Monday, November 24, 2008


Sometimes, this dinner party's not so easy. Like when you've got three pots on the stove and it's an hour before six people arrive, and the lights in the living room keep flickering on and off and on and off. Until they go dead. You think about lighting 50 tea lights, but a dark, candlelit room might seem a bit creepy to everyone, especially those guests you don't really know all that well yet. So you drag out the stepstool and try to reach the overhead light, and curse all 5 foot 1 inches of yourself. Luckily, your helpful, slightly taller husband comes and switches out the dead light bulbs, just in time for you to rush back to the stove and rescue the potatoes from burning. That light fixture--it looks a little loose to you too, right? You start to imagine it crashing down on someone's head and the eventual lawsuit and the fact that you'd have to repay the injured party in meals. Lots of meals.

Deep breath.

And then your friends arrive, coming in from the cold, shrugging off their winter coats. Thoughtful people that they are, they're bearing wine, and homemade pumpkin ice cream, and (gluten-free!) chocolate cake, and a wedge of Humbolt Fog, your favorite cheese ever. And wine glasses are filled and passed around and thoughts of that damn wobbly light fixture start to fade. And dinner is fine. There's juicy chicken legs with crispy skin and no one cares that the potatoes are slightly burned. Everyone drinks a lot and has fun. Which is always good. So much so that they even offer to wash the dishes before they leave. Which is incredibly generous (thank you, Mark), but also a no-no. I mean...right? Absolutely not. So everyone heads home except for the last friend standing, and you linger until after midnight finishing up the wine and talking sleepily about the virtues of Mariah Carey until it is bedtime. And even though there is a scary amount of dirty dishes staring you down, you wash them smiling.

Sometimes it can seem like a marathon when you have people over, but there is always a pay-off in the end. The immediate pay-off of friendship rekindled or solidified, but sometimes thank-you notes the next day, and a copy of the New Yorker food issue waiting for you on your doorstop. Which motivates you to plan your next dinner party.

Hearty fall dinner for six
Bacon-wrapped dates
Sweet potato pancakes
Roasted chicken with potatoes and tomatoes
Braised red cabbage with apples and caraway seeds
Pumpkin ice cream
Chocolate cake with chocolate sauce

Braised red cabbage with apples and caraway seeds
I amped up the vinegar and honey in this recipe (from the Joy of Cooking) to make the cabbage even more tangy, but if you're timid about vinegar, start with 3 tablespoons and taste as you go.

4 slices bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch strips.
3 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
1 medium head red cabbage, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1 large Granny Smith apple, sliced into matchsticks
6 Tbsp. apple cider or red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. caraway seeds

Heat a large, nonreactive skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook until it releases its fat and starts to brown. Add the onions and cook until translucent and slightly golden. Add cabbage, apple, vinegar, honey, salt, and caraway seeds; then cover pan and cook over medium-low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is very soft but not falling apart, about an hour.

Roasted chicken legs with tomatoes and potatoes
This recipe, from Jamie's Dinners, could not be simpler. Like a lot of Jamie Oliver's dishes, you just chuck everything into a pan and roast until done. It's the combination of ingredients that's brilliant: the chicken gets crispy, the tomatoes form a delicious jammy sauce, the potatoes soak in the savory chicken juices, and the garlic roasts in its own skin, creating a delectable, spreadable paste.

6 chicken legs, thighs and drumsticks
2 large handfuls of new potatoes, sliced in half, length-wise
2 pints cherry tomatoes
10 cloves garlic, skins on
1 Tbsp. chili flakes
1 handful basil leaves
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Season your chicken with salt and pepper and place the legs in two roasting pans. Add the potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic cloves dividing them equally between the two pans. Drizzle liberally with olive oil. Bake for about one hour, pull out the pans and stir the potatoes and tomatoes to keep them from sticking. Scatter the basil leaves on top and continue baking for another 20 to 30 minutes, or until the chicken skin is golden brown and crispy. Insert a knife into the thigh to check if the chicken juices run clear (a sign of doneness). Serve hot, on a large platter. Tell guests to squeeze the roasted garlic out of the husks and mix it with the potatoes. Amazingly delicious.


Jennifer Henry said...

I hereby testify that the chicken was damn delicious, and lovely Lisa showed no signs of any back-of-the-mind light bulb concerns. Those prunes in bacon, and sweet potato pancakes were THE best arrival treat on a cold night, and to top it all off? Lisa didn't mind at ALL when I asked if I could remove my boots and slip on a fair of fluffy slippers to get really comfortable. This is dinner party nirvana.

Audrey said...

Oh my lord, best dinner I've had in AGES, restaurant or otherwise. As I said to your husband, I don't know what he did to deserve you, I feel the same - I don't know what I ever did to deserve you. Phenomenal.

Daniel said...

She mentioned that I changed the light bulbs, right?

I will say that, in my estimation, I am more than "slightly taller" than Lisa.

Jennifer, from now on, I'm bringing my own fluffy slipper wherever I go.

Lisa said...

Sorry, darling. Much, MUCH taller.

Anonymous said...

Chicken looks delicious and fluffy slippers make you taller.

Dan, I'm so proud of you! You're a real man.

Mark Henry said...

Lisa you are a lovely host, rolling out multiple dishes without the least fluster.

I really enjoyed the night and the food, but the warm company was a real delight.


Megan and Butch! said...

Three things: 1) Dan is at least 7 inches taller than you. 2) That chicken recipe sounds delicious and I am making it for Butch when he finally stops building things in the kitchen (maybe never). And 3) Does Mariah Carey HAVE any virtues? Maybe they're minor virtues we don't know about, like punctuality.


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