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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