How to throw a successful dinner party

This week, I am straying a little from my usual topics as we all get ready for the summer party season and sharing a wisdom I have gathered over my years as a private chef, serving over 100 clients.

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Photo by Juanedc “El Chef” Teruel, España

Hiring a great chef, planning the menu and collecting your RSVPs is just the beginning! Here are a few tips on how to make sure your event is as smooth as possible, kitchen to table:

SPECIAL DIETS

Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, vegan— there are so many people, especially in the Bay Area, who are careful about how they eat. Be sure your chef knows about requirements and is skilled in preparation of any special diets. And try to gather as much information from your guests as you can. Gluten-free may be a dietary preference, or it may mean your guest has Celiac’s, which has much stricter cooking standards. Also remember that your chef is not working in a restaurant setting with several Sous Chefs and most likely cannot prepare 3-4 different dinners as a restaurant chef does. Make your requests known up front, in case you chef feels the need to bring in extra staff (if your kitchen is ample enough), and expect to pay additional for complicated menus.

COCKTAIL PARTIES AND APPETIZERS, HOW MUCH FOOD DO YOU NEED?

When planning food for a cocktail party, how much to serve is determined by the length of your event. Assuming there is no main course or dinner to follow, you should figure 5-7 nibbles per guest for the first couple of hours, then 4-5 nibbles for the next couple of hours and if your event goes longer, just 3 or so bites during the final hours. You may want to switch from savory to sweet bites towards the end of your event.

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Photo by Ole Christian Helset “Tapas”

If you decide to go with “Small Plates“ or Tapas, which are heavier than traditional appetizers, or a combination of both appetizers and small plates, you should count each small plate like you would two appetizers. Your chef should be experienced in portion control and is there to help you with planning, so don’t feel you have to manage all this on your own. Remember, some guests may want to enjoy more than one serving of a particular appetizer….

KITCHEN AND BBQ

  1. Dishwasher should be empty (and working– if your dishwasher is NOT working its best to be up front with your chef/caterer as they will need to hire a person to wash dishes by hand). If you have any china that you are planning to use that cannot go into the dishwasher, likewise your chef will need to know and have someone to wash dishes.
  2. All kitchen surfaces should be made available to your chef, so as much as possible, store your small appliances and kitchen decor. For plated dinners, especially for larger crowds (more than 8-10) you may want to make an extra space available for plating. In some cases, this may even mean renting a table.
  3. Make some space available in your refrigerator (more space will be needed if you have extreme perishables on the menu, like seafood).
  4. BBQ grill (if appropriate to the menu) should be clean and ready to use. If yours is not a gas grill, be sure to talk to your caterer about who is responsible to provide charcoal.

Provide large garbage bags, make sure your receptacles are not too full to receive the refuse from your event. Most chefs strongly prefer to have: recycling/compost/garbage.

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Photo by David “Glassware”, January 2013 Random collection of drinking glasses

RENTALS, GLASSWARE & BAR

1         If  your event is a sit-down dinner, you will need glasses for the table (water and wine) as well bar glasses and/or wine glasses if you are having a cocktail hour, or champagne glasses if there is a toast. You should figure 2 glasses per guest for the bar. Due to breakage liability, many caterers will not wash your crystal or wine glasses; they will be rinsed with clear water and set aside. If you or your caterer are arranging for rental glasses, these can be returned to most rental companies without any cleaning at all (same for rented china and flatware).

2         You may be responsible to provide ice, one bag of ice per each ten guests is recommended (plus additional ice for cooling if you are having beer, soft drinks and/or white wine).

3         It is best to either have water pitchers for the tables or provide bottled water.

DON’T SURPRISE THE CHEF! (GUEST COUNT & OVERTIME CHARGES)

1.     In most cases, the event duration as stated in your contract is based on the average time required to set-up, cook/serve and clean-up for your particular menu, service style and party size, plus your stated expectation of how long your party will last. Overtime charges may apply when the stated event duration, which should be specified in your Catering Agreement, is exceeded. This is particularly common when guests arrive much later than anticipated and service is delayed. While this doesn’t mean you need to impress upon your guests that they arrive on time, it does mean that you communicate clearly with your caterer. After all, you know the crowd!

