There are two questions with which I get bombarded (willingly and happily) by on a daily basis: restaurant recommendations and "What should I make for ______?" No matter what the occasion and/or dinner guest(s), truth be told, menu planning is one of my favorite things to do. The hypothetical promise of a fabulous meal fills me up with enough inspiration and drive to knock out menu after menu in no time. I get an adrenaline rush. I suppose for someone that's infinitely devoted to fashion, putting together devastatingly perfect outfits (with an unlimited closet of sorts) would yield the same sort of euphoric result. Satisfaction and gratification. It's what makes us all tick.
That said, I thought it would be mutually beneficial (for you and me) if I started pumping out weekend dinner party ideas every Wednedsay, which will give you plenty of time to shop, plan, and prep by Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. And what's better than a night with friends, food and/or a date to look forward to come the weekend? A whole lotta nothing, that's what.
Mango Sorbet with Mint
As far as the dumplings are concerned, unless you're feeling adventurous and have time to kill and want to make your own, I'm voting frozen all the way. Trader Joe's has a great bag of frozen Thai Shrimp Gyoza Dumplings which I always have in the freezer but almost every grocery store now carries a brand. Asian speciality stores will have a particularly fabulous selection if you can manage to swing by one. You'll also find dumpling sauce there (and in the Asian aisle at the regular grocery store) which I like to supplement with a little bit of chopped fresh scallions. Throw the frozen dumplings into a hot pan with a little bit of a neutral oil and allow them to pick up some good, golden brown color on the bottom. After about 3 or 4 minutes, add in 2 Tbsp. of water, stand back, and throw a lid on top. Allow them to steam for another 2 to 3 minutes and serve while still hot. They're the perfect, easy appetetizer with a cold beer. You'll want to do this just before guests arrive.
The Coconut Braised Beef recipe is by my boy, Mark Bittman of the New York Times. I've had it printed and sitting here at my desk, staring at me, enticing me for far too long. It utilizes a ridiculously affordable cut of meat and turns it into a tender and slightly exotic masterpiece. There are minimal ingredients and it doesn't require much of your attention at all. Throw it together early afternoon and you're set. Done.
Put a pot of rice on 20 minutes before your guests are about to arrive, and then go and prep yourself. When you're taken care of, pop open a Tsing Tao, get working on the dumplings, and excitedly anticipate your friends walking in to the smell of simmering coconut milk, ginger, chilis, scallions, and cilantro; immediately spreading smiles across their faces.
You'll pull it all off effortlessly without a glimmer of doubt. And remember, dessert's waiting patiently in the freezer to be topped with a few fresh leaves of mint.
Cheers, my social butterflies.