Monday, May 05, 2008

Dining With Friends 2008 wrapup

This was our 10th year hosting a Dining With Friends party and it was a very successful event. We completed 13 of the 15 planned dishes, only ran out of one of them during the party, and all the leftovers fit into one refrigerator. We had over 115 people attend, making this our biggest year ever, and donations so far are just over $4,000. The menu consisted of (the links are to the recipes, in Word 2003 format):

[UPDATE 5/9/08: I had the wrong shrimp recipe posted. The one posted now is the one we served.]

The learning curve was almost vertical as we took on this challenge. We both enjoy eating Indian food, but neither of us had ever made it. First there were the ingredients, which are called different things. For example, depending on who wrote the recipe they could refer to lentils, gram beans, or dal. Dal simply means "bean", so that sometimes adds to the confusion. Ghee, a type of clarified butter, was alternately called butter or clarified butter, or usli ghee, asli ghee, or desi ghee. Remove the ghee part from those for even more variations. They're all the same thing, though. Chili powder might mean the mixture we know if the recipe has been Westernized, or Kashmiri chili powder, which contains bhut jolokia peppers. The two can not be interchanged, by the way. Kashmiri chili powder is a biological weapon.

Some of the techniques we had to master are unique to Indian cooking. Brown-frying onions is a laborious process and it can't be done in large batches. Making ghee isn't difficult, but the timing is precise. 30 seconds too long at too high of a temperature and you've got burnt butter. Grating garlic, onions and ginger is a challenge when you're doing it in terms of 60 garlic cloves, 20 onions and the equivalent of 2 feet of ginger at a time. Folding ground spices into yogurt and letting them hydrate is another thing that's surprisingly easy to mess up if you don't mix it thoroughly or you mix too vigorously.

We learned a lot about multiplying recipes, too. If a single iteration calls for 4 cups of water, multiplying it by 8 doesn't necessarily mean you need 2 gallons. And just because strict multiplication says you should use 7.667 tablespoons of Kashmiri chili powder doesn't mean it's wise (that was some crazy hot Tandoori chicken). By the way, is a godsend. The thing I love is you can put in a multiplier and it does it for you. Thinking gets difficult when you're in this kind of situation.

Time, as always, was the enemy. In particular the Pistachio Chicken Korma took much, much longer to prepare than I anticipated. Shelled pistachios were $7.00 for 4 ounces, and I needed 24 ounces. That would have been $42.00 for pistachios and I thought that was ridiculous. So I bought 3 pounds of pistachios and shelled them to get the 1.5 pounds of pistachio meat I needed. That took about 2.5 hours. Then I had to boil them, let them cool, and peel the skins off. Peeling was another 2 hours. That put me so far behind that we didn't get the last two dishes finished and we were about 15 minutes late getting the food on the table. Next time I'll buy the shelled pistachios, and I have incredible respect for anyone who does pistachio anything by hand.

As you've probably guessed by now, Myron and I did all the cooking. We had a friend, Anne, who volunteered to help on Saturday. She came over at about 11:30 and while I peeled pistachios she peeled shrimp, and while Myron and I were getting the house pulled together she was cooking that as well as the semolina. I bought 25 pounds of basmati rice and intended to prepare it, but I ran out of time. She asked if we needed to cook it; I told her I wasn't going to bother, so she took it upon herself to do so and it was a hit. Without her we would have been in even worse shape and I can't thank her enough.

The party started at 6:00 and at 5:10 Myron and I stopped cooking and ran around to get the back porch and dining room put together. At 5:45 I started putting the food out. At 6:15 I got in the shower, and by 6:25 everything was under control and we had a great time. :-) Clean up took most of Sunday, mostly because we were both so exhausted. It's amazing what cooking full-tilt for 3 days, 18 - 20 hours a day, can do to you. My feet and legs still hurt, but we'll be doing it again next year. :-)

The obligatory cleanup photo...

One of the recipes is still taped to the cabinet. I type them up in Word, then print them out and put them in page protectors. These get taped on the cabinets so we can easily reference them without having them laying on the counters. As you can see, counterspace is at a premium.

After all that cooking the stove was an absolute mess.

There were times when all 6 burners were going, plus the oven.

Lots of wine was consumed. I bought 20 bottles and 7 were unopened. The punch bowl on the table with the red tablecloth was where we had the Cuban Sangria. That is a delicious mix of red wine and coconut rum, with fresh fruit.

And lots of beer. 104 were purchased, 12 are left. The Post-It notes were to tell people which variety was in each cooler.

This was the sunset on Sunday, after we finished cleaning up and were sitting down to leftovers.

Speaking of leftovers...

A lot of that is going to end up in the freezer.


  1. Wow, that all sounds amazing and I am so sorry I missed it.
    Can you do me a favour and NOT schedule next year's event for the same dates as Admin?
    Especially 'cause you and I will present our "single Domino server on Windows to Linux cluster in 60 minutes" presentation!!!

  2. The food was amazing. I tried almost everything. The shrimp and the tandori chicken were awesome. As for the leftovers...tell My he can bring some with him Wednesday night...I'll help him ;)
    Sorry we rushing out from the after party as you gents were arriving. I had a blister and I was afraid if I stopped I wouldn't be able to make it to the parking garage!

  3. Charles..
    The link for the shrimp is not working. I was going to call and see if one of you would send me the recipe, or if Myron could bring me a copy.

  4. Francie, the event is always the first Saturday in May. I can't control that. :-)

    Glad you enjoyed it, Pam. I fixed the shrimp link.

  5. Gary and I had a marvelous time! You two are so great at pulling off any theme for a dinner. All the dishes were just wonderful, and I am glad you offered such a variety. The dessert party was some what of let down after the great time we had at your home. Please stick around, I can't imagine a May with out a Dining with Friends event on Devereaux Avenue. Your party had such a nice blend of people, drinks and food. I thank you two of having us. Hey, what will next year bring?????? Can't wait!

  6. The curse of the Pistachio was well worth it! Thank you so much for a wonderful combination for a good cause, with delicious food and great company! You both have a right to be very proud. You never let a dish run empty or a guest unattended. The sunset was and beautiful! Bruce and I thank you for the invite and we will keep the annual tradition on our calenders. Thank you so much! PS. Anne, come out of the kitchen next time so we can say hi!

  7. Was nice meeting you Charles. Nida and I enjoyed everything immensely and thanks to Myron for inviting us. We had a little of everything on our plates and not a bit remained!! Delicious! As we mentioned, this was the first time that DWF coincided with our annual anniversary trip to Charleston which we have been taking for the past few years. We will be back same time next year.
    Please email us the correct spelling of Myron's last name...we think we have it incorrectly.

    Thanks again!
    Keith & Nida Finch

  8. I hope that it is not too late to recognize the amazing chefs. The food was amazing, wonderful. I had a wonderful time talking to eveyone. Thanks for letting me know about this wonderful occasion. Hey! I wonder what flavor would be on the table for next year. You guys did the best.
    Thanks again for all of the hard work.
    Carmen Rocio