Monday, January 29, 2007

Birthday Party

This weekend we had a birthday party for C at our apartment. I cooked so much!
  • Black beans and spanish rice
  • Guacamole and queso
  • Sweet potato oven fries
  • Spinach salad with goat cheese, tomatoes, red onions and toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Wheat bread
  • Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
  • Apple pie
I started Friday night chopping EVERYTHING that I'd need the next day. I chopped six onions (five yellow, one red), and they all made me cry. I chopped swiss chard, poblano peppers, tomatoes, pineapple, cilantro and sweet potatoes. I was very tired after all this chopping, but relieved because I knew I was prepared for the next day.

I started at around noon. First I sauteed onions and peppers for the black beans, then added cumin (about 1 t), coriander, chili powder, oregano (about 1/2 t of each) and garlic (a clove or two). I simmered that until around five p.m., when I added a bunch of salt and pepper. This was the first time I felt like the beans were fully successful, and I attribute that to two things: I've grown increasingly liberal with salt, and the realization that my main complaint with every prior batch of black beans has been "not quite cooked enough." This time, though, they were perfect. I wish I'd tossed some lime juice and cilantro on top of them to serve, but there was no time!

Next, I prepared the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake; the recipe was from Simply Recipes (, and was fantastic. It worked beautifully, though I worried that the batter might spill over the pan. No such worries necessary, though. It worked just right. It was a rich, moist cake, tender and juicy from the pineapple and caramel juices that sank down after I flipped the cake onto a platter, but also creamy from the sour cream and ground almonds. I'd definitely make this one again, and am considering making another this very week.

Next, I cooked a whole chicken for the enchiladas, in a big boiling pot of water with some onions, carrots, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper corns. I took out the cooked chicken, removed the meat and refrigerated for the enchilada assembly later, and put the bones and skin back in to keep making stock, for the spanish rice later.

The enchiladas were made with swiss chard, mushrooms, onions, chicken, queso Chihuahua (I think), cheddar cheese, corn tortillas and salsa roja with chipotle and ancho chili powders. I assembled them all about an hour before dinner time and cooked in the oven on about 350 F for 45 minutes. I also cooked the sweet potatoes (wedges, coated in olive oil, garlic, salt and paprika) at the same time. I was shocked as I cleared the table after dinner to find all but a piece or two of the potatoes had been eaten - they were far more popular than I anticipated!

The spanish rice worked great, but in an attempt to use all the stock I'd just made from cooking the chicken, I accidentally made four cups of rice, which is enough to feed an army! It's fine, in that we have plenty of leftover rice, but I really overshot the mark on this one. It was made with a big can of crushed tomatoes, a ton of chicken stock, salt, pepper, some chili powder, garlic, and a ton of sauteed onions. I measured about 2 cups of broth for every cup of rice (or rather, vice versa - four cups of rice to deal with about 8 cups of broth), and cooked for 20 minutes, which was right - done perfectly, not too mushy or hard, just right. Yay for things working out according to plan!

We'd set 6 pm as the time for guests to arrive and as we got closer to that time, we realized we were going to have more people than anticipated, and needed to make sure we had enough food. That's when the queso joined the picture, and the vanilla ice cream to go with the cake. But would that be enough dessert? No! Time for a quick apple pie! The pie was fuji apple slices, dried cranberries, giant raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, cardamom and lemon juice, baked in a grocery-store crust. I wish I'd thought to brush the crust with egg or something to pretty it up, but it worked fine without. I tend not to add sugar to this pie, though, so it is probably better with ice cream than without.

The food was all great; I usually have personal critiques after making a big meal, like "the green beans could've used a little more pepper" or "next time I'll add some rosemary to that." This time, however, I think it was all perfect. I just have to think of an occasion for another pineapple upside-down cake. Or maybe how to make them cupcakes...or what happens if I make it in the cathedral bundt pan with crushed pineapple....