2.   If there are additional people who need to eat (i.e. your musicians, your babysitter) please advise your caterer in advance and they will gladly increase your guest count. If the actual number of guests at your event exceeds what is stated in your contract, you should expect to be charged for those additional guests (even if no additional food is prepared). If a minimum guest count policy is in effect (this is the usual way things are done), you will be charged for number of guests in your contract even if they do not all show up.

PETS AND GUEST TRAFFIC THROUGH THE KITCHEN

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photo by lindyi “helpin'”

1.   We all love dogs, but not in the kitchen. For the safety of your pets (there’s hot stuff goin’ on in there) and catering staff, its best if you can keep your best friend elsewhere during your dinner party or catered event.

2.   Although it may seem obvious to you, it may not be to some of your guests, especially if they are friends and family accustomed to making themselves at home in your kitchen; it’s not ideal to have guests opening the refrigerator to look for beverages, trying to be helpful by serving themselves seconds, or looking for a snack. Catering staff is there to attend to your guests’ every need and are happy to do so. A little extra planning (like having a cooler full of bottled water somewhere where people can easily help themselves) goes a long way towards preventing kitchen accidents.

LEFTOVERS

Have a discussion with your chef. Some caterers (like myself) donate leftover food to the homeless if no previous arrangements have been made. It is usual that some munchies will be left for late night dining (these don’t qualify as leftovers). It’s best to anticipate that there may be some food, even a substantial amount if not all your guests show up, leftover and have a plan before your event begins so you can enjoy your evening without interruption.

PAYMENT

Most caterers and chefs require at least 50% of event total beforehand and some even require that your event is paid 100% up front (usually in 2 payments, one of which is a deposit to hold your date). This amount will typically NOT include gratuity and this is something you may want to discuss up with your service provider. It best for you if the caterer doesn’t need to bother you with final payment at the end of the night when you are with your guests and enjoying your 3rd glass of wine!

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Update on my Cinco de Mayo Brunch!

Just wanted to let folks know that we raised over $100 for the Nepal Relief Fund of One Heart World-Wide at our first-ever pop-up event last Sunday! Thank you to everyone who came (22 “Feasters“) and gave. If you haven’t heard, another big quake just hit Nepal, so please consider donating to hep re-build One Heart World-wide’s safe birth centers.

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Meet and Eat: Join me at my premiere pop-up event, Cinco de Mayo Brunch this Sunday in the Mission

I am cooking up brunch at a pop-up event sponsored by Feastly this coming Sunday, May 3rd in The Mission, so for those of you who were just waiting for a chance to taste my food, this is it!. There will be a tortilla-making class first, starting at 10 a.m, then brunch at 11, with bottomless Mimosas, an all-Tequila bar and lots of great locals. Come through!

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A % of event proceeds will go to One Heart World-Wide’s Nepal fund. OHWW has been working in Nepal since 2010 and is on the front line of getting relief to those in immediate need right now. We will also provide an opportunity for those of you who may want to make additional donations.

Tickets

Tortilla making starts at 10 AM.
Brunch starts at 11 AM
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Dietary options: Gluten Free, Local, Organic, Vegetarian available (please ask in advance)
BAR
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Sangrita, Verdita and the Casa Noble Tequila Ritual: catch them all this Sunday at Feastly’s Cinco de Mayo Brunch!

baked eggsFirst, full disclosure: I am cooking up this brunch at a pop-up event sponsored by Feastly this coming Sunday, May 3rd in The Mission, so for those of you who were just waiting for a chance to taste my food, this is it!. There will be a tortilla-making class first, starting at 10 a.m, then brunch at 11, with bottomless Mimosas, an all-Tequila bar and lots of great locals. Come through! (Ticket info at the very bottom of this post, follow link to Feastly for brunch menu)

