So my blog has been reduced to only posting about Project Foodbuzz for now. Hopefully for 8 more weeks or so! I made it to the third round and have been forced to attempt to host a “luxurious” dinner party on a seriously busy weekend. Friday night was my only option and I had absolutely no time to prepare during the week leading up… the best I could do was make some stock.
I had grand plans to do crock pot short ribs and cook them all day but my memory failed me and I forgot to borrow my coworker’s crock pot. Don’t ask how that happens… the extremes of how bad my memory/attention span is even amazes me. It’s a wonder that I can ever accomplish anything in a kitchen, where organization and preparing ahead are supposed to be the golden rules – not in my house! It’s all fresstyle baby, by the seat of my pants.
So on that note, I did a bit of freestyle. I wanted to buy a pressure cooker to do the short ribs but couldn’t justify the impulse purchase so I had to improvise – *enter stage left, rice cooker*. The rice cooker is essentially that – a pressurized, temperature-controlled environment that releases steam when the pressure builds up. It’s not as pressurized as a pressure cooker, but it’s definitely better than just simmering. And it saves oven/stovetop space. So, I loaded it up and let it rip. The details are in the separate page with the short rib recipe but I’ll tell you now – it worked and it was awesome.
Since my buddy Pablo was coming over for dinner and is an arepa-master, we decided to do a little South-Central (America, not Los Angeles) dinner party. We settled on arepas but decided to stuff them with a mixture of smashed black beans and cheese.
My love for food has been one of the most important and beneficial elements of my life over the course of the last ten or so years. I have developed many of my closest friendships through some form of bond forged over food. Be it Texas BBQ or dim sum in New York, food has a power to bring people together unlike anything else. When you have nothing else in common with someone, you can always talk about food. And what’s more fun than talking about it? Making it. So when it comes to dinner parties, these gatherings based entirely around food and interaction, it only seems natural to me to involve my guests. And what’s even better is that people almost always bring their own set of unique culinary skills to the party so dinner ends up being that much better than it would have if you had cooked it alone. There’s almost never just one person cooking alone in a restaurant, so if you want to cook restaurant-quality food at home, you’re going to need some line cooks…
I have learned after many years of terribly prepped and planned dinner parties that having at least one dish that everyone can help out with is key. It gives people something to do, it makes them feel like they were part of the meal, they feel better about doing more than just dishes, etc… and you have to do less work! It’s similar to the “cook for yourself” restaurant concept… Korean BBQ, Hot Pot – brilliant business models – people pay you to come to your restaurant and then THEY do the work!! And they usually enjoy it more than a traditional restaurant! Absolute genius. The interactive dinner party is the same general idea.
Now of course, there are certain levels of engagement – from just keeping your guests busy with one menial repetitive task like folding 800 dumplings, rolling a heap of spring rolls or churning out soft pretzels like a Bavarian dough factory (I did this last weekend for Oktoberfest and despite the massive mess it made in my kitchen, it worked brilliantly), to actually letting them produce the entire meal like a make-your-own pizza party, the options are endless. Either option requires minimal prep on your part – making a few balls of dough or chopping some vegetables – which then allows you to focus on the rest of the meal.
Back to our dinner… so our three-course menu is below. The titles of each dish link to separate pages with the individual recipes, descriptions and more photos.
Carbonated Grape Salad
A ball of baby arugula, carbonated grapes (like pop rocks but… grapes!), thinly sliced jicama and goat cheese with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.
Rice Cooker Short Ribs and Stuffed Arepas
Rice cooker-braised beef short ribs on top of homemade black bean and cheese-stuffed yellow corn arepas with a slice of heirloom tomato finished with a red wine beef stock reduction and sliced serrano chili. Served with a side of sweet plantain fritters topped with an avocado puree.
Cereal Milk Custard
A Momofuku-inspired cereal milk custard with a hint of bourbon and a brown sugar-bourbon crisp topping. Like creme brulee but softer with the caramelized topping crumbled for you.
The rice cooker short ribs really stole the show – mostly because of how amazingly easy they were and the fact that they saved so much space (and heat!) in the kitchen. We set up an arepa assembly line that worked out great and got everybody involved in the meal. We had all kinds of different stuffed arepas flying off the line.
The key to a successful dinner party is managing your expectations in advance. By involving your guests in part of the cooking process you let them take some ownership in the meal and also maybe learn how to make something new. You free up yourself to take care of some of the more difficult tasks and let them churn out the time-consuming labor-intensive pieces. And of course, the ultimate key is preparation – even if you don’t have time to do all the physical “prep” work, preparing mentally the workflow and how everything will come together is extremely important to avoid catastrophe. I speak from lots of direct experience on that one.
Check back for the recipes for each of the dishes soon. And if you liked this, vote for me!