Archived entries for dinner party

Beyond Pork and Beans: Lamb and Duck Cassoulet

Matt and I rented a studio apartment a few years ago for a week in Paris—Montmartre to be exact. We bought cheeses from the store across the cobblestoned street, picnicked outside the Louvre, and wandered around until we’d exhausted ourselves.

At a casual bistro up the block from our little apartment, we ordered cheap wine and a giant cassoulet. There was something so elemental about it, so rustic and warming and luscious, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I’ve made a number of attempts to duplicate it with mixed results.

I hosted an evening of beer tasting the other night, and I needed a main course to serve after the tasting that could wait patiently in the oven until we had rendered our verdict. This is often the case when entertaining: whatever you’re serving needs to be flexible, in case someone is caught on the train, or stuck in the office, or you’re just serving leisurely appetizers. It’s good to have a list of dishes like this: not necessarily low-maintenance, but definitely low pressure in the hour before serving.

Since some of my guests don’t eat pork, I was determined to create a rich, decadent spin on cassoulet without it. I’m a bit surprised to say this, but we didn’t miss the pork at all. (A little lamb belly and duck confit do a bit to calm that particular yearning.) This cassoulet isn’t going to win any beauty contests, but it was darn tasty.

I cooked the beans according to a quick no-soak method I learned on The Paupered Chef. If anything, the beans ended up overcooked—you’re probably safe leaving them quite al dente at first, since they’re going to keep cooking in the stew.

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The Endless Cappuccino-Fudge Cheesecake

I’m not going to claim this was a quick one. First, I had to track down chocolate wafer cookies (no, Oreos are not the same thing.) Then, I assembled our new food processor for the first time and gleefully swirled the cookies around in it. I chopped up some good chocolate and weighed it out with our new kitchen scale. Then, I called my mother to tell her how exciting it was to use the new food processor and new kitchen scale. An hour had gone by and I wasn’t even done with step one.

But once I got rolling, with the help of my friend (and cheesecake expert extraordinaire) Lindsay, I got more and more excited. The scent of dark chocolate ganache and freshly ground espresso beans wafted through the kitchen. The buttery chocolate-crumb crust rested in the freezer. The recipe was from Lindsay’s files—she used to bake cheesecakes for local restaurants in New Hampshire after college. She became a bit famous, but the constant cheesecakes were so much work, and the ingredients so costly, that it wasn’t quite worth it.

Five hours after I started with the crust, the coffee cheesecake layer was baked and topped with a slightly tart and rich sour cream layer (like the foam on a cappucino.) Five hours. And it still needed chilling and decorating. Dear readers, do not plan on making this the evening of of a dinner party. This is not a last-minute dessert.

But therein lies the beauty. Once assembled and topped with a lattice of dark chocolate ganache, this baby really improves in the fridge. I’m not exaggerating—the first day we ate this cake, we were underwhelmed. And then something magical happened, and with a second day’s rest, the flavors melded and the cheesecake layer grew creamier and more luscious. Lindsay and I made the cake on Wednesday, adding ganache on Thursday, and on Friday friends who came over to help us eat it couldn’t stop cooing over their hefty slices.

And that wasn’t the end—there was still so much cake left. But guests who joined us the following Wednesday (a full week after the five hour baking marathon) couldn’t get over how delicious it was. The intense coffee flavor! The fudgy crust! The perfect balance of the creamy-and-tart topping! When they returned two nights later they were saddened that we’d finally, finally finished the last slice. “Just think of all the unfortunate people who didn’t get to taste that cheesecake,” one lamented (after a few beers.)

But you (and your friends—it’s a big cake) don’t have to be unfortunate in that way. Just make sure you’ve got a little time on your hands.

Recipe after the jump.


Looking for an easier cheesecake? This crustless lemony goat cheese cheesecake was easy as pie…or easier.

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Party on, Garth: Spicy nut mix

I do love throwing a good party. There was a time in my life where my Sunset Park apartment was the official party headquarters for my group of friends, home to such epic fests as the Debauched Debutante’s Ball, and the Mistletoe Mafia’s annual Humbugfest. The glitter ran thick and the vodka rained like water. Sadly, things changed (as things often do); I moved into a shoebox in Park Slope (capacity: 3.2), our cast of characters rotated, and it became more difficult to throw a righteous shindig. As such, good parties were thin on the ground–until recently. For reasons unknown, the Good Party has started making a comeback.

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Simplicity itself: Honey mustard salmon


Lean in, I’ll tell you something: this dish is my secret weapon.

Honey mustard salmon! It’s simple, it’s elegant, it’s delicious. It’s also ludicrously easy to make, and (incidentally) has been the star player in every successful seduction of my adult life, platonic or otherwise. I bring this up only because it’s the week before Valentine’s day, and if I were not going to be playing a show on the day itself (shameless plug 9pm at the National Underground, for all you New Yorkers! Ask for Autobahn da Fe! /shameless plug ), this is the dinner I would be making for Bench to usher in another year of his fealty happiness and harmony. I typically pair it with roasted asparagus, but it really plays well with most vegetables; most recently, I paired it with cauliflower and purple potatoes.

Aside from being texturally unimpeachable and just generally delicious, this dish has two major things going for it:
1. It has precisely four ingredients, including the salmon.
2. It takes approximately 45 seconds to assemble.

It’s really the perfect meal for those days when you want to make an impression but have a thousand other things to take care of before you can do so. Go ahead and clean the bathtub! Run to the bank! Go to the nail salon! Live dangerously! All you need is ten to fifteen minutes to get this dish from fridge to plate (if you’re using filets; slightly longer if you adapt it for a bigger slab o’ fish), so you can get home (or emerge from your lair) with as little as twenty minutes to go time (I’m giving you an extra five minutes to actually round up the ingredients in your pantry). Your date will be putty in your perfectly manicured hands. I am not kidding. Putty.