In Mexico, the birthplace of Tequila (in the region named Tequila where you can drive for miles and miles surrounded by rolling hills of agave), this is, naturally, the alcoholic beverage of choice. And one of the very best choices is something you may be less familiar with, an unaged Tequila.
Unaged Tequila! What is that?
This superior Tequila is available through Casa Noble, where the process begins with carefully selected mature Blue Agave plants, which have met strict requirements for water and sugar content. While most Tequila producers harvest their agave within five to seven years, the agave used in unaged Tequila is harvested only when it reaches full maturity, which may take up to fourteen years. Traditional methods, employed by Casa Noble, an award-winning produced of this specialty Tequila, involve slow-cooking the agave piñas for thirty-eight hours in stone ovens. Then, using only the core and hearts of the agaves, the sweet nectar is extracted, followed by a fermentation process that is 100% natural. This process allows the tequila to be influenced by the character of the agave, fruit trees and other plants that surround the Casa Noble hacienda, where the Tequila grows and is produced. The final aspect of the processing that results in this superior product is this: All tequila must be distilled twice. Casa Noble Tequila is triple distilled, resulting in a tequila that has garnered awards here and in Mexico, Casa Noble’s Unaged Silver Tequila including San Francisco’s World Spirit Competition where it won a Double Gold Medal F

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Sangrita, the Way to Savor Your Tequila like a Mexican
A great Tequila should be sipped, not taken in shots, and the taste should languish on the tongue and palate. Alternating sips of Tequila with Sangrita is the best way to do this. Sangrita (not to be confused with Sangria) is an accompaniment to Tequila, whose fruity tones are meant to cleanses the palate and highlight the peppery undertones of the Tequila. Its not a chaser, but rather is meant to be enjoyed before your Tequila to cleanse and wake up your taste buds.

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Tomato vs. Pomegranate Juice
Sangrita translates as and translates as “little blood”. And that, the blood red color of this sidecar to a shot, is where the confusion seems to have begun. Born in the Lake Chapala region of Jalisco, Mexico, Sangrita was not well-known outside of Guadalara (the state in Mexico where Jalisco is located) and certainly not outside of Mexico until Tequila started to gain popularity in the 1990’s (yes, there was a time when we didn’t drink Tequila widely here in the U.S.). As the alcoholic beverage caught on, so did its partner, Sangrita. In an attempt to replicate the blood red color, mixoligists came up with a recipe which used tomato juice, along with orange juice and something with a kick, which varies from recipe to recipe: Tapatio or Tabasco or chile powder. While this has become the customary way to prepare Sangrita, it may not be the original recipe: a more authentic Sangrita can be made with Seville orange, lime and pomegranate juices and a hint of ancho chile, garnished with a couple of jalapeño slices.

Our recommendation is that you master the tradition, and sip with a Casa Noble Crystal Tequila, slowly so as the savor the way the two play off each other. Try variations on Sangrita and discover what you think is the best combination.

Should you prefer a margarita, here’s a link to the best way to make one!

Casa Noble Sangrita Recipe (modified, recipe is for a pitcher which is enough for a handle of Tequila)
• 32 oz tomato juice
• 16 oz. orange juice (freshly squeezed is prefereable)
• 4 oz. hot sauce like Salsa Valentina, Tapatio or Tabasco or substitute fresh minced Japapeños to taste
• 4 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
• Jugo Maggi, Worcestershire and salt to taste.
Jeffrey Morgenthaler, who writes a blog on bartending and mixology and is author of the Bar Book,  “worked up a [Sangrita] recipe [based on the flavor profiles of the original] that should approximate the flavor of this spicy little sour orange and pomegranate chaser while still providing an authentic experience.”

Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Sangrita (recipe is for a single shot)
• 1 oz orange juice (freshly-squeezed)
• ¾ oz – 1 oz lime juice (depending on the sweetness of your oranges)
• ½ oz real pomegranate grenadine
• 3 dashes hot sauce or ¼ tsp pasilla chili powder
Mix ingredients (if using chili powder, we recommend a blender or shaker, so a to allow the powder to mix well) , chill, and serve.
Another way to go: Verdita
• 32 oz pineapple juice
• 1 bunch cilantro coarsely chopped
• ½ bunch fresh mint , chopped
• 2-3 jalapeños (add one at a time as you are blending, to taste)
Mix ingredients in a blender, strain, chill, and serve.

