Birthday Dinner for a Friend and a President
Updated: Feb 23, 2022
The invitation will explain the theme and its rationale. Once again, the party is for my friend, Enrique. He and his wife, Natasha, are exceptional and accomplished individuals and we’ve been friends for many, many years. A post on August 25 described a dinner celebrating Enrique’s return from his month-long walk on El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. August 4 is his birthday which happens to be Barack Obama’s birthday as well. That coincidence provides a great way to have fun. Celebrate with a party that salutes a famous person whose birthday is the same as your birthday honoree. The connection to someone famous always makes the less famous person feel terrific. It’s a welcome boost for the ego, even though we all understand it is an unconnected coincidence. So, rational or not, do something that puts that connection into a focus for fun. The invitation: Dear Friends, What do you do when two marvelous human beings share their soon-to-arrive birthday - after a year when celebrations were Covid catchers? You throw a PARTY! for the birthday boys, Enrique Zapata and Barack Obama!!! Please join the festivities at dinner, Wednesday, August 4, 6 PM, my place. Do R.S.V.P. Your friend, Luci To amuse (always a prime goal of my dinners), I addressed the invitation to the friends I invited and to email@example.com. Of course, I received a Mailer Daemon. A few days later, I sent a note to my friends in this email: Subject: Sad news Dear friends, Most unfortunately, Barack will be unable to attend the birthday festivities. However, we will remember him in our celebration. Cheers, Luci To continue the amusement, I created a menu of Obama’s favorite foods, some his “healthy” choices, some his “cheat” choices. That idea seems appropriate because the Obamas were into food and cared a lot about taste, as is the case for Enrique and Natasha. The Internet supplied the information on Obama’s favorite foods and standard recipes for them. Obama’s choices were quite compatible with Enriques’s favorites. The menu:
A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR ENRIQUE AND BARACK - August 4, 2021 As Barack was unable to attend, we prepared a menu of his favorite foods. Some are his healthy choices and some are his "cheat" choices. Appetizers Dips: Guacamole, Peanut Sauce, Chili w/Chips, Veggies and Fruits Shrimp with Cocktail Sauce Palate Freshener Anise Hyssop Granita Main Poached Wild Salmon with Grilled Salsa Verde Broccoli Ceviche Basmati Rice with Saffron and Kaffir Lime Dessert Apple Pie and Vanilla Ice Cream
In fact, the menu items are mostly healthy and, as much as possible, I used locally-sourced and organic foods. The rice does contain some butter and the desserts, of course, are “cheats.” I set the table with locally-sourced, organic flowers and leaves from my garden.
In the articles about Obama’s favorite foods were: guacamole, peanut sauce, chili, salmon, broccoli (yes - broccoli!), and apple pie with vanilla ice cream. My interpretations with guests’ comments and some recipes follow. Note that everything on the menu was served cold - deliberately to accommodate the heat of summer. And that almost everything can be prepared a day or more ahead.
Guacamole: I purchased Sabra’s Mexican sweet corn guacamole. All agreed-delicious.
Peanut Sauce (recipe below): A staple of Indonesian cooking, I was surprised that this somewhat exotic and spicy dip was a hit, although my friends are adventurous foodies. A common menu item in Indonesia (where Obama lived for a number of years) is gado-gado, a collection of veggies and fruits served with peanut sauce. Typically, in my experience of many years of travel through the archipelago, it includes potatoes and eggs which I did not find in most recipes on the Internet. The version of peanut sauce that I developed is milder than the fiery sauce typical of Indonesia. The guacamole and chili dips were quite compatible with the dippers for gado-gado.
Chili: Chili as a major menu item did not make sense so I processed home-made chili into a paste that worked quite well as a dip. In an attempt to make it super delicious I used veal demi glacé from D’Artagnan and Wagyu ground beef. I found D’Artagnan’s Wagyu beef at my favorite small but excellent super market, Met, and it’s now available at Costco. The chili was good but not as popular as the other two dips and not as good as the chili made by my guest, Ed, a former fire-house chef.
Shrimp: Just because everyone loves them. I did not find it among Obama’s favorites but I’m sure he would not refuse if served shrimp.
Granita (see post of August 1 about anise hyssop and other herbs): Any recipe for granita will tell you to check and break it up often and regularly and to prepare it shortly before serving. I made a batch with anise hyssop but did not break it up enough. Result - lots of ice crystals - ugh! So I served raspberry sorbet instead. I had it on hand because I like it and I knew that granita is tricky.
Salmon and Salsa Verde (recipes below): Is there a good recipe for cold salmon prepared a day ahead? I favored two from the Internet, one for roasted salmon and one for poaching. The ingredients in the latter suggested it would be more flavorful. A good decision. The dish got raves. Especially impressive was that from a guest from Japan - where all fish is superb. She is not very fond of salmon but thought this was onishi (Japanese for delicious) and the best she ever had. In short, this salmon recipe deserves a gold medal. The salsa verde I took from the recipe for roasted salmon. It was darn good and could be used in many ways.
Broccoli (recipe below): I called it “ceviche” because the acid in the marinade does the cooking. As it is served cold, it seemed right for this party even though it is doubtful that Obama ever ate it this way. My friend, Catherine, served it at a 4th of July party, using a recent recipe from the New York Times. I thought it quite good and interesting. However, I also thought that the marinade had not penetrated enough to give full flavor, probably because the florets were too big. I used tiny florets and it worked. We all enjoyed it but I warn you. The dish is potently pungent.
