Sunday, October 3, 2010

PFB#3: Fall Back Into Summer Luxury Dinner

Thank you to everyone who voted for my latest entry into Project Food Blog!   I was so excited to hear the news, and very grateful to you for helping me move on to the next round.   That recipe was really a winner, so if you're looking to make saag paneer at home you should check it out.  

With the news of advancing to the next round, it was time to celebrate!!  The next challenge?  A luxury dinner party that introduces guests to a new tastes and textures.   I love cooking for others, so I was looking forward to the chance to get some friends together my apartment.   Entertaining can be tricky, so I always try to follow some guidelines to make sure that I enjoy it as much as my guests :)

1.  Plan ahead.   In ideal world, you won't realize on Monday that you need to host a dinner party on Friday.  Give yourself a few weeks to get things together and make a plan.

2.  Invite guests.   Preferably not more than your apartment can hold ;)  Yeah...  let's just say I wanted to make sure I had enough people for the challenge.  I ended up with 8 including myself, and if you've seen my apartment you'd be surprised!  Don't worry, no one sat on the floor :)

3.  Create your menu.   My train of thought for this took several things into consideration: what ingredients I already had, what flavors I wanted to play with, a theme for the meal, and my guests preferences.  Other good pieces of advice are to cook dishes you've already made, or ones that you're comfortable making.  I don't always take this to heart, as I always like to try new things, but I will use a familiar technique with new flavors.  One thing I have learned over the years is to not do too much, choose dishes that you can prep ahead of time, and/or don't require alot of hands-on time right before serving.

4.  Create lists.  The first thing I do is to create a shopping list from the recipes.  Then I make a plan of attack for creating the dishes.   Like I mentioned above I try to chose things I can make ahead of time, and I also do alot of the prep work the night/day before (i.e. chopping vegetables, grating cheese...).  The few days before I also try to stay on top of dishes, so I have an empty dishwasher when it comes time for loading those dinner dishes in!

5.  Cook.  This is the fun part!  Another option for entertaining is to have your guests participate in the process, whether it be assembling their own pizzas or making pierogies (already planning that one!).   Allow yourself some shortcuts to save time if you need it, you don't need to be superman/woman!!   Also, if guests offer to bring something, don't be afraid to take them up on their offer!  I sent my guests the menu ahead of time and said that they could bring beverages of choice (I'm still learning my wine, and usually leave it to others!).

6.  Have a good time!  Always important to remember to enjoy the night as much as your guests :)

I came up with the menu (see above) on Tuesday as a result of my love for both summer and fall flavors.  I'm always so conflicted this time of year that I thought it would be fun to incorporate both into the menu.  To play with things a bit, I put some things where you wouldn't expect them-- apples in the appetizer and tomatoes and basil in the dessert.

Plan of attack:  I made the soup Wednesday evening and the ice cream base Thursday night.   Friday morning before work I vacuumed and set the table.   I came home from work a few hours early to do the rest, starting with the tomato tarte tatin (it was served room temperature).   After that I got the ice cream churning, put the squash in to roast, and began chopping the rest of the vegetables/herbs and measuring out the rest of ingredients.  That brought me up closer to the arrival to my guests, so I started with the risotto, and finally the fish just after they arrived.
Plating the main course

I'll be sharing recipes over the next few days, but I'll leave you with some pictures of the meal and comments from my guests about each of the dishes.   Things went fairly smoothly, and everyone left happy and with a full belly, so no complaints here!


Chilled Apple Soup
"I loved the crunch of the peanuts in the apple soup and thought that the Greek yogurt was a great textural compliment as well. It tasted like a caramel apple, but somehow less sweet (maybe the yogurt?). A wonderful start to the meal for sure."

"It reminded me of a less sticky sweet version of apple butter (which I love) and the combo of it and peanuts was amazing.  ...that the apple was thinner and a little sweet plus a little tart really made it pop.  I know the peanuts were meant to be more decorative but I couldn't stop adding more:)"

Main Course

Slow Roasted Cod with Corn & Wild Mushroom Risotto over Roasted Acorn Squash
"My favorite of the dishes was the risotto with roasted squash. The squash was soft and perfectly roasted and provided a soft and flavorful addition to the risotto which was delicious. Some might even say 'holy yum'  :)"

"I was crazy about the risotto.  It was the perfect combination of earthy fall flavors with the mushrooms and late summer sweetness with the corn.  The rice was perfectly al dente and if I was alone I could have sat with the whole pot and totally cleaned it out."

"The risotto was amazing.  I mean, come on...corn AND going wrong there.  Loved that flavor combo.  The cod was mild (which I really appreciate) and flaky and I loved getting the little pops of balsamic in some of the bites.  I never thought mixed greens, balsamic, and cod all in one bite would taste good but I really liked it.  Additionally, while I'm usually not a fan of squash, I ate all of yours."    
Tomato Tarte Tatin w/Sweet Basil Ice Cream
"Wow.  The basil ice cream with the tomato tarte tatin was amazing.  It was savory and sweet.  Some bites tasted solidly like traditional, sweet dessert while other bites evoked a pizzeria.  A wonderful end to a beautiful and tasty meal."

