Charlene Neo is a recent Harvard grad (’10) who moved to NYC after graduation to work at a hedge fund. She is originally from Singapore, and has enjoyed cooking since she can remember. Since she’s been in the city, she has enjoyed indulging her culinary passions and likes to throw dinner and brunch parties for lucky friends and family. At Thanksgiving, she put together a delicious feast for some of her Singaporean friends who were visiting at the time, and here she talks about the trials, tribulations and ultimate rewards in throwing such a great gathering.
Betsy L. Mead: How long had you been planning the Thanksgiving dinner for?
Charlene Neo: I planned the dinner about 3 days in advance–just when I was putting items into my grocery shopping cart via Fresh direct.
BLM: What made you want to plan it in the first place?
CN: As I was so far away from home, I wanted to bring like-minded friends together, who are equally far away from home, to savor some home cooking. If the American Thanksgiving holiday is a time for people to give thanks, I would be happy giving thanks with a bunch of my close friends. Faced with pricey dinner options outside–often prix-fixe, at $50/person before tax, excluding drinks—I figured it would be most economical to have friends over and cook a big and yummy meal!
BLM: Do you plan dinner parties regularly?
CN: I often do brunches on the weekends… dinner has to wait for the holidays
BLM: What was on the menu? Did everyone pitch in or was it just you? How
many folks were there?
CN: I wanted to treat my friends, so I bought and planned everything. There were four people excluding me. I spent about $170. This is what I served:
1) Homemade bread (cheddar, raisin rolls, whole wheat parmesan sticks)
2) Salsa for if they want to make a brushchetta out of it: Fresh
formaggio salted mozzarella, sweet corn, farm cherry tomatoes, fresh
thyme and chives
3) Home made guacamole spiked with tonkatsu sauce, served with lime
tortilla chips, multigrain pita chips, and organic blue corn tortilla
4) Mixed mesclun greens with cherry tomatoes (mix of yellow and
orange), topped with modena balsamic vinegar
1) Spiced Jerk Chicken (mixture of paprika, black and white pepper,
sea salt, fresh onion, garlic, Asian five spice etc)
2) Steak Paillard with roasted garlic; served with fingerling potatoes
and sweet potato
3) Pasta bake (Penne with home made tomato sauce, honey baked ham,
normal ham, pepperoni, mixture of fresh mozarella and freshly grated
extra sharp cheddar, with onions, garlic, etc ), cooked then broiled
at 400°F for 30 minutes
1) Homemade black & white cookies
2) Homemade pumpkin cheesecake
3) Strawberries and ice cream
2) Chocolate drink
Oh, and obviously there was apple cider and Anjou pears!! For the
fall season! ☺
We also had chocolate soufflé. That was a team effort as everyone took turns to whisk the egg whites till they were stiff peaks,…now that’s a REAL holiday
BLM: Wow, that sounds diverse and fun! It’s certainly not your traditional turkey plus pie. What made you choose these foods?
CN: I wanted to mix traditional Thanksgiving/holiday fare, like the turkey, with dishes that are untraditional. I don’t consider myself to be an American, and neither did my friends. What I planned for this dinner was to allow us to soak in the festive atmosphere, enjoy good food, and feel thankful. I realized that a lot of American families/cooks succumb to buying pre-made, instant foods, so as to be able to serve a “pumpkin pie” or a roast at the dinner table. I wanted my friends to know that I am thankful for having them in my life, and hence I wanted to make everything from scratch and to make them feel loved. I think it worked.
BLM: Will you do a similar gathering next year do you think? Any changes
you would make, such as changing up the menu, number of people, or format, given what you learned this time round?
CN: I would definitely do it again very soon, and yes, for next Thanksgiving. I might try out cooking new variations of ham, meat and definitely introduce more vegetable dishes.
BLM: Any advice for would-be kitchen and or dinner party planners fresh out of college?
CN: You should always plan ahead if you’re not a seasoned party-thrower. You would want to write down a list of foods that you want to serve, come up with the groceries for each dish, and then prioritize financially (assuming that you are still in school, or face monetary constraints). Which dishes are feasible given your budget? What can you save on? For example, you might want to forgo the lamb roast for some pork medallions, which are usually cheaper. You can also ask your friends to bring things such as wine, drinks,
paper plates and utensils; they are usually more than happy to do that. Always plan ahead, and be ready to be in the kitchen for at least a couple of hours. Try to be efficient. So I usually cook and clean up at the same time, so when my guests come, they are greeted with a fresh and clean kitchen!
Betsy is a recent grad who loves Boston’s dessert cafe, Finale, as much as she loves life itself. She craves sugar in general all the time and staves off the effects of her habit by running.