The Casa Noble Ritual
In honor of the huge celebration that Cinco de Mayo has become, here, in the U.S. (much more of fiesta than it is in Mexico, where it is primarily celebrated in Puebla, the site of the battle it commemorates, follow link for more on the history of Cinco de Mayo, plus some great Carne Asada recipes), Casa Noble Tequila is introducing The Ritual, a special way to enjoy your tequila. This is a cocktail in three parts: a shot glass of Sangrita, a Shot of Casa Noble Crystal and Corona Extra. All three should be sipped in exactly that order and repeated until you need refills – no shots allowed!

For a chance to enjoy the Casa Noble Ritual and a great Cinco de Mayo Brunch,  (and you can learn to make tortillas by hand!) join Feastly and Chef Gray (full disclosure, that’s me!) in the Mission this coming Sunday, May 3rd.  For full menu, including an all-Tequila bar and tickets through Feastly (advance sales only).

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Discover Mexico’s Comida Cuaresma (Lenten Food) and Viernes de Dolores w/ Seven Seas Soup recipe

(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist and co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.)

The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday and the forty-day holy interval ends with Holy Week (Semana Santa). This year, Lent started on February 18th and ends on April 2nd. The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word “cuarenta” (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico, the custom had been that adults only ate one large meal daily, and meat is still not eaten on Fridays during Lent. Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods), many of which are not well known outside of Mexico. Throughout the country (and in some specialty Latino markets in San Francisco’s Mission district), market stands (puestos) offer large dried shrimp for broths (caldos) and small dried shrimp for patties (tortitas), perfect heads of cauliflower for cauliflower fritters (tortitas de coliflor), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green, follow this link for recipe), cactus paddles (nopalitos), lima bean soup (sopa de habas), as well as thick, dried slices of Mexican bread rolls (bolillos available in San Francisco at these Panaderias or Mexican bakeries) for capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding). Recipe for Seven Seas Soup, a hearty Lenten main course soup, follows this article.

Viernes de Dolores
In a custom that was widespread in colonial Mexico but has survived only in the villages of the lowlands of central Mexico, the sixth and final Friday of Lent is Friday of Sorrows or Viernes de Dolores, falling this year on March 27th. It is a day of devotion to the pain and suffering of the Virgin Mary at the loss of her son. The secretary of the U.S. Legation to Mexico in 1841 described the festival of Mary as follows:

There is scarcely a house in the city where a little shrine is not erected and adorned with a profusion of glittering ornaments and blooming flowers. Glasses and vases of colored waters flash amid numerous lamps and wax candles: while the splendid jewels of the mistress of the mansion adorn the sacred image. The floors of the dwellings are strewn with roses, leaving a path for visitors, and music and refreshments welcome all. . . . In this gorgeous display, there is considerable rivalry.

Today, where the custom is still observed (the following description is from the town of San Miguel de Allende), the Virgen de los Dolores is honored with beautiful altars on this day, many with images that show her hands clasped at her breast, her face streaked with tears. In some, she has a sword through her heart. With an icon of the Virgin at the center, the altars include flags or drapes in purple signifying mourning, white candles for purity, chamomile for her humility, bitter oranges for her sorrow, fennel signifying the betrayal of Jesus by his disciples, and gold foil representing her joy in the knowledge that Jesus will be reborn. These altars typically appear in the town plazas and churches as well as in homes. Some are small but others occupy an entire room, which has been cleared of furniture for this purpose. Often, similar to Día de Los Muertos or the nativities of the Christmas holiday period, the entire family labors for days perfecting every detail, down to village scenes at feet of the icon of Mary.

