Following our late night shopping trip, Derek and I were up until 2 am doing preliminary prep-trussing and marinating the butterflied lamb, making the baklava, preparing the ice cream mix to chill, and soaking the chickpeas. The next day included a whopping nine more hours of cooking, but luckily a lot of it was passive. I found the final ingredients in the morning (almond extract for the ice cream and thyme which surprisingly hard to find this time around) and cooked into the night. While this wasn’t supposed to be a cooking party, all of the guests chipped in and helped it all come together. We were pretty much tweaking dishes up to the very end (when someone decided that enough was enough and that it was time to start eating).
A crisis averted-an hour before the first guests were scheduled to arrive, the power for both the fridge (with all of salad ingredients and greek yogurt) and garbage disposal went out. After some experimentation and Derek’s ingenuity, we were able to route an extension cord to the fridge and turn our attention back to the food.
For never having had roasted lamb before, I was surprised that the five hours we allotted for roasting two legs of lamb (sequentially) was just right. The lamb also was the right temperature on the first try. It’s always surprising what takes turns out to be the bottleneck. The three mezethes turned out to be the most time intensive and that with the photography resulted in plating at 9:38 pm. Perhaps, we should’ve kicked off the meal with the Baklava and ice cream.
As usual, Molly was the clutch and “winner” of the dinner party. She found the elusive Kasseri cheese and was not afraid of flambeing which led to the dish of the night (how can you go wrong with fried cheese?). She also whipped together a potato side dish on a moment’s notice because we didn’t think we had enough food. We were completely wrong on that front, but more on that next.
Given that we were learning by doing (we only made the Baklava before) and were Googling recipes as we cooked, the Greek party was a success. We started the planning for this party far earlier than usual, but it still was surprising how many decisions we ended up putting off. It was also embarrassing how many small but crucial details we missed even though we read through each recipe multiple times. Finally, it’s easy to forget things, even obvious things. Everyone was wondering why we made so much Tzatziki sauce. It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized that half of the sauce was intended to go with the bone-in lamb. It wasn’t just for pita!
To some extent, all of this comes with the territory. Many people prepare dishes they grew up with or know like the back of their hand when the host dinner parties, but I’ve always had the habit of using dinner parties as an opportunity to try new things. I feel like this is one of the fast, most efficient way to learn a whole new style of cooking. I’ve also had the fortune of having a forgiving audience. However, with the next Project Dinner Party already underway, we’re working on streamlining things so that we can continually get better as cooks and dinner party hosts.
Some things we learned from the Greek party:
A good way to char eggplant is to just toss it directly on the burner. I tried charring one eggplant at a time using tongs, but they turned out to be unwieldy. The eggplants were so large and full moisture that I could leave them on the stove for minutes without fear that they would burn.
Hummus is prone to drying out. To refresh the hummus midway through a party or leftover hummus after refrigeration, drizzle olive oil and stir until the original texture is restored.
The stuffed leg of lamb should be roasted trussed and then sliced to reveal a beautiful cross-section. I wished I knew it was like the Argentinian dish, Matambre. We ended up marinating the lamb in what was the supposed to be the stuffing. To be fair, the recipe we used did not come with a photo.
80 proof alcohol is flammable. Also, you can’t go wrong with fried cheese.
Baklava is easy to make too sweet. Based on guest feedback, it turns out that the ideal baklava would’ve been an average of our two attempts. Perhaps, one way to do it is to drizzle the half of the syrup and let it soak overnight and then re-heat and drizzle more syrup to taste.
What I loved most about the meal was the contrast between the fresh flavors of the mezethes and salad with the heartiness of the lamb and the decadence of the desserts. From a cooking geek standpoint, the menu featured a full range of techniques from simple boiling to flambeing. While most of the dishes required only a few ingredients, their freshness and the care given to them help them shine.
That’s a wrap! Next time on Project Dinner Party, I’ll tell you about the most epic dinner party I’ve ever thrown.
Photography by Carla Gabriel-http://www.carlagabriel.com.