Dinner Party Success!

Posted: July 22, 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?

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.