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Photo by Joven_60

Public fountains are cleaned and filled with fresh flowers, chamomile, fennel, and purple papel picado (Mexican cut paper banners) and white and gold foil. Also, pots of pale wheat grass are grown without light to produce a pale yellow plant that is then exposed to the sun over the course of Cuaresma, turning it a bright green, a reminder of the Resurrection and renewal of life. Homeowners hand out treats, which include candied chilacayote (a kind of squash), which has been served on this day for nearly three hundred years.
Seven Seas Soup / Sopa  Siete Mares
(Serves 4–6)
Guajillo Sauce Base ( see A below)
¼ lb dry shrimp or pulverized shrimp
2 large sprigs epazote (or cilantro)
3 quarts fish or chicken stock + 1 cup fish stock or 1 fish stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
6 small boiling potatoes, diced ¾ inch
4 large crab legs
1 lb oysters, cleaned
½ lb clams, cleaned
12 medium-large shrimp, deveined
12 oz cod or halibut cut into small chunks
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 onion finely, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped Spanish white onion
½ cup cilantro
2 large Mexican limes, cut into wedges
Add the guajillo sauce base, powdered or dry shrimp, and epazote to the broth in a pot and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper; add fish stock (or if you are using cube, stir until well dissolved). At this point you can remove the dry shrimp if you added whole dry shrimp. To finish the soup, add the potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Add cod,chunks, crab legs, oysters, and clams, and simmer until the shellfish open, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 3–4 minutes. For garnishes, chop onion and cilantro, cut the lime in wedges, and place in a serving bowl. Serve the soup in large, warmed bowls, passing the garnishes separately.

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Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl

A. Guajillo Sauce Base
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 medium-large guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 Spanish white onion

(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist and co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.)
The first day of Lent is Ash Wednesday and the forty-day holy interval ends with Holy Week (Semana Santa). This year, Lent started on February 18th and ends on April 2nd. The Spanish word for Lent is Cuaresma, from the word “cuarenta” (forty), as this traditional period of abstinence corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness (the six Sundays are not counted). In Mexico, the custom had been that adults only ate one large meal daily, and meat is still not eaten on Fridays during Lent. Mexican households shop for and prepare what is known as comida cuaresmeña (Lenten foods), many of which are not well known outside of Mexico. Throughout the country (and in some specialty Latino markets in San Francisco’s Mission district), market stands (puestos) offer large dried shrimp for broths (caldos) and small dried shrimp for patties (tortitas), perfect heads of cauliflower for cauliflower fritters (tortitas de coliflor), seasonal romeritos (a spinach-like green, follow this link for recipe), cactus paddles (nopalitos), lima bean soup (sopa de habas), as well as thick, dried slices of Mexican bread rolls (bolillos available in San Francisco at these Panaderias or Mexican bakeries) for capirotada (Mexican Bread Pudding). Recipe for Seven Seas Soup, a hearty Lenten main course soup, follows this article.

Viernes de Dolores
In a custom that was widespread in colonial Mexico but has survived only in the villages of the lowlands of central Mexico, the sixth and final Friday of Lent is Friday of Sorrows or Viernes de Dolores, falling this year on March 27th. It is a day of devotion to the pain and suffering of the Virgin Mary at the loss of her son. The secretary of the U.S. Legation to Mexico in 1841 described the festival of Mary as follows:

There is scarcely a house in the city where a little shrine is not erected and adorned with a profusion of glittering ornaments and blooming flowers. Glasses and vases of colored waters flash amid numerous lamps and wax candles: while the splendid jewels of the mistress of the mansion adorn the sacred image. The floors of the dwellings are strewn with roses, leaving a path for visitors, and music and refreshments welcome all. . . . In this gorgeous display, there is considerable rivalry.

