Cooks' mad dash
6 dinner parties to host in a week? Lessons learned along the way
Burrata with speck, English peas, Parmesan: (Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times)
All of a sudden my husband and I realized we'd signed ourselves up to cook dinner parties six times in the same week. At the time, it seemed not ideal, but (almost) doable. Think of it this way, I told him, let's pretend we're private chefs for a family who likes to entertain a lot on the spur of the moment.
It will be fun.
But I hadn't fully taken into account the shopping, the cleaning, the shopping. I've tried to train him, but my husband, who was doing most of the cooking (I concentrated on baking and desserts) can only plan one meal at a time. And that was constantly being revised as he thought of one more dish he was dying to try — an hour before dinner — and so we had to rush out for the umpteenth time to rustle up the ingredients. And it was never as simple as eggs, milk, butter. Oh, no. It was inevitably something relatively obscure — saffron, speck, Chinese chives, a whole red snapper — that meant a mad dash across town.
The next morning Fred would tackle the many, many wineglasses. And I'd take out the dead soldiers, sure that the guy who comes by to recycle the bottles noticed the uptick in volume.
First night, we performed like pros. But I started washing dishes at midnight. The second night went even better. But we went to bed at 1:30 (on a weeknight). By the third evening our energy was flagging.
An easier way to handle this dinner party marathon would have been to double up on some dishes: Cook a giant pot of Provencal daube, or slow roast an enormous piece of pork for cochinita pibil one night and have make-your-own tacos two nights later.
But that would have been too easy.
One night we had almond gazpacho, followed by paella embellished with shrimp and cockles. On another, a series of Moroccan salads, followed by bestila. We had Chairman Mao's red-braised pork belly on Wednesday, bucatini all' amatriciana on Thursday. Barbecued flank steak with fresh plum barbecue sauce I can't remember when.
Our kitchen had never had such a workout, and in the midst of it all the bottom oven decided to flake out. Great. We moved to the barbecue. And, of course, while I was introducing a late-arriving guest, I managed to burn the toasts I was making for bruschetta, the last bread we had on hand. One night Fred forgot to serve the Szechuan chicken salad, and we never realized it until we found that and a cucumber dish in the refrigerator the next morning.
But you know what? Despite everything, we had a great time every night. Every dish wasn't perfect, but we so enjoyed spending those relaxed evenings with good friends around the table. You can't have the same kind of conversation in restaurants, where the noise level is often brutal. And where you don't have the leisure to sit for hours.
Those evenings are precious and worth every bit of the work.
Learn from her mistakes
• If I ever do another dinner party marathon, here's what I'll do differently:
• Organize my shopping and decide on the menus ahead of time, not on the fly.
• Compromise — maybe we don't need to drive all the way across town to get that one elusive ingredient.
• Start cooking early and pace myself.
• Make the desserts before my fellow cook spreads his stuff out on every surface.
• Check oven in the morning to make sure it's working.