Last month, Sam Sifton and I took up the job of cooking for 15 people at a friend’s home in Brooklyn. The idea was to feed and impress friends, family members and colleagues without driving ourselves nuts. It’s possible. And to do so, we decided not to spend more than eight hours obsessing over, shopping for and preparing the meal. We endeavored to buy all our ingredients in the morning and then cook through the afternoon. Dinner was called for 6 p.m.
There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast. You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu. We wanted a high-low meal: a beautiful yet manageable dinner bookended by an impressive starter and an eye-popping dessert. In order to pull this off, we first had to decide on a main course, a meat dish. After rejecting pork (too obvious), beef and lamb (too expensive), we settled on chicken. We were near Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, so Sam resolved that the chickens would be roasted with preserved lemons. Golden and crusty, with a zing from the salty, acidic taste of the lemons, they would be a perfect bridge from our opulent appetizer into our decadent dessert. For sides, we settled on pilaf, a salad and roasted root vegetables, which are as seasonal as it gets this time of year.
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