My holiday dinner party went pretty well, by all accounts. Dinner was a little late in coming due to the amazing length of time required to bake a 5lb slab of sea bass at 350F. None of my guests seemed to mind, however. There were plenty of pupus and drinks. Conversation was pleasant. New connections and new friends were made. Wine flowed freely. Martinis were mixed and poured without ostentation in goblets: the closest thing I have to cocktail glasses.

The Bad and the Ugly

  • My salad dressing was just wrong, due to a terrible decision to combine walnut oil with vegetable oil. Yuck.
  • The sea bass was too tender. :-( It was like eating lobster. Next time, I'll use the broiler or barbeque.
  • I inadvertently served out of date whipped cream (from a can, cringe) to 2 guests, with their cheesecake. I am so ashamed that I must apologize and atone, publicly, to assuage my guilt.
  • Although the fried plaintain bananas (aka platanos fritos or tostones) were a crowd pleaser, 3-4 chips per plate, I didn't have enough hands to fry them up in the course of preparing my meal. I had to enlist the assistance of a dinner guest to finish the deed.

The Good

  • An amazing group of amazing people. I will post links to photos here when my guests get around to uploading them.
  • Desert: take a store bought cheesecake, ask your guests whether they prefer strawberry, marmelade, apricot, cherry, mango, passionfruit, or [some other fruit flavor that you have on hand]. Given their input, spread a thin layer of jam or jelly from your fridge over the top of your cheesecake. Democracy works!
  • Blaukraut
  • Saffron Cream Sauce

My non-traditional blaukraut and last minute saffron cream sauce garnered the most amount praise. Recipes below.

For the blaukraut (sweet, sour, and colorful)... braise 1/2 chopped red cabbage and 1/3 of a large, sectioned sweet onion in oil over medium high heat. Add 1/2 cup of chicken broth and reduce heat to medium (so that it stops hiss-boiling and bubbles contentedly). Add 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar and a small fistfull of brown sugar. Combine, sneak a taste when none of your dinner guests are looking to make sure it's not too sweet, reduce heat to low, add a few squirts of sherry, salt to taste, and simmer for ~30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more broth as necessary. The finished product should NOT, NOT, NOT be mushy. Serves 4-6. For my party, I doubled this recipe.

For the saffron cream sauce... In a separate cup, crumble 12 saffron strands and combine with 1/2 cup lukewarm water and 1/2 cup of chicken, fish, or vegetable broth. Let stand.

In a 12-14 inch saucepan, combine 2 tablespoons of clarified butter (available in tubs at your high end grocers) or olive oil, 1/2 cup of minced shallots or onion, and 2-3 finely, finely minced cloves of garlic. Heck, you might even mix in some minced leak stock for extra body, if you wanna get fancy.

When shallots are translucent, reduce heat to medium-medium low, throw in a few tablespoons of your saffron infused water and chicken broth, sprinkle all with a fine mist of sauce flour (finely milled) and combine thoroughly using a wire whisk or fork. Add a bit more broth and stir vigorously. Add another fine layer of flour. Combine until you see NO white whatsoever. Add another coating of flour and repeat the whisking. Repeat until you have achieved a viscosity that your meal demands of you and you have used up all of your saffron water/broth, adding extra chicken broth as necessary to build out the volume of your sauce. That done, add 3/4 cup of Half 'n Half or cream and reduce over low-low heat, stirring occasionally. If you time it right, which I did not quite do at my dinner party, your sauce will have returned to its desired viscosity, seemingly by magic, with the addition of no more sauce flour.

Just before serving the sauce, mix in 1 tablespoon of sherry and salt to taste. Optionally, you can add a sprinkle of cayenne powder. BE CAREFUL!!! Your saffron sauce should be delicate, above all else. As a rough rule, your cayenne should be noticeable to only the most sensitive palates. At my dinner party, it was noted by but one of my guests. Thanks Paige!