Restrictions have nothing on her.

Dinner Party Success!

Posted: July 22nd, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Dinner Party previously agonized over turned out to be a smash hit! Due to overwhelming demand I went with a Cuban themed dinner, full menu in a sec. My theory is everyone wanted a hint of exoticism and a chance to pair food — appropriately, not just for the hell of it — with mojitos. Can’t go wrong there!

For the menu I wanted crowd-pleasing authenticity and wanted to work with what I already had. The only very major expense was the chicken for arroz con pollo, since most everything else was either produce or in the pantry already.

Full menu:

- Avocado, mango and tomato salad on a bed of mixed greens (took liberties here; traditionally this would be just diced avocado with onion or something like that)
- Fresh corn salad with orange bell pepper, dill and lime juice (ok, I made this up but thought it’d be refreshing)
- Tostones (crispy, salty fried plantains) [omg these were awesome]
- Arroz con pollo (more info below)
- Black beans
- Sliced watermelon
- Baked guava in puffed pastry (I could probably eat these forever, but then I would weigh 600 pounds)

Friends also brought some sides, dessert and drinks — thanks! But let’s focus on the cooking.

Salads. I love salads. I love avocado. I love mango. I’ve long thought these two belonged together. I still think this. Next time, I’ll try a bit less mixed greens, more “solid” ingredients, though I’m surprised it went so fast! The corn salad was inspired by a trip to the grocery store while playing ‘What can I use this in?’ Seemed to be the least popular item. There weren’t any spices in it for flavor and it probably would have been better with mayo holding it all together, but I didn’t want to risk my vegan friend not being able to eat it. She couldn’t make it out that evening, incidentally.

Tostones. Joh was begging for the recipe, so here is how I do it. Start off with several unripe plantains. They will be fully green. That’s ok, that’s what you want. Straighter is better to make opening them a little easier. The skin is very thick, you won’t be able to peel it off, so I slice deeply along the sides and pull off the skin that way. For 13 people I used 5 plantains. They will go very quickly! Once skin is off slice diagonally about 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Not too thick but not too thin! Heat a generous amount of canola oil (NOT olive oil) at medium heat in a large pan. Place the plantain slices in. Fry both sides until about half-way done, then take them out and place a paper towel over them. On top of paper towel, using a flat, not indented glass bottom, flatten the plantains. I like them crispy, so I tried to make them as flat as possible. Then refry them, both sides again. Drain onto a fresh paper towel. Sprinkle with kosher salt to taste. Tastes best fresh but I kept them warm in the oven till guests arrived.

It’s simple, but time-consuming. Good thing, otherwise I’d snack on them daily.

Mmm, tostones.

Black beans, I simply followed the recipe on the Goya can, except I also add cumin and bay leaves. No green peppers, which I hate, but I think this time I added red bell peppers for the hell of it. I also go heavy on the sauteed garlic and onions. For the dinner, I used two cans and doubled the recipe.

Arroz con pollo. It was a thing of beauty, truly.

My aunt deserves the majority of credit here, since it was her recipe that was used. On my mom’s suggestion I cooked the chicken first and later cooked the whole thing together, until about an hour before guests arrived, so it would be as fresh as possible. Since so many people were coming I used two packages containing 8 chicken pieces each, so that probably comes out to the equivalent of 4 chickens? Hell of a lot, that’s for sure. Once placed in the pot it would all go in, the chicken filled nearly the whole thing and I freaked out. How could I cook rice without it all boiling over? Got a little nervous and forgot quite how much water was used, about 6 cups plus one full can of beer for 4 cups of rice. Beer is very important to this recipe, it keeps the chicken moist. Usually only half a can is used but this recipe I believe was given to me doubled.

Beer. What every recipe needs!

This is what you use to season the chicken.

