Rock The Casbah

November 6 2000 in 'In Style' magazine / Author: Honor Brodie

At her first formal dinner party, actress Tiffani Thiessen takes friends on a magic carpet ride to Morocco.

It felt like Casablanca, 90210. African music thumped, exotic spices simmered, and rose-colored candles blinked as Tiffani Thiessen welcomed 17 friends to a luscious Moroccan-themed soiree in the backyard of her San Fernando Valley ranch home. Thiessen described the affair as a coming-out celebration for her newly renovated abode—and an opportunity to polish her hosting skills. "I'm going to learn a lot tonight since it's my first time doing such a big thing," said the actress, just before she, along with boyfriend Richard Ruccolo of Two Guys and a Girl, began greeting guests.

To ensure a special evening, the 26-year-old former star of Beverly Hills, 90210--and current star of the movie The Ladies Man--left no detail unattended. Dressed part genie, part gypsy, in a midriff-baring outfit, jewel-toned shawl, and head-to-toe gold jewelry, Thiessen even carried the Moroccan theme to her golden retriever, Clyde, by placing a fez atop his head. Event planners Jamie Honour and Carolyn Mason from Grand Affair handled the rest. The cocktail hour featured citrus-infused champagne and spicy Mediterranean hors d'oeuvres; dinner was a four-course feast with a panoramic view of both the Los Angeles skyline and Thiessen's pool, lit with projected colors to resemble a tapestry. In the nearby "opium den"—decorated with carpets, hanging lanterns and pillows—an artist was on hand to apply henna tattoos to revelers. (Thiessen had one painted on her inner wrist). "Everyone complains about going to the same restaurants and wearing black all week," said guest Rachel Shapiro, one of Thiessen's managers. "It's fun to have an occasion to do different things."

For Thiessen, a Southern California native, the party fulfilled a dream to entertain in a manner she always wanted. "I grew up in a very simple household. We did not have money," she said. "It wasn't like we threw these amazing parties when I was young." But Moroccan magic aside, it was the enthusiasm of the host—not just the sumptuous surroundings—that made Thiessen's first foray into formal entertaining a success. "She is really picky. She wanted everyone to feel right at home with everything," said Ruccolo. "She is the hostess with the mostest."

Eggplant Puree with Tomato Basil on Croustade (Makes 50 pieces)

CROUSTADE

1 baguette, sliced 1/4" thick 5-6 tbsp olive oil Heat oven to 400[degrees]F. Place bread directly on oven rack. Toast until golden brown. Remove and brush with olive oil.

TOPPING

4 medium Italian eggplants (about 1 1/4 lb.)
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup ground toasted almonds
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped
4 tbsp olive oil, divided 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
4 small plum tomatoes, chopped
1/8 tsp sugar
1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Mint leaves for garnish

Heat oven to 350[degrees] F. Pierce eggplants several times and place on baking sheet. Bake for 45-60 min. until softened. Remove and cool. In food processor bowl, combine garlic, raisins, almonds, tomato, 2 tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, soy sauce and cumin. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and scoop out pulp; add to bowl. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil in skillet. Add plum tomatoes and sugar. Cook about 2 min. Remove from heat; stir in basil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Spoon eggplant mixture over croustade and top with tomato-basil mixture. Garnish with mint leaves.

Moroccan Spiced Prawns (Serves 8)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp anchovy paste
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup harissa paste*
2 tsp paprika
24 prawns, shelled and deveined

Soak 24 6" wooden skewers in water. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger and anchovy paste. Cook 2 min. Add tomatoes, cream, harissa and paprika; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer 5 min. Let mixture cool. Spoon marinade over prawns. Cover and refrigerate for 30 min. Thread 1 prawn lengthwise per skewer. Grill for about 10 min., turning once.
*available at gourmet food shops

THE EVENT

An intimate dinner at Tiffani Thiessen's home

THE SETTING

A long table with etched glasses, gold-trimmed plates and rose petals; an outdoor "opium den" lounge area. "We wanted an elegant, lush, gorgeous Morocco," said Carolyn Mason of Grand Affair event planning.

THE SPECIAL TOUCHES

"Fez fizz" cocktails (champagne, sugar, orange and lime); a henna tattoo artist; multicolored mood lighting

THE MUSIC

The CD Morocco: Crossroads of Time

THE FLOWERS

Mindy Rice of Mindy Kathryn Rice Floral Design combined dahlias and garden roses with figs, open melons, pecans and berries, all flowing out of burlap sacks.

THE MENU: TASTE OF TANGIER

Among the appetizers, chef Damie Poonoosamy served fava-bean-and-mint dip and curried crab in baby red potatoes with caviar. Dinner included Mediterranean fish cakes, spiced prawns, fragrant rice, honey-glazed turnips and baked eggplant. For dessert: fruit purses with Grand Marnier sabayon.