Planning ahead is not really my thing. I’m more of a spur-of-the-moment, figure out the details later kind of girl. Except when it comes to dinner menus. Tell me there’s a dinner party in the distant future, and my mind will start racing within a nanosecond. Before you can blink, I’ll be researching recipes online, flipping through the pages of cookbooks and running through the lists of must-try recipes I’ve bookmarked over the years. The planning will consume me. I won’t be able to stop thinking about it until it is all figured out. So you can imagine my shock when my husband casually told me that his parents were coming over for dinner with just two days notice. Two days. How was I supposed to pull off a menu that fast?
I had to focus. Keep my eye on the prize. Ultimately, nothing motivates us home cooks more than making something delicious for the people we love. So I got to work. I knew I wanted to put together a menu that was healthy and light. We had recently gotten back from a family trip to the Bahamas, and were overstuffed with food that was overpriced and uninspired. Except for one dish—the miso-crusted Chilean sea bass from Nobu at the Atlantis. My husband, who practically swears off seafood, has been begging me to recreate that dish ever since. A little searching online, and I stumbled on this recipe, which promised to be as good, if not better, than Nobu’s. I doubled the marinade without doubling the sugar so it wouldn’t be too sweet, and it turned out amazing. The fish is tender and melts in your mouth. At Nobu, the dish was served with a mere two leaves of bok choy. I decided to be a little more generous and make sautéed bok choy on the side along with Alton Brown’s full-proof baked brown rice. Main course, check.
For the appetizer, my mind was immediately drawn to Dovetail’s white gazpacho, a recipe I had read about a few weeks earlier on Grub Street. After seeing the beautiful presentation and reading the reviews, it was an easy choice. There was just one small hiccup. I followed the recipe, gave my husband a taste, and he threw me another curve ball. Apparently, he is not a fan of cucumber! In a desperate attempt to save the gazpacho, I added a few tweaks to the recipe: half an avocado, a chili pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika and some fresh lemon juice. Needless to say, it was no longer white, but still a worthy dish. I garnished it with chives, tortilla strips and some extra sour cream. At least my cucumber-averse spouse ate it all up.
Dessert was the only dish left to tackle. I picked up my copy of Perfect Light Desserts by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim and looked through the table of contents. With so little time to prepare, it had to be simple. Cake or pie or a tart just wouldn’t do. Plus, with white(ish) gazpacho followed by a white fish, I was hoping for a bright burst of color to finish off the meal. The raspberry mousse layer cake caught my eye, but it was a little too much work on such short notice. The mousse by itself, on the other hand, was exactly what I was looking for. I served it with a dab of Greek yogurt and some mint, and it was perfectly light and delicious. The full recipe is available online here.
The menu was complete, and I had less than a day to pull it off. With all the rushing around, it didn’t even occur to me that practically every dish I chose would have been perfect for a do-ahead dinner party. The gazpacho can be made ahead and chilled. The fish can marinade overnight. The mousse will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days. If I had known all this sooner, I would have had a lot more time to relax. But, if you have no other choice than to do things last minute, this is a menu that’s easy to pull off, just in the nick of time.