I was home for two weeks before starting my first job out of university. The parents were away for the weekend with a neighbor couple so my sister and I invited their sons for supper and cooked ... spaghetti! But it was all quite festive because we did a big salad, garlic bread, the whole spaghetti-works. Sound like an occasion for cheap red wine? No way, we were all underage!
And then there was my second dinner party, just a few weeks later and happily tucked into my first apartment, two rooms and a tiny kitchen, the main room filled by a gangrene-green sofa and chair set that my folks had bought secondhand for their basement ten years before. (Secondhand. For the basement. Ten years before. Getting the picture?)
The night before the party, I cleaned the whole apartment, shopped for groceries and did all the prep work in exactly two hours. (Two hours!)
My dear Auntie Gloria and Uncle Clarke were all the way from Winnipeg to attend the Iowa State Fair and were coming for supper in my little apartment. I cooked ... a simple broccoli and chicken stir-fry from a cookbook from a tiny exotic (for me, then) Chinese grocery in the big city (for me, then) of Des Moines.
And if you have your own Auntie Gloria, you'll understand that once we sat down to eat, she moaned and raved and exclaimed over the food. I felt so proud! And couldn't wait to have people over again.
Since then, I've given a dinner party in a Residence Inn that was home while a new house was being painted. And then once it was, I gave another when there were still moving boxes stacked in the dining room!
And so the lesson has slowly taken hold, the joy of breaking bread in its most elemental sense, all about the people not the food, all about a sense of occasion not the perfect setting. Fancy dinner parties have their place but so do simple meals shared with friends.
For the Record: All this dinner-party reminiscence comes with many thanks to the food blogs Something Clever and i like to cook who challenged food bloggers to pull out their very first cookbooks for a Weekend Cookbook Challenge. This was fun! Thanks, Alicat and Sara!
SIMPLE BROCCOLI & CHICKEN STIR FRY
Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time to table: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut in small pieces
1 onion, diced
1 pound broccoli, trimmed aggressively, cut in bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons sherry (or madeira or vermouth or ...)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Water as needed
1/2 pound summer tomatoes for winter (this is the Eat Local angle, these were delicious, I couldn't believe they'd kept in the freezer so well for so long in nothing but a freezer bag)
Red pepper flakes
Addional salt and pepper
Assemble and prep all ingredients before beginning to cook. Heat a large skillet or wok on HIGH. Add the oil, when it's shimmery, add the chicken and cook for 2 - 3 minutes, stirring frequently but letting chicken settle long enough to lightly brown. Set chicken aside and cover to keep warm. Add the onion and broccoli and let cook for 1 - 2 minutes, tossing frequently, adjusting heat and adding water as necessary to avoid burning (I probably added a good cup). Add the sauce, stir to coat, cover and let cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pot, stir in the tomatoes, season to taste, serve and enjoy!
Per Serving: 204 Cal (26% from Fat, 35% from Protein, 40% from Carb); 18 g Protein; 6 g Tot Fat; 1 g Sat Fat; 20 g Carb; 4 g Fiber; NetCarb16; 78 mg Calcium; 2 mg Iron; 537 mg Sodium; 33 mg Cholesterol, Weight Watchers 4 points
- Serve with rice to soak up the flavorful sauce.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT'S DUE
Chinese Cooking / 2