I did not take a single picture of what we served at our recent dinner party, for two reasons: 1) the day was packed with Farmer’s Market shopping and cooking and cleaning and attending to the newest member of the family (whom I haven’t yet posted about, but will soon), and 2) I’m not a good enough photographer yet to take decent pictures of food during the twilight hours. So you shall have to be content with this photo of my preserved lemons and use your imagination.
We decided to go with a Moroccan menu, which meant that the cooking responsibilities would be assumed by the Moroccan in the house, which is obviously not me. It was so nice to play sous chef instead of running around like a maniac. I calmly pulled the butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and monitored the stove… and let him do the worrying.
I had just two assignments: cocktails and dessert. I envisioned a refreshing aperitif, as a counterpoint to the Spanish wine I had decided to serve with dinner; a quick flip through my favorite cocktail book, and I had an inspiration. I took out a set of chartreuse glass tumblers and filled them halfway with ice, over which I poured a hefty splash of unfiltered apple juice, followed by a much smaller splash of 10-Cane Rum. I topped off the concoction with champagne, and stuck a wedge of Granny Smith apple on the rims. Crisp. Bubbly. Perfect.
One of my favorite aspects of a dinner party is the moments just before the guests arrive. The house is clean and sparkling; the table is laid; the air is redolent of cooking smells. It’s the grown-up version of the night before Christmas. I think I would give parties just for that alone.
But on to the food!
We began with an array of small plates: lightly steamed carrots marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, Italian parsley and diced garlic; strips of fire-roasted peppers flecked with black charred bits, tossed with olive oil and cumin and sea salt; roasted eggplant tapenade; chunks of Sonoma goat cheese, drizzled with olive oil and freshly cracked pepper.
The second course was b’stilla. I’m going to brag a little bit: it was every bit as good as any restaurant version. Biting into it, the feathery crunch of the phyllo gave way to a warm mixture of ground chicken and Marcona almonds, accented with hints of sugar and cinnamon. Don’t you think this man is a keeper?
Next, he brought out heaping bowl of couscous, a bowl full of steamed zucchini and butternut squash and onions and carrots, and a tagine of chicken with preserved lemons and green olives, which he made because he knows I love it.
He demonstrated the traditional way of eating couscous for us: first, heap the couscous on to your plate to create a mound. Next, make an indentation in the top of the mound with the back of your spoon, and place the vegetables into the hollow. Ladle sauce around the sides, but not enough to pool up on the plate. Not to worry; the sauce bowl is passed repeatedly throughout the meal. Those who want a bit of heat in their mouths can sprinkle harissa on top if they so desire, though strictly speaking it is more of a Tunisian condiment than a Moroccan one.
Every bite was utterly delicious. The conversation was lively, the guests were full of interesting stories and good humor, and we laughed quite a lot. There is so much more to explore in Moroccan cooking; I have a feeling we’re going to have more dinner parties in this theme…
For dessert, I made something quite un-Moroccan, but after all of that spicy goodness, I thought that we needed something creamy and simple. Hence the Butterscotch Pot de Crème dressed with blackberries and shaved chocolate. It went perfectly with a pot of mint tea.
I saved the dishes until the morning after. Who would want to end such an evening up to her elbows in soap suds? Not me.