Today, where the custom is still observed (the following description is from the town of San Miguel de Allende), the Virgen de los Dolores is honored with beautiful altars on this day, many with images that show her hands clasped at her breast, her face streaked with tears. In some, she has a sword through her heart. With an icon of the Virgin at the center, the altars include flags or drapes in purple signifying mourning, white candles for purity, chamomile for her humility, bitter oranges for her sorrow, fennel signifying the betrayal of Jesus by his disciples, and gold foil representing her joy in the knowledge that Jesus will be reborn. These altars typically appear in the town plazas and churches as well as in homes. Some are small but others occupy an entire room, which has been cleared of furniture for this purpose. Often, similar to Día de Los Muertos or the nativities of the Christmas holiday period, the entire family labors for days perfecting every detail, down to village scenes at feet of the icon of Mary.
Public fountains are cleaned and filled with fresh flowers, chamomile, fennel, and purple papel picado (Mexican cut paper banners) and white and gold foil. Also, pots of pale wheat grass are grown without light to produce a pale yellow plant that is then exposed to the sun over the course of Cuaresma, turning it a bright green, a reminder of the Resurrection and renewal of life. Homeowners hand out treats, which include candied chilacayote (a kind of squash), which has been served on this day for nearly three hundred years.
Seven Seas Soup / Sopa  Siete Mares
(Serves 4–6)
Guajillo Sauce Base ( see A below)
¼ lb dry shrimp or pulverized shrimp
2 large sprigs epazote (or cilantro)
3 quarts fish or chicken stock + 1 cup fish stock or 1 fish stock cube
Salt and pepper to taste
6 small boiling potatoes, diced ¾ inch
4 large crab legs
1 lb oysters, cleaned
½ lb clams, cleaned
12 medium-large shrimp, deveined
12 oz cod or halibut cut into small chunks
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 onion finely, chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped Spanish white onion
½ cup cilantro
2 large Mexican limes, cut into wedges
Add the guajillo sauce base, powdered or dry shrimp, and epazote to the broth in a pot and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper; add fish stock (or if you are using cube, stir until well dissolved). At this point you can remove the dry shrimp if you added whole dry shrimp. To finish the soup, add the potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Add cod,chunks, crab legs, oysters, and clams, and simmer until the shellfish open, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook 1 minute more. Remove from the heat, cover and let stand 3–4 minutes. For garnishes, chop onion and cilantro, cut the lime in wedges, and place in a serving bowl. Serve the soup in large, warmed bowls, passing the garnishes separately.
A. Guajillo Sauce Base
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 medium-large guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tbsp oil
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 Spanish white onion
½ tsp Mexican oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp tomato purée
On a comal or hot griddle, dry-roast the unpeeled garlic until soft (10 minutes); cool and peel. Meanwhile, dry-roast the chiles on another area of the comal; open them flat and press down firmly with a spatula so they are evenly toasted. After a few seconds, flip and press them down to toast other side as well. Place chiles in a small glass bowl, adding boiling water. Rehydrate for 10 minutes and drain water, reserving it. In a sauce pan, heat oil and sauté celery and onions; cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. In the food processor add sautéed onion, celery, oregano, black pepper, drained chiles, garlic (skin now removed) and ½ cup of chile water. Purée in blender, add water as needed to achieve desired consistency (paste should have the consistency of a thick salad dressing). Strain mixture and reserve. Heat the oil in a heavy, large pot over medium high. Add the purée to hot oil (be careful about splatter), sauté, stirring for about 5 minutes.

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A JOURNEY TO MEXICO IN A PLATE FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

Mexican cuisine is replete with ingredients that are considered to have aphrodisiac properties, which makes easy it to create menus which  transport dinner guests with a hint of the exotic and making the meal even more special and memorable. Designed to be presented plated (restaurant-style). Menus from $80/person*.

Avocados– the Aztec name for the avocado tree was Ahuacuatl, which surely refers to the shape of the fruit as it hangs on branches, as this translates as “testicle tree.” Catholic priests prohibited their consumption, finding them sexually obscene.”

Shrimp, crab or other seafood– while the aphrodisiac qualities of seafood may be exaggerated, foods that are high in zinc, like oysters (which contain a very high level of zinc) – are a known stimulant for the prostate and therefore an aphrodisiac for men in particular.

