POM Party: Dinner is Served

This post is part of a series of recaps of my POM Wonderful Dinner Party. Catching up? See all the posts here: POM Party.

For my POM Wonderful dinner party, I served a Cuban inspired menu to eleven lovely guests. Friends, old and new, enjoyed the following:

Pomegranate Mojitos

Tostones with Pomegranate Salsa

Cuban Salad with Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette and Arils

Vegetarian Paella with Fresh Vegetables and Pomegranate Seeds

Tres Leches Cake with Pomegranate Whipped Cream

In my last post, I left off after the first course. As I started to move salads to the dining room, my gracious guests formed a bucket brigade of sorts and passed the eleven salads down the line and onto the table. It felt like a big family dinner!

We all took our seats and enjoyed a traditional Cuban salad with a twist. Cuban salads are typically a mixture of lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado. In addition to these elements, I included pomegranate seeds and dressed the salad with a pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette.

Pomegranate Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

4 tbsp POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 tsp honey

1/2 tsp minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl until blended. Chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Whisk again before serving over a bed of fresh greens.

I tossed mine with romaine. sliced grape tomatoes, sliced avocado, pomegranate arils, and thinly sliced red onion. I think this would have been good with a salty cheese like feta or aged parmesan, but in keeping with the Cuban theme, I left this salad cheeseless. It was fresh and light, and the sweet tanginess of the vinaigrette was just right.

Next I served our third course, which I had kept warm in two crockpots for about an hour. This was a great dish for a dinner party of this size and complexity, because I had to do nothing between the second and third courses but clear the salads and plate the paella. You never want your guests waiting too long after the salad. Their palates were prepped and I wanted to get on with the main course as quickly as possible.

As I served the paella, someone from the large table asked me, “where did you find the recipes for this?” I do not remember who it was because I was moving quickly at the time. I apologize now for the flip response. I smiled and replied,

“Recipes? I’m sorry, what are those again?”

I found this question particularly funny because the paella had been thrown together in a fit of chopping, mixing, and tasting (as usual). I have never made the same paella twice. Typically I throw in whatever is on hand and although this one was planned with the best of intentions, the paella just happened. Luckily, I have photos of the whole process, so I will attempt to recreate the recipe through the pictures that my friend Carissa has captured.

Vegetarian Paella with Fresh Vegetables and Pomegranate

Heat some olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add diced onion and green bell pepper. For 12-14 servings, I used 2-3 onions and 4 green bell peppers. Saute until onion is translucent.

In the meantime, prepare 8 cups of medium grain rice. When it was finished cooking, I put mine in a mixing bowl and stuck it on top of the (clean) refrigerator, hence the beer trophies in the background.

On another burner (I know you’re running out, but you will be okay, this is the last one), bring 3/4 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. When it reaches boiling, add 10-12 saffron threads, cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

WOW that looks like a little more than 12 threads. Really you shouldn’t need any more than that. I must have gotten carried away with the saffron in my haste. When this is done, pour the liquid through a strainer and reserve the liquid while discarding the threads.

By now your onions should be translucent. At this point you are going to add about 4 cups of vegetables to the mix. I chose yellow squash and zucchini. This is about 3 cups of squash, halved and sliced.

Stir in your vegetables and let this simmer for about 6-8 minutes.

To the squash and zucchini, I added the saffron water, 2 cans of vegetable broth, one and a half cans of quartered artichoke hearts, 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, and 3 cloves of garlic, minced.

Let this simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Slice two pints of grape tomatoes into halves.

Add the tomatoes to the vegetable mixture. Mix in 8 cups of cooked rice. You are probably going to need another bowl to do this in batches because my guess is you are running out of room in your pot. Because I was using two crockpots, I divided both the rice and the vegetable mixture between the two pots and mixed them together in each pot. Salt and pepper again to taste.

Then add the fresh pomegranate arils! Add as many as you would like; I just added until it looked like it didn’t need anymore. You might have to experiment with it to get it just right.

