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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Work & Cook: How to cook a dinner party for 6+5+2 on a conference day?

A week ago I invited friends to come over for dinner on Saturday. A few days later I found out there is a going to be a bloggers’ conference that day. Hmmm, what to do? I want to see my friends. I want to go to the conference. How can I have a cake and eat it too? I needed a plan.

Here is how I did it.

The guests:
I invited two families with kids to come over. That meant I had to cook for (including us) 6 adults, 5 kids, and 2 babies who eat small-cut finger food. That is about 10 adult portions.
Some people like beef, some like fish, some like lamb, but everyone likes chicken. Each one has his/her own likes and dislikes, so I wanted some variety with the side dishes to cover everyone’s preferences.

The menu:
In general, I like to make one flavorful entrée and two simple side dishes so the flavors of the different dishes don’t compete with each other or overwhelm the palate.
Another helpful thing is the cooking technique. In this case – roasting. If you want to make your life easy when cooking for a dinner party and be able to spend time with your friends instead of cooking while they entertain themselves or watch you slave in the kitchen, “roasting” is the key word. I decided on:

Roasted Moroccan-inspired marinated chicken
Roasted carrots
Roasted root vegetable
Roasted potatoes
Roasted beets with balsamic vinaigrette
Couscous with dried fruits and pine nuts
Vegetables salad
Pine nuts cake served with Rose water custard

Again, you can get by honorably with one entrée and two side dishes, but I wanted to impress and have plenty.

The plan:
The conference is on Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm. We wanted dinner to start at 6:30 pm. That meant I needed to do some cooking on Friday, or to be more precise, baking.

Make dessert. Bake the cake and make the custard.
Since the oven was already warm and working I scrubbed the beets and baked them for 1 hour.
Also, I toasted the pine nuts for the couscous.
Salad is a last minute item because you want it to be fresh and crisp, so I asked my friend to bring the salad. But if you want to do it yourself, you can use mixed greens and throw in some cherry tomatoes, croutons, if you want, and such ingredients. There’s no washing, slicing or dicing to do. Make a quick vinaigrette or use bottled one.

Morning, 8-9 am:
Still in my PJ and drinking my coffee, I prepared the marinade for the chicken, covered and refrigerated it.
Diced the dried fruit for the couscous.
Asked the husband to set the table during the day between activities with the kiddies

Afternoon, 4 – 5 pm:
Prepare carrots and root vegetables.

Place potatoes and chicken on a large baking sheet.

5 pm: Put everything in a 350 F degree oven 1 - 1 ½ hours before dinner time. It is almost impossible to overcook vegetables and chicken thighs in a 350 F oven.

Peel and slice the beets and make quick vinaigrette for them.

Prepare couscous 5 minutes before dinner time. Add and mix with fruits and pine nuts.

Serve. Time to eat.

I like to serve family style. This way there is a lot of interaction around the table, plates and dishes are moving around, guests help each other and the kids, talk about the food, I try to convince people to taste food they claim they don’t like. There’s a lot of action.
Then it gets quiet as people start to eat…
Then it is action-discussion time again and a lot of fun.

I love having leftovers.
I love having leftovers because it means a day without cooking.
So Saturday’s leftover is going to be a wonderful Sunday lunch (see photo above), and I have some cake and custard for our game night with friends tonight.

PS – I did not post recipes as I believe you have your own or can find them in so many places on the web and your cookbooks.
If you do want a recipe, e-mail me at: nurit AT familyfriendlyfood DOT com

More dinner ideas:
Weekly menu plan
Pork schnitzel, potato-yam mash, roasted cauliflower
How to spend more time with your kids AND have a daily home-made meal
Roasted chicken with orange-mustard marinade, yellow jasmine rice, steamed broccoli
Rib-eye steak, grits, cherry tomatoes and butter lettuce salad
Grilled potatoes, corn, and lamb with yogurt-mint sauce

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