Mexican Fiesta (Last Saturday's Vegetarian Dinner Party)
In case you missed it, I hosted a dinner party on Saturday. I was inspired by my friend who hosted a Japanese-themed dinner party a few months earlier, complete with okonomiyaki and gyoza. So delish.
I'm in a baking phase at the moment (you'll miss my food posts when they're gone, you will) and I decided I would host a dinner party. A vegetarian one. But what is still theme-y and vegetarian? Indian curry night!
I like curry. Curry seemed like a good option. I do an amazing mango chicken curry. However, this was to be a vegetarian dinner party since I am slowly (real slowly) moving away from meat towards a more plant based existence. I thought I would share the love and proverbial chickpeas.
The more I practiced making curry, though, the less and less I wanted to eat curry. I was looking at so many photos of curry and reading so many recipes, not to mention actually cooking and eating the damn thing, that I out-curried myself. I know. It really can happen.
When I thought about eating another mouthful of rice on Saturday, I felt a little sick. But this was meant to be my dinner party. Why the heck was I throwing it if I wasn't even going to enjoy the food? I feel like this argument extends nicely into the wedding sector, where brides spend trillions on lobster and filet mignon and mini burgers and then don't eat a crumb. This is why when I am a bride I'll be having a dessert reception. Sweets only. No savoury allowed. But we won't get into all my ridiculously premature wedding ideas in this post. Or maybe til I am married. Goodbye Tinder friend reading this. It was lovely knowing you.
Back to dinner party: I couldn't stomach any more curry but I still wanted to cook exclusively vegetarian and have some sort of cohesion to the whole event. Mexican Night was born!
The point of this excessively long introduction (that I will not cut down) is that along the way to creating my Mexican extravaganza, I picked up a few useful tips. I'm going to share them with you so that your own Mexican/Spanish/Czechoslovakian dinner party may far outshine mine. This is a near certainty because of the brownie fiasco but, calm down, we're getting there.
The real challenge about dinner parties is all the moving parts. My initial thinking with the curries was that I'd make them the night before because then the flavour develops overnight. Plus then the actual night is not mayhem trying to stir ten pots and welcome guests and mix a signature cocktail. When I switched to Mexican night, I figured this long-term prep was no longer possible. Brm, brmmmmm** It is possible! (You just have to believe!)
If belief fails you, your oven may help. Your oven is a wondrous creature. It can bring such joys to the world as chocolate chip cookies and lemonade scones. Obviously not all ovens are equal. I worked with one in Warrnambool that required you turn on the gas, pull a lever and use a candle lighter to ignite a flame. The instructions were badly written (where was the bloody lever?!) but I was determined to not seem inept in front of my friend, due back any minute. Naturally, I sprinted over to reception (thankfully, still in my sports bra) and had one of the ladies show me how the oven worked, before sprinting back to the cabin. I'm sure I came off a total oven-lighting goddess.
If your oven is a smidgen better than the Warrnambool one - and chances are that it is - then it can be turned down really low without the flame extinguishing. In the case of my oven, there is a handy setting called "keep warm" so that the food you prepare in advance stays... you get it. What I should have done is pan fried all the sweet potato and blackbean quesadillas at like 6pm and then put them in the oven, so they would be hot and crispy when everyone sat down to eat. But whatever. Live and learn.
Another great tip is to do everything you can possibly do the night before. Duh. Past me knew this, yet stayed on the couch reading an Alain de Botton novel. You will not make this error. You will prepare.
Set the table. Vacuum the carpet. Buy the mason jars and matching serving bowls. Put out the candles, get the vases ready. Be a prepared preparator. When your guests start arriving and you're not madly stirring and dicing, you will be glad you listened to me.
Now for some very specific and very handy tips:
When your scales stop working, do not guess how much flour to put in the brownies. Also, do not Google how much flour is in a tablespoon and measure the flour this way. Although, now that I think about it, the recipe failed to state when the cocoa was supposed to be added. So better yet, choose a recipe that isn't dodgy and test it prior to the evening. In fairness to my former self, how hard are brownies? They're pretty much fail-safe. I'd never made a bad batch of brownies (I still stand by my black bean brownies)... until Saturday night. The consistency looked pretty weird but I prayed to the brownie Gods that they would transform in the miracle oven. When they came out, they looked brownie-esque. And then amidst all the jackfruit seasoning and the tofu coating, I forgot about them.
Bless my guests, they are all immensely honest individuals. I know this because while many went back for seconds of the cheesecake (dulce de leche - try saying it out loud), no one revisited the chocolate chilli brownies. The chilli, by the way, was an excellent addition, which I would do all over. The excess of flour, not so much. I have surveyed a select few of Saturday night's attendees and this is what they had to say about the brownies:
"A little powdery"
"Fine... but a bit dry"
Just so you know, though, my cheesecake was exceptional. Just to clear that up.
All in all, I served up:
- Pomegranate-studded guacamole
- Sweet potato and black bean quesadillas
- Build-your-own burritos with smoky jackfruit, quinoa crusted tofu and all the usual suspects (I forgot to grill the capsicum and cook the corn. Oh well...)
- Chilli chocolate brownies
- Dulce de leche cheesecake
- Mojitos (use lemonade, not soda water like Google says. So much better)
My penultimate tip pertains to pomegranate. Extracting the seeds needn't be a blood bath. Cleverly I didn't put my top on until my guests were arriving. That is my final tip: Change at the very last second. For pomegranates, as my friend informed me, simply cut them in half, lay them flat and hammer the seeds out. I know - brilliant! Where was she at 6.30 when I was staining my entire kitchen?
If this sounds like an entirely disastrous dinner party, I assure you it was not. Meat wasn't majorly missed. In fact, some people thought the jackfruit was chicken - success! The food got on the table, even if it wasn't completely amazing. Candles were lit mid meal. Many drinks were consumed. The singular mark of a good dinner party is, or at least should be, if you have a good time. Thanks to my lovely guests (and some super dry mojitos), I did!
PS. If you plan on hosting your own dinner party, thanks, I'd love to come! I come baring cheap wine, I don't cheat at every single game and I am an extremely competitive Pictionary player.
**Much debate about how to spell the sound the buzzer makes when the answer is wrong. How do you spell it?