When I left the restaurant industry and chef profession, I was fortunate enough to score a job with a British manufacturer of china dinnerware, made exclusively for use in hotels, restaurants and catering companies. I had worked with the product when I was a pastry chef in a private dining club, and found it to be as wonderful as it advertised: “Tough as steel, but impressively lightweight.” Their beautiful patterns and innovative shapes and colors made the product a delight to work with, as it truly enhanced the dining experience and contributed to the trend in “eater-tainment.” My primary job was to plan their tradeshows — a natural extension of the skills I had honed as a chef planning banquets. I got to travel to the biggest shows to help set-up the displays and help staff the booth, working side-by-side with the passionate and super-fun salesforce. A unique opportunity to incorporate my background in speech communications as well as provide testimony, since I’d used the product when I was a chef.
During the first tradeshow I attended, I met one of the company pattern-designers, who had traveled from the UK for the show, and who would soon be relocating to the US headquarters where I worked. There was an instant connection with us. In no time, we were talking and laughing and sharing stories as if we’d known each other for years. Our friendship only got stronger once she moved to the states. I can’t begin to recount how much fun we had sharing a tiny office, and traveling to those tradeshows together. We whooped it up and giggled our way through Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and San Francisco, sharing hotel rooms in each of the cities, and staying up till all hours like kids at a slumber party. (Hover over images below to reveal captions)
That was back in 1999 and here we are, still BFFs after almost 20 years. There truly are few words to convey how fortunate I feel to have met her! We’ve been there for each other through dating and then weddings, career-changes, moves, welcoming her munchkins into the world, stressors and celebrations and the mundane … each chapter of life only strengthens our friendship and brings us closer. What hurts her hurts me and vice versa. Only she can make me laugh when I don’t even want to smile — she brings out the best in me. We aggressively defend each other and believe in each other, and we each think the other deserves the world. There has never been any jealousy between us, and only complete honesty. She is the sister of my soul, and a trusted caretaker of my heart. Befriending her is far and away one of the best things that has ever happened in my life!
Our paths have criss-crossed North America in a surprisingly parallel fashion, and she lives just two hours and one border-crossing away from Rochester now. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like, but I recently got to see her for a dinner, and a nonstoptalkandlaughfest that lasted way into the wee morning hours, just like old times. Oh! The comfort of being able to be transparent with your bestie! And the joy of getting to see her munchkins grow up! And to hang with her ultra-cool hubby!
I mention all of this not only to laud her amazingness and my good fortune to have her as my soul-sistuh. But also because we hosted a dinner party for 6 people the night after my return! One of the guests was someone I was REALLY trying to impress — a colleague of Mr. Batch’s from his postdoc days, who is now a professor at Harvard!!!
How did I do this, you ask? And especially when I needed to find a menu suitable for 5 carnivores and a vegetarian?!?! Well, here we go:
The day before departing town, I did my grocery shopping. I froze my tofu slices (see recipe below). I also made Loaded Cornbread Muffins and froze them.
Before departing town, I thawed the tofu slices, first thing. Then cubed the pork for the Pork Chile Verde, and added the dry rub. Once the tofu slices were thawed, I squeezed the excess water from them, and then brushed them with olive oil and added the dry rub.
🎉 🥂 Then, I went out of town and PLAYED WITH MY BFF!!!!!! 💃 😎
Upon returning to town the next day, I finished making the Pork Chile Verde, and made the Tofu Chile Verde (recipe below). Both of these taste better the day after they’re made, so it behooves them to make them the day before. (Mr. Batch always says to me “I know how you like the behooving!” 🙂 ) Last, I made a batch of Roasted Sweet Potatoes.
The day of the party: I’m an early bird, and made a batch of Lemon Souffle Pudding cakes before work. But you could also make these the day before, if you are not a morning person! I thawed the Loaded Cornbread Muffins. Then, I set the table, and tidied-up the guest bathroom and went to work.
That evening, an hour before the guests arrived, I started reheating the Pork Chile Verde and Tofu Chile Verde (recipe below) on very low on the stovetop. I put my appetizers out: brie & crackers; a bowl of pistachios; a bowl of dried apricots & dates; and hummus and plantain chips. I pulled some butter and put it on the dining room table on a pretty plate, and lit the votives. Once my guests arrived, I popped the Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Loaded Cornbread Muffins into a very low oven.
Once we’d finished visiting over appetizers, I tossed salad greens with some Red Wine Vinaigrette that I always have on-hand in the fridge, and put the salad on the table for guests to serve themselves. Then, put the Loaded Cornbread Muffins into a cloth-lined basket on the table, to be passed. And finally, plated the Pork Chile Verde and Tofu Chile Verde over Roasted Sweet Potatoes, (with a dollop of sour cream for those who wanted it) and served all of that with a lovely Rioja red wine.
Following dinner, I passed my Lemon Souffle Pudding cakes, topped with a sprig of mint and some candied orange zest. And we continued to talk and laugh until the votives burned through all of their wax and it was time to go home.
I can’t recommend this dinner party menu enough. Much can be done in advance, which allows you to have fun with your guests. And the food only gets better while it warms lightly on the stove and in the oven! Unlike my first dinner party experience where everything got bone-dry and over-cooked! 🙂 🙂 🙂
Tofu Chile Verde – serves 4
Many years ago, a friend gave me the book Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein and his wife Joyce Goldstein. She brought my attention to the recipe for Pork Chile Verde and I am ever-grateful that she did. I have now adapted the recipe to make Tofu Chile Verde, for you vegetarians and vegans out there!
- 1 pound extra firm tofu, sliced into four thick slabs
Line a baking pan with parchment, add thick slices of tofu, and then freeze for at least 1 hour. Yes — you read that correctly — freeze.
While tofu slices freeze, make dry-rub:
- 1 teaspoons oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can omit these for anyone sensitive to spicy-heat)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a small bowl, combine the spices and set aside.
Once each slice is completely frozen, pull pan and allow to thaw completely — about 1 hour.
Move tofu slices to clean kitchen towel (I find that a thin “tea-towel” works best). Working with one slice at a time, completely cover with dry section of towel, and press firmly on tofu to squeeze-out water. Once excess water has been removed, move tofu slices to a very lightly-oiled baking pan.
Continue until all slices have been pressed and excess water has been removed.
Brush each slice with a little olive oil or other preferred oil, then season with salt and pepper and sprinkle each side with a pinch of the dry rub. Return to very lightly-oiled baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours, or up to 48 hours.
Make Chile Verde Sauce
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 4-ounce can diced roasted green chiles
- Half of a 14-ounce can plum or fire-roasted tomatoes (freeze the other half to make vegetable broth or for use in another recipe)
- 1 10-ounce can Mexican green tomatillos. drained
- 1/8cup chopped cilantro
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
In a stew pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tablespoon oil over medium heat and add the onion. Sauté the onion with a little salt until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 2 minutes longer. Add the green chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, cilantro and veg broth. Bring to a gentle boil.
Insert immersion blender — or transfer everything to a blender — and puree.
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red vinegar (optional — but highly recommended)
Add salt, pepper, and vinegar (if desired) to taste.
Grill (or bake) Tofu:
I have a grill pan that I like to use when I think a somewhat-charred flavor will benefit a dish. So I used it for this dish and grilled the tofu slices. Then cubed, and added to the chile verde sauce.
To serve: put Roasted Sweet Potatoes in bowl, ladle Tofu Chile Verde over top. Sprinkle with additional chopped cilantro and a dollop of sour cream, if desired.
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