One Enchanted Evening
By Stephanie Linehan
In the past six months, I have given up a lot of favorite things, but seeing family and close friends was not among them. So, we saw them — on Zoom, through Houseparty, and eventually in our backyard.
With fall in the air and no firepit in sight, I made what may have been our last outdoor meal of the season one to remember. The little evening chill got me in the mood for an exotic Moroccan–inspired gathering. The gold accessories are seductive, and the spices comforting. Granted, this dinner theme is not one that can be pulled together without a little bit of planning, but I have a few secrets to share that will help you entertain like a pro.
When I started entertaining in my 20s, I spent all the time on food preparation and waited to throw the table together right before the guests arrived. Years later, I realized that I relish the chance to brainstorm all the different possibilities of a tablescape. I learned to play around with unexpected materials and colors, elevating my table from ordinary to extraordinary.
To set this Moroccan table, I took out everything gold and bazaar-like that I owned and moved lanterns and candles around. It was a good first attempt, but I noticed there was too much white space on the table. Luckily, we live in a town that is home to SARZA, which sells handcrafted home goods from South Africa, where I found amazing plates, napkins, and accessories to incorporate into the design and fill the open spaces.
I laid the table one last time with everything I had gathered and added pops of color with stunning flowers and foliage from Outdoors Contained. To add a unique twist, I used clementines as place card holders. After three rehearsals, the table was ready for its full reveal.
When hosting a dinner party, I always choose a menu that allows me to do all the hard work up front. You may be tempted to show off your risotto–making skills, but I say save it for another night!
I love to seduce guests with good food, but what I love even more is their company. This Moroccan Chicken Tagine recipe allows you to do all the heavy lifting beforehand and enjoy the evening.
Moroccan Chicken Tagine
1 cup of chermoula (see recipe below)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 medium onions, sliced
1 teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger
1 small kabocha squash, seeded and cut into wedges
2 pinches of saffron threads
1½ cups of chicken bone broth
4 preserved lemon quarters, pulp removed, rind chopped
8 Medjool dates, pitted
20 pitted green olives, Castelvetrano preferred
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Season the chicken inside and out with salt and spoon the chermoula over the chicken to coat evenly. Cover and transfer to the fridge to marinate for at least four hours, ideally overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt the coconut oil in a tagine or large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook for five minutes, until soft but not browned. Place the marinated chicken on top of the mixture and pour in the remaining chermoula. Arrange the kabocha wedges around the chicken. Bring the broth to a boil in a separate pot, stir in the saffron, and pour over the chicken. Scatter in the preserved lemon, dates, and olives.
Transfer the pot to the oven and cook uncovered for 20 minutes, until the chicken is slightly golden. Then cover with the lid and cook, occasionally basting with the juices from the dish, for 45-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the juices run clear. Serve with a salad or rice.
1 large handful or cilantro leaves, chopped
1 large handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 large handful of mint leaves, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small red mild chili, deseeded and chopped
3 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup of olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
Combine the herbs, garlic, chili, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. With the motor running, drizzle in the oil and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Chermoula can be made three days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.