Food Blog Challenge 3: A Luxurious Puerto Rican Feast
While considering what to make for a luxurious feast, many different things came to mind. I thought of all the fine dining restaurants that I have been to, all the sophisticated foods I have eaten, and all the many wonderful dishes that I have not yet attempted to create. French food was the first thing that came to mind because for me, it seems to be the definition of untouchable, unreachable food to prepare. Some other things that came to mind were dishes that I have eaten at our many different food events in Vancouver. The sea urchin I had tasted created by Chef Matthew Carmichael. The tiny, delicate rack of rabbit; each wee bone frenched and cleaned by Chef Matieu Glouter . The caviar, creme fraiche, green foam, pink foam, braised, sauteed, de-boned, re-formed, immaculate food out there. The movie Ratatouille came to mind…I just needed a cute little rat to sit in my hat and tell me how to create seemingly impossible food that would confound all those around me. Eventually I had to come back to my slice of the world and think with honestly and integrity about what kind of food I would create and how I would put it together for friends. At any dinner party I have had in the past, I like to create a menu that doesn’t have me or my family crying half way through the prep. It is very confusing for my kids to see me stomping around the house like a half crazed maniac only to see a miraculous transformation into some sort of hostessing goddess who had been cross stitching before the guests arrived.
No, I have learned that sort of dinner party is no fun for anyone, the guests or me. I also like to create a menu that I know something about so that I am not dreading the upcoming event. To do this, I tend to stick with a theme and make dishes I have made before and maybe try to tackle one new dish. Finally, the most important thing to me, is to keep things casual and comfortable. Not everything needs to be perfect. Have you ever been to one of those dinner parties where it feels like your poor host is trying to get everything right? You become more concerned for the host and all your energy goes into making sure they are doing okay. At the end of the meal you look into the red and exhausted face of the host and wonder if you actually tasted any food.
This is me thinking….
So in light of all this I sat down to create a menu that I know makes me happy and and most importantly my guests. I want to be at the party and not slaving in the kitchen all night. I wanted a menu of incredible food, and perhaps something they have never had before. A menu conducive to relaxed conversation and from a region that is the definition of a good time. Puerto Rico, the Caribbean land of generosity and generations of hand me down recipes. Caribbean cuisine is no nonsense food that makes every flavor count. This way of cooking does not mess around! A Puerto Rican friend of mine was generous enough to take time and let me into her world of food memories so I could experience not only the food but the heart around it. This is a huge part of my cooking and my blog. Being invited into someones story with food and getting layers of history and flavors. She even let me photocopy her grandmothers recipe for Spanish rice. It was like gold to me.
For the wine, it was important for me to not only showcase Spanish wine but also pay tribute to the fabulous vineyards of the Okanagan Valley, BC Canada where I grew up. They are producing world class wines that very few people know about. So without further adieu, here is my luxurious dinner menu, with some upscale twists.
In the event of preparing for this dinner, I ended up having 2 dinner parties. The actual dinner party with the friends I had invited for dinner. The second one was for me, the next night eating left-overs on the floor.
When I was creating the menu I knew i had to have some dishes that were ready to go and just needed to be brought out and put on a plate. I chose Bacalao Salad because not only could it be prepared way ahead of time but it actually tastes better the longer it sits. I also chose Pernil with Spanish rice because, again, this is oven roasted and when timed right is another dish that can be just pulled from the oven and served. The desserts were the same. The bread pudding could sit warming in the oven until time to serve and the coconut flan was made the day before, ready to be consumed at the right time.
The dishes that required more of my time were ones that guests could not only help me with but could also learn a bit about Puerto Rican cooking (I am all about interaction around the kitchen). So, the other appetizer I chose to create was tostones (fried plantains) with a shrimp tomato-sofrito sauce. The great thing about sofrito sauce is that it is made ahead of time or can be frozen and then just added to the different dishes as they are being cooked.
Sofrito Sauce being prepared
I fried some of the plantains ahead of time and left them toasting in the oven and fried more as were needed. Normally, tostones are cut in slices and fried but I made what I thought was a fancier visual presentation and chopped them up, deep fried them and put the shrimp sauce on top. It is amazing how something as simple as a fried plantain can induce so much conversation around what you can do with plantain and how daunting they can seem at a grocery store. I am sure large primates just peel and eat.The market where I buy plantains Plantains and a tostonera (press)
The bacalao salad was the first sit down dish. When it was time to eat, I brought out this fabulous salad, my all time favorite. I put this classic salted cod salad in a cylinder mold to take it up a notch and drizzled it with vinaigrette. I just bought this mold so you may see many, many more cylindar shaped food. Stop me if you see Kraft dinner in one. Normally I serve it on a big platter but this was a special night so I created a special salad for each guest.
Tostone Chips with Shrimp Sofrito Sauce and Bacalao Salad
The next course was the lobster pasta. I told guests that there were two main courses. I remember when I lived in Europe and had my first Italian family meal. The pasta was not the main course but a precursor to more courses. I thought, what the heck, the guests can have as little or as much pasta as they wanted with the knowledge that another course was coming.
I made the angel hair pasta fresh that day so it only took about a minute and a half to cook. The base of the sauce was made, I just needed to add the lobster when I was reheating the sauce. It took hardly any time to prepare and was placed on a huge oval platter (my turkey platter) for guests to take as much or as little as they wanted. After the pasta plates were cleared I pulled the pork, rice and yams straight out of the oven and the second course was ready to be served. I cut the pork in slices on a large plate as well as the rice and yams. Another dig in moment.
Lobster Paella Pasta and a traditional Pernod (Salt Roasted Pork)
Finally the dessert. I am not much of a baker but after making these two desserts maybe I am a decent baker and I have just become stuck in a rut of saying I can’t bake. I mean, just because I can’t get a banana bread to rise, doesn’t mean I can’t pull off some mean desserts…does it? I definitely knew that I had to have one dessert I made the day ahead, not so much for ease but to make sure I had something that turned out. Sticking with the Caribbean theme I made a coconut flan (never attempted anything like this before) and bread pudding with a rum sauce. So yay, the flan turned out perfect as did the bread pudding. I made the bread pudding in these cute individual cups, then turned them upside down and added the sauce that I had pre-made to pour over. Then two scoops of ice-cream, some crushed pecans…done!
Coconut Flan and a Warm Bread Pudding with Butter Rum Sauce
So, there is the dinner menu that was true to who I am and made for such a fun dinner party. It was easy because most of the prep was done ahead of time and I was able to relax and enjoy the whole reason we have dinner with friends…to cherish the moment and connect with others through being together and of course eating. Nothing brings friends together better than food around a table. Wanna see the parties? Here we go.
Here is the dinner party with our friends Jeff, Giovanna and their two children.
Finally, my own party. Dinner done, let’s sit on the floor and eat!
leftovers, me, and the blue elastic band that held the lobster claws together in one of my braids.