Friday, February 25, 2011

Entertaining: the oldest profession

No matter what you consider to be the oldest profession, it all seems to boil down to one thing: entertaining.  Hosting dinners and entertaining guests come naturally to me.  You might say I emerged from the womb fully dressed in cocktail party attire (pearls optional) with a pitcher of martinis in one fist and a plate of canapes in the other.  My mother, understandably, was appalled, being the fine upstanding Baptist woman that she is.  But nevertheless, I was born to entertain.  Any further comments on my involvement with allegedly what is claimed to be the original oldest profession can be provided by my family and close friends, who will be happy to clear up any misunderstandings.

So last night, when friends arrived, I was in a festive mood.  I was relaxed, happy, and enormously pleased with myself.  Being (slightly) OCD--but never having been formally diagnosed--I had prepared enough in advance leaving me little to do before my guests arrived.  And to give credit where credit is due, my husband had vacuumed and neatened the house up a bit, something that prevents me from unraveling at the last minute because, um, I've left those details until the last minute.  Table?  Perfect.  Cocktails?  Chilled.  Food?  Ready to go.  Music and lighting?  Devastating.  It's situations like these that make people overly confident though, isn't it?

So I approach my attempts at entertaining with a critical eye.  I try to pretend I'm outside the fishbowl, so to speak.  And I frequently invite my husband and my guests to provide commentary and critique, sort of like asking them to complete a customer satisfaction survey.  Now, how many of you working in the oldest profession can claim that you do that

If you have good friends, they'll want to be honest with you.  Family?  Not so much.  They've experienced the payback, right?  In a larger group, people new to my style and personality tend to get that "deer in the headlights" look and glance nervously at the other guests as I ask questions about their experience in my home.  I make copious notes about what was said, what could be improved, what details were overlooked and etc.  Why?  Because it's important! (OK, this is where those of you with diagnostic skills will recognize that I do, in fact, meet DSM criteria for that pesky little OCD thing I mentioned earlier.)

So what I learned last night was that my dining room table was a.) too small for four people, and b.) unstable.  What I learned about my dining room chairs is that they are much like my dining room table.  So now my project is to work on more comfortable seating so that guests can feel more relaxed and water and wine glasses will remain upright!

But let's get to the food.  The evening was very simple: cocktails, appetizer, main dish, dessert and coffee.  And hats off to my wonderful new gal pal for finding this great recipe and bringing absolutely the most incredible brownies I've ever tasted.

There is, of course, a story about one of these recipes.  I learned to make Chicken Lucrecia while in undergrad school after being befriended by a Guatemalan family and watching them cook.  I don't think that this dish is at all indicative of Guatemalan cuisine, but I've been making it for almost 30 years and it brings people to their knees every time.  Yes, it's really that good.  It's also ridiculously simple and it makes your house smell absolutely divine while you're cooking it.  I remember making it once for my grandfather, a great lover of food (and also being a Baptist, a closet lover of wine).  He tasted it, pronounced it good after a couple of bites, and got up from the table.  He returned with a bottle of Sriracha, the Vietnamese chili sauce, and proceeded to squirt a large pool of it on his dinner plate.  He announced that he thought that this sauce would make his dinner "taste more like Guatemala."  My mouth dropped open in horror.  I felt like the chef in a fine dining establishment who was watching someone put catsup on tournedos of beef.  But my grandfather was on to something.  The chilies tasted great with the chicken, and I later developed Salsa Dulce y Caliente to accompany the dish.

Chicken Lucrecia with Salsa Dulce y Caliente
I've posted four recipes below for you to try.  Wine suggestion for dinner: Rosa del Golfo 2007 (Italy).  One of my wine guys at Spec's suggested this rose, which is dry, herbaceous, and slightly floral.  Smooth on the palate and very unusual.  This wine should prove once and for all that PINK DOES NOT EQUAL SWEET. 