I served the paella in large bowls with sriracha on the side.This stuff is bottled magic. I know I have said that before about beer. And wine. And olive oil. But this time I really mean it!

People went back for seconds on the paella, so I think it was a hit. The personal favorite of the evening was probably the dessert, which we will get to next time. Stay tuned for tres leches cake, a pomegranate opening demonstration, and some fabulous prizes! I will post the rest of my recap this week.

Believe me, and my dinner guests will attest to this, the tres leches cake with pomegranate whipped cream is worth the wait.

The Little Dinner Party That Could

I love a challenge. I really do. Which is why, when the opportunity to throw a dinner party sponsored by POM Wonderful landed in my inbox, I jumped at the chance. I submitted a menu and party plan to the folks at POM a few weeks ago, and now I am deep in the plan and prep mode, with just two days left until I host my very own POM Party!

However, I have hit some bumps in the road throughout this process. My little dinner party, like the little engine that could, has caused me to stop, breathe, and say “I think I can…” on more than one occasion.

It all started when I became a host. I was selected by POM as one of 100 party hosts to compete in the challenge. I was super excited and sent back all the required information, only to find out that I had responded just a few hours too late to receive my party package in time to throw a party. After a little negotiation with POM, the good people there found a way to get me my party package in time to compete!

For the next week, I planned recipes, invited guests, and designed the decor. Then I got nervous when my party package didn’t arrive at my work address as requested. The deadline to receive packages passed, and I had no pomegranates. After taking a deep breath, I reasoned that perhaps shipping fresh fruit from California to Virginia might take an extra day. I resumed planning and then got SLAMMED with a major head cold earlier this week.

So there I was with a dozen recipes, no pomegranates or party materials, and serious nasal congestion. I tried to cheer myself up by shopping for decorations and ended up with these odd little clusters of fake fruit, including miniature faux pomegranates. They are either adorable or they are cheesy. I’m not sure; the Sudafed chose them.

I could not smell or taste anything, so poor Kyle has been a victim of my test kitchen this week. Tonight I presented him with three piles of baby spinach leaves, each dressed in a slightly different homemade pomegranate vinaigrette, and asked him to choose the best one. I tried to pitch in by substituting an experimental pomegranate-based cocktail for my Nyquil one night earlier this week. It knocked me out just the same, but was significantly inferior as a cough suppressant. Kyle said it tasted good though, so it might be a GO for the party.

Today I received my pomegranate party package, but only after I nervously tracked the shipment and discovered that it was delivered to the warehouse connected to my office last week. I sauntered out to the warehouse to claim my Californian fruit, and was greeted by the warehouse manager: “I have your package, but there is a problem with one of the boxes.” I thought, you have got to be kidding me. We walked to the corner of the warehouse to a small pile of three boxes. Two were from POM Wonderful. Another was in a box with my company logo on the front.

“I accidentally ran over the one with the forklift. These things were inside of it. Three of them were damaged and those little seeds went everywhere!”

He had never seen a pomegranate before. I had to laugh when I envisoned how he must have reacted when he backed over this cardboard box and it started bleeding dark red seeds. I was not worried about the three damaged pomegranates; I was just happy to finally have my party package.

The whole scenario caused such a stir at my office and it prompted endless questions from my coworkers, so I took one of the bruised pomegranates from the box and held an impromptu session on how to enjoy a pomegranate, right there in the break room. I figured it would be a good rehearsal for this weekend. I did not have a large bowl or mesh strainer so I improvised the following method. I will post my preferred method next week, but sometimes this is all you’ve got to work with.

Slice off the top of the pomegranate.

Remove the top completely.

Gently score the outer skin in four places, dividing the fruit into quarters.

Separate the four sections by pulling them apart.

Gently separate the bright red arils from the creamy colored pith. Place the arils in a bowl and discard the peels.

Claim your reward!

We passed the seeds around the office and they were a big hit. I am starting to feel a little better, so I hope I will be healthy in time for the party. When I got home today, I opened the two other boxes from POM. One was filled with POM swag and the other was filled with. . .

