Sunday, January 2, 2011

Menu for a Last Minute Dinner Party

A few days ago, we made some last minute plans with a dear, dear friend and her beau--in town for just a few days--to come over to our place for dinner. I had about four hours to gather menu inspiration, shop, and cook, which turned out to be the perfect amount of time for the task; it was challenging, but still enjoyable.

One of my favorite aspects of planning a menu, after all, is that it can be like doing a puzzle. What can you make with four hours, one quick shopping trip, and all the random ingredients in the kitchen? Luckily, there are many solutions to this puzzle, so I just had to find the one that sounded most delicious on this particular winter's evening.

With a leftover pate sablee in the freezer (from that maple pecan pie, mmm), why not start the planning with dessert? I browsed through one of my favorite seasonally-arranged cookbooks, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, for ideas that wouldn't involve milk or cream or more than two eggs (a trip to TJs was not going to happen). Lo and behold, a brown butter date tart on page 226. Check. Next, the dates gave me the idea of some kind of Mediterranean-esque chicken dish that would use up some lovely dried cherries I had sitting around. Also leftover from Thanksgiving: a bottle of Port, just the ticket for a luscious reduction sauce. And for a grain? Why, here was a baggy of Israeli couscous, freshly cleared out of the pantry of a friend who's moving away. Nice! Now we just needed a salad. Winter puts me in the mood for bright, colorful citrus, so I riffed off another Sunday Suppers recipe and did an orange, grapefruit, avocado and arugula salad tossed in citrus vinaigrette. The dressing actually uses the fresh juice that you capture while slicing the citrus, which is simple and ingenious and simply ingenious. Our guests brought a rich, velvety Santa Barbara Syrah, and we followed it with the unbeatable, unbelievable, all-around best wine ever, Je Suis Petite Sirah.Yuh-um.

Satisfaction, slight inebriation, lively conversation. Success! P.S. I love you Jody. Come back soon.

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