Sunday, March 28, 2010

Bon Voyage, Janet!

Our guests get the party underway.

Janet is leaving for Kentucky this week, so Anisha and I are hosting a dinner party in her honor.

I'm not one who usually hosts dinner parties so it's a treat for me to do some of the planning. Originally, I figured Anisha would do all the food and I would simply be the FOH lackey, but since she insisted that I do some of the apps courses, it was time to step up. Oh crap.

Braised oxtail for the buns

Even the best laid plans are sent off track and since I'm never one with the best laid plans, my tracks are sure to run straight off the road.

Saturday morning we're off to the farmer's market where I'm seeking pork belly to make adobo buns: roasted adobo style belly in gwa pao buns with spicy pickled cucumber and cilantro. First stop: Woolsey Farm where Cindy is out of belly but has some oxtail on hand. I'll take it all, please. Of course, all she has is one whole oxtail. Really? Already I've been waylaid twice and we're just getting started!

Ahi Poke Crostini on Japanese sweet toast

As we scour the farmer's market and our subsequent trip to H-Mart, I find collaborating with Anisha to be quite easy and comforting. There's an easy-going relaxed attitude between us that doesn't mind when plans are waylaid by missing ingredients or having to make things up on the fly and adjusting the menu as we go along. There's none of the rigidity and subsequent panic that accompanies collaborating with other people, simply adjust and adapt. I like that.

By the time we get to H-Mart on Sunday afternoon, we find that they don't have mussels. What to do about all those mussel ingredients we've already purchased? Forge ahead substituting shrimp instead. The real question comes when it's time to select the fish. We want something big and impressive but the white fishes (like Red Snapper) are all a bit too small for the statement we want to make.

Whole Shrimp in Curry Cream Sauce

Oddly enough, there's a massive bluefish in the case that's just the size fish we're looking for. Problem is, neither of us has cooked or worked with bluefish before. A quick peek at Wikipedia on my iPhone doesn't tell us much more than bluefish can be mealy (not good) and that some people just don't like eating bluefish (bad). After debating for a few minutes, we decide to go full speed ahead and go with the bluefish.

Meanwhile, Chuck has come out to help with some of the preparation. He's stripping the oxtails and preparing the buns for assembly.

Grilled Asparagus with Sauteed Mushrooms, blue cheese, walnuts and cranberries

Oxtail Gwa Pao
- Braised oxtails
- Gwa Pao buns
- Pickled Cucumber
- Cilantro

Adobo Braised Oxtails
- Brine oxtails in a solution of water, soy sauce and sugar seasoned with garlic, bay leaf and whole black peppercorns for a minimum twelve hours.
- Sear oxtails in large pan suitable for braising until all sides are browned. Work in batches, if necessary.
- Place all oxtails in pan and cover in a mixture of red wine and beef stock (or water).
- Braise oxtails in the oven or on the stovetop at a low simmer for five hours, topping off braising liquid as necessary.
- Once oxtails have been cooked, chill and refrigerate in braising liquid.
- Strip all meat from bones and set aside, discarding bones.
- Reduce braising liquid on the stovetop until thick and syrupy.
- Reserve some of the reduction for drizzling.
- Mix meat with reduction and season to taste.

Beet & Watercress Salad with Feta Cheese and Blood Oranges

Pickled Cucumber in Cocount Vinegar
- Slice cucumber into thin strips
- Create a pickling solution of sugar, water, fresh dill and spicy coconut vinegar.
- Submerge sliced pickles in solution for minimum one hour.

To Assemble:
- Take frozen (now thawed) gwa pao buns and fill with slices of pickled cucumber, braised oxtail and some cilantro.
- Steam completed bun in steamer until hot and serve.

Mom chats with Janet.

Janet and her son Tommy and his wife Amy are amongst the first to arrive, and that's a good thing. It's always nice when the honored is about to meet their celebrants as they arrive. I've only recently gotten to know Janet and I can see why she's so special to Anisha. I just hope that Janet doesn't hate me.

One by one, the guests start arriving and their met by drinks and food, and what better way to be met than by friends, drinks and food? The apps are out, the greens are out and I'm ferrying the dishes from across the street where Anisha is putting the finishing touches on the main courses.

Roasted Bluefish stuffed with Japanese Wild Rices and Roasted Chickens

Here's the menu:

- Ahi Poke Crostini
- Braised Oxtail Gwa Pao
- Whole Shrimp in Curry Cream
- Mixed Greens Salad
- Watercress & Beet Salad with blood oranges and feta cheese
- Grilled Asparagus with sauteed mushrooms, walnuts, bleu cheese and cranberries
- Roasted Potato Medley with fresh baked buns
- Woolsey Farm Whole Roasted Free-Range Chickens
- Roasted Whole Bluefish stuffed with Japanese Mixed Rices
- Bread Pudding
- Red Velvet Cake

- A selection of wines by James and Austin
- Iced Tea
- Mexican Coke
- Dewar's Whiskey
- Bacardi Rum

James and John confer over their selections.

Finally, the main courses are ready to be brought over but the problem is the fish. It's so darn big that we don't have a platter big enough for it. But it will fit on the marble slab Anisha uses as a cutting board. As I lug it into the back to clean it off, it's a monster. The thing weighs a ton. Crap. There's no way I could wrestle this marble beast flat, with a large roasted fish on top, all the way across the street by myself. No way.

Luckily, Chuck and Jeremy are at hand and we ferry the chickens and the fish out the door, down the stairs, across the street, through the rain and into the party where delighted guests await the final presentation.

The Spread.

From there, it was relatively easy peasy. Let everyone mingle, eat, drink and hopefully have a good time. Anisha and I invited her friends, Janet's friends and some of my friends. Crafting a list of invitees to something like this is a bit of a challenge. How do you balance the guest list so the party is filled with agreeable people meeting each other for the first time?

Classic Anisha and her food.

But, from the feedback I've received from our guests, the party was a success. Janet and her family had a good time and everyone loved Anisha's food.

And isn't that what it's all about?

Bon Voyage, Janet!