Be sure to make him/her do the dishes.

Honey mustard salmon

2 salmon filets

1/4c honey
1/4c wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp soy sauce

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees
  2. Mix the honey, mustard, and soy sauce.
  3. Coat the salmon with the glaze
  4. Put the salmon in a roasting dish and whack it in the oven until the center is opaque (5-10 minutes, depending on how rare you like it. I prefer it pretty much still flopping around, so I tend to give everyone else’s portions a 3-4 minute head start before putting mine in.)

Best Recipe of the Year: Mom’s Cioppino

This is it.

This is the best recipe I have to offer in 2008, my vote for tastiest homemade entree we’ve had this year. (That goat cheese cheesecake was pretty darn awesome, too, but it’s not exactly a balanced meal on its own.)

Cioppino is a tomatoey fish stew with a touch a fennel and saffron, green peppers and deep red wine. Traditionally, a fish stock was brewed with the heads and bones from the catch of the day, and fish cubes and clams, fresh shrimp, or other shellfish are added at the last minute. With each spoonful, I could picture the Portuguese or Italian fishermen who first cooked this onboard their ships along the coast of California. Perfect for a drizzly, cold day at sea (or on land), cioppino is meaty and warming, somehow both delicate and bold.

We used to make a seafood caesar salad every year on Christmas Eve, taking advantage of the Dungeness crab season. But you don’t really feel like something cold that night, especially when the weather is grim, so several years ago my mom switched to cioppino for this occasion. Her recipe has evolved over the years, and it seems to be constantly improving.

I urge you to make this dish as soon as you can get your hands on some nice seafood—maybe for New Years? Feel free to play around with the fish a little depending on what’s fresh—I imagine scallops could be added, or you could use grouper instead of halibut. This year we used salmon and red snapper, little manila clams and fresh, sweet shrimp. Cioppino is great dinner party food—totally impressive but you can easily prepare the soup base a day ahead, and just plop the seafood in when your guests arrive. Don’t skip the garlicky aioli (sort of fake-oli since you start with a jar of mayo). The punch of garlic and creaminess stirred into the soup is essential.

Please don’t fear the long recipe—it’s really not a tricky one.

Mom’s Christmas Eve Cioppino
(Adapted from from The New York Times Cookbook & other recipes)
10 servings

4 T olive oil
3 cups chopped onion
1 leek, trimmed, washed well, & finely chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 green, yellow, or orange bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 Yukon Gold or other small potato, halved and sliced, optional
2 sticks celery or one small fennel bulb, sliced, optional
4 cups chopped imported peeled tomatoes (canned, diced)
1 cup fresh or canned tomato sauce
1 small can tomato juice
salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried basil
red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp saffron (or up to 1 tsp.)
1/2 tsp grated orange zest or 2 strips of orange peel
juice from one orange
2 cups chicken broth if making soup base ahead, or fish stock if finishing in the same day
1 cup water or broth
1 cup red zinfandel or white wine—use something decent!
1-1/2 to 2 lb. firm-fleshed fish such as striped bass, sea bass, halibut, or salmon cut into 2-in. pieces (2-1/2 lbs. for bone-in steaks, bones to be used for fish stock)
1 lb. raw shrimp shelled & deveined (wild fresh rock shrimp were superb)
2 doz. well washed small clams in shell
1/2 lb crabmeat or 1 hard shell crab, cooked in shell & cracked
1 qt chicken or fish broth to add as needed for desired consistency

optional seafood additions

1/2 lb bay scallops
1/4 cup shucked oysters in their liquor
1/2 lb lobster tail cooked in shell

Fish stock for approximately 4 to 6 cups
Buy bone-in fish steaks for the soup. Cut the meat into 2-in. pieces and refrigerate, putting all the bones and skin in a pot with an onion studded with 2 cloves, a carrot and celery stick (or fennel bulb trimmings) cut in pieces, bay leaf, and peppercorns to taste, and cook in water to cover (approx. 4 to 6 cups) for 2 hours.

Mash 2 cloves garlic, chopped; add 1 cup mayo & squeeze of lemon juice.

Grilled Croutons
Thinly slice enough of a baguette on the diagonal for 2 pieces per person. Lightly brush each piece with olive oil and bake in 350° oven til crisp.

1. Cook onion & leek in olive oil, stirring often, until just lightly browned. Add garlic, green pepper, and celery or fennel if used & cook til they wilt. Add potato, if used, tomatoes, tomato sauce and juice, salt & pepper to taste, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, basil, saffron, and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Add chicken broth (or fish stock if serving the same day) and orange zest or strips and juice & cook slowly for about 2 hrs, stirring often to prevent burning. More chicken or fish stock may be added if desired.

2. Add broth & wine and cook 10 minutes more. Soup may be made in advance to this point, or, if using fish stock, do this step 30 minutes before serving, just before step 3.

3. Twenty minutes or so before serving, return soup to the boil and add fish pieces (you will be adding seafood in order of how long it needs to cook—don’t overcook!) Cook about 4 minutes and add scallops if used. Cook 3 minutes, stirring gently. Add clams, shrimp and other shellfish. If using fresh crabmeat instead of a whole crab, put it directly in individual soup bowls just before serving so that it doesn’t get lost.

4. Cook stirring gently about 5 minutes or until clams open. Serve in very hot soup bowls with a grilled crouton on each bowl, and aoli and red pepper flakes on the side. Stir aoli into each serving at the table.

Soup base can be made ahead and frozen; add fish stock, fish, and seafood after thawing.

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