As the Ancient Greeks intoned from their stony Delphic perch, it’s important to know thyself.
I sort of know myself. I know, for example, that I am impatient with computers, have an inexplicable weakness for Keanu Reeves, avoid ketchup like the plague and love reading in bed late into the night.
I also know that I’m not very good at cooking for large groups of people.
It’s not that the desire isn’t there. I like throwing parties, dinners, brunches and dessert things. They’re opportunities to throw open the door, welcome loved ones in and nurture them with homemade deliciousness.
I’m just not very good at it.
To be more specific, I’m not very good at figuring out HOW MUCH TO COOK.
Last month I made dinner for 14 Pomona students at the end of their Alternabreak. They showed up in three shiny Ubers, deposited a mountain of backpacks on the floor and proceeded to be delightful, fun, interesting, appreciative and a lovely reminder that [college] kids are still [college] kids in spite of old folks’ worries about technology swallowing them whole.
Cracking open my brand-new copy of Thug Kitchen, I made half the menu the night before the dinner; the other half the afternoon of. Here’s how it all went—in two-recipe posts.
As the recipe’s intro promises: “No need to sit on your ass waiting around for syrups to boil and cool. You can have this fizzy ginger limeade ready in less than 5 minutes.” That’s mostly true. The recipe serves four, which is great in my everyday life, but a pain in the tush when cooking for 14. So, times-ing twice, and then twice again, I cut four limes into small wedges and tossed them in my blender, along with 6 tablespoons of fresh minced ginger, 12 tablespoons of agave syrup and 4 cups of water. “Yeah, the whole fucking lime,” as the recipe says. “Just have some faith.” I blended the concoction on high—Mix button, then Puree button for good measure—for about a minute.
Next, I dragged our large fine-mesh sieve out of the way-low cupboards, plunked it over a bowl and strained the blender’s contents. Into the compost bin went the pulp, and into our largest pitcher went the liquid, along with another four cups of water. At this point, the pitcher was nearly full, but I gently stirred the contents a few times without losing too much to slosh. Once I realized I still needed to add the tonic water, I poured half the liquid into another pitcher and then equally divided 12 CUPS of tonic water into the two pitchers.
The results: Once everyone was crowded around the coffee table munching on pita chips, tortilla chips, salsa and dip, I announced the Ginger-Lime Sparklers. About 10 of the students wanted one—and slurped them up as I doled them out. Everyone pronounced them delicious.
I totally agreed. The ginger-lime combo is a no-brainer that stretches back to our Caribbean and Indian ancestors, if not further. The tangy-sharp green of the lime pairs perfectly, comfortably, with the earthy-sweet hum of ginger. Mixed with tonic water in a tall cup of ice, the sparkler is utterly refreshing—the very definition of brisk without swerving into menthol territory. I’d make this again in a heartbeat. And I bet adding a fistful of fresh mint to the blender might not be a bad idea either.
Creamy Black Bean and Cilantro Dip
“This savory dip can elevate even the lamest party,” brags the recipe’s introduction. “YES, IT’S THAT FUCKING GOOD. It has the power to make you cool.”
I was sold, especially when I noticed the recipe is only four sentences long.
First sentence: “Throw all of that shit in a food processor and run until creamy.” “That shit” would be—and I doubled this, my first mistake—a little over four cups of canned black beans, 2/3 cup veggie broth, 4 cloves garlic, juice from 2 limes, several pinches of salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, ½ cup chopped cilantro and 1 cup chopped green onions.
The second sentence offers an alternative to a food processor—a potato masher—so I ignored it.
Third sentence: “Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.” Check.
Fourth sentence: “This is a dope spread for a wrap or sandwich, too.”
The results: After making this on Thursday night, I sampled some with a cracker. Although it looked like sludge—a purple-brown, oddly, even with all that green matter in it—the taste was divine. The veggie broth, plus all that lime juice, elevate this from typical bean-dip boring to a much fresher, zippier land.
The problem was, on the night of the dinner party, we (because by now Jon was helping out, God love him) didn’t present it correctly. We scraped the dip into a single dark-blue bowl, arranged it on the coffee table with the chips and salsas, and there it sat, mostly untouched.
I should’ve dusted it with a garnish—maybe more chopped cilantro? Or a few crumbles of feta cheese perhaps (although with one lactose intolerant student in the mix I was trying to avoid dairy entirely). Even chip crumbs would’ve worked. But a big lonely blob of dark whatever in a bowl just doesn’t scream out “Taste me now.”
When I looked back at Thug Kitchen’s own presentation of the dip on its opening pages to the chapter “Dip, Dip, Pass Motherfucker” I saw that they did it right, using a small, even cute, bright yellow bowl for contrast and containment. I’d totally dip a chip into that. Lesson learned.