UPDATE: A few people have asked about Pomegranate Molasses. Any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market will carry it but, larger supermarkets stock it these days too. If you’re in San Francisco you can always find it at Haig’s on Clement and 7th (get a falafel sandwich there too while you’re at it)
My friend Bibby hosts great dinner parties. Not only does she cook fantastic food but, she has a knack for bringing together a group of people who don’t know each other (at least most of them) and creating a table full of fun conversation. I guess she’s a pro since she runs the successful Parties that Cook, a business that hosts and organizes private cooking parties.
It was a cold foggy San Francisco summer night and she made a meal to match. She kicked it off with a hot baking dish full of pork and veal meatballs, slathered in tomato sauce. These weren’t those tiny one bite meatballs you’ve seen at cocktail parties. They were big-four bites big, served on plates with fork-like toothpicks and toasts to soak up the sauce. You know dinner is going to be a hit when you walk into a house with a hot dish of giant meatballs as an appetizer! Oh, did I mention they were filled with melting Fontina cheese??
The rest of the night was great. Dinner was grilled skewers of chicken, lemon, haloumi, and bread, a green salad by Kelly with a cumin orange dressing and lettuce from her own city garden, and Bibby’s recipe for a Moroccan quinoa salad. Dessert was Ina Garten’s deep dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting (let me just say most people didn’t stop at one!).
We rolled out of her house around 11:30 and on the way home drove by a neighborhood theater with a huge line out front. My husband noticed the midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show marquee and promptly parked the car. I’ve seen the movie but only on video, which apparently makes me a ‘virgin’. Not to mention I’m pushing four decades old and was dressed for a grown up dinner party, not a vampy, campy movie production. In any case, he wanted to go and, after convincing me that it was okay to stay up past midnight, I agreed to check it out. What a trip! The theater was about half full and I knew I was in for something when we were given a bag of confetti, bubbles, newspaper, toilet paper, and playing cards. Everyone around us was dressed up-bustiers, gold Speedos, blond wigs, and silver dresses…and that was just the guys. I was too old and too sober for the whole thing. The row in front of us was three frat guys who’d snuck in beer, which they needed like holes in their heads. They were singing along at full volume, dancing, taunting and getting into it like mad. I rolled my eyes and realized if I were 20 years younger and had a six pack, I might be having fun too. We snuck out mid way through, but not after doing the ‘Time Warp’…when is the last time you did that dance?
If you want to relive one of the best parts of the evening, make Bibby’s salad. Last night she subbed fresh apricots for the butternut squash and it was perfect. Also, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a complete protein so it’s packed with nutritional goodness. Check it out if you haven’t already. This recipe is a perfect slate for what ever flavors you want to play with.
MOROCCAN QUINOA WITH VEGETABLES AND SPICES
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups butternut squash, diced into1/2 inch dice
1 yellow onion, chopped into 1/2 inch dice
2 large carrots, diced into 1/2 inch dice
1 red bell pepper, diced into1/2 inch dice 2 zucchini, diced into 1/2 inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tablespoon mint, chopped
Rinse quinoa under running water for 2 minutes. (This step is very important or else it will taste bitter). Bring quinoa, stock, ground cumin and coriander, saffron, cinnamon, salt and pepper to boil in a medium sauce pan. Once boiling, turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until the liquid is fully absorbed and the quinoa is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the pomegranate molasses.
Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a very large sauté pan. Add the butternut squash, onions and carrots; sauté for 5 minutes. Add bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Add zucchini, salt and pepper. Cook until all vegetables are soft but not soggy, about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly and mix in with the quinoa. Garish: Right before ready to serve, stir in with the scallions, cilantro and mint. Serve immediately or at room temperature.