What is your New Year’s resolution for 2011?
For many of you, it might be to lose weight, exercise more, spend less money, or to quit a bad habit, like smoking.
But for one new mom I met recently at one of my cooking classes, none of these popular resolutions are on her list. She has a whole different kind of approach to the new year. Her resolution?
To throw more dinner parties for friends and family.
Hearing this brought me back my days of early motherhood, when I would fall asleep at 8:00pm, knowing our youngest would be up at 4:30am (for good)!
In those days I used to plan our family dinner around the number of pots, pans, and dishes that would be required to execute and clean up after the meal was finished. A healthy dinner with minimal prep and cleanup was key with babies/toddlers underfoot.
And dinner parties?
Well, I would be lying if I said we entertained as much or in the same way that we did in our pre-children days. Though the frequency/style changed, I refused to give up something I enjoyed so much. Staying connected with friends and family is what keeps us all going, right? I was determined to a include a little adult time during such a busy phase of life (that now looking back on seems like a blur). Bidding farewell to the dinner party was not something I was willing to do.
How did I do it?
Caffeine, and lots of it. (Just kidding–well… kind of).
Here’s what really helped me out:
Don’t fall asleep during dessert : If you are preparing the whole meal yourself, be realistic. How much time do you have to prepare for your dinner party? Chances are, not a lot, so select a menu that you can pull together easily, and one that may be prepared ahead of time so that when your guests arrive you are free to socialize.
Job Share the menu Divvy up the courses between your dinner guests–it won’t be as daunting!
Grandparents: The BEST babysitters ever. Though we did not have grandparents close by, I was envious of our friends who did. #1 the price is right, and #2 having the kids spend a night at Grandma and Grandpa’s gives you the freedom of having the house to yourselves during your dinner party (the ultimate relaxation), and the opportunity to sleep in, avoiding the 5am morning -after wake up…you know the one where the cutest alarm clock you know wakes you up by opening your eyelids for you?
Time it right If grandparents are not an option, and your children will be at home during your dinner party, hire a baby sitter and have a later start time. Have your babysitter arrive early, so that you can finish getting things ready and the sitter can get the kids in bed by 7:30. Have guests arrive after bedtime so that the sounds of crying babies from upstairs have passed , you are feeling relaxed, and your babysitter is there to listen to the baby monitor in case there are any wake ups. You have the night off!
Double Duty: Spending $8-$10 per hour for a babysitter is money well spent! In addition to giving you helping hands with your children, your babysitter may also be willing to help with the dishes and cleanup. A wise investment.
Save the baby talk for the playground: Part of who you are is a parent, but you are also a spouse, sister, or friend. It is easy to get lost in that parental role, but so important to embrace the other roles you play in life. Engage in dinner party conversation that doesn’t revolve solely about your kids….save that for the parties you have where kids are invited to come along.
So to all of you new moms (and dads) out there who enjoyed entertaining pre- parenthood, don’t think your dinner party days are finished! You deserve a break now and then, and if cooking is something you have always enjoyed, then by all means, invite your friends and family over for a dinner party! Carve time out of your busy lives to stay connected with those you care about. You will be happy you did. And remember, in the blink of an eye those sleep deprived diaper changing days of baby and toddler hood will be over, and you will find yourself in the midst of planning a pre-teen/teen New Year’s Eve party wondering if THEY will ever be quiet and get to sleep so you can–a new kind of sleep deprivation–ha! (Yes, that’s what we have in store this year…)
So whether you are a new parent, or just looking for a terrific make ahead entree to serve at your next winter dinner party, I have just the thing: my Caribbean inspired Chicken Fricassee.
The chicken in this stew is slow- cooked in a heady sauce brimming with the big flavors of garlic, ginger, spices and herbs. When I say make ahead, I mean Make ahead–up to 2 days ahead and gently reheated before serving. How is is that?
You will begin by browning seasoned chicken pieces that have been dredged in flour
Saute vegetables until softened
Then add spices, wine, stock, and seasonings. Cover and simmer until the chicken is fall apart tender.
Caribbean Inspired Chicken Fricassee
1/4 cup olive oil
2 chickens (preferably organic), 3-4 pounds each, cut into 20 pieces (4 wings, 4 legs, 4 thighs, 4 breasts, split; you can ask your butcher to do this)
Kosher salt and pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large red onion, finely chopped
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, halved lengthwise (seeds intact)
Pinch of ground allspice
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat a large Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat, then add the oil and lit it get nice and hot. Meanwhile, pat the chicken dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper and dredge them in the flour. Working in batches of 3 or 4 pieces at a time, at the chicken to the hot oil and cook until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. As they are done, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside on a plate. Spoon off and discard about half of the fat from the pot.
Add the onion, bell pepper, poblano, and garlic to the pot and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, jalapeno, allspice, and wine, bring to a simmer, and simmer until the wine is reduced by half, 6-7 minutes. Stir in the stock, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and ketchup, return the chicken to the pot, cover, and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 40-50 minutes, removing the lid to stir the sauce every 15 minutes.
Stir in the green onions, cilantro, parsley, and thyme. Taste and correct the seasoning. Stir in the butter. (The fricasee can be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. reheat gently before serving.)
Divide the stew among dinner plates or shallow bowls and serve with warm couscous or rice.
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