Our friend Ashley
is renovating her kitchen. When I say “renovating” I mean “gutting”… as in knocking walls down, rewiring, moving the appliance locations, new cabinets – the works! That means she will not have a working kitchen of her own for a least 8 weeks. She and her roommate, Lauren, devised a brilliant plan to ensure that they won’t have to live off Ramen noodles and take out for two months. It’s called the Tour de Kitchens. Here’s how it works:
- Ashley and Lauren threw a big cookout for all their friends before the big kitchen demolition.
- While at said cookout, all the friends signed up for a schedule of dates to have the two lovely ladies over for dinner – touring the kitchens of their friends and blogging about it along the way.
- Ashley and Lauren throw a big dinner party for all these friends once the kitchen is complete.
In a sense, they feed us twice and we feed them once. Not a bad deal. And a super fun idea! I highly recommend it to any of you planning a major kitchen reno in the future.
Well, Sunday was our turn to host. I love to entertain and always want to leave my guests wanting more. So, I always try to make my dinner parties memorable. However, for this particular dinner party the stakes were especially high. Let me explain…
First, Ashley is a foodie. A serious foodie. In fact, she’s been writing a blog called The Charlotte Food Snob since 2006. It chronicles her adventures in eating out in our fair city. Secondly, she’s in our church community group which takes turns bringing wine and snacks to various events. Through our years in this group, I’ve developed a reputation for bringing awesome snacks like this and great bottles of wine such as this and this to our gatherings. Not to toot my own horn, but people tend to get really excited when they know it’s our week to bring snacks. I mean REALLY excited.
So, I’m hosting The Charlotte Food Snob herself AND I’ve got a reputation to uphold. That means, I had to bring my A-Game. Nothing less would do.
I find that there are three basic elements that will make or break your dinner party, not including the guests. I call them The Three M’s of a Successful Dinner party – Music, aMbience, and Menu.
First, the Music. I keep a playlist on my iPod appropriately titled “Dinner Party.” It’s a list of nearly 70 songs ranging in artists from Coldplay, to The Beatles, to Diana Krall, to Ben Harper, to Dave Matthews Band. They are all groovy, but unobtrusive so they play nicely in the background without being “noisy” per se. I hit shuffle so the songs play randomly and repeat so the whole thing starts over again, should we work all the way through the play list. I usually start playing it over the speakers in the living/dining area about 30 min before my guests arrive to start setting the mood in my head.
Secondly there’s aMbience…Well, you’ve got to set a lovely table
(dig my new chairs?) and lots of candles always help.
Finally, there’s the menu…Like I said, the stakes were high. So this menu had to be FABULOUS. It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.
Appetizers – Goat Cheese Crostinis with Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinagrette
Salad – Baby Spinach with Goat Cheese, Raspberries, and Toasted Walnuts
in Warm Olive Oil and Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar
Entree – Salmon with Grits and Caper Cream Sauce and Asparagus a la Plancha
Wine – 2007 Stag’s Leap Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Dessert – Coffee Caramel Creme Brulee
And, yes, the menu was so fabulous that I printed it up on card stock and placed it at each place setting. Like I said, I had to bring my A-Game. And speaking of my A-Game, here’s my handiwork up close:
Well, most of it anyway. I didn’t exactly get any pics of it, but I used an old faithful recipe, Goat Cheese Bruschetta, for the appetizer with a couple minor adjustments. First, I used small crostini bread v. a large artisan loaf. This gave them perfect bite-sized proportions. Secondly, I used Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic Vinegar, rather than plain balsamic, for the vinaigrette. Like I mentioned before…EPIC!
Next, there was a beautiful salad
The basis was a recipe for Baby Spinach with Warm Olive Oil and Toasted Walnuts that I saved from Martha Stewart Living months ago. But, I wanted to add a little something extra to it. Hence, the goat cheese and raspberries. The recipe calls for white wine vinegar, but…I just happened to have this delicious Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic Vinegar from Mountain Town Olive Oil Co. in Park City. So why go with white wine vinegar when I’ve got a bottle of that within reach? Much more interesting!
Sorry that the pic is kind of dark. I was ready to dig in and did not have the patience for the subtleties of fine photography. Nevertheless, it was as delicious and as it was easy to prepare, despite how fancy it sounds. However, in an effort to deliver the courses in a timely manner, I made the grits before our salad course and they weren’t quite as warm as I would have liked, despite keeping them in the “warming zone” of my range. The grits cooked up very quickly. Next time, I’ll just let the salad settle while I cook up both the grits AND the salmon.
Oh, I almost forgot about the asparagus. It’s now one of my staples from my Spain cookbook. So fresh! So easy! So YUMMY! (And it sounds super fancy if you are, I don’t know, say…printing it up on menu cards for your guests. Just a thought…) You basically drizzle a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice on some beautiful asparagus, salt & pepper them, then grill them up for 2-3 min on each side. You can use an actual grill or a grill pan. I, personally, like to use my Cuisinart Griddler.
Of course, no dinner party is complete without The Wine. Ashley and Lauren brought a bottle of 2009 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
We sipped on that during apps and salads. Epicurious especially recommended the 2007 Stag’s Leap Cellars Sauvignon Blanc to accompany my chosen entree.
Plus, there was a little bit of it in the Caper Cream Sauce. It was a perfect pairing. Needless to say, both bottles were empty before the evening was over. And for the Piece de Resistance (drum roll please…)
Homemade Caramel Coffee Creme Brulee!
Yes, to make this dish at home did require the purchase of a small blow torch.
What? There’s a rumor going around that this whole Tour de Kitchens thing is a competition. So, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. And if that means buying a blow torch…
then so be it! Seriously, though. We had a blast hosting these ladies.
To hear their take on the evening, hop on over the The Charlotte Food Snob! We’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of their Tour pans out. And if this IS a competition, then I think we might just have this one in the bag!