Monday, February 27, 2012
Dinner Party Disasters
LUCY BURDETTE: This topic came to mind after a dinner I made over the weekend. Luckily, it was only John and me, no guests. Sometimes I get a little bored with my rotation of meals, and so leaf through cookbooks or food blogs for something new. This particular recipe came from an app I'd downloaded onto my iPhone. The app gave a list of ingredients, then instructions, all nicely illustrated. So at the grocery store, I bought the ingredients for two new dishes. The linguine with spinach, garlic, pinenuts, and Key West pink shrimp was delightful. The next night, I tried the Thai stir-fry with chicken, carrots, broccoli and peanuts. Only at the last minute, I realized I'd misread the recipe and used rice VINEGAR instead of rice wine. Too late to turn back, so I added some sugar, hoping for a sweet and sour effect. It looked gorgeous and we choked it down, but that's about all I could say for it. And that got me thinking about dinner disasters in general.
The most astonishing dinner party disaster I've witnessed did not take place in my kitchen. This was some years ago at a dear friend's house and we had partaken of an extended happy hour before dinner was to be served. We moved into the kitchen to help out. She pulled the main dish out of the oven--chicken nestled into a creamy sauce--then bobbled the pan so it flipped over onto the floor in agonizing slow motion. Sauce and chicken splashed everywhere--her husband's face looked like a thundercloud. After a pause, she began to laugh: "You won't believe it, but I just washed the floor this afternoon!" Then she scraped the food back into the dish and served it to us. And without a word, we ate it. We still laugh about it.
How about you Reds, any dinner party disasters you're willing to share?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: It was a pumpkin pie. I brought it to a friend's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I don't know what I was thinking - maybe the pie plate I wanted to use wasn't the size specified in the recipe and I tried to tinker with the measurements. I looked beautiful but when they cut into it, it was like soup. So embarrassed. People were so polite, they actually tried to eat it.
HALLIE EPHRON: Lucy, your story reminds me of the time a duck I'd roasted slid off the platter on the way to the table. I confess I yanked it by it's little drumstick, threw it into the sink, wiped it down (carpet fibers), stuck it back on the platter, slapped a little a l'orange sauce on it, and brought it out. Isn't it Julia Child who said something like, "Remember, if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see you?"
Then there was the time Jan Brogan was complimenting my arroz con pollo -- how did I get the rice so crunchy? (My secret: it was undercooked.)
RHYS BOWEN: In my early days of marriage we entertained a lot and I'd try new recipes on a whim, (without trying them on my husband first). The turban of sole looked amazing and I was going to impress John's business clients. I lined a bundt pan with filets of sole, then filled it with a mixture of rice, shrimp, rich seafood sauce. It was supposed to turn out easily as a lovely firm ring. I went to turn it out and thwarp--it splatted onto the platter, a goopy disgusting looking pink mess. I did the only thing I could--made a quick sherry based sauce, added parsley and then poured it over individual servings, thus hiding them. John hoped I'd learn my lesson about not trying things out first, but I never have.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, you know the other famous Julia Child quote--when she dropped the Thanksgiving turkey! She laughed and scooped it up and said--no problem, I'll just take this into the kitchen and bring out the OTHER turkey!
My worst one (that I allow myself to remember) was also at Thanksgiving..I had so many side dishes, and I was so proud of myself for juggling the ovens and microwaves and everything was finished at the same time..EXCEPT the turkey!! What the HECK was taking it so long? I've cooked a million turkeys, and they always work, and WHY WHY WHY when I had special guests was this the ONE time that it seemed to take forever?
We all ate appetizers, FOREVER, and I kept the sides warm, but I was BAFFLED.
It was FINALLY done, and fine, but about an hour after I planned.
Later? I discovered I had not removed the giblet and yucky stuff package. Sigh. So silly. Lesson learned.
JAN BROGAN: Perhaps I am blocking memories. but I can only remember one incident, and it wasn't really a disaster because we had good friends over for dinner, and with good friends, there isn't a lot of embarrassment. But Sheila and Jay were coming for dinner, and for some reason Sheila inspired my decision to make scallops. Some sort of connection in my head between Sheila and scallops. Maybe because as couples we sailed a lot together and we had so many seafood dinners?
The scallops were delicious - But the reason I'd thought of scallops was because Sheila was allergic to them. Being extremely resourceful. Sheila got up from the table, rustled through my refrigerator and found the chicken I'd made from the night before and sat down with a full plate. That's what you call a GOOD FRIEND.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, Jan, that is a good friend. Dinner disasters... usually, I stick with the tried and true (and not too challenging) exactly in order not to screw the meal up. There was the Christmas dinner (fortunately just family) when Ross and I decided to serve Bison as the main course. Don't ask me what we we thinking. We had been on an "exotic meat" kick since our safari in Africa that summer. We bought a lovely cut from a local organic rancher and, since we'd never tackled it before, followed the directions to a T. It seemed to call for a lot of liquid, and it had to be cooked in a covered dish for hours... well, when the time came for the grand unveiling of the centerpiece of our Christmas Feast, we had--pot roast. Falling apart, gravy-laden pot roast. It was delicious, thank heavens, but it definitely lacked that visual ooomph one wants for a fancy meal.
My other story dates back, back, back to the dawn of my culinary experiments, when I moved into an off-campus apartment in Ithaca. I had invited a bunch of friends over for dinner, and had to come up with something other than hot dogs (which was all I knew how to cook at the time.) My mother, the font of all cooking wisdom, suggested Spaghetti Bolognese with salad and store-bought Italian bread. Perfect! I browned several pounds of ground beef, drained it, threw it into canned sauce, and with the addition of a cheap jug wine, had a jolly and well-received party.
Afterwards, I started to clean up. The sink started filling with water. And filling. And filling.
That three pounds of fatty ground beef? Drained straight into the sink. The congealed fat set like concrete. Had to call a plumber to open the pipe again.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I love the Julia Child's story--it's one of my favorites. Unfortunately, on most days, anything that falls on the kitchen floor in my house is covered in dog hair. I solemnly promise that if any of you ever come to dinner at my house, I won't bring out the OTHER turkey:-)
And, Julia, maybe your mother should have reminded you why our mothers and grandmothers kept grease cans by the side of the stove...
My mother always told me not to try new things on guests, so of course I've always done exactly the opposite. My argument being, "When else would I try them?" I can't remember any major disasters, but that may just be because it's been so long since I've given a dinner party....
And now I'm going to go sweep and mop my kitchen floor.
LUCY: Tell us your disasters Reds! Best story wins an autographed copy of AN APPETITE FOR MURDER--Hayley never has dinner party trauma....