Make the most of March in the kitchen

Too cold to grill outside? Some grill in their wood stoves. — Photo By Kaylea Moore

It is March on Martha’s Vineyard, the awkward month that yields snow yet is the gateway to spring, the month that plays host to daylight savings and the vernal equinox. This time of year confuses me: one day I’m scraping the snow off of my car and the next I’m driving with my sunroof open. This confusion extends to other aspects of Island living. Constant questions flow through my head, such as what time does the library open? Is the dump closed on Tuesday? Arbitrary hours of operation continuously haunt me while I try to open locked doors and peer into dark establishments wondering why they are closed on Monday. Some restaurants have taken a brief hiatus; while others such as Copper Wok in Vineyard Haven will have its grand opening this weekend (check out their Facebook page for opening party information).

March is full of random holidays and national days that celebrate things like potato chips, clams on the half shell, and peanut butter lovers’. March is also national frozen food month, so be on the lookout for coupons for your favorite frozen treats. But above all, March is the month to make your own fun. Why not find an excuse to celebrate and host a party. I love throwing dinner parties, and I think that they are way more fun when there is a theme involved.

Here is some inspiration to make the month of March a little more exciting.

Keep celebrating Fat Tuesday this weekend with a Mardi Gras party. Bring the French Quarter to your house with purple, green, and gold beads and feathery masks. Create a menu full of Cajun and Creole flavors featuring dishes like gumbo or étouffée, beignets, po’boys, muffuletta, and a king cake (don’t forget the baby). Sip on Sazeracs or Hurricanes and play some zydeco and your favorite brass band music.

Make your friends do some of the work by throwing a potluck party. It’s always fun to choose a country or region and have guests bring a dish they’ve created inspired by that location. Another fun way to host a potluck party is through a cooking contest. During past holidays my family would decide on a dish and have everyone take their best go at it. For the pizza competition, my father’s shrimp pesto pizza still reigns supreme.

Last year, on a ski trip I went on, there was some serious competition in the kitchen. The first night was a meatball contest, where people brought meatballs already made and everyone voted on which they liked best. Another night was devoted to the game “Stir Crazy” where two teams battled it out in the kitchens to create an Asian inspired appetizer, entrée, and side dish with pre-selected ingredients and no recipes. For your own “Iron Chef” or “Chopped” experience, have guests bring random ingredients and collaboratively make a meal together or divide into teams and throw down.

Expand your wine knowledge by having a wine tasting party. Invite guests to bring a bottle of red or white wine, depending on which varietals you want to try. Put bottles into brown paper lunch bags and fasten using a rubber band or twine. Judge the wine based on its characteristics, and try to determine its value, region, and varietal.

Plan your next party around a game night featuring poker, Monopoly, or good old-fashioned charades and create no-mess finger foods that are easy to pop in your mouth between turns (you don’t want sticky cards). Or whip up some Super Bowl inspired snacks to watch during a March Madness game.

Keep dinner parties simple by creating one pot meals such as pasta, risotto, or jambalaya or throw something in the slow cooker like pulled pork. I love serving dishes that are interactive, that guests can participate in creating such as personal pizzas or tacos and chili that can be doctored with toppings of choice. The same topping bar idea holds true for dessert, where build-your-own ice cream sundaes are always a crowd pleaser (make sure to have chocolate chip cookies or brownies on hand).

It’s always fun to celebrate a food or ingredient and make it the center of attention at a dinner party. I have attended parties that have celebrated crabs, oysters, lobster, scallops, and bacon. Choose something that is in season or that is fun to cook with and create a menu that highlights the ingredient in each dish that you serve.

Themes can focus on food or on cooking methods. Recently, a friend fired up his wood stove for some winter grilling of New York strip steaks. It was a fun conversation piece and warm spot for people to congregate. Try your hand at an outdoor smoker or just in time for St. Patrick’s Day fix your friends a boiled dinner to serve with green beer.

Parties don’t have to be limited to evenings. One of my favorite parties to host when living in Boston was a Sunday brunch. I would do most of the cooking the night before and serve items such as stratas or frittatas, muffins, roasted vegetables, prosciutto, fruit, mimosas, and bloody Marys. Most of my friends lived walking distance from my house and it was always a fun way to start off the day.

We shouldn’t need excuses to get together during the winter and spend time with friends. Get out of the house, plan a party, attend a party, or check out a restaurant you haven’t been to. Make haste, summer will be here before we know it.

On that note, Dairy Queen in Edgartown opens Tuesday, March 11.