I have blogged about these ladies a few times. You may remember one or two of them from the blog post How the Adventures of Ramona P Got Me Blogging About Mac and Cheese or the post Double Date Night: Cocktails, Carbonara and Creme Brûlée.
These ladies and a few more that aren’t pictured, have been a part of my life for the better part of 15 years. We each lead very separate lives, but the bond that was created when we were all teaching young minds brings us together a couple times a year.
When I reached out to them a few months ago about doing a ladies night blog post, of course they all said yes! Once we confirmed the date, I set off to arrange my menu. I knew I wanted a cocktail, some finger foods for the start of the evening and then break out the grill for dinner. I ended up with an island themed menu when it was all said and done.
The menu I created became the butt of several jokes throughout the night. Woody and Ace were the first to arrive. Oh, that Ace! He crashed ladies night and stole my heart!
Woody asked me what was on the menu. I replied, “Berbere ham spirals with a marinara dipping sauce, grapes, watermelon, gruyere cheese and pistachios for an appetizer. Our signature ladies night cocktail is a blackberry mojito. For dinner, we will feast on grilled jerk chicken served on Housemade focaccia rolls with lettuce, pineapple and a mango chutney mustard sauce accompanied by roasted asparagus and fried plantains. For dessert, you will indulge in a key lime pie tartlet.”
Woody came back with, “What’s Burberry, like the handbag?” I wasn’t sure how to explain what Berbere was, so I pulled the spice from the pantry and read the back of the bottle, “Awesomely hot and spicy North African-style red pepper blend.” To which Woody replied with sarcasm in her voice, “Did you put this menu together because you knew you were having black people over?” Awkward pause for a second.
You know in movies when a person regains their lost memories and a flood of pictures appear across the screen and then the camera swings back on the astounded face of that person? That was me at that moment, a flood of memories of putting together the menu and a dumbfounded look on my face. Back to the dialogue.
“WOODY, NO!” With laughter, I continued, “No, that was not a connection that was made when planning this menu and thanks for making my blog post weird.”
One by one a new guest would arrive and when they asked what the Berbere spirals were made with, Woody and I would giggle and relive the moment out loud and then came some new jabs taken at my menu.
Pandora, the music app, even made a joke out of the menu I planned. CC was tired of listening to my choice of music station. I asked her what did she want to listen to and she chose 80’s music. As soon as I switched the station, you will never guess what the first song happened to be? Africa by Toto.
At this point, Woody had taken the baby home and we texted her a photo of the Pandora screen. She texted back with the perfect blog title. Don’t mind the obvious grammar problems in the text messages.
As much as I know how you would love to hear more about our ladies night shenanigans, I think it’s time to get down to the Afro-Caribean themed food. Let’s start with how I opened the evening’s festivities.
At 5:30 pm, the guests started to arrive and they were greeted with Blackberry mojitos, Berbere ham spirals with a Housemade marinara, sliced gruyere, watermelon, grapes and pistachios.
There were 5 people attending the evening’s fun and games.
1 batch of blackberry simple syrup, click the link for recipe or see below
Club soda or lemon-lime soda
Bacardi Silver Rum
Fill a 12 ounce glass with ice. Add 1 1/2 ounces of rum. Rub a few mint leaves between your fingers to release the minty oils and add them to the glass. Pour in 3-4 tablespoons of blackberry syrup and top it off with club soda or lemon-lime soda.
BLACKBERRY SIMPLE SYRUP:
1 cup of fresh or frozen blackberries
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine the blackberries, sugar, and water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and let the blackberries steep for about 1 hour.
Transfer the blackberry mixture to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree. Strain the blackberries through a mesh strainer over a bowl. Add the lime juice and stir to combine.
PREPARATION TIP: The blackberry sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the sauce for up to 3 months.
BERBERE SPIRLALS WITH HOUSEMADE MARINARA:
1/2 batch of puff pastry, click the link for the recipe*
1/2 pound of Boar’s Head Cappy Ham
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Sprinkling of Penzey’s Berbere Seasoning
1 cup of marinara
*I recommend making a batch or two of puff pastry and store it in your freezer. It’s easy to make and tastes far superior to the stuff you can purchase in the freezer section of your local grocery store. If you do purchase the frozen puff pastry from the store, follow the directions on the box for thawing. If you’ve made your own and have it tightly wrapped in the freezer, pull out a 1/2 batch and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly dust a clean surface with flour. Roll out the puff pastry into a 11 x 18 inch rectangle, give or take an inch or two.
Sprinkle on the Berbere seasoning, but use sparingly. It is spicy.
Finely grate some parmesan cheese over the entire slab of puff pastry,
Add thin slices of the cappy ham to the top of the puff pastry.
Starting with the long side closest to you, roll the puff pastry into a tube.
Slice 1 inch rolls and place each roll, cut side down onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with Housemade marinara. This recipe will soon be uploaded to the blog. Subscribe and you won’t miss the recipe for that and many other great recipe ideas. You can also use the veggie packed Red Sauce to accompany this dish as well.
PREPARATION TIP: The Berbere Ham Spirals can be assembled the day before. Wrap with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake them. The marinara or Red Sauce is a freezer friendly sauce and can be made way in advance.
At 6:30, I started up the grill, preheated my oven to 350 degrees and prepared my cast iron pan for frying.
