I love having dinner parties, but they can get hectic and overwhelming. Especially when the Bob is busy with work, it’s about one trillion degrees outside, and I am faced with preparing a dinner for eight in two hours. My usual go-to for a big group is beef tenderloin or leg of lamb because the presentation is festive and fancy and because they can serve a crowd. This time though, we were faced with non-red-meat-eaters (I know, I know!). They key was keeping the house cool and managing a good deal of the prep before guests arrived so I wouldn’t keep them waiting for ages in between courses (usually I don’t mind a 6 hour party with flowing booze but the aforementioned working Bob and a guest that had to be at the airport at 4:00 am made that option untenable this time).
I decided to start with this make ahead watermelon and tomato gazpacho from Mark Bittman: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/07/21/magazine/watermelon-recipes.html?ref=magazine#Gazpacho. I think my substitution of sherry vinegar for the lemon juice added depth and my “specks of green be damned” decision to toss in some basil leaves was a good one too. I’m sure this soup or the other options he presents in the same article will be my go-to warm-weather starters for many years to come. Watermelon is beautiful, refreshing, and screams summer, plus it isn’t too filling which is good in the crazy heat we have been having.
For the main I ran across some Copper River Salmon so my decision was made. I had planned on salmon en papillote, but frankly ran out of time to make the packages so had to roast it instead. I started preheating the oven to 350 when we sat down for the first course and also started a pot of little potatoes boiling. When we were done I slathered the salmon fillets in good butter and tossed them on a baking pan with some herbs and lemon slices. Ten minutes later the main course was done. I had taken that time to dress some previously blanched green beans in a warm walnut and Pecorino vinaigrette and toss the now cooked warm potatoes with the dressing featured here: https://gigglinggourmand.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/grilled-salads/. A meat and two veg just can’t go wrong for a proper seeming meal, especially if you cook that meat in butter :). To end I made strawberry shortcakes. All the prep was done beforehand so only assembly was required: slicing and heating the biscuits, whipping some cream and scooping some ice cream. All in all dinner ran smoothly* AND I actually got to spend time with my guests which is a huge plus.
I think the take away here for me is that I can actually serve a three-course meal at a normal pace if I prepare enough food in advance and don’t get too fancy. Not that the six-hour dinner party is a thing of the past, but it’s nice I don’t have to hold guests captive that long to give them a decent meal. I also can’t stress enough to keep the table setting and flowers simple. I love fancy arrangements, but not on days when you’re short on time. Stick with one kind of flower that can form a big poofy arrangement . It still looks festive, but won’t take hours.
* well mostly- I will tell you about the homemade butter I ended up with while not paying attention to the cream some other time.