Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"Tables of Contents - Recollections and Recipes from The New York Public Library's Benefit Dinners" by Eleanor Graves and Ralph Graves - Arroz con Pollo for National Library Week

Date I made this recipe:  April 18, 2016 – belated observance of National Library Week

Tables of Contents – Recollections and Recipes from The New York Public Library's Benefit Dinners by Eleanor Graves and Ralph Graves
Published by:  Crown Publishers, Inc.
ISBN: 0-517-59093-X; © 1993
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used Books – Roseville, MN
Recipe:  Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice) – p. 72 – from the Mambo-themed fundraising dinner hosted by Deborah and Peter Krulewitch, Gillian Jolis, and Andrew Goldstein

I love books.  I love libraries.  I like books about libraries.  I love library books.

I love cookbooks so much that I have a huge collection, better than most public libraries and many of them were, somewhat hilariously, acquired at used library books sales. 

I also love New York.  And I love the lions named Patience and Fortitude gracing the front of the New York Public Library located at 5th Ave and 42nd Street.  Not that the other New York Public library branches are not nice – I've stepped inside a few – but this is the best, especially if you like architecture...and lions.  (To read more about the lions, go to this website:   

So when I read that last week (April 10-16) was National Library Week, well then kids, I knew I had just the cookbook – Tables of Content - published in 1993, recapping all kinds of dinner party benefits hosted by some of New York City's best and most importantly, wealthy library patrons.  Although the Twin Cities libraries have their own fundraiser (St. Paul's is called Opus and Olives), I think New York has probably had a lock and load on this gig for a long, long time. 

I've often said that cookbooks are a snapshot into people, cultures, time and space and the "Who's Who" from this 1993 cookbook is vastly different from the modern day's "2016 Who's Who" list.  Still, the one thing that never changes is that the people who attend these events have money and usually prestige as well.  I have neither so suffice it to say that I cannot afford to live in NYC, never mind attend a single one of these events.

In fact, and I hate to say this, looking through this cookbook is rather depressing.  My little abode here in Minneapolis is nothing like the huge apartments these folks own that are big enough to house the Queen Mary never mind host these "intimate" gatherings of 100 or so people.  I don't have "people" nor do I have money to hire "people," and I sure don't have evening wear such as displayed here on these pages.  Not that I don't have a evening gown or two in my closet, I do, but not one that came from say, Barneys New York (I stopped in one time and looked just for fun but most things were out of my price range...not that I have a price range) or a Vera Wang original. (Does it count if I've walked by her store several times?)  That said, I had a gown made by Kristen, The Dressmaker, that I wore when I was gala chair for the 2008 Arc Greater Twin Cities fundraising gala.  (Arc is a nonprofit agency providing advocacy and support to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families.)  The dress may not have had that NY "sniff sniff" factor (i.e. turned up nose) but it was a fabulous dress, designed based on a drawing of a 1950's dress of similar design and it was in the color purple, one of my favorite colors.  So take that Park Avenue!

This cookbook is all about benefit dinner "themes" and so each chapter contains a recap with some recipes from the menu du jour.  The late actress, Elaine Stritch, was a notable guest at the "Dinner at the Round Table" fundraiser, while author and humorist, Calvin Trillin and his late wife, Alice (subject of his hilarious book, Alice, Let's Eat), hosted the "Pretty Decent Chinese Takeout" event.  All the food at this party came from Chinatown restaurants in takeout boxes, natch. Love.

"A Literary Feast" featured dishes from famous books such as Babette's Feast by Isak Dinesen (Loved. That. Movie.) and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.  "The Moderns" featured dishes named after famous modern artists such as Georgia O'Keefe and Man Ray and my theme dinner – Mambo – centered on the book, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijelous. 

