I’m still a contender! Thank you for voting me through to the next round of ProjectFoodBlog 2010. I’m ecstatic to be doing what I love…planning, cooking, eating, drinking, photographing and writing. I even gladly suffer the shopping and schlepping to participate. This is Challenge 3.
“Get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors…and share some hosting secrets.”
Since food is the most important element of any dinner party, I focused first on the directive “new tastes and exotic flavors“. Pretty quickly I came up with the idea to create a tasting menu sampling the cuisine and wine of the African continent. Once I satisfied that element, I decided to have fun with it and go all out with decorations, music, and regional wines.
Ingileni (come in please) as they say in the Congo. Welcome to my dinner party.
My invite said I’d be making a dinner with “new tastes and exotic flavors from African recipes”. Even though my guests are ‘foodies of the highest order‘, I had to assure them that there would be no gazelle intestines or monkey brains on the menu.
Meet Susan, a travel writer/photographer; Gail, a food and wine connoisseur; Christine, publisher of South Florida Food and Wine; and Maude, Chef/Cooking Instructor. (That’s not all they do but if I list everything, I’d run out of allotted words.) Interesting women, n’cest pas? We are all members of South Florida Foodies, a “food/wine/fun-loving/media-savvy/mixed demographic” group who love to get together over food and drink.
My home is pretty removed (literally and figuratively) from the Serengeti. It’s in a well-toned area of Palm Beach County with all the trimmings and conveniences one could think of (except an African market).
And my decor is pretty contemporary. That means lots of leather, chrome and white tile flooring…but I have the right color pallete…and with a little ingenuity (and research), I set the stage for a colorful African dinner for my guests. I even embraced some of the traditions African nationals use to welcome guests. For example, in Tanzania a hand-washing bowl and towel are passed around before and after dinner. I scented the water with cloves, star anise, fennel seeds, lime and orange slices.
Waka Waka (Shakira), Googoola (African Tribal Spirits), African Music (Jeff Joseph), Malaika (Bony M), African Mailman (Nina Simone), Mayombe (Maria Makeba).
Appetizers were served sitting on floor pillows around a low table and, as is tradition, guests were given a cloth to cover their knees (doubles as napkin and modesty cloth). Taking a cue from Kenyan hosts, I used a brightly covered tablecloth with “contrasting striped napkins for a startling effect”. In some regions you are expected to eat with the first 3 fingers of your right hand, but I opted to choose appetizers that were skewered and or spoonable. This is sort of a guacamole but with the addition of anchovies, sherry and onions. I’ll never make it the old way again.
O jo jo meatballs, warm marinated fruits/nuts, Moroccan olive salad
Dinner (the luxury element)
We lifted ourselves (with some effort) from the floor cushions and moved to the table and chairs thereby embracing the style of a Sengelese dinner which is served with “dignity and elegance” on bone white china “to contrast with other colors”. Mozambique, Zanzibar and South Africa also set formal tables using their best china, silverware and wine glasses.
I followed a Liberian tradition of turning the dinner plates and glasses upside down with napkins on top “so as to allow each guest to turn up their own plate”. (hygiene?)
“In parts of Africa, the husband may judge how much his wife loves him by the amount of hot pepper she uses. If his food seems bland, he feels her ardor is cooling.”
Dessert: Mango Ice Cream and Pineapple with Rum SauceWines
I bought bottles. They brought bottles. We drank bottles. Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc with appetizers; Rosé and Pinotage with dinner. All South African.
Party Tips from the FOODalogue Kitchen
• Be organized. For this party, I devoted a couple of hours a day for about a week to research/plan and make lists/sub-lists (how to decorate, what day to do what, photo shoot list); and to shop * repeatedly. For example, staples like wine (ooh, did I really put wine first on a staple list?), rice etc. early in week; mid-week, avocados so they ripen in time, other fruits and vegetables; the day before the party pick up the fish, meat and other last minute stuff.
• Be flexible. (1) The recipe for the Sosaties called for lamb, pork and apricots but I didn’t like the lamb chunks I saw at the market plus we already had lamb in the soup…so I substituted chicken. Also, I originally planned them as an appetizer on mini skewers but, somewhere along the line, I decided to swing them to the main course. (2) Don’t follow a recipe to a T if it doesn’t suit your tastes.
• Most important tip: I never plan a dinner party — whether it’s for 4 or 24 people — that has me tied to the stove once the guests arrive. If I can’t prep a day or two in advance and even reasonably complete a dish earlier in the day of the party, I won’t use the recipe.
With the first ring of the doorbell, I’m in full party mode. In fact, I’ve been known to uncork the wine before the doorbell even rings — well, I need to make sure I’m not serving spoiled wine to my guests, don’t I?
My guests arrived at 5:00 and left at midnight. They loved the food and ambience. (And, remember, these women are well-traveled food and wine connoisseurs.) It’s fair to say the dinner party was a great success!
Voting opens October 4. I’ll be back to remind you.
Appetizers: Avocado + Anchovy Dip (Malagassy)
o jo jo meatballs (Nigeria)
Sosaties skewers (So Africa)
Moroccan Olive Salad with Raisins, Dates + Almonds
Shorba Lamb Soup (Sudan)
Yellow Coconut Rice (Tanzania)
Steamed Plantain (East Africa)
Shata hot sauce (Sudan)
Pineapple Rum Sauce (Kenya)
*Note: I planned the dinner party from “The African Cookbook” by Bea Sander which was a gift from Oz, a native-born Nigerian and publisher of the beautiful Kitchen Butterfly blog. Thanks Oz!