Eating together, sharing food, and sitting at the table is the best way to create and maintain friendships and togetherness. Rituals, traditions and customs are what unite us as families and clans; it is instinctive and primordial. Elevating everyday dinners to dinner party status is my way of making the job of feeding my family an enjoyable event. So, I say, if dinner parties are such fun to organize, why not plan one every night for your family and close friends? We are all creatures of habit and by making eating together a “habit” it then becomes the norm.
I am not suggesting that you put together a six- course meal on a weeknight, nor do I think that family meals should cause stress for the cook or the diners. In fact, I strongly suggest that you save making elaborate dishes like a three-layered chocolate soufflé cake when your gourmand friends come to visit. On the other hand, a little effort goes a long way and the more you entertain, the easier it becomes.
For stress-free entertaining, choose menus that don’t demand lots of your attention as they cook. Stews, chowders, chili and potages are ideal candidates because they take a few minutes to prepare and a few hours to cook on their own. These dishes call for some chopping and little else. If you cook them for just one hour, they are delicious, but if the phone rings and your attention is diverted for another hour, they will probably taste even better. For side dishes, serve up no-fuss items such as a green salad and sliced tomatoes, a plate of cheeses and warm bread. Dessert can be fruit, minimally prepared.
Have one or two dishes in your repertoire and elaborate on them as you feel more comfortable. If you adore making macaroni and cheese, by all means do so! Serve them with a fresh green salad and some store bought brownies for stress free entertaining. Your friends are going to be thrilled to be with you in your house and will appreciate any effort you make.
My latest passion for family dinners is Moroccan tagine, which is both the name of the dish as well as the vessel it is made in. A tagine is a conical shaped earthenware pot that cooks meats, chicken or fish slowly. It is a snap to use and the outcome is so delicious that they have now become a staple in my kitchen. The small amount of meat needed for the tagines, corresponds with my dietetic philosophy of “eat less food”. Seasoned and served alongside richly flavored vegetables, spicy, rich tagines make full, satisfying meals.
Tagine of chicken with Olives and Lemons
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 organic chicken legs
4 organic chicken thighs
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic
2 cups organic chicken broth
1 pinch saffron 1 whole lemon, finely sliced
1 cup green olives, drained
1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Season the chicken pieces with the salt and pepper. Place the tagine over medium heat, add the butter and oil and heat until hot. Add the chicken pieces and brown until some fat is released and the skin is light golden. Add the ginger, onion and garlic. Add the broth. Using your fingers shred the saffron and add to the broth. Arrange the lemon slices between the chicken pieces. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for one hour. Add the olives and taste for seasonings. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer an additional 15 minutes, or until most of the juices have evaporated. Garnish with the parsley and serve with couscous. ■