Chiles– according to the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe (of the New York Museum of Sex) website, which is full of tasty tidbits that are perfect as you plan your romantic evening; “The earliest record of chile pepper use comes from archaeological investigations in the Valley of Tehuacan, Mexico, and dates to about 6,500 BC. The use of chiles as an aphrodisiac was common in both Aztec and Inca cultures, and recorded by early Spanish explorers after contact in the 16th century AD.

Chocolate– The famous Aztec emperor, Montezuma was known to drink an ancient beverage called atextli. “Although few written records survive, Francisco Hernandez (1514-1587 AD), a naturalist and court physician to the King of Spain, recorded a recipe for a chocolate-based aphrodisiac … made from a thin paste of cocoa beans and maize, mixed with macaxochitl (Mexican Pepperleaf) and tlilxochitl (Vanilla)” before visit his numerous wives (according to the OralFix Aphrodisiac Cafe website). Maybe that is where the concept of the potent Latin lover originated! There is some real evidence to support the theory that the phenethylamine found in chocolate, when release in the brain may be involved in some temporary sexual attraction and arousal.

DINNER MENU

APPETIZER

SCALLOP CEVICHE

with shaved coconut, mango and marinated in lime juice with coconut milk

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SOUP

CHILLED AVOCADO SOUP

avocado soup

OR

CREAM OF GREEN CHILE SOUP

SALAD

CLASSIC OR KALE CAESAR

Did you know the Caesar Salad was invented in Mexico?!

ENTREE SELECTIONS

QUAIL IN ROSE PETAL SAUCE

Rose Hibiscus Chicken

Photo by Adriana Almazan Lahl from the book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes. All rights reserved.

Even the name sounds romantic.

This dish, made with almonds, rose petals and tunas or prickly pear,

which is the fruit of the nopal cactus;

was made famous in Laura Esquivel’s best seller, , Like Water for Chocolate

OR

TEQUILA-ORANGE FLAMBEED SHRIMP

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A dish as spectacular as it is delicious (see photo, above),

first shrimp are sautéed in butter seasoned with orange rind with a hint of serrano chile,

then flambéed tableside with tequila añejeo

dessert

CHOCOLATE CHIPOTLE FLOURLESS TORTE

topped with Candied Rose Petals

Posted in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes | Leave a comment

Tamales step-by-step: Diagrams, instructions and a bit of history

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Nahua woman preparing el Zacahuil (tamal gigante). Photo by Jorge Ontiveros – Ethnographers report up to 370 different kinds of tamales , including el zacahuil, which is 3 feet long, weighs about 150 pounds, and requires most of the leaves of a banana tree to wrap it. While almost all tamales are steamed, a few are distinctive in that they are baked either in the ground or in a bread oven. Other tamales that are distinctive include those made by the Otomi people near San Miguel de Allende, which are pastel-colored and fresh fish clapiques of the coast, prepared since the time of Moctezuma II. Photo by Jorge Ontiveros, from the book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes. All rights reserved.

Tamales, of course, are a traditional favorite this time of year in Mexico, and are served whenever friends and family gather, starting from Dia de La Virgen de Guadalupe all the way through Dia de Los Reyes or Three Kings’ Day on January 6th, and even beyond on Dia de La Candelaria or Candelmas (Feb. 2nd). The following is excerpted from my book Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes (co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl)

 Tamales: A Historical Look

Tamales are an essential part of many Mexican festivals. Preparation is complex, time-consuming and an excellent example of Mexican communal cooking, where this task usually falls to the women. Preparing tamales is a ritual that has been part of Mexican life since pre-Hispanic times, with special fillings and forms designated for each specific festival or life event. Franciscan monk Bernardino de Sahagun, considered one of the father’s of culinary history, wrote in an amazing 1590 text based on personal observations, detailing that the first thing Aztec women did when preparing a festival was to make lots of tamalli (in Nahuatl):