JERK CHICKEN SANDWICHES WITH MANGO CHUTNEY MUSTARD SAUCE:
6 Grilled chicken breasts marinated in jerk chicken seasoning, see below for recipe
6 Salt and pepper focaccia sandwich rolls, click here for recipe.
Thinly sliced sweet pineapple
Mango chutney mustard sauce, see below
Slice a roll horizontally, spread the mango chutney mustard sauce onto the bottom of the bun, top with leaf lettuce and a slice or two of pineapple, add a piece of grilled chicken and crown the sandwich with the top half of the bun.
Traditional jerk seasoning is made with Scotch bonnet peppers. However, Scotch bonnet peppers are not readily available where I live. I found this recipe years ago and I wish I could give credit to whoever designed it, but unfortunately I can’t. We eat a lot of chicken and trying to find a multitude of ways to eat chicken so we don’t get bored with chicken can be exhausting. This recipe screams summer and is in heavy rotation this time of year.
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon of ground allspice
1 tablespoon of dried French thyme
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon of white vinegar
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
Throw all these ingredients into a blender and press pulverize. Place 4-6 chicken breasts in a plastic bag and pour the marinade over the chicken. Marinate for 4-24 hours.
PREPARATION TIP: Unless you are buying organic chickens, the size of chicken breasts these days are out of control. They are practically the size of a new born baby. Get more bang for your buck and slice your raw chicken in half horizontally. I was able to turn 5 chicken breasts I bought for $12 into a meal for 10 people. It is the perfect portion of chicken. Each piece of chicken will be more uniform in size and ensure even cooking times.
Grill the chicken 4-6 minutes on each side. After 2-3 minutes, rotate the chicken counter clockwise, if you want to impress your guests with the perfect grill marks. Let your chicken rest for 3-5 minutes before digging in.
PREPARATION TIP: Keep in mind raw chicken is a hazardous food. To limit your risk of salmonella poisoning, use a cutting board that is designated for raw meats only, wash your hands after handling raw chicken, rinse and sanitize your board and knife with water and Clorox spray before washing. Use a clean plate to transport your cooked chicken to the eating area.
1 1/2 bunches of asparagus, trimmed
Salt and pepper
To trim your asparagus, bend the asparagus until the end snaps off. This will gauge where to trim the remaining asparagus from its woody stalk. While your grill is preheating, set your oven to 350 degrees. In an oven safe dish, add your trimmed asparagus, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes.
PREPARATION TIP: If you don’t want to dirty another dish, make a foil packet and wrap up your asparagus and the rest of the ingredients. Throw the packet on the grill right alongside of the chicken.
Once the chicken goes on the grill, put your asparagus in the oven. While the chicken is resting, check the asparagus for desired doneness. Meanwhile, heat up a cast iron pan with 1 inch of vegetable oil for frying up those plantains.
Full disclosure, this was the first time I had ever made plantains. I had done a lot of research on the different types of plantains and preparation techniques. This particular technique looked simple enough and it was. However, the girls who have eaten plantains, many times informed me I should use plantains that were softer than the ones I fried up. They were still delicious, but had a texture more like that of a chip. I will try this again because plantains are so yummy. I will attempt to use a softer, riper plantain next time.
2 Black plantains
Salt and pepper
Peel the plantains and slice them at a bias.
Heat up your heavy pan with 1 inch of vegetable oil to medium heat. Use a thermometer to keep an eye on the oil’s temperature. You want between 325-350. Don’t overload the pan with a bunch of plantains or the temperature of the oil will drop significantly. Fry each side of the plantain until golden brown, about 2-4 minutes.
Transfer fried plantains to a plate lined with a paper towel, sprinkle with salt and continue the frying process until all pieces have been fried.
At 8:00 pm, dessert was served.
KEY LIME PIE TARTLETS:
I have become quite fond of key lime over the years. In fact, I drink club soda with a splash of key lime juice just about every day. My refrigerator is the home of Nellie and Joe’s key lime juice and fresh key limes when I can find them. When it comes to key lime pie, Nellie and Joe’s Key Lime Pie recipe on the back of the bottle is perfect. This recipe will make 6 tartlets.
GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST:
1/2 sleeve of graham crackers, honey flavored
1 heaping tablespoon of granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon
Small pinch of salt
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulverize the graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add the melted butter and give it a few good spins until the graham crackers have been coated in butter. Line cupcake pan with cupcake liners, preferably greeseless liners.
Add 1 tablespoon of graham cracker crust to each of 6 liners. Press the graham cracker into the bottom of the liners.
Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Whip together the ingredients for the custard, following the directions on the back of the bottle. Bake the tartlets for 12-15 minutes. Let them cool for about 20 minutes before refrigeration. Refrigerate the tarts for at least 4-5 hours before serving.
PREPARATION TIP: Separating egg whites from the yolk can be obnoxious. I have found the best way to do this while keeping the yolk intact and egg whites free from the yolks is to filter the whites through your own fingers. Keep the egg whites for other uses such as; egg white omelets or marshmallow frosting.
WHIPPED CREAM TOPPING:
1 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Stick a medium sized metal bowl with the beaters of a handheld mixer into the freezer for at least 30 minutes. This will help turn liquid, cream into the luscious whipped cream of your dreams. Pour the cream, sugar and vanilla into the very cold bowl. Turn the mixer on high and beat until you get stiff peaks. Put a dollop of cream on each tart and serve cold. You can make up the tartlets 1 day in advance. Cover the tartlets with plastic wrap and dress them when you’re ready to serve.