Anatomy of a Dinner Party (A Timeline of Caesar Salad, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Flourless Chocolate Cake All Cooked And Served in A Single Day)

My friend Ryan O’Connell is one of my favorite people. If you don’t know who he is, hop on to Amazon now and check out his book, I’m Special, and come back here once you’ve bought it and read it. Not only did he write that book, but now he’s writing for fall’s most anticipated TV show: the reboot of Will & Grace. So Ryan’s a talented guy who has great taste in wine and even better taste in dinner parties: he loves my cooking. For his birthday, I told him I’d make him a dinner and he could choose the menu. He thought on it and came back with “spaghetti and meatballs, because I know you’ll do it really, really well.” His boyfriend Jonathan loves my Caesar salad, so we added that to the menu. Later I e-mailed to query about his favorite desserts and he wrote back: “My fave desserts are chocolate cake, chocolate pudding, and strawberry shortcake.” I combined a little from Column A and a little from Column B and chose my favorite dinner party staple, this flourless chocolate cake.

Everyone (Ryan, Jonathan, and our mutual friends Lara, Graydon, and Kyle) were all set to come over on Saturday night at 7:30 PM. So on Saturday morning, I set out for Gelson’s to get started on my food shopping when I had an idea: what if I documented the whole thing, from the food shopping in the morning to the moment everyone leaves at the end of the night? Sort of a timeline of how I pull off a dinner party? Wouldn’t that be an epic, potentially useful post for people who want to pull off similar dinner parties? Well, either way, I did it, so without further ado, I present: a timeline of how I pulled off Ryan’s Birthday Dinner.

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How To Make A Caesar Salad


I make Caesar salads all the time and whenever I do, I forget to take pictures. Maybe it’s because it’s such a loosey-goosey process–how much garlic, how much anchovy, how much Parmesan & lemon is all a matter of taste–but, still, my Caesar salad is very good (as evidenced by this post). So, instead of waiting for the next opportunity to take pictures, I thought I would illustrate the process for you with a program I just downloaded called Paintbrush. Prepare to be amazed by my illustrious illustrating skills!

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On Breadcrumbs & Croutons


Molly Wizenberg, who many of you know as Orangette, has cooked for me three times over the course of our friendship. All three meals have been documented here on the blog: the first meal was in January of 2007, the next was a New Year’s Eve dinner (actually I can’t find the post about that) and then, finally, the meal that Molly’s husband Brandon made for me when I was stranded in Seattle during a blizzard. So actually she didn’t cook that third meal.

But the point is that I was karmically indebted to her and desperately keen to make her food upon her next visit to New York. Lo and behold she was here last night! And last night, guess what? I made her dinner. A carbilicious feast that put to use two underused culinary tools, the two items you see above: homemade breadcrumbs & croutons.

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Alex’s Birthday Dinner


You may recall that the worst meal I’ve ever cooked for people in my life was the meal I cooked for my friends Alex and Raife in March of 2007 (see here). Rereading that post, I don’t think it was as awful as I remember it being; but the pressure was high because Alex, one of my closest friends from college, had never experienced my cooking (she’d only seen me defrost California Pizza Kitchen pizzas when we lived together) and I wanted to impress her. Well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Luckily, Alex has a birthday. And now she lives in New York and so does our friend Raife who was also there at that disastrous dinner. So to celebrate Alex’s birthday, which was in October, I invited them both over for a gigantic do-over. How did I fare?

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