I had my first dinner party when I was twelve years old. I invited six girls. I can name them all now: Annie Kleinsasser. Katie Kleinsasser (her thirteen year old knowing and powerful big sister who wore a bra). Sara Bingham. Kathy Golden. Sue Cross. Dee Dee Ruff. We were just finishing the sixth grade. We’d be going on to Junior High School.
This was going to be something BIG.
I felt it was worthy of celebration. I would have liked to invite six boys but I also would have liked to travel to the moon and I had about as much chance of that as getting the nerve to cook and then eat actual food in front of Kevin Hoffman, Bill Holland, Dan Chapman, Steve Acker, Jamie Oyama and Robbie Ellis.
So what if kids my age didn’t throw dinner parties? I worked on the seating chart and the menu for a full week. Big glitch number one came at the end of that week. Was I really cooking dinner for seven kids? Yes. Then why was red wine on my shopping list? Was I considering serving wine and smoking pot at this supposed dinner party? Was that what I was really up to? It was 1970. Being paranoid was justified.
The red wine went in the sauce for the chicken. I wouldn’t find out until attending junior high school (three months later) how to even smoke pot. I was in it for the food. And for the service. Not the service, but the doing of the thing. I got dizzy with excitement just thinking about the planning--figuring out the table (the dinner got changed by the adults to a lunch—easier to keep an eye on us), the flowers, the options for tablecloths, water glasses, dessert forks. I would prepare everything like I’d seen in Sunset Magazine (the household standard for fine dining).
And that’s where the Chicken Southwest comes in. It was their recipe. We lived in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon), but the dish was from some place where people put strings of red chilies on the table (I remember the picture even though I think it was in black and white). It was from a place where everything looked festive because it didn’t rain every day and they knew about something called The Sun. And in the picture everyone at the table was smiling.
Chicken Southwest. Easy enough to make at twelve. Good enough to have stuck around in my cook book until now. Tender, marinated chicken slow cooked to stay moist. Spicy sauce. Served with rice or cous-cous (back then I didn’t know what that was, so rice won the day). I made a salad, and passed appetizers which consisted of celery sticks with cream cheese and chives. I baked a chocolate cake.
It was a big success.
And 37 years later, it still is.
2 to 3 pounds of chicken (I like to use mostly breasts, but I throw in a few thighs and drumsticks)
1 cup tomato juice
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup burgundy
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Worchester sauce
1½ teaspoons chili powder
¾ teaspoon paprika
pepper to taste
NOTE: I often double this recipe for dinner parties.
Sprinkle chicken lightly with garlic salt and cook under the broiler until ¾ done. Depending on how much chicken you have, this may take a few batches. Remove and set aside.
Drain the juice/fat into a skillet and use this to sauté the onion (which you have chopped). Add the remaining ingredients. This is the sauce.
Place cooked chicken in deep-dish pan suitable for the oven. Cover with your sauce. Cook in oven 300-325° F for 60 to 90 minutes—check to see how the chicken is doing. I sometimes cook it even longer.
Serve with rice.
Put on Ray Stevens singing the 1970 hit “Everything is Beautiful”, and prepare for something BIG.
also published on the Huffington Post
Holly Goldberg Sloan is a writer/director of family films. She wrote "Angels in the Outfield,", "Made in America", "The Big Green", "The Crocodile Hunter Movie" and the soon to be finished "Heidi 4 Paws". Cooking, she believes, is like writing. It's good to start with a solid plan, and then be willing to go with the flow.