Tag Archives: dinner party

THROWN TOGETHER, EATEN UP

Buying a few clutch pre-made dishes, dressing them up in a more personal way, and preparing a few other easy side dishes might be one of the easiest ways ever to throw an impromptu dinner party. Everyone’s happy and everything’s delicious.

Earlier that morning, we took our friends out to Abu Elias and did a little grocery shopping of our own. Of course, I couldn’t resist their excellent hummus, or a pound of their excellent beef tartare, which is massaged with bulghur wheat, cumin, sumac, and other spices. But we also ordered a huge carton of fatteh (but then buttered and toasted our own pita chips to ensure crispiness late into the night), and a delicious lahmajoun.

I cracked open a jar of tiny pickled carrots that I made earlier in the week, and we readied a platter of radishes, waiting to be sliced in half and spread with butter. Adam prepped a small plate of celery sticks and taramosalata (a killer combo). We made a huge tomato, olive, and pepper salad, and a quick tabbouleh. I even whipped up (perhaps incongruously) a warm potato salad, with crispy pan-fried potatoes, tender green beans, bacon, scallions, and a rich mustard-crème fraîche vinaigrette.

But my favorite dish of the evening was derived from a recipe that I’ve had an eye on for months — a simple beetroot salad dressed with pistachios, lemon juice, and mint, from the indispensible Moro East cookbook. We picked up a bundle of gorgeous chiogga beets from the market, and roasted them in foil until tender. The Clarks like to thinly slice their beets and dress them with a chunky vinaigrette that includes minced pistachios, orange blossom water, mint, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. It was outstanding — light and floral but full of flavor.

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MEETING OF THE MINDS

When Adam met up with me in Ithaca for Meredith’s wedding, it was his first time meeting all of my friends. Ever. Which is crazy, I know.

So, to commemorate the occasion, the evening he was to arrive, I schemed to organize a fête both special and low-key.

At first, I thought about organizing our gang to feast at our favorite Trumansburg restaurant. I even made a reservation.

But I quickly realized that what I really wanted was a simple dinner party, thrown in Adam’s honor, at my friend Katie’s cozy country home.

It was barely a party, really more of a garden supper, but it felt perfectly full of laughter and love. Curious what we ate?

Since there are no photos (blame the wine), here’s the menu, instead:

Assorted Piggery charcuterie (including a ham hock terrine that disintegrated in the upstate New York heat) // Spanish cheeses + olives

Homemade quick pickles // beets, red onions, local green beans, and carrots

Quartered Ithaca heirloom tomatoes served over barley // red wine vinaigrette

Crispy potato croquettes (I loosely followed this wonderful recipe) // homemade crème fraîche // chives // lemon wedges

Thick ribbons of pasta tossed with fresh ricotta // lemon // local corn // watercress // torn basil

Halved local Methley plums + honey served over thyme-flecked Sable Breton // so much more of that dangerous crème fraîche

That was it. Simple and sweet and buttery. And, upon reflection, a lot of carbs!

As a final note, I can’t recommend this simple Sable Breton recipe enough. The confetti of thyme in the dough really send this not-at-all-sweet dessert completely over the top. Make it for the person in your life who professes not to like dessert. They’ll love it.

In conclusion, if someone offers you up their gorgeous backyard to host a tiny, elegant dinner party — don’t turn their offer down.

And if someone offers to hang petite twinkling lights, set a table with their most beautifully mismatched linens, buy you a vase of scarlet flowers, and even hook up a sound system that may or may not lead to a protracted discussion of the band The Archies, definitely don’t turn their offer down.

And even if you can’t find a bottle of Fontsainte Gris de Gris from Corbieres at Red Feet, no worries. Pop open a bottle of Dr. Frank’s perfectly delicious dry reisling and sit down. It’s summertime, and you are with your favorite people in the world.

