Cuban Dinner Party

by Kathy Strahs on May 15, 2012 · 12 comments

Muddling mojitos The mambo music was turned up, the mojitos were muddled – we were all set for a festive evening when our dear friends Karin and Tony and their two little kids arrived for our Cuban-themed dinner party this past weekend.
The table is set When I visited Cuba about ten years ago on a business school study trip, I was absolutely struck by the vibrancy of the culture – the people, the music, the food. It was my first inspiration when McCormick Gourmet, in conjunction with their Dinner Party Chain promotion, challenged me to come up with a creative, gourmet dinner party incorporating their spices. I was excited to relive fond memories of “La Habana” with a fun, family friendly, Latin-tropical spread for our friends.
The menu
Karin tends the bar We couldn’t start a Cuban party without minty Mojitos! I put Karin to work with the mixing and muddling – her drinks came out refreshingly fantastic. There are dozens of ways to make a mojito, but I preferred the original recipe from Havana Club, the brand of rum I saw everywhere in Cuba. Our kids enjoyed some freshly squeezed Mango Lemonade.
Tropical FruitFor our appetizer, I started things off with some perfectly ripe Tropical Fruit – pineapple, mangoes, papayas and watermelon (technically not as “Cuban” as the other three, but still tropical and a pretty red pop of color). My original plan was to do skewers, but at the last minute I decided that four kids under the age of 5 would fare better (and safer) with their fruit in bowls.
Lechon Asado When you find a marinated pork recipe that calls for 15 cloves of garlic, a cup each of lemon and lime juice and two cups of orange juice (my triceps are still burning from all of that citrus squeezing!) in its marinade, you know you’re in for some big flavor. Lechón Asado (aka Roast Pork) is a classic Cuban dish. My trusty meat thermometer made sure the meat was cooked just right – nice and juicy, not overdone. I was hoping to save some of the leftovers for Cuban sandwiches, but those extras didn’t last very long!
Cuban Black Beans Black beans are, without a doubt, a Cuban staple. I’m pretty sure we ate black beans and rice with every dinner when I visited. Most often we had moros y cristianos, which is black beans and rice that are cooked together. However, in the past I’ve run into a little trouble with getting that dish just right (gotta know your strengths and weaknesses!) so this time around I opted to serve the beans and rice separately.
Orange Avocado SaladThis colorful, fresh Orange Avocado Salad recipe came from McCormick’s website - a simple assembly of tender Bibb lettuce, creamy avocado, orange sections and sliced red onion, tossed in an orange vinaigrette (seasoned with McCormick’s Cuban Seasoning). The two little boys at our table (ages 2 and 3-1/2) turned out to be some serious avocado fans!
Maduros (aka Fried Sweet Plantains)Out of all the dishes I was probably most excited about making the Plátanos Maduros (aka Fried Sweet Plantains). When the plantains are perfectly overripe these things are so incredibly sweet, with a lightly crisp crust on the outside. I just love them. I followed the recipe from Food & Wine, which simply calls for frying very ripe plantains in hot oil. That’s all!
Coconut Tres Leches CakeAnd finally, dessert – Coconut Tres Leches Cake. It took me having to bake this cake THREE TIMES the night before the party before I had it right. The first time I followed the recipe on the McCormick website, which calls for folding in beaten egg whites – a baking skill that I have yet to master despite many tries over the years. It didn’t work out. I decided to give Alton Brown’s Tres Leches Cake recipe a try, as his recipe used baking powder for leavening rather than egg whites. I brought over the pumpkin pie spice and coconut milk from the McCormick recipe and added my own toasted coconut touch on top, because I still wanted those great flavors. The cake was in the oven when I opened the video that accompanied Alton’s recipe. In the first ten seconds of the video I realized a big mistake I’d made – he called for 4 ounces of butter, but I read it as 4 tablespoons. That explained my rubbery cake. So I made the cake one final time and fortunately the third time was the charm – sweet, super-moist with the warm flavors of the pumpkin pie spice.

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It was such a treat to have the chance to relax with good friends over good food and even better mojitos. I wish I’d remembered to take more photos of all of us enjoying ourselves, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re having fun. :-)

If you’re interested in winning your own Ultimate Dinner Party Package worth over $1,000, McCormick is giving one away every week through the end of July on their Facebook page!

McCormick Gourmet provided me with a dinner party kit, including products and gift cards, to use in creating this post. All of my opinions are, as always, my own.

See the Recipe Index for all the recipes on Cooking On the Side.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather May 16, 2012 at 11:07 AM

What a fun party! Those plantains look amazing!

I saw that you are speaking at BlogHer Food this year! I am so sad I won’t be there this year to go to your session. I know you will do great and maybe I’ll see you at the one in 2013 :)
Heather´s last blog post ..Baked Portobello Fries with Lemon-Garlic Aioli

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Kathy Strahs May 16, 2012 at 1:00 PM

Thanks so much, Heather – I’ll miss seeing you at BlogHer Food too!

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Angela May 16, 2012 at 12:54 PM

What a fun party!! Love the Cuba theme!
Oh what would do with that party pack!! Heading to FB now!

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Kathy Strahs May 16, 2012 at 12:59 PM

Yes, I know you would plan en epic party!

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Jeanette May 16, 2012 at 7:19 PM

What a beautiful meal! Can I come over next time?
Jeanette´s last blog post ..Five Easy Breakfast Ideas via Instagram

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Kathy Strahs May 16, 2012 at 8:09 PM

I would love to have you over sometime, Jeanette!

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Brian @ A Thought For Food May 16, 2012 at 8:58 PM

How marvelous! Love all of the colors and bright flavors! Just stunning!

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Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen May 17, 2012 at 1:36 AM

Looks like you throw a great party Kathy! Love the Cuban theme too.
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen´s last blog post ..Pea and Herbed Goat Cheese Tart | Spring on A Plate

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Kristen May 17, 2012 at 6:14 AM

What a delicious meal and a fun idea for a party!
Kristen´s last blog post ..Great Expectations {Recipe: Root Beer Float Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream}

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Alison @ Ingrdients, Inc May 17, 2012 at 9:31 AM

How fun! Great party idea!
Alison @ Ingrdients, Inc´s last blog post ..10 Health Benefits of Kiwifruit

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Foodmuses May 18, 2012 at 7:26 AM

That orange and avocado salad looks so good! Can’t wait to try it and I’m definitely pinning it.

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Sommer@ASpicyPerspective May 18, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Kathy, What fun! We had a dinner party last week and I’m still basking in the triumph of the evening. :)
Sommer@ASpicyPerspective´s last blog post ..Moroccan Grilled Lamb Chops with Tahini Mint Pesto

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