One of the first foodie people I began slavishly following online was Karen Mordechai of Sunday Suppers. A stylist and photographer, Karen manages to creatively bring together all the essential elements of a good dinner: food, decor, and ambience, without ever losing sight that it’s all about connecting with the people around the table. We asked Karen to share her insights on entertaining with friends.
Photography by Karen Mordechai, except where noted.
Remodelista: What is the first thing you think about when you are having people over for dinner?
Karen Mordechai: I think about the season and an overall feeling that a great meal can create. The starting point can be a location, a time of day, or a particular ingredient that is beautiful at the market.
RM: How do you plan out a dinner?
KM: Start with one element that inspires the meal, i.e. breakfast in bed. As a visual person I always start there with either a mood board or color palate. The layers build organically—I create a menu based on what is seasonally current. The location can then dictate much of the decor, and then I keep adding layers as I plan. Menu, design, decor, paper goods, and little touches all come next. I try to keep it all very simple but well-thought-out.
RM: Do you have everything ready ahead of time? I always seem to be cooking at the last minute despite my best intentions.
KM: Yes, absolutely. A well-planned list of to-dos. I do as much as possible in advance. But when that is not possible, try not to fret. Guests love to join in the prep and help out. I feel it creates a lighter environment for all.
RM: Do you have a go-to meal that you can pull together at the last minute or do you like to try something new?
KM: I do tend to try new things all the time–but I would say that a good roast is a great way to feed a crowd. It can often be left alone in the oven for hours and the sides and accompanying dishes are not as difficult to execute.
RM: Your go-to table setting?
KM: Kraft paper, white dinnerware, vintage flatware, and bistro glassware.
RM: How do you keep a table looking fresh?
KM: Start with the basics and a clean palette and then add a layer of interest that ties into the season or the meal in a simple, unfussy way. Lots of greens for spring or a feather on each setting for Thanksgiving. There are very simple ways to create beauty on the table. Rethinking textures for a new use is one of my favorite things to do—a vintage wallpaper as a table runner or a cheesecloth to wrap a gift or a newspaper to create a menu.
RM: Preferred lighting?
KM: Most of our suppers start early on Sundays, so daylight is lovely, and as the sun sets we light candles and add dim lights.
RM: Best investment for entertaining outdoors?
KM: A few great blankets for picnics, a charcoal grill, and a string of party lights—in the winter, I bring these indoors to hang over our dinner tables.
RM: Best way to serve food?
KM: I love family-style; it adds a sense of community and enjoyment and suits our type of food, which is honest and straightforward cooking.
RM: What’s secret is to creating a good dinner party?
KM: A great mix of people and good food. In the end, those are the most memorable evenings.
RM: Favorite dish of late?
KM: We recently did a foraging trip in the woods and came back to the studio to make lunch the following day. Inspired by a recipe from Bon Appetit, I used the greens we foraged on our trip and tweaked the recipe a bit. It’s just the perfect summer salad.
Sunday Suppers Tomato Salad with Coriander Dressing
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 lb English hothouse cucumbers, sliced
2 to 3 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
6 small red tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 pints small cherry tomatoes, halved
1 bunch wood sorrel
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves with tender stems
For the dressing:
½ tsp coriander seed
Juice of 2 lemons
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Make the dressing by toasting the coriander seeds in a pan over medium heat until golden, then finely grind them in a mortar and pestle. Add the coriander, lemon, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl and whisk to dissolve sugar. Slowly whisk in the oil, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the sorrel on a platter, layer the tomatoes and parsley on top, and dress with coriander dressing. Top with olive oil and smoked Maldon sea salt to taste.
N.B. This post is an update; the original story ran on August 2, 2013.
More tips for entertaining: