Tuesday, December 15, 2009

on dinner parties, ond oven explosions, and other matters

This is what my oven looked like, about an hour before people were supposed to show up the other night for the dinner party. Half of the meal had yet to go into the oven.

Yes, that is glass. Very hot glass.

Okay, so here is a word of advice to you. You decide to bake some crazy Italian mountain bread. Maybe you're not much of a bread baker, but you are intrigued by the concept of a bread that takes days to make, and you'd like to see what a sponge entails, and so you go for it.
You get that yeast bubbling, and the sponge becomes your new pet, if only for a few days.

It all seems to be going so well. You are going to make not one, but two of these majestic loaves, and it seems that the world is on your side. When it's time for the bread to rise, it does so in a way that has never occurred in your kitchen. You pamper it underneath a towel, and you watch it grow.

and grow.

You put the first loaf in the oven; you fill the pyrex on the bottom rack with water to caress the loaf with steam. It turns golden brown, and as you calmly pull the elements of your dinner for fourteen into perfect alignment, the bread bakes. It looks beautiful.
You will be done a whole half an hour before anyone arrives. You will even have time to change your clothes. The table has been set for hours.

You pull out the first loaf, and seamlessly slide the second onto the hot baking stone.
Oh, the pyrex on the bottom rack is empty- maybe you should put a little more water in there for the second loaf.
Okay, you ready for that advice now?
Why? Well of course I already knew this. I have in fact shattered a pyrex before. It's just that I was getting ready for the party and I was... distracted.
But you know what happens when you put cold water into a very very hot glass pan?

Yes, I'm sure you do.


I don't even know how to express the sound. I had my head in the oven to pour the water in, and the thing exploded. There was glass all over the kitchen.
It was 6:30.
We were having lasagne, and we hadn't even put it together yet.

But this is the thing. The pan exploded in my face, and there wasn't a piece of glass on me. Especially not in my eye, which is essentially what should have happened giving the positioning of the whole thing. I have no idea why I ended up okay in that moment, but man oh man am I thankful.
The only casualty of the whole affair, besides the pyrex of course, was that second loaf of bread. I admit to you that I thought about trying to pick the glass out of it, but then I realized that perhaps that wasn't the best of ideas. Oh how that loaf glittered in the light.

Joey spent the next 45 minutes picking hot glass out of the oven. We assembled two lasagnes (including rolling out the noodles) in about 10 minutes. I even got a minute to change my clothes, which Joey and I both did while singing the girls to sleep.
In the end there was one loaf of bread, which we at with this lasagne. The whole meal came out of the endlessly lovely cookbook, The Splendid Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper. I have had this cookbook for ages, and have dreamed about making an entire meal from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. I am not Italian at all, and if I were, I'm sure that I never would have exploded a glass pan in my oven.

This was how it went, culinary-wise.
We made cocktails by soaking a sugar cube in blood orange bitters and pouring Prosecco over the cube.
Then there were cured meats, and a cheese called squacquerone that I made from yogurt, buttermilk, sour cream, cream cheese and lemon. There were cauliflower and pearl onions pickled in balsamic vinegar. There was a heap of salad on a cutting board, a salad of bitter greens with a warm balsamic dressing. I'm going to give you the recipe for that one this week. Then there were the aforementioned lasagnes, and the solitary and triumphant loaf of Mountain Bread. And there was a lot of wine, and then there were cinnamon and clove custards and sweet cornmeal biscuits. And more wine.
It was a meal that did not require me to be in the kitchen at all during the dinner party, and that was a very good thing. After all, the table is a much better place to be.

This brings me to something that it is time to get into. I mean, let's get into it, really.
I can't even tell you how many people have told me how they would love to have a dinner party, but they are truly terrified. There are just so many questions.
For instance:
How can you afford to feed all of those people?
How do you choose a menu that you can actually accomplish and get out to the table?
How do the logistics work? Do you plate everyone's dinner, or do you put the food out on the table? Or do you make it a buffet?
Where do you get enough dishes?

And that's just the beginning.
I am absolutely totally not a dinner party expert. But I do seem to be learning a few things in this process. And because I'm hoping that I'm not the only one delving into the dinner party world, I am very happy to share. I would also be thrilled to hear the tricks that are working for you in your soirees as well.
Tomorrow, I'm going to organize these thoughts a bit, so before I do, if you have any specific questions on dinner party methods and logistics, leave them here and I'll see what I can do.

See you then.


  1. The description is fantastic and the blog aptly defines the details about the recipes. I m surely following ur blog.

  2. on the one hand- i'm really really glad you've kept your beutiful eyes, on the other hand, i think you would have looked perfectly cute w/an eyepatch. arg.