my first real dinner party

I remember reading an article in the New York Times about hosting a dinner party after I graduated college.  This was when I had just moved to nyc and would go to the nearby cafe on the weekends and read their copy of the sunday times and have aspirational dreams of being a new york bourgeois media/non-profit worker.  (this lasted about two months, after which I went into survival mode and then eventually escaped back to Denver).  Anyway, this bit of aspiration came to some fruition a week and a half ago when I hosted about 12 people for Thanksgiving!  True, it was a potluck thanksgiving, in which not only food but chairs, glasses, flowers, serving dishes and neighborly ovens were contributed by the generous guests, and, unlike in the article, I didn’t make whipped cream by hand to serve with handmade berry compote in cute little glasses.  Still, it felt like something of a feat and was very fun, especially once I got over the fact that I needed to buy things like forks and plates if I was actually going to have this many people over.

My main contribution, aside from keeping everyone entertained (and hopefully they found doing things like setting up the table and making biscuits entertaining), was to make the turkey.  As you know, I’ve only recently become non-vegetarian, and this was the first time I was cooking any sort of meat, let alone a whole animal.  I got Trader Joes’ smallest turkey, which was 11.5 lbs (and free range, fortunately) for $1.99 a pound, which I came to learn was a good price.  At VH’s advice, I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe/technique of “spatchcocking,” which means you remove the backbone and spread the rest of it out to shorten the cooking time and make everything cook more evenly.  I bought a new chef’s knife for this task.

Basically you just see where the backbone is, cut roughly along the sides, pushing down really hard if you hit anything that is difficult to cut through.  Then you turn the thing over, and push down to flatten it.  I jumped while pushing like a child to make sure it was really flat.  It involves a lot of washing hands and putting things in pots to make stock.  Anyway, so into an oven it went.  More on that later.

In the meantime, I made cocktails for everyone.  Entertaining is actually sort of difficult, even among close friends.  I didn’t want to make them do anything, but then I wanted to make sure the people who came early weren’t bored; plus they wanted to help out.  So I gave them various tasks.  Then there is the problem of different groups of people co-mingling.  I get especially worried about this when it involves humanities academics on the one hand and civilians on the other.  So I felt I had to go around and talk to everyone and make sure no one felt awkward.  And then there was so much activity in the kitchen that people gravitated there, making all tasks more complicated.  Anyway, making cocktails obviously helped with all of this.  I made two bourbon cocktails, both inspired by Martha Stewart, of course.

This was the most fun part for me because it felt very classy.  I bought special “double old fashioned” tumbler glasses at cost plus that I was happy to break out.  The first drink I made was a pear-cider-rosemary cocktail.  I took MS’s idea of the pear-cider and added the rosemary.  You mix equal parts pear nectar/juice, sparkling apple cider (cold) and seltzer water (though I might use sparkling water, for extra sparkle) and then put in a couple rosemary sprigs and some actual pear.  I mixed this all together without adding alcohol so that the non-drinkers could have some.  For the drink I added a shot of bourbon and ice, plus pear and rosemary to garnish.  Look at it!:

Very classy, I think.  The other drink I made was a cranberry old fashioned.  These I made as they were requested.  I have been making old fashioneds as my end-of-the-day drink, so I was somewhat experienced already.  The cranberry version substitutes cranberries for cherries.  It doesn’t taste too different as a result, unless you can manage to efficiently muddle the cranberries (I’ve since discovered that cutting them in half helps with this).  Anyway, it is very suitable when you do get a cranberry taste, because it makes the drink feel very holiday-ish.  Look!:

I ended up making several of these because the turkey took more than twice as long as it should have.  Part of this was because my oven turns off if you lock it shut (because it thinks it is going on self-cleaning mode, or something).  So this happened and we didn’t realize and so we had to cook it more.  I’ve also since learned that  meat thermometers take readings 1 inch up from the tip, rather than right at the tip, which is confusing.  VH patiently basted and took temperature readings while I ran around serving drinks.  And W made rosemary biscuits, from the huge bunch of rosemary that I got from the Silverlake farmer’s market for $1.  Seriously, why do herbs in supermarkets cost so much?  Anyway, we finally got the oven situation figured out and turned out a great turkey.

VH and E also made the gravy.  I felt I was running around this whole time, but I guess in reality I did very little.  It was a team effort, let’s say.  But let me talk about this turkey.  I never felt left out of thanksgiving while I was a vegetarian because, well, a) I had universal morality on my side and b) I never liked turkey.  Too dry, as they say.  But this turkey was quite good (and I don’t even like meat most of the time).  Moist and flavorful, actually.  I set about carving it, with VH’s help as to what parts were what and what it should look like, because I don’t know much about this.

Carving wasn’t too difficult.  It was sort of like cutting fruit.  I don’t eat stone fruits whole; I cut them into pieces, removing the core in the process.  I then eat the pieces with a fork, because I’m not a barbarian.  Anyway, I continued to hack away at the animal carcass and heap it onto a tray for everyone to eat while they greedily surrounded me with drooling mouths.  I mean, not really, but there was one annoying person who seemed overly excited in general.

Of course, thanksgiving is about the “sides” and this was no exception, though I have no pictures. VH’s brussels sprouts and mac and cheese were the highlight, and there were several different stuffings, and mashed potatoes and all the rest.  For dessert, I made a pumpkin pie, with cardamom and coconut on top and a pear pie with ice cream (the same one I made last year).  I was a little sloppy with the crust so it was less ‘flaky’ than it could have been, but really crust isn’t that difficult and anything with that much butter won’t taste bad.

That’s coconut on top.  I think I’ll stop topping things with shredded coconut because I don’t think it looks nice.  this crust was too thin – it stuck to the pan unless you were really careful.  But after a day in the fridge this pie really tasted great (it had a cream cheese layer as well).  There were also two apple desserts; R’s was fantastic and put my pear filling to shame.

Overall a successful evening.  Here is a picture of all the tables and chairs in my apartment and several from my neighbors in one room.  Notice how everyone has cloth napkins.  How fancy!

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2 Responses to my first real dinner party

  1. lesbonsbonsdesraisons says:

    Great looking food and booze, even better looking peeps!

  2. Pingback: ducks & turtles

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