Our dinner party

I do wish we had more people coming over for dinner. The kid in me needs to play and the kitchen is the sandbox.

Last weekend we did – N&N have been good friends for many years, and also they are for the time being without a kitchen – theirs is being renovated – so it was a wonderful excuse to have them over.

I’m not going to go into the elaborate details about the recipes and preparation – just the underlying ideas and thoughts propelling me through the day.

For some reason I wanted to go Italian – don’t know why. One of the cool things about Italian cuisine is the chronologicity of their meals – lots of little courses. One after the other. This is important because it focuses the diner on ONE taste at a time. Since I had recently done up some Pesto, it seemed that this  – also very Italian – was a great way to go here.

The other thing I wanted badly to do was to both keep the kitchen neat, and stay relaxed through to the end. I wanted to make it a continuously enjoyable experience pour MOI!

So – although it might seem to some over the top, I did decide to use my meal planner to work out the timings  – and also to limit myself (in case I had one of these “why don’t I just also do this” moments.

Here’s what that meal planner looked like for this particular meal. Its copied from the excel original. Although it looks daunting, its not. You simply move the tasks up or down so that you are not doing too much in any given half hour period. Some things are fixed – like if i wanted warm foccacia, it had to go in at 5:30. Also, putting the dishwasher on mid way through the afternoon is important – it leaves you with an empty machine when the dirty plates come piling back.

in the image you only see about half the spreadsheet – but you get the idea.

time set table clean first floor Aperitivo Antipasto1 Secondo Contorno Primo Antipasto2 Dolce Caffè
Perrier/spritzer Babaganouj , crudites, sausage and fish Gazpacho soup Cesar salad Pasta pesto and veg cheese plate brownies and ice cream coffee tea
serving type babaganouj crudites bowl with plate under individually served and chilled Cesar salad use wood slad bowl Rigatoni and pesto, a green on the side use big pasta dish use 12″ bluish plate brownies and ice cream coffee
day before refrigerate drinks Make babaganouj thaw Pesto
clear 1st floor
clean kitchen prep coffee
8:00 to Market
8:30 to Market
9:00 put away market stuff
10:00 make dressing make brownies
10:30 Make rigatoni prep tea
11:00 make crutons make ice cream
11:30 grind ingredients put in plate, sprig of mint on top, refrigerate
12:00 cut salad
12:30 cut onions, grate parmesan grate parmesan
13:00 vacuum assemble salad
13:30 arrange table for dinner
14:00 set table
14:30 dishwasher on plate  sausagefish arrange on plate
15:00 cut vegetables prepare cheese plate
15:30 prepare mustard, chutney, mayo dips dip prep water, prepare crackers  chutney
16:00 plate & Present (carousel from outside) parboil broccoli (or beans)
16:30 dishwasher empty dishes for Pesto & pasta
17:00 prepare and present drinks heat oven make foccaccia
18:00 Dinner starts Prepare water to boil
18:30 reheat greens
19:30 boil and serve

My other issue was that I wanted people to taste so many little delicacies – from the fish and sausage, to the selection of fine artisinal cheeses – were these going to be dessert – or appetizer? but there was already too much appetizer! In the end, by popular demand of the chocoholics in the room, they went after the chocolate.

The other piece that is always important to me is the making of everything I could from scratch. I have definitely been enjoying my stand mixer and it made the fusili which was the base for the pesto. I now have a really simple ratio to figure out how much pasta is required: 100g of flour and 1 large egg per person. That’s all! That’s it! It is SO very simple.  This quantity will give enough for all and some leftover too – unless your dinner guests are 20-some male athletes. I also like to give the chutneys and condiments a clear voice in it – and so my strategy here was to pair a specific condiment with a specific ‘base’  – thus the cut veggies had the tahini  dip, the sausage had wine mustard, the fish red pepper jelly, and so on. That set out, people switched it up anyway  – but that’s OK  – the underlying idea is there.

I didn’t plan on wine – our guests are currently not drinking – though they did bring a bottle of Chianti which I simply could not resist!

It was a lovely evening. I did enjoy myself – both the cooking and the company – and it was a truly wonderful meal – not terribly ostentatious – but lots of little bits and pieces to stimulate the tastes. As I noted at the outset, it really is about play, about creating, about having fun. If you are not doing that, you may as well schlepp out to the deli counter and pick it all up there.

What would I change? I need to allow more time at the market. Like about an hour more. I find I get into my own personal and also interactive zone at a market – I do not like to be rushed. I also need to learn more about the emulsification and freezing of ice cream. The taste is all there – its great – but in spite of religious stirring, it still freezes up hard. Maybe the freezer is too cold….


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