But there is nothing I love more than lavishing a roomful of sparkling guests. I adore the glitter, glamour, and gleam of an old-fashioned, sophisticated dinner party (summoning F. Scott Fitzgerald, y'all!), where people wear their most formidable outfits and hand forth a bottle of their favorite wine. I love to cultivate a celebratory atmosphere and whirl a tale of smells and tastes, with the cuisine at the core of the centrifuge. I want my dinners to become edible memories. I want my cake, to eat it, too, and to serve it to my friends.
I have always strived towards being a veritable hostess with the mostest. I used to imagine my elegant, polished grandmother as a young woman, a budding socialite, reading “Standard Etiquette,” perfecting her duties as a hostess, attempted to hone her less-than-appealing culinary skills, and tending her well-heeled guests.
Standard Etiquette, published in 1925, starts its dinner chapter with the following statement: “The severest test of social ability is dinner-giving.” Right on, Anna Steese Richardson, right on! My grandmother’s meals were often a cache of unsavory dishes, although her efforts were flecked with an errant success. Her raison d’être was to give parties with panache and she always tried, despite failing at the actual act of cooking. Perhaps two wrongs made a right in her eyes, although I’m not sure Ms. Anna would have approved of overall package.
I, too, love to give dinner parties, although thankfully, my cooking resembles that of my other grandmother, the one with the culinary acumen! We recently had another couple for dinner, and I couldn’t go about it sleepily. I miss feeding large crowds and accordingly cooked enough for a Lilliputian army.
The beef sushi was a huge hit. Tender, ruby beef is encircled by fleshy carrot and sprinkled with jewels of sea salt. Building this maki is a rather architectural enterprise, but they are still fun to assemble and the finished product is gorgeous. We gobbled them up in a flash, filling our bellies with the earth and turf hors d'oeuvres.
My love for sushi runs deep. Since I generally steer clear of raw salmon, I made a smoked salmon roll with a horseradish cream cheese. Cool, crisp cucumbers encased in the rolls nicely contrast to the fiery horseradish and the smoky fish. Like potato chips, you can’t eat just one!
Conjuring a woman straight out of “Standard Etiquette” (minus the repression) I, the convivial hostess, vow to entertain, charm, and not give parties “marred by poor cooking.” Touché, Anna, touché…………
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
2 1-inch-thick boneless beef strip steaks (about 1 1/4 pounds total)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound large carrots (2 to 4), trimmed to 6 inches long
3 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallot
1 tablespoon drained capers, finely chopped1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Garnish: flaky sea salt.
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
1. Heat a dry 12-inch heavy cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Pat steaks dry and sprinkle all over with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
2. Add vegetable oil to hot skillet, swirling to coat bottom, then brown steaks, turning once, about 4 minutes total. Transfer steaks to a small shallow baking pan and roast in oven 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cool about 30 minutes.
3.While steaks cool, cut carrots lengthwise into 42 (1-inch-wide) ribbons (less than 1/16 inch thick) with an adjustable-blade slicer or a vegetable peeler.
4.Cook ribbons in a pot of boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to stop cooking. Carefully drain, then pat ribbons dry.
5.Whisk together basil, parsley, mustard, shallots, capers, and garlic in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until emulsified.
6. Trim fat and gristle from steaks, then cut each lengthwise into 3 (3/4- to 1-inch-wide) strips.
7. Place a sushi mat with slats running crosswise or a 9-inch square of parchment paper on a work surface. Arrange 6 to 8 carrot ribbons side by side lengthwise, following slats and slightly overlapping, to form a 6-inch square.
8. Spread about 1 tablespoon of mustard sauce evenly across bottom half of carrot square, then lay 1 strip of steak across carrots 1 inch from edge nearest you. Roll up carrots and beef tightly, using sushi mat as an aid.
9. Transfer beef roll, seam side down, to a cutting board, then trim ends and cut crosswise into about 10 (1/2-inch) pieces. Make and cut 5 more rolls. Turn pieces upright to serve.
Makes 50 rolls.
Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Rolls
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine
1 seedless cucumber
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pound thinly sliced Scottish smoked salmon.
1. Quarter cucumber lengthwise, cutting off and discarding rounded ends. Stir together cream cheese, chives, horseradish, salt, and pepper to taste until combined well.
2. Pat cucumber dry. Arrange enough salmon to completely wrap 1 cucumber quarter in 1layer on a sheet of plastic wrap, then spread with a thin layer of cream cheese mixture.
3. Wrap coated salmon around cucumber quarter to cover completely, pressing gently to help it adhere. Repeat with remaining cucumber quarters. Cut rolls crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces.
Makes about 20-30 rolls.