HOLIDAY LIVING

No matter where I’m living, every year I throw a big Cinco de Mayo party. When I was living in Ithaca, I invited a hundred people over to my friend’s big house by the lake and we ate grilled chicken thighs and corn on the cob slathered with lime butter and queso fresco. We drank Coronas spiked with hot sauce and danced to Juanes until 3am.We decorated the house with dollar store decorations that made my friend’s backyard look like a used car sales lot, and we even bought a pinata and stuffed it with candy. There was beer pong, a raging grill, a live reggae band, and blankets scattered all over the hillside. All of the girls wore pretty, embroidered cotton dresses, and the boys brought guitars and played music in the grass.

But this year, I called up the AEB crew, Mark, and Bartek, and cooked up a simple Mexican-inspired supper.

After a rad field trip to Supermarché Andes, I made crema from scratch. (It’s so simple, just bring heavy cream to a warmish-room temperature in a small pot, then stir in sour cream and let sit in a warm area with the jar lid loosened. After 12 hours, the mixture will have considerably thickened to a luscious cream, and is great straight out of the jar, if you have no restraint, like me.) I also made two salsas — one roasted tomato with chipotles in adobo, the other a fresh spicy tomatillo salsa. There was a quick red onion pickle relish, which marinated in freshly squeezed orange juice, apple cider vinegar, sugar and peppercorns for a day before eating. There were fresh radishes, limes, and poblano peppers. I made a fennel and carrot escabeche with savory granola, adapted from the irresistible recipe on Lottie + Doof. (And then snacked on the escabeche and granola for the rest of the week). I turned on the barbecue and grilled pork tenderloin in adobo. There was also Mexican chorizo and flank steak marinated in pureed onions, garlic, lime, and cumin. That all went on the grill, too. All of this was tucked into warm corn tortillas, with refried black beans, queso fresco, Mexican rice, and crispy fingerling potatoes to round things out. There was so much food, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t make those sopaipillas that I had my eye on.

ORGANS FOR EASTER

Easter Sunday supper

Richard Olney’s caul-wrapped lamb heart, liver and kidney brochettes, strung onto rosemary branches // Spring vegetable pilaf with Swiss chard ribs, new carrots, fresh peas, scallions, mint, and parsley

Red leaf lettuce and roasted red beets dressed with minted-lemon vinaigrette // Tomato, red onion, parsley and mint salad // Cardoons poached in lemon water

Grilled endives, scallions, and tomatoes // Grilled toasts, rubbed with tomato and cloves of garlic

Lulu’s Walnut Gâteaux

The sunny Easter morning began with potent coffee and S-shaped cookies in Little Italy, followed by a gluttonous feast of dim sum, and then a predictably rad shopping excursion to our favorite butcher shop in Montreal, Abu Elias. Because we don’t make it over there that frequently, we always stock up on staples like hummus, pita, whole roast chickens, soujouk.

But because it was Easter Sunday, Abu Elias had a few special items lounging around. Knowing our deep love of offal, the butcher mysteriously gestured to a pile of organs that they kept out of the display case. As he dangled them in the air for us to inspect — an attached system of the heart, kidneys, liver, and bloodied lungs from a baby lamb that was freshly slaughtered for the day’s Easter celebrations — I knew we couldn’t turn it down. For about $12, it was a bargain.

Then came the awesome task of wondering just what we were going to do with it all. Adam, knowing that I desperately wanted to fire up our grill, immediately remembered an Richard Olney recipe that called for lamb liver and heart, diced into small bits, wrapped up in translucent caul, and strung onto skewers of rosemary. It’s a classic Provencal dish, meant to be eaten with Domaine Tempier Bandol and a fluffy spring vegetable pilaf. It was the perfect idea.

But I was more reluctant to embrace the lungs, which honestly freaked me out. A moment of validation came when, after a bit of research, we realized that the lungs aren’t really meant to be eaten. They’re basically dog food. I felt apprehensive about the extensive cleaning the bloodied lungs required, and couldn’t imagine how I could possibly grill them. (In a particularly grotesque moment, we imagined the lungs filling with air and ballooning up on the grill to gigantic proportions, eventually exploding in our faces and splattering the walls with tiny lung bits). So we threw them in a bowl, poked at the narrow esophagus for good measure, and decided to skip them. (But if anyone has a good lamb lung recipe, I would love to see it!)

