Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

Paella, Potato Balls and Flan on Labor Day

Written by Patti on September 9th, 2009

Labor Day always inspires a party. This year was no exception. Before leaving Los Angeles, Eric and I purchased a 3 ft. wide paella pan and paddle with the intention of using it on this September holiday.

Remember that parties of this size are easier when you have help. And boy, did I. Armed with the most amazing coterie of comrades that are more like family, we whipped up a fantastic celebration. Dessert was a South Beach flan inspired by Gloria Estefan, created by our own John “Flan Jovi”, the fried, stuffed potato ball hors d’ouevres were provided by our own “Potato Princess”, Holly, Crystal came up with the most creative and beautiful caprese salad I have ever seen and my girls came to the rescue for the prep of the paella. My darling and ever patient Eric and our sweet Teague were in charge of cooking the paella outside.

A trip to the Dekalb Farmer’s Market was our first order of business. It was a madhouse on the Sunday before Labor Day. But I did get a chance to meet one of my Facebook friends that I have only met online, which was super cool (shout out to Ashley and Alison!) It was so crowded, that they had employees directing traffic in the aisles. We got out of there in one piece, fought our way out of the parking lot traffic and the millions attending the Decatur Book Festival and arrived home.

But first, the prep. What seemed like light prep became KP at our house. While Holly and I peeled and deveined 4 pounds of shrimp, Vickie peeled and chopped five cups of onions and three garlic gloves and Eric roasted and peeled 10 large poblano chiles. While that doesn’t sound like a lot of work, you stand up and peel and devein 4 pounds of wet shrimp and chop a ton of onions, garlic and peppers. It is not glamorous. Earlier in the week I had rolled all the silverware and placed it in a cute basket, so that was taken care of. But the table needed setting, the bar needed to be moved and filled with wine glasses at the ready, the drinks were to be iced down and the backyard sprayed for bugs. We were also taste testing the potato balls, which was Holly’s first time cooking. After frying a couple that looked gorgeous and crispy on the inside and well…frozen on the inside, we had to figure out how to make them work. We all decided the best tactic was to lower the frying temperature, then place the balls in a 350F oven to cook the insides. They were fabulous! And there was no need for back up chips and salsa!

The giant paella pan was taken from its special spot in the laundry room (the only place it will fit) and taken outside to the stand made of bricks contributed by Rick and Denise (thanks, y’all), which housed the propane burner (thanks, Crystal and Teague) that would cook the paella. That lived in the house that Jack built. Wait….that’s another story.

We used a recipe by Rick Bayless, which, when calculated, should have taken one hour to prepare. As I had said to the girls on Saturday at our slumber party, “how hard could it be? it will turn our beautifully”. Best laid plans……

The paella took THREE hours to cook. Do you know how tipsy folks can get watching paella cook? Plenty. Eric followed the recipe to a T. He heated the pan, placed the chicken thighs in to brown and they just sat there…looking pale and flabby.

It took a while, but eventually they looked like they had cooked a bit, but never got that crispy brown to them. The chicken was removed to make room for the chorizo and poblanos. This step was much more promising. Not only did it look great, but it smelled incredible. Next came the 8 pounds of rice. This is a LOT of rice, people. It was cooked with a two gallon mixture of chicken stock and water. Good Lord, this was a ton of rice – it grew like something from a science fiction movie. After the rice was cooked to a reasonable texture, the mussels and shrimp were added. The whole shebang should have been ready when the shrimp were pink. Now, if you have ever cooked shrimp, you know it takes no time at all, but we were not so lucky. It seemed to take forever for that shrimp to get pink. Between watching the shrimp and wrangling stray mussels from Karen’s little canine jaws (since when do dogs like seafood?), it was quite the endeavor.

By 9:00 p.m., we were ready to eat the paella (thank God Holly made those crazy tasty potato balls, otherwise we would have starved to death and had been on the floor in a drunken stupor). By this time, we had lost 4 guests. Three were our wonderfully cool friends Natalie and John and their awesome daughter, Madeline (bedtime calls) and Denise, who was just tired at this point. But those that stayed were treated to a very yummy paella. The recipe claimed it made 25 to 30 servings, but this must have meant lumberjack servings, because we could have easily fed 60. Easily. We had approximately 25 folks at the party and there was a LOT left over (mostly rice – surprise!) Lisa and I stood in the kitchen afterward scooping rice into Ziploc bags and separating the seafood and chicken. Then the flan was served. This dessert was so delicious that I spied one of our adorable guests eat three of them. It was flan-tastic! I ate plenty as well (thank goodness for my boxing classes so I could work it off).

On Tuesday night, Eric and I were still cleaning. This was not the cutesy clean up of my first post – no, this was more like industrial kitchen cleaning in between me musing if we should ever throw a big party like this again. I always say, “never again”, just to hear the siren song of another party waiting to be planned calling to me in the future.

Stay tuned.

xoxo, Patti


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Erika says:

    That looked FANTASTIC! Sounds like ya'll had a great time, no matter how long it took to cook. sorry we missed it. At 9pm, Charles and teammates were kicking butt bowling… I think I would of rather of been eating Paella! 🙂

    Great write up!

  2. Talibah says:

    OK. I'm calling you this week! Sounds like a delicious blast!

  3. Pmcd9 says:

    What time do you want us over for leftovers?