Friday Night Dinner Party 2

June 13, 2012

Table is set
The table and flowers I picked up at the Greenmarket

I started hating myself at about 3 a.m. on the Sunday night before our second Friday Night Dinner Party. I had invited one too many food people, and in a moment of irrationality, a friend from out of town called to say she'd be in New York, and I invited her, too. But she already had plans with a chef, and asked if she could bring along the chef. "Yes, of course!" I typed faux-breezily. And so, the comeuppance: unable to figure out the menu, I tossed and turned all night.

Place setting Plates and platters set out the night before
A place setting (skipped placemats to make it more casual); platters marked with sticky notes

Shop the Story

But then my pals at Food52 stepped in -- they wouldn't let me sweat! On Tuesday at our photo shoot, they listened to my working menu, dismissed it as too ambitious, and began helping me edit. Much of party planning is about editing; the best editors are the best hosts. Out went the grilled calamari! Out went the roasted turnips and turnips greens! And my lemon ice milk was nixed in favor of the Bi-Rite basil ice cream they were whipping up in the test kitchen (more on that in the upcoming weeks!). I was left with the following menu, and a feeling of buoyancy. I could, indeed, go out on Wednesday night and still manage a dinner on Friday. Exhale.

Salad makings
Salad greens and dressing; the Porchetta, ready for the oven

The Menu

Sparkling Gruner Veltliner
Merrill's Bruschetta with Ricotta, Honey and Lemon Zest
Radishes with Homemade Butter
Deviled Ham on Crackers
Almonds, Olives, Salumi

First Course:
Local Greens with Anchovy and Garlic Scape Dressing

Main Course:
Luciana's Porchetta
Pickled Onions
Mahogany Potatoes

Basil Ice Cream
Strawberries with Lemon Verbena

Strawberry trimming About to macerate with sugar and lemon verbena
Tad working on his dish Mohagany potatoes
Prepping the strawberries; Tad making the Mahogany Potatoes

Here's how I did it:

Tuesday: After work, picked up all my essential groceries, including the baguette for the bruschetta. Merrill told me I could freeze it, and she was right!

Wednesday: A French friend once noted that Americans don't buy enough prepared foods when we entertain. I often think of this when planning a party, and try to include a few special items, both as a way to ease my workload, but also to introduce friends to foods I love. This time, I bought the deviled ham at Dickson's Farmstand Meats in Chelsea Market, where I also picked up the pork shoulder. Pork shoulder is not terribly expensive and cooks beautifully (read: difficult to ruin); it may become my new dinner party stand-by. I found a small-batch ricotta at Lucy's Whey. And went to the Greenmarket for the vegetables.

In the Food52 test kitchen, we finished the ice cream -- a lucky short-cut, I admit! -- and by accident, overwhipped some heavy cream, so we took the stiff cream all the way to butter, seasoned it with Maldon sea salt, and added it to the dinner menu! I was far enough ahead on my menu that I went out to dinner with friends.

Thursday: Panic set in, but I pulled a duck move, and kept it cool above the water, while frantically paddling beneath the surface. Because I'm a terrible procrastinator, I did nothing but email until 11 p.m. and then kicked it into high gear. I pickled the onions (and forgot them in the microwave overnight -- no harm!); set the table; laid out all the platters and serving pieces, and labeled them with yellow sticky notes (Virgo alert!); cleaned up the house; made the porchetta dry rub and with the help of my sweet and patient husband, Tad, who stayed up late with me, got the pork ready and in the fridge.

Friday: Set out the frozen baguette. Picked up flowers and strawberries at the Greenmarket on my way to work. Came home around 3:45 p.m. Tied the porchetta and got it in the oven. Cleaned the lettuce and radishes. Set out the ricotta, deviled ham, and butter, to warm them to room temperature. Made toasts. Trimmed the strawberries and macerated them with sugar and lemon verbena harvested from our deck. Put the flowers in vases; changed the towels and soap in the bathrooms. Then went back to work for a bit.

Ricotta on toasts
The makings of Bruschetta with Ricotta, Lemon Zest and Honey, and IKEA napkins (love them!)

For the first time in years, I was ready when the doorbell rang. Our friends piled in. During the cocktail hour, my five-year-old daughter and I assembled the ricotta toasts while sitting in the living room with our guests, and she did the serving. This is my new strategy -- it saves me the time of assembling one hors d'oeuvre in advance, and also lends a relaxed atmosphere when people are meeting and snacking. The pork took longer than I expected; and some guests came later than expected, so all worked out. Wine bridged the gap.

Radishes with homemade butter The dining room just before dinner
Radishes with Homemade Butter; the dining room just before dinner

However, I did make one unfortunate mistake. I encouraged Tad to break free of his roasted potato routine, to try the wildly popular (on Food52, at least!) Mahogany Potatoes. He agreed, and did a wonderful job with them. But I forgot that they're doused with lemon juice after roasting. The porchetta had a vinegar-based sauce, and pickled onions were, well, pickled. So the main course was awash in acidity. What use is it to lose sleep at 3 a.m. if I'm not going to catch a rookie mistake like this? Urg!

Hostess gift
One couple brought us fresh eggs as a hostess gift.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • andysteven
  • BLaird66
  • deanna1001
  • mbj913
  • jenniebgood
Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

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.


andysteven October 16, 2012
though not a regular blogger but certainly have to say It is the most delicious appetizer I have EVER come across, how much time does it take to make Porchetta, since I had my first porchetta sandwich in at Continental Treat Fine Bistro once and I have always wanted to try to recreate it.

