This night’s dinner was a variation on a theme of green and white. The menu:
Cornish game hens roasted with herb butter under the skin
Wild and white rice pilaf with green grapes and fresh rosemary
Spinach and feta cheese rolls from a great local bakery
I love green.
The game hens and pilaf were adapted from recipes in The Doubleday Cookbook, by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hanna (© 1975 by Doubleday & Company, Inc.). It is the first cookbook I ever bought and one of my most venerated tomes on the cookbook wall. Today I hot-glued the spine of it back together again, and turning pages takes a delicate touch. Pages 969 through 1,089 are in constant peril; that section refuses to stay put. A revised version was published in 1985, and I bought that one, too, mostly for insurance, although I didn’t like it as well and didn’t keep it. The original is a good reason to haunt second-hand bookstores.
The scent of hens roasting and pilaf simmering takes me back to when I first made them as a college student, trying to impress a beau. He and I then made these recipes for our first dinner party together, serving game hens to guinea pigs, essentially.
What I’ve Learned About Dinner Parties Since Then
1. If people are coming over for dinner, two of these three things are achievable:
- I can be clean and presentable.
- My house can be clean and presentable.
- Dinner will be served within an hour of the time I promised.
All three will never happen on the same night.
2. Early on, my kids learned to associate the sound of a vacuum cleaner with company coming. Still, sometimes I vacuum just because it’s time to vacuum. Asking me, “Who’s coming over?” over the roar of the Kenmore is not a good idea.
3. Patterned, textured, or colorful cloth napkins will save you grief in the laundry room later.
4. Folks like to congregate in the kitchen and chat while you cook. Give them an apron and put them to work. They don’t mind.
5. Do not give gas-producing treats to your dog on the day of a dinner party. If you do, she will expel the gas under the dinner table after all the guests are seated. It’s the law.
6. When Lesson #1 is in full effect, and you have a newspaper wine critic educated in London dining at your table, you might feel a little overwhelmed and forget the salad. You can serve the salad after the entree, invoking the French order of food service. Act as if you’ve done so often, or at least distract diners from your husband’s astonished expression.
7. Sometimes the best dessert is a bar of delicious chocolate, broken into squares, served with good coffee. I swoon over Green & Black’s Milk Chocolate Almond bars and Lindt Intense Orange Dark Chocolate bars.
8. It’s okay to eat whole spears of asparagus with your fingers. Ditto whole-leafed salads, like a Caesar made with romaine, ergo Lesson #3.
9. Swell music is a must.
10. Don’t clear the table until everyone’s done eating. We’re not working for tips here.
This recipe turned out to be a keeper. So did the beau.
Two-Rice Pilaf with Grapes
4 slices good quality thick-cut bacon
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained well
1/2 cup white rice
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup halved green grapes
Fry the bacon in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove bacon to drain on paper towels on a plate; leave bacon fat in bottom of pan and increase heat slightly. Add onion and celery to pan; toss and cook over moderate heat for several minutes until soft and translucent. Thinly chop 2 of the pieces of bacon and add to the saucepan; stir-fry for a minute. The other 2 pieces of bacon are your reward for working so hard. Share if you’re feeling generous.
Add both rices and the minced rosemary to the pan and stir-fry for half a minute. Pour in the broth, season with salt and pepper, cover, and bring to a boil. This may seem counter-intuitive, but once the mixture begins to boil, uncover the saucepan and let the contents boil gently, without stirring, about 30 minutes until the white rice is just tender. Cooked wild rice (actually the grain of a marsh grass) is always a little chewy. Stir in the halved green grapes, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve.
Makes about 1 quart.