A Surprise Birthday Dinner

It is a shame that the pictures I took of last night’s dinner spread came out so bad.  The only picture of mine that I thought that was publishable (I know that’s not actually a word) to the blog was the following (the rest of the pictures after this one were taken from my friend, who uploaded her pictures onto Snapfish just so I could steal them):

From left to right is a rice pilaf I made following a Tyler Florence of Food Network recipe, butter chicken (also courtesy of Food Network), and samosas (this one was from my mom’s recipe), surrounded by bowls of butternut squash soup that I served to my friends who came over for dinner last night (recipe also courtesy of Food Network).  In fact, before I go on, I may as well link you to where I got these recipes:
Butternut Squash Soup (I tried to link to the recipe from foodnetwork.com, which credited Gourmet Magazine with the recipe, but it seems to have disappeared, so here it is below):
Butternut Squash Soup (Gourmet Magazine)
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/4 pounds)
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger, optional
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups water, as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream for garnish
Cut squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Arrange the halves cut side down in roasting pan that has been sprayed with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Bake squash in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until very tender. Set aside to cool. When the squash is completely cool, scoop the flesh from the skin. While the squash is baking, cook the onion and the ginger in the butter in a saucepan, over moderately low heat, for 5 minutes or until the onion is softened, Add the broth and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, covered. Add the squash pulp to the sauce pan. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor, in batches, and puree until smooth. Add enough water to achieve the desired consistency, and salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to the sauce pan and cook over moderate heat until it is hot. Garnish each portion with the heaping teaspoon of low-fat sour cream.
This was the second time I made the soup, and learning from the first experience, I did some tweaking by reducing the amount of broth to just 2 cups and didn’t bother with the “additional 1-2 cups water, as needed”.  I wanted a thicker soup, but if you want a more soupy soup, disregard my tweakings.  The recipe also doesn’t say how many degrees you’re supposed to roast the butternut squash in, but I roasted it at 400 degrees for about an hour, cut side up (I failed to follow the directions exactly in this recipe as far as the roasting) because when I googled, “how to roast a butternut squash”, the source I followed told me to roast them cut side up.  Now that I think about it, cut side down makes more sense since cut side down exposes the squash more directly to the hot surface of the pan, making roasting time fall between 40-45 minutes.  Also, this time around, I was armed with my brand new Cuisinart Smart Stick hand blender, courtesy of my sister who gave it to me as a Christmas present.  No more messy batches in my mini food processor (but bless the little thing, it did its job nicely when I needed it)!
I’ve had the butter chicken recipe sitting around for a while and had been meaning to try it, but never quite got around to it, the idea of having to take apart and pull the meat from a fully-cooked rotisserie chicken scaring me away.  But it turned out not to be as scary as I thought it would be.  I called my mom to ask, “How do you cut up a chicken?”, which was met with a small chuckle from her before she answered, “What?” as though to say, “You don’t know how to cut up a chicken?”  No, no I do not.  Fortunately, the chicken was already cooked and the meat was so tender it was pretty much fall-off-the-bone.  And no hacking away at the bones was necessary as I quartered the chicken for easier pull-apart-ing.  It was actually an easy (and finger-lickin’ good) job.  I even thought that I may start buying rotisserie chickens, deboning them and storing the meat for future use in salads, sandwiches, etc.
The night before the dinner, while the butternut squash roasted, I wrapped up the samosas while watching The Tudors on my new Roku Netflix player (since getting my Roku I’ve been watching so many streaming videos on my Netflix queue).  I actually had to rewind some scenes when Anne Boleyn was preparing for her imminent death by beheading because I was distracted with my task (I hated her in the first season, and most of the second, but by the end of the second, I did feel sorry for her.  Henry was a bastard.).  But I digress.  The filling was just boiled potatoes and spinach mashed together, seasoned with a lot of curry powder, some garam masala to taste and salt and pepper to taste.  I used up a whole package of 25 sheets of spring roll wrapper for the batch and even had some potato filling left over.
As for the rice pilaf, well really the reason I made it was because I didn’t want to serve just plain old rice.  I wanted rice with an oomph.  So I found the recipe that I used, which gave me the opportunity to cook with shallots for the first time.  Shallots are interesting because they resemble garlic in that they “are formed in clusters of offsets with a head composed of multiple cloves” (thanks, Wikipedia) but they actually taste like onions with a milder, sweeter flavor.  Basically, it’s what you’d get if an onion and a garlic hooked up and had a baby.  Interesting things, those shallots.  I like their taste, too.  The rice came out very fragrant with the addition of the rosemary and bay leaf.  I didn’t use fresh rosemary but instead used dried.  I didn’t have any fresh on hand, but it worked just fine.
To finish it all off, there were cupcakes!  Yes, cupcakes!  Of course!  Baking is what got me into the whole kitchen scene in the first place!  It was my friend’s 30th birthday and we decided to surprise her with cupcakes (red velvet, made by me, although they didn’t turn out as red since I ran out of food coloring).
The flowers were made from gumpaste, all fully edible except the candles.  It was indeed a great night with good food and good friends.  And the birthday girl was very surprised and very touched and I dare say, very happy. 
Mission accomplished.

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