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.


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

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!