My aunt advised using three packets of the Sazon Goya to season the chicken. This particular kind already has saffron in it which gives the chicken a nice golden color. Be liberal with the seasoning. In a pan, saute a large yellow onion and a few cloves of garlic and pan-fry the chicken. Cover in a can of tomato sauce with a bit of sugar to take the acidic edge off. Let it cook fully.

I set it aside along with the juices in the fridge. Later, when cooking it all together, put the chicken in the pot and add water and beer. Bring to a boil and add rice. Proportions of water to rice remain as if normal, but I guess see above for my liberties taken. Add saffron (in this case, 1 teaspoon; normally it’s about half a teaspoon), green olives, bay leaves and green peas. Simmer it on medium heat and cover, then wait till it’s done!

It came out pretty good. It tasted exactly as it should and was all extremely moist. I should have been more generous with the olives and peas. I just can’t stand olives but they should definitely be in there. I also think it could have been more flavorful, but it’s not meant to knock you out in the first place. Final verdict? Everyone raved. Yay!

Finally, dessert. The sleeper hit of the evening: guava toasted in puff pastry. This needs a proper name. It’s just something my dad used to do after dinner. As a little sweet snack he would wrap a slice of guava paste inside a square of pastry dough and toast in the toaster oven till golden. Simple. Quick. Addictive. Since we had meat for dinner I was sure to find a parve puff pastry dough, meaning no dairy in it. Easy enough to find in my grocery store. And that’s all it was. But everyone freaked out. FREAKED OUT. Clearly this needs to be made more often.

Conclusion: everyone seemed to enjoy the food. I’m still not really sure why I was compelled to throw a dinner party but it was a good time and fun was had. Round 2 coming soon?

Dinner party dilemma?

Posted: July 9th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Every few weeks or so or every time I hear of a fantastic new recipe there is a burning within me, a burning desire. Yes, I must throw a dinner party! What stops this from happening is mainly time, cost and coordinating guests’ tastes and dietary restrictions. Putting aside the first two — cause, yeah — the most important requirement is that everyone can eat everything I make. If you’re kosher, this doesn’t only mean no bacon in the fettuccine alfredo (or whatever), but if there is a meat dish there cannot be any dairy served in anything else at the same meal. In addition to deciding which “type” of dinner to make (meat or milk), one of my best friends is vegan AND kosher, so it’s always a toughie deciding what to make if she’s coming!

Well, it’s high time for another dinner party and to prepare first I have to plan a menu. Ok. Should I go with something light and refreshing but probably more expensive? Or a meal in a pot that can feed a bunch of people but will be heavy, non-summer-y? More specifically, for the two options:

Light and refreshing
- Something dairy for sure
- Spinach or summer squash quiche sans crust (I never use crust)
- Agristada, a delicious fish dish poached in a thick lemon sauce
- Some sort of salad
- Watermelon popsicles?

- I’m dying to make agristada
- More appropriate now that nature finally decides it’s summer
- Healthy?

- Expensive
- Not sure if people go for the healthy thing
- Can vegans eat most of this? No.

Meal in a Pot – Cuban food night!
- Arroz con pollo
- Tostones (fried plantains)
- Sangria?
- Side salad
- Watermelon popsicles?

- I’m dying to make arroz con pollo and Cuban food
- Feeds a lot of people at once
- Less expensive, possibly

- Hot, heavy, not suited for the season necessarily
- Kosher chicken is expensive (but might be cheaper in total than the first option)
- If my vegan friend attends, need to think of something she can eat!

So, what to do? There’s more leeway with Option 1 but may cost more, but Option 1 sounds more fun to make. I enjoy making lots of different foods! I’m thinking this will probably be for about 6 – 10 people. My heart says Option 1 but my wallet says Option 2. Any suggestions, guys? I’m thinking this will go down in about 2 weeks.

Brownie Update

Posted: June 30th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | 3 Comments »

Red Velvet Brownies: good idea in theory, didn’t come out as expected in reality. Oh but so what? They were tasty.

