Today: The back-pocket recipe you'll want on hand always, and especially in case of dinner party emergency.
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I’ve long been preaching that one can never be too prepared for a dinner party. I write menus and grocery lists; my husband, Tad, makes a seating chart; I even set out all of my serving dishes and label them with sticky notes. Wait, I know what you’re thinking! I’m fun, I swear! And, seriously, there’s a difference between being an uptight host and a prepared host who can let loose once the guests arrive. I let my anxious freak flag fly in advance, and then shut it down when the doorbell rings.
One of my die-hard strategies has been to serve a main course that can be prepared one or two days before the party and warmed to serve. In the cooler months, short ribs often find their way onto our dinner party menus. I did once have a snafu with short ribs, but thought I’d learned my lesson.
But then for another dinner party more recently, I made Mario Batali’s Beef in Barolo, using short ribs I’d ordered from a new source. The dish smelled delicious but the ribs took forever to soften. I gave them two extra hours, then decided it would be better not to overcook them. So I cooled them in their pot, put it in the fridge, and moved on to the rest of the party prep over the next two days.
An hour before the party, I reheated the short ribs on the stove. Nervous, I asked Tad to taste them. He tends to like most things I make. “You can’t serve this,” he said bluntly. The beef was like shoe leather; the sauce had cooked down to a bitter concentrate. Tad had roasted potatoes. I had a brief moment of lunacy: Okay, we’re serving roasted potatoes for the main course.
No, we were not.
I never cook things last-minute for more than 6 people. We had 10 coming for dinner! Tad smartly exited the room while I gnashed my teeth. This is when it’s okay to open the wine a little early.
I turned to a dish we often make on the weekends: flank steak with green sauce. Tad ran out to the butcher and picked up steaks while I cobbled together parsley, a few herbs, garlic, capers, and red pepper flakes and blended them up into a bright and tangy sauce. While our guests ate hors d’oeuvres, the steaks sat, seasoned, warming to room temperature. Then I broiled them, and because I’d already failed, I didn’t have any worry about overcooking the steak—how much worse could things get?
The steak was delicious and our friends used the potatoes to lap up every last bit of green sauce. By force, I got over a dinner party fear, and learned a solid lesson for the future: Always have a back-pocket dish at the ready. Steak with green sauce will be mine for years to come. Not that I ever! Ever! Ever! Plan to mess up short ribs again.
2 1/2 pounds flank steak (might be one or two pieces) Salt 2 cups packed flat-leaf parsley leaves 1 cup packed basil leaves 1 garlic clove 2 teaspoons capers 2 anchovy filets Pinch Piment d'Espelette or red pepper flakes 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil Juice of 1 lemon 2 lemons, cut into wedges
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).
Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.