BLaird66 June 17, 2012
After my recent panic ridden days of cleaning, behind on prep, overambitious, omg they're here diner party for my partner's 12 work peeps, I've learned a lesson. Check Food52 first! For inspiration, simplicity, and a dose of reality. Thanks! Great menu! More Blog posts like this please!
Amanda H. June 17, 2012
Thanks -- and more coming soon.
deanna1001 June 16, 2012
Gorgeous! All of it. I especially love the butter - nice touch.
Amanda H. June 17, 2012
I actually meant to do butter-dipped radishes like these -- http://www.food52.com/blog/3223_buttercovered_radishes_vs_chocolatecovered_strawberries -- next time (before radish season is over)!
mbj913 June 15, 2012
amanda-i love the virgo comment. i'm right there with you, stickies inluded.
Aliwaks June 16, 2012
Someone should write am cooking by star sign book, I was thinking a Gemini dinner party might end with same menu but the process would be so different ... "1 week out.. I'm wondering if o can get my hands on ortolans, maybe I should make souffles, or I bet I can figure out some fabulous molecular gastronomy stuff... Spheres of olive oil suspended over
Tiny tomatoes... Peeled tomatoes stuffed with
Goat cheeses...goat cheese I make myself, Week1 day 2...Rustic I'm thinking rustic I'll go to
Farmers market and see what I can find, I could make pasta,......
jenniebgood June 15, 2012
Amanda - I love that you are as "normal" as the rest of us, experiencing (mild?) panic over menus and staying up late, late nights before your dinner parties! It makes me feel better knowing that it's not just me that does this! I know whenever I'm a guest I never notice the things a host would- I'm usually just so happy that I'm not the one cooking and busy eating! I'm sure your guests were honored to be invited to your fantastic meal/party.
fitsxarts June 15, 2012
Amanda, where are your old fashioned glasses from (not the wine glasses, but the other short ones)? I've admired them over several photo shoots...
Katie June 14, 2012
Everything looked beautiful and sounds amazing! I want to try the basil ice cream; I'm sure it's heavenly.
blanka.n June 14, 2012
Amanda - I'm sure I missed the email inviting me but next time. I loved the idea of the pork roast - it's inexpensive and you almost can't mess it up. You're menu, table setting, flowers - all so lovely.
I could have brought the flowers from Union Square - but next time!

SKK June 14, 2012
I know you meant to invite me, and somehow I missed it! Next time, Amanda! Great, great article. I thought I was the only one who committed to entertaining and wanted to include everyone and then wakes up in the middle of the night saying "WHAT was I thinking?"
AntoniaJames June 14, 2012
P.S. You are so right about prepared foods. Reminds me of a conversation here when my two sons returned from living together in an apartment in Buenos Aires last summer. When asked about meals, the older one (the artist) said, "I just go take a look in the fridge and the pantry, and whatever's on the counter, and see what goes well with what, and then put something together. It was great." The younger son (the economist) said, "I just go to the three best shops within easy walking distance, look at what goes well with what, buy three or four boxes of really well prepared food, and then put something together. It was great." From all accounts, especially given that they were living in a fabulous neighborhood in one of the great food cities in the world, they were both right. ;o)
AntoniaJames June 14, 2012
Love the intarsiata table. And the sticky note trick is not just for Virgos. I couldn't live without them generally, and that organizing principle in particular. And don't be so hard on yourself about the menu mistake. Your advisers didn't catch it either. Not to mention that it probably made the ice cream and macerated strawberries that much more glorious. ;o)
vivanat June 14, 2012
I am so excited to try this methodology after we move in a month. From what winery is the sparkling Gruner? This sounds like something I need to pre-test before such a party!
aargersi June 14, 2012
Love this - it's comforting to know that even Virgo and Foodie as you are, there can be (minor!) missteps. Someday you will have to join us here for the barely contained mayhem that is our form of dinner party - it will make you feel like The Master Of The Universe!!!
Shalini June 14, 2012
Thank you for sharing your dinner party number 2! What a great strategy to have your daughter help with the hors d'oeuvres. Basil ice cream is a delicious choice, especially with the lemon verbena strawberries. As for homemade butter...gotta try it!
fiveandspice June 14, 2012
Urg is right! I've made the every dish is acidic mistake before and was slightly mortified (I wasn't cooking for any chefs, however - thankfully!). Life goes on though, and I'm sure everyone had a wonderful time. It looks like a gorgeous party! And Aliwaks is right, you set the most beautiful tables. The flowers are stunning.
Midge June 14, 2012
So fun reading about your dinner parties Amanda. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wakes up in the middle of the night stressing about these kind of things.
ATG117 June 14, 2012
As great as always. This is one of my favorite series on Feed52. Can you share with us more about how you decide upon your menu?
drbabs June 13, 2012
Wonderful, thank you for sharing so much. Especially your mistakes, which we all make and I'm sure we're delicious anyway. Hope you got to have some fun.
EmilyC June 13, 2012
Love this series and your blow-by-blow account of your prep, anxiety, and successes. (It's amazing how entertaining can be such an adrenaline rush!) And I couldn't agree more about pork shoulder being a dinner party stand-by...we just made the same porchetta for a small gathering; it's perfect.
Aliwaks June 13, 2012
Amanda you always set such a beautiful table!