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A Latin-Inspired Birthday Lunch Was the Answer to a Super Bowl Day Conflict

February 3, 2014 by Joan Nova in Beans/Legumes, Entertaining, Family, Finishing Touches, Food Pairings, Latin, Lunch, Meat, Menu Planning, Plating/Presentation, Recipe Development, Rice/Risotto, Side Dishes, South American, Worth Repeating | 10 Comments

As you may know, in my family, we celebrate everyone’s birthday with a group dinner generally late Sunday afternoon of the birthday week. So, a couple of weeks ago I sent out a family text announcing I would host Gram’s (the family matriarch) and Julie’s (my d-in-l) birthdays on 2/2 at 5:00. Yikes … the push back was immediate. You think I said the world was coming to an end!

Not being a fan of football (or bad fried and cheesy food-fests), I didn’t realize there was something else scheduled for that day. We compromised and I moved the festivities up to lunch so ‘those who cared’ could be home or wherever for the big kick-off.

Coming off the holidays (the end of Nov through Jan 1), it’s difficult to plan menus for these early-in-the-year birthdays. I know because mine is on January 4th and I’m always at a loss when my sister asks “what do you want for your birthday dinner?” since we’ve already had more than our respective and cumulative fill of holiday meals.

Since this was a dual birthday celebration, I didn’t ask what the birthday person wanted for dinner — and just decided to go with a crowd-pleasing Latin-inspired menu.

And, because I can’t accommodate 17 people at my dining table, I set up a buffet table and created 3 dining areas — and just to have a little fun, I labeled the tables.

My one hosting tip is … I never, ever, ever plan a menu that has me cooking or frying once guests have arrived and I do everything I possibly can a day or two beforehand. Once the party begins, it begins for me too!

After I cooked the beans, I separated most of the liquid and cooked the rice in it (instead of broth or water) and mixed the beans in towards the end. Since the beans were cooked with aromatics and spices, it made for a super flavorful rice.

Another thing I did a little differently was the plantain dish.

I peeled and sliced them on diagonal but not all the way through so they looked whole and soaked them in a sweet wine bath. They were baked till caramelized and then I added cheese and turned on the broiler. I served the plantains with a piquillo-pepper and Mexican crema sauce made by blending a jar of piquillo peppers with evoo, a little honey to balance and finished with the crema and freshly ground black pepper. This dish was a real crowd pleaser.

Rather than the traditional shoulder cut most people use for ‘pernil’, I chose a large loin that had a thin layer of fat — and marinated the hell out of it with a mix of naranja agria (sour orange juice), olive oil, lots of garlic,and oregano (inside and out) and salted the meat once it was sliced. It was moist and delicious.

And then it was time for the birthday songs (we did 3!) and the sweets: a carrot cake requested by Mom, a chocolate banana walnut cake picked out by Julie — and an outrageous bread pudding with caramel sauce made by son. Sinfully delicious (all 3). I kept a small portion of the bread pudding and sent the leftovers back with Jim to share at his office the next day.

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NOTE: Some recipes found on FOODalogue are offered without ingredient quantities. They're meant as a guide to food pairings and techniques to be experimented with … in your own kitchen … to your own spice and taste levels … to your preferred portion sizes … and to however many people you’re cooking for. A perfect meal has multiple levels of flavor and textures, bright colors and tastes, and healthy(ish) choices. It's all about enjoyment. Enjoy the process, the presentation and the just rewards...eating!


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  1. redkathy says:

    Those plantains sound amazing Joan! Actually the while meal does :)

  2. bellini says:

    It would have been a day of feasting!!!

  3. I just put plantains in a chicken dish, reminding me yet again how much I like them. Now I feel inspired by this incredible-looking dish of them you have created. They look absolutely wonderful as does all the food. I can just taste these beloved and familiar flavors. What a lucky family to have you cooking at the helm!
    Victoria of Flavors of the Sun recently posted..Tomatillos and Two All-Weather SaladsMy Profile

    • Joan Nova says:

      Thanks, Victoria. I’ve had the plantains similarly in restaurants and they’re dressed with Mexican products!! Generally, it’s Cotija cheese crumbled on top and a drizzle of Mexican crema (with or without a cilantro Oil). Make sure the plantains are close to black so they’re really sweet.

  4. Thanks for the additional input, Joan. I will DEFINITELY try these. I used to boil them and then mash them with roasted garlic, a hint of lime juice, and cilantro for an interesting foil for various moles. That’s a nice treatment as well.
    Victoria of Flavors of the Sun recently posted..Tomatillos and Two All-Weather SaladsMy Profile

  5. Mom looks so beautiful and you did such a wonderful menu. I just love those platanos.

  6. I already told you I would be there! Especially for some plantains.
    angela@spinachtiger recently posted..Grain Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bake Off Testing Two RecipesMy Profile

  7. Lovely idea, Joan! Happy belated birthday! It all looks scrumptious, esp the plantains!
    La Diva Cucina recently posted..Spicy Comfort in a Bowl: Andouille Sausage with mixed Vegetables over Pencil Cob GritsMy Profile

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  1. […] rice varieties had a different bite. And … the whole dish was made with leftovers (well-seasoned pork), pantry staples (rice, lentils, dried fruit, nuts) and a few fresh ingredients. Of course, the […]

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