5 am nights: the 3 rules, red harissa, strawberry cupcakes, & plenty of laughter.

this is my first weekend home in manhattan since mid-june, so i decided to catch up with friends last night. dinner parties give me a chance to try out new recipes (daring, right?) and perfect desserts.

backyard dining rules
backyard dining rules

i learned a few lessons when i hosted for jared’s ‘bye, bye cfa’ party, which i vowed to uphold this time around:

  1. prep as much as you can in advance: why did you throw a party if you wanted to be in the kitchen the entire night by yourself?
  2. let people help you: no one likes a host who is running around like a chicken with her head chopped off.
  3. don’t get too extravagant with your menu: your friends will just love anything grilled with a side of wine.

i’m proud to say i followed these rules so much so that my abs are hurting today from laughing until 5 am in the garden with gaby, jared, and emily. oh, and i’m slowly becoming a human again by nursing jared’s bloody mary right now (more on that later).

in the spirit of the backyard dining rules,  i researched recipes that could be left to marinate in the fridge until guests arrived. i was inspired by 3 years worth of bon appetit turkish recipes, a large batch of edamame hummus i made earlier in the week, and an unexpected friday off.

the menu


  • grilled eggplant wraps (vegetarian)
  • spinach edamame hummus (vegan)

main course

  • lamb & shrimp kebabs with red harissa
  • grilled cauliflower steaks & scallions (vegan)
  • lemony grilled pasta salad (vegan)


  • fresh strawberry cupcakes


grilled eggplant wraps: one of my favorite appetizers of last summer involved only 4 ingredients: eggplant, feta, olives, and fresh herbs. these eggplant wraps obviously made the cut for my menu.

  • slice your eggplant about 1 cm thick. you don’t want these to be super thin or they will break when you roll them. drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. grilled about 2 minutes per side.
  • mix feta, chopped kalamata olives, and a fresh herb(s) of your choice. i went with basil, which i have coming out of my ears in the garden.
  • drop about 1 tablespoon of the feta mixture at the base of each slice. roll and place on a platter, seam-side down.

grilled eggplant wraps

spinach edamame hummus: earlier this week i made kristy turner’s spinach edamame hummus. it made up large so i used the leftovers last night, pairing the dip with a grilled baguette. i inadvertently skipped the tahini when making this, but it was still just as intriguing and delicious as it sounds.

this one is a keeper, folks. it takes 5 minutes to make. FIVE. smear this on any and everything. brando paired this with his lamb. genius.

just throw the following ingredients in your food processor blend, and enjoy!

  • 2 cups of edamame
  • 1 cup of spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup of veggie broth
  • 2 tablespoons of sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • a few dashes of smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

main course

lamb & shrimp kebabs with red harissa: i must confess i was super nervous for folks to eat these last night. ‘would they be undercooked? will this combination taste good together?’ don’t worry, i did not fail. jared the griller did not fail. and bon appetit certainly did not fail. i highly recommend these kebabs, just double up on the spices.

the true superstar of this dish was the red harissa. i mean, where have i been? why have i never made this? fact: i can’t stop eating it. but really…i can’t…i just dipped my egg sandwich in it. stop what you’re doing right now and follow this recipe.

red harissa

  • roast 3 red peppers in broiler or directly over gas flame, turning occasionally, until charred all over. transfer to a large bowl, cover, and let stand 15 minutes. stem, peel, and seed peppers; coarsely chop.
  • throw the following ingredients, along with your peppers, into a food processor and blend until smooth. ingredients: 2 fresno chilies (stemmed, seeded, and chopped), 4 garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 2 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

grilled cauliflower steaks & scallions: this new recipe from the bon appetit kitchen was the perfect side to the lamb for my meat eaters, and a solid main course for veggie promoters. no edits needed.

grilled cauliflower steaks & scallions

lemony grilled pasta salad: i made a few edits to kristy turner’s lemony pasta salad recipe. the main edit was grilling the asparagus and snap peas. it always amazes me what grilling can do for flavor. here’s the quick and easy recipe:

  • cook 1 box of pasta. set-aside in a large bowl.
  • drizzle oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder on 2 bunches of asparagus and 3 handfuls of snap peas. grill.
  • heat 3 tablespoons of oil. saute 2 minced garlic cloves until fragrant. be careful to not burn. add 2 thinly sliced leeks (white part only). saute for another 2-3 minutes. turn off heat. toss 2 to 3 handfuls of spinach with the garlic-leek mixture.
  • in a small bowl, juice 6 lemons. whisk in 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons of dijon mustard.
  • toss the dressing, spinach, and grilled veggies with the pasta. add salt and pepper to taste. if you like a little kick like me, add some red pepper flakes. top with some microgreens.

lemony grilled pasta salar

this was a refreshing side last night. can’t wait to eat the leftovers!


fresh strawberry cupcakes: this mother & daughter duo know a good, dense cupcake. i made these at the end of spring, sharing them over paper cups full of champagne with emily and brando in central park. no edits needed, just a sweet tooth.

and for the morning after when you realize you went to sleep when the sun was rising…

make your favorite breakfast sandwich and dip it in the red harissa. grab a bloody mary and relax outside.


2 thoughts on “5 am nights: the 3 rules, red harissa, strawberry cupcakes, & plenty of laughter.

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