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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dinner Party Series: Greek

As summer starts to wind down, I want to par-tay! This post introduces a new category of occasional blogs called Dinner Parties, searchable in the Index under that heading. If this is all Greek to you, you’ve come to the right place!

The easiest festive meal I know how to cook is Greek-themed. I’ve already blogged several of these recipes: Now it’s time to put them together. For this party, I plan to serve Dolmathes and Figs Stuffed with Cheese and Nuts as easy appetizers; a main meal of Greek Salad, Roast Potatoes, Basmati Rice, Souvlaki skewers, and Tzatziki with Pita Bread, and Baklava for dessert.  


This meal works perfectly with the Greek white wine known as Retsina (which tastes like rubbing alcohol) or with one of the Sangria recipes I posted a few days ago; be sure to offer plenty of sparkling water, too. So here’s how to proceed!


Some of the recipes I’m planning to make have already appeared in this blog. You may also want to consult the Index for my guides to How Much and How Many: Appetizers and How Much and How Many: Drinks. I’ll go through my menu ideas step-by-step!

Appetizers:

Dolmathes: It takes time and patience to make these from grape leaves, rice, meat, and lemon. Sold in cans in the multicultural section of your supermarket, I plan to buy them. They’re excellent.

Stuffed Figs: Very easy to make! See the Index for Appetizers: Figs Stuffed with Cheese and Nuts.

Main Course:

Greek Salad: See the Index for Salads: Greek (Best-Ever).

Roast Potatoes: Two choices! See the Index for Side Dish: Potatoes (Roast) or Side Dish: Potatoes (Roast/Ron’s Savory)

Basmati Rice: See the Index for How to Cook Rice. There, check out the section on How to Cook Long-Grain White Rice. For our Greek meal, prepare the rice with chicken stock and a little butter.

Souvlaki: Costco sells eight Cryovac-wrapped pork skewers for $11, eight lamb skewers for $22, and eight chicken skewers for $17. Each package weighs more than 2 lb. (1 kg). Better yet, theyve already been marinated - a dinner party bargain! While you may not have a Costco store where you live, most areas feature similar warehouse-priced bargains. With a meal this substantial, I think one skewer per-person is adequate. Ron disagrees. Just to be safe, we’ll plan 12 skewers for our table of six and will likely have a couple left over. 

(Postscript: One day after writing about lamb skewers from Costco, Ron and I cooked some. The quality was appalling. The meat fell off the skewers in small bits; the marinade was overly spiced and salted. Although our experience with Costco’s pork skewers has been positive, I can not recommend Costco’s lamb skewers.)

Tzatziki: Love the word! Love the taste! My friend Linda has a Tzatziki recipe that she promises is excellent: I’m making it today and will post the results tomorrow! 

Pita Bread: I’ll buy it.

Dessert:

Baklava: See the Index for Desserts: Baklava (Middle Eastern).

And what to serve after this delicious meal? Tomorrow, I’ll give you my version of what has been called Greece’s national coffee, the fabulous Café Frappe.


Guidelines and Tips:

It’s always been my experience that when you cook part of a meal yourself, guests tend to assume you’ve made it all. When guests compliment you on a dish you bought at the deli this morning, don’t blurt that you didn’t make it yourself or they’ll immediately assume you had more than “a little help” in the kitchen. 

A good friend always uses lemon pie mix and always adds a single lemon pip, which the “finder” usually calls to everyone’s attention with some humorous comment designed not to embarrass my friend if someone else finds another pip. My friend is always secretly delighted when that happens, because it suggests that the “finder” believes the pie is homemade.  If my friend is “finder,” she holds up the pip with the words: “Oops! I guess I missed this one!” My friend is one clever woman!

When someone compliments me on one of my “cheats” - something I’ve bought rather than made - I simply say “Thank you” or “It wasn’t difficult!” I don’t exactly lie - but I don’t exactly tell the truth, either! If your cooking skills and interests are limited, prepare what you can, buy the rest, and never look back or feel guilty. 

I love to cook, so often become over-enthusiastic (Translation: Unrealistic) about how much time I need to fulfill my grandiose plans (I’ll carve butter into swans!). When I plan and think through my ambitious menus, I invariably cut one or two dishes as too time-consuming to make or too much food to serve. 


If I make one very elaborate dish, I make sure the rest of the meal I’ve planned for my Dinner Party are convenience foods or easy make-aheads.

Planning a menu is like packing for vacation - after you lay everything out on the bed, consider how much will fit in your suitcase, how heavy it will be to lug around, and what compromises you can make.


I don’t normally do “potlucks,” but the older I get, the more appealing they are! Potlucks also have the added plus of making everyone who brings a dish feel “included.”


Back to our Greek meal: A blue-and-white checked tablecloth works beautifully with this theme. I don’t own one, so use a roll of blue-and-white checked vinyl that I wipe down and reuse whenever I need it. If you have neither, a white or solid blue cloth works equally well. Placemats (ideally in white or blue) are far, far easier to wash and dry than a tablecloth - with no ironing! 

I like to set a Greek-themed table with blue or white dishes, but a mixture of pottery dishes and a gaily colored tablecloth or placemats also look great. If you’re serving dinner outdoors, consider plastic plates from the Dollar Store or those sturdy blue-and-white paper plates that are so widely available in North America and probably everywhere else. 

Napkins? For a Greek meal, I usually use cloth ones in solid blue or white, but never feel shy about using paper. The idea is to have fun - not to intimidate your guests (“Jeeves ... This sorbet is cold!”).

Some people are collectors of pretty things, and have cupboards and drawers full. I once read a magazine feature about a Florida woman who filled an entire second house with shelves and shelves of bone china! That was it - no kitchen, no bedrooms, just china! Perhaps that is a bit excessive, but if she uses it and entertains with it and gives joy to others … Who am I to say? 

I’ve known people who collect dishes and accessories for the dinner party they plan to have “some day.” Well, Dollinks, let me tell you that “some day” is not a date on the calendar! Plan that dinner party now and you and your guests will remember it with fondness.

If you have a dinner party that you remember with fondness, drop me a note at the email address next to my profile and tell me what you or your host did that was special! Be sure to include an email address where I can reach you if I have questions; I won’t share your address with a soul! And P.S.: 
I’ve done several other blogs on Dinner Party Guidelines and Tips. Youll find them under that heading in the Index.


Start your meal with a make-ahead Greek Salad.

Let your potatoes roast as you enjoy pre-dinner nibbles.

Your potatoes will be ready when you are.

Electric rice cookers turn off automatically, but keep rice warm.

These marinated and skewered Souvlakis are a bargain!

As the only dish that needs on-the-spot cooking, they're quick!

Presenting ... Your Greek dinner!
Click on the photo to enlarge it.

Cut flowers add a splash of color to any table. These were  
simple and inexpensive, offsetting my vinyl tablecloth.

I bought this china in a thrift store! Think creatively!

Here's the Baklava! A little goes a long way.

Consider colorful packets of herbal tea within the
evening's color palate: God is in the details!

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