Fun, fun, fun… and the aftermath

Help! My calendar is over-full and driving me insane.

What’s that you say?  I’m in charge of my calendar?  Really?

Dang, I knew I was missing something…

Ah well.

Okay, for all of you who were waiting with bated breath, the dinner party was a great success. (or, at least everyone wrote nice things in my guest book, so I’m going with what they said… It is a sin to lie in a guest book right? That’s what I thought).

So, now that I’ve done it, some tips about how I did it, and what I would have done differently.  I learned a long time ago that if you learn to plan for a bunch of people, you can easily do fewer people also, so even if you don’t plan to have 15 people for dinner, this sort of plan can help for 4 (or, at least, that’s what I think, but hey, it’s my blog, so we’re going with what I think.  You can yell at me in the comments).

I started shopping for this party the week before to make sure I had enough glasses and such for everyone.  I posted pics of the catering sets the last time, and those were seriously a life saver.

The menu was finalized and the grocery list written on Monday.  I also started the focaccia dough on Monday night and left it to rise in the fridge over night (if I said that before, I’m sorry, I’m sleep deprived, and don’t feel like re-reading my last post for continuity, so there).  Tuesday, Jody made the Five Spice Pork and I made the Panna Cotta and set it to chill, and cooked the wither fruit compote, strained off it’s syrup and reduced it, and put both the syrup and the fruit in the fridge (separately).

The DAY of, all we did was finalize cleaning (dusting, vacuuming and mopping), but really all we did was move our regular cleaning up two days. The house was pretty much already in order (it does stay like that sometimes!), so that really helped. I roasted the pears for the salad, made the onion tart dough and refrigerated it while gently cooking the onions until soft and juicy (cleaning while things were cooking) and then baked the tarts (cleaned while tarts were baking).

The menu, grocery shopping, and the three day schedule was what kept this from becoming too stressful, still dinner for 15 (17 w/ Husband and I!) is quite the production…

I mean, holy cow! that’s a lot of silver…

Pretty tho…

what’s that? you don’t want to look at 20 pics of silverware?  Sheesh… it was only three! such exaggeration.  Besides, I polished that all by hand. ALL BY HAND! 18 place settings x 5 pieces in each setting = 90 pieces of silver.  That’s more than Judas got from the Pharisees (correction from the Husband, it was the Sadducees… My mistake makes me sad, you see?)… anyway, it’s A LOT of silver, okay?

Fine, I’ll give you a different picture.

Pears for the salad.

People having fun conversations.  Husband is listening intently to Serena. Isn’t the back of Serena’s head lovely?

Appetizers!

Jody’s Tom Yum Soup is simmering away on the stove…

Wine, water and baked brie

This is John. John’s from England. You can almost see his accent in this picture.

This is George and Adam listening to John.  George is from Oz and Adam’s from Tennesee.  Adam’s wondering how in a dinner party of 17 he’s got the job of deciphering two different accents from two different characters (George brought his own tea, not convinced that this yank would have proper tea… sheesh, George, I have freakin’ Lipton already! No, I’m not forgiving you for that).

Jody’s got glow-bugs on the back of his arm? Should I tell him?

Warren (far end) is more interested in posing for the camera then listening to Joanne (middle).  Pay attention Warren!

Too  bad Adam and Kim aren’t having fun… (sorry I cut your head in half, Adam).

Steve was full of funny stories…

My candle scapes. You will like them because this is my blog.

And of course, the kitchen afterwards… yes it needs cleaning, no there won’t be another contest about cleaning it, and believe it or not because I didn’t have time to post right away, the kitchen is more or less cleaned up despite not actually being home the last two days.

Except for all that silverware… It’s still soaking in a pan on the counter… ah well.

It's a Dinner Party!

or, how I went from not liking to cook to being able to have 15 people for dinner without pulling (all) of my hair out.

Until I moved Los Angeles to the similarly bustling metropolis of Winchester, TN (pop. 9K or so), I never had much call to cook. I was in grad school, teaching, working, always on the run. I ate out a lot. But despite it’s imposing size and strong cultural center, the bustling metropolis of Winchester (did I mention pop. 9k?), didn’t have as much variety in restaurants as I was used to (there was a Sonic, a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and, heck why am I complaining, we did finally get a good Chinese buffet (buffet off sets the “good” compared to LA Chinese food, fyi) just before we moved.

