Rick and I are fully vaccinated and so are our friends, Mark and Jan. So a celebration was in order, this time, inside!
I haven't cooked for anyone other than Rick in over a year and I didn't want kitchen angst that evening. I wanted to be able to enjoy the company of our friends from the minute they walked into the door until the moment they left. Here's how I avoided that.
The Day Before
The afternoon before our dinner I did a basic house pick-up (with vacuuming and dusting to be done the afternoon of the party). Then came the fun part -- putting together a cheery centerpiece. (More on that in an upcoming post)
The Day Of
The morning of our party I started with making brownies (to be served with gelato) for dessert. I just amped up a box recipe (much as I would have preferred to go from scratch). Once they were cool they went onto the serving platter, sealed up to stay fresh till dessert.
My menu was Asian ginger salmon, the spinach/orzo/feta dish I've mentioned here before and roasted tomatoes. Jan was bringing a salad. We'd also have wine and cheese with Rick's bread before dinner.
Both the salmon marinade and spinach dish involve some chopping. I wanted that over and done. So, I chopped my garlic, scallions and spinach for the spinach dish and got out the other non-perishable ingredients and put them in my mise en place bowls in the morning. (I almost always do mise en place, even when just cooking for us, at least for non-liquid ingredients.) I also made my salmon marinade in the morning and in the early afternoon began marinating the salmon (1-8 hours), periodically "basting" it.
(Recipes below, sorry the photo is such a mess!)
Vacuuming, dusting and mopping the kitchen floor was done in the early afternoon. I also cleared out the coat closet which was pretty packed from our own coats over the winter!
The table was more or less set by mid-afternoon and the buffet area (aka the top of the short bookcase) was cleared off and "set" with a pretty arrangement in a Mary Englebreit teapot that had suffered a broken lid.
While we were having wine and cheese, I assembled the spinach dish. It takes about 15 minutes or so to cook, and stays warm well. I also got the roasted tomatoes prepped and ready to go in the oven when I put in the salmon.
We could easily enjoy our snacks before dinner while catching up. The salmon takes about 20 minutes so I judged the time accordingly.
And then, we simply enjoyed! Bad selfie!
A few of my favorite kitchen tips:
Setting up mise en place bowls (I use mini-ramekins and small bowls made by a local potter) really helps things run smoothly. It helps tremendously not to have to stop and measure everything, especially if you have a lot to do in the kitchen that day.
Clean up as you go. Have you ever watched Julia Child's original "French Chef" episodes, before there was a kitchen staff to provide step outs? She cleans up from step to step. If your kitchen is small like mine, those things that need to be discarded can be tossed in the trash or disposal or compost tin as you cook. Or, follow the Rachel Ray trick of having a garbage bowl handy for whatever need to be pitched. It makes the final clean-up so much easier.
Keep a running list handy to write down items that are running low or that you've used up. I just used all my panko the other night and it went on the next week's shopping list. That way you always know what you are out of -- especially if you don't use it that often so you're not checking your supply on a regular basis.
Not everyone would agree with this but one of my favorites is to post your favorite recipes inside your cupboard doors. If there's something you make regularly (but not enough to have memorized!) and really don't care if the inside of your cupboards are bulletin boards, post them there. It saves time (not looking up in your cookbook -- which cookbook was that now?) and saves counter space.
Salmon (I wish I could remember where I first saw this -- one similar was on several sites -- this is how I do it:
1/4 c. soy sauce / 3 T. brown sugar / 1 T. finely grated ginger / 1 large or 2 small finely grated garlic cloves / pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Combine marinate ingredients and pour over a large piece of salmon or up to four salmon steaks. Marinate for at least a half hour but you can do it up to eight and I say the longer the better. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your salmon. If using larger salmon, cut into individual pieces and serve on a platter garnished with lemon slices and parsley or dill.
Hint: Use about a 3" piece of ginger for grating, peeled with a spoon. The grating is what takes longest in doing this!
The Spinach/Orzo/Feta Side dish -- from New York Times
4 scallions / 2 lg. cloves of garlic / eight cups packed spinach (8 oz but I tend to use a little more), chopped a bit if too large / 1/2 to 1 t. salt / 1 3/4 c. chicken stock / 1 c. orzo / Zest of 1 lemon / 3/4 c. feta and more to garnish / 1 c. chopped parsley or dill (optional but good) / 1 c. peas (optional -- I don't use them)
In butter or olive oil, soften scallions and garlic over medium heat. / Add spinach in batches if necessary till wilted, then salt, stock, orzo and lemon. Bring to simmer, then cover and cook about 15 minutes. Add feta and parsley/dill if using. Serve garnished with more feta (and I like lemon wedges with this to use at will.)
Halve Roma tomatoes and if pithy inside, take out center ribs. Salt, pepper and a small drizzle of olive oil. Then add your favorite hers (I use basil, oregano and thyme), a bit of parmesan cheese and if you have them, panko or bread crumbs. Bake. You can put these in with the salmon for 20 minutes at 400. I like a little more time in the oven.