Dinner Party inspired by Frida and Diego.
I used to be a fairly good host but life took over and I tend to take the easy way out these days. One pot, not too much time, not too much trouble. Maybe you will join me in questioning my sanity. What's the point of working so hard if not to also enjoy breaking bread (or fresh corn tortillas) with dear friends, new friends and loved ones? Am I working six days a week in order to "enjoy" a Trader Joe's frozen pizza and declare it "not bad, considering"? I want to see the people I like across my table and I want to feed them the food I love, grown as much as possible from my gardens here in Napa. I will have a dinner party at least monthly. I will re-join the human race! Inspired by the book Frida's Fiestas (I hate the title but it's a great book), I commenced with my new life as a host. The original menu was this: Snapper Soup Corn Pudding Chiles in Cream Stuffed Chayotes Flag Rice Chiles in Walnut Sauce Lime Filled with Coconut Prickly pears with anise Jamaica flower water Rice water Lime water This was too ambitious with out a staff so my modified plan was this: Snapper Soup Stuffed Chayotes Flag Rice Chiles Rellenos Prickly pears with anise Jamaica flower water I like the drama of chiles in nogada but the reality is it's too rich and the payoff isn't there for me. My plan was to do simple Chile rellenos with cheese a tomato broth instead. On the day of the party, I left work at about 2pm and went to the fishmonger here in Napa (Ospry) and it was a joke. I asked for snapper and some heads. They don't have heads. Today? No. Ever. Ok..... How about bones? All he had was monkfish. I felt it was going to be too different so I passed. I then asked for fresh sardines, knowing he wouldn't have them and wanting to be a little mean. I looked around, confused, as if I were in a butcher shop. I ended up boiling some cactus for a dish that was never made and used the boiling water instead of tap water for the soup. I imagine the viscosity added a little something but I don't know. The recipe calls for 6 serranos. I used 3-4 and it was plenty hot. The rest of the shopping I did at Vallergas, our great market here in Napa. They had pretty good poblanos, chayotes and lots of key limes. I bought a chicken as well.With the chicken, I decided to dump the chile rellenos and make up a chicken dish. The meal was almost nothing like the one in the book. I just loved spending the rest of the afternoon cooking with no email, no TV, no radio and just me and the food. I had to really think things out as I was pretty rusty beyond a one-dish meal for myself or something like tacos for the kids. But it was a gas. Everything was going as planned. Joan arrived on time and everyone else was late so I sent her out to the beanfield to collect some bean flowers (Flor de frijol) from the Black runner beans that were blossoming but not producing many pods. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them but a meal at Rancho Gordo without some form of beans was unthinkable. So here's the meal: Shots of tequila and mezcal and cold beers with a few little appetizers like olives, radishes and some pumpkins seeds that I'd toasted on the comal with a little oil and garlic clove. The bean flowers become gorditas with chorizo from Fatted Calf. The flowers have a nutty sprout taste and I am queer for them. This was last minute inspiration and I wish the photos did the dish justice. The snapper soup was easy enough. Snapper plus aromatics sauteed in lard. Oink and splash! For the main course, I ended up roasting the poblano chiles, then peeling them, then blending them with about a cup of crema Mexicana and a cup of the chicken's poaching liquid. I then sauteed some onions and garlic, added the sauce and then gently reheated the chicken pieces. This was all done in a black ceramic chamba pot. The recipe for chayote squash sounded less than appealing to me but I thought I'd give it a go. I don't like raisins and olives together but I am a fool. This was delicious and wasn't anything like I imagined. So the meal was fun, the crowd was appreciative and I learned a lot of new things. For dessert, from the book, I doused some sliced prickly pears from my cactus with Sambuca Romano and chilled. Wow! Another surprise. The two flavors become a third. Finally, Joan was nice enough to bring some cheeses to go with the pears that have been falling off our tree for about a week. Just a perfect way to end a good evening. I forgot to make the rice and the agua fresca. I quickly heated up some tortillas and no one was the wiser.