Saturday, June 17, 2006

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (with Themed Dinners)

To steal a concept from my blogging friend Elmo Monster, this post is going to be a photo extravaganza! I have an abundance of backlogged photos (there are five more unfinished posts in the pipeline) and am currently experiencing writer's block, so I'll be a woman of limited words.

This is going to be another one of those "motivator" posts about easy entertaining. I know you've heard me lauding the innumerable merits of "entertaining potlucks." This post is a continuation of that theme. Specifically, I want to focus on how to bring friends together in a way that everyone can contribute: the "themed potluck." The "themed potluck" provides a outlet for each of your guests to explore and share their own unique culinary style and ingenuity. However, the "theme" provides enough guidance to restrain your guests from going too crazy. This post is for "inspiration" purposes, as it offers two successful "themed potlucks" as examples to illustrate the variety of options available for a working entertainer.

Two weeks ago, my beau and I threw a "themed potluck" party for our respective families.

Are you familiar with the age-old adage that the best way to bring warring factions together is through weeks of voracious feasting? Even though our families are on peaceful terms, bringing the two tribes together would require food (and large amounts of it) to quell our hungry appetites.

With the family of the significant other, you don't want a party to be an everyday affair. We cumulatively decided to spice the potluck up with a "lemon" theme. We were inspired to take a simple, bare ingredient, to create masterpieces worthy of an Iron Chef.

Members of my beau's family are gourmet-inclined individuals, so I was excited with what the night would bring.

I never strayed from the familiar, tried-and-true repertoire of meals that I usually make. Thus, I brought tabbouleh, again. However, I also tried my hand at making calamari (thank you
Unemployed Cook for the recipe)!

Generally, prepping seafood entails chipping, snapping, cracking, or peeling away multiple layers of the protective and calcified armor get the sweet and succulent flesh within. However, squid meat is, "in the flesh" so to speak. No extensive treasure hunting required. The meat is right there, right in front of you. However, because we bought the extra large version of squid, we had to clean the beast, by removing the teeth-rimmed suction pads on the tentacles, clipping off the sharp and pointy beak, and squeezing out juicy little orbs known as "squid eyeballs." The viscous fluid that excreted itself from the squid flesh left an itchy hive or rash-like sensation on the skin of our hands, comparable to the way one's skin wrinkles up from being soaked with salted sea water after deveining or peeling shrimp.

My beau handled the nasty stuff, whereas I just coated the squid tentacles in a dry mix of coarsely ground pepper, regular table salt, and powdery-fine cornstarch. I heated a stainless steel pot of bubbling vegetable oil and slipped in the breaded squid bits one at a time until they were deep-fried to perfection.

The other dishes of the night defied expectation--and my expectations were high. The first included angel-hair pasta teeming with lightly saut
ed roma tomatoes, pink curls of shrimp, and wilted leaves of basil. The entire pasta dish was showered with multiple squeezes from a juicy lemon.

Also at the table was a chilled wide-noodle pasta dish, with thick ribbons of pappardelle cooked al dente, doused with a creamy cheese sauce, and accompanied with a heavy serving of fava beans and purple chive blossoms (lil' flowers that packed a pungent punch).

Another of my beau's relatives brought thinly-sliced rare "USDA Choice" tri-tip steak, which had been charbroiled on the surface and sinfully rare within. Smoky flavors penetrated through the meat, as if the meat had been prepared in an outdoor smoker. Again, this dish too was accompanied by the abundant and flowing juices of a lemon.

As dessert, we enjoyed a rich citrus cake with crystallized lemon frosting, and a tropical Caribbean (and also African) fruit salad with squares of syrupy papaya, pineapple, mango, of course dressed in a tart lemon dressing.

Also, I won't forget to mention the fabulous version of crispy-skinned lemon chicken (that was a definite improvement from the
last time). The chicken was juicy and tender, with a paper-crisp skin delicately encompassing the chicken meat. The subtle lemon essence permeated the entire roast chicken, so that the meat was fragrant, moist, and heavenly.

