My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.
One of the great joys of living in America is that, at any moment, no matter where you are, you can order a pizza. This was a fact well-known to me when I was in high school and college. “Let’s order a pizza,” is a phrase most of us are quite comfortable saying and it wasn’t until very recently that I realized I hadn’t uttered those words in a really long time. But hanging out with my friend John at his new house in Glendale, recently, we were talking about where to go to dinner and suddenly I found myself saying those magic words. Before we knew it, there was a knock on the door and our pizza had arrived.
Last week something unprecedented happened. I was having a new friend over for dinner and, after shopping at 3 o’clock and starting to cook at 4 o’clock, I found myself at 8 o’clock holding my cellphone and a text message from this new friend saying that he had a work emergency and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was left with a giant bowl of couscous, a whole roasted chicken, vanilla bean pudding (which I’ll blog about later this week) and, lucky for me, two undressed heads of radicchio that I’d sliced and refrigerated in anticipation of making a salad. Now that it was just Craig and me, we wouldn’t need the salad and that undressed radicchio would survive the night in the fridge and become next day’s lunch. As it turned out that lunch–a purple salad that I concocted with leftover chicken, red onion, raisins and toasted walnuts–was almost better than the dinner.
You may have thought Oscar’s biggest upset last night was Meryl Streep stealing Viola Davis’s Oscar, but then clearly you weren’t at the Oscar party I attended. Our friends John and Michael invited us a week earlier and asked us to bring a dish that was a pun or play on words based on title or actor (last year, John made “Stanley Two-Cheese Dip”) and I treated the whole thing light-heartedly, polling my followers on Twitter (some good suggestions: “My Week With Maryland Crabs,” “Macarooney Mara”) before settling on the dish you see above, Glenn Cous Cous Salad with Albert Knobs of Feta.
Confession: Before Saturday, I’d never been to a food truck.
Predicted reaction: WHAT?! OH MY GOD!? YOU’RE A FOOD WRITER AND YOU’VE NEVER BEEN TO A FOOD TRUCK OH MY GOD I’M TOTALLY NOT GOING TO READ YOU ANYMORE AND I’M BURNING MY COMPUTER RIGHT NOW TO RID IT OF YOUR EMBARRASSING HUMILIATING ATTEMPT AT BEING A DECENT HUMAN BEING.
The easiest mac and cheese is the one from the box. The next one up, though, may be this one: instead of making a béchamel with butter, flour and milk–an easy enough process, but a process nonetheless–you heat three cups of cream and dump a bunch of grated cheese into it. You flavor the resulting sauce with garlic, onion, mustard, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce until the flavors are bold and then mix it up with boiled macaroni. Pour into a baking dish, top with Parmesan and breadcrumbs, and into a hot oven it goes: 30 to 40 minutes later, you have a real deal mac and cheese that has dinner guests, like the ones you see above (that’s Michael and John), fighting for the first bite.