Last Friday I had some friends over. With three couples, the seminarian and me, that was a total of eight. I had been looking forward to this party, and I had definite plans for it.
Do you know what a "critical path" is? When I worked in Washington, my boss at the time taught me this technique: in short, it means figuring out what part of a project will take the longest and is least time-elastic. By looking at that information, as well as all the other things that need to be complete -- and in what order -- it becomes possible to work backward and figure out both the time needed, as well as the best order in which to proceed. In other words, if you want to have a party begin at 5 pm, it's pretty important to know when to start getting things ready. Moreover, certain things can be done further out, while some things really need to be done right before. This helps you sort it all out.
I thought you might be amused to see the critical path I worked up last Friday for this party. Here it is verbatim:
2:00 pm Prepare other snacks – 10 mins
2:10 pm Set up table – 20 mins
2:30 pm Glasses, silverware, plates on porch – 20 mins
2:50 pm Prepare bar – 10 mins
3:00 pm Prepare antipasto – 30 mins
Open artichoke hearts
3:30 pm Prepare potatoes – 10 mins
Drizzle with oil
Season w/rosemary, salt, pepper, red pepper
3:40 pm Fill cooler with ice & drinks – 20 mins
4:00 pm Prepare vegetable kabobs – 10 mins
4:30 pm Prepare bleu cheese olives – 10 mins
4:45 pm Prepare meat – 10 mins
Dry off, let stand at room temp
As it happens, there were a few things I didn't include, but that's OK; this got me all the main things.
I might explain, the table was set up outside, under a tree; and that meant I had to watch the weather; if it was either too hot, or too windy, or if rain threatened, I'd go with Plan B, which was the dining room. The temperature was perfect and no rain fell, but it was gusty while I was setting things up, so I held off on the glassware; which, as planned, I kept on the table on the porch. That's where we ended up having drinks and the antipasto, but we moved to the table for the main course, dessert, coffee and digestivos.
So what was for dinner? It went as follows:
1. Apperitivos: cocktails & drinks; chips, nuts.
2. Antipasto of ham and sopressata, assorted cheeses, olives and marinated artichokes
3. The Main Course was brined pork chops, with vegetable kabobs, rosemary potatoes and buttermilk cornbread. (My recipes for the chops and potatoes are below.)
4. Dolce: Graeters ice cream with cookies and pretzels.
5. Coffee & digestivos followed.
The pork chops were sliced thick: 1-1/2"; I brined them overnight in water, kosher salt, garlic powder, dried rosemary, and black pepper. I usually use red pepper, but I didn't have any this time. In the morning I poured out the water, but a good amount of the seasoning remained on the chops. I layered them between paper towels to reduce the moisture; the one downside to brining the chops is that you don't get as good a sear on them. After bringing them to room temperature, I grilled them on each side for a few minutes, and let them sit at a lower temperature for a few minutes more.
For the potatoes, I found a mix of smallish red, yellow and blue potatoes (otherwise red would have been fine); I cut the larger ones in half but left the smaller ones whole. I drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over all of them, then seasoned with rosemary, salt, pepper and red pepper and tossed them to be sure they where well covered. I placed this in the oven, along with the cornbread.
How did it all turn out? During the preprandials, I was able to introduce a couple of my friends to my own particular version of a martini. They said they liked it, but alas, I suspect they did not love it! It is an acquired taste. We had several wines to choose from, and one friend chose a Pinot Noir, which worked well. For digestivos, we had Amaro, Limoncello, Cognac and Strega. The Strega was much scorned.
As for the food, aside from not being seared as nicely as I like, the pork chops were excellent. I cooked a dozen chops, so my grill was pretty crowded. I was being cautious with the veggies, and they could have used a little more time. Also, the butter sauce for this I found later in the microwave, but they were still pretty good. The cornpone was good; the potatoes would have been better with more roasting.
Part of my rationale for this menu was I didn't want to have anything taking a lot of time, and that worked out pretty well. I'd do this menu again.
Everyone stayed till dark, so pretty obviously we all had a good time. I'm planning two more parties in August; it may be too hot to sit outside then. We'll see!