Monday, July 16, 2007

What I've Learned So Far

Yesterday I had fifteen people over for Sunday lunch. I made Posole with chicken, enchiladas stuffed with summer veggies and goat cheese topped with Mole sauce, and guacamole.

It was a milestone for me.

The idea behind starting this blog, as I wrote on my other one, Cooking My Ass Off, was to see if all these cooking classes and all my practicing in between could lead me back to France. I don't mean the actual food, but the practice of large Sunday gatherings with people, good times and good food.

Yesterday felt a little bit like France. To you, dear reader, it may not be much of a feat to do this. You may be able to throw together a great party without much ado at all. If so, you may not want to continue reading. But, if you are the kind of person who, like me, is filled with anxiety about these things, I need to tell you this: It was easy, fun, and the clean up wasn't even that bad.

Here's how i did it.

1. I made a list and a schedule. A few days in advance.
I sat down, and really read, not just skimmed, the recipes from Dara's packet (for the class that inspired what I made, see "Cooking At Dara's House" on my cookingmyassoff blog) After doing so, I made a shopping list and a schedule of when I would do what. This was on Thursday.

2. I made several things ahead of time.

I shopped, and boiled the chicken breasts on Friday. I shredded it off the bone so it'd be a cinch to add it to my Posole. I kept the boiling liquid as a little stock for the stew as well. Dara's Posole was vegetarian, but she'd suggested using chicken and I was gonna try it. I bought canned Hominy to save time and the soaking and re-soaking hassle. I even bought the avocados, just slightly firm so that by 12:30 pm on Sunday, they'd be ripe to smash into Guac.

I made the Mole on Saturday. Mole is unbelievable and you should steal this recipe. You end up with this thick red sauce, so deep red and complex (it has cloves, raisins, cinnamon, chiles, chocolate) it is hard to stop eating. Poured it into a Tupperware and forgot about it.

3. I only cook on the day of, what HAD to be cooked on the day of.
The enchiladas were simple. I sauted a huge amount of zucchini, summer squash, onions, shrooms, and carrots. (Sorry Mike C, I overstuffed the pan, major saute faux pas, so really I steamed them.) When they were soft I put a log of soft Chevre into the pan, stirred and cooked for longer. Don't do this in a non-enameled cast iron as I did though, it stuck like hell. I probably could have prepped these a day ahead, but I though the veggies would make the tortillas soggy if they sat.

Dara did not fry the tortillas first, but since Rebecca is from Texas and has the enchilada mojo in her blood, I let her assemble them. She pre-fried the tortillas, layered sauce on the bottom of the pyrex, then covered them when they were all in there.

4. Think of the people you invite over as ingredients.

It's tricky. You don't want just one set of friends, in the same way you wouldn't serve a meal of three different kinds of rice dishes, or six green salads. You want variety and compliment.
I had eight people over who were students of mine, actor kids who are now in college or have graduated from acting programs in New York or L.A. they are on the cusp of their twenties, which for me was exciting but also scary and lonely. So many open paths.

So I also invited some older theatre folks, directors, actors, who wouldn't be so olde farty as to have nothing to say to the kids, but might both be inspired by thier youth and also have some wisdom or connections to offer them.

A good idea in practice. But the highlight of the party was basically me with my ex students drinking mini Coronas in my back yard laughing about stupid shit we did in acting class.

But in theory, and for a few moments in reality, the recipe of friends was good. Maybe a little overpowering on the youth. Like Chili pepper or Cinnamon, certain ingrdients tend to overpower others, as simply part of their chemical makeup.

5. Set up everything before the guests come. Everything. Who wants to run around and wash forks or jog to the corner store to get ice while the reason you threw the damn party was to hang out with people you don't see enough.

6. Ask for help.
Rebecca worked her Tex Mex love on the Enchiladas. My nine year old daughter Faye made the guacamole which was fun for her since it had twelve avocados and I told her she could eat as much of it as she wanted. My six year old son Dash arranged the cookies on a giant platter. "Why are you crumbling the chocolate ones dude!" I yelled, panicked. "You'll see" he said.
He had actually made a giant face, and the face had an open mouth crunching cookies: thus the crumbs. Brilliant.

7. Taste as you cook and let others taste too.
At one point I bragged about how good the Posole was and let Rebecca taste it. "Mmm...great. But where's the Hominy." Shit. I had actually forgotten the ONE thing that actually makes it Posole, the f**ing big white corn kernals.

I had a great time. People were there who mean a lot to me. I was present enough to really talk with them and listen. They gave me ideas about what musical to do next year. they dragged me outside to take a few pictures with them. "Everybody bring your beers, we gotta get a picture of Winer and us with the beers." We did. A few pictures. A few beers. More enchiladas.
The crowd polished off a huge pot of Posole. It did turn out great, the toothsome hominy, the green grainy texture from the roasted pumpkin seeds blended in with the tart Tomatillos. Garnished with lime and cilantro. ( I posted directions by the pot so I wouldn't have to take each person into the kitchen and coach them through the assembly.)

9. Clean UP afterward.
This was actually fun. I put on Madelyn Peyroux, the house was empty, and while I cleaned up I could still hear the voices, and I was smiling and proud of myself.

Eating alone just aint the same.

No comments: