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Friday Night Dinner Party 3

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Living room, awaiting guests

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.

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.

Sauteeing the chicken Zucchini

Chicken sauteeing (left); zucchini marinating (right)

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!

The ingredient detour wasn't a complete loss though. Tad picked up some fior de latte gelato to go with Brooke Dojny's Blueberry Snack Cake with Toasted Pecan Topping, which I served for dessert. Everyone left happy.

Pickled shrimp and marcona almonds Blueberry snack cake

Pickled shrimp (left); blueberry snack cake (right)

The Menu

Pickled Shrimp

Patricia Wells's Zucchini Carpaccio with Avocado and Pistachios

Chicken in Charmoula with Quick-Cured Lemon Confit

Citrus Olive Cous Cous

Brooke Dojny's Blueberry Snack Cake with Toasted Pecan Topping and Fior de Latte Gelato

Walker, waiting for guests Flowers from guests

Walker, waiting for guests (left); the flowers two guests brought as a hostess gift (right)

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Summer, Amanda & Merrill, Editors' Picks