Anatomy of a Dinner Party: a day in the life of a hospitalityaholic

Guest Post! Zach’s Risotto

Written by Patti on November 1st, 2010

Good Morning Darlings!

I received an email from reader Zach, and he popped the question – about risotto! He was having some folks over for dinner and was concerned about leaving his guests while he slaved away over the pot of creamy rice. An excellent inquiry, Zach.  After the dinner, he emailed me to let me know how it all had gone and I asked him to guest blog for me. Plus, I just bought a new laptop (bye bye little Mac, how I loved you….) and I am getting used to all the new bells and whistles.

So, without further adieu, here’s Zach!

My name is Zachary Olah and I live in Columbus, Ohio. By day I work as a criminal defense attorney, but by night and weekend I dream of wielding a chef’s knife in the trenches of fine restaurants, or catering large swanky events…heck, I even dream of flipping greasy burgers at a local diner. I simply love cooking, but do I love entertaining? As I planned a dinner party for 10 I realized there was more to it than just cooking.

My story began on a Sunday night when my wife Courtney and I,  as well as our two children, were meeting with a small group of friends from our church.  We meet nearly every week at one of our homes, and along with some spiritual nourishment we often times enjoy refreshments and light banter. Currently we are reading through a parenting book and discussing parenting issues as we go, while our children are running about the house enjoying themselves. All of our talk and focus on our kids one night gave me an epiphany.  It occurred to me that nearly all of our time spent with these wonderful people was also spent with all of our children or talking about our children. We all needed a date night without the kids, and what better way than to plan a dinner party. One very excited group member was Sonjia who also has a love for food and entertaining. She also has a beautiful new kitchen that really need to be broken in! With her as my wing man I got to work planning the menu.

Zach and his sous chefs

Napkin folding class in the dining room!

In Ohio this time of year the temperature has really started to drop and I new I wanted something comforting, something creamy, something my friends may not make at home very often…I knew I wanted to make risotto before I decided on anything else on my menu.  The danger there is once you set your heart on something it is hard to shake. I knew I could make a good risotto, but then I thought about the hosting and entertaining aspects of a dinner party.  Risotto as many of you know is not really difficult, but it does require attention. Constant attention. How can I host and entertain and enjoy myself while working this dish to perfection?  This was where Patti and the Anatomy of a Dinner Party comes in.  While looking online at different ideas for risotto I came across this wonderful gal and her very entertaining and informative blog. I posted a note with my query, to risotto or not to risotto? She flew into action by email with many great suggestions. In the end it was up to me and I decided I had to go with my heart. I was going to make that risotto and it was going to be the best darn risotto any of my friends had ever eaten!

Our menu for the evening started with shrimp prepped two ways and broiled, then served with a garlic sauce. We followed with an arugula and smoked mozzarella salad with lemon vinaigrette. For the main course we were having cabernet braised beef served over a wild mushroom risotto and topped with a fresh herb gremolata. Everyone attending was responsible for bringing a dessert to share.  My love for cooking is matched by my wife Courtney’s love for baking and she made french bread from scratch to serve with dinner.

The one thing I learned in cooking for this many people is you can’t plan too much. The best advice I took was preparing as much food ahead as I could. The beef lent itself well to this plan and I braised the beef for two hours the night before then chilled it overnight. It required only reheat in the oven the next day and sauce prep prior to service. All the shrimp and salad was done by Courtney, Sonjia and I the afternoon leading up to the party. Things were going well, almost too well. Then I realized how close it was to showtime! We had to get the shrimp under the broiler, but not too soon. While they were under the broiler I had already begun sautéing my onion for the risotto. As we were pulling blazing hot pans of shrimp out and preparing the platter for appetizers I was trying to be faithful to my risotto. If I neglected her, she would surely betray me. People are walking in and greeting us as I leave the stirring of my pot to draw another pan of shrimp from the broiler, only to realize I don’t have the best grip and I feel my fingers burning. Of course things are going great until my friends walk in. The pan slips from my hand and slides across the island and came to rest next to the platter.  Courtney looks to me with concern, but I am already back to my pot, stirring diligently and adding more stock.

The kitchen is now alive with talking and laughter and eating, and the pain in my finger is residing as the risotto comes to that creamy point where you know you are half way there. We moved everyone into the dining room and served the salads. I was so confident in the risotto at this point I lowered the heat a bit and ate the salad with my friends while leaving to stir only for a few brief moments. The salad was great and was receiving high praise from our company, but it was time for the main event. Sonjia and I plated each dish of risotto topped with three to four juicy chunks of beef then covered it with a spoonful of the rich cabernet sauce.  The final touch was the herb gremolata. I almost skipped this step. I had read about it on another website. Why was it needed? I had read that after cooking meats for long periods of time in such a dark rich sauce, it would add a fresh note right at the end of each bite. I followed the suggestion and was rewarded. It turned out better than I had imagined.

The table went nearly silent for several small moments as my friends enjoyed their meal. As all hosts know, this is the best part. All the love and efoort you put in is now transferred to your loved ones.  It was at this moment I remembered why I wanted to have this dinner party. I sat back, breathed deep, and saw pleasant smiles of comfort on each face.  I noticed there was no crying of babies and no “Mommy can I…” or “Daddy I want…”, there was just a very simple happiness.  A happiness that comes when two of our most basic human needs are met, the need to be fed and the need to be loved.  It’s not magic. It’s hospitality. That is what Patti believes in, and I am now a witness to what well planned and fairly well executed hospitality can do. Thanks for the outlet Patti, I am already imagining my next party and pray the very best for you and your guests!

Thanks, Zach! I loved reading about your dinner party and I loved the photos of you and your friends having fun.

Anyone else like to have their party on Anatomy of a Dinner Party? I would love to feature your ideas and photos, so send them on in!

xoxo, Patti

Today blogging to the Oliver! Soundtrack – Consider Yourself


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Quinn says:

    My mouth is watering at the thoughts of cabernet braised beef….

  2. Patti says:

    Hi Quinn & Arlynn,

    Doesn’t it all scrumptious?