September 12, 2011

Cooking for a Crowd: Dinner Club!

This weekend, we kicked off Dinner Club at our house.  Sam and I cooked dinner for 9 while our friends supplied the delicious appetizers, dessert, and most importantly, the wine.  We had a wonderful time and I realized something important: I need a grown up dining table. Pronto. Everyone was a good sport and we ate on our laps, and I can't even show you photos of the finished products (except the biscuits) because we were having such a good time that I forgot to take photos once everything was served.
For dinner, I decided to consult what is sure to become a standard in our household, Cooking for a Crowd. Every recipe is made for 9-12 servings making it easy to know exactly what you need to serve a big group. The recipes are well written and the author offers full menu suggestions.  I selected two options from the "Dinner for a Summer Evening" menu (fitting, no?) and added an avocado salad with a lemony dressing and biscuits on the side.  The chicken was spicy, smokey, and fragrant, and since it was cooked on the grill, it was a perfect choice when you have 7 other people in your small house.
We decided to use boneless chicken breasts so we would have exactly the right amount for our guests, and it still turned out wonderfully. We'll absolutely be making it again.  The rice was very good, and honestly made enough to serve 24, but I think I'll tweak it if I make it again and omit the oregano - it overpowered the dish.  The biscuits were an after thought - I saw Giada make them on the Food Network and decided to start them at 5:30 when everyone was due to come over at 6:30.  They took 15 minutes to make and 15 to bake and have officially become my go-to biscuit recipe.  Finally, this is a perfect meal if you're like me and have a wealth of random spices on hand.  I was happy to have a use for all of them!

Meals from Cooking for a Crowd by Susan Wyler
Mesquite-Grilled Chicken
Serves 12

8-9 pounds chicken-either 3 quartered chickens or an equal amount of your favorite chicken parts
2 medium onions, quartered
5 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, or 1 tsp. dried
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
1 to 1 ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tbsp. coarse salt
1 ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh lime juice or lemon juice
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil

Rinse the chicken and pat dry. Put in a large bowl. In a food processor, combine all the remaining ingredients. Puree until smooth. Pour over the chicken and toss to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for up to 2 hours or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Light a covered charcoal or gas grill or preheat the broiler. If you are using mesquite or other wood, soak the chunks in water for at least 30 minutes. Let the charcoal or gas fire get very hot, then add the wood and splash with water if it flares up. Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Put the chicken on the grill with the heat on high or the vents wide open and sear for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low or close the vents, splash the fire with water if necessary, cover the grill, and grill the chicken, turning once, for 35 minutes, or until it is no longer pink but still juicy. (The chicken can be smoked earlier in the day. Reheat, wrapped in foil, in a 300 degree oven. Unwrap during the last 5 minutes.)

Ruth’s Spanish Rice
Serves 12 (but more like 22!)

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 pound baked ham, diced (I used sausage)
½ green bell pepper, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 can (14 ½ oz.) diced peeled tomatoes, with their juices
1 ½ tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
½ tsp. crushed hot pepper
¼ tsp. saffron threads, crumbled
1 can (12 oz.) lager beer, such as Budweiser
1 imported bay leaf
 1 ¾ tsp. salt
 ¾ tsp. coarsely cracked black pepper
3 cups converted rice
2/3 cup small Spanish pimiento-stuffed olives well-drained (optional)

In a large saucepan or flameproof casserole, het the oil. Add the onions and almonds and sauté over moderately high heat until the onions are softened and golden and the almonds are lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, ham, and bell peppers and sauté un til the peppers are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the oregano, hot pepper, saffron, beer, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, then add the rice. Stir once. Cover and simmer over low heat for 18 to 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Stir in the olives. (I like them whole, but it yours are large, you can slice them thickly.)

**Leftovers  Revived: Burritos!
Since we have so much Spanish rice left over, I figured the best thing to do would be to make a burrito! I mixed in black beans with the rice, sauteed some spinach, and whipped up a quick "guacamole" with avocado and salsa.  Rolled up in a flour tortilla, it was a perfect leftover Monday night meal.

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