I am not one of those cooks who has a rotation of tried-and-true, company-tested recipes. Sometimes I'll re-run certain favorite dishes, but when I throw dinner parties, I tend to try out new things. Most of the time this works out really well, and sometimes it doesn't.
Take the Super Bowl for example. This year I took over hosting duties from my friend E, who normally has everyone over to his apartment to watch the game. Like most Super Bowl parties, it is basically an excuse to eat junky food, drink a lot of beer, and scream at the TV. I prefer doing these things while watching the Puppy Bowl, but that's just me.
Thinking about what would eat well with beer, I put together a snack-oriented menu with a few standbys (guacamole) and a few new recipes (meatball sliders, stout ice cream floats). Some ideas proved to be better than others.
Super Bowl 2010
Guacamole and tortilla chips
Candied bacon peanut mix
Salami, prosciutto, gouda, and crackers
Stout ice cream floats
The pickle pinwheels were gone by half-time. Everyone eyes them skeptically and then finds themselves going back for seconds, thirds, sixths. They are scary good. As in, scary and good.
Meatball sliders. More on those later this week.
Cocoa brownies. Just stop whatever you're doing right now and make these. Seriously, leave work if you have to. And add some chopped pecans while you're at it.
I'd say the candied bacon peanuts were almost a win. I came up with the idea for this nut mix after several friends saw the recipe for candied bacon on my site the other week and asked me to make some for the Super Bowl. Now I know the Super Bowl is not the occasion to eat healthily, but I was grossed out by the idea of serving a plate of bacon strips as a snack. So I made the candied bacon according to the recipe, then crumbled it and toasted it in the oven with salted peanuts, plus extra cayenne, brown sugar, and black pepper. I was really pleased with the results--the nuts were spicy and sweet and the chunks of bacon added a chewy porkiness. Everyone ate a few handfuls, but not as rabidly as I expected. After the party was over, I still had several cups of bacon nuts on my hands. I call this one a draw.
Guacamole. Even under duress, you could not make me speak ill against my guacamole recipe, but I overdid it this time, which, shockingly, resulted in a loss. I blame it on the supermarkets which mark down the price of avocados around the Super Bowl, tempting people into buying not one or two, but five. Yes, I made a vat of guacamole and about half of it went uneaten. And it turned brown and I had to throw it away and I was very sad. Dan has also been munching on an uneaten bag of TOSTITOS® SCOOPS!® all week, which is not a good thing.
Stout ice cream floats. Now this was surprising to me. I had an idea to get a few types of chocolate and oatmeal stouts and serve them with ice cream at the end of the night. So Tracy Porter had just made his awesome touchdown and I jumped up and exclaimed, "Who wants a stout ice cream float?" And no one said yes. Some people averted their eyes! Only my friend Colin raised his hand (his fiancee had just cut him off so this was a sneaky way to keep drinking, I suppose). I made a chocolate stout and vanilla ice cream float for each of us. Even though I bought a whole tub of ice cream and three bottles of beer for this dessert. And we took a sip and I hated it. The bitterness of the stout was not pleasant, it was just...bitter. "This isn't what I thought it was going to taste like," I said in my whiniest voice. Colin politely finished his, but I could tell it was an effort.
Not all dishes will turn out the way you imagine. It's sad and sometimes embarrassing when your plans don't come together as spectacularly as you envisioned. We tend to get high hopes about this dip recipe or that roasted pork loin. Every untried recipe has the potential to be life-changing, to win you friends and admirers. But it's the rare dinner party that hits all the high notes, that is perfect from beginning to end. I know I haven't gotten there myself yet. But if you invite fun people and most of the food is really good--or at least edible--it's impossible to fail.