Couple of problems. First, I’ve never made brownies from scratch before. Brownies in a box, what more could someone want? It’s quick and easy. Apparently there is a whole world of brownies from scratch that I just was not aware of! My whole approach was off and they ended up more like thick pieces of cake rather than the chewy bars of goodness that constitutes a great brownie. (This is why my speciality is not baking.) Next, I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth, so when I whipped up the cream cheese frosting it wasn’t apparent to me that it needed more powdered sugar, but when I handed them out to friends one of them even asked if I had used sour cream in the frosting! Oops. Also, on the whole they were not as chocolaty as I had wanted!

Not making a cake was the whole point. I wanted to bake something portable but not cupcakes and I always love a good challenge. So, red velvet brownies. A friend recommended this recipe but not knowing jack about baking non-boxed brownies, all I did to modify this was use 2/3 cup of all-purpose flour and kept the remaining 1 1/2 cups as cake flour. The cake flour I have already contains baking powder, so I didn’t use any at all. Another mistake was beating the eggs into the mixture one at a time like the recipe says, forgetting that this will make brownies light and fluffy, not satisfyingly chewy like I craved. Oil instead of butter might have helped too, I think.

Does transmogrifying red velvet cake into brownies completely alter what makes red velvet “red velvet”? Will I be making simply red colored brownies? What do you think? I really have no idea.

Oh well. I will try again soon but with regular brownies. Perhaps with Chocolate Brownies with Orange Cream Frosting??


Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Just so you think this blog isn’t going to be too “serious”, here’s something I whipped up last night.

BEHOLD! Red Velvet Brownies!

Red Velvet Brownies!

Full update later.

Who Are You and What Are You Doing?

Posted: June 25th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

So, you may be asking yourself, what exactly is kosher? Is that like, deli food?

No. Kosher laws, or kashrut are a Jewish system of food laws that entail, among a lot of other things, what one can and can’t eat. For example, anything with pigs are out. Same for shellfish. Meat and milk together are a huge no-no. Milk and fish are ok cause fish are pareve. So are eggs. This doesn’t even touch upon how to prepare food or slaughter cows to make kosher meat. It’s an intricate, daunting, complex set of laws and the vast majority of humanity (including the majority of Jews!) don’t practice kashrut.

Many observant Jews keep kosher, but I wouldn’t call myself overly observant. It’s more of maintaining part of the lifestyle I’ve lead since childhood.

At this point you might be thinking, No bacon? Ever? Or crab? Shrimp? Cheeseburgers?? Poor thing!

But 95% of the time I don’t feel limited by what I can and can’t eat. Rather, I believe it’s allowed for me to eat healthier — kosher meat is expensive, which means more of a focus on veggies and homecooked foods. Which is not to say whenever I go to a friend’s or relative’s for Shabbat lunch it’s going to be a light meal. Ever heard of cholent? Or gone to your great-aunt’s for a family dinner? “Eat, eat, you look so thin!” as she dumps another heap of, in my family’s case, chicken and roasted potatoes and stuffed grape leaves and white rice and perhaps some marinated string beans on my plate, just enough to cover the whole thing. This applies even if your nickname is Shamu.

Anyway, I like being kosher. Sure, there are a billion rules and you have to watch out for not just what you’re eating but also what plates it’s served on or cooked in or prepared with, etc etc to infinity. But I think allows for creativity in addition to its other benefits; what can I do within these parameters? One thing I definitely want to try and make is an authentic banh mi. Good luck to me, since a lot of what makes it so lip-smacking-good is the crispiness of the bacon it’s stuffed with and its contrasting flavor with everything else, I’ve heard.

So we’ll see. I do also have to say that I am certainly not nearly as strictly kosher as many people I know, since I share my kitchen with non-kosher roommates and I don’t care if cheese contains rennet (which is not kosher), etc. Just putting that out there. But I certainly do try, as I have my whole life.

That being said, I am a damned good cook. Let’s see what happens.