Summer Dinner Party for Ten

I’ve had another piece posted by mockingbird, which has nothing to do with food. I’m in the middle of another several pieces for different places, and nothing is moving as fast as I’d like it to, and so I’m bringing us all back where we started: food!

This was the dinner I made for the Golden Crust Society.

For once, I did not take even a single dish from Ina’s cookbooks for this dinner party. (Unless you count her sangría,  which is always a hit on a hot Houston night.) Instead, I did something new. I used an entire menu from the New York Times magazine, by Sam Sifton. The magazine spread featured a series of recipes borrowed from Yotam Ottolenghi, whom I’ve admired for a while. The menu consisted of a roast leg of lamb and a series of Mediterranean appetizers and salads to along with it, which seemed perfect for a warm summer evening, and to show off our new ovens, which were the reason for the event. I did something else that was new this time: I printed every recipe and slid it into protective sleeves in a binder. This seems like such a simple thing, but it made a world of difference when I was juggling multiple recipes at prep time. Instead of scrolling through my phone or my iPad and unlocking the screen every time and then getting distracted by Facebook, or having a half-dozen cookbooks strewn all over the countertops, I had everything in one small binder. And now, I can put the binder on the shelf and pull from it another time.

I made just a few modifications from the menu. I added chicken marbella, or a somewhat Ottolenghi-like modification of it, for people who don’t like lamb. Instead of the cake in the menu, I made a New York Times berry buckle by Melissa Clark. I made some other minor modifications as well – I purchased hummus and baba ghanouj instead of making it from scratch, and I used brown rice (with more liquid and a longer cooking time) for the saffron rice. I felt like the lamb was a little overdone and the buckle was a little underdone, but everybody had a wonderful time, and it was a seriously low-stress evening to entertain that many people.

My game plan was grocery shopping Wednesday night (because we had a last-minute invitation on Thursday night), marinating the chicken and lamb, and baking the berry buckles on Thursday night, and cooking everything else on Friday afternoon. I came home from work a little bit early that Friday (maybe 2:30pm), and everything was ready by 6:30 pm. That included picking up a non-driving babysitter and sending a husband and one kid off to music lessons at 5:00 pm. Everything came together nicely, and I liked having the menu to work from.

I omitted some of the spices from the lamb, because we don’t love cinnamon in savory dishes, and I feel like I should have basted the lamb more, as directed, instead of leaving it on its own to do its own thing. I ordered a lot of the new-to-me spices from amazon, which was a really handy way to do things. I think my favorite dishes were the tomato and pomegranate salad, and the rice.

My favorite part of the evening was the fact that some people came together who might not have known each other before, and that everyone pitched in to help. Our intention was to thank the people who contributed so generously to the rectory, and that they would be our waited-upon guests. But when it came time to clean up leftovers or dish the ice cream, everyone pitched in, and they seemed to enjoy doing it. I love that part of entertaining.

Here was the final result, and I think it tasted as good as it looked.

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I was sneaky and made extra chicken and rice, and cucumber salad, and as soon as everything came out of the oven, I slipped it into the refrigerator, to feed a friend who had had surgery the week before. We delivered it the next night to a grateful house of hungry people.

I know the dinner party was not too stressful on my part, because I mustered up the energy to make 3 dozen cookies and a pan of brownies for camp counselors the next day. (I am not above bribery for people who are watching over my first baby all week!) Reports from camp are that he’s having a great time, and I’ve even spied a photo of him on horseback. Yee-haw! I’m already scheming to cook up a storm of waffles for him as soon as he gets home.

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