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Friday Night Dinner Party 3

August  2, 2012

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.

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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.

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)

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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).

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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.


Greenstuff August 8, 2012
Patricia Wells' zucchini carpaccio with avocado and pistachio recipe is a real favorite of mine. It's in her book, Salad as a Meal, and really got my attention when FOOD52 made it too. It's thanks to that recipe that I have the pistachio oil I'd always wanted.

As for the M'hamsa couscous, I've only bought it one, and to me, it smelled musty. There I was, cajoling my family, "It's expensive! It's wonderful! Eat it!" But then I tossed the rest. Did I have an unusual batch? Or is there an aroma that I haven't learned to appreciate?
Amanda H. August 11, 2012
It has a strong grain flavor, but I don't recall it smelling musty. Might have been a bad batch.
Shalini August 6, 2012
Great idea to have one appetizer prepared in advance, and one fresh produce dish. They are very laborious! I am guessing you used a mandoline for the zucchini slices, they are elegant.
Amanda H. August 11, 2012
Yes, mandoline all the way.
jenniebgood August 6, 2012
Amanda, your Friday night dinner recaps are like bedtime stories for grown-ups. Switch out the beds and teddies for an office/desk in the solitary early a.m. hours (before colleagues start arriving) and a much needed cup of coffee and there's no better way to start a Monday morning! I love starting my week out with a good dose of Food52. Thanks!
Amanda H. August 11, 2012
Thank you! More in September!
elltea August 5, 2012
Why didn't the orange juice work with the M'hamsa couscous? I have a jar of it in my pantry (thanks to your rec on this site!) and had hoped to use it interchangeably with Israeli couscous when that ingredient was called for. Bad idea? What kinds of dishes would the hand-rolled kind stand up to better? Thanks! Lovely dinner, otherwise -- lucky guests!
Food52 August 5, 2012
I've cooked the M'hamsa couscous many times and just as you describe -- interchangeably with Israeli couscous. But I'd never cooked it in orange juice, and i think perhaps the oj's acidity broke down the couscous. M'hamsa is great in couscous salads -- it's even wonderful just cooked and tossed with olive oil. It's own flavor is delicious.
Amanda H. August 5, 2012
Oops -- that was me!
Alexandra H. August 3, 2012
I second that...lovely dinner party, serving vessels, and menu! The Pickled Shrimp looks so fabulous! Would the recipe be in Amanda's NYT book, or coming soon:)? Thanks- love this series!!!
Amanda H. August 3, 2012
What a great memory you have -- yes, the pickled shrimp is from the Essential NYT Cookbook!
Alexandra H. August 3, 2012
Hooray! I love, love, love Food52, and your Essential NYT is my absolute favorite cookbook (of hundreds!)! In fact,I like it so much, I bought a 'nice' copy for bedtime reading and a 'messy' copy for the kitchen!
Amanda H. August 4, 2012
Like your approach of buying 2 copies, very sensible -- wish it would catch on! Thank you.
Rhonda35 August 3, 2012
I love the photo of Walker waiting for guests - it reminds me of that moment of waiting for the party to start we all experience as hosts/hostesses. Of course, Amanda, you know W. is in my most favorite spot in your home...the chair that offers up that "Rear Window" experience I love about city living!
dymnyno August 2, 2012
Simplicity wins every day. I find that serving lots of appetizers just fills everyone up so now for a small (12 and under) dinner party I serve just one or two. Last night instead of an appetizer I made my fabulous Mac's Lobster Pizza. For the main course I made TasteFood's Porcini and Rosemary Crusted Beef Tenderloin w/ Cabernet Sauce (a huge hit) with Pommes Anna and mixed veggies from my garden and for dessert my Chocolata Banana Jamma Tart. All recipes on Food52 or my blog Current Vintage.
Kitchen B. August 2, 2012
Sense and sensibility - we can and do learn from mistakes. I need to host some dinner parties...soon! That dessert is screaming out to be made this weekend, albeit with reconstituted blueberries!
calendargirl August 2, 2012
Such a lovely dinner! Love this series. So heartening and reassuring that you still make the occasional classic rookie error. We all do and it's great to share them, shrug, learn and go on. One of the things I love about FOOD52 is the refreshing attitude about sharing our flubs, large and small. Thanks!