In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Menus for an Easy Dinner Party

My friend Meg is coming by in a minute to talk through a big family dinner party she has to give next weekend.

The trick. obviously, is to make everything you can in advance, and work on it throughout the week. 

You need an appetizer of  some sort, or else everyone stands around staring hungrily and starts off on the  wrong foot. Then your main dish needs to be balanced with the sides -- if you are having something cheesy and rush, you want thresh, crisp sides. If you are having something light as the centerpiece -- branzino stuffed with herbs and lemon and roasted -- you can afford a side of truffled mac & cheese. 

Dessert also needs to bow to the main dish. If you've served something heavy, dessert should feature fruit prominently.

Here's what I am suggesting she makes.. I have three possible menus. 


  • butternut squash soup (make a few days before) - grated or oven dried apple slices float on top right before serving. Maybe some croutons you make that day and toast right before? 
  • short ribs with maple coffee (make the day before, reheat the day of) -- see my post "Last Meal"
  • cheddar grits -- make that day
  • green salad, please oh please make you're own vinaigrette
  • tarte tatin with pre made puff pastry -- make in the morning.

  • refrigerator pickles: carrots and green beans (make a week ahead)
  • radishes with buttered french bread and salt 
  • special lasagne with pesto sun dried tomato ricotta cheese, a light marinara, smoked ham, roasted red peppers (make and freeze)
  • garlic bread (if you don't serve the radishes)
  • caesar salad
  • tarte tatin or baked apples finished of with a hit of bourbon. maybe a scoop of ice cream. If you want to be really ridiculous, you can scoop individual scoops out in advance and freeze them on parchment paper. Easy serving. But you can also offer freshly whipped cream on the side. No one ever complains about that.  

  • pork roast with fennel
  • delicious oven potatoes.. perhaps cooked under the pork? or in a gratin? or scalloped? or you could make Giada's delicious gratineed cauliflower with capers and bacon. 
  • roasted brussels sprouts with bacon lardons (leave the bacon out if you make the cauliflower). Lots of salt ad olive oil will do it. maybe throw in a few cloves of garlic.
  • fresh fennel and apple salad with celery and parmesan
  • good bread 
  • great cheese tray for dessert with fixins like marconi almonds, dried apricots, walnuts, honey, fig loaf or fresh figs, dates, crystalized ginger. You need stilton, parano, some good drippy cheese like brie or camembert or other better ones, a cheddar, and something soft like St Andre or goat cheese. Snip fresh rosemary on your goat  cheese and give it a little cracked pepper if it's mass produced
  • dark chocolate