Saturday, November 13, 2010

Busy Women's Semi-Annual Potluck Dinner

I've always wanted to be in a book group -- or rather, I like the idea of a book group, but in reality I'm never able to commit to one for more than a few months.  Nevertheless, I started my own book group a few years ago, and I called it "The Busy Women's Book Club".  It met three or four times a year, and the idea was to read a short story or an excerpt, or a novella -- never more than about 50 pages, as that was about all I could handle.  We read some wonderful material -- we started with E. B. White's "Here is New York", which seemed sort of fitting, and we read Lillian Hellman's "Julia" essay from Pentimento, and a wonderful book called "Through the Kitchen Window", which was a series of essays about food and cooking.  Pretty soon, though, it got harder to find something to read, some members moved out of the city or had another child, and our numbers dwindled, so we stopped meeting.

I found myself missing the opportunity to just hang out with other women and talk about life, home, work, children, extended families, vacations, and all the things in our daily lives that we never have time to share with each other. I missed getting tips from women who's children were older, and sharing ideas for women who were new to NY.  I missed the "village" of women, and I was afraid that it was going to wake up after the kids are gone and friends have moved away realize that I had missed out on an opportunity to maintain friendships and make new ones, so I started my Semi-Annual Busy Women's Potluck Dinner -- this time, with no book and no agenda, just women getting together.

Last night was my second dinner party, and I am surprised how easy it was.  I simply sent out an evite to about 30 women I know from various aspects of my life, and invited them to bring a dish to share -- homemade or store bought, it doesn't matter.  The point is to have an excuse to get together -- and food is the great equalizer.

We had a great dinner tonight. I made a meatloaf. Remember meatloaf? It was a regular Sunday dinner when I was growing up, but it has somehow gone out of favor.  Maybe it's because I make terrible meatloaf. Who knew it was hard to master?  Thanks to Williams Sonoma's "meatloaf starter sauce" I made two really great meat loaves -- I had to make an extra one so my husband could have meatloaf sandwiches tomorrow!

Other guests brought delicious salads, green beans with toasted almonds, lentil pate and hummus with pita bread, and Mediterranean salad dishes.  One standout was fig and blue cheese wrapped in bacon and served on toothpick -- yummy!  Someone brought an assortment of cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery ( and we also had an amazing array of doughnuts from Doughnut Plant (  Homemade mini-whoopie pies were also a highlight of the meal!

I also made one of my favorite desserts -- Fallen Souffle Cake -- from the Chanterelle Staff Meals cookbook.  Chanterelle was one of the best restaurants in NYC for many years, recently closed. (The restaurant was located in downtown Manhattan, and after 9/11 the traffic downtown never quite picked up and the restaurant couldn't keep going.)  I wish I actually had a Chanterelle restaurant recipe book, but the Staff Meals cookbook is a collection of recipes that -- you probably guessed it -- the staff cooked for themselves each night. It's the perfect cookbook for family recipes, including Lasagna for a Crowd, Four-cheese Mac N' Cheese, and the Fallen Souffle Cake I made today for my guests. (See recipe below).

What I enjoyed most about the evening though was that it gave all of us a chance to meet share a bit of ourselves with others. Women broke off into groups of two or three, and conversations flowed all around.  Some women came early, and some came later, but it didn't matter, because we all got to visit with each other.  Every new dish that was brought to the table to share was sampled and tasted, and stores and recipes were shared.  And the best part of the evening? It was easy to do. 

I would love to entertain more -- I enjoyed getting out my china and silverware, even for a casual evening. But the realities of a small apartment, a busy work life, and a young family make it nearly impossible to host a dinner party. But I've discovered potluck, and it's great. (And I'll let you in on a secret -- there are always great leftovers for the host!)

So, I'm already planning my next one, sometime in the spring, if I'm not too busy.


Here's the simple recipe for Fallen Souffle Cake, from Staff Meals. Enjoy!

1 pound bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona, but I've used other fine brands)
2 sticks butter
9 eggs, separated
3/4 c plus 1 tbls granulated sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate in a double-boiler. Stir to mix thoroughly and let cool to room temperature.

Beat the egg yolks and 3/4 c sugar for about 4-5 minutes until yellow and creamy. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites and 1 tbls sugar until soft peaks form.

Fold in 1/3 of the chocolate and butter mix into the egg yolks, then fold in 1/3 of the egg whites.  Continue with the other 2/3rds.

Pour mixture into a spring form pan that has been coated with Pam, and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes.  Do NOT overbake -- the cake will be jiggly, and you will be tempted to keep cooking it, but the secret to the cake is the soft pudding-like texture at the heart of it.

Let cake cool before unmolding.

Serve at room temperature. Cut thin slices (it's very rich) and serve with a Creme Anglaise sauce, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.