Since Maxie became more (eh, a little tiny more) independent this year, Mario and I have decided to throw some parties to reconnect with our old friends that we longer have time to hang out with. We pretend these parties are for Ravi and Maxie’s birthday, but we invite none of their friends but our own. We hope this tactic will work for another few year before they begin to demand real birthday parties with their own friends.
So the party we had last Saturday was for Maxie’s birthday. This time around, our invite list had 90% acceptance rate and that translates into over 30 guests. Once I got over the initial shock, I went to work to find the easiest recipe that cover all bases (courses, meat type, special preferences…etc.) My strategy in tackling these large meals is to bake, and choose recipes that requires minimum cutting and can be at least partly prepared in advance. Here’s our menu.
Balsamic Strawberries with Whipped Mascarpone Cheese
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail
Once the menu was finalized, I began to generate a shopping list and broke it down into two categories: grocery store buys (Ralphs) and bulk buys (Costco). I had planned to take Friday (the day before) off to prepare for the food.
I had a shopping list a page long! Friday morning I went shopping immediately after I dropped off the kids. 2 stores and 2 hours later, I finally get what I needed and headed home. But I was already behind schedule, No time for lunch or breaks! I scheduled Maxie’s birthday party that same afternoon and I had to bake cupcakes, make frosting, bag party favors, and prepare snacks. I spring into baking action immediately. Good thing I treated myself to some latte in the morning, that’s breakfast and lunch right there! By 3:15PM, I got my act together and raced over to the daycare. Good thing nobody got mad at me for being late.
At night after sending the kids to bed with Mario, I came back to the kitchen to begin real work. I checked the time, it was 9PM. The goal for that night was to do all the cutting, mixing, and any other prep work that can be done ahead. That means browning all 9 lbs of chicken legs, and cut and pack all its ingredients; mixing up the meat loaf; defrosting the shrimps and put them into marinate. I store the prep’ed item into large zipped lock bags and then into the refrigerator they go. By the time I finished it was 12:30PM.
I began cooking Saturday morning at 9AM. The main dishes were already prep’ed so all I had to do there was to bake them. The challenge was to do the strawberries, brussel sprouts, and Mediterranean Salad while baking and keeping the kids out of the kitchen. There are definitely a down side in the open kitchen floor plan. 12:15PM, my first guest arrived to find me in my pajamas needing a shower. How embarrassing. 12:40PM, Flo has cleaned up her act and ready for prime time. One last dish, meat load, in the oven. Success! It felt like a war and I barely had time to breath. So I didn’t take any pictures of the food. But the food did turn out great. I personally loved the Portuguese Chicken and the strawberries. Mario loved the Mediterranean Salad. Even the brussel sprouts had fans. Supper success!
Okay, we are getting to the recipes. Some links are already attached to the menu above. Here are the other ones and some of my comments.
Balsamic Strawberries with Whipped Mascarpone Cheese: I wanted to keep this one fresh so it was made entirely on Saturday morning. Very tasty and simple to make. 5 stars!
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons, plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extra
3 pint baskets strawberries, hulled & halved
1. Combine vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, and lemon juice in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup is reduced to scant 1/4 cup, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl; cool completely. (Note: this can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
2. Combine mascarpone cheese, cream, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons sugar in medium bowl. Whisk until thick soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.
3. Combine berries and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar in large bowl; drizzlewith balsamic syrup and toss to blend. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Divide berries and syrup among small clear plastic cups. Top with mascarpone mixture.
Mediterranean Salad. Mario’s favorite. Made entirely on Saturday morning.
Portuguese Chicken. This dish took the longest to make and most of that was the night before. All I had to do the next day was to assemble and bake. I used 9 lbs of organic chicken drumsticks, so I used 3 times as much ingredients. I also used foil on sheet pans instead of baking in a pan because I don’t like to clean up. My favorite dish of the day, well worth the time. 5 stars!
Sorry I cannot give credit to the originator of the recipe, as I got it from my friend Drew who got it from somewhere else.
1 cup all purpose
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika
3 lbs chicken pieces (with skin and bones)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
1/2 tablespoon onion powder
2 large roasted red peppers from jar, halved, cut into 3/4″ stripps
6 large garlic cloves, pressed
4 large fresh italian parsley springs
4 large fresh bay leaves, bruised
1/2 cup dry white whine
1/2 cup tawny port
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
1. Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Whisk 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1.5 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in large bowl. Add chicken pieces to seasoned flour, 1 at a time, and turn to coat. Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken, skin side down, and saute until brown, 3 – 5 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate; reserve skillet.
2. Arrange chicken in single layer in large ovenproof pot. Top with tomatoes and juice, prosciutto, onion powder, peppers, garlic, parsley, and bay leaves; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Add wine and Port to reserved skillet. Bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Remove from heat. Whisk in mustard and tomato paste; Pour mixture over chicken and bring to a boil. Cover and transfer to oven.
3. Braise chicken until very tender, about 1.5 hours. Discard bay leaves and parsley. Using tongs, transfer chicken and toppings to platter. Return sauce in pot to simmer. If thicker sauce is desired, stir in 1 tablespoon flour and butter in small bowl until smooth paste forms. Add flour paste to sauce and whisk to blend. Simmer until sauce thickens to desired consistency, whisking often. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon over chicken and serve.
Meat Loaf. Mario and I both much more prefer the old fashion meat loaf. It is so simple that I thought it might be too common so I used a fancier recipe. But the old fashion definitely beat out the fashionable this time.
Roasted Shrimp Cocktail. I followed the entire recipe 6 weeks ago at Ravi’s party but most people just skipped the sauce. So this time around I only made shrimps and they are so good. I got two 2lb bag of large shrimps from Costco, defrosted and marinated with olive oil, salt and pepper the night before. All I had to do on Saturday was to pour them out onto baking sheet and bake. But do be careful of the bake time. It took me 12-15 minutes instead of 8-10 minutes from the recipe. The simplest and tastiest recipe that day! Love it!
This party was definitely an improvement from previously ones. Once my last dish was in the oven by 12:30PM, I was free to enjoy myself. The party lasted till 4:30PM and we all had a great time. The best part? It was so easy to clean up. Since I mostly baked using sheet pans with foil, all I had to do was to toss them into trash and call it done. I sent most left overs home with friends so no packing away food also.
Total time spent on making this party awesome? 9 hrs, including shopping. Since I had kids, I don’t cook much anymore so I enjoyed cooking this gigantic meal. Exploring new recipes and techniques are my new challenges and I love to push myself to become more daring each time.