Incredible edibles on that menu featured "Spiced Crab Cake with Papaya Chutney," "Sausage Empanadas," "Sweet Plantain Soup," "Rum Mousse" – alas, recipes not included, and "Arroz con Pollo" (Chicken and Rice) and "Black Beans with Tomato and Onions" – recipes were included.  And although I almost always make black beans when I make arroz con pollo, this time around I made just the chicken and rice and that was plenty.  The repast at this library benefit was accompanied by a mambo exhibition done by trained professionals and then after that, anyone could join in.  Sounds like my kind of party!

Unlike most of the chicken and rice recipes I've made in the past, this recipe calls for you to cook the rice separate from the chicken so that was new.  And not that this is a spicy dish but I was surprised that what little spice was used – cayenne pepper, paprika and bay leaf – was used in the marinade and that was it.  The dish was delicious but I was expecting more.  That said, arroz con pollo is one of those dishes that varies by country or region in the same way that other dishes, such as pasta sauce, vary by country, region and family.

I was also intrigued by the "dry rub" marinade of chicken, onions, cayenne pepper, paprika and bay leaf.  I couldn't help but think we were missing a liquid like olive oil or juice or something.  And no mention was made about oil or even butter for browning the chicken.  Finally, the recipe calls for boneless chicken breasts but said nothing about getting "skinless" as well.  I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts and that was fine and frankly, if I'm at a dinner party, I do not want to deal with chicken skin so I think my method was better but as always, it would have been nice to know.

Once the marinating time is over, you prepare the rice, then prepare the chicken and then serve it up, one of top of the other and top it with strips of red pepper (and chopped parsley if desired).  Done, done and done!

For the curious, the last several pages of this book (p. 172-179) list all the volunteer hosts and hostesses for these shindigs, starting in 1983 and ending in 1993.  Honestly, I felt like I should genuflect or something because there are some big names.  And for the sake of the New York Public Library and libraries everywhere, let's hope they gave big money to keep these institutions afloat.  Say what you will about e-Books, but you can't exactly cozy up to a smart phone on a rainy day, getting absorbed in the yarn in front of you, and it goes without saying that you cannot dog-ear the last page you read on a phone. 

Long live libraries!

Arroz con Pollo (Chicken and Rice) – serves 6 to 8
Ann's Note:  you need to marinate the chicken for at least four hours or overnight if possible.

4 boneless chicken breasts, cut in quarters (Ann's Note:  it doesn't say whether or not to use boneless, skinless, breasts but I did.  Also, you may want to cut the chicken into smaller pieces.)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large onions, diced (Ann's Note:  divided)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon saffron
2 cups white rice
4 cups chicken broth
Salt to taste
2 cups white wine
*2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced plum tomatoes (Ann's Note:  see directions below for peeling tomatoes)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 10-ounce package frozen peas
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips (garnish)
Chopped parsley (garnish)

*To peel tomatoes, cut an "x" in the top and bottom of the tomato.  Place in boiling water for about a minute or until skin starts to peel back.  Place tomatoes in cold water/ice water bath, then peel and seed.

Marinate the chicken breasts with the garlic, half the diced onion, cayenne pepper, bay leaf, and paprika for at least for hours, or overnight if possible.

In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat.  Add the saffron.  Sauté about a minute, then add the rice and sauté until all the rice is separated.  Add the chicken broth, lower the heat, and let it simmer until all the broth is gone. (Ann's Note:  about 20 minutes or longer.)  The rice should be cooked by then; if not, add about ½ cup hot water and let it cook off.  Salt to taste.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the chicken breasts (2 or 3 at a time) for about 5 minutes on each side, or until they are light brown.  Set aside in the same saucepan.  Sauté the remaining diced onions for 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Then return the chicken breasts to the pan, add the white wine, chopped tomatoes, and green pepper, and let it cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Ann's Note:  because today's chicken breasts are of the gargantuan variety, I suggest cutting the quarters down into bite-size pieces so they cook better.  You may also need to cook them longer than 15 minutes to ensure the pieces are done.  Add the frozen peas and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Place the chicken breasts on top of a bed of rice in a large serving bowl.  Garnish with the strips of red pepper and the chopped parsley.

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