Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Season Dinner Party

I told you a couple of posts ago how I love the all the gatherings during the Christmas season, and how we like to entertain guests in our home too. There just never seems to be enough weekends during December in which to entertain and to be entertained. We did manage to have a small dinner party on Friday before Christmas. I squeezed our party in between two other parties that week, so I had to be ultra organized. My daughter, son and I baked sugar cookies Thanksgiving weekend, and we froze them, so the kids could decorate Christmas cookies during our party. My daughter and her friend helped make the glaze we used to decorate the cookies (they even cleaned-up after the boys!) The kids had a blast decorating cookies, and we had such a fun time visiting with our friends.
The friends we invited love Mexican food as much as we do, so planning the menu was easy. Fine Cooking’s December issue has step-by-step instructions on how to make homemade tamales. My friend Elva (of Elva’s salsa) has told me stories for years about her family making tamales for Christmas Eve, and I’ve always been fascinated by her stories, and have wanted to try to make them myself. So, the weekend before our dinner party, I embarked on my tamale-making mission. Making tamales is definitely a long and involved weekend project. The tamales were good, but if you have a Mexican market in your neighborhood that makes good tamales, buy them there. On the other hand, make sure to make your own refried beans and Mexican rice. Homemade refried beans are vastly superior to anything you can buy in a can, and the Mexican rice below is really delicious. These recipes would be great for a New Year’s Eve celebration.

Refried Beans
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Entertaining
4 15-ounce cans of pinto beans, drained (you can soak and cook your own beans to equal 6 cups of beans)
1 ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon table salt
6 slices of bacon, chopped fine (or you can use 4 tablespoons of saved bacon fat or olive oil)
1 medium onion, minced
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed
1 teaspoons ground cumin
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons of fresh lime juice

Puree 4 cups of the beans, broth and salt in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining beans and pulse until the mixture is chunky. Cook the bacon until browned and crisp and most of the fat has rendered. Transfer the bacon to a plate to drain, and set aside. Leave 4 to 6 tablespoons of fat in the pan and add the onion, jalapeno and cumin, and cook until the onion is softened. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in pureed beans. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the beans are thick and creamy and the flavors have melded, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and add the cilantro and lime juice. Taste to adjust the salt, and sprinkle with the reserved bacon. (I didn’t have any bacon left. Thanks kids! But, the beans were delicious without it.) I made the beans on Wednesday night, and they were great reheated on Friday night. Serves 8.

Mexican Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Entertaining
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
3 medium jalapenos, take out the seeds and ribs of two of the jalapenos, and leave one whole, and mince the jalapenos
2 cups of long grain rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or placed through a garlic press
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Process the tomatoes and onion in a food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed. Transfer the mixture to a liquid measuring cup. You should have 2 cups of liquid. Place the rice in a strainer, and rinse the rice under cool water until the water runs clear. Shake the rice to remove all excess water.

Heat oil on high in a heavy Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid for about 1 to 2 minutes. Drop a couple of grains of rice in the oil, and if they sizzle, the oil is ready. Add the rice and fry stirring frequently until the rice is light golden and translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and jalapenos and cook until fragrant, about 1½ minutes. Stir in the pureed tomato mixture, chicken broth, tomato paste and salt. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Bake until all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Stir once after 15 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve. (I forgot to add the cilantro, but the rice was still good.) If you would like the rice to be less spicy, remove the ribs and seeds of the third jalapeno as well. Serves 8.

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