Restrictions have nothing on her.

Shabbat Birthday Dinner

Posted: November 6th, 2009 | Author: rita | Filed under: Rita | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Hi all,

Long time no write! I apologize for the hiatus but between work and technical difficulties I wasn’t able to write about any fabulous kosher creations of mine. But let’s look forward, not back. Autumn is a great time of year for food and I look forward to incorporating seasonal fruits and veggies in my cooking as much as possible.

What else is great is that my birthday is in autumn, next week in fact. A friend of mine graciously agreed to host Shabbat dinner as a dinner party/birthday celebration/Shabbat meal. I’m very excited, not only to share a meal with good friends but also because as always, I’m dying to cook for a dinner party.

A Shabbat meal is the epitome of dinner parties, with certain items that are musts. (Challah; some sort of chicken or meat, usually; wine.) These can be tweaked if necessary — I’ve been to many a vegan and vegetarian Shabbat dinner and lunch, for example.

Preparing and cooking for the ten of us who are attending this week gets expensive, which is why I don’t do this more often. However, my friend who’s hosting alerted me to a wonderful program run by Taglit Birthright, which you may have heard is the program that sends Jews 18 – 26 years old on a fully subsidized 10 day trip to Israel, so they can be more connected with the country and see what a great place it is. I did this the summer of 2003. (That’s right, I missed the big Northeastern blackout because I was on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights at the time.)

Anyway, what I didn’t know until two weeks ago is that Birthright will sponsor alumni of their trip to host any Shabbat meal — dinner, lunch, Havdallah (end of shabbat dinner), for at least four and no more than 16 adults… at $25 per person. Wow. Granted, you’re only allowed to do this once every 30 days, and I gotta say, kosher food is really pricey. And so they know you’re not gaming them, you have to take a picture of you and all the guests holding a customized sign so they know how many people to reimburse you for. Or, if you don’t roll on Shabbos like John Goodman in the Big Lebowski, take a picture beforehand of the set table and prep-work. No cash advance though, only reimbursement. But! Great deal! I plan on taking this opportunity as much as possible. So, this is how this week’s Shabbat meal will be funded.

Since my friend is a big wine and scotch connoisseur, he’s taking care of that and allocating a big chunk of the budget for drinks, as well as buying and preparing the meat. I’m very excited for kosher meat, since I don’t eat it too often; I’m practically a vegetarian.

Adding to the challenge of cooking for 10 — I insisted on creating and executing most of the menu, is that diner will be held not at my apartment, where I am familiar with the kitchen and the things in it, but at my friend’s, who, while I’m guessing has necessary supplies and cookware, doesn’t even have garlic and onions on hand! (I asked.) By necessity I will make some dishes there and transport the rest. Oh boy.

Here’s the full menu:

- Hummus, Tahini, Turkish/Eggplant Salad (all store-bought)
- Diced Beet Salad in tamarind dressing
- Mixed Green Salad with red onion, apple slices and cherry tomatoes
- Salmon (my friend is taking care of this)

Entrees and Sides
- Baked Chicken (my friend is taking care of this)
- Rainbow Swiss Chard with golden raisins and pine nuts
- Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Puree
- Quinoa Pilaf with chickpeas, pomegranate and spices
- Sesame Broccoli

- Grapes
- Pumpkin Swirl Brownies

The brownies were baked last night and omfg they look mouth-wateringly beautiful, a perfect pale orange swirled with wisps of chocolate. Pictures will be posted in my next entry. I know Bakezilla wrote about cakes making the best birthday dessert and I definitely agree! But I can’t resist a pumpkin-chocolate combo, ever. Even if I have to substitute butter for margarine.

I tweaked the brownie recipe based on the comments posted beneath it — thanks, Internet! They were actually very helpful, so if you’re going to try it out (please do!), take a look there first for tips. Last night I also seeded a pomegranate and washed four bunches of chard, but I still have a lot of work to do to get it all ready!

Tonight: make the sweet potato/squash puree, soak the red onions in cider vinegar for a couple of hours, make the chard and make the beet salad. I’ll do everything else at my friend’s place day of.

I’ll update next week to share how it all went down! Whew.

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.