The cocktail recipe is based on a drink a friend of mine told me about.  Of course, I cannot leave any recipe for cocktails alone.  I had to put my own spin on it.  We all thought it was quite good.

Pre-Lent 75

8 oz. lemon juice (I used a combination of fresh lemon juice and Meyer lemon juice)
8 oz. vanilla vodka
a generous splash of Stirrings Blood Orange Bitters (you can find this at Spec's)
cheap, slightly sweet champange, chilled

Combine lemon juice, vodka and blood orange bitters.  Chill until serving time.  When ready to serve, pour 2 oz. of vodka mixture into each martini glass.  Top off with champagne.  Garnish with something fun (like sugared mandarin orange sections on long skewers).  Makes 4 very generous (and slightly lethal) cocktails.

Layered and Chopped Salad
Serve this beautiful salad individually in oversize goblets…the dressing is a riff on the one used at Ruth's Chris for their chopped salad

½ pint cherry tomatoes, cocktail tomatoes or grape tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 romaine leaves or green leaf lettuce leaves, ribs removed
4 radishes, sliced approx. ¼ inch thick and julienned
½ cup pitted black olives, sliced thinly
4 hearts of palm, sliced thinly
2 large avocados cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup small cooked cocktail shrimp or 1 cup jumbo lump crabmeat (optional)
2 Tbs. red onion, in fine dice
¼ cup garlic pita chips or garlic bagel chips, crushed (fine enough to sprinkle, large
            enough to provide texture)

½  cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 Tbs. dried)
½ cup fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder (optional)
milk or half and half for thinning (optional)

1.    Halve cherry tomatoes and place on oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Roast at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until tomatoes are caramelized.  Set aside to cool.
2.   Stack lettuce leaves together and roll into a log.  With a sharp knife, slice thinly into ribbons.
3.   Divide lettuce evenly between serving dishes.  Layer ingredients, dividing evenly between serving dishes, in the following order: radishes, black olives, hearts of palm, avocado, shrimp or crabmeat, roasted tomatoes, and red onion.  Chill salads while you make the dressing.
4.   Combine dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth.  If you want a dressing that will drizzle, thin with milk or half and half (I prefer this consistency).
5.   Dress salads with desired amount of dressing and top with crushed pita or bagel chips.  Serves 4.


2 Tbs. olive oil
4 ribs celery, halved lengthwise and cut into 3 inch strips
2 green bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into ½ inch strips
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 chicken, cut up into serving size pieces, skin and fat removed (I sometimes use 4
      bone-in thighs and 2 bone-in breasts and cut the breast into two pieces)
2 large tomatoes (or 4 roma tomatoes) cored and cut into wedges
8 oz. sour cream

1.     In a large kettle or Dutch oven, put the olive oil, celery, peppers, and garlic.  Salt and pepper generously. 
2.     Layer the chicken pieces on top and salt and pepper again.  Cover and cook over LOW HEAT for 45-60 minutes, or until chicken is tender. 
3.     Remove chicken from pot and cool.  When cool enough to handle, remove cartilage and bones, pulling chicken into bite-size pieces with your hands.  Set aside. 
4.     Add tomatoes and sour cream, stir well and heat gently over medium-low heat until tomatoes begin to soften.  Correct for salt. 
5.     Return boned chicken to pot, stir well, cover and heat through gently. 
6.     Serve over steamed rice.  Pass Salsa Dulce y Caliente.  Serves 4.  Even better the next day.

Salsa Dulce y Caliente

4 Peppadew peppers, drained
2 Poquillo peppers, drained
2 Tbs. sambal oelek (Indonesian chili-garlic sauce)
2 Tbs. Sriracha (Vietnamese chili sauce)
2 Tbs. water

Put all ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Pulse until blended, but still coarse-textured.  Makes about ¾ cup salsa.  Serve with Chicken Lucrecia.


  1. The salsa sounds like a nice addition to the Chicken Lucretia that Richyson would like. I love recipe just as is.

  2. The salad was absolutely divine!!!!!!