28 December 2009

Just New Year after this.

This year, we had masses of people over at my apartment for the 25th. Usually, my husband would go to Chicago to visit his family, and I’d call up my friends to party in the city. This year, however, we were really tight on money, so that was flat out not an option. Even if our parents covered the costs of the flight, we’d still be out of luck, because then we’d both miss days of work (and thereby, the pay from said work). It was simply not at all possible to finagle it this year. Instead, I figured on having our friends come over instead, and cooking with/for everyone.

Honestly, it couldn’t have been better. We were all sitting about in two groups. Some at the dining room table, and some at the kitchen. I did the silly thing and forgot to snag extra cutting boards, even though I had plenty of knives. Fortunately, I don’t really care too much about the wooden dining room table, so I just had everyone cut directly on that surface.

In the kitchen, all four burners were going, as well as the oven. We polished off an entire bottle of sparkling cider between the three of us in the first half hour! So as before, I’ll recap a couple of things I learned at this event, and maybe we can all learn from my pitfalls and come out with a better understanding!

Sparkling cider is freaking popular! I didn’t realise how much it was popular until I had some friends over for Thanksgiving. I ordered two or three bottles for a small group of friends coming over. It was to be only two people in the group who don’t drink. The rest of us consume alcohol at parties. Fine.

I’m thinking that I’ll just get a couple of bottles of cider for the two non-drinkers, and wine and spirits for the others. Either because of the festive occasion or because not everyone wanted to consume much alcohol, the sparkling cider disappeared. This time, I ordered six bottles of sparkling cider, and three bottles of wine (and asked my guests to bring wine). Again, demolished in no time flat, by even the non drinkers! Next time, I’m ordering enough that there’s a little vodka to supplement the cider if people want something with alcohol in it, but the beverage of choice shall be sparkling cider. And I bet it’ll still get finished at the end of the night.

Don’t ask people to just bring wine or even a dish. If you’re having a large party, give people the option of bringing disposable Tupperware, zip top bags, or aluminum foil. One of my husband’s friends brought an enormous stack of the Ziploc containers, and it was priceless at the end of the night, with regards to sending out leftovers, and putting away stuff for our own. Heck, you could even ask folk to bring their own cutting board or knife, so that your resources aren’t stretched. That way, even those friends of yours (or family) who are coming up on hard times don’t have to feel left out.

Anything long-cooking, like beans or rice, should be done well in advance, so as to avoid last-minute head aches of the “But I’m hungry noooooooow” variety. In fact, come to think of it, have some kind of snack ready immediately as people are walking in, even if you’re all cooking together, because it means that they’ll be able to take that sharp edge off the immediate hunger, and gnosh on something while chatting and removing coats, taking off winter boots, and getting settled in. As the food and the wine start coming out of the kitchen, people can start eating what they’d like.

What I tend to do is boil chickpeas overnight in the crock pot, and have them ready in the morning. That way, if they’re not cooked through to my liking, I have time to let them cook at a full boiling the morning of. It’s not terribly much work, but it’s one more thing to do that’s out of my way. Then, about 10 minutes before anyone’s due to arrive, I whip up a quick hummus (tahini, lemon, oil, salt, garlic, more garlic, and toasted cumin seeds that I crush up in my pestle & mortar).

If I have time, I’ll toast off the pita bread or French bread that I’ve bought the previous day (or that day itself if I’m running a little late the day before!) but I’ve found that this step just makes it incredibly delicious, and isn’t strictly required. Any leftover chickpeas go into the salad (if there is a salad), or back in the fridge in the event of a chickpea emergency (i.e., you run out of hummus!).

Then, as people are nibbling that, I’ll start churning out the fried food, be it Indian (bajji, pakora), or from elsewhere (falafel, various fritters). Fried food needs to be eaten piping hot. Since I use my cast iron skillet for deep frying, it helps season the iron while I’m doing the frying, so that I can cook the next thing in there when I’m done frying. Of course, while I’m doing the deep frying, I tend to borrow oil from the deep fry pot, and don’t bother using the fresh oil. It imparts a delicious flavour to the rest of the food (because of the amount of spices in the Indian dishes, and the amount of garlic in the falafel!), and means that I’m not wasting oil, which is pretty expensive.

Once everyone’s been munching away at the fried food, it gives me time to churn out the beans dish, spice up the rice, cook the dark leafy greens, make the raw item (either carrot/cabbage/cilantro salad, or avocado/tomato/onion/chili, both of which are dressed with just lemon juice and a bit of salt), and start pulling the slow cooking dishes (casseroles, roasts, etc.) from the oven. When all is said and done, I’ve got a pretty impressive spread. And since nobody’s eating everything all at once, they have time to space out the food, and make plenty of room in there to eat more. The best part is that everything can be enjoyed piping hot, fresh off the stove or oven.