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The Return of the Dinner Party
Tales of Loaves and Fishes
A few years ago, we opted out of a large house and too much room, in favor of wandering about the world from a base of tri-coastal postage stamps. The issue with tiny pieds-à-terre is that they come with tiny, impractical kitchens. But we've worked with less, so in a week that has been all about food and love and love of food, we finally got around to re-launching our once-regular dinner party.
There's a conceit in throwing together a multi-course dinner for larger groups, that it somehow requires a special, restaurant-grade cooking expertise, along with the ability to spin dinner plates on poles while dancing a jig on the Tonight Show (Did Johnny ever promote acts like that? We never stayed up late enough to find out).
But a restaurant has to perfectly reproduce a generally recognizable dish by the dozen night after night, without sacrificing the quality. You just have to get it right once, and if you don't, it disappears into the trash. If you change it out of all recognition, none of your guests is footing the bill, so it's just your version. Borscht chez Shipley. Tacos al Ben. Beef Chow Fun à la Glinda.
One rule of thumb: Never cook French if a Cordon Bleu Chef is going to be sitting at the table. We generally prefer to cook Indian for our Chinese friends and Chinese for our Indian friends. Just to be on the safe side.
We'll cook Italian for anyone, but that's just us.
So after a COVID-induced hiatus, we’re finally cranking up the culinary brain cells, dusting off the medieval kitchen, hunting the stores for tasty exotica, and firing away—just not quite on all cylinders.
This week, we hosted a certified Chinese chef in the group, so that gave us pause. She comes from Shanghai, we tend toward Cantonese, so we could at least hang hats on that. And we've cooked for each other for years, so a bad night wasn't going to sully anyone's reputation.
As for planning, the menu started out consisting of:
Made ahead of time:
Chinese Black Bean Meatballs—cilantro, garlic, ginger. Fermented black beans, soy sauce, and beef broth for the sauce.
Steamed Basmati rice.
Prepared that afternoon:
Chicken-Cauliflower Korma—onions, garlic, yogurt, mint, cardamom, cumin, turmeric.
Sabji Asparagus with Steak—cumin, lemon, ginger, garlic.
Chopped ahead of time, but thrown together at the last minute:
Raw Tuna-Yellow Watermelon salad—Italian dressing.
Somewhere-near-Singapore Curry Noodles—pork, shrimp, cellophane noodles, egg, scallions, peppers, bean sprouts, Napa cabbage, curry, lime, rice wine, soy and oyster sauce, chicken broth.
The trick, in other words, was to stage things bit by bit, so we never had to overload the ancient stove or think too hard about more than one or two dishes at a time.
The only true measure of success in cooking is how much of the food gets eaten. And on that score, we gave ourselves a B+. Not bad after two years off. The only measure of success in a dinner party is the mix of friends and conversation, and on that we nearly always give ourselves an A.
If you have any questions about the details, ask in the comments, and we’ll try to remember recipes and such.
For our dinner parties, we usually break out our 5-Star World playlist to go with the typically eclectic menu. The Egyptian-French artist Dalida figures prominently. This video from her Disco period, while not our favorite, conveys something of the power and fame of the most successful recording artist in French history, who at age 54, grew bored with her life and ended it.