Our friend Ashley
is renovating her kitchen. Â When I say “renovating” I mean “gutting”… as in knocking walls down, rewiring, moving the appliance locations, new cabinets – the works! Â That means she will not have a working kitchen of her own for a least 8 weeks. Â 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. Â It’s called the Tour de Kitchens. Â 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. Â Not a bad deal. Â And a super fun idea! Â I highly recommend it to any of you planning a major kitchen reno in the future.
Well, Sunday was our turn to host. Â I love to entertain and always want to leave my guests wanting more. Â So, I always try to make my dinner parties memorable. Â However, for this particular dinner party the stakes were especially high. Let me explain…
First, Ashley is a foodie. Â A serious foodie. Â In fact, she’s been writing a blog called The Charlotte Food Snob since 2006. Â It chronicles her adventures in eating out in our fair city. Â Secondly, she’s in our church community group which takes turns bringing wine and snacks to various events. Â 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. Â Not to toot my own horn, but people tend to get really excited when they know it’s our week to bring snacks. Â I mean REALLY excited.
So, I’m hosting The Charlotte Food Snob herself AND I’ve got a reputation to uphold. Â That means, I had to bring my A-Game. Â Nothing less would do.
I find that there are three basic elements that will make or break your dinner party, not including the guests. Â I call them The Three M’sÂ of Â a Successful Dinner party – Music, aMbience, and Menu.
First, the Music. Â I keep a playlist on my iPod appropriately titled “Dinner Party.” Â 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. Â They are all groovy, but unobtrusive so they play nicely in the background without being “noisy” per se. Â 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. Â 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. Â So this menu had to be FABULOUS. Â 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. Â And speaking of my A-Game, here’s my handiwork up close:
Well, most of it anyway. Â 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. Â First, I used small crostini bread v. a large artisan loaf. Â This gave them perfect bite-sized proportions. Â Secondly, I used Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic Vinegar, rather than plain balsamic, for the vinaigrette. Â 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. Â But, I wanted to add a little something extra to it. Â Hence, the goat cheese and raspberries. Â 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. Â So why go with white wine vinegar when I’ve got a bottle of that within reach? Â Much more interesting!
I have to give a shout out to my colleague, Sam, who gave me a head’s up on the entree recipe from Epicurious. Â Ladies and gentlemen, Salmon with Grits and Caper Cream Sauce…
Sorry that the pic is kind of dark. Â I was ready to dig in and did not have the patience for the subtleties of fine photography. Â 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. Â The grits cooked up very quickly. Â 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. Â It’s now one of my staples from my Spain cookbook. Â So fresh! Â So easy! Â So YUMMY! (And it sounds super fancy if you are, I don’t know, say…printing it up on menu cards for your guests. Â Just a thought…) Â 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. Â You can use an actual grill or a grill pan. Â I, personally, like to use my Cuisinart Griddler.
Of course, no dinner party is complete without The Wine. Â Ashley and Lauren brought a bottle of 2009 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.
We sipped on that during apps and salads. Â 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. Â It was a perfect pairing. Â Needless to say, both bottles were empty before the evening was over. Â 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? Â There’s a rumor going around that this whole Tour de Kitchens thing is a competition. Â So, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Â And if that means buying a blow torch…
then so be it! Seriously, though. Â We had a blast hosting these ladies.
To hear their take on the evening, hop on over the The Charlotte Food Snob! Â We’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of their Tour pans out. Â And if this IS a competition, then I think we might just have this one in the bag! 😉