One problem with summer dinner parties is all the demanding fresh produce. Because fresh produce, as lovely as it is, wants to be prepared last minute -- and that goes against all of my dinner party survival strategies!
For our latest party, I decided to stick to one fresh dish -- Patricia Wells's Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios -- and plan for the rest to be seasonal but make-ahead. Taking the advice of my husband, Tad, I cooled it on the hors d'oeuvres (I suppose 5 items were too many last time) and just made pickled shrimp, which can and should be prepared the day before.
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The elegant strips of zucchini and avocado would serve as a show-stopping first course, and for the main, I adapted a recipe for flattened chicken breasts, which just do not feel special enough for a dinner party, and used chicken legs and thighs instead. The chicken is marinated in charmoula -- a fragrant parsley, cilantro, cumin, and red pepper paste -- and served with a delicious lemon confit that you can make days in advance.
Then I made a classic rookie error. I planned to accompany the chicken with Citrus Olive Cous Cous, which we've made -- and loved -- in the Food52 test kitchen. Except I decided to get fancy and use M'hamsa hand-rolled cous cous rather than conventional Israeli. I talked Tad into taking a 20-minute subway ride to get this special cous cous. And then when I simmered it in orange juice, following the recipe, I was left with a gummy mass. I should have tossed it and started over, but that jar of cous cous was $9! And you know what? I should have sucked up the loss and followed my instincts. Sorry, guests!
Walker, waiting for guests (left); the flowers two guests brought as a hostess gift (right)
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.