The birthday party

So, Saturday marked The Baby’s first birthday. The present haul was nothing short of ridiculous, prompting the following discussion between The Mother-In-Law and I:

MIL: This is insane. We have to talk about controlling this for Christmas.
ME: That’s fine, but for the record, you bought half of those presents. And do we need to talk about Easter?
MIL: Yeah. You’re right.

The spread was equally as impressive, though I ran into a bit of disappointment. I picked up chicken breasts at Wegmans (I had planned to do pork, but was a little gun shy after the disappointment of the mojo pork from a few weeks ago) and forgot how much they pump up their chicken. Poultry suppliers load chicken breasts full of saline solution. This helps the meat freeze for transport and makes them look bigger and thicker. After 15 minutes on a medium gas grill, the chicken reduced in size by almost half. We went from chicken to sparrow. No one complained…except for me.

I didn’t do much with the chicken. Marinated it in Goya’s mojo criollo marinade. The rest of the meal came together with a little help from some others.

The menu was pretty simple — chicken, green salad, pasta salad, bean salad and veggie salad. The bean salad was easy and barely requires a recipe — 2 cans each of green beans, wax beans and dark kidney beans; one can each of pinto and garbanzo beans; half a red onion chopped; one bottle of white balsamic vinaigrette; combine ingredients in one bowl. OH! And use canned. Dried beans take too long to render and fresh green and wax beans make no sense with the other canned beans.)

I made the pasta salad — a Greek orzo salad — and my aunt made a veggie salad for which she is semi-famous, or infamous, because she uses more vinegar than you might think possible. Her veggie salad has a basic set of components — Greek olives, artichokes, celery, garlic and onion — with some variables depending on the crowd. She likes to add roasted red peppers from time to time, especially for The Wife’s family. When she makes it for me, I request fennel and pickled eggplant (Which is seemingly unavailable these days. Vince’s in North Syracuse and Lombardi’s on Butternut in Syracuse seem to be the only places that still carry it.). We fed 15 people on this buffet, even though the the mourning doves on my front porch have more meat to them than the chicken.

Greek Orzo Salad
By Jared Paventi

  • 1 pound orzo
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 pound pitted kalamata olives, split into two batches
  • 3 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 4 tablespoons Greek seasoning blend (I use a blend from Symeon’s in Utica)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the seasonings, oil and vinegar. Whisk together vigorously until mixed and set aside.
Boil water in a large saucepan. Salt the water and cook the orzo to the directions on the package.
While the pasta cooks, add one portion of the olives to a food processor and chop. Add the chopped olives to the serving bowl, along with the whole olives, tomatoes and feta. Toss with a spoon.
Strain the pasta and add to the mixing bowl. Toss with a spoon. The feta may melt slightly, which is okay. Gently pour the dressing over the top and mix well. The orzo will absorb most of the dressing.
Aunt Marietta’s Veggie Salad
  • 12 ounces of pickled eggplant (jarred is fine; homemade is better), drained
  • 2 cans of artichoke hearts in brine, drained
  • 1/2 pound assorted greek olives
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2-3 cups chopped fennel
  • half a medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • white vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cherry tomatoes, chopped pepperoncini (optional)
Combine the last five ingredients in a medium mixing bowl and whisk together. Use a mix of two parts vinegar to one part olive oil. Set aside. Quarter the artichoke hearts and combine with the eggplant, olives, celery, fennel, onion and optional ingredients in a bowl. Toss with the dressing. Remove from the refrigerator 2 to 3 hours before serving so that the olive oil can come to temperature. Toss before serving.
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