Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to Cheat a Stress-Free Dinner Party

The Martha Stewart in me wants to throw all sorts of fetes, in which I, clad in a colorful Anthropologie apron, cook up some five-star, multi-course meal to my guests at a beautifully adorned dining table, preferably on the back veranda of my villa in Tuscany. Since that's probably not gonna happen anytime soon, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. My ingredients? A tiny apartment, not enough table space, and a bunch of enthusiastic eaters.

1. Find an excuse.

My friend Kai was the social vortex of many of my friends here in the LA writers/filmmakers/artists/activists community, and since she moved to NYC I've seen them much less. When she came back to visit for the holidays, it was the perfect excuse to get drunk get crunk have a civilized party.


2. Scam a chef friend into doing all the cooking.

Usually, if I'm cooking for friends at my place, I end up frazzled and running around with an uncooked chicken in my hands, unable to focus on hosting and cooking alike. Our friend John, chef at fine dining establishments and king of the Annual Arroz Caldo Cookoff!, volunteered to manhandle (aka, mandle) the food. To be fair, I didn't entirely scam him. He got a brand new shiny cast iron grill pan out of the offer!
Here's the menu he designed...

Kai Ma Brings People Together ®

3. Recycle, repurpose, reuse!

Boy did all those months of wedding planning come in handy. Now I'm a bastion of useless knowledge about table settings and proper etiquette. We had all these leftover thank you notes, so we ended up repurposing them as place cards. Out came my Box-o'-Crafts from the wedding. Markers, glue guns, ink, stamps. Out came the extra napkins, linens, vases, candle votives...

Kai made some seating arrangements to avoid that awkward "ummm where do I sit?" moment where everyone's just hovering over the table and trying not to sit next to a dud.*

*No duds at this party, thankyouverymuch.

4. Manage the kitchen.

By which I mean "Hover over the chef and sneak bites of food when he's not looking."

Mmmmmmmm, brined pork.
5. Set the table.

We watched some Youtube videos to figure out how to create a pocket fold for our napkin to hold the silverware.

After some failed attempts... ta da!

Mismatched chairs? Can't notice when everyone's sitting down.

We also ran out of space. With 14 guests, what can ya do but start crowding into the living room?

 6. Mingle.

Open bottles of wine, eat some cheese, offer people drinks.

Note to husband: Don't bump head on overhead dining light, busting a fuse and turning off all the lights  and the stove in the kitchen.*

*We got a new chandelier out of it from our landlord, so win/win us.

7. Serve and protect.

Or just serve. As host/sous chef, it was my duty to help the kitchen dish out...the dishes.
First course: The most delicious, rich, umami butternut squash soup I've ever had (and believe, I have had LOTS of butternut squash soup in my day, I'll tell you whut), with crispy lardons and pumpkin seeds. What are lardons, you say? Bacon. Friggin BACON, in SOUP. I know, right? [Head explode]

I was already full by the time I finished my soup, but we still had our main course coming up: big-ass juicy pork chop over maple yam puree and sauteed brussels sprouts, crimini mushrooms, and golden potatoes. Isn't that just autumnlicious? Best yam puree of my life, and I don't take yam puree lightly. I am Taiwanese, you know.

Speaking of Taiwanese, I'm not normally a pork-eater (high school vegetarian habits die hard), but this pork really won me over. Tender, perfectly seasoned...Gasp! I felt like Anton Ego, with one bite transported back to my childhood days of frolicking in the French countryside eating mom's delicious pork chops at our kitchen table.

Lastly, dessert: In the holiday spirit, Chef John decided to educate us on what we'd all been singing mindlessly about all these years: "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding..." What the hell is figgy pudding?

Plating said figgy pudding.

This deliciousness:

Vintage dish "junk" courtesy Rose Bowl.
To be clear, this was figgy pudding soaked in rum, topped with a rum creme anglaise and a huge branches of mint (that was my and Kai's fault). It was sort of like a bread pudding, and you're supposed to light it on fire, but I didn't want our house to burn down in some sort of fiery inferno. Pretty sure my hangover the next morning was solely due to dessert.

There you have it. Fourteen of us, stuffed to the gills with good food, good wine, and good company, all for the cost of dinner for two. Not too shabby.