If you haven’t been tuning in lately, you’re not going to want to miss this one. And if you have been tuning in, thank you so much for your support, words of encouragement, and votes! To recap, I am part of a competition called Project Food Blog 2010, which is being hosted by Foodbuzz.com. I have advanced through two tough challenges and I am currently contending with 200 great food bloggers. The third challenge (which you’ll find below) involves hosting an luxurious dinner party. Here, we are expected to prepare a menu, and the food. Share our party planning tips, and photographs of our dinner with our readers. So, dinner is served…
My husband and I both like to entertain, but our parties seldom border on elegance, or luxury. With the exception of holiday dinners, we are more apt to congregate on our deck with some close friends, and family, fire up the slushie machine for a few wine slushies, and get the barbecue grill smoking with a rack of ribs. It’s casual and comfortable. A good time, to say the least.
And, it’s not that I haven’t dreamt of hosting a luxurious dinner party. I still have days when (I have nothing better to do, yeah right…) where I dig out my cookbooks, scour the unbelievable recipes, and make mock menus. I compare it to looking at the Sears Wish Book at Christmas time. What can I say? Food is in my blood.
So many choices, and picky eaters. One of the toughest challenges in planning a meal, is deciding on the foods to serve. What is the menu going to be? With family and close friends in particular, I know their likes, dislikes, and allergies. I certainly don’t want to take the time to prepare dishes that won’t get eaten. Not a good thing, have you ever seen a grumpy hostess?
In planning this menu, I immediately knew who was going to be invited. So I knew what I could, and couldn’t get away with serving. And here are my words of wisdom regarding party planning – for what they are worth. Now, remember, I’ve never professed to being Martha Stewart.
Other than considering your guests likes, and dislikes, make it easy on yourself. Unless you have a chief cook and bottle washer in the house (which I don’t happen to have), you might as well do yourself a favor right from the start. There are three things I do to help make things go more smoothly. First, I plan food that I can find easily, and purchase in advance. This makes the grocery shopping for a party so much more enjoyable. There is nothing worse than trying to rush around to locate hard to find ingredients. I also plan a menu where the food can be prepared in stages. This makes cleaning up your kitchen more manageable too, and hopefully you won’t be doing a sink full of dirty dishes as your guest stroll in your front door. The last thing I do in advance, either the night before, or early the day of, is set up the table(s) I’m going to use. In this case, I dug out my best china, found extra serving dishes, and other things I needed. Once the grocery shopping, most of the cooking, and table set up is done you can breathe easier. Trust me, guests will notice if you’re not breathing easy.
Drum roll please… Here is my dinner parties menu.
The featured appetizer: Filled Phyllo Satchels.
These aren’t as hard to make as you might think. In advance, I chopped green pepper, onion, pepperoni, and black olives. Because you have to work with phyllo dough just prior to baking, I sautéed the veggies and pepperoni in a little olive oil while I was cutting and preparing the dough. This gave my guests something to watch while sipping on a glass of wine, and visiting. My mother in-law was fascinated with this whole process. Once the dough was ready, I created the satchels and baked them until golden brown. Fresh out of the oven, guests migrated to the table of appetizers. This gave me room to finish up dinner prep in the kitchen (when I wasn’t taking pictures).
Once the appetizer course was devoured we moved to the dining room for the main course.
Most of the main course, which includes the chicken, dressing, and asparagus was prepared, and refrigerated earlier in the day, prior to baking. The fruit salad was made the night before, as the recipe requires, as were the dinner rolls. Again, this left me with very few dirty dishes to wash, or actual work to do when guests arrived.
This Acini Di Pepe fruit salad is a bit unique. The recipe makes a large quantity which is great for large crowds. It often leaves guests asking “What’s in it?” This recipe came from my family recipe box.
1/2 c. Ancini Di Pepe pasta (cook for 11 minutes)
1 can fruit cocktail
1 small can mandarin oranges
1 can chunk pineapple
3/4 c. sugar
2 tbls. flour
1 tub of whipped topping
Cook the pasta and drain. In separate sauce pan drain the juice from the fruits. Add the sugar, flour, and beaten eggs. Bring to a boil (stir constantly) until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and pour over the pasta. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, fold in the whipped topping. Keep refrigerated.
To save time, I used my bread maker to mix, and raise the dough. Once that was complete I punched down the dough and made the rolls. There is very little mess involved with this method, and who doesn’t like homemade rolls?
And here you have it! I have to say the meal was delicious. Everyone, yes everyone – took second helpings. This is what make a hostess truly happy.
The wines were selected based on personal preference. Both paired well with their courses. I also served a bottle of grape juice for those not interested in alcoholic beverages. This was a welcomed treat for those guests.
Now, of course I’ve saved the best for last (at least in my book). My husband might argue this because he doesn’t have the sweet tooth I do. But I can attest he ate every bite of his dessert too.
This cheesecake is so simple, and your guests will never know you didn’t spend hours preparing it. I made it the night before, and refrigerated it until dessert time. The recipe is courtesy of the Paula Deen Show – Home Cooking, episode - “Quick Fix”.
(2) 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
1 c. sugar
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp. pure vanilla extra
12 vanilla wafers
Topping of your choice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper cupcake liners in each cup of a muffin pan. In each liner add a vanilla wafer. In a large bowl beat cream cheese with mixer until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla extract. In a separate bowl beat eggs. Add the beaten eggs to the cream cheese and sugar mixture. Spoon the mixture over the wafers and bake for approximately 20 minutes (insert a toothpick and make sure it comes out clean ). Cool completely. *Note, the centers will sink slightly, that is normal. Top with your favorite fruit, sauce, or chocolate.
One last tip, when I set up the appetizer table I made room for all the dessert necessities, like dessert plates, coffee cups, the creamer and sugar bowl, etc. This creates a subtle suggestion to your company early on. Following dinner, guests will wander toward the dessert table in anticipation. This gives you time to clean up after the meal, and you’re not stepping on them.
This challenge was fun. The kitchen work was done with ease because it was done in stages. The real work came trying to photograph the food with understanding, but hungry guests, patiently awaiting. I enjoyed adding a touch of elegance to a dinner party, and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again, although I’m not giving up the deck, grill or slushie machine anytime soon. Guests commented several times how wonderful a night they had, and wondered when the next dinner party would be. A sign of success!
I hope my tips help you in some small way, and I hope you enjoyed your visit to my dinner party.
Voting for this challenge will begin Monday, October 4th, and will end on Thursday, October 7th.