THE BLOG
04/08/2010 02:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Double-Duty Dinner Parties

With so many friends I like to entertain, it might seem logical to space out my dinner party schedule. In reality, I've found it's easier to take a deep breath and host back-to-back dinner parties.

Last weekend, I invited two different groups of friends to dinner at my house Saturday and Sunday nights. While it might sound crazy (or like I'm running a catering hall) hosting dinner parties two nights in a row is actually much more efficient. Here's why: all of the grocery shopping can be completed with a single trip to the market, one stop at the wine shop, much of the food prep can be completed at once, and flowers and décor play double-duty for both nights. Most importantly, my weekend is festive and I can connect with twice as many friends.

Saturday night, I invited nine friends for a Mexican fiesta-inspired evening, to honor my friend David, who was in New York to run the marathon on Sunday. I wanted to set a lively tone for the evening, so I decorated with vibrant colors, including big bright pink peonies, which I cut short and placed in square vases, used a mix of multi-hued napkins and place mats, and set the mood with plenty of votive candles.

Earlier that day, I prepared most of the night's menu and cleaned up, freeing myself to spend more time with my guests later and less time in the kitchen. We began the evening with a big pitcher of margaritas (nothing like tequila to get the party started) and white Sangria. Of course we had the requisite super-sized bowl of chips and guacamole. Just before dinner time, I slipped into the kitchen and added the snapper to the Veracruzana sauce and reheated the black beans and rice. I also made David a special marathon meal of plain chicken and pasta. I plated all the food family-style and within minutes we were around the dining room table enjoying our Mexican feast.

After my guests departed, I filled the dishwasher so that everything would be clean and ready to go the next day.

On Sunday my dear friend Ahmad, who grew up in Tehran and is an incredible cook, joined me to prepare a meal of Persian delights for dinner. He showed up in the afternoon, armed with his special rice cooker and a battery of exotic herbs and spices. For a change, I let Ahmad command the kitchen and I played sous chef.

We invited six of our mutual friends for dinner that evening. I think a Sunday dinner is best kept casual, so I set the table quite simply, using all white dinnerware which was nicely complemented by the bright flowers from the previous night. Ahmad and I prepared a spread of simple hors d'oeuvres, including lamb meatballs and roasted eggplant, both served with a yogurt-mint sauce, and served Champagne and white Sangria again (a double portion was made the night before and stored in the refrigerator).

For the main course, Ahmad prepared chicken with walnut and pomegranate sauce, so succulent and juicy it was falling off the bone. There was also Persian-style rice and creamy spinach Borani, all served buffet-style. For dessert, I wanted to offer something light and clean after the intense spices of the meal, so I served sliced green apples sprinkled with lime zest-infused sugar.

Two nights, two parties, and two times the fun!

Saturday Night's Menu

Hors d'oeuvres and Cocktails:

* Bean and Spinach Quesadillas
* Guacamole
* Tortilla chips and Salsa
* Margaritas
* White Sangria

Main Course:

* Red Snapper Veracruzana
* Black Beans
* Cilantro-Lime Rice

Dessert:

* Maple Walnut Ice Cream with Dulce de Leche

Wine:

* Nebbiolo
* Sauvignon Blanc

Sunday Night's Menu

Hors d'oeuvres and Cocktails:

* Feta and Herbs Salad
* Lamb Meatballs with Yogurt Mint Sauce
* Roasted Eggplant with Lemon Juice
* Champagne
* White Sangria

Main Course:

* Chicken with Walnut and Pomegranate Sauce
* Persian-style Rice with Fresh Herbs
* Spinach Borani

Dessert:

* Sliced Green Apples with Lime Zest-Infused Sugar

Wine:

* Rose


Red Snapper Veracruzana

The region of Veracruz is known to be one of the liveliest of Mexico. Its cuisine is largely influenced by Spain, as it was the first city to be established by the Spanish. This is a traditional dish of the region. When serving it for a group, I make the sauce ahead of time and then cook the fish just before dinner time.

Ingredients:

¼ cup olive oil

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 jalapenos, seeds removed, minced

½ cup dry white wine

1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 Tablespoon sugar

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, minced

2 Tablespoons capers

1 cup large green olives, pits removed and coarsely chopped

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 (4 ounce) red snapper fillets

Salt and pepper

Cilantro

Lime wedges

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Saute until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add white wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in tomatoes, sugar, parsley, capers, olives, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Season each side of the fish with salt and pepper. Place each fillet in the sauce and use a spoon to cover the fish with sauce. Cover and cook about 8-10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Place fish on a serving platter and spoon sauce over each fillet. Serve garnished with cilantro and lime wedges.

"Fesenjan" Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranate Sauce

Fesenjan is an Iranian special occasion food. It is traditionally made with duck or pheasant and is a thick, rich, sweet-sour dish that improves in flavor the next day.

Ingredients:

¼ cup olive oil

3 lbs. chicken pieces, bone-in and skin-on

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

½ teaspoon cardamom

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups walnuts, finely ground (best to use a food processor)

2 cups chicken stock

2/3 cup pomegranate molasses (found in most Middle Eastern or health food stores, or substitute an equal amount of frozen, concentrated cranberry juice)

2 Tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Add the chicken and brown on all sides (it may be necessary to do in batches). Remove chicken and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add onions, cardamom, and cinnamon and sauté until very tender and reduced in size, about 20 minutes. Stir in the walnuts, stock, and reserved chicken. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover. Simmer 20-30 minutes.

Stir in pomegranate molasses, sugar, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer an additional 20 minutes, until the chicken is very tender and the sauce begins to thicken. Serve with plain white rice.