Guides to dinner parties tend toward the dowdy and the sanctimonious. They suggest dated social rituals, perhaps witnessed in footed pajamas from the top of a staircase. Their advice to fledgling cooks tends to not be of the “stir like a mofo” variety. Not so Forking Fantastic!, which sets out to “put the party back in dinner party.” Authors Zora O’Neill and Tamara Reynolds met when they worked at Prune. They discovered they shared a neighborhood, Astoria, and an affinity for adventuring with food. From that commonality, Sunday Night Dinners were born. Friends, friends of friends, and eventually more or less random strangers were added to the mix. O’Neill and Reynolds share wisdom accumulated over years of feasting, walking readers through stocking kitchen and cabinets, a “baby-step dinner party,” and on to full-blown blowouts.
The book includes detailed suggestions for complete menus. In keeping with the times, seasonality is key, like autumn’s combination of ham with bourbon-brown sugar glaze, “more-delicious-than-it-sounds potato-and-turnip casserole,” roasted fennel, salad, and apple spice cake for dessert. Avoiding overlapping your flavors and textures is among the sensible advice on menu planning. The fifty-plus recipes in the book are mostly unintimidating, and all easy to follow. The authors are honest about past failings, including segments titled “Learn From Our Mistakes.”
What’s most appealing about Forking Fantastic! is its irreverence. “We’re not into matchy-matchy shit and pretty garnishes and cookbooks from the latest hot chef,” O’Neill and Reynolds write. Their vegetarian chapter includes an exemption for bacon. The authors may have started out entertaining at home as a response to tight budgets, but their dinner parties quickly became adventures of their own. From that experience comes a cookbook that both demystifies and inspires. For a first-timer, it’ll provide all the confidence necessary to jump right in.