Twenty more pomegranates! Oh my!

I think I can, I think I can. . .

Pumpkins, Persimmons, and Pomegranates. . . Oh My!

In case you hadn’t noticed, I get a little obsessed over pumpkins this time of year. During one of my last pumpkin adventures, I decided I needed to find some more seasonal fruits and vegetables to obsess about. Lucky for me, the very next day the folks at Ellwood Thompson posted on their website that they had just gotten in some local persimmons. I was intrigued so I stopped by the bin on my next trip there.

Of course I brought a few home. After some preliminary research on the internet, I determined that these delicate little fruits were far from ripe. They hibernated in a paper bag on the windowsill while they got nice and ripe over the next few days.

This gave me plenty of time to find out what I had gotten myself into.

I discovered that persimmons come in astringent and non-astringent varieties. I also determined that I had bought a mixture of the two (oops!). The fuyu, non-astringent persimmon, is short and squat like a tomato. They are considered non-astringent because they ripen faster and can be eaten sooner in the ripening process. Fuyus can be consumed while the fruit is still relatively firm but are still edible when it becomes soft. The hachiya, astringent persimmon, is longer and heart shaped. You have to be careful with these persimmons because they are inedible before ripening. They have a high content of tannins and can taste very bitter if eaten too early. I found a few accounts of people who ate astringent persimmons before they were ripe and they consequently experienced an allergic reaction on their tongues and cheeks. I was starting to get nervous. I let those persimmons hang out for awhile until I was absolutely sure they were ripe.

Persimmons can be eaten raw, and one popular way to enjoy them is with their tops cut off so that the flesh may be scooped out with a spoon. They are also added to a variety of dishes, including pies, cakes, puddings, and even curries. These fruits, whose botanical name diospyros means “food of the gods,” are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta carotene. I was surprised to find out that persimmons are a source of lycopene. They are not packed with it, but they contain a significant enough amount of lycopene that this fact was mentioned in several of the articles I read. There is a lot of information about lycopene in this article at World’s Healthiest Foods.

I am familiar with lycopene as a chemical present in many cancer-preventing superfoods, like tomatoes and pink grapefruit. However one thing that really stood out to me was the role of lycopene in the treatment of exercise-induced asthma. Researchers have found that a lycopene-supplemented diet may help the reduce the instances of exercise-induced asthma in people who are already at risk for this condition. As a lifelong sufferer of exercise-induced asthma, I was overjoyed to hear that tomatoes could help me conquer that next resistance level in the 25th minute of my RPM cycling class at the gym, right when my lungs are usually begging me  to take it easy. I’ll take all the help I can get!

When the persimmons were finally done ripening, I tried one raw and tossed two into a batch of cookies. The raw persimmon was sweet and fleshy. It tasted like a cross between a mango and an apple, and the consistency was that of a large grape or an overripe mango. This is what the fuyu looked like with its top off (uh oh).

With the two hachiyas, I made persimmon cookies. I adapted the recipe from AllRecipes, substituting 1/2 cup of dried cranberries for the raisins, and reducing the amount of chopped walnuts from 1 cup to 1/2 cup. You may view the original recipe here, and I have copied my version below for your convenience.

Persimmon Cookies with Cranberries and Walnuts

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe persimmons, pureed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Dissolve baking soda in persimmon pulp and set aside.
  3. Sift flour, spices and salt together, set aside.
  4. Cream together butter or margarine and sugar until fluffy, beat in egg and persimmon. Stir in dry ingredients. Stir in nuts and cranberries.
  5. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

Don’t forget one final step: watch those cooling racks like a hawk, or risk having all your warm cookies pilfered by your friends and family.
I really enjoyed learning about and working with the persimmons and I am looking forward to using them more in the future. At least this little orange fruit kept my mind off of pumpkins for a little while. Next I will tackle pomegranates. I have been experimenting a lot in preparation for an upcoming dinner party, so expect a week’s worth of pomegranate recipes very soon.
FYI: This post has been brought to you by the letter P.