Moroccan Dinner Party recap

2 Aug

There’s a group of us here in Mt. Kisco who have a sort of irregular, when-the-mood-strikes tradition of getting together for Sunday night dinner. It’s usually suggested mid-week, and usually after we’ve been drinking way too much, and the thought process is something like, ‘Sure! I can put together a meal for 12! No problemo!‘ Until the next morning when we realize what we’ve committed to, and our thought process is something like, ‘F&*k, well there goes my weekend, now I have to clean the house and grocery shop and cook.’ 

But it always is without fail a super fun night with a great group of friends and it makes it all worth it.

A few weeks ago was my turn to host, and after being told I was ‘booooring‘ when I suggested an Italian meal, the mood struck me to take things up a notch: What could be more un-boring than a colorful, traditional Moroccan dinner party outdoors? Call in the belly dancers and set up the hookas!

This party ended up being so much fun to put together! Everything for the table came from inside my house. I just walked around collecting things I thought would work. Here’s how I did it, and how you can too:

The “rugs” were two king sized quilts.

For the table, we used a piece of plywood set on cinder blocks. I wrapped the plywood in a table protector pad and then wrapped it in a dark brown tablecloth. I dressed it up with a colorful, mirrored runner. Did you know an 8×4 piece of plywood creates the perfect sized table for 10-12 people? Two can sit comfortably on each end and 4 on each side. Score!

I grabbed all the throw pillows I could find and just tossed them around the blankets. I brought out accessories like brass elephants and candles to create a centerpiece. I recently inherited an amazing brass and crystal chandelier from my grandmother, so we strung it up inside our tent, and it added the perfect finishing touch.

Mismatched, patterned plates and colorful Indian and Moroccan print cotton napkins made up the place settings.

My #1 hosting tip? Always use real linen napkins at a dinner party!! They are the most inexpensive way to dress up a table and make it look like you tried harder than you really did! I am obsessed with linen and cotton napkins and I pick up interesting patterns whenever I see them. Anthropologie is a great place for finding cool patterns and colors.

Also, when doing outdoor parties like this, I head to Target for their selection of fun melamine dinnerware. Any time I see an interesting pattern or shape I like, I’ll pick up 4 plates or bowls to add to my collection, because I love mismatched place settings, and trust me: melamine plates are so much easier when hosting outdoors.

Our menu consisted of crispy Moroccan chickpeas, mesclun greens with green olives, almonds and lemon with a homemade lemon spiced vinaigrette, couscous, chicken and apricot tagine, Moroccan meatballs, flatbread, and cucumber salad. The only thing missing from our meal was Moroccan mint tea, but I made up for it with some fresh cucumber water. We boozed it up with homemade rye lemonade and loads of wine… Riesling goes pretty well with Moroccan food. The sweet balances the spicy, and of course white wine on a hot summer night is pretty perfect. We finished the meal with ice-cold Limoncello shots, fresh fruit, and a delicious cake for our friend Mark’s birthday. And if there’s one benefit to eating while lounging on pillows, it’s being able to literally just roll over and lie down when you get too full.

Here’s my recipe for the Chicken and Apricot Tagine, which was made in a…wait for it, wait for it… a CROCK POT! I swear, the crock pot is the most undervalued kitchen accessory, and the most useful one. You have to have one hell of a big tagine to cook a meal for 12 people, so I busted out the crock pot and this recipe worked like magic. It simmered for hours, and was absolutely delicious. (I think, or my guests were lying.)

Chicken + Apricot Tagine… in a Crock Pot!

(serves 6…double up for big groups)

  • 6 boneless chicken breasts, cut up into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, finely chopped
  • 6 ounces dried apricots (you can roughly chop these or leave them whole, I left them whole)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans chickpeas
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 pint chicken stock
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • The following spice mix:
    • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
    • salt and pepper sparingly
  1. Heat up olive oil in a large pan or skillet and saute chopped onions & garlic for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock, gradually stirring in flour until no longer lumpy. Add honey & tomato paste & mix well.
  3. Stir in herbs,spices, ginger and canned tomatoes.
  4. Pour the above tomato,onion & spice mix into crock pot.
  5. Add dried apricots, and then add chicken & chickpeas on top & mix well.
  6. Cook on high for about 3 to 4 hours OR low for up to 8 hours. (Please note that the cooking times depend on your crockpot… play around with it, and taste!)
  7. Serve harissa on the table so people can add their own heat to the dish!

Great success!

[Special thanks to Maria Famoso for some of the awesome pics you see here!]

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