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Anatomy of a Lunch Party

16 July 2008

1. Invite family and friends who are family. Think about the menu a few days in advance, and make up a list of ingredients (not only does it keep you organized, it’s very satisfying). Plan to buy most of your vegetables at your Saturday farmers’ market the morning of, but also check out the Ferry Building for a few choice items including free-range chicken, rosemary, and fingerling potatoes. Make sure to have lots of white wine chilled, in case cooking of the meal takes longer than anticipated (err …); luckily, when you bring people together who have known each other for over 30 years, the conversation flows and no one but the cook comments on how long it may or may not be taking.

2. Have lots of tasty appetizers to tide over grumbly stomachs while waiting to serve the main meal (see above). I suggest: home made hummus with lots of lemon; smoked salmon; thinly sliced apples; olives; rosemary flatbread.

3. As your guests chat, try not to worry about the very small size of your oven and wonder how you will fit everything in there. If you’ve planned ahead, you can do a few things in advance — say, roast the vegetables before your guests arrive and soak the chicken in an olive oil-rosemary-garlic-white wine bath. Try not to think about how you’ve only cooked a chicken a few times in your life (you’re a vegetarian, after all) and how you’re not exactly sure what you’re doing; it will all turn out beautifully in the end. Take a lesson from your brother and pile some shallots, potatoes, and a tomato in the same pan as the bird for added flavor.

4. Meanwhile, neatly arrange your roasted vegetables (in this case, new tomatoes and summer squash) in a pretty dish. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper and put on the table; they taste as delicious at room temperature as they do freshly out of the oven — luckily for you, because you’ve just crammed in a pan of fingerling potatoes with garlic into that tiny appliance and there’s no room for anything else.

5. Take a moment to admire those beautiful potatoes and then open a bottle of champagne to toast your friend’s visit to his native state after living in Israel for three years. Also toast to better health, upcoming vacations, being in San Francisco, the fact that it’s sunny outside, and that you all enjoy champagne (we’re easy and will toast to anything). Observe that the conversation is bowling on without you and return to the kitchen to check on your progress.

6. If you can, do a little bit in advance, such as making the base for an asparagus-spinach souffle. Try to get the very freshest eggs possible; when it comes time to whip up the whites to fold into the base (that you’ve made the day before), they’ll fluff up sweet and light, and when the whole thing bakes to airy perfection you’ll be so glad you did.

7. Sit for a long time around the table, talking of all sorts of things (Ohio; baseball; living abroad; black Labs; grandparents; brothers; art; Marin County). When every scrap of food (and I mean every) has been consumed, broach the subject of dessert. Hopefully you’ve prepared an Italian plum cake with salted butter caramel ice cream (with a special low-fat plum-peach crisp for those who are watching their cholesterol) and have lots of decaf coffee on hand. Serve it all forth, marvel at how long — and how much — you’ve eaten, and mentally pat yourself on the back for a successful party.

8. When friend volunteers to do dishes, do not shrug him off but keep him company while he does every single dish — not an insignificant number. After you’ve dried and put everything away, relax with your guests until it’s time for them to depart. Feel a little melancholy after they’ve left, because it was such a lovely afternoon, and you might not all be together again for quite awhile. Soothe self with thoughts of going to Pt. Reyes the following day to bike ride and play with the dog (with a bonus gin and tonic).

9. Be very grateful you have finished your latest NPR article so you were able to fully enjoy Saturday’s festivities rather than worrying over how you would fit everything in. Promise self to make a souffle this week in order to ease into the work-week, and reminsce over lovely, lovely weekend.

10. Plan another luncheon, as soon as possible.

[ps: If you go camping, let me know. I have lots more ideas that didn’t fit into that article. We’ll talk.]

Spinach-asparagus souffle, adapted from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors

1 bunch asparagus, washed and chopped with the woody ends removed
12 ounces loose spinach leaves
1 shallot, chopped
2 Tb. fresh rosemary
1 cup cream
4 Tb. unsalted butter, plus extra for the dish
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 Tb. all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups milk
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter a 6-cup souffle or gratin dish and dust it with a few tablespoons of the Parmesan.

Put the shallot, rosemary, and cream in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring slowly to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain out the rosemary.

Meanwhile, blanch the asparagus for 5 minutes in a pot of boiling water and drain. In a small frying pan, steam the spinach until wilted. Combine the asparagus and spinach in a food processor and combine until smooth.

Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, stir in the flour, and cook for 1 minute while stirring. Whisk in the milk and stir until it thickens. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and stir in the remaining Parmesan. Turn off the heat and stir in the egg yolks, spinach and asparagus, and the shallot-cream mixture. Season with pepper.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks but are still somewhat soft. Fold the whites into the base. Scrape the batter into the prepared dish and bake until golden brown and set, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings (or 7, if you have a lot of other food).

  • Sophie 15 August 2008 at 6:48 am

    We would like to feature this recipe on our blog. Please email sophiekiblogger@gmail.com if interested. Thanks :)

  • Traca 9 August 2008 at 7:03 am

    I see your friends are like mine…waiting patiently while you take pictures between courses! Talking about adding another level of stress to a dinner party. “Food’s on…WAIT! Let me get a picture…” LOL!

  • Amanda 20 July 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Ah, our dinner party sounds extremely fun. Next time I can get my friends together, I will follow your notes :)