.  It’s young and fruity, and in France many people have parties to celebrate it’s uncorking.  Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the first day of the year that the wine can be sold, is held on the third Thursday of November.  In years past, we’ve done the traditional Thursday celebration, but we finally admitted to ourselves that it was much too hard to drink so much wine and still make it into the office on Friday.  This year we decided Day-After-Beaujolais-Nouveau-Day was our thing.

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As you may have guessed, we are big fans of cheese and this party has always been the perfect excuse to buy a dozen different kinds.  I typically buy a couple of interesting looking blues for the Mister, then fill the rest of my cart with a variety of soft cheeses, the riper and oozier, the better.  We also like to have a selection of cured meats and a sizable block of pate.  I like to garnish the platters with lots of things to nibble on like marcona almonds, caramelized walnuts, grapes, pomegranate seeds, and melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolates.

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The other great thing about this party is that it typically falls the week before Thanksgiving.  Neither we, nor most of our friends grew up in this city, and over the holidays everyone is so busy traveling to visit family and trying to wrap up the year’s work, that it can be hard to find time to see each other.  Beaujolais Nouveau has always given us a chance to get together–admittedly over lots of cheap wine and expensive cheese–before we scatter across the country until after the new year.  It was so wonderful to spend time with them all, and we even managed to set tentative plans for a few dinner parties in the new year!

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and good night!

…and good night!

Nutella banana bread

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The mister and I have very different views on Nutella.  Unlike me, he doesn’t find a multitude of ways to sneak it into various sandwiches (peanut butter/banana/nutella, anyone?) or desserts and sometimes, when I’m oohing and aahing over some new recipe he will wrinkle his nose and remind me that it isn’t really his taste.  My colleagues, on the other hand, love Nutella, and when one of them recently decided to invite us all to an afternoon birthday party for his wife, I decided it was the perfect occasion to bake banana bread with a little something special.

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

I liked this version from Recipe Girl.  Instead of just dumping the Nutella into a cavity or slathering it on top (not terrible ideas), she has you temper it with a little of the banana bread batter, then alternate spoonfuls of the regular batter and the Nutella batter into a bread pan.  Give it a little swirl with a knife, pop in the oven for about an hour, and then you have a delicious loaf, each serving perfectly marbled with Nutella goodness.   The loaf was gobbled up pretty quickly and I enjoyed hearing a little girl and another guest politely argue about who was going to eat more of it.

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A few tips:

I followed this recipe pretty closely.  I even checked the loaf at the 45 minute and, lo and behold, the top was browning a little too quickly.  I covered it with tinfoil, just as Recipe Girl suggested, and the finished loaf came out perfectly.

If your first test with a toothpick comes out a little chocolatey, it may be because you stabbed it in a very Nutella-y area rather than that the loaf is underbaked.  Give it a couple of pokes elsewhere to be sure.

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To make this loaf a little more party friendly, I made a little flag out of a mailing label and half of a barbeque skewer and wrote Nutella Banana Bread on it.  Its a nice idea at parties to warn other guests if a dish may have unexpected ingredients like chicken stock, nuts, or mushrooms.  This way vegetarians and people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions can opt out.  Also, I’m very sorry for anyone with hazelnut allergies.  That must be tough.

Its also nice to not have to worry about keeping track of dishes and utensils you may have brought to a party, so in the case of this loaf, I wrapped it up in parchment paper as though it were a sandwich and secured it with a little bit of colorful string.  Easy to carry, festive looking, and no need to take anything back with me.

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