We got off to an efficient start by preparing the ground cashew-garlic-lime juice-cilantro-jalapeno paste for the chicken the night before, so it could marinate overnight. Our enthusiasm had diminished by Friday afternoon, and in the cold light of a kitchen in which no one had remembered to run the dishwasher, the meal seemed a tad ambitious for a workday.
Seamus assembled the dates and started on the eclairs. I have made profiteroles several times, from a recipe we found on cooks.com. They have always turned out perfect, but this time I chose the eclairs recipe from the New York Times Cookbook, which I was sure would be better than the Profiteroles for Proles--it makes you separate the eggs, which I feel is an indication of a superior baked good.
The eclairs puffed up beautifully in the oven, but once on the cooling rack, they deflated into the most pathetic pastry ever seen. For consolation, I poured myself a healthy amount of vodka, disguised in lemon soda. No time to feel sorry for ourselves, our guests had arrived and we had to get the dates on the grill. I hurriedly gulped the last of my vodka in order to partake of wine with the rest of the adults.
Twenty minutes later, Seamus and I were beating the flames out of the bacon-wrapped dates, which were burned to cinders. I tried to console Seamus by saying that burned things are sometimes delicious, but the truth is, they were inedible.
Meanwhile, we were struggling with the custard that was supposed to be the filling for the eclairs. I have made custards many times and never had a problem, but this custard had the taste, consistency, and color of boiled hooves. Up to this point our guests had consumed nothing but wine and a small packet of Thai-lime potato chips.
Seamus turned his attention to the chicken, while I started the rice. I hadn't bothered to read the recipe because, how hard is it to make rice? Again, (you may be detecting a theme here) I have made rice hundreds of times and never had a problem. The rice was cheerfully boiling, while I mixed yogurt, lime juice and curry powder. I glanced at the recipe:
Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the pot lid so it completely covers the the inside of the lid; gather the corners on top so they do not fall anywhere near the heat, and place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly...Cook undisturbed for about 30 minutes.
First of all, my kitchen towels, even when "clean" are in a shocking condition and should not come into contact with food. Second, it seemed like a mighty tricky maneuver with the towel, which I would certainly drop into the rice. And third, thirty more minutes? For rice that was already mostly cooked?
I ignored the cookbook, turned the heat under the rice to high, and started on the vegetables....and discovered that the fresh, local zucchini I'd bought the day before was rotten through the middle. I seriously considered chucking the whole meal and ordering pizza. But this was "move in weekend" when every street, sidewalk, restaurant, and parking lot is crammed with people from out of town who don't know what the hell they are doing. My mental health was too fragile to face the crowds, so we soldiered on.
The chicken--every time I've made this chicken in the past it was spicy and garlicky and delicious--was as bland as if we'd grilled it with no marinade at all. It was also, in contrast with the dates, ever-so-slighly underdone, although no reports of salmonella as of yet. The rice, despite being cooked without the benefit of the kitchen towel, was the only part of the meal that turned out OK. Jon's brother and family insisted that everything was delicious, but they must have been trying to be tactful. At least the wine was nice.
For consolation, we had the pathetic eclairs. Seamus thought they could be re-inflated with pastry-bag action, which he loaded with the boiled hooves. I abandoned the New York Times recipe and made a chocolate glaze that I know I can depend on (bittersweet chocolate chips melted in a little half-and-half). And so our guests were treated to limp, hoof-filled pastry coated in a delicious chocolate glaze.
Tell me: have you ever had a dinner party fail?