Today we have a two-for-one Q&A with the ladies of Good. Food. Stories., a great new food blog. Run by writers Casey Barber (left, in photo) and Danielle Oteri, it is quickly becoming one of my favorite sites, and not only because Casey is a good friend. Good. Food. Stories. is full of helpful restaurant recommendations, useful cooking tips, must-bookmark recipes, and immensely enjoyable personal stories. It's an eclectic mix of food writing and that's part of the fun of reading it--you never know what will pop up from day to day. No matter what they are writing about, these talented women live to eat and cook and it definitely comes through on their site. Here, they share their tips and tricks for entertaining (hint: spaghetti and meatballs, Van Morrison, and homemade ice cream). Enjoy!
1. Name, occupation, and city
DO: Danielle Oteri, art historian, writer, illustrator, New York City
CB: Casey Barber, writer, cook, and cat mom, Clifton, NJ
2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?
DO: I had a small gathering on my birthday this past August for just 8 people. The year before I had a birthday dinner party in which all of the 25 guests showed up...and almost everyone brought someone which I had not planned for! It was fun but a little scary and kind of like cooking on a line.
CB: I cooked for 16 family friends a few weeks ago to celebrate the exterior repainting of our house - we threw four whole spice-rubbed chickens on the grill, made lots of cold salads, and served up a bunch of Dinner Party's best dips like the charred onion and spicy yogurt. [Ed: Nice!]
3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?
DO: My favorite was a traditional, table-side prepared Caesar salad in honor of my guest of honor named Cesar. I put the mustard, the anchovies, the beaten eggs, the salt and pepper, all in little glass ramekins and brought everything out on a big, wooden board. The ceremony of making the salad for the table became the evening's main event. I liked including the guests on the prep of part of the meal. (The salad was preceded by spaghetti and meatballs.)
CB: I wish I kept logs of all my menus over the years, but one of my favorites (and one of my simplest menus) is a grilled ribeye with homemade shoestring fries, bearnaise sauce and a good bottle of red wine. Perfect for a lazy two-person dinner.
4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?
DO: Oh, definitely wine. I can't handle more than a corkscrew in the midst of a dinner party. Whomever arrives first is usually who I put in charge of popping open and pouring those first glasses of wine.
CB: It depends on the situation, but we are more or less 50 percent wine, 50 percent beer in our household. And no, that is not divided by gender.
5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?
DO: I try to put on not well known music by well-known artists. Last party I played Paul McCartney's Flowers in the Dirt, an album co-written with Elvis Costello. I also like Elton John's Songs from the West Coast, or Tori Amos' Scarlett's Walk.
CB: For Sunday morning brunch parties, I have to go with Uma Thurman in Beautiful Girls and choose Van Morrison. For outdoor cookouts, my oldies mix (everything from Sam Cooke to the Doobie Brothers to the Lovin’ Spoonful) gets a lot of rotation. And for actual dinner parties, I’ll make a playlist from a bunch of my favorite sensitive Guys With Guitars - Pete Yorn, Ben Gibbard, Mike Doughty, Rhett Miller, Howie Day, Josh Rouse....
6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner tomorrow night. What do you make?
DO: The aforementioned spaghetti and meatballs. It's inexpensive, pleasing to everyone and I could make it in my sleep! You would be surprised how creative you can get with this simple dish. I once made garlic bread, toasted it, then smashed the toasts with my meat tenderizer and incorporated it into the meatballs. Plus everyone tends to assume that my spaghetti and meatballs are the best simply by virtue of my Italian background.
CB: I always try to have some homemade pasta and pasta sauce in the freezer, but should we be bereft, I would do a make-your-own-panini bar with whatever's in the fridge and our awesome Whole Foods ciabatta. (Also, my husband works nights, so could I cheat and send him out for groceries during the day?)
7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
DO: My friend Lara is the only one I'll really let COOK. Well, and Casey of course. She taught me how to make carbonara. But anyone who wants to help chop, rinse, slice bread, or prepare a salad is a friend o' mine.
CB: I do it all, baby! If you want to help, you can mix a cocktail.
8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?
DO: I try to keep with scratch as much as possible. Things I'll buy from the store and serve are olives, cheeses, and salami.
CB: For the most part, it’s made from scratch - my long, unwieldy motto is "why buy it when you can make it for twice the price and three times the effort?" However, you will never tear this Pittsburgh girl away from her Heinz ketchup.
9. What do you like to serve for dessert?
DO: Home-made strawberry ice cream with a drizzle of my really fancy balsamic vinegar.
CB: Usually I’ll do a tart or pie that can be made en avance and served with some homemade ice cream (always wins you brownie points and is no harder than making a custard or pudding!). And I have a weakness for lemon desserts, as anyone who knows me can attest.
10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?
DO: Lucy and Ricky Ricardo
CB: I'd like to invite Jack Kerouac, but instead of eating, he'd probably just drink all my Scotch and hang out morosely in the corner with my cat Lenny in his lap. So instead I'll go with the Barenaked Ladies, who would be hilarious conversational companions and also ready to play our traditional post-dinner game of Rock Band.
[Photo: Jessica Scranton]