They also got a coffee shop just before we moved, a really cool coffee shop too. Actually, there’s a lot of good things going on in the bustling metropolis of Winchester (pop. 9k), but more so now than close to 5 years ago when I first moved there.

If we wanted say, Thai food, sort of classic gourmet food, or healthy food (read salads that weren’t a wedge of iceberg drenched in ranch), we had to cook.

So I reluctantly launched into the culinary arts, and soon would have classed myself if the group of people that think they don’t know how to cook and aren’t that good at it. Hey, my husband had to show me how to dice an onion, it was that bad.

Fast forward to moving up Nashville way, I got interested in eating locally and more sustainably, which involves cooking big time. Not just cooking, but cooking dishes seasonally starting with what’s ripe and fresh and not what’s on the recipe. It wasn’t only learning to cook, it was re-learning a whole different way of cooking, with different cook books and a lot of improvisation.

Fortunately, there’s loads of foodies around Nashville who love to share tips, tricks, and recipes and inspire all sorts of good ideas. Hanging around at my CSA farm and the Nashville Farmers Market is frequently a source of inspiration.

And I discovered that I really really enjoy cooking. There’s something that feeds not only the body but the soul as well when you make something with your hands that in turn feeds others.

So, that’s sort of how I got from not liking to cook to imaging that I could have 15 people for dinner (feeding 17 if you count Husband and me!).

What’s on the menu?

OOOO… so glad you asked. Now, keep in mind that this sounds dreadfully complicated, but I’ll post some as I make the various dishes and you’ll realize that several are easier than they sound.

Appetizers:

Focaccia (Art of Simple Food p. 60) w/ herbs in olive oil for dipping
And here’s my counter after making the focaccia dough last night.

I left it to rise slowly overnight as this increases flavor (the dough smells awesome now as it sits on my counter warming up before I shape it). Here it is in it’s bowl.


Baked brie (From this awesome Food Network un-recipe 😉 )
Onion Tarts (Art of Simple Food p.  177)

Soup and Salad
Tom Yum Soup
Roasted Pear stuffed with blue cheese, chopped walnuts, and dried cranberries atop a bed of baby arugula

Main Course
Five Spice Pork over steamed rice

Dessert
Panna Cotta w/ Winter Fruit Compote (Art of Simple Food pp. 373 and 364)
And here’s my awesome new ramekins that I got 4 for $3.00 at World Market. They are awaiting the Panna Cotta that I will make this evening and then chill overnight.

And, my secret weapon, courtesy of World Market and Home Goods: I give you…. drumroll please… catering sets, in reusable boxes.

The wine glasses and highballs (I like them for water better than goblets) were 24.99 for 12. The canape plates (I’m using them for non-canape appetizers) were 12 for 12.99 at Home Goods. yay! dollar plates.

I’ve got 12 place settings of everything else, and 16 ramekins (well, actually I’ve got 32 as I found some at Pier One, but liked World Market’s better, so now I have to return the Pier One ones… yeah say that three times real fast…). So, how do you plan to feed 17 people with 12 place settings… er… uh… there’ll be some rinsing going on while the meal’s in progress ;-). I’m not real real formal that way. I’ll just get 5 people to rinse their appetizer plates for salads, and then get 5 people to rinse their soup bowls for the 5 spice, and we’ll be set. I have some glasses and wine glasses also, I just didn’t own enough but mixing and matching w/ the catering sets, and we’ll be good to go. I’m mixing and matching antique silver for the place settings from three different sets that I’ve never actually used, so that will be fun.

And the center pieces are these mixed and matched taper holders (See the theme?) They’ll look better lit and without the backdrop of folded towels, but hey, when you have a big table right outside your downstairs laundry room, it makes a great folding table.

Okay, more to come! The five spice pork recipe is from a cookbook that’s out of print, so later I’ll post the recipe with Jody’s changes so you can make it yourself!