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Real Entertaining: A sundown supper on the grill
The second attempt was worse: I used store-bought ready-to-bake pie crusts that never really cooked all the way through and tasted awful. So much for taking the easy way out.
In the end, dessert turned out to be a tweaked version of the Cherry Lattice Pie that pastry chef and cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum taught a Washington Post reader, and me, how to make for a Chef on Call column two years ago. Her Flaky Cream Cheese Pie Crust, once it was smoked, took on a rustic quality, as if it had been made with lard as well as butter and cream cheese.
As I experimented with the dishes, a clear plan of action materialized. Early in the morning the day before the dinner, I would direct-grill the eggplant and summer squashes, then carefully move the two baskets of hot briquettes to the sides of the grill and indirectly cook and smoke the tomatoes for the sauce.
In the afternoon, in air-conditioned comfort, I would finish all of the components of the eggplant salad, prep the pie ingredients, assemble the casserole and marinate the pork chops. In the evening, I'd grill-bake the pie and put grill marks on the chops.
The only things left to cook on the day of the party would be the casserole and the chops, both for 30 minutes. I could execute a dramatic reveal, lifting the grill cover while announcing that dinner was served.
Limiting the guest list to two proved a good strategy, since the grill space wasn't big enough to prepare enough food for a larger party.
But as plans go, this one wasn't waterproof. The day before the dinner, the heat wave broke. I was grilling and pie-baking in the rain. Not to worry; as all Real Entertainers do, I had a contingency.
I turned on the oven - the outdoor temperature was a relatively tame 85 degrees - and polished the dining room table.
Hagedorn's Real Entertaining column appears monthly.