“Salted wide tamales, pointed tamales, white tamales… rolled-shaped tamales, tamales with beans forming a seashell on top [with] grains of maize thrown in; crumbled, pounded tamales; spotted tamales, white fruit tamales, red fruit tamales, turkey egg tamales; turkey eggs with grains of maize; tamales of tender maize, tamales of green maize, abode-shaped tamales, braised ones; unleavened tamales, honey tamales, beeswax tamales, tamales with grains of maize, gourd tamales, crumbled tamales, maize flower tamales. These were passed around in a basket at banquets, [and custom mandated that they] were held in the left hand”[9] <END SIDEBAR>

A Step-by-Step Guide to the Ancient Art of Making Tamales

  1. First, to prepare the cornhusks: Rinse and soak them in a sink full of warm water for about 2 hours. You will need to carefully separate them when they get soft. Try to not tear cornhusks. It is easier to make the tamales if the husks are in one piece. After the husks are soft, shake to remove excess water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
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Drawings by Verriclay

  1. To fill the tamales: Pick up one husk; lay it across your hand, wide part of the husk should be facing your body and thin part outside (think of a triangle, the thin part should be away from your body and the thick part toward you).
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Drawings by Vericlay

3. Scoop up about 2 tbsp. of masa dough with a spatula, and then smear the husk creating a 1/8 in. thick layer. Cover about 2/3 of the husk with masa; leave 1/3 uncovered on one side.

4.  Similarly, cover the bottom 2/3 of the husk, and leave the top 1/3 uncovered. You need to leave the top and side uncovered so you can fold it up later.

5. Now, lay several husks out on the counter as you put the masa on them, between five and ten husks.

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Drawings by Vericlay

6. Add the meat or stuffing of your choice. Take about 1 tablespoon of meat, or the desired stuffing, then lay it on the masa dough about one inch from the left edge, do not over stuff the tamal, as you will need to consider room to close it.

7. To fold:Starting on the left side roll the tamal all the way to the right edge.

Now, fold the top of the husk over (think of an envelope) and lay tamal on the counter, fold facing down.

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Drawings by Vericlay

            To Cook: In a steamer pot, add about 2 cups of water, then start piling the tamales so they stand upright. The folded end of the tamale should be on the bottom. Try to fill the pot so the tamales do not fall over and begin to unfold. Cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat and cook, covered, for 2 hours. Check water several times as you will need to add water frequently, so as not let your pot to run out of water.

Corn Tamales /Tamales de Elote

An abuelita (meaning “grandmother” but also a term used to refer to the oldest generation of women in the village) describes how the women gather to carry on a tradition that has been passed through the generations, making tamales de elote:

“Three pair of hands, work together, seamlessly …in a process [that] includes husking the corn, cutting it off the cob, grinding the kernels in the molino [mill] with pieces of cinnamon, breaking fifteen eggs and separating out the yolks, opening cans of sweetened condensed milk…[and beating] all the ingredients together in the masa for a long time…. Next we fill the husks with the masa [dough]… sprinkle raisins on top. Finally we fold the husks to enclose the dough.”

Corn Tamales

(Makes approximately 35 tamales)
3 ½ quarts (14 cups) fresh corn kernels
1 cup corn meal
1 cup butter
1/2 cup lard or shortening
1 tbsp. baking powder

1cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp. salt
70 cornhusks; wash and pat dry
fresh salsa of your choice

Use a blender or food processor to create a purée from the corn niblets (uncooked). Transfer corn mixture to a large mixing bowl with the corn meal, beat by hand adding butter and lard slowly. Keep beating, for 5 minutes adding sugar, eggs, salt and baking powder. Beat for an additional 20 minutes using an electric mixer on slow or by hand until smooth, set aside and let it rest for 15 minutes.
Prepare tamales by adding a couple of spoonfuls of the mix in double corn husk (so using 2 overlapping husks), and fold the tamale according to instructions (above). Serve these with your favorite fresh salsa, crema Mexicana and queso cotija.

            To test the consistency of masa, drop a small ball in a glass of water, if it floats, it is ready. To make sure there is sufficient water in the bottom of your steamer pot when cooking the tamales,  put a penny in the water. The penny should rattle the entire time that the tamales are steaming– if the penny stops rattling, you know that you need to add more water.

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