Forking Fantastic! Love, Garlic and Duck Fat

I love a good party…and in New York, you’d sell your soul for a seat at Sunday Supper. For years, those ‘in the know’ hopped the N train to Astoria, to feast at Zora O’Neil and Tamara Reynolds’ table.

Trekking to New York for dinner a bit of a stretch?

Me too.

Rest assured, if a book could read like a great laugh-out-loud party, “Forking Fantastic” is it! Pour yourself a tall glass and settle in for a good time.

My first dinner party inclinations…I had visions of Martha Stewart--polished silver, a sea of sparkling wine glasses, and double check my notes: what was the perfect height for flower arrangements? Emphasis on the “perfect” accoutrements, left me far too intimidated. I was a closet party planner, dying to give it a whirl. For years, I’ve needed a book exactly like “Forking Fantastic!”: a how-to guide that liberated us from my mamma’s generation & their stuffy rules for entertaining. News flash: Camelot is dead. And so is Jackie O.

Sassy and irreverent “Forking Fantastic” is the wanna-be-entertainer’s reality check. No, your plates don’t have to match. Stemware? How ‘bout a Mason jar. (If it holds liquid, it’s good enough for a beverage.) To ease the budget, implement a bring-your-own-wine policy: “Feel free to bring two bottles. We do.”

When I finally took the plunge and started entertaining regularly, I struggled with issues like, “Is it cheesy to ask your friends to kick in money for dinner?” Zora & Tamara’s take on it: “Donations… kept us from resenting all our hungry friends when it came time to write the rent check.”

Honestly? I’ve got unabashed big love for this book. Designed with a set of menus that begin easy and grows progressively more challenging (complete with directions on roasting a whole lamb AND a DYI set of instructions for constructing the grill), this book also offers invaluable planning insights: You need a Ta-Da! dish, not a whole dinner. Showstopper dishes are like needy children--they take the bulk of your effort and/or cash, so balance the meal with dishes that take less work and stretch the budget.

“Throwing a dinner party is not an exercise in creating a tabletop wonderland, nor is it about imitating the formality and frills of a restaurant... The best ‘tablescape’ has food in it and your friends seated around the edges.”

Other gems of advice:

Butter up your purveyors. “Ethics, fairness and customer service bullshit aside, there is always secret ‘good stuff’ either in the back or right under your nose that the vendor knows about but you don’t. And they love, love, love to share that with their favorite customers.”

Double or triple a recipe? Watch your timing. Even simple things like washing salad greens can take longer than expected, and throw your schedule out of whack. Handmade pasta for 20? Plan for ingredients AND labor.

The Hour of Self Loathing: “The doorbell is ringing, your hands are covered in chicken grease and the only thing you’ve made is the salad dressing.” Kick everyone out of the kitchen, crank the music, “buckle down and work through the blind panic, resisting the urge to curl up in a fetal ball on the kitchen floor.”

Scooby Snacks: Keep the impatient hoards out of your kitchen with a “little snacky treat,” ready when guests arrive: a couple good cheeses, fresh figs, spicy nuts or radishes with butter and salt.

Your Kitchen, Your Choice: “In the age of low-carb and gluten-sensitivities…what’s a fledgling hostess to do? Don’t ask. Your guests won’t die or have a horrible time if they don’t get to eat one of the dishes.”

Recipes? With gems like “Duck Fat Grilled Peaches” how can you go wrong?

Zora, Tamara…I’ll belly up to your table any day!

Forking Fantastic! Put the Party Back in Dinner Party
By Zora O’Neil and Tamara Reynolds
Gotham Books, October 2009
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.