My sister has always been a huge source of strength for me. She has consistently helped me up when I have fallen down, and will continue to be my sounding board and friend. March is a month full of family birthdays. One in particular was extra special, since it was the one year anniversary of Lily joining us on Earth. She is tremendously smart, and at one, has a better sense of humor then many of the adults I have met in this life.
We decided to get the home team together and have Lily's first dinner party. A sort of trial run before her big birthday party. Ari and Tommie were excellent hosts while Sam and I were in the kitchen.
Dinner Party ... erm.. guidelines?
- Seems like a no-brainer, but don't make anything you haven't made before. Don't pick a cut of meat you've never worked with before. Even recipes that might be family classics can go wrong. Your chances of success are much higher with something you've made. It also has to do with grace, you've got to be entertaining, talking, answering questions, drinking and cooking at the same time. If you're constantly looking at a recipe, or haven't made it before, one or more of these aspects will suffer. And you'll be a stress monster. Best to look to something familiar, second nature even, and go from there making minor adjustments.
- Know your time and equipment limitations. Think about your menu, and figure out how long everything takes, and when to put what in the oven. A little planning will greatly reduce those "oh shit" moments. Like when you realize your braise has to be in at 300 for 5 hours, and you expect to make some puff pastry appetizer at that temperature...not gonna happen.
- Amuse your bouche. Make something for people to snack on as they arrive and get their first cocktail. It sets the tone for the evening, and people generally arrive to these things starving, expecting food to miraculously appear. Under stand those expectations, and be prepared for them. A simple go-to can be any sort of crostini. I guarantee you have some combination of things in your fridge right now that could make an awesome crostini. And people will think you're a genius.
- Check yourself before you wreck yourself. I tend to be overly ambitious. It's my nature. So I put in some checks and balances for myself. It's a party after all, not a catering event. I like to have a cold amuse bouche, so that all of the components can be prepared in advance, and quickly assembled as guests arrive. Again, starving humans, setting the right tone, have that shit ready.
- Mix it up. Unless your doing a seafood theme, make sure you offer a land-dweller in a course or two.
- The main event. I generally reserve the oven for whatever is the "star" of the show. If I need to bake something for the dessert course, I try to do it in advance if time allows. Braises are always show stoppers, and generally come out great, barring any temperature issues in your oven. They're rich, and easy to pair sides with. They can also be adjusted to meet a variety of cuisines. Depending on the size of the event, I like to do things that batch cook well. Braises, roasts, etc. That way the protein is doing its thing in the oven while I can get sides going up top.
- Dessert. I like to do single serving desserts. It's more elegant versus a slab of cobbler or oozey pie. Buying a few mini-tart pans can be life changing. Bake the shells the day before and fill with curd, or mousse. And boom, chill and dessert is done. If you're really stressing dessert, panna cotta is the easiest, "could make it in your sleep" dessert. You just need time, do it the day before even. They take a good 6 hours to set. They can also be flavored/ topped with a variety of things to fit your theme. For our dinner party this time, I made buttermilk vanilla panna cotta with local Texas blueberry lavender compote and a graham crumble. The dessert and all of its components was done before I even looked at the pork belly. Such a relief to have that final course complete and plated hours before guests arrive. I highly recommend this.