Rice (recipe below): In Bali, Indonesia, a restaurant served a remarkably flavorful rice made with saffron and kaffir lime. It was easy to generate a recipe at home. It’s excellent, always well received. I have served it many times and included it in our book, Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Decor and More, in the August chapter titled, Seafood and Citrus. Few people here are familiar with kaffir lime, although it is commonly found in savory recipes in SE Asian cooking. It can be used in desserts as well. It has a distinct lime flavor but very floral without the acidity of true lime. I love it and get it in leaves or chopped from Kalyustan’s in NYC. I prepared the rice about an hour before guests arrived so it was served warm.
Apple pie (recipe below): Obama loves it made with Honey Crisp and Granny Smith apples so that’s what I used. It was easy to find a recipe for a cold filling and the one I chose was just plain yummy, all agreed. Rather than a standard crust, I used a sweet one that I also used in our book Dazzling Dinners: Recipes, Decor and More, in the April chapter, !Loof Lirpa (April Fool!). There, it appeared in an appetizer that looked like a dessert tart but had a savory filling. The ice cream was Haagen-Dazs’s Vanilla Bean.
1 cup peanut butter, smooth or crunchy
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 large garlic cloves, grated
2 tablespoons Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce)*
2 tablespoons black strap molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Water for thinning
*If unavailable, use two tablespoons soy sauce + 2 teaspoons sugar
Mix all ingredients except the water. Thin to desired consistency with water.
Note: Made 2 days ahead
Salmon Chef Andrew Zimmern's Cold Poached Salmon Recipe — Verlasso
3 cups dry white wine (I used a California chardonnay) 1 small onion, chopped 3 celery ribs, chopped 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 3 parsley sprigs One 3-pound fillet fatty salmon, pin bones removed 6 thin lemon slices, for garnish 12 thin cucumber slices, for garnish In a fish poacher or a pot large enough to hold the salmon, combine the wine, onion, celery, peppercorns and parsley. Add 3 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the salmon fillet (it should be fully submerged) and bring the water to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently over low heat until the salmon is just cooked through, about 8 to 9 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, carefully transfer the salmon fillet to a large platter. Dab off any white bits and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool. Note: I followed the recipe except for the garnish and cucumber raita. He notes that the salmon may be prepared a day ahead, which I did. I served it with salsa verde.
Salsa Verde Epicurious's Grilled Serrano Salsa Verde: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/grilled-serrano-salsa-verde 6-8 serrano chilis 1 bunch basil 1 bunch cilantro 1 bunch parsley 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil 1/2 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar (I used sherry vinegar) 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Thread chilis onto skewer and grill, turning often, until charred and softened, about 6 minutes. Let cool; remove stems. Note: It took about 12 minutes on my grill. I removed most of the seeds and membranes. 2. Meanwhile, pluck leaves from basil and leaves and tender stems from cilantro and parsley. (You should have about 2 cups of each herb.) Note: I used 2-3 bunches from my super market to make 2 cups of each herb. 3. Pulse chilis, basil, cilantro, and parsley in a food processor until finely chopped. Add oil, vinegar, and salt and pulse until a thick, slightly textured sauce forms. Sauce can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Bring to room temperature before serving.
1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste 2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil 4 fat garlic cloves, minced* 2 teaspoons cumin seeds 2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes.
*Note: Try grating the garlic. It's easier, faster and mixes in better. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve. Note: I used two large heads of broccoli but it was not enough for 8 normal-size servings. I would use an additional head for 8 servings. Not much is left after removing all the stems.
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
¼ cup hot water
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups basmati rice
3 cups water
4 large or 6 small kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon salt
4 large or 8 small kaffir lime leaves
Soak saffron threads in ¼ cup hot water for 10 minutes.
Prepare rice. Melt butter in 5-6 quart pot over medium-low heat. Add rice and stir often until rice is colored, about 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring 3 cups water to boil. Pour over rice, add salt and saffron with its water, cover tightly, reduce heat to low and cook for 17 minutes. Turn off heat and let pot stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Apple Pie https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/a35981150/president-barack-obamas-favorite-apple-pie-recipe/ I used only the filling, not the pastry. For the filling: 3 pounds apples, skinned, cored, and cut into 1/2" wedges (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny
Smith, Macintosh). Note: I used half Honey Crisp and half Granny Smith. 1 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup artisanal honey, preferably local 1/3 cup cornstarch 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 lemon, zested and juiced
In a large saucepan, lightly toss together fruit, sugar sifted with cornstarch, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, and lemon juice and zest. Allow this fruit mixture to stand for 20 minutes. Place the saucepan over medium heat and heat the fruit mixture, stirring occasionally until it comes to a boil, about 10 minutes, and the mixture has thickened slightly. Watch that the fruit does not stick to the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl to cool. For the crust: Note: Not from website above; it's my recipe. 1 cup Zweiback-toast crumbs (or cake-style ice-cream cones for more sweetness) 1 cup ground walnuts ¼ cup flour ½ teaspoon cinnamon 1 egg, lightly beaten 4 tablespoons butter, melted Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add egg and butter and stir until combined. Pat dough onto bottom and ¼-inch up the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. Place a weight (parchment paper and dried beans work well) on the dough. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool before removing from pan. Add filling to crust just before serving. Note: Both made the day before.