Since I love to throw a dinner party, and I love to cook for people, for the past three years, I have offered a 5 course dinner for 8 in my church’s annual silent auction. This dinner was for last year’s auction- we just took a really long time in getting the dinner scheduled. The dinner actually happened in February, but as I was very busy then, I didn’t get to posting it. Oh well.
Course: Food /Wine
Amuse Bouche: Date-wrapped Kumquats
First Course: Carrot Soup with Fresh Cilantro / Red Bicyclette Rose 2007
Second Course: Fennel and Orange Salad with Olives and Sherry Viniagrette / Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2008
Third Course: Salmon Roe with Buckwheat Blini and Creme Fraiche / Segura Viudas Cava Extra Dry
Fourth Course: Juniper-rubbed Pork Loin with Poached Pears / Hogue Cabernet Sauvignon 2008
Fifth Course: Individual Chocolate Souffles / Bonny Doon Framboise
I knew at the time things were going to be very busy, so this needed to be accounted for in all parts of the dinner. I needed to choose tasty menu items that I knew could be put together quickly, or partially made ahead. I needed to be sure I could get the courses timed correctly, since I didn’t have the help of others for serving, plating, etc. As any good chef will tell you, having a good plan, and getting as much done ahead as possible eliminates the need for as much crisis management when it’s time to go.
I often will try out new recipes for a dinner party, and I did in this case with the dessert, but this is a move that is NOT for the faint of heart. All those wise, experienced cooks will tell you that if you are the tiniest bit anxious, stay with a familiar recipe you know will work, and will not stress you out. The main reason that I tried the new recipe for dessert this time is because it comes from a book called The Best Make-Ahead Recipes (my emphasis), from Cooks Illustrated. All of the other recipes were ones I have used before, and limited my active work time when it came to serving.
Due to the make-ahead nature of several of these recipes (soup, blini, souffles), and the slow, unattended cooking of the main course items, (roast in oven, pears in Dutch oven) I had enough time to prep the courses long before the guests arrived. The afternoon of the event was spent first prepping items for cooking, and then prepping the rest of the items for service.
While the tags on piles of plates might seem excessively AR for some, I find that having them labeled and counted saves me lots of confusion when I’m doing the serving, and allows me to update my mental action plan as I go. Due to a sudden outbreak of sickness, I was without my DH and Front-Of-The-House guy, so these prep steps made it much easier to get the table set, and to have things lined up and ready to go when the guests arrived.
The last thing I prepared before the guests arrived was the first thing they were served- the amuse bouche of a date-wrapped kumquat. This was solely because I saw the kumquats at our local food co-op while I was shopping for ingredients, and the store always carries pitted dates. I hadn’t previously planned on an amuse bouche, but they are fun to have. Kumquats, with their bright tangy citrus taste, would also foreshadow the citrusy salad, with both navel and blood oranges.
This soup recipe is of Indian origin, and has a hint of cayenne and cilantro to balance the sweetness of the carrots. It’s a thin soup, so it is light, but the spiciness tends to whet the appetite. I expect I will pair this with rose more often, particularly as the weather heats up.
The salad is one of my favorite winter salads. You can mix and match the kinds of citrus with what is available. The licorice flavor of fennel and its crunch are balanced with the sweetness of the fruit, and the brininess of the olives.
I don’t have any pictures of the Salmon Roe and blini course, or of the Pork Loin and Poached Pairs plated. I think this was due to the amount of assembly that was required for each of these dishes. Not that it was difficult, but that it did take some time to do, and I decided that serving food at the right temperature to the guests was more important than photos.
I did snap this picture of the meat when it came out of the oven, though. Doesn’t that look good? Imagine a slice of this with two purple (from the red poaching wine) pear halves on a plate, and you get the idea. Both the pork and the pears were cooked with pepper and juniper berries. The pears also poached with star anise. The pork also had rosemary, thyme, and salt in its rub.
I didn’t get a picture of the desserts all plated, but I did take a photo of one of the souffles I saved and baked a couple days later. More detail to follow on that in a later post. I can say, however, that there wasn’t a hint of any of this left over in the guests’ dishes. And they had no difficulty with the deliciousness that is the Bonny Doon Framboise. I suspect that several bottles of this were purchased the next day, given the rave reviews.
In sum, the great group of people who shared this dinner were so appreciative, and especially liked the pairings of the wines with the food. I am pleased to say that the dishwasher handled 90 % of the cleanup, and I did not feel exhausted afterward. Doing the dessert 2 days in advance, and then making the blini and soup ahead of time were so important to how this whole meal came out. There were no panicky moments or streams of expletives wafting from the kitchen, and nothing was left out, forgotten. Boy, I love to throw a dinner party.