On Monday night, I hosted a shin-dig for my mom’s 70th birthday. Initially I was going to cook for the 30+ people attending because that’s what I normally do; but then, about a week before the party, it dawned on me that this was completely insane. As much as I enjoy cooking for people, when it comes to a large party, no matter how much I plan and cook ahead of time, I always end up spending more time in the kitchen then with the guests. And the serving and cleaning are always overwhelming. On top of that—as the tag line for this blog can attest—EVERYONE really does end up in the kitchen. You can decorate the house, fluff the cushions, bedeck the walls with boughs of holly, make each room sparky and inviting with flowers and candles, but inevitably everyone will end up squatting in your kitchen like this:
There was literally a dining room full of empty chairs, but our friends and family preferred sitting in Belle and Conor’s kiddie chairs, wedged between the stove and a kitchen cart. This kind of thing is fine if the kitchen is clean and you’re not actually cooking in it (also kind of cute that they are all squished in together), but if you’re preparing food and the numbers start to swell it can lead to a mild panic attack.
So I decided to have the party catered by my favorite Italian market—shout-out to Perrotti’s in Far Hills, NJ!—so that I could keep the oven off and actually mingle. But there is still a little part of me that couldn’t help but make something myself. So I prepared two very easy things:
The first was a truffle-butter popcorn that I picked up from the Barefoot Contessa. So easy and it’s just the right combination of homey and decadent.
Minutes before the party starts, make a big pot of popcorn (no microwave popcorn allowed!). It’s so easy to do, I really don’t know why people make the nuked version, which smells awful and apparently isn’t that great for you. All you have to do is lightly coat a big pot with a thin layer of vegetable oil, then add a single layer of popcorn kernels on top. Put the pot over medium-high heat, cover it with a lid, and then once you hear popping, jostle the pot every few seconds so that the unpopped kernels get moved closer to the heat. Once the popping slows to only one every 2-3 seconds, take the pot immediately off the heat so that the popcorn doesn’t burn. Pour the popcorn into a large bowl.
Then for the butter: Melt a couple of tablespoons of truffle butter (the D’Artagnan variety you see above is what I used, it’s about $7 for a container, but a little goes a long way) with about one tablespoon of regular unsalted butter. Pour the melted butters on top of the popcorn, add a good sprinkle of salt, and toss to combine. Put the bowl by the front door as an edible welcome (or in our case, Conor’s self-serve dinner, he ate half the bowl while we weren’t watching). The smell alone will put your guests in a celebratory mood.
The other dish I made was a caesar salad. Again, this is one dish that I always think tastes better from scratch. If I’m making a caesar salad just for myself, I follow Alice Water’s recipe from her The Art of Simple Food. But since I’m hesitant to serve a raw egg-based dressing to a crowd, I use my other favorite version, the mayo-based dressing from The Frankies Spuntino cookbook. The recipe is HERE. You make the dressing in advance and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the salad, tossing it at the last minute with lots of grated Parmigiano-Reggianno. I made six heads of romaine for the party and it wasn’t enough. I could have doubled it easy and it would have been devoured.