We heartily chowed down on each of the "lemon-icious" dishes, helping ourselves to multiple servings at each round. The lemon flavors were fresh, bright, and naturally invited the feeling of spring-time. It was a delightfully wonderful follow-up to our
April Sunshine Party, because we ushered out the rain and winter and welcomed in the spring and summer.

A few weeks later, my beau's relatives invited us to their
home for a "ginger" themed potluck. The hosts took care of the majority of the dishes, and they were outstanding. We started with chicken drumsticks that had been cooked in a ginger-flavored Asian sauce, and a simple, yet refreshing clam and ginger soup.

The rest of the dishes were just as varied and delicious as our "lemon" themed potluck. They included: Marinated shitake mushrooms with shredded scallions and ginger;

A wilted spinach salad with a ginger-infused dressing;

Chilled tofu garnished with shredded carrots, scallion strings, and a cold ginger dressing;

Grilled salmon with a sweet honeyed ginger reduction;

Baked ginger sea bass;

A peach, fresh fruit, and ginger cobbler with a crumbly buttered crust;

and a moist brown cake heavily flavored with ginger and darkened by a rich molasses;

The variety of different dishes and bright and beautiful fragrances and flavors from the common ingredients (lemon and ginger) united all the dishes and the people for both of the parties. Although it may seem expensive and stressful to throw a party, a "themed potluck" is a viable alternative that substantially lessens the expense and the stress.

I hope that this post sold you on "themed potlucks!" You don't have to base the theme on a specific food like "ginger" or "lemon," but you can also have a "Thai" or "Mexican" themed party or fiesta, the possibilities are endless. Furthermore, finding recipes are easy. For instance, when I remarked at how delicious the ginger dishes were, our host told us, "I got all of these from just entering 'ginger' in the

Good luck in planning your own "themed potluck," as you can see, it is fun and will always be success.


  1. always PE!
    You but my feeble efforts to shame :)

  2. WOwZaas! What a Photo Superpost this was...I was literally drooling when you described the way you made the calamari. And those purple chive blossoms sound and look amazing. I've never seen them before, let alone knew that they were edible. Your beau and family are so lucky to have been served this feast(s).

  3. This is gastronomically wonderful! I was totally blown away by this post. You're really an artist, PE.

  4. great ginger and clam soup!

  5. "my beau" hahaha..i love it! yes, he's quite a beau.

  6. Hi PE - Loved the ginger and clam soup photo. Just looking at the photos, I first thought that this was one meal......;o)

  7. No way Rachel, your efforts, feeble?! I remember the multiple desserts and the pierogies that you made! Those are incredible and gargantuan efforts (that would be too taxing for me to undertake)!

    Drooling Elmo Monster? I thought I might have induced dry heave given the grotesque descriptions I included of the prep! It was the first time that I tasted the chive blossoms too, and I should attribute the credit for that dish to my beau's cousin--she brought the dish, I was only involved in eating it!

    Thank you J Haw, I learning from my favorite culinary artist, you might know him, his name is "J Haw" from the Jesuit Gourmet! I learn so many interesting and unique culinary tricks from him, like the addition of pureed celery in dressing!

    Thanks, I'll let my beau know Anonymous, as he is the one that made the clam soup!

    I missed you and your posts very much Goldfishy 526! I'm glad to have you and your beautiful smile back in San Francisco!

    If we ever get the opportunity to dine together Kirk, I promise you that we'll eat a meal that is equivalent to the combination of those two individual meals! (My only fear is that we'd still be hungry afterwards...)

  8. Quite to the contrary PE, I love hearing, seeing, and reading the preparation of food just as much as I enjoy eating it (even if it involves squid eyeballs and beaks).

  9. You are an intense one, Mr. Elmo Monster. No doubt, you are a "lover of food" in the purest form!

    One time, one of my friends and I were walking through Farmers Market, and there was an area that the vendors were selling fresh fish in these huge plastic tubs filled with crushed ice. The smell was unbearably fishy, and I remember I inhaled deeply and said, "Ahhh, that smells good!" My friend looked at me with a grimace and said, "You really do love food, but you are also a freak."

    I would say to you, "You really do love food, and you are also cool!"


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