With the concept firmly in place, we rang up a few friends, and held an impromptu Easter celebration. As the early spring breezes licked at the flames and in the final seconds of grilling the lamb, we threw handfuls of fresh sage and rosemary leaves directly onto the glowing coals. Fragrant, intoxicating smoke billowed around the skewers. It was a moment of indisputable magic.

Because the flavor of lamb offal can be quite strong, it can handle equally pungent herbs and wines. We marinated the liver and heart in mint, scallions, lemons, olive oil, parsley, diced red onion and raw garlic, and drank powerful Mourvèdre all night. It’s worth noting that the caul — which added much-needed fat, juiciness, and a porky counterpoint to the tiny morsels of lamb offal — is an essential ingredient. I also made sure to serve plenty of vegetables to offset the richness of the meal, and it was our first truly springlike meal, charred with flavor and bursting with life.

Our lovely set of organs.

Though we decided to nix the lungs.

Defrosted caul, ready to wrap stuff.

JOE BEEF + FLEISHER’S + ME: A HEAVENLY MATCH

And that was the face I made when Vanya brought out that sublime St. Honoré cake you see above. “Please, please, please no more!” Reflecting upon the stupendous meal the next day — through the purple haze of one brutal wine-hangover — I decided that I probably ate enough food for four people. At least. Maybe five. But oh, was it worth it.

For a full rundown of our epic Fleisher’s hosted feast, read my full article in Serious Eats here. What a special evening that was.

[All photos courtesy of the lovely Pilar Benitez]

SPONTANEOUS CELEBRATION

On our final night in NYC, we stormed my friend Alison’s apartment for an impromptu roast chicken dinner party. It’s fast becoming one of my signature dishes, but there are worse things of which to be known, I suppose. It truly is my go-to dish for something impressive looking + results in large quantities + is super easy to make + relatively affordable.

I stuffed the 5 lb monster with rosemary, garlic and lemon and roasted at 425F for about 90 minutes. I always chop up a bed of vegetables that basically poach underneath the chicken fat — this time it was the contents of Alison’s fridge (diced celery, carrots, fingerling potatoes and quartered red onions). I forgot to tuck rosemary sprigs underneath the breast skin (sage + thyme so good for this too), but dusted the skin with plenty of smoked paprika, which gave it such a nice amber, golden glow when pulled out of the oven.

We served the bird with roasted purple potatoes and carrots, and a salad of sauteed sugar snap peas, diced avocado, halved cherry tomato and red leaf lettuce (dressing made with chicken fat drippings, of course). I completely spaced on taking any photos, or else I surely would have documented the perfect apple crumble I made for dessert — dice four Empire apples and toss in a few tablespoons granulated sugar, teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg, and 1/4 cup honey. Top with cup of flour cut with stick of butter and brown sugar and sprinkle on top of the apples. Bake at 350 degrees until bubbling and caramel golden, about 45 minutes. Alison! Thank you so so much for having us — such a satisfying, complete meal.

[All photos by Alison Leiby]

CELEBRATING, APPRECIATING

The first night we arrived in NYC, my old friends Jon and Ali — who write the incredible, luscious blog How To Cook Everything – Illustrated — hosted an wondrous dinner party in our honor. But where to start? The fork-tender roasted acorn squash salad with a tart balsamic reduction? The fragrant, velvety Philippino adobo with squash and short ribs cooked sous-vide, served over creamy pillows of polenta? The morsels of roasted cauliflower with concord grapes that burst in your mouth like tiny water balloons? Or Jon’s homemade salted caramel ice cream? Or, perhaps, the three bottles of wine we drank, one label of which read:

Moric disdains flamboyance and effect while speaking with an authentic and articulate voice at all levels on the ladder. Old vines from heritage sites offer fine fruit, which retains its own voice against dictates of fashion.”

Fair enough! A perfect meal with wonderful friends, and a relaxed, cozy beginning to a 2-week flurry of activity in NYC. I felt so spoiled and so lucky. Thanks again, guys!