Dinner party

The dinner sounds simple enough in theory but it turned out to be complex because everything was started from basic elements. The idea was to confer onto my mates just a few mad cooking skillz which are so sorely lacking among them. I've learned a great trick for dinner parties is to keep them small and to involve the guests in preparation. They're always looking for something to do and it makes them feel useful. Well hell, what am I saying?, it makes them actually useful.


* Chips and dip. Thing is, we made the chips together. I made two dips in advance; aguacante, what is the word? Avacado. Guacamole, that's it. And humus. By hand. I wanted my guests to experience the difference between hand-made and store-bought versions of these things. I do believe I succeeded. These two dips were prepared in advance before guests arrived.

* Ordinary tossed green salad with hand-made dressing containing ordinary ingredients plus a few unordinary ingredients that take the salad experience right over the top.

* Side of greens. Not often used greens, with a sauce that a guest prepared per my instructions, using an implement new to their experience.

* Seared steak

* Baked potato


The dips were made in advance.

1.) Guacamole = 50% diced tomatoes squeezed to release and discard the liquid. This prevents the mixture from being too wet. 50% avocado. Our batch turned out to be

* 2 tomatoes
* 2 avocados squeezed trough fingers to achieve a mixture of smoothness with lumps. This cannot be done with a spoon or processed with a machine.
* Chopped onion
* Smashed garlic
* Juice of 1/2 lime
* 2 jalapeƱos diced
* 1/8 teaspoon cumin <---secret ingredient that completely transforms the dish from blah to wow! Authentically Mexican.
* Fresh cilantro. Don't hold back on this. It must be fresh, it cannot be omitted. Some people don't care for cilantro and that's just tough. Too bad, they don't get any. You cannot allow finicky dead-beat party pissers to dead-beatedly piss on your party. If they don't like cilantro, then go sit in a corner and shut up. Do not indulge picky eaters. They can just piss off. Aren't I a wonderfully accommodating host?
* Salt and Pepper

2.) Hummus =
* Fresh garbanzo beans soaked over night. Canned beans can be substituted but I haven't tried that yet. I will though. This time, they were dried. Incidentally, they start growing in the water. The tiny pulmule or radicle, the embryo of the seed lengthens after the seed softens. Like bean sprouts. They are beans, after all. I want to try putting some into dirt. They're already soft, at that point, so you could make hummus immediately after soaking, but if you cook them the hummus will be a smoother texture. I cooked them in a pressure cooker, bringing the salted water to pressure then turning off the heat. This shoved salt water inside the beans. They're delicious right out of the pot. Anything in addition to that is gilding the already golden. Painting the lily, as it were.
* Tahini, which is like peanut butter made with sesame seeds
* Olive Oil
* Lime juice
* Salt / Pepper
* Any herb or flavoring your little heart desires. I used Middle Eastern spices, Ras el Hanout and sumac.
* Process until smooth.

Here's the deal: While two guests conversed and watched, one guest assisted in making ...

3.) tortilla chips from scratch using an old Mexican tortilla flattener. This was a new experience for everybody. They wondered, "why bother with all this when they're so convenient from a bag?" It's the only thing they've ever known. So fresh chips from fresh masa which they never heard of was an entirely new experience. Frankly, the difference in quality was startling. It was an eye-opener for all of them and they said so. So the tortilas were formed from masa herena which is corn meal from corn treated with lye to remove the outer layer to expose and make available the nutrients within the corn. When mixed with hot water a bouquet ,rises from the bowl that puts one in mind of Mexico immediately. For texture we also added a few tablespoons of regular coarse corn meal. Formed the masa into golf-ball size orbs and pressed them one at a time. Fried them for a few seconds otherwise they disintegrate during deep frying , cut them into triangles, (in a stack) and deep fried them in batches. Salted. All this required some teamwork and it was a load of fun.

One of the guests was particularly taken with this hummus. He ate nearly the entire bowl. Kept interrogating about it. I got the impression he intended to try his hand at making it, in lieu of just buying a batch. This made me feel I was actually getting somewhere with my tacit plan to expand the culinary grasp of my compatriots whether or not they're inclined to.

So those two dips, along with chips hot from the oil, were a full party by themselves. I recommend doing this. Or at least taking this approach.

