How To Throw A Flawless Holiday Dinner Party

Fondue-Dyala, Helen, Ally Sitterly laughing It is joyous to watch people have a good time and set a table for sparkling conversation and good food. I hope my guests talk about the dinner party well into the future, about the people they met, the topics they conversed about, and the food they ate. I try to provide a memorable experience.

Although you want to create a casual atmosphere for your guests, planning a dinner party is not at all casual. Entertaining is an art and needs to be orchestrated with as much precision as a set-piece military battle. To do otherwise invites chaos.

Entertaining takes many forms, but I prefer the small dinner party of six to eight. That number of people provides the critical mass. Eight is the maximum number of people who can sit at a table and listen to one person speak. They will in the course of the evening split into many different conversations. READ MORE

[photo: Michelle Van Vliet]

Savory Ginger Pumpkin Mash, A Bit of Pilgrim Pride

Pumpkin, stewed (2) There are basically three approaches to devising a Thanksgiving menu.

In the first, the foods are typical of New England where the first thanksgiving was celebrated some 250 years before it became a national holiday with a capital “T” in the mid-19th century.

In the second, families follow local and regional traditions. Or, if they are first- and second- generation immigrant families without a familiarity of traditional American Thanksgiving foods, they add avocado salad, curry or lasagna to the menu.

In the third, which no one I know uses other than the historically re-created village denizens of Plimouth Plantation in Massachusetts, cooks attempt the authentic 1621 menu.

The hardest part of the last approach is that no actual menu exists. We are left with just some cursory description from two sources supplemented with comparative studies of what we know American Indians and Englishmen ate in the 17th century. READ MORE

This Year, Try a Corn Dish from the First Thanksgiving

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Although there is no menu of the first harvest celebration that is usually called the first Thanksgiving, there are some sound ideas of what foods, if not precise preparations, were on the table. Between 1620 and 1621 Edward Winslow, who arrived … [Continue reading]

Middle Eastern Meze Bring Many Cultures to the Table

Qara bi'l-Tahina (Arab Levant) (2)

In the Middle East food is shared and one place it is shared is on the meze table. Meze are small samplings of prepared dishes that make a meal. They are not appetizers, nor tapas, nor hors d’oeuvres but are actually more philosophically related to … [Continue reading]

Three Dinners in One from a New England Classic

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Careful thought can ease your workload considerably, if that’s how you think of cooking, by squeezing three dinners from one initial cooking. It’s a novel way of viewing leftovers in that you’re not using them so much as you are making leftovers to … [Continue reading]

Pumpkin and Pasta? Now That’s Italian!

Pumpkin Pappardelle with Pumpkin and Poppy Seed (4)

Pumpkin is an ideal bland food with a distinctive taste. That’s a good thing because it means you have to do something to the pumpkin to make it palatable and delicious. Typically, pumpkin pie is a solution, but nowadays it’s going into all kinds of … [Continue reading]

Sicily’s Eggplant Ceviche for Summer

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The end of summer offers the cook a wealth of sparkling fruits and vegetables for culinary transformation. One of my favorite dishes this time of year is a Sicilian preparation called mulinciana a schibecci, or eggplant ceviche. I don’t make this … [Continue reading]

Chile Blast Off Spaghetti

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Every once in a while I'm eating alone and I'm not testing recipes and I consider going out for a pizza or something similar.  Then I am suddenly overcome with the desire to eat something very specific--a craving-- that I simply must satisfy that … [Continue reading]

Want Authentic Clam Chowder? Can’t Go Wrong with Cape Cod.

Clam chowder

Of all the foods I get defensive about, clam chowder is high on the list. There are certain preparations that are so iconic, established and regionally rooted that I think it’s nonsense to say “oh, there are many interpretations.” In fact, I … [Continue reading]

It’s Real Fettuccine Alfredo. It Never Used Cream.

Fettuccine Alfredo (Lazio) (3)

The rise and fall of fettuccine Alfredo is a story of a simple dish taken from its home and embellished with flourishes before sliding into culinary familiarity, dullness and bastardization. Although it has its roots in Roman cuisine, it is … [Continue reading]

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