When dining with friends, we usually just go to a restaurant. We all do it – it’s easier and often feels more chic besides. Even asking someone over for a dinner party evokes a staid Fifties-era feeling of parent-types eating whatever mélange was served and drinking whatever sad wine someone brought, all with the same people as usual. Well, I refuse to let the dinner party stay in its maligned state. Such dinner parties are not our dinner parties. A Brown Butter & Bourbon dinner party has, just like its eponymous ingredients, richly layered flavors that create an unusual combination of homeyness, adventure and a touch of sophistication. It starts with scrumptious dishes paired with gorgeous cocktails or wine (without a corkage fee!) and décor that is thoughtfully tailored to the theme and menu, and then combines an enthralling cross-section of invited friends who would have probably never been thrown together at a restaurant dinner. The result is an irresistible party that’s sexy and comfortable at the same time – and you can even relax on the couch after eating.
I love throwing just such a party in my New York City apartment. Although the location is always the same and most of my dinner guests have visited my apartment countless times, I make each party distinctively atmospheric and tailored to my guests’ preferences. Within the confines of a small kitchen, few appliances, limited funds on my graduate student budget (though I spend more than I should on ingredients and décor – it’s always so worth it!), and the same dinnerware every meal, designing each event uniquely with the right menu is a challenge. Often holding a rubber spatula in one hand and a tinkling glass of gorgeous bourbon on the rocks in the other, I love trying to meet that challenge and to practice cooking in the process.
I have been enjoying entertaining more and more lately and finally decided to start writing about my ideas and escapades. Here, you’ll find menus with my own recipes and links to recipes by others; inspiration for color schemes and table design; thoughts on saving time, space, and money; and amusing tales about my own parties, whether I pull it off masterfully or it goes so badly, we order pizza! For my many friends with food restrictions, I make a point to intermittently write vegetarian and/or gluten-free menus, as it’s much nicer for me to serve them a good meal than for them to try to forage in an unfriendly restaurant menu. I always try to work with local, organic food whenever possible and, as a rule, don’t use red meat or pork (though sometimes rules are made to be broken). It’s such a pleasure to make pretty and tasty dishes with high-quality healthy ingredients and proudly serve them on a beautifully decorated table.
As you design your own distinctive menus for your friends and create glittering evenings of cooking and cocktails, I hope you’ll find useful ideas and inspiration here, and that you enjoy reading.
— Danielle Town