4.) I chose not to involve a guest in making the salad. Last time I did that the individual's knife skills weren't up to the task and the salad was completely ruinously over dressed. I could do this much more easily by myself than by trying to involve somebody else in the process. I wanted to just get on with it. The salad was regular pre-washed variety greens that included spinach, arugula, and radicchio, plus the usual suspects. The dressing was distinguished with grapefruit juice and with ginger/garlic. ))) ZAP ((( like that into a large bowl tossed and placed on individual plates. No muss, no fuss.

* rice vinegar into a large bowl
* stone ground mustard
* honey
* juice of 1/2 grapefruit
* 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
* portion of grated ginger
* grated garlic clove
* 1/4 Cup canola oil
* furiously whipped
* pre-washed mixed salad greens
* sliced tomato
* chunks of Fuji apple
* toasted pecans
* mushrooms
* flavored goat cheese
* I forgot to use kiwi, which was sitting there but covered by a bunch of junk so I didn't see them. Oh well. Nobody said, "Hey! This would be a pretty good party if we just had some kiwis in our salad." In fact, nobody even noticed.

The trick here is to not overdress. This takes a bit of judgement. We want the leaves to be just wet, not soaked.

5.) Vegetable side dish. I used Mustard greens which are very large unwieldily, a little scary looking with thick stems, elephant ear dark green leaves. They're incredibly nutritious. Iron, I presume. Nobody ever uses them, and by nobody, I mean nobody I know. They're part of the whole so-called 'soul food' genus. They're usually cooked to death with ham hocks. I lightly sauteed them to shrink like spinach, searing them with garlic and snap peas, those delicious chubby delicious little snow pea hybrids, with garlic and chopped leaks substituting for a milder form of onion. The tough central stems were cut from the mustard greens and their broad leaves were sliced like fettucini noodles. All that was cooked quickly and violently in olive oil and steamed with a splash of white wine, covered to finish. Salt and pepper. This went on while a guest was set up and instructed on the sauce. The guest got to play with a new toy, an immersion blender.

6.) hand-made mayonnaise. Something I wish everybody would do, even in a regular blender or a mini food processor or even a whisk. Their lives would be changed permanently. An utterly fresh egg is blended with mustard and a liquid acid, we used rice vinegar. Salt and pepper. We added grated ginger and grated garlic. So our mayonnaise was mutated into an exotic aioli. The oil is added by the drop at first then more rapidly as blending progresses. The mixture magically thickens right before your eyes. This is a true wonder to behold and the person wielding the immersion blender is not likely to forget the experience. Let's face it, vegetables need all the help they can get. This sauce provides a party for your mouth. My guests were flatly amazed. Especially the one who had a hand at making the sauce. The egg in the sauce is consumed raw and nobody thought to complain about this.

My original idea was for rib-eye steaks but my choice was limited at the store, the rib-eyes didn't look all that great, plus they were ridiculously over priced at the place I shopped that day, for what they were. I opted for

7.) chuck steaks which I never cooked before as steaks but I knew to be a tougher cut. Judging by the marbling, they looked better than the rib-eyes so I took a chance. My smoke alarm goes off way too easily and the electric fan I use to confound it was broken so I had to take care with kitchen smoke. The alarm is positively obnoxious. I seared the steaks in a cast iron pan all at once then removed them to the oven in another fresh non-smoking pan to finish. I never did that before but I saw it on tv, it's what all the chefs do, so I felt confident. The steaks came out perfectly medium-rare with fantastic layers of well-defined coloration.

8.) baked potatoes in the microwave were slightly undercooked. My microwave is brand new, but it's the worst bastard thing ever foisted on an unsuspecting public. It shuts off prematurely then makes you wait for it to recover. I ran 4 potatoes through 3 "potato" cycles, which turns out to be 15 minutes , and they were still undercooked. I was over it. Nobody cared. Everybody finished eating the slightly underdone potatoes, they just weren't mushy soft like I intended. We could have zapped them further, but nobody cared to.

Then there was a lengthy pause were we asked each other probing personal questions under the influence of beer and wine, discussed the Democratic convention which is presently being hosted in our city, and told a few ribald jokes.


9.) cheesecake.

I was glad nobody cared for coffee. After all that I was wiped out. And I mean totally wiped out. And by totally wiped out, I mean please go home.

I had three Newcastles during the course of a few hours and the next morning felt drugged and woozy for half the day. I absolutely cannot handle alcohol. Even that small amount.

This concludes the story of the dinner party.

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