The Virtual Dinner Party



Cooking has always offered a sense of comfort. Fresh snickerdoodles and a patient ear for a struggling friend. Frustration after a hectic day being melted by the motion of chopping vegetables for a hearty stew. Reconnecting with old friends at backyard barbecues. So, with a lot more uncertainty in the world, it’s only natural the whole country has turned to the kitchen – from showcasing banana breads and viral whipped coffees, to introducing their sourdough starter house guests and even creating their own homemade Shake Shack burgers. And while we’ve been busy in the kitchen, we’ve also been busy on our phones and laptops, with video hangouts taking the communal place of kitchen tables and living rooms. So, at District Fray, we thought: Why not take your next House Party, Zoom, FaceTime, etc. up a notch? Flex those new culinary skills, tackle a fun and easy menu, and embrace the marvels of modern technology to create a virtual dinner party.

The Menu

Serves two, so multiply as many times as needed.

“Everything’s Okay” sangria

Bruschetta with balsamic tomatoes

Main Course
Garlic- & herb-crusted shrimp lemon pasta

Pan-seared fruit with brown butter sauce

How It Works

This is supposed to be low stress; no one needs more of that right now. The entire meal takes 40 minutes (tops) to prepare – we have tried this out and also accounted for socializing. The menu involves very few ingredients – mostly pantry staples, or items that should easily be found on store shelves right now. And finally, this meal is social. Meaning, you should be able to chat while sipping cocktails and cooking together in your separate kitchens.  Just as you would if friends were coming over IRL, set a start time for cocktails, appetizers and then dinner. With technology at play, allow time for any issues with connectivity folks may experience. I personally love a 6 p.m. cocktail start (my friends usually log on over the next 15 minutes). Around 6:45 p.m., start making dinner. Set up a solid spot to place your phone or computer so everyone can see you. In my kitchen, I plopped my laptop on a stack of books, facing the counter and stove. Encourage guests to get their cooking area clear and, as best they can, take care of any necessary prep before the call starts. For this menu, that might mean defrosting frozen shrimp, chopping tomatoes, slicing bread for the bruschetta, and zesting or juicing the lemon for the pasta. Once on the call, have everyone first get that cocktail and appetizer ready

and enjoy cocktail hour as you chat away. When all are feeling ready, dig into the menu and keep the good times going. The hope is you get a unique evening with friends and family, sharing in the preparation of a meal (albeit a social distancing approved way) and all get to communally enjoy the fruits of your labor.

“Everything’s Okay” Sangria

(Pictured above)

Red wine
Soda water (La Croix is my favorite)
Orange bitters
Frozen fruit
What else do you have?

First things first: Booze and snacks.

Time to uncork that random red someone left behind when you had a house party.

At the bottom of a glass, put one to three spoonfuls of any jam (more jam if it’s a dry red, less if it’s big and juicy). Last night, I added a few spoons of blackberry jam and one of maple syrup. It was strange and delicious.Then fill the glass about one-eighth full with red wine and briskly stir to break up the jam. Make sure it’s nice and smooth.

Top off about half the glass with more red wine and add lots of ice. Ideally, you have a random can of La Croix to provide a splash, but this bev is ready to party regardless. If it isn’t sweet enough, stir in more jam.

If you’re willing an able to do more, consider the following: Do you have a home bar, properly stocked with orange bitters? You, my friend, are winning lockdown. Six dashes in your glass of sangria should be sufficient. If you have brandy or any orange liqueur (triple sec or Grand Marnier), stir in a tablespoon (or two). Fresh fruit? Perfect. Frozen fruit? Brilliant. Actual juice? Yas queen.

Add that, too. But if it’s just jam and wine and ice, everything is still okay. Cheers, friends-staring-at-me-from-inside-my-laptop. Let the night begin.


Photo by Alex Thompson.

4 slices of bread (Note: Ideally ciabatta or hearty bread, but alas, I had Kaiser rolls, and the sweetness was actually welcome. Cut those in half to get long slices.)
Clove of garlic, cut in half
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, chopped (if you have other types of tomatoes, go for it)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
Dash of salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp. fresh basil or 1/2 tsp. dried

Toast the bread slices and rub with garlic (cut side down). In a small bowl, mix the tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and basil. Distribute the tomato mixture on top of each bread slice and top with an added drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Garlic- & Herb-Crusted Shrimp

Photo by Alex Thompson.

1 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 2 tbsp. dried
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

Lemon Pasta

Lemon Pasta
Photo by Alex Thompson.

1 lb. pasta
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon zest

Ready to start the meal? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

The shrimp takes literally a few minutes, so you want that to be the last thing that gets cooked.

Get your water on the stove for your pasta and while it’s coming to a boil, whisk together the lemon sauce and set that aside.

While the pasta is boiling, get your shrimp ready to go into the oven.

Drain the pasta when it’s done, put it in a serving bowl and put your shrimp in the oven. While the shrimp is broiling, toss the pasta with the lemon sauce, lemon zest and added parmesan. Take out the shrimp and everything is hot and ready to go.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Combine the shrimp with all ingredients, pressing the breading onto the shrimp.

If you have skewers, skewer shrimp evenly on the skewers and lay across the cookie sheet. No skewers? Place an oven-safe cooling rack on the cookie sheet (spray the cooling rack) and place shrimp on the rack.

Press any extra breading mixture onto each shrimp. Broil shrimp on high in the oven for about two minutes, keeping a close eye; they cook quickly. When breading is browned and shrimp are a light pink, they are ready to eat.

Pan-Seared Fruit with Brown Butter Sauce

Sauteed apples
Photo by Alex Thompson.

Fresh fruit, sliced (apples, bananas, peaches, berries)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sliced fruit.

Sauté for a minute and then add the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Cook for a few minutes until a sauce develops and slightly bubbles.

Take off the heat and spoon it onto ice cream, cake or other baked goods (even toast).

To keep up with Thompson and Schindler’s culinary and cocktail adventures,  follow them on Instagram @sportsfoodalex and @jeanschindler.

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