"[While I'm usually not a fan of tomatoes], I ate about half of [them] and really was amazed at that.  Not only did you change the consistency of them (which allowed me to eat it while not liking tomatoes in their original form), but the carmelized flavor was great.  And the combination of it and the pastry with the basil ice cream really sang...I think that eating that dessert without a bite of everything at the same time wouldn't do it justice."

Meghan's comment was extremely touching, and summed it up perfectly, "Great company, stellar food and a creative menu: the recipe for a lovely evening."  Amen!
     Does your grandmother continue to wear 3" heels into her 80s?
     Have you (or someone you know) ever dated 28 people in one month?
     Do you have a good nickname or wear a fanny pack?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you're invited to my next dinner party :)  We had some great (and funny) conversations and it was a perfect way to celebrate my participation in Project Food Blog.   It has been such a great experience and I feel like I have so much more to give!  Voting opens tomorrow, so if you would've liked to have been my guest, please help vote me into the next round!! 

What's your best entertaining tip??


Fun and Fearless in Beantown said...

I love that we all talk about planning ahead...but we only found out on Friday whether we're going to host this party or not! This dinner party looks great and I hope we can both advance to the next round of #PFB2010!

Elina (Healthy and Sane) said...

Wow, Shannon. I wish I could attend this but obviously you had more than enough guests and I had my work cut out for me with my dinner. Maybe you can recreate it some day! ;)
Good luck!!!

Lauren said...

I love this post! You offer some great entertaining tips, and your luxury meal sounds fantastic. It sounds like your guests enjoyed everything :).

Joanne said...

How fun! I loved reading all your tips and hearing about how you paired fall and summer flavors. That soup sounds divine and you know I'm always up for ice cream and risotto! What I would have given to be a fly on the wall...a fly that could eat all the food of course.

Serena said...

Wow - now that's a party and pretty amazing that you pulled it together so quickly! The menu sounds like something from a five-star restaurant. I love how you included the peanuts in the soup - great choice. Good luck with the next phase - you have my vote.

Delicious Dishings said...

I love that you included your guests' comments. It was really fun to read their reactions. The whole meal looks beautiful and delicious. You didn't go overboard, but you served something extremely elegant and seemingly complex. Dessert looks so, so, so good!

Anonymous said...

I love the flavor combinations in your creative dishes! This is definitely my kind of meal, 5 stars for you! And a vote tomorrow :)

Monet said...

I'm coming to your next dinner party! Great work, beautiful evening, and some fabulous tips (Planning ahead is key in my house!) I will be sending a vote your way, and I will be eagerly awaiting some of these recipes later on in the week. Thank you so much for sharing!

Biz said...

Great job Shannon! I'll be voting for you!

I've never even heard of apple soup - love it! :D

Kelly said...

Gorgeous! I'm sad that I couldn't attend yours either. That chilled soup sounds amazing. I'm not normally a chilled soup fan but recently when I had one at The Girl and The Goat it won me over.

Kerstin said...

You really outdid yourself Shannon - from the creative theme to the inspiring flavor combos, everything was amazing!! Can't wait to vote :)

xoMeghan said...

The post is terrific, but nothing compares to how delicious the dinner was!!!! We are more than happy to be your "guinea pigs" any time. We will be voting for you and thank you again for a great evening.

Erica said...

Just gorgeous! The menu looks fabulous. I used to go to smolak all the time when I lived up in MA- best apples ever. I'd be all over that app. Best of luck in the next round!

RhodeyGirl said...


Just voted.

We Are Not Martha said...

Your dinner party was beautiful!!! I am obsessed with that basil ice cream. So stunning. Good luck!! :)


jen cheung said...

VOTEDDDDDDD! Good luck! Wish you all the best!

jen @

Reeni said...

Your dinner looks insanely delicious Shannon! Love that you used summer and fall flavors. I wish you the best in this round - I'm off to tweet!

Cara said...

I wish any of the above applied to me because I would love to sit at your table and be treated to such an interesting meal! Great work, Shannon.

Unknown said...

I love how you put your guests' comments about your dishes in your post. Sounds like a fantastic meal! Great job!

Jessica said...

What a great menu! Hope we both make it to the next round! :-) You have my vote!

Whitney said...

sweet basil ice cream, an awesome thought! way to go on a great dinner!


Jacob's Kitchen said...

Wow. The menu sounds so delicious. Inventive AND luxurious. And the setting is really lovely. nicely done. I voted for you!

Good luck! Fingers crossed that we both make it through to the next round! =)

Natty said...

Eight guests?!? Wow! That's no small gathering! My favorite unconventional hosting tip is if you don't have time to clear your bathroom, unscrew the lightbulb, claim it burned out and light some candles. What people can't see can't hurt em! :-)

CrystalsCozyKitchen said...

My best entertaining tip is to enjoy yourself! Your dinner looked delicious. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I'm sad to see summer go, but I do love fall flavors! Great theme and great job on fitting everyone into your apartment LOL. Good luck!

Amanda (The Culinary Passport) said...

Great work! You get my vote

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