After helping my mom host dozens of dinner parties over the past 10, I decided that since I am a man now (just turned 18) it was time I hosted my own. The plan came together about 11:30 the day of the event. I sent a group text to a couple friends telling them dinner was at 9pm and to dress classy. As I sat through my last class of the day hundreds of ideas for the menu ran through my mind. I wanted to do bread, a salad, an entree, a side and a dessert and I wanted it to be a cohesive meal. When I got home, I quickly shuffled through a few of my favorite cookbooks and finally put together a cohesive menu. The theme I settled on was Mediterranean and I would be making rosemary foccacia bread, fennel salad, roasted chicken with orange, North African chickpeas with sweet potatoes, and red velvet cake (not Mediterranean, but my favorite and possibly best desert).
Armed with a grocery list and a wad of cash I set out to the grocery store at about 1:00, T-8 hours until dinner. I got home at about 3:00 and quickly started on the foccacia. Focaccia is is wonderful light spongy Italian bread that traditionally has olive oil, salt, and rosemary drizzled over the top of it. While the foccacia was resting, I quickly whipped up my red velvet cake. If there is one thing that working at Boltwood has taught me, it is how to multitask. When having a dinner party, multitasking is key. What I find helpful to do is write down what needs to be accomplished and how long everything takes. Then you can block your cooking.
By 5:00 pm, I had my cake done, my focaccia rising for the second time, and my sweet potatoes boiling in a pot with some honey and butter. I was on schedule, but a wall of exhaustion just hit me. Who knew a dinner party would be this much work? Thankfully, a few of the girls offered to come by around 7 pm and help me out with the final push. Having your guests come early to a dinner party and cooking a little is a great way to have fun and get them involved.
As 7:00 rolled around I had just finished prepping a few things for the chickpea side dish, put my chickens in the oven and sat down for the first time all day. Of course, just as I sat down the girls rang the doorbell. We had 3 things left to do, the side dish, the salad, and the frosting. Taking a cue from head chef of Boltwood Brian Huston, I delegated some tasks and then moved around overseeing and jumping in to do a few things. The girls especially liked piping the frosting on the cake, and basting the chicken. It was really fun cooking with my friends, and relieving to have a little help with the final push.
My house was filled with exotic scent of a North African spice market by 9:00 pm when the timer for the chicken went off, perfectly on time. As I pulled out my chickens and plated everything relief and pride washed over me. I had successfully, planned, and hosted my first dinner party. When the entire spread was out on the table it looked like a Mediterranean Thanksgiving and I was overjoyed to see all my friend’s eyes widen at the sight of the food I had prepared.
The chicken was wonderfully moist and dripping with tangy juice. The bread was pillowy and herbal. The chickpeas and potatoes were my favorite part of the meal. Cooked in a spiced tomato sauce, they were bursting with flavor ranging from sweet, to warm and spicy. The salad had that refreshing aspect that tied together the rest of the plate. As for the cake, it was sinfully delicious beyond words.
Like it has always done for me in the past, food brought me together with the people I care about. That is the true beauty of food. Over dinner we talked, we laughed, and we enjoyed the food together. At the end of the night when everyone had left, I stood alone at the center of my kitchen. It looked like a hurricane had been through and I was not looking forward to cleaning up, but there was something surreal about standing there; I can’t really describe how I felt, but it was warm and it was a happy feeling. My first dinner party set a high standard for the hundreds more I plan to host throughout my life, and will be a day I remember forever.
Easy Roasted Orange Chicken with Fennel Salad
- For Chicken
- 4 lb roasting Chicken
- 2 cups orange juice
- 2 cubes chicken bouillon
- 1 orange
- Salt and Pepper
- For Salad
- 3 bulbs fennel
- 1 orange supremed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
2. Clean the chicken and pat dry then place in a roasting pan.
3. Salt and pepper the cavity of the chicken.
4. Mix the orange juice with the bouillon.
5. Spoon half of the juice mixture over the chicken and into the cavity and put the orange in the cavity.
6. Roast for 2 hours, basting with remaining juice and pan juices frequently, or until the legs move loosely and freely and the skin is browned.
7. Using a mandolin slice the fennel into thin slices.
8. Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice.
9. Right before serving, dress the salad with the vinaigrette (dress to taste you don’t need to use all of it) and toss with the orange slices.
10. Take the pan juices from the chicken and reduce them for about 10 minutes. Serve the chicken with a large spoonful of pan juices.